NORFOLK, Conn.—A reader sent a note the other day remarking on one of the entries in this Cú Chulainn—an entry dated last October, the latest before this one. It was one more reminder among many that I’ve fallen radically behind in maintaining not only the Journal but the site altogether. Everything’s behind: the column postings, the mail; the Appearances section, wherein I make available links to media and lecture appearances and simply listing those for which there are no links, is practically empty.
In truth, readers, I’m more or less constantly trying to catch up with my duties across the board—professional, social, managing the household. I suppose it’s a happy problem, as problems go. I could be twiddling my thumbs and aging before my time. I never anticipated the columns I’ve taken up since returning from Asia in 2010 would ever have the reach or the impact they appear to’ve achieved—and certainly not the readership they appear to enjoy. I can’t be but gratified. But I’m desperate for time—and a p.a., which I can’t afford.
I will do better, modest in import as all that is on this site may be.
I’LL NOTE IN THIS FIRST ENTRY in the revived Journal a piece of news. The Russian edition of Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century has just been published. Yale’s London office wrote to advise of this a few days ago. My copies are on the way. There’s a little ordinary pleasure in this, O.K., but my intent it to make a larger point.
It came to me as I was writing the previous book, Somebody Else’s Century, in 2008—09, that I ought to give some thought to just who I presumed to be writing for. American and anyone else who may be interested, of course: the stock answer. But how many Americans would understand what I was attempting to convey? How many would be interested, even, in trying to grasp the book’s point? Sales confirmed my answers. As they have for the book that came out a few years later, the book the Russians just published in translation.
I wrote Somebody Else’s in a tiny flat in Hong Kong, on a kitchen cutting board I made into a sort of laptop desk as I sat on the sofa. It began to occur to me that people other than Americans were bound to be who I was truly addressing. Non-Americans, and non-Westerners especially, would get the point. The Russian translation’s appearance brings this thought forward once again.
There are two sides to it. One, my decades abroad changed me. I’m as American as I ever was, but a part of me is permanently “away.” I’m not altogether a Westerner anymore—a matter of sensibility, nothing to do with traits related to trivialities such as one’s appearance. Two and more to my point, it’s hard to write for Americans, I find, if you have anything serious to say about the world beyond our borders and our place in it. We’re not interested, if “we” can be used, in anything that disturbs our preconceptions and presumptions. And the world as it now is, the world I wrote about in the books and try to reflect in the columns, does so disturb our understanding of it and ourselves.
This aspect of impenetrability—what a word, sorry—disturbs me, in turn.
To conclude on a brighter note, I am so very often delighted to discover in the responses to the columns—letters via this web site, the comment thread following the pieces, social media—how many of us are eager on the way to desperate to begin the American conversation on a new set of assumptions.
Amid no clear signs of progress on our way into the twenty-first century, I see a few.