12 November 2010

Issue Number 10: Self-Improvement

An Annotated Table of Contents


It’s time to do away with this distinction between the MFAs and the non-MFAs, the unfree and the free, the caged and the wild. Once we do, perhaps we can venture a new, less normative distinction, based not on the writer’s educational background but on the system within which she earns (or aspires to earn) her living: MFA or NYC.

Revolt of the Elites
On the one hand, colleges, in their role as four-year drinking clubs for rich boys, knit their alumni into a WASP mafia pledged to socioeconomic self-preservation. Distinctive speech, sports, and garb set them off from the general population, never talent. But as historians have noted, the WASPs were winningly cavalier about their reproduction as an elite. This is evidently what happens when a ruling class consists one half of heavy drinkers and depressives, and the other half of sincere egalitarians: poof!


Marco Roth
Caucasian Nation
One begins to think of race in Obama’s America like sex in some caricature of Freud’s Vienna: simultaneously the main theme of all conversation, and the one that can’t be mentioned. Instead of being “overcome,” historic American racism against nonwhite people has gone into deep cover and, with the irrefutable illogic of the unconscious, emerged as a newfangled American antiracism for the protection of white people.

Nikil Saval
Golden State
Since no one knows which item you cross in the polling booth, no one can hold you—unlike an elected representative—accountable for your vote. Making savage cuts in public services that meant your own son or daughter couldn’t afford college, denying emergency care to immigrants, and so on: Californians by the millions walk around with these votes—acts of violence, really—secreted in their hearts.


Sheila Heti
How Should a Person Be?
If you would like to call your mother, go and do it. The sun is shining, it’s half past noon, the time for tears is now. Please tell her I said hello and that I think her daughter’s a stupid cunt if she thinks she can go around the world with her priss-ass high in the air like a queen on a throne while not having known the humiliation of being fucked by Israel.

Mathias Enard
After my two years of war I’ve never been so free, I own nothing now, not even my real name—I have an appropriated passport under the name of Yvan Deroy, born almost at the same as me in Paris and locked up a long time ago now in an institution for psychotics in the suburbs, he never had a passport and his doctors would be quite surprised to know that he’s wandering around Italy today


Siddhartha Deb
Gatsby in New Delhi
“You are writing about Arindam Chaudhuri?” He handed me his business card, leaned toward me, chuckled and said, “You must find out how he makes his money.”

Kristin Dombek
The Two Cultures of Life
For me, what links veganism and antihomophobia and justice to abortion and what I learned from my childhood, is that if it looks like violence, it is violence. The necessary technological condition for the pro-life movement was the ultrasound machine, and it was right there on the screen: even at twelve weeks, the fetus recoiled from the suction curette.

Daniel Albert
Electric Cars
But Range Anxiety is about more than range—it’s a philosophical and spiritual issue. What if you want to skip off to Vegas? Or more to the point, what if you simply want to know that you could skip off to Vegas at any moment? Maybe you just want to be the kind of person who drives the kind of car that could skip off to Vegas at any moment.


Marco Roth
Freedom’s End
A current of excitement surrounded the book, which was itself exciting; since I first entered the world of advance copies, back in 2004, this was the first novel to inspire such fervent passion among the professional reader class in which I now have to count myself.

Mark Greif
Liberalism as Niceness
For nice Patty and nice Walter, sex seems to be the insoluble grit in the self and in love. Large swaths of the narrative are presented explicitly as the work of  psychotherapy—from Patty Berglund’s therapeutic autobiography—just as Freedom, I suppose, is a work of therapy on deep unarticulated crises of America, but a cure at odds with the “culture of therapy” that is just supposed to make you happy.

Benjamin Kunkel
A Dream
During my time in analysis, Dr. H and I naturally talked a lot about my dreams, which ordinarily I’m at a loss to recall. I’ve never remembered my dreams better than when I’ve had someone to tell them to—maybe there’s a lesson in there about fiction. Anyway one night, which I place in mid-2007, I had a dream about Jonathan Franzen.

Keith Gessen
Nine Years Later
Franzen recuperates excrement for liberal humanism and old-style characterization. Shit does not reveal character; it creates it.


Richard Beck
All in the Family
Even slower readers are unlikely to need eighty-six hours to get through Anna Karenina or Ulysses, but that is how much time Tony Soprano spent explaining himself to millions of people. Tony’s funniest line in the pilot is, “It’s impossible for me to talk to a psychiatrist.” He loves talking to a psychiatrist! The show fanned out eventually, but James Gandolfini’s gravitational pull was what made The Sopranos coherent.

Elizabeth Gumport
Fictional Capital
The popularity of domestic fiction—which imagines the house to be the site of our highest human drama—and the mortgage crisis are symptoms of the same thing: the American overvaluation of the home as a token of personal success. Such books perpetuate our faith in our homes’ symbolic worth, even as their economic worth plummets.

Bruce Robbins
Multitude, Are You There?
Hardt and Negri actually use as a section head the sentence “May the Force Be with You.” The section is about armed struggle, so you can see the heading as an attempt at wit. But on a deeper level, “May the Force Be with You” seemed to say more than it wanted to about what sort of commitment Hardt and Negri’s fans had and how far the authors were willing to go in encouraging those fans to confuse politics with science fiction.


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