In an age of tell-alls, exposé & everybody’s autobiography, it wasn’t so much his disdain for confessions traded in the marketplace in Manhattan at the expense of a mother or husband’s privacy, or more broadly the first-person singular I, seeming always to collapse into solipsism, call it navel-gazing, as it was the overwhelming sensation of being left out of a conversation.
“Where but in the nighttime sky,” he asked, “is my rarefied public? Who are you, my reader? What of mine is worth describing?” That a memoir worthy of our times, the kind he lusted after writing, had universal appeal—this was his litmus test: “What of homo sapiens will it reveal to an extraterrestrial?”
Such a manuscript was the Library of Alexandria encoded on a microchip, an astronomical clock signaling rotation rates of pulsars, a drop of human blood encased in a diamond, the DNA of the human genome etched into one of its facets.
Only at the advent of his physical decline, the onset of Parkinson’s, did a new literacy bloom inside. Only then did habits of mind embedded even in his grocery list mirror, in the midst of its casualties, the architecture of the diamond.