Leesfragment: Known and Strange Things

28 augustus 2016 , door Teju Cole
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Teju Coles eerste essaybundel, Known and Strange Things, met stukken over politiek, fotografie, reizen, geschiedenis en literatuur, is in augustus verschenen bij Faber & Faber. Wij brengen een fragment uit de epiloog, 'Blind spot'.

A blazingly intelligent first collection of essays from the award-winning author of Open City and Every Day Is for the Thief.

With these pieces on politics, photography, travel, history and literature – many of which have become viral sensations, shared and debated around the globe – Teju Cole solidifies his place as one of today’s most powerful and original voices. On page after page, deploying prose dense with beauty and ideas, he finds fresh and potent ways to interpret art, people and historical moments.

Cole tells of his engagement with Virginia Woolf through her diaries, before reflecting on an episode of temporary blindness in New York. He looks at the rise of Instagram and interrogates the value of its images. He examines the transition of the candidate Obama, the avid reader, into a ‘forever-war’ president on the global stage.

Persuasive and provocative, erudite yet accessible, Known and Strange Things is an opportunity to live within Teju Cole’s wide-ranging enthusiasms, curiosities and passions, and a chance to see the world in surprising and affecting new frames.

'A book written with a scalpel, a microscope, and walking shoes, full of telling details and sometimes big surprises.' Rebecca Solnit

N.B. Cole houdt de Spui25-lezing op 23 september, 'Tolstoy of the Zulus: A Meditation on the Excellent Other', en wij bespraken de bundel al. Lees de recensie op Athenaeum.nl.


Blind spot

One night in April 2011, I stayed up late, reading the final pages of Virginia Woolf’s diaries. Those pages, written in late 1940 and early 1941, were about the loss of her London home in the war, her terrible nervousness about the ongoing air raids, the unexpected death of Joyce, her love for Leonard, her engagement with literature and, above all, her losing battle against depression. But the pages held a radiance too, because of Woolf’s prose, the intensity of her attention to life, and the epiphanic moments that intermittently illuminated the gloom. I went to sleep in the glare of her words. It was late, around three. I slept dreamlessly. When I woke up, there was a grey veil right across the visual field of my left eye. The blindness wasn’t total – I could see around the lace-like edges of the obstruction – and there was no pain. At the bathroom sink, splashing cold water into the eye, I wondered if this was simply my subconscious at work. Was I like those highly suggestible people who, out of sympathy with something written, drift into an area of darkness?
I have always had weak eyes. From the age of eleven I wore glasses for myopia, and over the years the prescriptions got stronger. My brothers and my mother are severely myopic, as was my grandfather. Was I like those highly suggestible people who, out of sympathy with something written, drift into an area of darkness? Glasses, inconvenient as they are, are also an occasion for gratitude at not having to live life in an impressionistic blur. But blindness was another matter. Blindness happened in literature and films, it happened to blues musicians, to mythical figures, to those unfortunates one encounters on the streets of Lagos or on the subways of New York. I leaned over the sink and splashed cold water into my eye once again. But the gray veil remained, and try as I might, I saw almost nothing out of my left eye.
I felt concern, not panic. Why should I suddenly lose my vision, without warning and with no apparent cause, one fine morning in my mid-thirties? There was nothing to worry about. At the beautiful and remote writers’ residency where I was staying in upstate New York, with several other people, I went down to the communal kitchen and told them what was happening. Quickly, a car was organized to take me down to hospital in the small town of Hudson, some twenty minutes away. If it is a detached retina, one of them said, which is what it looks like, you should have it looked at right away. It can be fixed, but only if it’s done quickly. And when I heard those words, which were meant to be reassuring, I worried.



© Teju Cole

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