I don't know why I'm so intrigued by certain topics (they say "it's a good thing everybody likes something different"), but maybe I should be embarrassed to admit that I practically get sexually aroused when I see books published with titles like the following: Weimar on the Pacific: German Exile Culture in Los Angeles and the Crisis of Modernism.
However, here's the really embarrassing part of it all: How likely am I to actually ever read, or even attempt to read, this book? Not very. And that's being generously optimistic.
I really do get off on reading book reviews and newspaper or magazine articles that reference a great deal of interesting work that I could probably research further or read firsthand. But the review or article is where my interest and enthusiam end probably more than nine times out of ten. And somehow, that makes me feel a little bit like a lazy slob.
If I happen in the near future to be chatting with a professor of German at a cocktail party (which, really, happens more often that you could ever imagine), I'd be proud to be able to bring up Bahr's book, but any real knowledge of the subject matter would be based merely on the LA Times book review and is that really any kind of "adequate" knowledge at all? Am I a freak for even worrying about things like this? How likely is it that I'll ever have an opportunity to discuss this book with another person anyway? Thus, why don't I just accept that my dilletante-level knowledge of a variety of topics is good enough? ("Good enough" for what? is the next question. Yes, I know no one is keeping tabs, ok?) I guess that's the point of this: the issue of having stored a trove of relatively shallow information about thousands of subjects in my arcana-addicted brain.
The alternative is actually reading this book and wading through what the LA Times calls "two dense chapters" on "the theoretical and critical writings of" someone I, ever the philistine, have never heard of named Theodor W. Adorno "and his collaborator, Max Horkheimer." Whatever. As if I'd put up with that! If I bought this book, I could already see it on my "Started, Never Finished" list.
I find so much information packed into the review that the text almost seems to me (again, I'm embarrassed) irrelevant at this point. It's interesting to find out via the review alone that Los Angeles in the 1930s and 1940s was a crucible of art and thought churned out by giants of the German-speaking diaspora, including Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht, who is quoted as stating, "emigration is the best school of dialectics." (The title of this post, by the way, is one of Mann's Los Angeles journal notations, which sounds both mundane and — from a figure like Mann — bizarre due to its geographic setting: "Gone to Westwood for a haircut.")
In the end, I'll stop worrying. Some knowledge is better than none (it is, right?), and even though I really am intellectually lazy in a lot of ways, I'm content with the idea of being what Huntington and I have always referred to as being "well-browsed."
Are we just kidding ourselves?