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Announcing Issue 30

Inside our Winter 2018 issue, Motherland, out this month.

Writing by Gabriel Winant, Dayna Tortorici, Justin E. H. Smith, Christine Smallwood, Nikhil Pal Singh and Thuy Linh Tu, Nausicaa Renner, Aziz Rana, Nicolás Medina Mora, Thomas de Monchaux, Dawn Lundy Martin, Andrea Long Chu, Claire Jarvis, A. S. Hamrah, and Thomas Bolt.

Episode 19: "Hand Jobs"

Joining us on this episode of the n+1 podcast is Christine Smallwood, who reads from her short story “Hand Jobs” originally published in issue 22 of n+1, then she stays for a short conversation on writing the story.

Seventies Throwback Fiction

A Decade in Review

Different master narratives, with very different emphases, look to the Seventies as both the end of an era and the origin of the present crisis. The contexts can be of divergent scales — from American politics or labor history to transnational cycles of production and capital accumulation — but there is a common purpose, even a shared vibe: the stillness of remembering what we had and what we lost.

Ghost Writers and Ugly Animals

Letters from Issue 30

As someone who is both a secondary English teacher and a PhD student in American literature, I was encouraged to see Marco Roth calling for more like me. But the best way to ensure the future of literary criticism is to address the problem of economic inequality. The strongest predictor of a school student’s success is their parents’ income, and sometimes this variable is expressed in terms that reveal the specifically literary form inequality takes.

In the Maze

Must history have losers?

Behind every brave outing I saw a legal liability. I suppose that’s what happens when you know enough men with money. Such men are minor kings among us, men with lawyer-soldiers at their employ who can curtail certain kinds of talk. While I do believe in false allegations, and I do believe that women can be bullies, it’s hard, sometimes, not to be cynical about the defense. Some men love free speech almost as much as they love libel lawyers.

Not Every Kid-Bond Matures

Millennial habits so often mocked and belittled in the press are the survival strategies of a demographic “born into captivity.”

The hidden hand that shapes millennials, producing our seemingly various and even contradictory stereotyped attributes, is the intensifying imperative—both from the outside and also deeply internalized—to maximize our own potential economic value. “What we’ve seen over the past few decades is not quite a sinister sci-fi plot to shape a cohort of supereffective workers who are too competitive, isolated, and scared to organize for something better,” writes Harris. “But it has turned out a lot like that.” Capitalism is eating its young. It’s only feeding us avocados to fatten us up first.

Two Weeks in the Capital

In Mexico, not even the oligarchs are happy

One afternoon, you accompany your father to a birthday party. The host has gone all out. There’s an open bar, a quesadilla buffet, and a cover band playing Buena Vista Social Club. The crowd is illustrious: television executives, celebrity academics, esteemed newspaper columnists, and a whole generation of folklorist poets. There are also politicians, both firebrand leftists and a former president of the Catholic party. You spy the owner of the telecom monopoly, the sometime richest man in the world. He wanders around the party, holding an iPhone above his head, trying to find a signal.

Construct a Perfect Pentagon

On standards manuals

What distinguishes the reissue of the EPA manual from Standards Manual’s other publications to date is the inclusion, as an appendix, of forty-seven out of more than fifteen thousand photos that the EPA commissioned as part of its Documerica Project, which ran from 1971 to 1977 and sought to “photographically document subjects of environmental concern.” The captions tell the story: “Mary Workman Holds a Jar of Undrinkable Water That Comes from Her Well, and Has Filed a Damage Suit Against the Hanna Coal Company. She Has to Transport Water from a Well Many Miles Away. Although the Coal Company Owns All the Land Around Her, and Many Roads Are Closed, She Refuses to Sell. October 1973.”

The Plurality of Worlds

On Philippe Descola

The ontological turn in anthropology presupposes that we can live in different worlds, each marked by its own “doctrine of what there is,” even while all living on the same planet. According to Descola, in the modern West we have been living under the ontology of “naturalism,” which is peculiar among ontologies in its appeal to universal authority. Naturalism holds that other ontologies are not equal to itself, and it purports to show these other ontologies are mistaken, superstitious, ignorant. To some extent, anthropology has always been in tension with naturalism, since anthropology has been able to entertain “false” reports from native peoples of how the world is, of the entities and forces that make it how it is, as if they were true.

Goodbye, Cold War

For the first time, we are living in a truly post-cold-war political environment in the United States

Well into the 2010s, American political elites of both parties shared a common vision. They remained gripped by a cold-war imagination that saw the ascendancy of American liberalism not as a unique confluence of events generated by the combination of the Depression, war, and Soviet competition, but rather as the country’s natural and permanent progression. Men like John McCain and Obama believed so deeply in this story because they had worked and suffered for it, and it had given their lives a larger meaning. And for periods in American life, if one kept to the proper circles, it could actually feel true: wealth was indeed generated, excluded groups were included, and threatening adversaries were defeated. The problem turned out to be that neither the ideals nor the institutions were up to the challenges to come.

Trolling and Taboo

A coup d’état in the collective unconscious

Taboos are charged with emotional energy: you’ve hidden these thoughts away because they were, likely, too much to bear. When you uncover them, they can feel so intensely real, the most real, because they reveal an emotional, not literal, truth for you. There is a reason right-wing trolling is more effective than its left-wing equivalent: trolling that harnesses the power of taboo—the most ancient, retrograde, collectively unconscious stuff of sex, the family, the species—is more effective than trolling toward enlightenment.

Cut the Kink

“What is normal?”

