New York diary

Brothel facade: Eugene Atget

Can this be done with writing? I wondered, walking around the rooms featuring Atget’s works. Is it possible to live a writing life spent only — or mainly — documenting reality? Writing with no agenda to create an alternate reality — which arises out of a dissatisfaction — and with no intention of dissent, but purely to capture the texture of reality around? Can this be done convincingly, while keeping the reader engaged? Can it offer a “unique vision of a period”? Have others done it? Some names came up — E.B.White, Amit Chaudhuri — but even with such writers the act of choosing what to write is itself a statement, perhaps a rejection of other realities. Chaudhuri’s worlds are often self-contained, perfect universes, and E.B.White makes working on a farm seem like the best job in the world.

Atget, then, documented a Paris he wanted to see. He avoided high-society people and photographed commoners on the margins of society: ragpickers, mailmen, wire-basket sellers, bread sellers, couriers, prostitutes. This too was, in a way, an act of rebellion.

8 thoughts on “New York diary

  1. I think that in a busy, dynamic place like New York sometimes “the surrender to machines” represents an opportunity for escapism – I know that is part of the reason why my Kindle is always with me on public transport!

  2. “It was obscene. The world has too many books, too many published writers. We should stop publishing books for five years. Give the readers some time to catch up!”

    This is EXACTLY how I feel! I have roughly 100 unread books at home and I’ve just ordered 11 more and there are six others I want and I just feel breathless and STRESSED.

  3. This is so true. Writers, editors, publishers – all trying to sell sell sell! The best of books are lost in the midst of hundreds of average skill. One has to sift through heaps to find quality and all this arbit junk is just putting the overall intelligence of humankind down.

  4. You probably can’t know what a pleasure it is to look at this (to me most) extraordinary city through your eyes and head, especially since I know you’ve done the same through mine. It is overwhelming, sometimes, and frightening in its excess and instances of human isolation, self-imposed and not. I’m especially struck by your observations about Apple and the masters and slaves; by the photograph of the homeless man in that particular subway; by the $4.95 price of looking smart in the subway, reading Eliot: this week’s special, no doubt. And by the quiet I felt when you were in the museum, in contrast to the rest of this fine essay.

    In Montreal we too have our underground city – we even call it that – our “twin” to the city above, but it’s filled with shops and restaurants and brightly lit: just another mall that gives onto the clean, bright subway and its singing trains on rubber wheels. When I’m in New York I always think that subway is somehow more honest, as a dark reflection of the wealth and glitter above.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s