Experience, Personal

I also noticed in myself that the more you live among colored people, the less likely you are to recognize the color of people. I am probably still conscious of whether the person sitting across from me is Negro or not, but I cannot remember, for instance, if the store I shopped in yesterday had many colored customers or not. When we went to London for a spell, we happened to choose a flat in the Brixton area, south of the Thames. Later some friends from the more fashionable North informed us, with some horror, that Brixton was “a coloured slum.” We looked again; and sure enough some neighbors were indeed West Indians and others Indians from Asia. We quite simply had not noticed their race before. Our neighborhood was no more “coloured” than the average New York City subway car.

—“The Harlem I Knew” (1967)

My problem with cars, incidentally, is not my ignorance of driving—I do have a license—but that in my gut I regard passenger cars as essentially unsafe. They break down at inopportune moments, leaving you stranded. They kill more people in a day around the world than airplanes kill in a year. They also drown out the sound of bicycles that, at least in Berlin, are even more likely than cars to crash into you. We are coming to realize that cars are now more dangerous to life and limb than dark streets or even contemporary wars. When you saw a body smashed apart in l946, you were rightly reminded of the War; if you see a body similarly broken now, we all know that nine times out of ten a car did it.

—“Letter from Berlin”(1981)

Though I must own well over fifteen thousands books, I’ve not until recently collected anything in sense of trying to purchase everything within a certain category. Most of the books owned by me were obtained for a particular project—sometimes a work currently in progress, other times a project that I did in the past but about which I nonetheless maintain an active interest, and more often for one that I am planning to do in the future.

—“‘Collecting’ Cultural Magazines’ Self-Retrospectives” (2002)