Purple Magazine
— F/W 2014 issue 22


new york



I have been thinking lately about Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. In Act III of the play, the eponymous Roman soldier and misanthrope is told that, due to his tyrannical pride in not wooing the public by showing them his battle scars, he is banished from the city. Coriolanus responds with signature impudence: “I banish you!” he rejoins, “… despising for you, the city, thus I turn my back; there is a world elsewhere.” It is not surprising, having moved to New York at the age of 20 back in 1996, that I should find myself having grown old here. Old in Manhattan means middle-aged, and the incidental casualties of being no

longer seduced by every corner, no longer the star of my own imaginary music video, no longer, in other words, susceptible to the fiction that merely living in New York can pass for accomplishment. It means that I have cultivated that middle-aged mentality of despising what I formerly loved.

Here is a sample list of quotidian New York experiences that set my teeth on edge: the sound of skateboard wheels on concrete (also the thud of any skateboard tricks); the voices of drunk young women screeching out of bars at two in the morning outside my window in the East Village (“Ashlllleeeeyyyy, come onnnnn!”); champagne-sponsored parties that revolve around the apparently messianic design of a fashion accessory; convention centers filled with new art; young people’s choice of pants. These are sane aversions, but they’re also telling. No longer young, I spear the conventions of those who are young in New York — and who have every right to be. Didn’t I once wake neighbors screaming a name while stumbling out of a bar? Didn’t I befriend skateboarders who had action figures sticking out of their back pockets? The problem for me isn’t that youth still exists; it’s about quantity, the unsubtle fact that the entire downtown landscape has become a sort of stylized playground of juvenile aspirations, with all of the sharp edges padded. If I were a Midwestern parent and had an unruly 20-year-old, I might very well send him to Manhattan, where he could get in manicured trouble and never end up behind the wheel. But here’s the thing: I also hate when people complain about New York. Yes, yes, it isn’t like it was… Fine. I am aware that I’m sawing the very branch on which I sit. Still, I do consider the youthification of a world capital — the only one that we as developing weird misfit Americans had to run away to — to be an astonishing loss to the imagination and the intellect. The victories of living here have become too easy, the mood too complacent, the gestures of individuality too stage-managed. No one really needs to survive on their wits.

So those of my generation bloat into crabby old folks, unwelcome on park benches for being the belittling Coriolanuses who refuse to banish the city that has already banished them. The problem here is that, for the most part, there isn’t a world elsewhere. There is no other place (as Coriolanus himself discovers in his eventual murder in Antium). What has stricken New York is what I would describe as Americanization with a surly face (and maybe a neck tattoo). Of course the real canker is money: the pioneer spirit of the East — always a rather Protestant mutation to begin with — has given way to delirious forms of wealth management. Art repeats the aesthetics of previous movements with empty purpose; fashion becomes either look-alike uniform or inanely and seasonally distinctive; American fiction, faltering in the shadow of the great American novel, finds itself struggling through sitcom-like parody or the fictive blur of the mundane memoir; philosophy withdraws into the expensive, echoless comforts of the university classroom; we as a culture enjoy price tags — they articulate value. The cure to the current illusion of the new might be something actually new — something we won’t recognize when we see it.

But I think New York, which I still love, which is the only home I have left, which I probably won’t ever leave unless due to poverty, has seen too much. Too much history can be a weight on the imagination. There’s a fantastic line in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, in which the British narrator is trying to warn the insouciant American against starting new wars. “We are the old colonial peoples, Pyle,” Fowler says, “but we’ve learned a bit of reality, we’ve learned not to play with matches.” And now we, like good children who are only dressed as bad ones, have learned not to play with them, too. All that said,

I, like everyone else I know, love to be surprised.

Christopher Bollen, a New York-based novelist and journalist is the editor-at-large of Interview magazine. His first novel, Lightning People, was released in 2011.

[Table of contents]

F/W 2014 issue 22

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS

purple BEST of the SEASON





purple BEAUTY

purple LOVE

purple SEX

purple NIGHT

purple STORY


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