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.
May 9, 2016
Luc Boltanski and Arnaud Esquerre, with a response by Nancy Fraser.
Where we're going we don't need roads
How will it end? For centuries even the most sanguine of capitalism’s theorists have thought it not long for this world. Smith, Ricardo, and Mill pointed to a “falling rate of profit” linked to inevitable declines in agricultural productivity.
Instead of as questions of agency or hegemony, slavery appears here as a system of flows: of energy (solar, floral, faunal, human, and riverine), of money, of bodies, and of information. The result is historical prose of unusual pungency: “The Cotton Kingdom was built out of sun, water, and soil; animal energy, human labor, and mother wit; grain, flesh, and cotton; pain, hunger, and fatigue; blood, milk, semen, and shit.”
The octuplets were supposed to be a distraction: an oasis in the midst of the day’s gloomy news of AIG perfidy, mortgage defaults, bank closures, toxic assets, and spiking unemployment. Instead, the camera teams that camped on the lawn of the nice one-story house in Whittier, California, in the glitter of LA winter, got a living metaphor for the crisis.
February 3, 2020
Instagram is crowded with skaters no one’s heard of pulling off tricks so hard they don’t even look cool
Verso offers no conscious political argument, although Suciu does follow Verso Books on Instagram. Still, the parallel is appealing. Is there an esoteric or intriguing association or parallel between aesthetic radicals and political radicals? They work in separate spheres, but both position themselves simultaneously as students of and dissenters to their respective traditions.
July 5, 2018
World Cup update
Uruguay vs. Portugal brought us, mercifully, to the point where Ronaldo was also gone. Nothing against either of them, but their presence is such that even having one of them involved means the epic Messi–Ronaldo debate eats up all the air time and “analysis.” Men who know nothing pontificate. Good and evil are spoken of in utter seriousness. 7 percent of the internet is devoted to this debate, so let me take a moment to end it. They are both utterly amazing! And brace yourselves: they are equally amazing, and they are differently amazing. I don’t know why this is so hard for people to accept. There is no way, in a team sport, to bring the issue to further clarity, so I recommend everyone drops this line of debate. Please, take the fact that the universe put them out in the same round as a sign.
As usual, Mulder was right
The series wasn’t science fictional at all, but took place in a world just like our own, where women being poisoned by their microwaves floated around with Lyndon LaRouche supporters and AIDS denialists and 12-year-old ex-communists in dubious pursuit of a history of the present. There they were, serially archived on a single flashing screen, from the Loch Ness monster and the chupacabra to the JFK assassination and the defamation of Anita Hill. In the last years of the 20th century, this solar system of conspiratorial thinking was where the postmodern condition lived its best life. You could find yourself in cozy exile there, social theorists said, if you’d tried too hard to picture technoscientific global capitalism and your brain broke. I’d barely begun to try, and mine already had.
February 19, 2018
A Trotskyist in the NHS
October 12, 2017
On my way off the patio I can’t tell who’s winning and who’s losing here—the museum, the mattress company, or the guests.
A white male, twenties, appears at the top of the steps w/ a catering tray. He wears the tucked-in black T-shirt and tight black jeans of a stagehand; he passes the guests gooey triangles of cheese quesadillas. He nods in response to the appreciative thank yous and offers guests thick napkins branded with the company logo: a thick, bland “C,” its top half altered to suggest, vaguely, a pillow on a bed. The paper goods are a not-so-subtle reminder that when we wipe the grease from the corners of our mouths we must do so courtesy of the company’s largesse.
October 3, 2017
On the mass shooting in Las Vegas
Mass shootings reveal to Americans otherwise insulated from quotidian gun murder that they are not immune, that brutal death or grievous injury can, in principle, come to them no matter who they are or where they might be. Compounding this sense of terrifying vulnerability is the recognition of a properly existential futility: an understanding that, no matter your station or your status, if this is how death comes to you, then, in any substantive sense, your death will not matter.
April 5, 2017
Berger’s closeness to the material led again and again to revelation: the only way to get to the universal was through the material.
Unlike most public intellectuals, Berger gives hope to the precise degree that he excoriates almost everything in our world. Throughout his work, he performs that rare—that tragically rare—Marxist trick of transforming the idea that the world is horrible into a source of deep comfort, of energy, of action but also of peace.
October 9, 2015
The “suspended, unproductive time” (in Crary’s phrase) of ordinary people was Chantal’s subject. She has ended up a Simone Weil of the cinema, as her film je, tu, il, elle seems in retrospect to predict she would, an artist hyperaware and sensitive to the world around her, one she apparently couldn’t take anymore.
Affect theory for activists
Affect offers a new approach to this old problem: What latent thing do you and I, two powerless individuals, share that might, if activated, endow us with a common sense of things, and from there a collective potency?
In search of time gained
For more than two centuries, time has been felt to be passing more and more quickly. Scholars tell us that since the twin revolutions of the 18th century — industrial and political — a general sense of time speeding up has been recorded with regularity in documents of all kinds. Political and technical progress somehow meant that people were always losing ground, unable to keep up, out of breath.
April 10, 2014
The left has long admired Canada as an enclave of social democracy in North America: for its openly socialist electoral parties, its robust welfare state, and its more moderate policy profile. Recent developments, however, have thrown that reputation into question. The country is helmed by a prime minister, Stephen Harper, known for his brazenly right-wing views and executive unilateralism. Both federal and provincial governments have embraced austerity and eroded public services. And Canada’s newly aggressive exploitation of its natural resources has it trampling on civil liberties and reneging on its international obligations like, as Foreign Policy put it, a “rogue, reckless petrostate.”
Cough if you feel nothing
The rules of concert hall etiquette are so widely understood and reviled that they have produced new rules, such as every classical critic’s obligation to spend one article per year denouncing concert hall etiquette. No one follows up on these denunciations and puts them into practice, but someone should.
Given that most critics are people who have devoted their careers to reading and rereading their favorite books—romantics who pursue the ideal in everything they read—finding Pushkin in Pelham and so on—there is something mysterious and even, as Kundera says, scandalous in Moretti’s willed and scientific choice to read what is formally interesting, with so little regard for what he likes.
May 1, 2013
Cultural resistance to the influence of advertising on popular music may be at a forty-year low, but there is still plenty of music that remains practically if not ideologically detached from “commercial interests.”
The cultural nature of politics, the political nature of culture: these have formed the main quandary debated by left intellectuals, mainly among themselves (and there lies much of the trouble), over the twenty some years since the oldest of us went off to colleges where Theory and Cultural Studies were all the impotent rage.
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.
So I began to go to literary readings (mostly poetry) and write them up. I adopted the thinking of the paper pretty quickly; in truth I was close to it already. The idea was to evaluate poets not according to one’s vague and subjective emotions, but to the context from which they’d emerged; to insist on the author’s right to innovate; and to criticize everything traditional and passé. Innovation was the key. If Kuzmin saw even the slightest inkling of it in a poet, he drew him in, either by publishing him in his annual literary anthology, Vavilon, or by encouraging him in some other way—basically, one way or another, he kept an eye on him.
December 19, 2011
It’s been said many times that Hitchens tended to “personalize” politics, to think in terms of character and friendship rather than structure and movements. That seems true, but also incomplete. My sense of him as a writer was that, like a poet, he loved certain rhetorical and musical effects much more than others, and he wanted from his journalistic occasions above all opportunities to produce those cherished effects.
August 26, 2011
It is not an accident that the term “IMF riots” has become a social science cliché, or that Cameron’s public sector cuts mirror an IMF structural adjustment program. Gary Younge, writing for the Guardian, noted that serious social unrest was predicted “not just by the left but by, among others, the guardians of global capital.” Nick Clegg, now deputy prime minister, had predicted “Greek-style unrest.”
Two years ago, at the nadir of the financial crisis, the urban sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh wondered aloud in the New York Times why no mass protests had arisen against what was clearly a criminal coup by the banks. Where were the pitchforks, the tar, the feathers? Where, more importantly, were the crowds? Venkatesh’s answer was the iPod: “In public spaces, serendipitous interaction is needed to create the ‘mob mentality.’ Most iPod-like devices separate citizens from one another; you can’t join someone in a movement if you can’t hear the participants. Congrats Mr. Jobs for impeding social change.” Venkatesh’s suggestion was glib, tossed off — yet it was also a rare reminder, from the quasi-left, of how urban life has been changed by recording technologies.
