Thursday, October 31, 2013

On Place and Cara Hoffman

Writer Cara Hoffman has taken shots at her former home town before.

In an Ithaca Times article she took its citizens to task for not supporting the last, privately owned bookstore in town.  She holds us to a standard that counters irreversible current trends: people are more and more reading books in electronic formats.  The traditional bookshop is no longer very relative.   

Hoffman then relates how she was active in saving St. Marks Books in New York City, and if she could, she would pick up Colophon Books in Ithaca and “move it to Avenue B.”  For Hoffman, New York City can save her most treasured ideals despite stark economic realities.

In the most recent post on her blog, an elegy to Lou Reed, Hoffman's New York and Ithaca divide gets even wider.  She calls Ithaca, or the Ithaca region, a “hellhole in the middle of nowhere” and has Lou Reed, mimicking her own sentiments, deriding Trumansburg as a place to get out of at all costs --- as if his off the cuff comments are words of prophecy.  A sign.

It is a shame that Hoffman, a talented writer who can put together really great prose, has to propel her art  with a long smoldering hatred for a place which in many respects was kind to her.  There are people in Ithaca and Trumansburg who helped her as an artist and friend, supported her in good and bad times, and provided a community of like-minded artists and writers she could support and in turn, find support.

I suppose she is mimicking the long tradition of the writer who has fled a ‘backwater’ town for the stimulation of the big city.  This well-worn cliché puts both New York City and Ithaca in less than genuinely illuminating light.

New York City, Ithaca, and Trumansburg (I have lived in and around all three) are neither heaven nor hell.  Our all too human perspective on what a place gives and takes from us as people and writers is provided by a cloudy lens.  To mistake this grimy view for ultimate or even collective reality is a grave mistake. 

Yet Hoffman does this all too often.  She mixes place with individual identity, as if that is the only marker of a person's true being, art with reality, as if art, even great art, can encompass the explosive power of existence, and transmutes a relative view of  a people, their place,  and their culture, into a stony absolute.  She does all this in insulting tones. 

Very many people, myself included, love Tru-mans-burg  --- Lou Reed and Cara Hoffman’s posturing aside.  I feel no need to flee.

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