The New Yorker format of a three to four page column allows Peter Schjeldahl to leap into subjects, look around, and amass a glittering pile of insights for each installment. In these essays on art he seamlessly blends high and low language to bring descriptions and ruminations to life where phrases like “drag queen cheek” cozy up with arcane words like “inchoate” and “fungible.” In addition the scope and range of Schjeldahl’s knowledge and history is daunting, but in spite of all this, his writing comes across as generous, accessible, and possibly even hospitable. His style invites the reader into subjects even if they have no previous knowledge of the sometimes-obscure topics, but his approach leaves the ramifications of these posited notions up to the reader to discover. That’s part of the beauty of this diving-in short format I mentioned before.
Schjeldahl gets right to the point. In his first essay from the collection Let’s See entitled America, he takes a rather worn theme of a lack or hole being at the center of American identity, but transforms it into something fresh.
Americaness is nobodiness. Deep down, I feel like nobody; and this void in me is the earnestness of my belonging. A hole in my heart pledges allegiance to America. (14)