Archive

The Intellectual Situation

4 March 2014

For the past two years, since Putin reassigned himself to the Russian presidency, we have indulged ourselves in a bacchanalia of anti-Putinism, shading over into anti-Russianism. We turned Pussy Riot into mass media stars. We wrote endless articles (and books) about how Putin was a mystery man, a terrible man, a KGB ghoul who lived under your bed. More…

12 February 2014

What these two shows have in common is that they both take the human utterance and instrumentalize it. In other words, they say exactly what they need to, and what they don’t need they hold back. State workers brought together semi-forcibly are to listen to Leps, but for export we have Stravinsky. Neither of these have anything to do with today’s situation in Russia. More…

23 January 2014

Even when we don’t opine, just clicking around, we’re like cilia on the tracheal lining of some gross beast, and our small work of enthusiasm, liking or passing along or reiterating or linking, is like the wriggle of a hair, pushing the story down the throat of the culture, filling its lungs so that it may breathe. We can accept this. We are a hair. More…

Originally published in Issue 18: Good News

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28 August 2013

The search around the globe for genocides to eradicate is the ultimate rights perversion, for it reduces human rights to the right not to be brutally murdered in a particular way that fits the definition of genocide given in the Genocide Convention. This cannot be anyone’s idea of a robust human rights. If human rights are to be reclaimed they need first of all to be restored to the realm of politics. More…

12 August 2013

World Literature certainly sounds like a nice idea. A literature truly global in scope ought to enlarge readers’ sympathies and explode local prejudices, releasing us from the clammy cells of provincialism to roam, in imagination, with people in faraway places and times. The aim is unimpeachable. Accordingly, nobody says a word against it at the humanities department conclaves. More…

29 April 2013

The cultural nature of politics, the political nature of culture: these have formed the main quandary debated by left intellectuals, mainly among themselves (and there lies much of the trouble), over the twenty some years since the oldest of us went off to colleges where Theory and Cultural Studies were all the impotent rage. More…

15 April 2013

The South Asian presence on TV is also evidence of the enormous power of the South Asian diaspora . No immigrant group in the US is so uniformly rich, so well placed in professional and executive ranks, so widely dispersed and integrated into wealthy white society. We have the Booker Prize on lock! Bengalis rule postcolonial studies. The motel business is mostly run by Gujaratis. More…

8 April 2013

This spread of sociological thinking has led to sociological living — ways of thinking and seeing that are constructed in order to carry out, yet somehow escape, the relentless demystification sociology requires. Seeing art as a product, mere stuff, rather than a work, has become a sign of a good liberal (as opposed to bad elitist) state of mind. More…

28 November 2012

Women, we mean the internet, are commanding a larger share of the traditional print market. The internet, we mean women, is less responsive to conventional advertising than to commenting, sharing, and other forms of social interaction. Women, we mean the internet, are putting men, we mean magazine editors, out of work. The internet, we mean women, never pays for its content — or for their drinks! More…

Originally published in Issue 15: Amnesty

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26 June 2012

Anti-contraception is a really good issue for Big Baby, a core issue that reaches deep into Big Baby psychology and passion. That’s because of a certain edge always present in the mother–whore dyad of infantile, and Big Infantile, thinking: the hostility to adult female sexuality and reproduction that comes from ambiguous feelings about Baby’s own arbitrary origins. More…

19 June 2012

Jean Baudrillard once suggested an important correction to classical Marxism: exchange value is not, as Marx had it, a distortion of a commodity’s underlying use value; use value, instead, is a fiction created by exchange value. In the same way, systems of accreditation do not assess merit; merit is a fiction created by systems of accreditation. More…

14 June 2012

It can be very amusing, Dickensian, when a fictional avatar has a narrow, caricatured personality: the girl who says, exclusively, shit girls say, or the tween hobo or out-of-touch masculine blowhard who is always true to type. It’s a lot less funny when a real person, supposedly the many-sided hero of his own life, decides to say only one sort of thing, and say it all the time. More…

22 August 2011

Tucked beneath our covers, laptops propped on our knees—is this not the posture most conducive to meaningful Gchatting? In addition to being comfortable, our beds are private; on Gchat, we must be by ourselves to best be with others. Night affords another degree of solitude: like the lights in the apartment building across the street, Gchat’s bright bulbs go out, one by one, until a single circle glows hopefully. Like Gatsby’s green light, it is the promise of happiness. More…

