Against the Imaginary
by Paul Winston, composer
Angels and Necessary Ambiguities
by Maureen Holm, Senior Essayist
On the Strength of Reeds:
Washington Irving's Christopher Columbus
Here Is New York
E.B. White (1948)
~ . ~ . ~
Against the Imaginary
by Paul Winston
The imaginary does not exist. Poetry does not exist. Music does not exist. Theater does not exist. Painting does not exist. Imagination does exist and is the tool of Idea, which gives it impetus.
Idea appears from without the mind-body and imagination is carried within it, a statement which would seem to be a donnée, except that some people believe that art is created solely in the mind. There is no art without the body's participation.
Idea's expression as poetry or music or theater or painting is an accident of birth, of genetic makeup.
Idea, for our purposes, is synonymous with "talent," but not in the Biblical sense, i.e. "money."
I do not care if, at this point, you substitute "melody" for idea (lower case 'i').
"Talent" needs three things in order to be used by Idea. They are:
1) Craft: the technical rudiments of the art (Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge)
2) Consciousness: the human matrix of an idea--the commonly agreed upon constructs which are generally taken together as a single image: America; mother; religion; dog; gold. All ideas which communicate with an audience, no matter how unsophisticated, are carried by a consciousness.
It is easy, however, to mistake consciousness for an idea, believing that if the former is recognized, the latter must be present. All demagogues understand this. It is also easy for a consciousness to talk to itself. All successful grant writers understand this.
Brahms: "A good idea can be carried by any consciousness but one." (I think I know which one he means. This magazine will award a homepage citation to the reader who comes up with a better answer than mine.) [--And an essay slot to the one who can articulate it persuasively. Eds.]
3) Context: how the idea is used. How does it relate to other ideas in the piece? Is it at the end, the beginning or the middle of the piece? Why that consciousness and not another? Are two melodies juxtaposed for musical reasons or are the reasons psychological? Is it a coup de théâtre, the very definition of genius, like the a capella chorus with flute duo in Rigoletto, or does it go beyond genius, like a peroration in a late Beethoven piano sonata?
But how does this relate to poetry? Some of you know. For the others: I received my first musical training at a very young age but wanted to be a poet instead, believing it to be a less ambiguous, and therefore more difficult, art. This will continue to be my reason if I write more poems.
(Paul Winston is a native New Yorker. His full-length balletic treatment of "Beauty and the Beast," first optioned for the 1997 season here, is circulating. We let Oleg Felzer (Baku Conservatory) provide the bio:
What is the difference between Winston and other composers? I believe they are three: real theatrical thinking, excellent pianism and . . . he has retained the child's passion to remake the world, to make it better. He still possesses an optimistic belief in the triumph of justice. This last, I think, is the reason his interests center around the fantastic and grotesque. . . the world of the fairy-tale, and the books of Bulgakov.
~ . ~
Angels and Necessary Ambiguities
Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
the silken weavings of our afternoons
and pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
-- Wallace Stevens ("Sunday Morning")
Then with the splendor of an angel's fart
came one trembling out of huge each eye look
"thank you" nicely the lady's small grin said
(with more simplicity than makes a world)
-- e. e. cummings ("20", 50 Poems)
In this issue's lead essay, composer Paul Winston confides that he chose musical over poetic expression for its greater ambiguity. His statement is leavened by humorous self-effacement, but it underscores importantly the presence of form-specific vocabulary and diction available to practitioners of each. Implicit as a given is that artist and audience succeed in their roles according to their mastery of those aspects (among others) of craft. Possibly implicit is the notion that words are available to paraphrase or explicate poetry, while unsuited to reconvey or transcribe music.
To be sure, words comment on words--as for that matter music comments on (and occasionally elucidates) music--but an inference fairly to be drawn from Mr. Winston's remark is that, unlike music, words are self-delimiting, vide: 'If I express my intention in words, then the specificity of my choices may preclude other meanings I wish to retain.'
The seasoned artist--and Winston is certainly one--resigns himself in the natural course to the knowledge that he will not convey to an audience every nuance of meaning or interrelationship that entered into the composition, though he may experience a completed work for a time amidst a penumbra of receded or unrealizable ideas. He can expect to dawn on listeners their own grey inkling of the possibilities he drew on.