September 9, 2010
How does one come to have certain ideas about LA without actually experiencing it? Between 1980 and 2007, I’d watched any number of movies about the city (Pretty Woman, Shampoo, Double Indemnity) and some TV shows, too (Beverly Hills 90210; The Hills). I’d listened to The Doors, Jane’s Addiction, and X. At a certain point, I’d also begun fact-checking at a celebrity weekly. Most crucially, however, I’d read Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero.
August 23, 2010
A film must be untimely to be worth talking about.
The current notion that 3D somehow radically changes, or will save, cinema—either by dragging it further toward some aesthetic destiny or just by bringing more asses into the theater—is the kind of apocalyptic idea that comes out of a crisis perception, as happened before during the crisis of the early 1950s, when Hollywood studios were desperate for some gimmick to lure viewers back to the box office; let’s call it Bwana Devil Syndrome.
Of all classic capitalist problems—income inequality, imperialism, the class character of the state—mass unemployment has probably been the one to trouble living Americans least. From the establishment of FDR’s war economy through the end of the so-called golden age of capitalism in the early 1970s, the US matched other major economies in functioning at close to full employment.
In April 1975, North Vietnamese forces overwhelmed the South and took Saigon. American troops, who had mostly withdrawn by 1973, had no way of stemming the tide. “COMMUNISTS ENTER SAIGON,” ran the AP wire: “VICTORY IN INDOCHINA” was the banner that ran across the New Left Review’s May-June issue of that year.
April 22, 2009
n+1 covers the London Conference, “On the Idea of Communism”
Despite the billing of the conference, and despite the fact that the papers presented were almost to a one solid pieces of philosophical work, I think it’s safe to say that nothing groundbreaking, or even all that unexpected, happened. The speakers routinely erred on the side of contrition and caution. When Marx was cited, which was often, it was apologetically.
As vague a categorical designation as “literary fiction” is, it bestowed on non-genre novels the gift or illusion of a brand, a more secure niche and identity within the expanding universe of consumer goods. It is both a comfort and a necessity for editors anxious to know what sort of books they are acquiring and for salespeople needing to know what sort of product they are selling.
Cher Ami, I am depressed. Things are worse here than I thought. It’s a mess and what’s more it’s a provincial mess. But let me go back. A brief history of 20th-century French fiction.
A few new economy boosters were able to pass themselves off as thinkers during the five years (1995–1999) we now think of as the “Nineties.” But Being Digital and Rational Exuberance and their genre-mates are now just historical curios. The bubble popped, and where are they?
June 25, 2020
We are not yet after a revolution
Abolition—the notion that prisons and policing are directly linked to slavery and thus antithetical to human liberation—is not new, but it is to some people. That is lamentable, and not unrelated to the challenges associated with social transformation, but it is not avoidable. We need to prepare the ground, look for nascent and emerging practices and nourish them.
Iran and surplus imperialism
The likeliest outcome of war with Iran is a hellish regional power vacuum, one that countries like Russia and China would be better positioned to exploit than the United States. The drumbeat goes on anyway: the insistence that Iran cannot be “tolerated,” that the solution to its malign influence must be military, that “the mullahs” must pay. The persistence of this fantasy reveals something irrational in the practice of American foreign policy, some impulse that asserts itself independent of the usual questions of proportionality and geopolitical strategy.
Bros on Instagram, elitism in book publishing
Only when we name our enemy can we confront it. Only when workers regard ourselves as a class can we access the great power that is available to us. The failures of an elitist, capitalist system have been amply demonstrated in these opening years of the 21st century. The time is now to organize ourselves toward something else.
A gulag of prisons posing as hospitals
The sex offense legal regime displaces real protection with a false sense of security at the same time as it incites terror to justify itself. Like the rest of the criminal legal system, it disproportionately targets people of color. It exiles a permanent class of sexual pariahs—now nearly a million—from the rights of residency, citizenship, and humanity itself.
Writing books is so much creepier than readers know.
The reason there wasn’t a perfect balance was that this book wasn’t even a book anymore. By which I mean that, in its reproduction and transformation, it had left the land of the product, the kind of thing whose specifics and details are discussed in reviews and clarified on the book jacket. This ever-changing text was now a battlefield to which I could return anytime I wanted. There, on the battlefield, I could play with my two little armies—empathy versus satire—reenacting every battle (that is, every scene) to figure out how, granularly, my characters were conquered either by warmth and fuzziness or by the prevailing needs of social critique and its drunken ally, satire.
The young are trying to save the old
It is important to understand that chronopolitics is nothing more than the political and cultural modality in which class conflict in recent decades has appeared: the conflict between generations is not fundamental but is rather the outcome of specific historical developments, which have turned age into the medium of conflicts flowing from the relations of property. But this does not make generational conflict superficial, any more than the mediation of class through race makes race superficial. There is a genuine divergence in life chances and social power along the lines of age.
“Your daddy did my lips”
This is the problem with the politics of desire. The parasite is already within us, and our desires are not our own. It’s not that a “real” self has been colonized by the infrastructures of desire, but that the very thing that we call “self” is composed of that colonization; the self does not exist without it.
June 11, 2020
The fight for workplace safety at Amazon France
Thanks to its ubiquitous presence across Europe, Amazon was never seriously penalized. The nearly boundless scale of the company also allowed it to ignore the mandate about excluded products; its catalogue for French shoppers offered thousands of both essential and non-essential items. In fact, according to a report from Bloomberg, Seattle may have shut the French warehouses precisely to avoid setting this expensive and complex precedent for other countries.
June 5, 2020
It is, at once, 1933 and 1968 and 2020
June 1, 2020
Destruction is in the eye of the beholder
April 1, 2020
We walk to escape the trauma of the pandemic, only to relive it all over again by walking.
We’re told this is temporary, a momentary suspension of normality, and in our hearts we sentimentalists all want to believe the streets will soon be filled once more with stoop dawdlers, grandmas pushing shopping carts, vested business bros with their phones on speaker, fleets of annoying schoolkids, boys and girls out on the prowl, the stench of weed and the cries of desire. (On second thought, let’s consign the business bros to the past.) But we all know the dream of a quick recovery is delusional, that our altered reality will last a year, maybe two.
March 23, 2020
What matters now is the balance of authority in everyday life—between young and old, worker and boss
Social distancing is an unquestionable necessity and act of solidarity, demanding our fullest commitment. Still, more than submission is needed now. Unemployment is spiraling rapidly, but the displaced—especially the young—can be enlisted through public spending and planning to take on the creation of emergency housing friendly to social distancing and quarantine; cleaning and sanitizing public facilities, most of all transit systems, groceries, pharmacies, and health care institutions; tending to the children of the frontline workers.
March 20, 2020
The best safeguard against the novel coronavirus is the ability to voluntarily withdraw oneself from capitalism
What all these stories have in common is how unremarkable they are: this is contemporary global interchange at its most prosaic. Travel to and from countless other cities across Asia and Europe for business meetings and tourism follows a very similar pattern. Whereas the SARS outbreak was blamed on the peculiar, outlandish diets of the Cantonese people and then traveled through the elite cosmopolitan links between major Asian cities, the so-called “Wuhan virus” points to the utterly mundane way that countless nodal points around the world, including “second-tier” Chinese cities, are interwoven more tightly than ever across global circuits of commerce, education, and tourism.
February 26, 2020
Transgressing the permissibility of speech amid Lebanon’s uprising
Embracing acts of profanity within a highly polarizing setup is a slippery task; one made all the more joyful—one might even say pedagogical—when navigating the puzzling terrain requires we dig through its components along the way. For a profanity to find its footing, for it to take on its contagious potential and produce necessary injury, it must be intoned in a space regarded as sacred.
February 20, 2020
Walking a fine line between theory, activism, and literature
February 17, 2020
Bloomberg and Trump: alike in dignity and almost everything else
The agita over whether it’s accurate or impolite to call Bloomberg “racist” or to suggest that he “hates” poor people is irrelevant. It matters not one whit what’s inside Mike’s heart, or if he even has one, since his actions have always already been right in front of our faces. The “context” for the Stop and Frisk and redlining clips is the fact that Mike Bloomberg spent over a decade presiding over a gargantuan machine for oppressing people of color, the poor, and poor people of color most of all—a total, merciless system for violating their bodies, controlling their lives, and driving them from their homes and communities.