6 April 2011

The fact-filled internet has only heightened the pre-Google asymmetry between those, on one side, loyal to Baconian methods of patient, inductive gathering of facts  and those, on the other side, who didn’t need to read Foucault or the Frankfurt School to nurture a suspicion that positivist orders of knowledge mask a hierarchy of power in which they are meant to occupy the lowest rungs. More…

Originally published in Issue 11: Dual Power

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12 January 2011

Has any concept more completely defined and disfigured public life over the last generation than so-called elitism? Ever since Richard Nixon’s speechwriters pitted a silent majority (later sometimes “the real America”) against the nattering nabobs of negativism (later “tenured radicals,” the “cultural elite,” and so on), American political, aesthetic, and intellectual experience can only be glimpsed through a thickening fog of culture war. More…

28 June 2010

The sense one gets from the news these days is that no one is sure what’s going on. Confusion reigns, the way it never quite did during the Bush era, when the enemies of humanity went out of their way to identify themselves. Partly the confusion results from how poorly, at how many removes, the stock market reflects the actual strength of the economy. And partly it results from the election of Obama. More…

Originally published in Issue 8: Recessional

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16 June 2010

For the moment, the neo-Keynesian blog posts bear the same relationship to the crisis as cognitive behavioral therapy does to a patient’s troubles. Here is something insightful, helpful; listen carefully and it might save your life. But when the acute pain passes you will be left with the chronic problem of who and what you are. More…

Originally published in Issue 8: Recessional

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11 May 2010

Today we Google ourselves to see what the world knows about us; tomorrow we’ll just watch the ads. The outlines of this can already be discerned in Gmail’s sometimes tactless data mining of your emails: write a friend that your cat has died and you learn, cruelly, of discounts on litter. More…

Originally published in Issue 9: Bad Money

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28 April 2010

Web 2.0 has been revelatory in lots of ways—user-generated naked photos, for one—but the torrent of writing from ordinary folks has certainly been one of the most transfixing. Over the past five years the great American public has blogged and Tweeted and commented up a storm and fulfilled a great modernist dream: the inclusion, the reproduction, the self-representation of the masses. More…

Originally published in Issue 9: Bad Money

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23 April 2010

From the standpoint of Kant’s “purposiveness without a purpose,” the answer to the question Are video games art? appears to be an emphatic no. Kant’s was a theory of spectatorship, not participation. An art object allows our minds to play freely over it, not with it. More…

Originally published in Issue 9: Bad Money

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23 April 2010

“It’s not a revolution if no one loses,” leading webist Clay Shirky has written. The first ones the internet revolution came for were the travel agents, those nice people who looked up flight times and prices for you on a computer, before you could do it yourself at home. Then Captain Kirk returned from the future to zap them all. More…

Originally published in Issue 9: Bad Money

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14 September 2009

“Gentrification”: the term evokes the political and mental life of two generations of city-dwellers. On one interpretation, it was the forced displacement of the urban working class by mobile, college-educated professionals. On another, it was the restoration of city life in the imagination of a West that had supposedly given it up for suburban sprawl. More…

Originally published in Issue 8: Recessional

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25 November 2008

No one can look at Heeb, or the “Superjew” and “Yo Semite” T-shirts, without feeling ashamed—even if that magazine and those T-shirts are themselves products of that feeling of shame and are meant as a rebuke to it. The greatness of this people was also that it once believed its experience of oppression to be a universal one, and its fortunes tied to all those who are oppressed. More…

Originally published in Issue 7: Correction

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25 November 2008

Nothing is so consistent across Bolaño’s work as the suspicion that literature is chiefly bullshit, rationalizing the misery, delusions, and/or narcissism of various careerists, flakes, and losers. Yet Bolaño somehow also treats literature as his and his characters’ sole excuse for existing. More…

Originally published in Issue 7: Correction

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25 November 2008

People may not like George Bush, but they have been liking Congress even less. They think the politicians are in it for themselves, or care more for party than for country, or are too tightly intertwined with the heads of industry: nomenklatura, in short. It may not matter that, like the Soviets did, we have a lovely Constitution. More…

Originally published in Issue 7: Correction

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28 April 2008

One way of defending yourself against hype, with its incessant promise of the new, is to adopt a blasé attitude: whatever it is, you’ve seen it five times before. And it could be said that hype, too, is old hat. After all, the rapid boom and bust of stylistic trends and individual reputations has been going on for as long as there’s been a bourgeoisie. More…

