Welcome to the brand-new Stateside section of Notes From The Underground! I am delighted to assume the role of associate editor for the New York region and look forward to building our corner of the website into something that will hopefully be interesting to NFTU’s followers. Please find below some early thoughts on writing for NFTU from a US perspective.
I am an enthusiastic reader. In the last 18 months or so, I’ve read around 30 American novels and a similar amount of American-themed non-fiction. As the by-consensus cultural capital of the states, New York figures heavily in many of these volumes. And when, last August, I moved to New Jersey to work in New York, my appetite for texts that wrestle with this glorious city only increased. I’ve read Don DeLillo on New York, Edith Wharton, Bret Easton Ellis, Colum McCann, Jonathan Franzen, Zadie Smith, Henry James, Michael Chabon, Truman Capote, Edmund White, Jennifer Egan, Oliver Sacks, John Cheever… I catalogue not to be ostentatious but to gesture shruggingly at the Everest that looms before anyone aspiring to write anything new on the subject. The list above is too outrageous not to be, in a sense, a disclaimer, a giving-up before I’ve begun.
But no one likes a quitter. If there’s one thing that most of the above writers agree on, explicitly or otherwise, it’s that this remains a city of a million voices (or more like 8.25 million, if we are to be pedantic). Even talking to the millions of “real” Americans here, it doesn’t take five minutes to see beyond the myth of a homogeneous, monolithic American culture. And even if such a thing did exist, it is unlikely that it would find a home in a city of so many languages, nationalities, philosophies and cultures.
This new section of Notes From The Underground will unsystematically explore aspects of American and New York life from an outsider’s perspective. Some of this may have a rather generalist tenor; for sure it is a broad rubric. My interests are cultural – books, films, music, art. But then it’s also an election year, so I can’t promise that I won’t be adding another lofty, irresponsible opinion to the hubbub surrounding Obama v Romney. And who knows what else may find its way in there?
A good friend of mine gave me a collection of Alastair Cooke’s Letters From America before I moved here, and I cannot think of a better patron saint for a column like this, one which will aim to provide loving observations of a sprawling, appalling, brilliant and fascinating place.