Distribution Automatique

Monday, September 6

As a child I was an army brat, so my family constantly
traveled. Libraries became my refuge, especially soon
after arriving at a new army fort. But still I've been surprised
by how much time I've been spending at the Brooklyn
Public Library at Grand Army Plaza here in Park Slope.
One of the great things about visiting libraries is that
I am more likely to borrow a book that I probably wouldn't
buy. On my last visit, I managed to score a whole stack
of Jonathan Lethem novels (I'm reading novels more now
that I am commuting to Manhattan to my office). I've gone
through all of these in a few weeks and
have enjoyed every one of them
immensely, especially *Motherless Brooklyn*, *Amnesia
Moon*, and *She Crawled Across the Table*. Using
a gift card I recently bought his big new book *Fortress
of Solitude.*

Patiently going through a good portion of the fiction section,
after realizing there were few Jonathan Lethem novels left
for me to read, except for *Kafka Americana*, which is a collaboration,
I came across Andrei Codrescu's new novel
*Wakefield*, which I took out, and a Brazilian novel called
*Turbulence*. And then I happened to notice *Jennie Gerhardt*
(1911) by Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945).
The happy coincidence of the Labor
Day weekend opened up time for a book that is just the right
fare for Labor Day during a time of U.S. right-wing domination.
Like his most famous book, *Sister Carrie*, Dreiser's fiction powerfully
reveals the vulnerabllties of poverty, not from a moral, but from
a social viewpoint. Perhaps it might be fair to say that
Dreiser is America's Emile Zola, or even, as in
the passage below, our Walter Benjamin. Here is a taste of
*Jennie Gerhardt*:

""We live in an age in which the impact of
materialized forces is well nigh irresistable: the
spiritual nature is overwhelmed by the shock. The
tremendous and complicated development of our
material civilisation, the multiplicity, and variety
of our social forms, the depth, sublety, and sophistry
of our imaginative impressions, gathered, remultiplied,
and disseminated by such agencies as the railroad,
the express and the post office, the telephone, the
telegraph, the newspaper, and, in short, the whole
machinery of social intercourse- these elements of
existence combine to produce what may be termed
a kaleidoscopic glitter, a dazzling and confusing
phantasmagoria of life that wearies and stultifies the
mental and moral nature. It induces a sort of intellectual
fatigue through which we see the ranks of the victims
of insomnia, melancholia, and insanity constantly recruited.
Our modern brain-pan does not seem capable as yet
of receiving, sorting, and storing the vast army of
facts and impressions which present themselves daily.
The white light of publicity is too white. We are weighed
upon by too many things. It is as if the wisdom of the
infinite were struggling to beat itself into finite and
cup-big minds."