Cultural lemmings. I’ve noted before that most of the books I read are translated books. At this point it’s difficult for me to trace back to the origin of my proclivity for literature in translation. How I ended up following the signposts into this strange land of “foreign” fiction is shrouded by the gathering mists of time. But here I am, a decade into my literary wanderings, and I’m wondering who of my fellow English-language writers I should be reading. Aside from Paul Auster, Ben Lerner, and Teju Cole, I’m still searching for writers whose work satisfies me in the way that the work of so many foreign writers does. Any suggestions would be welcome.
Since the question about why collectively our society has a tendency to make the easy selections when it comes to choosing from the diverse range of music, art, and literature afforded by modern communication technology was posed by Edward Champion on a recent episode of his Bat Segundo Show, I’ve been thinking about my own cultural choices. Even though I choose to read literature in translation (admittedly a small segment of the literary world) I don’t have any satisfied sense that I’m making the hard choice, or working too much to find the substance of my cultural diet. I’ve come to rely on a handful of publishers to guide my literary tastes: Archipelago Books, Dalkey Archive, and New Directions. To a smaller degree publishers like Coffee House Press, Melville House, Soft Skull, and Semiotext(e) influence my choices. What determines what I’m likely to read next is largely a function of what the authors of the books I do read reference in their own work. For example, I recently read a novel by Robert Walser because of references to him and his work in W.G. Sebald’s books. And I reread Roland Barthes’ short book Camera Lucida because it was referenced in Teju Cole’s Open City.
I’ve dabbled with straying into the alternative cultural forest in search of new treasures, but have never wandered far from familiar territory. It’s not that I’m afraid; it’s that I have hundreds of books piled up in my study that I want to read, books I’ve already discovered and have put on my “to read” list. It’s the weight of those books, already found, crying out to be read, that brings me back from committing to the cultural safari.
Sunday, 29 September 2013. Glory Days. Later today, I’ll be driving out with my family to attend a soccer match at Shuart Stadium in Hempstead. The Cosmos will be hosting the Tampa Bay Rowdies. This is an important match for both teams who are at the top of the NASL table with 15 and 14 points respectively. A draw will be barely good enough for the Cosmos who need to capitalize on this opportunity playing in front of a home crowd to take the win and the three points.
Earlier this week Bruce McGuire commented on the du Nord Futbol Show that there was no real connection between the present day Cosmos and the the Cosmos of the past. While he respects the fact that “Cosmos v2.0” has played well enough to be in first place in the NASL, he doesn’t respect the claims of the club and the league that “Cosmos v2.0” is a continuation of the storied club of the 70s and 80s. Additionally, “NASL v2.0” has nothing to do with the original NASL. The sentiment expressed by the du Nord Futbol Show host is that folks should just drop all the nostalgia stuff and concentrate on playing good football now.
While I wouldn’t say that I agree with Bruce McGuire since I believe he overlooks the fact that the spirit of the Cosmos (or any other football club) is carried by the supporters and not the commercial institutions who are the custodians of physical manifestation of that spirit, I do feel uncomfortable with how the NASL and the Cosmos are selling and marketing nostalgia. The focus on the past comes across as too insistent, almost insecure. Perhaps it’s the lack of humility with which these new institutions lay claim to past glory that is not rightful theirs that rankles.
Tonight, the Cosmos will be honoring Shep Messing for his contributions to the club. The implication is that the present NASL and the current Cosmos are empowered to confer honors. And by conferring honors receive honor in return by having the historic figures of the first NASL endorse this modern incarnation. Bruce McGuire might say that Cosmos v2.0 are not worthy of associating with Shep Messing and Pelé, not worthy of basking in past glories the present club didn’t not earn, but only purchased, but football is as much of a spectacle as it is a beautiful game. I will arrive at Shuart Stadium with my wife and our ten year old son and we will don our Shepstaches and cheer for the goalkeeper who wore our teams colors a generation ago and we will have fun. Whether deserved or not, the truth is that nostalgia has entertainment value. We will be entertained. Yes, we know that Cosmos v2.0 isn’t the original Cosmos, but nobody is being harmed here.
My guess is that by next year, we’ll all be used to seeing New York’s green and white tearing it up in the “new” NASL and we’ll be talking more about Marco Senna and Kyle Reynish than Shep Messing and Pelé. But for now, we’ll wave our enlarged Pelé head in the supporters section and pretend that the past is ours and we’ll have a good time doing it. After all, the past is just a story we tell ourselves. And living is done in the moment.