There are 4 conferences in New York this weekend I wanted to go to, but I am only managing two. Such is the life in New York. While I’ll be missing the landscape conference and the Historic House Tours, today, I managed to make it to both JASNA in Brooklyn and Open House New York (OHNY) in Manhattan.
The day started with Cornel West, who is a Jane Austen fanatic, along with the 750 conference goers. His style of delivery and even his point of view made for a fascinating point-counterpoint with Anna Quindlen. While she focused on Austen as a miniaturist, who with that in-depth study models for writers a kind of greatness in the detail, he placed Austen as “the daughter of Shakespeare” in a Humanist tradition going back to the Greeks. What does it mean to be human? What is it affected by acknowledging our inevitable death? We accomplish wisdom only through self-knowledge. West argues that Jane Austen writes compellingly about each.
While Quindlen spoke from the heart, with tears in her voice, West leaned over his podium, spoke without notes, reference philosophy and literature through the ages, and impassioned his audience with preacher-like reverence. He compared Austen with Checkov who said “I am a sad soul with a cheerful disposition,” then compared both authors in their quest to reveal, understand, and grow from suffering. In a similar spirit to Quindlen, West said, “Jane Austen’s accomplishments go beyond our ability to keep up with them.”
Having first met West’s work while in graduate school, in writing filled with anger at patriarchal power structures and the oppression of African Americans, I was a bit amazed to see him leap to the stage, personally acknowledge many coordinators and scholars in the audience, and hug everyone within a few feet. Perhaps, like all of us, age has brought a softening, a gentleness, a Jane Austen-ness that inevitably comes from the suffering of daily life.
After a rousing session on Georgian jewelry, I made my way back to Manhattan to the West Village. With an hour to spare, I visited a Tibetan shop and stopped in to look at some fun antique clocks next door.
Then I followed this guy for awhile, with his orange wheel. I have no idea what he was doing or where he was ultimately going.
I sat in a pretty park with a nice fountain, until it was time to make my way to the OHNY tour.
Manhole Covers. Yes, really. Quite wonderful.
The tour was led to the artist Michele Brody who has a passion for manhole covers, designed one that was temporarily situated on Wall Street, and recently has sold manhole cover inspired lighting. You’ll see her picture in this slide show, along with some of the highlights. I love how important the feet and shoes became in this venture of looking down at the minutiae of life. I bet Jane Austen would have loved this tour.