Sunday 2 October 2016

1 Fifth Avenue, 1980s

In a New York bar (1 Fifth Avenue) in the early eighties, I met a young Cuban who was looking at his future in Arizona, his lone ecstatic house with a wall of screens so he could watch several films at once, and a machine that would read books for him and tell him what he needed to know. His preferred face—serious, downward, withdrawn, nearly petulant—he produced as needed. This was the face the machine would read to know what he needed to know.

News From Nowhere by William Morris, 1890. Money Must Go: see the world from a new angle by Philoren, 1943. Ruskin, passim. Marx, Blake, Keats, Yeats, Hesiod and Catullus. Kafka, throughout, for his upside down handbook to self-regard in the machine age.

This is what I would like the machine to read off my preferred face today. No pleading notes as yet. Naivete still possible. A cross of beauty, nature, despair and impossibilism. Money Must Go. There are always new angles. Philoren (pseudonym of two chemists) regrets the innocence of earlier idealists. We will always regret lost innocence, but the news from nowhere according to William Morris is full of hope. That's the advantage of literature. Write it and it's yours, for a while.

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