The imagination is the power of the mind over the possibilities of things; but if this constitutes a certain single characteristic, it is the source not of a certain single value but of as many values as reside in the possibilities of things.
Though we leave aside here the creation in either form of pure sound, in inquiring whether words are capable of identifying and resolving ambiguities in art created in words, we do not forgo the opportunity to simply beg the question and say--on good authority--that they should not do so.
Asked to comment on explanations offered by 'professional students' of his poems, Wallace Stevens declined, saying:
Things that have their origin in the imagination or in the [e]motions (poems) . . . very often take on a form that is ambiguous or uncertain. It is not possible to attach a single, rational meaning to such things without destroying the imaginative or emotional ambiguity or uncertainty that is inherent in them and that is why poets do not like to explain. That the meanings given by others are sometimes not intended by the poet or that [they] were never present in his mind does not impair them as meanings. . . . 
Of course, Stevens speaks to more than our stated query, in that he anticipates the role played by the imagination--of both artist and audience. To draw here, after craft, on another Winston tenet, namely 'consciousness,' Stevens did not say, but surely experienced, that imputed meanings may render poetry variously prosaic or obscure. Consciousness can be raised, but not necessarily elevated.
No matter; another is available. The value of the poet's imagination is greater, says Stevens, than that of the imagination which is satisfied by politics because he
seeks to satisfy the universal mind . . . to penetrate to basic images, basic emotions, and so to compose a fundamental poetry even older than the ancient world.
Accomplishing Ambiguity in Context
The conviction that ordinary command of a language enables one to grasp the poetic intent in a poem or indeed to write one's own, while renounced quickly enough on the intellectual level (generally improbable), persists on the ego-emotional one (uniquely possible). The ability to tweak hand-me-down figures of speech ("He's a hard nutcase to crack"), do turns on clichés or contrive a strained pun is broadly bestowed. These are modest talents, akin to harmonizing on the 'chorus parts' of early Beatles songs or constructing a tune around a single musical phrase in the same key.
Basic poetic coinage requires the associative awareness, at once subtler and deeper, to affirm association ('small town wherewithal'--Peter Chelnik) between elements whose affinity is evident to a poetic consciousness and to propose association ('cold gold fairness'--Alice Notley) between the apparently incongruous. Basic poetic conceptualization requires the initiative to act upon reality ('Why do all the bushes point skyward?'--Tobias Deehan) and the perceptual skill to discern ('there is a here and/'), then selectively alter it ('that here was a/town' -- e. e. cummings).
While Winston's grant-writer copes with a context of which she presumes herself a part, the poet controls context and may by design exclude himself from it in part or in whole. Thus, Stevens is/is not the roller of big cigars, the corpse, the child's eyes at the wake, the flowers, the ice cream. Ambiguity as to his role, even his presence, affects not at all the reader's choice of his own viewing position amid the particulars selected for inclusion within the poet's frame. Studious explicators can enumerate the particulars selected for framing, identify the ambiguities, but cannot resolve them to all-purpose consensus. They are relegated to surmising intent from omission, the nothing that is.
Accomplishing Ambiguity in Syntax
Beyond verbally rendered context, the narrower inquiry prompted by Winston's remark is whether the specificity of word election serves to confine intent to a single, rational meaning. The confining premise of consideration to this point, one deliberately reinforced, has been that a poet composes with words. A grant-writer employs words; a poet employs language. The word to language correlation is rather like that of note to music, while a central (often unbidden) sequence--or at least the initial hum or color of it--is perhaps the counterpart to melody, thus 'idea' (lower case 'i'). Word is mere component within the system that is language, as note is component within the system that is music. Its place and function within that system is mutable to the extent of compositional versatility.
What is the color of that gently
you breathe pastel so nearly me?
Lately, you would have me forget.
One of the most readily demonstrable verbal ambiguities is achieved by the momentary suspension which is the line turn. The reader/listens fills the white space/air with an anticipatory declension of presumed intent and is surprised; or he believes the line concluded and instead it continues. Appearing unbidden, the central phrase/melody, 'You are late to my life,' sought elaboration (in three stanzas).
You are late to my life bearing fruit
plums that were bruised while green
the apple's highung core.
Others have loved me long and more beautiful.
I will leave us soon.
