Issue Number 12

Conversion Experience


A Solution From Hell
Humanitarian warfare, clearly bad in principle, often looks good from the standpoint of a particular people at a particular moment, when they are threatened with death. And so the temperamental opponent of intervention can come to feel that while in general he opposes this kind of thing, well, in this case he guesses he supports it—and in that case too, and the next one. He can come to feel like somebody who has principles only for the sake of suspending them. In general, you reject humanitarian war—but have you ever met one you didn’t initially like?

Google+’s stated purpose is to make “sharing on the web more like sharing in real life,” which is true only if “in real life” is understood to mean “on the rest of the internet.” Instead of occurring in our inbox, group videochats—called Hangouts—open in separate windows, like pop-up ads. Each face moves inside its own rectangle, forming together a mosaic of talking heads. What sadist would take cable news as a model for conversation? It’s like building a hotel using the blueprints for a prison.


Lawrence Jackson
Christmas in Baltimore, 2009
A bright childhood friend, a boy with a mocking adolescent wit, a student at one of the venerable Catholic high schools for boys, had lost his life. Our families live next door to one another on the same block. We had the same childhood and high school friends. We suffered many of the same enemies. A week before, Chris had battled police officers and been slain. Because of my own relationship with the local police dating back twenty-five years, I believed immediately that he was the victim of trigger-happy whites with badges.


Kent Russell
American Juggalo
Nobody assigned me to go to the Gathering of the Juggalos, and I couldn’t have said why I was standing there in the buzzing heat at the entrance of Hogrock Campground, a hundred-plus acres of cleared land in the Shawnee National Forest just outside tiny Cave-In-Rock, Illinois. Next to me was a shirtless kid named Squee. I’d helped him carry a gunnysack down the steep declivity that connects the overflow parking to the campground. I’d said, grinning conspiratorially, “Let me guess: This shit’s full of beers, right?” He’d said, “Fuck your beers, dude. This shit’s full of Powerades. Gonna sell these shits.”

Carla Blumenkranz
Captain Midnight
Lish drove into San Francisco on the rolling coastal highways, saw the Bay open up before him just as Kerouac described it, and entered the city, its “long bleak streets with trolley wires all shrouded in fog whiteness.” It was 1959, and he was 26 years old, a grown man compared to his young hero Moriarty, and past the supposed age of adventure; his wife and young daughter were traveling with him. He was late to the party, too: Kerouac had moved to Orlando and the Beat scene was dissipating.

Helen DeWitt
Lightning Rods
After a while one of the contestants started to get a personality. She was a consecutive winner for twenty shows. She wore a pink jacket and immaculate pink lipstick and makeup, and she had dark hair in a hair-sprayed permanent. People looked at the heaving buttocks in the inset and they couldn’t believe that someone that cool could possibly be getting the full-service 24-hour Revco from the rear. Then after she won the round the MC would say Let’s just see that amazing performance again.

Mark Greif
Cavell as Educator

We know the real target of philosophy is life. Everyone feels it who has not been irreparably debauched by learning. Graduates who took one philosophy course in college will remember that etymologically it is philo-sophia, the love of wisdom, or love of truth. In most traditions, philosophy is not only the pursuit of truth, but also a discipline for managing suffering. Don’t the limitation of pain and access to the truth go together, through ties obscure but sensible to all? If one sees the target, then, how to draw the bow? And from what tree’s bough is the best arrow cut?

Yitzhak Laor
Six Poems
Don’t die, soldier, hold the radiophone,
don your helmet, your flak jacket, surround
the village with a trench of crocodiles, starve
it out if need be, eat Mama’s treats, shoot
sharp, keep your rifle clean, take care of the armored
Jeep, the bulldozer, the land, one day it will be
yours, little David, sweetling, don’t die, please.

Alexander Borinsky
California Love Story
Back in 1999, queer theorist Michael Warner wrote that gays lack “the institutions for common memory and generational transmission around which straight culture is built. . . . And since the most painfully instructed generation has been decimated by death, the queer culture of the present faces more than the usual shortfall of memory.” I’d hardly propose that we use the legal record as a makeshift repository of collective queer memory. But I’d hope that a gay community trying to remake the legal record wouldn’t set aside that memory, either.

Siddhartha Deb
The Mouse
Kemal drank copiously, wandering from room to room, hearing snippets of conversation that blended into a vast, single sentence: “The world of government secrecy is in the tunnel in Switzerland that is used by sheep herders who must be driven by rational choice theory when they are studying the musical score that is written with lentils because they are the oldest beans in the world.” He went back to the bar, where the crowd was most lively and the woman who had grown the ear on the mouse was dancing in the middle of the room. It was her party, and she was dressed as a fairy godmother scientist, wearing a lab coat but also waving a wand.


Richard Beck
On Pitchfork
Pitchfork’s project—an ever evolving, uncontroversial portrait of contemporary tastes in popular music—addressed one problem surrounding music in the file-sharing era to the exclusion of all others. Faced with readers who wanted to know how to be fans in the internet age, Pitchfork’s writers became the greatest, most pedantic fans of all, reconfiguring criticism as an exercise in perfect cultural consumption.

Kristin Dombek
On The Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon teaches us what secularists don’t get about what makes religion so awesome: it’s like a musical you live in, and it can actually be more fun if it seems a little fake, if you have to work a little to believe. There tend to be so many gaps that the thrill of it is filling them in, making them fit. While to outsiders, religious people seem to believe despite the obvious manufacturedness of their religion, The Book of Mormon suggests that believers believe (at least in part) because of the pleasure of revoicing, adapting, and even inventing stories and then treating them as sacred.

Gideon Lewis-Kraus
On Javier Cercas
The three heroes of retreat were politically finished and personally broken, and as the bullets whizzed around the Cortes threatening the ungrateful democracy for which they had given up everything, they were the only ones who remained still, the only ones who risked their necks.