Satire or business plan?
Although the realities of climate change threaten to be grimmer than what can be pictured even by a furious imagination like Shikaze’s, his personal carbon offset scheme reminds us that the difference between satire and program is measured only by the slightest breadth of our conscience.
On Amit Chaudhuri
Chaudhuri’s attachment to a middle-class cultural moment limits his novels’ social scope; but it also suggests a certain feeling for collective life, famously foreign to modernism. For, as his early novels make clear, Chaudhuri’s writing emerged out of a modernist world; the sense of shared imaginative space in the middle-class Calcutta of his childhood allowed Chaudhuri early on to lose patience with modernism’s asocial obsessions, replacing alienation with affirmation, atomized angst with a troubled but real impression of community.
Welcome to New York; Now go home
How can I talk about the new people and their superpower of invasion? I’m forever grappling with this question, reducing, stereotyping, and then struggling not to be reductive. What I keep coming back to is their apparent belief that their way of living belongs everywhere, that it should trickle down the ladder of power and fill every lower space, scouring and purifying as it goes.
I’ve been wondering how you say to a person: The world is good, really good, and you’re good, but you’re not good for the world, and none of us are good for the world, in a way. I agree that personal transformation is important and part of it, but there are real limits, as we all know, to what that can add up to. We’re so deeply creatures of the built environment we’ve made, and all the things we do, we do through it: communicate, work, have families, participate in culture.
January 7, 2020
A Speculative Review of #NewMoMA
These kinds of contrasts give rise to history understood as a morass of unresolved conflicts and multiple lines of flight, rather than a unified tale of artistic development. Of course, none of the current constellations break new ground or present innovative scholarship—that is still a step too far for even #newMoMA—but they renounce the egregious evasions that were previously MoMA’s calling card.
December 9, 2019
This should be a single-issue election
Is it any wonder that in a century dominated by surveillance, paranoia, terrorism, rendition, financial collapse and hard borders our language has retreated? Our reality, for years now, has been of individual survival under austerity; the erasure of the public in a city of stagnating wages that in eight years lost half its youth centers and half its nightclubs and saw them replaced with sterile glass towers. One by one London’s houses, monuments, newspapers, and artworks are being eaten up by the searching, liquid capital of Indian steel tycoons and Arab petrolords and Russian disaster capitalists. Of course the language has stopped growing: where are we even supposed to talk to each other now?
October 17, 2019
Counterculture is a praxis
Imagining the person of color as a counterculturalist, as a weirdo or bohemian, means imagining them as someone who cannot be processed easily into the threat/victim dichotomy, but must be imagined as someone who can wreak joy and pleasure and strangeness upon the world.
October 10, 2019
A sociological designation turned into an epithet and hurled like a missile
In the early years of the 20th century, the professions emerged in their modern forms, establishing uniform standards of practice and conduct in all these fields. The new professionals were in general politically progressive, seeing their purpose as the renovation of American democracy and the modernization of conditions of work and life, in keeping with the momentous social and technological changes that had remade the world. Early on, they tended to imagine themselves as the antagonists of capitalists, not workers—or at least as brokers between the two. Social control, the production of rationalized plebeian behavior, was necessary for democracy to function, and might even gradually transform into socialism—the apotheosis of the principle of social rationality.
There is fatalism and then there is stoicism
Domino takes place in Copenhagen, where police detectives speak English and used to be in Game of Thrones. The director seems to have contempt for both his leads. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, playing a not-bright cop who sets the plot in motion by forgetting his gun one morning, has a second-choice feel. Carice van Houten, who exists in Domino like she’s waiting for each take to end so she can go outside and smoke, resembles Noomi Rapace in De Palma’s earlier film Passion, but why? In the past, the resemblance would have been evidence of directorial obsession. Here, it’s probably a coincidence.
By embracing “design thinking,” we attribute to design a kind of superior epistemology: a way of knowing, of “solving,” that is better than the old and local and blue-collar and municipal and unionized and customary ways. We bring in “design thinkers” — some of them designers by trade, many of them members of adjacent knowledge fields — to “empathize” with Kaiser hospital nurses, Gainesville city workers, church leaders, young mothers, and guerrilla fighters the world over.
September 20, 2019
Essays from the archives on climate action
August 12, 2019
On Girish Karnad, 1938–2019
August 6, 2019
There is fatalism and then there is stoicism
August 1, 2019
Look beyond shallow time
July 30, 2019
How can art institutions be better?
July 29, 2019
Not an analogy!
June 4, 2019
Green Hitlers, narrative prostheses, and the final episode of the world-pummeling HBO blockbuster
As the fanboys and reply guys will leap to point out, Game of Thrones is set in a fantasy world and thus is not offering us a historically accurate version of the European medieval past. But it is, at another level, just as obviously set in a version of that past, albeit one with giants and dragons and the living dead. And insofar as that temporal orientation is the case, in its final maneuvers the show cheats its viewers of the capacity to respect the very pastness of that past by overlaying a presentist moral logic of political development onto it. In this narcissistic political schema, characters who are untroubled by monarchy are evil, while characters who support electoral systems are good. The effect of this rigged historical framework is to generate a smug sense of quasi-recognition, coating the sedimented layers of a past-that-never-was with a zesty little spritz of incipience.
May 15, 2019
David Wallace-Wells’s new book is one of the few honest accounts of the costs, both tangible and metaphorical, of global warming.
David Wallace-Wells’s new book, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, reads at once as an innovative look at manmade climate change and also as old news. As Wallace-Wells himself states at points, not much in his book is new. Even the scariest near-term predictions and assessments, like the possibility that “should the planet warm 3.7 degrees . . . climate change damages could total $551 trillion—nearly twice as much wealth as exists in the world today,” or that, at the upper-end of temperature predictions for the end of this century, “humans at the equator and in the tropics would not be able to move around without dying” have been accessible to the general public online or in academic articles and assessments. What is new is the candor of the narrative and relative impassivity with which Wallace-Wells, a career journalist, elucidates the distressing implications of the facts that he reports.
None of these guys has ever sewn anything in his life
The experiment — known as the Volcker shock — lasted until 1982, inducing what remains the worst unemployment since the Great Depression and finally ending the inflation that had troubled the world economy since the late 1960s. To catalog all the results of the Volcker shock — shuttered factories, broken unions, dizzying financialization — is to describe the whirlwind we are still reaping in 2019.
On political organizing
Your job as an organizer was to find out what it was that people wanted to be different in their lives, and then to persuade people that it mattered whether they decided to do something about it. This is not the same thing as persuading people that the thing itself matters: they usually know it does. The task is to persuade people that they matter: they know they usually don’t.
Letters from Issue 34
The fact is, far from collapsing, Brooklyn civilization is likely to suffer only a modest decrease in its quality of life compared to other parts of the world; there is no reason to expect that connoisseurs of poetry and film will have to cease enjoying these things. Instead they will enjoy them against a backdrop of other people’s suffering, as they’ve always done.
April 24, 2019
Dispatch from the Extinction Rebellion protests in London
Mass arrests are part of Extinction Rebellion’s strategy to raise the profile of the climate emergency. “The action itself is not actually that important. It’s the going to prison that’s got cultural relevance,” Roger Hallam, an XR founder, said in a short documentary made by The Guardian. Just a few days into the protest, hundreds of arrests have already been racked up: there are reports of activists being booked as far away as Brighton, Luton, and Essex because London jails are overwhelmed. When the police decide to arrest XR members, they usually do so by issuing Section 14 notices, which can be done if officers believe that a stationary protest “may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community.” Technically, the police monitoring the XR actions are in their power to declare this at any time they see fit, but in reality, for reasons of optics or understaffing, they often choose to watch how things progress from the sidelines. The rhythms of the protest are strange: long periods of calm punctured by sudden moments of drama when the police decide to move in on one area or another in a coordinated attempt to clear it.
April 16, 2019
What's been hiding Germany's hidden crisis?
Now, when a politician or a public intellectual or a newspaper goes on a Rumspringa in the rightmost reaches of the political spectrum, or if the fine citizens of some small town decide to set fire to a house, there is less of a script by which they would be welcomed back into respectability. Certain ethnic Germans used to take it as their seigneurial right to shower cruelty on the vulnerable and return to the mainstream after a cooling-off period to be listened to and shaken hands with. They are beginning to feel deprived of that right.