Here, as the first line turns to the second, and again as second turns to third, the syntax produces ambiguity. Is the speaker's life bearing fruit or is the lover simply bringing gifts? Were the plums bruised while green or does 'green' refer to the apple's core? Was the metaphoric fruit of the speaker's life stunted from the start? What is intended by 'highung core'? Does the core refer to the apple's or to the speaker's interior? Has speaker become apple? In line 4, ambiguity creates tension through contradictory grammatical mode, prompting the reader to attempt first adjectival, then adverbial agreement. The first-person plural 'us,' rather than the anticipated 'you,' in line 5 renders 'us' a state of being. Does the speaker purport to leave that state but not the lover? What resolution of these several ambiguities makes for the best poem? None. The intent is that all these meanings operate simultaneously. (A prose paraphrase could render it, were not the odd "But, then again..." a nuisance to a reader.) Poetry can accommodate paradox, as can music.
In this excerpt from a piece by Matthea Harvey, a technique is applied whereby the line turn reads as a concluding point, but then not, each line as an independent statement, but then not. Each loops back on itself to produce a different read through embodied, but superficially invisible repetition. The effect (intentional or not) is to duplicate the perceptual phenomenon of image-trailing into the white space.
Pity the bathtub its forced embrace of the human
Form may define external appearance but there is room
For improvement within try a soap dish that allows for
Slippage is inevitable as is difference in the size of
The subject may hoard his or her bubbles…
The bath has a place in our lives and our place is
Within it we have control of how much hot how much cold
What to pour in how long we want to stay when to
Return is inevitable because we need something
To define ourselves against…
Great clarity of expression, definite (rhymed) line endings, familiar context, and straightforward syntax may still present ambiguities or multiplicity of intent.
. . . Some morning from the boulder-broken beach
He would cry out on life, that what it wants
Is not its own love back in copy speech,
But counter-love, original response.
. . .
Instead of proving human when it neared
And someone else additional to him,
As a great buck it powerfully appeared,
Pushing the crumpled water up ahead,
And landed pouring like a waterfall,
And stumbled through the rocks with horny tread,
And forced the underbrush - and that was all.
(From Robert Frost's "The Most of It")
[See Essay, Mar01, by Tim Scannell.)
Frost did not always confine himself to the concrete or even to straightforward statement:
That day she put our heads together,
Fate had her imagination about her,
Your head so much concerned with outer,
Mine with inner, weather.
(From "Tree at My Window")
The poet's easy importation of the physical into the mental restates another of Winston's tenets: There is no art without the body's participation.
These two forms share other aspects besides rhythm. Music is more than notes sequenced into melody and attitude, poetry more than words coaxed into phrases, glossed by tone and controlling metaphor. Each system affords its composer a wealth of choices for instrumentation and arrangement; each lends itself to multi-meaning ambiguity, thereby inviting imaginative listener engagement.
The typical adolescent's disinclination toward fully instrumented poetry (and music)--even as he recites effortlessly the lyrics to pop music--is probably due in large part to the Rubic's cube approach used to teach it. Dismaying but true, in an era of 'no special claim but to being me,' youthful imagination engaged by the standard-issue pop lyric urges, Hey, I can do that. I could be him. Few are so confirmed by the work of Eliot, Auden, Williams,...Billy Joel.
Stevens might graciously conclude that they are too busy living.
The constant discussion of imagination and reality is largely a discussion not for the purposes of life but for the purposes of arts and letters. I suppose that the reason for this is that few people would turn to the imagination, knowingly, in life, while few people would turn to anything else, knowingly, in arts and letters. . . [P]eople turn to the imagination without knowing it in life and to reality without knowing it in arts and letters.
 The self-effacing take on his remark translates as: 'If I express my intention in words, then the specificity of my choices may demonstrate that I really had nothing but this to say--or this way to say it.' Of course, whatever the medium, a pedestrian idea (lower case 'i') inartfully expressed is just that, and recognizable, articulable as such by those versed in the relevant idiom (e.g. critics).
