The Midwest isn’t as charming as many of its inhabitants seem to believe. It’s insular and folksy and nativistic. It’s welcoming to newcomers, so long as they’re willing to incorporate themselves under a mutual disdain for/dependence upon the weather and a vital middleness in nearly all its forms. Placement, outlook, class-identification, cuisine. It looks in, rather than out. It’s predominant method of anything is heuristic.
People say Chicago has that Midwestern feel, which typically means it’s friendlier, slower, easier, cheaper. Than New York. Tony Judt, a man with whom I’ve long agreed on many things, called Chicago “the great American city,” quintessentially flags, fireworks, and apple pie. New York, by contrast, is a “world city,” according to Judt, and again I agree. I’m not sure if, by extension, the Midwest is quintessentially American because it’s principal city is so, and I can’t ask Tony because he’s dead. I’m going to go out on an empirical limb and say yes, it is.
Chicago is like Haruki Murakami, who is not dead. After ten years in this city, I think I’m finally figuring it out, and, by Midwestern standards of authority, in a position to say so. What I mean by “Chicago is like Haruki Murakami” is not that the city is like the man but that the city is like his prose.
Don’t get me wrong, I love HM—he was one of the first authors to get me started down the writing path and I think Hard Boiled Wonderland is one of the best books I’ve ever read. And I love Chicago. But, when I read Murakami now, I can’t help feeling he’s trying a little too hard (or his translator is) to sound a certain way that he seems to believe people sound but don’t. It’s outsiderish, but from the inside. Like Chicago, thinking it’s something it used to be or maybe never even really was.
My point is that the Midwestern feel feels more and more like a persistent myth that has not yet been overwritten by reality, by a new form of actuality with deep roots in the old. I could elucidate this theory further but I don’t care to. I’d rather just toss it out there and let it sit. Maybe I’ll come back to it tomorrow or in a few days or when I start packing up to leave for California, where I’ll be able to sit at a comfortable, oceanside distance and look back over the vast expanses to the Windy City, the soul of the country, and write it all out.
By the way, the title of this thing is a line from Tranströmer’s autobiographical stuff.