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Contents

Death by Degrees

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.

Stay Home

One of the reasons to leave is to gain freedom from actually being educated. College is already scandalously untaxing: a four-year daycare program that insulates young people from practical experience before shunting them into the inevitable and dreary professional track (or into debt and unemployment). But this is nothing compared to the ease of going to college abroad. Nobody cares what grades you get, still less whether you go to class. No need to bother with a foreign language, since chances are you’ll study in English. The months pass in a fever dream of joyous irresponsibility.

Please RT

Look at your Twitter feed at the wrong moment, however, or send a dumb tweet yourself, and a bad infinity opens up onto the narcissistical sublime. What tweet is that, flashing, subliminally, behind the others? In exactly 140 characters: “I need to be noticed so badly that I can’t pay attention to you except inasmuch as it calls attention to me. I know for you it’s the same.” In this way, a huge crowd of people — 40 percent more users since last year — devalue one another through mutual self-importance.

Big Babies

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.

Sex Class Action

Too many women find themselves isolated in their experiences of prejudice, left to whittle offenses down in their minds to nothing worth complaining about — to accept each experience as “a fluke,” in the words of one Wal-Mart supervisor in Alabama, who told deli manager Gretchen Adams that there was nothing he could do about a sexist pay discrepancy.

Panic in a Suitcase

It wasn’t another mirage to which Esther enthusiastically waved but Pasha and Frida in the flesh. The family was barricaded on one side by water and on the other by cherry pits like tiny bullets that had perforated a flock of seagulls. They’re organic, said Levik, implying that they weren’t litter, though he would never say that as the family had a complicated relationship to litter. But the trouble with cherry pits was their clotted bloodiness and that they carried the ugly secret of mouths.

Lions in Winter

The New York Public Library has announced a plan to remake its landmark building on 42nd Street. As Joshua Steiner, vice chairman of the board of trustees, put it in 2008, the renovation in many way represents the “further democratization” of the library. By contrast, a staff member with whom I spoke called the plan “the destruction of the research library.”

Phoenixes

Coppola’s point seems to be that Hollywood empties the soul. The only route back to grace is the family. Opposing the sacral father-daughter relation, whose genuineness the film signals most directly in an acoustic rendition of “I’ll Try Anything Once,” are all those things Coppola takes to be inauthentic: genital sexuality, gatherings of more than four people, the spoken word.

Captain Midnight, Part Two

Lish sat with his feet on his desk and a Dictaphone strapped to his belt, rattling off grammatical rules and examples. For better or worse, he was good at this work, and within two months he was promoted. Being encouraged by a company he distrusted made him feel real resistance. He wrote Carruth, “First time something like this has happened to me, and I must confess I don’t like it. Makes you feel more owned than usual, not rewarded.” But he and Frances still were struggling to pay their bills, and their landlord was forcing them to buy their house. Soon Lish was working harder than ever.

The Ledger

Ten years ago I was living in the Old Dominion. I’d grown up in Baltimore and worked in Washington and was pivoting back down South, where my family had made its start long ago. In Richmond the experience of living off of a street with monuments that attempted to revive the Confederacy stirred a passion, a sense of history in me.

Street Food

La Condesa is now often called La Fondesa, a reference to the fondas, or bistros, that have blanketed the middle-class art deco neighborhood by ignoring residential zoning laws and filling every street corner with valet parking to accommodate the transient diner and drinker. The camotero still makes his rounds in the evening, but his whistle is less distinct amid the pounding bass of the neon-lighted bars.

The Theory Generation

This is the odd space these Theory Generation novels inhabit, making them peculiar novels of ideas. Their writers have read enough Theory at a young enough age to be in continued thrall to its power; they do justice to the disorienting shock those texts once had, and perhaps still have. Yet they are old enough to ironize (tenderly or bitterly) that power.

Berman’s Children

In The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn, Suleiman Osman describes two mirrored ideologies that took hold in postwar New York as the city found its postindustrial identity: urban modernism and antimodern, romantic urbanism.

Cinema of Disillusionment

The staggering global success of Avatar over the winter of 2009–10 seemed to herald the arrival of 3D, spurring the major studios to create dozens of films in that format and hastily convert others into it. A Wall Street Journal piece titled “Can 3D Save Hollywood?” reported that, despite investment bank funding having dried up since 2008, studios were still investing heavily in 3D productions.

Letters

We are happy to see the increased attention to mass incarceration in recent months. Articles like “Raise the Crime Rate” and the success of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow show that abolition might not be such an esoteric position. The premise of abolition and a critical position toward mass incarceration, however, should be clarified.