 Stevens, Wallace, The Necessary Angel (Vintage Books, NY 1942) (at 137). "Imagination as Value" was read at Columbia University before the English Institute and was included in the volume English Institute Essays 1948 published by the Columbia University Press in 1949. [ix]
 Wallace Stevens's response to request by Max Herzberg of The Explicator. Quoted in The Case for Poetry: A Critical Anthology (Ed. F.L. Gwynn et al., Prentice Hall, Inc. 1954, 2d ed.) (at 280)
 "The poem might be called Directions for a Funeral, with Two Epitaphs. . . . The corpse is dead; then let the boys bring flowers in last month's (who would use to-day's?) newspapers." The Case for Poetry, at 278. A year-long discussion with an initially eager non-poet friend recently degenerated into mutual exasperation when he exclaimed, "But why can't the guy just give me the facts?"
 Necessary Angel, at 145.
 Often, one who discovered in high school the limits of his ordinary command when he confronted a second language system later treats the vocabulary, diction, craft of the highest verbal art form as irksome impediments to spontaneous conversation he wants to conduct, mistaking consciousness, as Winston notes, for idea.
 The owner of the protruding horny feet is a woman unidentified except as a sometime embroiderer of sheets. Did those same feet once dream 'over the seas, to silent Palestine'? Is there a cockatoo in the parlor? Even as Stevens withholds the 'facts,' he grants to any reader so inclined license to imagine.
 After a lecture on metaphor, simile, symbol, and a demonstration of scansion, the student is prodded to solve a riddle as to meaning and intent which the author is presumed to have shrouded in ambiguity--as the teacher waits with explicator answers in hand. Already, the writ-in-stone sequence by chronology is counterproductive. Perhaps the student would be better served by reversing the sequence, working backwards to Beowulf.
 Later, though, for a price, some will find a writing workshop leader who recognizes their ideas (read: consciousness) and encourages spontaneous conversation, unimpeded by considerations of craft.
 Necessary Angel, at 147.
~ . ~
On the Strength of Reeds:
Washington Irving's Christopher Columbus
In its unabridged version, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a very long read, so long that one comes to suspect the pleasure of execution, not consumption, drove the pen. Surprisingly, it is Irving's account of the petitions and voyages of Christopher Columbus which is the page-turner. The author of fantasy is propelled--and we with him--by the imagination of fact,
trac[ing] the rise and progress of this grand idea in the mind of Columbus; show[ing] that it was the conception of his genius, quickened by the impulse of the age, and aided by those scattered gleams of knowledge which fell ineffectually upon ordinary minds.
The impetus for the venture derived from two "happy errors": the overimagined extent of Asia's eastern reach and a gross underestimation of the size of the earth. Had he known better, even Columbus would have discounted the notion as empty adventuring.
The practicability, therefore, of finding land by sailing to the west was one of those mysteries of nature which are considered incredible while matters of mere speculation, but the simplest things imaginable when they have once been ascertained (40).
The conventional praise for Columbus as visionary and opportunist obscures his self-assumed role as missionary to unite all nations and tongues "under the banners of the Redeemer"(41) and mutes his vow to commit his own anticipated fortune to the recovery of the holy sepulcher from the 'infidels' in Jerusalem. In short, Columbus was a religious zealot--and one notable for his fervor even as King Ferdinand directed the Spanish Inquisition from Cordoba and Queen Isabella accompanied her army far and wide into battle, accepting from the last of the vanquished Moorish kings the keys to the Alhambra. With the reconquest of Granada, eight centuries of struggle were concluded, the crescent cast down and the cross exalted. [See 12 Section, Sept. '01, for Rafiq Kathwari's new translation from the Urdu of Sir Mohammed Iqbal's "Cordoba" plus photos and history of the church-mosque.]
Resolved by faith to his undertaking, Columbus next refined its logic. His argument rested on three factors:
1) The nature of things:
He proceeded from the pre-Copernican principle that the earth was round, not flat, and divided it according to Ptolemy into 24 hours of 15 degrees each, 16 hours of which, from the Azores to Thinae in Asia, were known. He reasoned that of the remaining 8 hours, most must be filled by the eastern regions of Asia.
2) The authority of learned writers:
These included Aristotle, Seneca, Pliny, and Strabo on parallel navigation, and particularly the vivid narratives of Marco Polo, leading him to conclude that Lisbon was separated by only 4000 miles ("a moderate voyage") from Cathay, via the island of Cipango (Japan).
3) The reports of navigators:
One of these was his brother-in-law who related reports by the king of Portugal that huge reeds were seen among known islands, floating from the West. He concluded that these reeds were the same said by Ptolemy to grow in India (36-39).