April 9, 2019
If movements’ labor produces change in society, who then produces the movement?
Political meetings rely upon social reproductive labor: washing dishes, caring for children, feeding participants. But the meeting itself also presents a reproductive challenge: how do participants sit, in what sequence do they speak, how do they address one another? The stakes of these questions are high, and can ultimately sustain or destroy us. These sorts of high stakes are why Silvia Federici lifts up movements that “place at the center of their political project the restructuring of reproduction as the crucial terrain for the transformation of social relations.” The work of reproducing movements is not only that of sharing the invisible labor that makes a meeting possible; it is also about attending to the ritual practices of meetings themselves, like speaking and listening, that foster and maintain relations of activism. This is the work of meeting needs.
March 18, 2019
When the characters end up in Sicily, a supertitle reads “Sicily, Italy,” so we know we are not in Sicily, Illinois.
Clint Eastwood is a Giacometti sculpture with a skull stuck on top. What skin he has left on his face is paper-thin, ready to be scraped and scratched. He looks dermabraded even before drug runners in The Mule push his face against a wall. Eastwood walks across motel parking lots in his latest movie with the careful certainty of a man who has always stayed on the hard line, a rule of life from a movie of his, Blood Work, he made seventeen years ago, when he already seemed old but was only 72.
March 11, 2019
Getting out from under the “liberal international order”
China’s ascent to great power status mirror’s the US’s in many ways. Like the US in the Gilded Age, the basis for China’s entrance into the first rank of global powers is its staggering economic growth. Averaging just shy of 10 percent of GDP growth annually for forty years, in a country of 1.4 billion people, it is the most spectacular economic feat in the history of capitalism. And like the US in the Gilded Age, China has benefited from a favorable international environment. In the late 19th century the British empire smiled upon the consanguine rising power, enabling the US to attract enormous amounts of foreign capital to its project of continental capitalist development. In the case of China, the US’s strategy of “convergence” has meant openly supporting and facilitating the country’s integration into the circuits of international capitalism, especially through endorsing China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 1999. Finally, the US’s willingness to import hundreds of billions of dollars a year of Chinese goods while exporting only a fraction of that to China, and to permit US firms to enter into joint ventures with potential Chinese competitors, have contributed hugely to China’s economic growth.
February 26, 2019
On Paul Volcker
Those who praise Volcker like to say he “broke the back” of inflation. Nancy Teeters, the lone dissenter on the Fed Board of Governors, had a different metaphor: “I told them, ‘You are pulling the financial fabric of this country so tight that it’s going to rip. You should understand that once you tear a piece of fabric, it’s very difficult, almost impossible, to put it back together again.” (Teeters, also the first woman on the Fed board, told journalist William Greider that “None of these guys has ever sewn anything in his life.”) Fabric or backbone: both images convey violence. In any case, a price index doesn’t have a spine or a seam; the broken bodies and rent garments of the early 1980s belonged to people. Reagan economic adviser Michael Mussa was nearer the truth when he said that “to establish its credibility, the Federal Reserve had to demonstrate its willingness to spill blood, lots of blood, other people’s blood.”
February 15, 2019
On Rachel Kushner and Sergio De La Pava
The women in the novel are subjected to sexual violence so regularly that it is treated as if it is just another part of their punitive program. For many of them, this sexual violence is not unique to their time in jail. Kushner wisely demonstrates throughout the novel that patriarchy and its parallel oppressive structures are not phenomena specific to incarceration; they groom these characters from birth to feel comfortable in the rigidly authoritative structures of prisons. “I had been a waitress at IHOP right after I graduated high school,” Romy says. “I was waitress 43, and the cooks would call, Forty-three! Your order is up! Which, as I only saw later, had been preparing me for here.” With wrenching flashbacks to Romy’s youth that bare the bruises of innocence forcibly taken, Kushner shows us Romy navigating and bucking authority throughout her life, in her predatory friendships, in her work as a stripper, and in her experiences with men. By the time she ends up in prison, like the rest of the women around her, she hardly has the capacity to question or resist authority.
January 23, 2019
The populist revolt is not against the crash, or even its immediate aftermath, but against the nature of the recovery.
This is the economic backdrop of the populist revolt. To the extent that it is driven by economics, it is a revolt not so much against the crash, or even its immediate aftermath—as Tooze seems to suggest—but against the nature of the recovery. This recovery, sustained by historically unprecedented “accommodative” monetary policies, is now nearly the longest on record. But it has proved to be yet another iteration of a now forty-year macroeconomic pattern for which centrist liberals bear much responsibility. It is the economy whose pre-crisis development they happily facilitated and which, during the 2008 crisis, they brought back to life, if moderately reformed. But since 2008, this same old asset-led global capitalism has slowly but steadily worn down the political establishment’s reserves of legitimacy.
Put your shit on silent.
The cancellation of both services, at this point, seems like the end of the long tail. The blockbuster model has reasserted itself and as usual seeks to muscle everything else out of the way. At the height of corporate capitalism you pay full price for bad movies improperly projected in ugly theaters whose business is selling large sodas at a 1,000 percent markup. If you want to watch a movie at home, there’s Netflix, now mostly a streaming television service, or Amazon. It’s all an insult to cinephiles and to film history. Going mass means living in the moment and throwing away what came before. The moment is crap.
On V. S. Naipaul
I have admired Naipaul as much as I have found him difficult to admire, a murky admixture that I find difficult to explain or clarify, and which I find with no other writer, to anything like the same degree. (Edward Said referred to his “pained admiration,” and dissonant phrases of that kind are scattered through appreciations of his work.) I know, too, that you knew him, which I did not. I don’t know if that makes him more or less difficult to appraise.
Let's hear Luke 2
My childhood was, in many ways, a walled garden constructed in accordance with 19th-century notions of innocence and autonomy. I was aware on some level that there was a broader culture from which we had deliberately exempted ourselves. My mother called it the World, which was neither the planet nor the cosmos, but a system of interlocking ideologies that were everywhere and in everything. Of all the things she taught me, this was the most formative: that life concealed vast power structures warring for control of my mind; that my only hope for freedom was to be vigilant in recognizing them and calling them by name.
Cards, tunnels, a rocket ship going backward
Oh! I thought. This sounds like the kind of man for me! I didn’t know at the time that he was interested in how jokes work because he wanted to figure out how humor could topple dictators and children of former dictators, specifically South Korea’s president at the time, Park Geun-hye, the daughter of Korea’s old strongman dictator, Park Chung-hee.
McDonnell has a burning task on his hands
After enduring years of mockery — a young Tony Blair once quipped, “You really don’t have to worry about Jeremy Corbyn suddenly taking over” — the Labour left might now form the next government. What would they do with power? Much of the answer hangs on the challenges of Brexit and the ordinary traumas of state administration and class conflict, which threaten to derail any radical bid for power. But less attention has been paid to the shape of Labour’s vision. John McDonnell talks as if the zeitgeist is at last with the socialists again. If he is right, his thinking tells us something of the world to come.
This is what extinction feels like from the inside
Once in a while, and with increasing frequency, climate change rises to the forefront of popular consciousness. A critical mass of people aided by the notion that others are doing something similar can break through the powerful psychological resistance and look the blinding thing in the face. It’s devastating and painful; you grieve and you panic. Even so, there’s relief in bringing something so painful into view, in holding it with your mind. But you can only look for so long. Resistance reasserts itself, and you slide back behind it. Next time you come out a tiny bit further before you retreat. This is how understanding happens, through a series of breakthroughs and retrenchments and consolidations, as with all efforts toward intentional growth.
November 23, 2018
On Chantal Mouffe
November 23, 2018
On Anne Boyer
Anne Boyer’s negativity is capacious, incorporating explicit political action as well as more opaque forms of noncompliance. In “No” it’s exemplified by both children who refuse dinner and workers who slow the line. “Some days my only certain we is this certain we that didn’t, that wouldn’t, whose bodies or spirits wouldn’t go along.”
October 10, 2018
Left-wing climate realism and the Trump climate change memo
The period of world history since the 1980s has been the most extractive in human history. Nearly 56 percent of all atmospheric carbon since the dawn of the industrial revolution has been produced in these past four decades. The crisis of the Anthropocene is not a story about individual consumption choices, or one about technology per se.
