Thursday, February 4, 2016
February 1, 2016 Issue
What do Allen Ginsberg, Rudyard Kipling, Marie Antoinette, Gloria Steinem, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, Jacques Derrida, James Joyce, Lewis Mumford, Fiorello LaGuardia, Marcel Proust, Walter Kirn, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Steve Carell have in common? Answer: they all appear in Nathan Heller’s dazzling essay "Air Head," in this week’s issue.
“Air Head” is a delicious inflight cocktail of ideas – a review of Christopher Schaberg’s The End of Airports (“a wandering but well-fuelled study of air travel’s fading profile in our digitally transported age”), an epistemological argument (“The battle between jet planes and smart phones isn’t about speed or glamour. It’s about ways of knowing”), a social theory (“The airborne class and those who brushed against it came to represent what we might call 'encounter thought': a way of processing the world which grew from easy geographic leaps and happenstantial connections”), a literary theory (“what made the New Journalism new was its vigor as a literary life-style movement, based largely on the idea that professional process—the getting there, the rips between the coasts—was part of the essential story, too”), and two potent shots of personal history, the second of which begins, “The worst air logistics I’ve ever encountered were en route to a reporting assignment in Monaco—a destination with a gloss of antiquated glamour foreign to me, and a project that suggested I’d been dropped into another traveller’s life,” and ends nineteen lines later with this gorgeous passage:
To our right, the hills fell away, revealing a full moon. The Mediterranean gaped beneath it, wide and textured like the skin of an old person’s cheek. I rolled the window down, certain that I was watching something people were not supposed to see: the world undressing itself, changing color, wiping off its makeup with a moonlight-hued layer of cream. A breeze came up, jasmine and silk trees, and we followed it down toward the water. Every switchback offered a new view. I arrived at my destination and reported my piece, but, when I think of that week, what’s sharpest in my memory is the slow sunset descent to Portugal, the woman cradling a baby whom she did not know, the brightness of the moon on the sea long past midnight. Anyway, it was better than the fast flight home.
That “I rolled the window down, certain that I was watching something people were not supposed to see: the world undressing itself, changing color, wiping off its makeup with a moonlight-hued layer of cream” is inspired! The whole piece is inspired. I enjoyed it immensely.