Once asail, Columbus saw reeds already by Day 40--and birds, the first, a heron, gleefully welcomed as a harbinger of land ("Through the fog it came;/As if it had been a Christian soul,/We hailed it in God's name"), and later, small birds, which he noted were so little exerted by flight that they could still sing. Yet, he would navigate another 25--through a sea-meadow of reeds, and signs of impending mutiny--before he finally stepped ashore in the Bahamas.
Columbus aged eighteen years between his brainstorm in Genoa and his departure from Palos at 56. His purpose was greatly assisted by the invention of the astrolabe, precursor to the modern quadrant, which permitted seamen to determine by the altitude of the sun their distance from the equator and thus to relinquish optical contact with the land. Yet, the miracle of scientific innovation availed him little before the clergy-heavy advisory councils assembled by the monarchs to whom he made his petitions. Genoa refused him flatly. In Portugal, his idea served largely to renew commitment to the old route around Africa--and to incite the Bishop of Ceuta to urge the secret dispatch of a Portuguese contingent to test and then steal the Italian's route (53).
To such men, the project of a voyage directly westward into the midst of that boundless waste, to seek some visionary land, appeared as extraordinary as it would be at the present day to launch forth a balloon into the regions of space in quest of some distant star (47).
The Bishop's words of disapprobation (and treachery) were countered by the Count of Villa Real's 3-pronged appeal to honor: Portugal had proved itself intrepid at sea. Would it shrink now? Portugal had the means. Should it content itself with wealth alone? Portugal was at peace--and consequently at risk from within. Absent the challenge of 'extensive enterprise,' he argued, countries succumbed during long peaceful intervals to
idleness, that source vice, that silent file, which, little by little, [wears] away the strength and valor of a nation (53).
Newly ascended to the throne at just 25, King John was predisposed by youth to enthusiasm. He let the Italian be resummoned--but too late. Learning that John had entertained the Bishop's proposal to defraud him, Columbus disdained the king with silence.
He next suffered fools among the assembled intelligentsia at Salamanca, who insisted that since the Bible described the heavens as tent-like, the earth was flat. He ducked the inquisitor's hood with artful responses to objections that acceptance of the antipodes meant he believed there were races not descended from Adam (68). Others argued that as the voyage must needs take three years, the crew would die of starvation. Kept waiting as long for audiences, Columbus nearly did.
Like many other great projectors, while engaged upon the schemes of vast benefit to mankind, he had suffered his own affairs to go to ruin, and was reduced to struggle hard with poverty; . . . he had, in manner, to beg his way from court to court, to offer princes the discovery of a world (55).
He was seven years a suitor to the dual thrones of Spain. Summoned to Cordoba, he waited so long he fell in love and fathered a child (whom he embraced and named Fernando, in turn, the scrupulous recorder of his elder's enterprise). Summoned to a royal audience in the battlefield, he fought the Spaniards' war against Islam.
The council majority voted against him. King Ferdinand was unmoved, his queen gracious, but dilatory. Columbus left, bound for France, and if refused there, intended to accept the invitation of England's Henry VIII. In route, threadbare and begging bread and drink for himself and his young son, he chanced upon the former confessor to Isabella. The cleric used his access to the court and found advocates to mount a last appeal--much like that of the Portuguese count--to national pride.
Ferdinand would not be swayed. The treasury, he said, had been drained by the war. Isabella declared herself ready to pledge the crown jewels of her sovereign Castile to finance the dream. With that, her husband was re-won. Despite his recent tatters, Columbus drove a hard bargain, the least of his demands a noble title for himself--and his heirs. To move the negotiations, he assumed one-eighth of the cost in exchange for one-eighth of the spoils. He prevailed.
More than a profile in individual courage and perseverance, Irving's account of Columbus's petitions is a study in imaginative nationhood. The dual sovereigns, Ferdinand and Isabella, successfully united disparate domestic elements against a dynasty of foreign occupation. To be sure, Ferdinand also purged and repressed in the name of his chosen god. But these two, and only they, fitted side by side as arrows in Columbus's cross-bow, let themselves be lofted toward his imagined India.
 Irving, Washington, The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, The Cooperative Publication Society, NY and London, 1827 (at 44).
 Id. at 40.
