Angleworms in a Bottle: The New York Story

I spent a couple days in New York, including meeting with a pseudo-friend. If you don’t live in New York, you might not know what a pseudofriend is. New York is full of them. These are the people who want to get out of you a lot of the benefits of a friendship—the exchange of ideas and gossip, the warmth, the removal of loneliness—but without really paying out as a friend behind your back. They’d just as soon you do badly. I’m not talking about friend/rivals. That’s an old and honored category of friendship. Old friends know how to negotiate that (ask Gore Vidal and Truman Capote..).

Pseudofriend is a professional category. It’s hard for writers to get along that well in N.Y. Because N.Y. is the writers’ olympic site. As it’s the olympic site for investment analysts, TV people, legal turks, advertising people, etc. I bet they have pseudofriends, too.

Here are two eminent writers holding forth on the subject. First is the late Saul Bellow, as interviewed by
Philip Roth in The New Yorker:

I’ve thought quite a lot about the New York setting of “Seize the Day” and I’m inclined to agree that the loneliness, shabbiness, and depression of the book find a singular match in the uptown Broadway surroundings. I think that for old-time Chicagoans the New Yorkers of “Seize the Day” are emotionally thinner, or one-dimensional. We had fuller or, if you prefer, richer emotions in the Middle West. I think I congratulated myself on having been able to deal with New York, but I never won any of my struggles there, and I never responded with full human warmth to anything that happened there.

Wow. Note that: Bellow never won any of his struggles in New York. (No wonder Roth lives in CT).

Now here’s Hemingway in a famous passage from The Green Hills of Africa:

Writers should work alone. They should see each other only after their work is done, and not too often then. Otherwise they become like writers in New York. All angleworms in a bottle, trying to derive knowledge and nourishment from their own contact and from the bottle. Sometimes the bottle is shaped art, sometimes economics, sometimes economic-religion. But once they are in the bottle they stay there. They are lonesome outside of the bottle…