On being from somewhere, but writing from/of everywhere

Joseph O’Neill, as part of the Atlantic’s four-part Border Crossings collection of essays:

There is a venerable tradition of being critical of nationalism and its assumptions. Nationalism proposes that a person’s freedom is justly maximized if the obligations limiting that freedom are set by the group with which he has most in common—i.e., his nation. A Frenchwoman’s freedom is best entrusted to a French government. Cosmopolitanism, by contrast, proposes that, as an ethical and therefore political matter, a person can belong only in a global community. Therefore a person’s freedom is qualified by obligations to others arising irrespective of the nationality or proximity of the other, or—nodding to the contribution of Emmanuel Levinas—l’autre.

…Writers, in order to produce something truly worthwhile, must be ruled only by their deepest impulses, which can come from anywhere and lead in a million valuable directions. But it does seem that those who internalize the new world have every chance of writing something newly interesting.

Read the whole essay here.

Blogging the National Book Award’s winners

This is like blog candy. Or no, not candy, more like a wine club, where something new and delectable comes in the mail whether you’ve remembered to look for it or not, and it might not be to your liking but it will always be worth tasting…

Or something. In any case. The folks who do the National Book Award are doing a blog countdown of their 60 77 winners over 60 years (celebrating their 60th anniversary, natch). An entry a day, on one of the biggies. Today, one of my favorites (and I realize one of the only in the list I’ve actually read), Nelson Algren’s The Man with the Golden Arm:

He was obsessed by the paradoxical guilt of those who have nothing, in a postwar America where having mattered a great deal. “If you don’t have anything you’re nothing,” Mr. Dennis tells Barbara Loden in the film Wanda. “You might as well be dead.” Algren would have been moved by Wanda’s plight, though he chose, famously, Simone de Beauvoir, and a taste for women who think abstractly leaks through in The Man with the Golden Arm. The men, Frankie and Sparrow, are all action and hustle, and their thoughts are dominated by plans, constantly modified. The women—Zosh, Violet and Molly-O—are more dreamily cut off from their environment, like the limp, white curtain, a singular image of freshness, that hangs in Molly-O’s window…