Off the Beaten Path Part VIII: Lawrence Weschler

2 Nov

Lawrence Weschler is most certainly not an unheralded writer—at least two of his books are classics(if there is a such a thing) of contemporary non fiction—Vermeer in Bosnia and Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonders. He does, however engage readers at remote junctures and out-of-the-way labyrinths, both geographically and epistemologically. His newest tome Uncanny Valley: Adventures in the Narrative (Counterpoint)collects twenty three of his narrative gems, all tagged with his signature sense of wonder. Subjects range from efforts of digital animators to create a realistic human face, to profiles of novelist Mark Salzman, film and sound editor Walter Murch, artist Vincent Desiderio and his Weschler’s grandfather, composer Ernest Toch.

One of the pleasures of reading Weschler is a near-guarantee that he will be operating from an oblique perspective, challenging conventional (for lack of a better word) wisdom. For instance, though not focused on matters of governance and politics (more often, he trains his curiosity on arts and artists), Weschler is not blind to or oblivious of the darker quarters of those people and politics. One of my favorite books by him is A Miracle, A Universe (Pantheon) an account of post dictatorship human rights groups efforts in Brazil and Argentina attempting to determine the final disposition of the countless “disappeared” cause by previously genocidal regimes, which introduced me to one of the most decent people on this planet Eduardo Galeano.

Here’s a recent Weschler rumination on political corruption that Tomsdispatch published In its conclusion he explains the US system to Godfrey, a Ugandan cab driver:

…Education, meanwhile, is funded according to narrowly local property taxes — and the rich make sure it stays that way. The result? Their kids get a far better education than those living in poorer neighborhoods. When people try to remedy that injustice through affirmative action programs which at least recognize the unfairness of the competition for access to, for example, university slots, the rich protest and get judges to overturn such programs as racist. They are, however, perfectly happy to take advantage of other programs that assure the acceptance of the children of alumni, no matter their scholarly performance, and no one says boo. It’s all perfectly legal.

And as a rich frosting on this confection, there is this quote from W.E.B. DuBois, “We let men take wealth which is not theirs; if the seizure is ‘legal’ we call it high profits. And the profiteers help decide what is legal.”

Currently reading Stories of Village Life by Amos Oz (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

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