To try to understand what it might be like to be blind, think about how it “looks” behind your head. When you look at the scene in front of you, it has a boundary. Your visual field extends to each side only so far. If you spread your arms, and draw your hands back until they are no longer visible, what color is the space that your hands occupy? This space does not look black. It does not look white. It just isn’t.
Harlem has long had a romance with France. Well before the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, African-American artists and musicians traveled to France to broaden their artistic vision or to escape the daily oppression of American racism.
Not widely known, however, is that the traffic went both ways, with French tourists visiting Harlem because of their fascination with jazz, gospel and black culture, even through the rough years of the 1970s and 1980s, when fear of crime kept away many Americans. During that era, my French came in handy more than once, giving directions to bewildered visitors.
French-speaking Africans have settled and opened businesses on and around West 116th Street since the 1980s, with Petit Senegal lending the bustling thoroughfare a distinctly international air with passers-by in flowing boubous, shops selling phone cards for cheap calls to Africa, and Franco-African restaurants and vegetable stands offering tropical products like hot peppers, plantain and palm oil. But since the 1990s, a small French expat community, attracted by the romanticism of Harlem, its strong sense of community and colorful history, as well as by comparatively lower real estate prices, has sprung up, and, inevitably, so have French restaurants.
True crime, of course, comes in a number of forms and styles, all of which are subject to the same value judgement as any other genre. But, as I understand it, good true crime extends beyond the actual crime.
It is a prevalent fantasy among writers that if only one had a quiet place to work, equally free of onerous responsibilities and of pleasurable diversions, one would be able to bring forth the book that it is otherwise impossible to produce. We complain to our partners or spouses or even our children about the obstacles to writing, even when our partners and spouses and children may be less than sympathetic, being, in some sense, among those very obstacles to our progress that we lament. We imagine that, if only we rose an hour earlier in the day, or watched an hour less television in the evening, or gave up Twitter during the many hours that come between rising and television watching, the hitherto unwritten book would, almost effortlessly, become manifest in the liberated time. We try to refrain from citing Virginia Woolf on the necessity of having a room of one’s own, her precise formula for literary creativity having failed to anticipate the presence, in that room, of an Internet-enabled computer with its myriad distractions and opportunities for procrastination, its offering of endless other virtual rooms to poke around in. If we find it impossible after all, not to cite Woolf’s maxim, we grumpily point out that the part of her prescription for succeeding as a writer that everyone neglects to mention is the bit about needing an independent income: “It is necessary to have five hundred a year and a room with a lock on the door if you are to write fiction or poetry.” Then we start wondering how much five hundred pounds a year in 1929 would be worth now, adjusted for inflation, and whether the amount would come anywhere close to covering the cost of living in, say, Brooklyn in 2017, and then we start Googling, and then, wouldn’t you know it, the writing day, or any kind of day, is over, and we haven’t even opened the file dubiously titled “Secret Project” on our laptop.
We need, absolutely, to understand and value a heritage of correspondence; and we should preserve and guarantee a robust public infrastructure for private exchange. But we also need to understand how the ‘personal’ has always been a category ripe for co-option by the very forces it is meant to mitigate and assuage. Perhaps the most useful lesson of the personal letter is in the way it shifts and changes, proving that what we call intimacy, individuality or authenticity does not transcend time – or remain locked in history. The ‘personal’ is what its genres do. Those genres, letters included, continue.
This book is an excellent way of getting a purchase on the man who could be said to have almost single-handedly revived the comic genre, or made it respectable. It is also a great way of learning about the history of comics, science fiction and fantasy.
Hello men! I thought this would be a good time to remind you that anything you can do, I can do bleeding. That’s right, whatever it is you did today, I can probably do it while hemorrhaging from the most sensitive part of my body. And I won’t die! Remember that when you’re standing on the train in the morning surrounded by bodies — roughly half of them female bodies. They could be bleeding. Standing and bleeding. Walking and bleeding. Smiling and bleeding.