September 14, 2018
Toward a materialist history of Crazy Rich Asians
What the film’s central conflict turns upon is not simply strife between rich and poor, Asian and American, but rather the friction between different forms of accumulation—landed rents, financial interest, industrial profits, et cetera—that are historical in character and can be located throughout the diasporic division of labor that has evolved across Asia the past half-century. These tensions are a palpable reality in everyday life in Asia today, bubbling up periodically in the tabloid press, from the Kyoto locals who deride the recent influx of Chinese tourists as “pollution” to Hong Kong TV commercials in which Chinese actors wear dark makeup to portray Filipina domestic workers. Such economic racism is perhaps the clearest marker of all of modern Asia’s shared resemblances with Europe and America.
He looks near-homeless at times, a street creature in a movie where pizza rat meets Pizzagate.
This post-Wonka kids’ movie about future video-game competition in dystopian cyberspace contains every pop 1980s reference imaginable, including “Blue Monday,” and stuffs them by the handful into a recycling bag like cans worth five cents each. The movie is cynical and manipulative because the ’80s it exploits means nothing to Spielberg. He uses items from that decade because he noticed that’s what kids are into, even though the movie takes place three decades from now. To Spielberg, the digitized fodder of Ready Player One is not truly classic, and can therefore be further trivialized for any reason. If money can be squeezed out of it from an undiscerning audience of nerds, so it should be and must be. Here, Spielberg has truly become Disney.
A world where everything is always dripping
Just past the sliding doors in a Rite Aid in Manhattan about 2 AM, Mike WiLL Made-It’s producer tag and the familiar melancholy two-tone of Rae Sremmurd’s “No Type” announces that soon Swae Lee’s Floydian vamp on the trap sound will remind you of what you don’t need to hear: “I ain’t living right.” The bored cashier there to assist you with self-checkout murmurs the chorus lightly tapping at her side as she assists you: “I make my own money, so I spend it how I like.” Among other things, it’s clear there has never been a music this well suited for the rich and bored. This being a great democracy, everyone gets to pretend they, too, are rich and bored when they’re not working, and even sometimes, discreetly, when they are.
Everyone I know remembers where they were when it happened.
Shock therapy was a rough ride. One day in 1992, if a family anecdote is to be believed, my uncle Stanisław, a mechanical designer at Agromet, formerly the country’s largest state-owned producer of agricultural machines and now suddenly bankrupt, called my aunt Hanna to let her know of an opportunity to buy a refrigerator. When she expressed interest and asked for details, he told her he was talking about his own fridge: it was completely empty and he had no use for it anymore.
Images have become not only animate, but incarnate.
Seemingly insincere, jokey phrases flip and become the nexus of an argument. Concomitance carries weight. A border of an image can be like the border of a nation-state; tension accumulates at an edge. For an image, the tension lies in the difference between the logics created within the picture plane and outside it. For nation-states, it is often the same—tension between colliding desires, incompatible ways of understanding, communicating, and seeing.
I don’t think I have ever expressed an optimism that history is headed in the right direction
Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I am less of an optimist, which is why I have spent my life actively trying to bend the arc in a positive direction. But recognizing that I am a biased evaluator of my life’s work, I will submit it to the judgment of history.
Intellectuals and scholars reach once again for the rudder of a drifting American liberalism
The stakes are high for economics and for policy. Piketty’s empirical observation of steady returns to the abstract total capital stock poses an existential problem for the discipline, as it contradicts one of its most ubiquitously taught maxims: that price varies inversely with quantity. It is the trout in Thoreau’s milk, evidence that the savings-returns story of the distribution of economic growth—which posits that social wealth grows when people invest their private savings for profit—might not be as predictable as we expected.
July 16, 2018
He looks near-homeless at times, a street creature in a movie where pizza rat meets Pizzagate.
This post-Wonka kid’s movie about future videogame competition in dystopian cyberspace contains every pop 1980s reference imaginable, including “Blue Monday,” and stuffs them by the handful into a recycling bag like cans worth five cents each. The movie is cynical and manipulative because the ’80s it exploits means nothing to Spielberg. He uses items from that decade because he noticed that’s what kids are into, even though the movie takes place three decades from now. To Spielberg, the digitized fodder of Ready Player One is not truly classic, and can therefore be further trivialized for any reason. If money can be squeezed out of it from an undiscerning audience of nerds, so it should be and must be. Here, Spielberg has truly become Disney.
July 10, 2018
You didn’t have to go and read a thousand books to see it; you just had to stay where you were and look around.
Suddenly everything I had been looking at—not just over these past months in Moscow, but over the past few years in academia, and over the past fifteen years of studying Russia— became clear to me. Russia had always been late to the achievements and realizations of Western civilization. Its lateness was its charm and its curse—it was as if Russia were a drug addict who received every concoction only after it was perfectly crystallized, maximally potent. Nowhere were Western ideas, Western beliefs, taken more seriously; nowhere were they so passionately implemented. Thus the Bolshevik Revolution, which overthrew the old regime; thus the human rights movement, plus blue jeans, which overthrew the Bolshevik one; and thus finally this new form of capitalism created here, which had enriched and then expelled my brother, and which had impoverished my grandmother and killed Uncle Lev. You didn’t have to go and read a thousand books to see it; you just had to stay where you were and look around.
June 18, 2018
George Soros after the open society
From his earliest days as a banker in postwar London, Soros believed in a necessary connection between capitalism and cosmopolitanism. For him, as for most of the members of his cohort and the majority of the Democratic Party’s leadership, a free society depends on free (if regulated) markets. But this assumed connection has proven to be a false one.
May 31, 2018
NBA Update 2018
LeBron James, possessed of perhaps the most expressive face in any sport, bears the imprint of existential weariness, of having to prove himself once more on behalf of an obscure rationale somehow held in common to fans and players alike, one he has clearly internalized.
Would #MeToo jump the shark?
That Transparent can make you feel political — the way, say, This Is Us can make you feel sad — implies that the political is essentially a special effect, a trick of the light, TV magic. The full discomfiture of this claim can be shrugged off as long as you maintain the fantasy that somewhere out there, in the bleeding wilds of the world, there exists a secret glade called Politics where the gods of history dance. This will let you cleanly cleave the world in two: true and pretend, genuine leftism and performative wokeness, real life and the stuff of television. The scarier thought is that feeling political is all that politics is. In truth, you can’t book a direct flight to the political. There are always layovers in aesthetic form: in tone, mood, shape, and everything else a work of art might employ to try to get you to feel part of something bigger than yourself.
On Spy Fiction
The spy novel departs from its social-realist cousins, even the police procedural: crime gathers a large web of social interactions; espionage remains sealed off from the world at large. Cause and effect do not ramify outward, in horizontal networks; they move from big, those cold brains in a small room, to little, in a vertical cascade. The answer is inside, but it is also obvious, a purloined letter too large for any other genre’s frame.
Fashion is out of structuralism
Novelty disturbed Edward; he made an awkward remark or two about the old woman, was only happy when he had been reminded of one he saw years ago and could supply a polished little story for the occasion. Repetition disturbed Maria; it was like trying to play jazz with someone who has the sheet music for “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and works it in whenever he can.
April 11, 2018
A plea for liberal nationalism ignores what it has looked like in practice.
Despite the appeal to pragmatism, Mounk’s political vision is utopian, his ideal polity a kind of liberal sublime. In a distant place far outside of history, virtuous trustees of public reason skillfully mobilize the best of nationalism while fending off its “dangerous excesses.” Entranced, Mounk sees in nationalism a muscular tool for legitimizing the political-economic order: “Nationalism is like a half-wild beast. As long as it remains under our control, it can be of tremendous use.” Who is the “beast,” and who is the “us” into which Mounk places the reader?
April 9, 2018
Why do studios keep doing prequels if fans hate them? And why do fans hate them so much in the first place?
In other words, though the term is recent, the narrative technique of the prequel is not as new as it may appear. What is new, it seems, in modern prequels is their much lower ideological stakes. People were willing to kill and die over the legitimacy of Julius Caesar’s consolidation of imperial power in Rome, and despite the heated rhetoric of online debate, it is difficult to imagine anyone working up as much real-world fervor over George Lucas’s decision to posit a racial-biological basis for susceptibility to the Force in The Phantom Menace. Yet as the debates over diversity in casting and the portrayal of female leadership in the recent Star Wars films shows, story-telling decisions do carry a political-ideological charge, which is presumably not unrelated to their ability to provide the foundation for community and identity among particularly enthusiastic fans.
