“Above my desk is this line from Wallace Stevens: ‘In the world of words / Imagination is one of / The forces of nature.’ I think of the city that way—it’s a force of nature. It can enrapture you with its pulsing marquees or literally blow broken glass in your face. Where I live especially, the wind blows, and it’s either the smell of chocolate (from a nearby factory) or sewage. A stranger starts talking to you and you don’t know how to feel—you are guarded, but then you are friendly. You love this and you hate this. You are tired because it’s hard, and you feel strong because it is. And anxiety pulses beneath all of this, it (here we go with Heidegger) wakes you up to yourself, and in the very best situation, it makes you remember that you are the city.”
Caro’s writing is linked to a deep moral obligation to get the story right, not just as an unassailable set of facts, but as something more democratic, as strange as that might be to say about a set of giant books about the elites of the country. His books are ultimately about power. But as Maggie Nelson said during a recent talk at the AWP writing conference, “Every book invokes its own ghost,” and around a book about power lingers the ghosts of the powerless. Caro knows this. He says, “Somewhere in The Power Broker I write that regard for power means disregard for those without power. I mean, we’re really talking about justice and injustice.”
I had forgotten that I was allowed to talk about my feelings when recommending a book. Not just allowed, but encouraged. Not that I wasn’t “allowed” to talk about how a book made me feel when surrounded by other writers or students; it just seemed that one’s feelings were beside the point. Yes, yes, this book made you feel happy, the characters made you feel like you knew them, but why did it make you feel that way? My further education was always trying to break me out of this mold of feeling without thinking.
For expediency’s sake I am writing this love letter to you, and to you, in duplicate, because there were two of you, D. and N., and neither of you knew of the other, — that is, neither of you knew at the time that the other was also my lover — though you were friendly acquaintances, and both of you knew my husband to about the same degree.
Excerpts and curios from around the web:
The literature of mechanical life, debunking “the ladder of nature,” the legacy of the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, and more. Plus: A look at Klaus Theweleit’s Male Fantasies in relation to the current election cycle: “Trump may look like a rancid creampuff in a Brioni suit, but his crass language serves the function of a ripped physique in a ripped T-shirt, projecting a Stanley Kowalskian virility.”