Our Sense of Place, Dismantled
There was a startling melancholy to a street scene in Chelsea yesterday, just off Eighth Avenue. An old Boston Globe delivery truck, now with New York plates, idled at the curb, removed from its native habitat, disconnected from its original purpose. The painted lettering that betrays its past life is only partly scraped off, legible enough to lend the new owners -- a Brooklyn firewood delivery business -- a certain retro cool.
But melancholy is the mood where newspapers are concerned. A reporter friend, as weary as I am -- as we all are -- of the endless coverage of newspapers' demise, roused himself from his professional ennui the other day to recommend a stellar essay on the subject. I was skeptical; who wouldn't be? But Richard Rodriguez's "Final Edition," in the current issue of Harper's Magazine, is lovely, literary, smart: the kind of thing that reminds you why you fork over money to read good writing -- which you'll have to do for this, even online.
We are a nation dismantling the structures of intellectual property and all critical apparatus. We are without professional book reviewers and art critics and essays about what it might mean that our local newspaper has died. We are a nation of Amazon reader responses (Moby Dick is "not a really good piece of fiction"--Feb. 14, 2009, by Donald J. Bingle, Saint Charles, Ill.--two stars out of five). We are without obituaries, but the famous will achieve immortality by a Wikipedia entry.
Like all the best obits, Rodriguez's essay tells us what's been lost, and why it matters, not least to our sense of place. But, as he points out, "An obituary does not propose a solution."