It is early August, 2011. Just last week I became a Canadian citizen, and two days later I turned 39. Two days after that I had already obtained my Canadian passport (a rush job) and I departed forthwith for Park Slope (well, via Princeton, but that part of the story doesn't matter). I sublet my three bedroom apartment in the Plateau of Montreal, only to hand over all of the money I got from that, every last cent of it, for a closet-sized cell, with a sad light bulb hanging from a wire from the ceiling, in a three-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. This is the only city in the world for which, at this point, I would willingly tolerate such a demotion.
And the constant question is: Why? For personal reasons, I had to get out of Montreal right away. I had an anywhere-but-here imperative (I also put out feelers in Berlin, and checked ticket prices on Expedia to Curaçao, Windhoek, and Addis Ababa), but I ended up here (note the shift in indexicals). I ended up having to worry about toothpaste traces in the sink, the position of the toilet seat after use, and where to put my physical dimensions in order to simply write. And to write, in the end, is what I am here to do, is what I am anywhere to do. This is a process that ordinarily should not be seen. My habits are odd, and I mean odd even by authorial standards. I like to write with a head of raw broccoli on the desk, and to gnaw away at it between moments of inspiration. I talk to myself, and in tongues (or so it may appear: fragments of Sanskrit noun declensions, bits of Lermontov, like the poem about the lonely sail that shows white-- there is a verb in Russian for 'showing white', белеть, something that we do not usually think of as an action or event at all).
So why am I going through with all of this? A few years ago I wrote in this space that I would by now be thoroughly unwelcome in Brooklyn (Williamsburg, to be precise), that I was now a family man, a career man, that I'd been spotted wearing Dockers and that it was all really too late for me. But things change, and one turns out to not be as old as one had thought. The train of Chronos stops for no man, but one is free to adjust the seating along the way. So I found myself newly independent, ridiculously independent, in possession of a small sum of money, and increasingly unable to deny the nagging voice in my head, which dictates to me that my generally torrential output of academic writing is not quite doing it for me, that I need, simply need, to work in other genres as well. There is of course the blog (I am working in another genre even as I announce my need to do so). But for now anyway the blog is too lowly, too much an outgrowth of the fanzine, or too anchored to its role as an auxiliary to the godawful evanescent news cycle.
So I came to the place where, I sensed, this overflow of words, words that are going to come out one way or other, might be most productively channeled. I have been here for three days and my presentiment is already turning out to have been well founded. It's a bit embarassing to have to do this. Zadie Smith (no relation) wrote somewhere that the last thing someone who writes should do is to worry about réseautage; if you want to write, just sit down and write: that's what produces writing. But I believe she wrote this after she had written White Teeth, and I assume we know what White Teeth is at all because, by ambition or by inheritance, she had talked to the right people prior to its publication. There may be a Mongolian counterpart to White Teeth sitting in notebooks in some poor Mongolian woman's yurt; but you'll never hear about it.
So yes, this is a month of réseautage, a concept I hate so much I can't bring myself to say it in English, even if it is precisely what I'm doing. I'm doing it in particular from a base in Park Slope, which it turns out, is an odd choice. It is certainly no Williamsburg. My psychogeography of Brooklyn was so poor when I arrived that I assumed I would be seeing nothing but Hasidim and those young skinny people with the skinny bicycles (whatever they're called; what the hell do I know?). In fact I am seeing mostly lesbian couples with strollers. But whatever. It's still a New York address, and I can say in my SMSs and my e-mails: I'm here in the city for a month if you want to meet up to talk over that idea. And this works better than: I'm up in Montreal but perhaps we can hammer out some ideas by e-mail. D'you have Skype set up? Montreal is still a rather more strategic location than Cincinnati, where I once found myself, but let's be honest (and I apologize to my adoptive home country): it is no global center; pretty much anything that happens there will remain of merely regional consequence.
So that's what I'm doing here this month. I'm also finishing a translation of Georg Ernst Stahl'a anti-Leibnizian tirade, the Negotium otiosum of 1720, writing a review for the Chronicle of Higher Education about a book about bears, tying up loose ends on various articles and volume chapters I have floating around out there, working on my Sanskrit. All of this takes about three hours per day. The rest of the time I am either meeting with people (mostly people, I confess, who have something I want), or I am writing the thing that has no anchor either in the world of the blog or the world of the university, which (and this is all I'll say about it for now) is called The Bestiary.