THE INTELLECTUAL SITUATION
The Information Essay
We possess ever vaster quantities of mostly accurate facts, and not much sense of what to do with them. Data data everywhere, and not a thought to think! Outside of a hedge fund or the CIA, there aren’t too many places where knowledge is power. Much of the time, intellectually and politically, knowledge is powerlessness.
Wall of Sound
Bourdieu’s findings led to a wave of academic self-loathing disguised as “critique.” Yet he too was right: taste is connected to education and class position, and institutions designed to “cultivate taste” aid class reproduction. But if the big problem with Bourdieu’s method—a disavowal of the history of musical aesthetics—was the thing that made it possible, it still remained a big problem.
The police don’t care about me. What with rising political unrest and religious strife, they just want me to leave before I get in trouble or make any. In the morning two police cars arrive, one to lead my taxi to the bus station, the other to follow it, sirens shrieking. An officer sits with me to make sure I get on the bus. I buy him a 7-Up.
Megan K. Stack
Arab Street at Last
Press was not free. There were no more parades. Don’t forget what you have done, the reviewing stand whispered. Don’t think you have redeemed yourselves. This is why the emergency law will stay. This is why torture, this is why censorship, this is why squalor. You are savages and this is your fate.
Eli S. Evans
The Battle of Wisconsin
In the time that has elapsed since I began writing these notes, my parents have driven back to Milwaukee. From the car, my mother called me, for a third time now, to give me a rundown of the day. Most of what she had to say was predictable, except for this: The police, she said, could not have been nicer. This was a far cry from the Vietnam-era demonstrations to which the current protests cannot help but harken back for her. Back in those days, she said, the police hated us.
In the morning Gala would claim a dream: from the black sea rises one jagged black rock, on which Raisa is barely balancing, and the rock is emerging from the water, growing higher, making it harder for Raisa to stand. But Gala hadn’t truly remembered a dream in years. She invented them to prove that certain fears and worries ran as deep as the unconscious. She’s a liar, Oleg thought, to enrage himself and to have more evidence against Gala when it came time for the trial—quite useless, since in such imaginary trials the wife was also the judge.
In the early ’70s, Néstor and Cristina Kirchner were members of the leftist Peronist Youth in the university town of La Plata, not far from Buenos Aires. This milieu put them in touch with developmentalist economic ideas as well as with a number of future victims of the junta. Three decades later, the Kirchners have hardly governed as radicals, but the legacy of their militant youth is patent in what are arguably the two central features of their tenure: the rejection of neoliberalism and the placement of the last dictatorship at the center of national memory.
That Room in Cambridge
When I encountered the prose of J. H. Prynne for the second time, I knew more about him than I had the first. I knew, for example, that he was not only a scholar but also a poet, and not only a poet but a famously obscure and difficult poet. Some people said he was the most important British poet since Wordsworth. Other people said that he was terrible. Since I did not know anything about poetry, nor did I read it, nor did it strike me as a vibrant part of contemporary literature, the actual poetic aspect of Prynne mythology did not interest me in the least. At the time I just wanted to know what people were so interested in.
Making Reality Unacceptable
We could believe that science invents reality and that science is political. Believe in science and not believe in science. Believe in politics and not believe in politics. Believe in ourselves and not believe in ourselves at all. We could be the most serious people in the world and make fun of virtually everything — everything that prevented us from living.
Ryan Went to Afghanistan
I was once riding shotgun in Ryan’s car when some teens going the other way over a two-lane bridge threw a hamburger that splocked onto his windshield. A whole, unbitten McDonald’s 29-cent hamburger. I laughed at the absurdity. But Ryan pulled an eight-point turn and chased after them. He drew a machete out from under his seat. I prayed the offenders wouldn’t stop, because I knew Ryan might kill them. They escaped only by running a red light. If anyone should fight the Taliban, I thought, it was that man. If it’s between him and me, he should go every time.
For the remaining weeks of the campaign’s second run, I studied Richardson’s close-cropped hair, tawny mustache, crooked elbow, inked forearms, and factory-foreman-style eyeglasses. Cropped from another poster’s party scene, the headshot emphasized the weird ecstasy of his expression, incongruous with the campaign’s eau de humorless cool. His smile was a rictus with a wink. It suggested that he knew the joke. What was the joke? Where had I seen him before?
On Menand and Nussbaum
Picture, for a moment, a good student raised in a Dewey model. This student is a good collaborator; she listens to others but offers her own solutions; she does not form cliques, but is socially adept enough to embrace difference on its own terms; she looks for practical solutions that her entire group could embrace. She is, in one way, the ideal of democratic citizenry. She is, in another way, training to become a management consultant.
On Tom McCarthy
Unlike Remainder, a truly remarkable novel, C does not deserve the praise it has widely received. On the contrary, its obvious failures call into question the two claims that are often made on behalf of McCarthy: that the problem facing the contemporary novel is the persistence of realism, and that the solution is to be found, with McCarthy, among the avant-garde.
On Yelp and Section 230
On first glance, you think: Ah, the distinctive anticlimax of judicial reasoning. Since “contributes materially” is hardly less amorphous than “develop,” the new judicial gloss would not bind Ninth Circuit courts very far beyond the specific facts of the Roommates case. And due to the branched architecture of the federal court system, courts outside the Ninth Circuit aren’t bound by the case at all—though the opinion does constitute “persuasive authority,” most of all in lower courts whose own circuit judges have yet to speak on the matter. It’s in this more diffuse way that the case has exerted and will continue to exert its influence.