I don’t know how or where the Safdies find their actors. Even the unbandaged people in the movie look like they’ve been punched a hundred times. The Safdies’ genius is that they can fit Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Barkhad Abdi into a cast that does not include actors I’ve seen before. Taliah Webster as a teenage girl who helps Connie for no good reason, maybe just to get him out of her house or because she’s bored; Peter Verby as a calm, strange psychiatrist; Buddy Duress as Ray, a just-out-of-jail rat fink who makes a series of idiotic moment-to-moment decisions the Safdies present with a demented, drugged logic—none of them is expected, and all are great.

When a Person Goes Missing

Freedom, she asks: What is it?

It strikes me that to miss or be missing, in my brother’s case, requires a part-of-speech modification, too—one that could perhaps help me, at least, understand his particular condition, meaning the Condition of Bruce as it intersects with the subjugated identities we know are related, race and gender. To be missing, as a noun, would be the designation itself, like a black, the racial category without the noun person. A failed sight. A passed by without touching. A failed inclusion. An unattended. A missing.

Estación Origen MADRID

“I’m really up for anything,” she said.

The night romance of the city made little differences sparkle. I kept encountering things I didn’t quite know how to see: suet studded with cloves? A row of shuttered windows painted crimson. A toy store lit only with candles, crowded with grown-ups moving and talking among dolls and dinosaurs, stickers and blocks, potholder looms and simplified puzzle maps. I thought I saw reflected water flickering: the bay so close you hear it slap the boat ramp. For a moment I stood near dripping stacks of traps, an overlooked crab still struggling in one.

Morbid Capitalism

and its racial symptoms

In Alabama and other parts of the American South, garment manufacturing never went entirely extinct. Instead, it disappeared into small shops—and behind prison doors. Lying 200 miles southeast of Florence in Wetumpka is the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, and 300 miles due south is Holman, a close-custody prison for men that also houses Alabama’s death row. Holman and Tutwiler are sites of thriving clothing-manufacturing operations. Here, there is no shortage of sewers.

On Liking Women

The Society for Cutting Up Men is a rather fabulous name for a transsexual book club

What’s striking is not Solanas’s revolutionary extremism per se, but the flippancy with which she justifies it. Life under male supremacy isn’t oppressive, exploitative, or unjust: it’s just fucking boring. For Solanas, an aspiring playwright, politics begins with an aesthetic judgment. This is because male and female are essentially styles for her, rival aesthetic schools distinguishable by their respective adjectival palettes. Men are timid, guilty, dependent, mindless, passive, animalistic, insecure, cowardly, envious, vain, frivolous, and weak. Women are strong, dynamic, decisive, assertive, cerebral, independent, self-confident, nasty, violent, selfish, freewheeling, thrill-seeking, and arrogant. Above all, women are cool and groovy.

The Keeper

There are habits one gives up on breaking

When the worrying got too intense, Dorothy had a choice of palliatives arrayed in pouncing distance of the saggy patient sofa: stress balls, beads, figurines for rubbing and handling, various-size pillows for pounding and embracing, and the eternal tissue box, draped in its hand-knitted elephant-gray cover. The box was always full. The therapist must be keeping watch on the box’s levels. Dorothy respected her attention to detail. Fullness, plenitude, preparedness, a material well of empathy—excellent clinical values all. But where did the therapist hide the half-full boxes? Or did she cram new tissues into the same old box between sessions?

Two Stories

This was definitely not what Ken wanted.

The palm reader, when she arrived, moved in a way that suggested she was not in too much of a hurry to arrive in the future. She was like some piece of human clutter purchased to give the room more character. Ceramic roses were clipped to her earlobes and beneath her black crocheted dress her breasts strained to get away from each other. On her left hand was a diamond the size of a Brussels sprout. She was between 40 and 65 years old. I was the guest of honor and I got to go first. She led me away from the drinks and the stereo and the cheese to the corner under the skylight, and sat me on an egg-shaped orange chair. The palm reader sat herself on a low wooden bench, a Shaker pew that had been bought at auction.

Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul

If Weerasethakul’s movies are everything I think they are—mysterious, haunting, inventive—in a word, good—why do they make me fall asleep?

These are very slow, irruptively weird movies, where ugly faces break spontaneously into gorgeous, toothy grins and no one screams and runs away when a monkey-man shows up to dinner. Weerasethakul’s films present a challenge to the normal grammar of criticism, which strives to articulate what a work is “about.” What they are “about” is less interesting than what they are about to get into, or turn into.

Herzog's Cave

Must a 3D movie be seen in 3D? Is a movie with both a 3D and a 2D release the same movie or two different movies? The “high” and “low” culture divide that is emerging—with Thor and The Green Hornet on one side, and Avatar and Werner Herzog on the other—seems to track along these very lines.

Claire Denis

Last February, I went to a screening of a film I love, Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman. In Jeanne Dielman, a middle-class Belgian single mother and part-time prostitute (she stays at home for that, too) spends two-hundred minutes doing dull housework and then stabs one of her clients to death with scissors. It’s a long haul.

Welcome to the Jungle

Babies as wildlife

It takes some work to make people into wildlife. Nature shows, for starters, have narration. They are shot from the perspective of the scientist, or the tour guide, or the hunter—some human spectator. Babies does the reverse. It takes away the linguistic meaning “natural” to human life, transforming it into a mere sound, pleasant as a rushing stream or a whistling wind.

Vampire Studies

Stephanie Meyer has said that the idea for the Twilight series came to her in a dream, but it may as well have come to her in a graduate seminar. There are, after all, few other contexts where so much cultural baggage comes together under the sign of so many backpacks.