March 28, 2018
On the pressing need, fifteen years after the Iraq invasion, for a non-imperial vision of the US and the world.
Today, on right and left, that past cold war consensus has cracked. While Trump doubts whether there is much of an ethical distinction between the US and Russia, activists on the left have no trouble rejecting both capitalism and empire. What is desperately needed now is a fully developed non-imperial articulation of American foreign policy—one that could challenge the Democratic Party establishment in the same way that Sanders’s call for “Medicare for All” has done.
March 7, 2018
Errol Morris and the hot cold war
Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say the CIA was “involved” with the shooting of Bob Marley or the death of Frank Olson, since we don’t know for sure exactly what happened? No, it would not.
March 4, 2018
Italian election preview
Today’s demented circus, a reality show whose rivals compete for the title of most insensate and most nihilistic, is the result of a crisis more than twenty-five years in the making. At the start of the 1990s, when Italy was preparing to enter the eurozone, the downturn in productivity was already evident, the backwardness of the economic system as undeniable as the total corruption of our political class. The crisis of 2008 and the semi-recent collapse of Europe’s core were only the icing on a rotten cake.
December 11, 2017
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.
December 4, 2017
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act lets corporations loose to do what they will—and then imposes pain to make the numbers work.
Eventually, perhaps in the reading room of the Trump library, a researcher may actually find a document that sheds some real light on whether Republicans in Washington genuinely think this is their last chance or think that nothing matters so why not grab it all.
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.
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.
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.
November 6, 2017
Millennial habits so often mocked and belittled in the press are the survival strategies of a demographic “born into captivity.”
The summation Kids These Days gives us is harrowing: here is a generation hurrying to give in to the unremitting, unforgiving commodification of the self. Malcolm Harris predicts a future of debt servitude, confinement for the “malfunctioning,” worsening misogyny (though his gender analysis is less coherent than the rest of his argument), and total surveillance. Millennials, that is, are the first generation to live in the dystopia to come.
October 5, 2017
It’s not a “Que se vayan todos” moment, but something mutinous is brewing.
September 20, 2017
On documenta 14
Obscurity of purpose; immediacy of experience; the foregrounding of a nameless parallel space, shorn of concrete social orientation: these qualities enveloped huge swathes of the exhibition. In a paradoxical turn, the greater the formal emphasis on participation, egalitarian engagement, and the banishment of hierarchy, the less political commitment, or the articulation of a clearly defined viewpoint, appeared possible. It’s a turn that has been noted before, most magisterially by Claire Bishop in Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (2012). One foregrounds a “symmetrical situation of the encounter of equals,” only to wind up with incoherence and a teleology of open-endedness. Social relations were skated over, as projects like Social Dissonance melded more or less anonymous participants into spontaneous collectives. Artists tacked on political motives as loose premises or ex post facto revelations, unintegrated into any aesthetic whole.
The political theory of Trumpism
The peculiarity of The Art of the Deal — and what lent Trump’s candidacy its puzzling allure (a plutocrat denouncing plutocrats, an effect of wealth decrying the effects of wealth, a man of the market denigrating the virtue of the market) — is how it simultaneously advances the right’s competing visions of the market.
The fate of the petrostate
Correa’s success was rooted in his administration’s model of commodity-dependent left populism. The model goes by different names. Officially, it is “socialism of the 21st century” or “post-neoliberalism.” Indigenous and environmental activists call it extractivism. Correa’s political opponents, right and left, refer to it as correísmo.
On Nature Writing
Forty years ago, John Berger called the zoo “an epitaph to a relationship” between people and animals. Today those words could be applied to much of middle-class mass culture: it has become a kind of memorial to the nonhuman world, revived in a thousand representations even as it disappears all at once.
August 4, 2017
Adrift with Allan Sekula
When Sekula died of cancer in August 2013 at age sixty-two, he left behind a remarkable legacy as a photographer, filmmaker, art historian, activist, and educator, though only a fairly small—albeit distinguished—tribe of artists and academics has taken stock of it. Much of his work is united by a consistent interest: wherever capitalism sought to hawk the fantasy of an immaterial economy, or to hide its stink in refrigerated shipping freight, Sekula made it his artistic practice to visualize and to describe its mechanisms of concealment.
June 27, 2017
The proliferating but ever meaningless distinctions between the “bad” Uber and the “good” Lyft have obscured how destructive the rise of ride-sharing has been for workers and the cities they live in. The predatory lawlessness that prevails inside Valley workplaces scales up and out. Both companies entered their markets illegally, without regard to prevailing wages, regulations, or taxes. Like Amazon, which found a way to sell books without sales tax, this turned out to be one of the many illegal boons.
May 30, 2017
What good was life on one’s own in the face of European decline and the increasing global irrelevance of your social class?
The pursuit of the good life—in both its moral and aesthetic guises—takes work. But you had Lorenzo. He was handsome and healthy, his shoulders made for polo shirts, his eyes designed to shine emerald green whenever he took off his aviators. His aunt and uncle were influential philosophy professors, and he was a post-doc, also in philosophy. They helped him score grants, and he, meanwhile, could be found at parties, where he’d say, “I’m a filmmaker,” in English, to anyone who’d listen.
May 26, 2017
On graduate labor and the Yale commencement protest
On Monday, Peter Salovey, president of Yale University, strode down the tree-lined streets of downtown New Haven, garbed in voluminous robes, a massive pendant, and a velvet cap with a gold, dangling tassel. Before him walked a scowling bulldog puppy that strained against its leash. Handsome Dan XVIII, the university’s mascot, was processing in his first commencement, and both figureheads were being very, very good boys.
May 9, 2017
Why aren't American companies spending money?
For forty-years American management has leveraged capital mobility to demand concessions from organized labor. Holders of sovereign debt do the same to demand reductions in public spending and shrinking the public sector. This has severely strained liberals’ willingness to stimulate private investment through taxes and transfers. Meanwhile, corporate boards of directors continue to refuse to invest on any but their own terms. Loosening their grip on investment decisions is the only way through this impasse.
April 28, 2017
Contradictions and dilemmas of left populism in Latin America
Rafael Correa’s tenure has seen an expansion in the political participation of the poor, and the proliferation of new collective rights and democratic institutions. These gains stand alongside crackdowns on social movements, the weakening of left opposition parties, and the centralization of power in the executive. After a decade of left rule, Ecuador is at once more equal and more unequal, more democratic and more centralized, radically transformed and mired in historic patterns of domination that date to the colonial era. These antinomies have their origins in a left populism that made a pact with oil and mining—a story that has echoes across the continent.
April 21, 2017
On the French elections
As François Hollande’s ignominious presidency draws to a close, his party confronts its gravest crisis since it was refounded in 1971 out of the ruins of the French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO). Party membership has dropped to as few as 42,000 cardholders, a mere quarter of the 2014 figure. Municipal Socialism has imploded: today, the PS controls less than a third of large- and mid-sized cities, five of seventeen regions, and only twenty-seven of France’s 101 departments.
On Donna Haraway
By the end of the book, we’ve learned all manner of detail about the Acacia tree genus, made up of fifteen hundred species, living in climates ranging from desert to tropics and found in ice cream, beer, and postage stamps. We learn about the Pimoa chthulu spider, Haraway’s neighbor in the North Central California redwoods and another inspiration for the Chthulucene. We learn about the history of Premarin estrogen tablets, made out of horse urine, and their effects on both midcentury reproductive politics and Cayenne Pepper’s bladder.
The editorial collective describes itself as “communist”; its members want the abolition of capitalism, which because of its powerful self-reinforcing tendencies can only be overcome by a coherent social force. But what group of people has enough in common to imagine itself as a social force and also has the strategic leverage to change the world? Unlike many socialists, the editors of Endnotes do not reflexively answer, “The working class.” They ask the question in order to show that this cannot possibly be the answer.
Desert death trip
Keith Richards is a hero to many of these folks because he had the courage to live out the late-stage consequences of his self-mythologizing without recourse to golf or Xanax, even after his wife got cancer. How many in this desert can say the same? A few, perhaps. Some may count themselves young at heart, but they are clearly in transition, as we all are, beneath the banners of aging and departed greats like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Tom Weiskopf, the golfing champions of yesteryear who lend their names to the streets of PGA West, the gated community with the nicest lawns.
