There I was at my aforementioned favorite used bookstore in an old opera house, built in 190-something, after taking a walk around the square. A proper square, mind you, with a courthouse at the center:
I’ve always been a sucker for this part of my hometown, even in my youth when there was hardly any reason for me to go down there (other than the bookstore). Now it’s experiencing a sort of renaissance, with an espresso bar, a block of independent bars and restaurants, and soon what promises to be, I think, a bar serving a thousand varieties of tequila.
But never mind all that: there I was, in the bookstore, near the back of the contemporary literature section. I was looking for the latter portion of the alphabet — hoping to find something by David Foster Wallace (I had just finished Oblivion) — when I happened upon the literary criticism section. First I spotted a pair of books by Fred Jameson, but — as much as he’s helped me think over the last few years — I wasn’t in the mood. I glanced around at some other, evidently unmemorable, volumes before laying eyes on this:
Where had I heard Kazin’s name? From Lefebvre or Richard Sennett? Maybe Michel de Certeau or Jane Jacobs? Marshall Berman, perhaps? I didn’t know then and I still don’t know now. Regardless, I’m glad I found this gem.
You see, as I’m working on my dissertation proposal, I’m following Lefebvre — in Critique of Everyday Life — and trying to situate my work between phenomenology and structuralism. I’m interested in the perceptions, affects, and subjectivities that are molded by forces of capitalism, advertising, and luxury urban re-development. Kazin does not necessarily directly help with my project, but he deeply penetrates what Lefebvre would call directly lived space: the space of imagination and perception. Each portion of his memoir is centered around different walks he takes in his old neighborhood of Brownsville, toward the eastern edge of Brooklyn. It is full of accounts of neighborhood characters, tenement poetry readings, pickles and lox, subways and streetcars, painters and socialists and poverty. It’s a mix of electric excitement and poetic reverie, for you readers of Bachelard. It was the perfect to book to read at the end of my first trip home in almost two years and it helped me further appreciate the memories that I seize upon when moving through an old but always familiar place. The man had a sense of nostalgia that reached back to an even older New York — one of gaslights and Theodore Roosevelt — and that is enough to make him a kindred spirit of mine.