Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Teju Cole's Open City

Teju Cole's Open City is one of the most effective examinations of privilege that I have ever read.

Some reviews take the title of the book to refer to New York City.  For instance, James Wood's review in the New Yorker describes New York as open, "but perhaps only in a negative way:  full of people bumping their hard solitude off one another."

To me, this reading of the title seems overly generic and literal.  It is like using "fellow traveler" to mean a traveling companion—that's not wrong exactly, but it misses quite a lot.  To be precise, an open city is a city that announces that it will not resist an invading army, in the hope that the army will spare it.  Brussels is the literal open city of Cole's book, having yielded to its Nazi occupiers without a struggle.

If Brussels was an open city, Stalingrad was the opposite, and their divergent fates illustrate what is for me the key theme of Open City:  privilege that consists of ignoring the moral demands that the world would otherwise impose on you.  The ability to abstain from the struggle, the ability to remain aloof.  Brussels made its compromise with evil and gave the Nazis little trouble.  Stalingrad fucking bled them.  But Brussels preserved itself, keeping its pleasant medieval buildings and streets intact, while Stalingrad was utterly destroyed.

To Brussels, the war was something that largely happened somewhere else, in cities like Rotterdam and London, Dresden and Tokyo. Being an open city meant not having to think about tragic choices like the British decision to destroy the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir, or for that matter Churchill's decision to wage total war on the Nazi regime, a decision which entailed losing the British Empire.

And as the narrator of Open City suggests, there is something a little insane about going the way of Stalingrad.  Amsterdam will always be considered a greater city than Rotterdam, partly because it acquiesced in evil.  So wasn't that the healthy choice?  And how often must Amsterdam even consider whether it did the right thing?  Open City reminds us of the disturbing fact that one of the features of privilege is that it is not required to recognize itself.  To a large degree, privilege consists of things that don't happen to you, choices that never present themselves, facts that don't seep into your awareness.  Not only will the privileged be spared the horrors of war, they will not even have to confront their own abdication.

It's a disgusting lesson, so Open City is not always an enjoyable book to read.  But in a way it is its own antidote:  it sheds light on privilege, stripping from it that character of self-ignorance that is so repugnant.


Blogger ninest123 said...

ninest123 16.02
prada handbags, ugg boots, jordan shoes, louboutin outlet, michael kors outlet, longchamp outlet, replica watches, louis vuitton outlet, polo ralph lauren outlet, michael kors outlet, ray ban sunglasses, ugg boots, oakley sunglasses, nike free, chanel handbags, ray ban sunglasses, oakley sunglasses, tiffany jewelry, nike outlet, tiffany and co, cheap oakley sunglasses, louboutin, oakley sunglasses, louis vuitton, polo ralph lauren outlet, oakley sunglasses, prada outlet, michael kors, gucci outlet, louis vuitton outlet, ugg boots, michael kors outlet, michael kors outlet, louis vuitton, nike air max, longchamp outlet, louis vuitton, ugg boots, nike air max, uggs on sale, ray ban sunglasses, michael kors outlet, burberry outlet online, longchamp, replica watches, burberry, louboutin shoes, christian louboutin outlet, tory burch outlet

7:58 PM  
Blogger ninest123 said...

oakley pas cher, vans pas cher, nike trainers, true religion jeans, abercrombie and fitch, north face, michael kors, lacoste pas cher, nike free run uk, nike roshe, hollister pas cher, hogan, hermes, coach outlet, ralph lauren pas cher, vanessa bruno, michael kors, michael kors, sac guess, nike air max, nike free, air max, timberland, converse pas cher, nike roshe run, sac longchamp, coach purses, burberry, nike blazer, new balance pas cher, ralph lauren uk, true religion outlet, longchamp, lululemon, nike air max, air jordan pas cher, ray ban uk, hollister, tn pas cher, air force, louboutin pas cher, true religion jeans, michael kors, nike huarache, mulberry, ray ban pas cher, longchamp pas cher, true religion jeans, nike air max, north face, replica handbags

8:00 PM  
Blogger ninest123 said...

louboutin, soccer jerseys, celine handbags, valentino shoes, iphone 6s cases, babyliss, bottega veneta, nike roshe, mcm handbags, hollister, nike air max, timberland boots, ferragamo shoes, north face outlet, jimmy choo shoes, vans shoes, lululemon, beats by dre, iphone 6s plus cases, birkin bag, vans, north face outlet, p90x workout, s5 cases, herve leger, ralph lauren, ray ban, baseball bats, nfl jerseys, iphone 6 cases, soccer shoes, nike air max, iphone 6 plus cases, giuseppe zanotti, ghd, mac cosmetics, abercrombie and fitch, iphone 5s cases, chi flat iron, mont blanc, instyler, iphone cases, insanity workout, hollister, new balance, converse, gucci, asics running shoes, wedding dresses, reebok shoes, oakley, ipad cases

8:03 PM  
Blogger ninest123 said...

moncler, ugg,ugg australia,ugg italia, canada goose, juicy couture outlet, moncler, barbour jackets, coach outlet, canada goose, canada goose uk, moncler, louis vuitton, replica watches, sac louis vuitton pas cher, doudoune canada goose, louis vuitton, moncler, moncler, thomas sabo, hollister, ugg,uggs,uggs canada, wedding dresses, karen millen, canada goose outlet, swarovski crystal, louis vuitton, canada goose, louis vuitton, pandora charms, barbour, moncler outlet, pandora jewelry, pandora jewelry, ugg pas cher, supra shoes, canada goose outlet, moncler, canada goose, lancel, ugg boots uk, swarovski, pandora charms, montre pas cher, doke gabbana outlet, converse outlet, juicy couture outlet, moncler, toms shoes, bottes ugg, links of london, marc jacobs
ninest123 16.02

8:05 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home