A smooth forehead suggests a hard heart
Now more than ever, we must endure the claim that everything is now more than ever. The past recedes, weak precedent to what is supposedly unprecedented. Equanimity is a crime. A smooth forehead suggests a hard heart.
April 3, 2017
Half-Life arrives soon! Read the annotated table of contents and subscribe. Get 20% off with discount code HALFLIFE.
Writing by Richard Beck, Thea Riofrancos, Trevor Shikaze, Jenny Zhang, Meghan O’Gieblyn, Vinod Kumar Shukla, Elizabeth Schambelan, David Samuels, A. S. Hamrah, Tim Barker, and Alyssa Battistoni.
March 28, 2017
Fossil fuels, American expansion, and rebel park rangers
Ryan Zinke will be initiated into a long tradition of Interior secretaries who have stood ambivalently between public and private interests. This is because the Interior Department has always stood ambivalently between public and private interests.
March 20, 2017
Taking one’s shoes off had become a signifier of where one stood on the secular-versus-religious divide.
On May 2, 1999, Merve Safa Kavakçı, a 31-year-old newly elected lawmaker from Istanbul, was to take the oath of office in Parliament, having won a seat two weeks earlier as a member of Turkey’s new Islamist party, the Virtue Party. The problem was that Kavakçı was among the few Turkish women in politics who wore a headscarf, and no woman had ever entered the Turkish Parliament in a headscarf before.
March 10, 2017
You’re rooting for Cold War II. The FBI is your BFF.
So far right did politics float that Richard Nixon is now a moderate and Pat Leahy looks like Che Guevara. The furthest-left there is to be is what conservatives call “radical liberal.” This should be an oxymoron, but given the span of the possible, it is not. With political possibility, language too is squeezed.
March 8, 2017
What to read on International Women’s Day—and beyond.
Writing on the Women’s Strike, reproductive labor, feminist futures, and more.
March 6, 2017
What is Adam Curtis doing?
There is nothing in HyperNormalisation Adam Curtis has not done before, except that his pace is increasingly relaxed, with lengthy, drifting, wordless sound/image juxtapositions that feel closer to contemporary “artists’ film” than anything on television. You could read this languor generously, as a conscious new direction in his work. Or it could simply be the sign of burgeoning self-indulgence, the kind of thing cult figures often become susceptible to.
February 13, 2017
As India and Israel move closer together diplomatically, their citizens are drawing connections in an ever-tighter web.
Nominally committed in their founding to some form of socialism, both Israel and India are now paragons of neoliberalism, characterized by continued inequality and the consolidation of oligarchy. Religious revanchism—rightwing Zionism and Hindu nationalism—have accompanied, even galvanized, the attack on institutions of welfare and mechanisms of redistribution.
January 18, 2017
The global elite now openly admires authoritarian capitalism.
For the Western establishment, modern China is both an exotic political success case that flouts the wisdom of liberalism, as well as a testimonial to the ability of the Bretton Woods system to lift entire nations and fold them into the international community.
January 11, 2017
Is Trump, like Carter, a disjunctive President?
Every President is aligned with or opposed to the regime. Every regime is weak or strong. These two vectors—the political affiliation of the President, the vitality of the regime—shape the politics Presidents make.
December 22, 2016
Jane Jacobs cast her campaigns for urban justice as bids to restore an underlying common sense, not as transformations of the social order.
You might call Jacobs a Democratic Schumpeterian. Though she believed in the dynamism of markets and their propensity to push new, innovative work to grow, she wanted to stoke the egalitarian possibilities of this process within a society that favored established interests.
December 20, 2016
To re-encounter nature would be a way of getting another angle of vision on the same social facts, the same greedy and unequal humanity.
Nature and landscape are palimpsests of history and social violence more than they are alternatives to them. They show back to the observer the durability and definiteness of the world people have made so far, as well as its fragility.
On Tama Janowitz
Janowitz’s preoccupation is with portraying the encounter between an uncertain, struggling protagonist and the chaotic, hostile world around her, which can only result in a downward spiral. As she writes early on in Scream, “Try as I might, for me, other human beings are a blend of pit vipers, chimpanzees, and ants, a virtually indistinguishable mass of killer shit-pickers, sniffing their fingers and raping.” In Janowitz’s memoir and in her fiction, the suffering modern subject who must persist in such an apocalypto-Darwinian landscape is almost always a woman. This is not a coincidence.
What happened to the third-world left?
We may be witnessing the completion of a political cycle, one that brings us back to the left dilemma of forty years ago: how to create a truly transformative majority, at once cross-racial and class conscious? This majority will need to be built at a moment when the right is as ideologically and institutionally unconstrained as at any point in the postwar era. How we answer will speak to the legacy not of Obama, but of the freedom movements that emerged in his wake.
”It’s forbidden to be sad in Georgia.”
Most of Günel’s reports deal with women’s rights in the South Caucasus.
“The lives of Azerbaijani women living in Tbilisi are different from those of Georgian women,” she said. “Azerbaijani girls are taken out of school by their families in the ninth grade and married off at the age of 14. If Azerbaijani girls resist, it’s suicide. Our child’s nanny became a grandmother at 32. Talk to her.”
Their nanny, Renka, agreed to pose for a portrait and talked a little bit about herself.
She was married at 13 and had a daughter when she was 14.
December 6, 2016
November 12, 2016
How are mutely inexpressive votes—boxes ticked once every four years by a minority of the voting-age electorate—legible?
Until November 8th, it seemed clear that one thing was going to happen, and now another thing—the exact opposite—happened, and I can’t see how this doesn’t provoke a sense of chagrin and humility.
November 11, 2016
Trump’s shout-outs, whether to Vladimir Putin or Modi, have resonated across an expanded theater of demagoguery.
Trump’s behavior also manifests the traits diagnosed in Modi, very early in the Indian’s political career, by the social psychologist Ashis Nandy: the American, too, seems a “classic, clinical case” of the “authoritarian personality,” with its “narrowing of emotional life” and “fantasies of violence.”
September 10, 2016
On this episode of the n+1 podcast, Moira Weigel joins us to talk about her essay “Slow Wars” about the slow cinema movement in foreign art films, the impact changes in filmmaking and film viewing technology have on the art form, and the nebulous terms of debate in slow cinema’s film criticism.
Poetry after Brodsky
What these poets have in common is a desire to address contemporary Russian realities, and to occupy, through the medium of poetry, a position that has been both the glory and the curse of Russian poetry for the past two hundred years. That is, to be something more than poets.
Gary Indiana has told the story of his life with many of the legendary parts cut out.
Like McCarthy and the New York Intellectuals of yore, Gary Indiana has acquired the status of a novelist-critic, gleeful in his evisceration of public morality and correction of popular taste. But they had an audience and a sense of ponderous grandeur: Indiana, condemned to a less “intellectual” time, mans his post at the margins. His great theme is solitude.
July 26, 2016
Over the past ten years, the prospect of a coup has been the government’s pretext for suppressing every conceivable opposition.
People I had never seen at a demonstration in Turkey—women in the full face veil, bearded men with hats embroidered with Qur’anic inscriptions and small children in tow—flowed down the broad avenue carrying Turkish flags, a symbol not previously associated with their ultraconservative lifestyle.
July 20, 2016
Dead people can’t pay taxes. Dead people can’t do anything.
We are averse to damning children to a lifetime spent paying off their parents’ debts, yet we provide a mechanism for them to spend a lifetime living off their parents’ wealth.
July 9, 2016
Further reading and resources
The events of the last few days have confirmed—tragically and wretchedly—something foundational to American society some have only just come to recognize, but many have known with a cruel intimacy since the day they were born.
