A Few Brief Notes on the Politics of Being Local

Battery Park, NYC There's nothing that pleases me more than a sense of belonging. I like when things overlap and I like when I'm at the centre of it somehow. It's ego but it's also human.

Take a day like this:

I am sitting in the Bodleian, staring out the window, towards the dome of the Radcliffe Camera, thinking how absurd it really is, that this is my local library, that this grand place is where I work, that on my desk are three volumes of magazines from 1908 bound together in such a fragile way.  And there I am, gazing blankly, mouth hung open in that expression of well-meaning vacancy, when who should stroll by but someone I know, who says hello in a frantic whisper.  Later I go downstairs to the Lower Reading Room and smile at a colleague as he looks up from his studies.  Rolling down Broad Street, another colleague passes, waves.  Now I'm sitting in a cafe listening to music made by friends of a friend, watching a local businessman, whom I happen to know, cleaning the upstairs windows of his restaurant.

Why does this please me?  Why do I persist in having what amounts to a village mentality, and why should any of it matter, anyway--these brushes with a sense of community, this six-degrees-of-separation thing? Why do we get off on knowing that someone out there knows us? Oxford is a great place for this; anywhere you go you're likely to know someone, if only obliquely, or else someone is likely to know someone you know.

"The local," William Carlos Williams once wrote, "is the only universal." I guess that's probably true. I guess in a way that's why I like the overlap so much. Why, in the end, it's so important.