Known and Strange Things: Essays
By Teju Cole
This “blazingly intelligent first book of essays” contains “more than fifty pieces on politics, photography, travel, history, and literature…deploying prose dense with beauty and ideas…”
I know Teju Cole for his criticism and photography writing, and haven’t yet read his novels. But he is unmistakably on a roll — he has another new book out, Blind Spot, that also looks incredible.
Trying to tease out the through-line here, what comes to mind are themes of interpretation, seeing, cultural experience, perspective. Rebecca Solnit says: “This is a book written with a scalpel, a microscope, and walking shoes…” — I love this description; It resonates with Cole’s own description of exploring, as he says, “where the limits of knowledge lay…”
It contains several sections: “Reading Things”, “Seeing Things”, “Being There”, and “Epilogue”. It’s not all his nonfiction from an eight year period, but rather a particular collection of material that “favors epiphany”.
There seems to be a particular focus on art and photography — two sections here each with eight full-color plates. Cole takes not just reading and writing, but art, seeing, expressing, seriously.
Most pieces are short, meditative, focused, and damned perceptive, acutely so. He’s a writer attuned not just to detail but meaning extrapolated, truth and thought and vision captured and unfurled.