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39 New York City David is an anarchist anthropologist, and it is to him that I owe the true story of Gotham. It was a small village in south Nottinghamshire in England which, during the reign of bad King John in the early 13th Century, decided to forgo the questionable pleasure and huge expense of welcoming the King and his considerable retenue. Instead, they decided to behave like idiots. It is reported that royal messengers found the villagers engaged in ridiculous tasks, like trying to drown an eel or joining hands around a thornbush to shut in a cuckoo. King John took fright and moved on. This story of Gotham as a village of idiots full of would-be village idiots, burbled down through history until Washington Irving picked up the legend as an appellation for New York in the early 19th Century and the name stuck, right through to Batman and beyond. It is also the name of a chic little restaurant on Manhattan’s West 12th Street, 40 between 5th Avenue and University Place, which offers an excellent and reasonably priced lunch menu, despite being full of idiots. New York is a city of idiots , a town full of crazies, some of them on medication , some of them exploring their inner truth, some of them doing both at once. One or two New Yorkers still try to scare the king. But the idiocy of New York also has another deeper dimension evoked at the beginning of E.B. White’s wonderfully tightly written memoir, Here is New York. ‘On any person who desires such queer prizes’, he begins, ‘New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy’. Of course, this is deeply paradoxical, but completely accurate in my view. The prize of life in New York is the only privacy that is worthwhile, one that is not lived sequestered behind walls but lived in the crowded exposure of the public realm, on the subway or on the street. The loneliness of which White speaks is utterly foreign to a feeling of alienation or anomie; it is the gift of idiocy. In the many idioms of New York life, idiosyncrasy and individuality can meld together. Provided , of course, that one is lucky. But, as White adds, no one should come to live in New York unless she is prepared to be lucky. The idiocy of New York can forge the strongest individuals, but it can also destroy them and drive them mad. ...


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MARC Record
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