I’m sure of nothing, and writing essays is one of the ways I sort through my doubts. Here are twelve, all published in 2012. Listing them now, I see that I have had persistent themes: cities, photography, how Africa is seen, and questions of literary influence.
Thanks to the editors who made these pieces happen—especially those at the New Yorker, the New Inquiry, the Atlantic, and Granta—and to the readers who wandered with me into various modes of reportage, criticism and memoir. Here’s to more doubt in the coming year.
“In the vision-cancelling intensity of the lamp, my grey veil became a thick red cloud of pure vision, and I imagined I could see my own optic nerve.”
—Blind Spot [on losing my sight]
“The faint hiss of champagne being poured. The clink of glasses. Far below us was the obscurity of the East River and, beyond it, the borough of Queens, glimmering in the dark.”
—Natives on the Boat [on meeting Naipaul]
“One morning this past June, I played truant from a conference I was attending in Norwich, England, and called a taxi to take me out to the countryside.”
—Always Returning [after S.]
“I deeply respect American sentimentality, the way one respects a wounded hippo. You must keep an eye on it, for you know it is deadly.”
— The White Savior Industrial Complex [questions about saving Africa]
“A low and fractured light shimmers across his ouevre. A fluency in the language of the light at rest in all things, at rest and invisible to most eyes.”
— Dappled Things [on Gueorgui Pinkhassov and the Instagram revolution]
“It is no great shame for an artist to be taken for a man of the wider world.”
—Why is This Man Wearing a Turban? [on xenophobia in Brussels]
“It has taken everything in, cannibalized everything, and out