Tag Archives: commonplace

Old things

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley:

“But why is it prohibited?” Asked the Savage. In the excitement of meeting a man who had read Shakespeare he had momentarily forgotten everything else.

The Controller shrugged his shoulders. “Because it’s old; that’s the chief reason. We haven’t any use for old things here.”

“Even when they’re beautiful?”

“Particularly when they’re beautiful. Beauty’s attractive, and we don’t want people to be attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones.”

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The nationalism of liberal Americans

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

“I’m Kelsey,” the woman announced as though to the whole room. She was aggressively friendly. She asked where Mariama was from, how long she had been in America, if she had children, how her business was doing.

“Business is up and down but we try,” Mariama said.

“But you couldn’t even have this business back in your country, right? Isn’t it wonderful that you get to come to the U.S. and now your kids can have a better life?”

Mariama looked surprised. “Yes.”

“Are women allowed to vote in your country?” Kelsey asked.

A longer pause from Mariama. “Yes.”

“What are you reading?” Kelsey turned to Ifemelu.

Ifemelu showed her the cover of the novel. She did not want to start a conversation. Especially not with Kelsey. She recognized in Kelsey the nationalism of liberal Americans who copiously criticized America but did not like you to do so; they expected you to be silent and grateful, and always reminded you of how much better than wherever you had come from America was.

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Bloated from all he had acquired

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

He climbed out of the car. His gait was stiff, his legs difficult to lift. He had begun, in the past months, to feel bloated from all he had acquired—the family, the houses, the cars, the bank accounts—and would, from time to time, be overcome by the urge to prick everything with a pin, to deflate it all, to be free. He was no longer sure, he had in fact never been sure, whether he liked his life because he really did or whether he liked it because he was supposed to.

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He had discovered Time and Death and God

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley:

All alone, outside the pueblo, on the bare plain of the mesa. The rock was like bleached bones in the moonlight. Down in the valley, the coyotes were howling at the moon. The bruises hurt him, the cuts were still bleeding; but it was not for the pain that he sobbed; it was because he was all alone, because he had been driven out, alone, into this skeleton world of rocks and moonlight. At the edge of the precipice he sat down. The moon was behind him; he looked down into the black shadow of the mesa, into the black shadow of death. He had only to take one step, one little jump…. He held out his right hand in the moonlight. From the cut on his wrist the blood was still oozing. Every few seconds a drop fell, dark, almost colourless in the dead light. Drop, drop, drop. To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow …

He had discovered Time and Death and God.

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Hard to feel bad for a middle-aged white man

Less by Andrew Sean Greer:

There is an old Arabic story about a man who hears Death is coming for him, so he sneaks away to Samarra. And when he gets there, he finds Death in the market, and Death says, “You know, I just felt like going on vacation to Samarra. I was going to skip you today, but how lucky you showed up to find me!” And the man is taken after all. Arther Less has traveled halfway around the world in a cat’s cradle of junkets, changing flights and fleeing from a sandstorm into the Atlas Mountains like someone erasing his trail or outfoxing a hunter—and yet Time has been waiting here all along. In a snowy alpine resort. With cuckoos. Of course Time would turn out to be Swiss. He tosses back the champagne. He thinks: Hard to feel bad for a middle-aged white man.

Indeed: even Less can’t feel bad for Swift anymore. Like a wintertime swimmer too numb to feel cold, Arthur Less is too sad to feel pity. For Robert, yes, breathing through an oxygen tube up in Sonoma. For Marian, nursing a broken hip that might ground her forever. For Javier in his marriage, and even for Bastian’s tragic sports teams. For Zohra and Janet. For his fellow writer Mohammed. Around the world his duty flies, its wingspan as wide as albatross’s. But he can no more feel sorry for Swift—now become a gorgon of Caucasian male ego, snake headed, pacing through his novel and turning each sentence to sone—than Arther Less can feel sorry for himself.

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