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THE WONDER OF GEORGE W. S. TROW
Grappling with 'teenage alcoholism' and other televised problems
A few weeks ago I reread Within the Context of No-Context, the aphoristic, lyrical, personal, analytic, cynical, sincere, ironic, nostalgic, prophetic, gnomic essay by George W. S. Trow that appeared first in 1980 in the New Yorker, where Trow was a staff writer for decades, then in a volume along with his profile of Atlantic Records president Ahmet Ertegun, then in an edition of 1997 with the new foreword “Collapsing Dominant.” I joined Zach Fine and Jess Swoboda for an episode of the new podcast from The Point, “Selected Essays.”
At a basic level, Trow’s essay is about the effect of television on American society, or as he puts it, the displacement of the “grid of intimacy” by the “grid of 200 million.” I won’t go on about Trow here because I do enough nattering about him on the podcast. (I also read out loud generous portions of his essay, though the hosts informed me that some of that had to be cut.) For more background on Trow, I recommend Ariel Levy’s piece on his untimely death for New York, this piece by Kyle Chayka in the Nation, David Salle’s memoir of his friendship with Trow in Frieze, and Trow’s 1974 piece on Sly Stone’s Madison Square Garden wedding. I love My Pilgrim’s Progress, Trow’s loose sequel to Within the Context of No-Context from 1999, an excerpt of which, “Folding the Times,” you can find here. If you can get your hands on Bullies, his collection of short fiction and casuals from the New Yorker, or his novel The City in the Mist, don’t pass up the chance.