Where are B-s Detectors When You Need Them?

AJ reminds via Saul Bellow that New York City is good at business but not at culture:

New York is a publishing center, the business center of American culture. Here culture is prepared, processed and distributed. Here the publishers with their modern apparatus for printing, billing, shipping, editing, advertising and accounting, with their specialized personnel, wait for manuscripts. Their expenses are tremendous so they cannot afford to wait too long; they must find material somewhere, attract writers or fabricate books in their editorial offices. New York, of course, includes Washington and Boston. Some of its literary mandarins actually live in Cambridge, in New Haven, Bennington, New Brunswick, Princeton; a few are in London and Oxford. These officials of high culture write for the papers, sit on committees, advise, consult, set standards, define, drink cocktails, gossip — they give body to New York’s appearance of active creativity, its apparently substantial literary life. But there is no substance. There is only the idea of a cultural life. There are manipulations, rackets and power struggles; there is infighting; there are reputations, inflated and deflated. Bluster, vehemence, swagger, fashion, image-making, brain-fixing — these are what the center has to offer…. New York, then, is not the literary capital of America. It is simply the center of the culture business. It manufactures artistic lifestyles for the American public.

Maybe real transformation needs to happen somewhere other than New York City, or perhaps a papal encyclical will turn Wall Street into a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality.

And to pile on, here’s why H. L. Mencken made money in New York’s publishing business but spent his earnings in Baltimore:

What makes New York so dreadful, I believe, is mainly the fact that the vast majority of its people have been forced to rid themselves of one of the oldest and most powerful of human instincts – the instinct to make a permanent home. Crowded, shoved about, and exploited without mercy, they have lost the feeling that any part of the earth belongs to them, and so they simply camp out like tramps, waiting for the constables to rush in and chase them away. I am not speaking here of the poor (God knows how they exist in New York at all!); I am speaking of the well-to-do, even of the rich. The very richest man, in New York, is never quite sure that the house he lives in now will be his next year — that he will be able to resist the constant pressure of business expansion and rising land values. I have known actual millionaires to be chased out of their homes in this way, and forced into apartments. In Baltimore, too, the same pressure exists, to be sure, but it is not oppressive, for the householder can meet it by by yielding to it half way. It may force him into the suburbs, even into the adjacent country, but he is still in direct contact with the city, sharing in its life, and wherever he lands he may make a stand. But on Manhattan Island he is quickly brought up by the rivers, and once he has crossed them he may as well move to Syracuse or Trenton. (“On Living in Baltimore” 1926)


7 thoughts on “Where are B-s Detectors When You Need Them?

  1. I appreciated the quote from H.L. Mencken. This sounds very similar to the southern agrarian’s concern. (as is presented in The Southern Essays of Richard Weaver, etc).

    That’s not to say I agree with every jot and tittle of southern agrarianism. Yet I do think they were on to a significant issue with the need for roots, land, and the history that came with that land. They saw the leviathan like proportion and destruction of Industrialism. While bringing some conveniences, Industrialism decimated us in the end.

    I think many southerners feel the clash of agrarian roots with a facebook world.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing the post.

    Gotta go- Ma’s calling me for supper.


  2. Alas! Pity the poor Redeemerites who moved to Tribeca, Chelsea, Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights,NoHo, SoHo, etc in order to be in The City pursuing Cultural Engagement and now finding out that they should have moved to Chillicothe (Ohio), Council Bluffs (Iowa) or Murfreesboro (Tennessee) instead. Their writings would be more authentic – closer to the land so to speak. Are there Whole F


  3. Perhaps that explains why some of us have always had an affinity for the southwestern setting of BB over the mean streets o’ Charm City on TW. I am the one who hoes.


  4. Soyl, if only Breaking really really terribly Bad developed its region. The show could have been anywhere in the West and would have been shot in Hollywood if the producers had had any scratch. Albuquerque is cheap.


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