 "It . . . has never been particularly noticed that the recovery of the holy sepulcher was one of the great objects of his ambition, mediated throughout the remainder of his life, and solemnly provided for in his will. In fact, he subsequently considered it the main work for which he was chosen by Heaven as an agent, and that his great discovery was but a preparatory dispensation of Providence to furnish means for its accomplishment." (92)
 "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Coleridge, Ln 64-66.
 Sailors were doubly reluctant to enter the Southern Hemisphere, where the stars were unfamiliar to them (47).
[6} See Apr '01, Articles, for an exquisite description of torture by hooded inquisitors, excerpted from Kathryn Harris's Poison (Avon Books, 1995, pp. 32-34). I've confessed to everything. I have confessed to too many things, so we keep starting over. Or, as they say, we "continue."
~ . ~
Here Is New York
E.B. White (1948)
On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy. It is this largess that accounts for the presence within the city's walls of a considerable section of the population; for the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail. The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky. . . .
No matter where you sit in New York you feel the vibrations of great times and tall deeds, of queer people and events and undertakings. I am sitting at the moment in a stifling hotel room in 90-degree heat, halfway down an air shaft, in midtown. . . . When I went down to lunch a few minutes ago I noticed that the man sitting next to me (about eighteen inches away along the wall) was Fred Stone, the actor [The Wizard of Oz]. The eighteen inches are both the connection and the separation that New York provides for its inhabitants. . . . [O]ur waiter felt the same stimulus from being close to a man from Oz, . . .
New York blends the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation; . . . insulating the individual . . . against all enormous and violent events that are taking place every minute. . . . Since my arrival, the greatest air show ever staged in all the world took place in town. I didn't attend and neither did most of the eight million other inhabitants, although they say there was quite a crowd. . . . The Lions have been in convention. I've seen not one Lion. . . .
I mention these events merely to show that New York is peculiarly constructed to absorb almost anything that comes along . . . without inflicting the event on its inhabitants; so that every event is, in a sense, optional, and the inhabitant is in the happy position of being able to choose his spectacle and so conserve his soul. . . .
Perhaps it is healthier to live in a community where, when a cornice falls, you feel the blow; where, when the governor passes, you see at any rate his hat. . . . In the country there are few chances of sudden rejuvenation--a shift in weather, perhaps, or something arriving in the mail. But in New York the chances are endless. . . .
There are roughly three New Yorks. . . . Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last--the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. . . . Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion. . . .
New York is nothing like Paris; it is nothing like London; and it is not Spokane multiplied by sixty, or Detroit multiplied by four. It is by all odds the loftiest of cities. It even managed to reach the highest point in the sky at the lowest moment of the [D]epression. [The Empire State Building]. . . has been hit by an airplane in a fog, struck countless times by lightning, . . .
It is a miracle that New York works at all. The whole thing is implausible. . . . The subterranean system of telephone cables, power lines, steam pipes, gas mains, and sewer pipes is reason enough to abandon the island to the gods and the weevils. . . . By all rights New York should have destroyed itself long ago, from panic or fire or rioting or failure of some vital supply lines in its circulatory system or from some deep labyrinthine short circuit. . . .
Mass hysteria is a terrible force, yet New Yorkers seem always to escape it by some tiny margin. . . . But the city makes up for its hazards and its deficiencies by supplying its citizens with massive doses of a supplementary vitamin--the sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan, mighty, and unparalleled. . . .
So complete is each neighborhood, that many a New Yorker spends a lifetime within the confines of an area smaller than a country village. . . . Summertime is a good time to re-examine New York and to receive again the gift of privacy, the jewel of loneliness. . . . [T]he town has a somewhat relaxed air, and one can lie in a loincloth, gasping and remembering things. . . .
Hackmen [Cabbies] used to drive with verve; now they sometimes seem to drive with desperation, toward the ultimate tip. On the West Side Highway, approaching the city, the motorist is swept along in a trance--a sort of fever of inescapable motion, goaded from behind, hemmed in on either side, a mere chip in a millrace. . . . By comparison with other less hectic days, the city is uncomfortable and inconvenient; but New Yorkers temperamentally do not crave comfort and convenience--if they did they would live elsewhere. . . .
The subtlest change in New York is something people don't speak much about but that is in everyone's mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition. . . .
All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation; in New York the fact is somewhat more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself, and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady irresistible charm.
~ . ~ . ~