I walked out in the afternoon to see if the building was still there in which Louis Zukofsky was born (1905) and lived out his childhood in the Lower East Side of Manhattan
97 Christie Street, just below Grand Street is a 6 story walk up with an iron flight of stairs to the entranceway. To either side of the door are four shops, two up, two down: WING HANG LASER VIDEO CENTER, JM WIRELESS CELLPHONE REPAIR, NEW EAST AUTO DRIVING SCHOOL CORPORATION, ALL STATE RESTAURANT EQUIPMENT CORP.
When Zukofsky was born there, the signs were not in Chinese as they are today but would have read like Chinese to a person such as myself. Yiddish would have been the language of the streets and not like today, Chinese and Spanish
In the park in front of Christie Street I noticed a group of young Chinese men playing touch football. A good sign of...
I wondered if there was right then a eleven year old Chinese boy who was reading through all of Shakespeare's plays because his public school teacher, like Zukofsky's, had offered a prize for answering what he later described as "pretty stiff questions."
I think not.
Probably that teacher last week was asking the boy to read some dreary relevant but awful crap in simplified English and then writing about something he already knows... His parent(s) would be offered a bribe to make sure the kid showed up at school--- hard to believe but this is now public policy in New York City--- and the teacher at the end of the day would remind the children that next week they would all share on how the celebration of Thanksgiving had revealed the racist nature of American society.
from THE CULTURAL LIFE OF MODERN AMERICA by KNUT HAMSUN published in 1889
(Yes the same man who wrote HUNGER, a novel that simply has to have been read by anyone who thinks himself or herself well-read)
Take a city like Minneapolis, a city the size of Copenhagen, a center of commerce in the West--- Minneapolis with its theaters, schools, "art galleries," university, international exhibition and five music academies. There is one bookstore--- a single solitary one.* What does this bookstore advertise, and what does it have in its windows and on its shelves? Decorated congratulatory cards, gilt edged collections of verse, detective stories, some sheet music for "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "Home Sweet Home," dear and departed Longfellow, and all the variations of the latest inkwells. Then there is that whole deluge of "fiction" that belongs to a large nation with aspiring female scribblers. Now the bookstore is also a patriotic bookstore: it has the histories of the United States wars and lithographs of Washington; it has Uncle Tom's Cabin and General Grant's memoirs. And then it has all of America's magazine literature.
Now I would still rather read a collection of sermoins than Grant's memoirs. Grant was a man who could not even write his own language correctly; several of the generals letters are preserved as stylistic curiosities. I would rather read the city directory from cover to cover that these American detectve stories.
* There are two Scandinavian ones, selling stationary and collections of sermons.