16 August 2007

In the early days of the inbox, it afforded the naive human organism a certain pleasure to receive an email. Ah, someone thinking of me . . . So a note or two of companionship whistled through the lonely day. Thanks to email, the residual eloquence of a moribund letter-writing culture received a rejuvenating jolt of immediacy. More…

11 June 2007

Western civilization spent 2,500 years trying to get people to shut up. The armies of Alexander the Great were amazed to see their leader read a letter from his mother silently—because he alone knew how. After the dawn of Christianity, centuries upon centuries admired the ability not to vocalize, not to talk. Silence was an achievement. More…

14 February 2007

The work machine is also a porn machine; the porn machine is also a work machine. Work enters everything. And therefore porn becomes, in its way, a revenge. In the midst of a productivity boost of the sort that comes along once in a century, workers are indulging, in record numbers, in the least productive human activity of all. More…

13 June 2006

The fuel-burning binge we’ve been on for the past 150 years, and especially the last 60, and increasingly and accelerantly, has brought into view the most dangerous threat in the brief history of our civilization. It’s become possible to glimpse the disappearance of so many things, not just glaciers and species but ideas and institutions too. More…

19 December 2005

The reading crisis, like the social security crisis, has become a con-game based on facts. The NEA announces there are fewer literary readers than two decades ago. Books continue to have more competition from non-book technologies. Will people still read in 2060? As with Social Security, there are variables one just doesn’t know how to project forward: fewer people read books but more want to write them, and more and more books are published. More…

25 November 2005

Every culture produces its paradigmatic social situation, and the date is now ours. We, too, have been dating. In the little restaurants of downtown Manhattan we sit across from our dates, and over the course of a three-course meal make strange boasts (“I got a 1500 on my SATs—old style”), and genuine confessions (“My room is messy”), to set up boasts disguised as confessions (“I love sex! I can’t help it”). More…

24 March 2005

Was theory a gigantic hoax? On the contrary. It was the only salvation, for a twenty year period, from two colossal abdications by American thinkers and writers. From about 1975 to 1995, through a historical accident, a lot of American thinking and mental living got done by people who were French, and by young Americans who followed the French. More…

Originally published in Issue 2: Happiness

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14 February 2005

A reading is like a bedside visit. The audience extends a giant moist hand and strokes the poor reader’s hair. Up at the podium is someone who means to believe in his or her work, and instead he’s betrayed by his twitchy body and nervous laughter. The writer looks like his mother dresses him, he has razor burn on his neck, his hands may be shaking. More…

Originally published in Issue 2: Happiness

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14 February 2005

How absurd was the effort of Robbe-Grillet to make writing into a kind of film! How silly of Tom Wolfe to think the novel should compete with journalism on the one ground—information-gathering—where it can’t! Someone should tell the novel that it is not dying; those death throes were just the shortness of breath that comes with loss of market share. More…

Originally published in Issue 2: Happiness

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14 February 2005

Cher Ami, I am depressed. Things are worse here than I thought. It’s a mess and what’s more it’s a provincial mess. But let me go back. A brief history of 20th-century French fiction. More…

Originally published in Issue 2: Happiness

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14 February 2005

The novel didn’t make any promises. Quite the opposite: it could have scared you off of life. But somehow its congenital unhappiness actually made you want to live. More…

Originally published in Issue 2: Happiness

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13 February 2005

Was theory a gigantic hoax? On the contrary. It was the only salvation, for a twenty year period, from two colossal abdications by American thinkers and writers. From about 1975 to 1995, through a historical accident, a lot of American thinking and mental living got done by people who were French, and by young Americans who followed the French. More…

Originally published in Issue 2: Happiness

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14 July 2004

Perhaps it’s like this: You can go through the defense of taste and come out the other side, as if you jumped out the kitchen window into the alley dumpster. There is a kind of fake refinement that turns into a vulgarity baser than any other. It doesn’t come from saying the worst, it comes from deciding what other people can’t say. More…

Originally published in Issue 1: Negation

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4 July 2004

The first regression was ethical. Eggersards returned to the claims of childhood. Transcendence would not figure in their thought. Intellect did not interest them, but kids did. Childhood is still their leitmotif. The second regression was technical and stylistic. In typography and tone the Eggersards adopted old innovations, consciously obsolete maneuvers. More…

Originally published in Issue 1: Negation

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