April 21, 2016
The issue isn’t whether or not we should have “gun control,” but what kind of gun control we want to recognize as legitimate
America already has gun control—all kinds of gun control. Start with the guns themselves: sawed-off shotguns are legal for general public ownership in Indiana; take one into Ohio and you’re looking at a felony charge. A pistol magazine that holds eleven rounds is a matter of indifference to Rhode Island; carry it into Connecticut and you’ve committed a crime. Even the definition of what makes a gun “loaded” differs from state to state. Or consider the laws governing concealed carry, which dozens of states have dramatically liberalized since the 1990s. In many states you don’t need to take a written test, sit through a safety video, or even prove you know how to fire a gun, let alone reliably hit a target, to be licensed to carry a concealed weapon. In other localities, you must do all of the above—and still you might be denied, because the criteria are black-box, subject to the discretion of the issuing authorities. In still other states you need no license at all: if you can buy a gun, you can carry it concealed. Complicating things further is a baroque network of reciprocity laws whereby some states recognize permits issued by others and issue permits to nonresidents. This landscape changes so rapidly that gun carriers who travel across state borders often rely on smartphone apps to alert them to local regulations.
What does a left foreign policy look like?
Where is this Sanders now? The failure of the antiwar Sanders to emerge has been roundly criticized in the usual precincts — the late Alexander Cockburn having prepared the way in column after column (“that brass-lunged fraud from Vermont, Bernard Sanders, ‘socialist progressive,’ who has endorsed Clinton’s bombs”). But perhaps what’s missing isn’t the anti-imperialist Sanders. It’s the antiwar movement he was once part of, and which no longer exists.
On Luc Boltanski
This book about popular fiction, then, is also secretly a book about power struggles within academic sociology, over what the social sciences are supposed to prove, be, or do. The secret is out in the later chapters, which frequently leave detective fiction behind completely to expound on the themes of “paranoia” and “conspiracy theory” more generally. The largest stakes of Mysteries & Conspiracies, it becomes clear, have to do not with crime novels but with the legitimacy of sociological critique.
April 8, 2016
Merle Haggard, 1937–2016
The complexities of Merle Haggard were bound up with the complexities of a baffling political moment, when old rules had been destroyed without new ones being written, a time when everything seemed frustrating but anything seemed possible. But there is nothing inherently redemptive about flux or paradox. It’s nice to know that some George Wallace voters had a kind word for the Communists, just as it’s nice that Haggard followed “Okie from Muskogee” with “Irma Jackson,” a sympathetic portrayal of an interracial romance. But in the end Wallace-style fusion of redistributive populism with open racism crippled progressive politics in this country. There is no reason to forgive Haggard for singing “I ain’t never been on welfare / that’s one place I won’t be,” or “I wasn’t born and raised in no ghetto / just a white boy looking for a place to do my thing.”
March 24, 2016
Francis Fukuyama, in his own seminal upper-middle-class fiction, had prophesied that, at the end of history, under capitalist democracy, all human beings would successfully satisfy their innate desire for personal recognition, and the decades since the publication of his thesis have proven him correct. All that remains is to finish his thought, to crudely utter what he, tastefully, left implicit: if all human beings are fairly represented under capitalist democracy, then the working classes are excluded from the definition of humanity.
March 22, 2016
The Rise of the German Right
AfD’s worldview, too, is vague enough to appeal to an array of voter groups once considered mutually exclusive: not just confirmed neo-Nazis, but disenfranchised former Communists, eurosceptics, libertarians, and social conservatives who decry abortion as well as gender studies departments at state universities. Forty-five percent of AfD supporters think of themselves as centrists. (Nearly 75 percent are men.) Their broad appeal is based on the floating signifiers familiar to any populist campaign. “Germany for Germans” is just one rallying cry. The most egregious is probably supporters’ adoption of the motto Wir sind das Volk, or “we are the people,” which every citizen knows as the chant of dissent and democratic inclusivity among the East German protestors who precipitated the fall of the Iron Curtain.
March 7, 2016
On Luc Boltanski
Where Bourdieu (on a certain reading, anyway) sought to unmask and denounce hypocrisy and illusion, Boltanski and his fellow travelers were more interested in studying acts of denunciation, or justification, or criticism in general. In recent years, and particularly since Bourdieu’s death in 2002, Boltanski has sought to reconcile his sociological program with his mentor’s legacy—publishing a short, admiring memoir of him in 2008, for instance—but there is still a fundamental rift between the two thinkers that has yet to be fully repaired.
March 4, 2016
The Reconstruction of Warsaw
When the reconstructed Warsaw is praised, it’s usually the Old Town Square which is meant—a giant cobbled expanse, surrounded by a jagged skyline of sweetly marzipan-like Mitteleuropean buildings, with a market inside. This impressive visual effect, like a real civic hub, a real town center, means that for the neophyte it is easy to mistake it for the Polish capital’s agora, its heart, and to extend this to the Old Town itself. It didn’t take long staying here and living with a Varsovian to realize that it is no such thing.
March 2, 2016
Let’s pioneer the provision of communal eating facilities!
In Archaeologies of the Future, his heavy volume on science fiction and Utopia, Fredric Jameson argues that collective, social eating facilities are an essential part of any socialist Utopia. Why? Mainly because they immediately abolish in their very existence one of the main aspects of domestic drudgery, and of unpaid housework, liberating women to (alternately) ‘govern the state’ (as Lenin once put it) or at least to participate in the labour process.
February 25, 2016
Oscar Movies, 2016
The movies can put a positive spin on anything. Seeing the world anew, or for the first time, becomes an allegory of motherhood and childhood in Room, which puts its protagonist (Brie Larson) in a situation not unlike Matt Damon’s in The Martian, but Earthbound, and worse.
January 8, 2016
When the Federal Reserve raised interest rates in December for the first time since the onset of the financial crisis, the feeling around the decision was one of somber, even funereal, inevitability. It was hard not to think of the mayor of Amity, assured of the water’s safety, reluctantly leading his citizens back down to the beach. Incidentally, Jaws was released in 1975, the last year that real wages rose. We all know the water isn’t safe, but an economy organized like Amity’s has no choice but to act like it is.
Recovering black radicalism
Race in the United States is marked by a fundamental paradox. On the one hand, there has been considerable progress: segregation enforced by the rule of law is a thing of the past, and segregation at the level of mainstream culture, though persistent, is considered a scandal. On the other hand, today’s postracial America of Kimye and Pharrell is still the era of the New Jim Crow and entrenched black poverty. Diversity in elite universities exists alongside de facto residential segregation, and a black president administers a minority-dominated prison system.
Months of sex, years in the gathering.
The real question was whether masturbating to porn was an art form: not as “erotica” or performance art, but as solitary pursuit of the sublime. Someone must have done it seriously, subtly, with literacy and flair, a masturbauteur — maybe it was Will. One time he’d discovered he could play the same clip in two windows side by side and cross his eyes to stereoscope the image into 3D, so long as he took Dramamine first. Another time he’d erotically hypnotized himself with a recording of his own voice, a little squicky but more or less effective.
Shock therapy, take two
It’s now two years since the start of the Maidan protests in Ukraine, and the country remains in the grip of a severe crisis. The war in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces that began in April 2014, after groups of Russian-backed paramilitaries seized numerous police stations and town halls throughout the region, has so far claimed almost 8,000 lives and displaced as many as 1.4 million people.
October 13, 2015
An analysis in advance of the first Democratic debate
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a democratic socialist but not a Democrat, seeks the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States. The story is rich with paradox: the Democrat-of-convenience as tribune of the party’s ancestral commitments; the grumpy old man lighting the youth afire; the defender of the working class become darling of the chattering classes; the hero for the left emerging just when so much of it feels so besieged. Yet Sanders is a disarmingly simple figure, a Rip Van Winkle deep in the Green Mountains from a lost age of class politics. His ideology is universalism; his rhetoric is the jeremiad.
August 26, 2015
On New York Hardcore
Regrettable trends and eccentricities, which ought to have been lethal, instead became defining and enduring aspects of the scene. And some of the most noxious elements of New York hardcore—its reactionary ideology, the awkward mingling of skinhead and straight-edge versions of male aggression, the detours into religious mysticism—were not symptoms of decline but present from the beginning.
On Maggie Nelson
To use Myles’s metaphor: Nelson is half a scholar with a downturned cup, attempting to trap something scuttling uncooperatively around, and half a writer-bug, trying to dodge the cup.
Advice from the Help Desk
But we always grow up into a world different from the one we dreamed of. And isn’t every work of art, like every utterance, like every piece of advice, a wish?
Three letters from Amsterdam
How far beyond the academy do our commitments extend? Are we defending our right to teach and study things that might be useless? Or are we insisting on our usefulness?
March 26, 2015
Occupying the Maagdenhuis in protest is a minor tradition here. In 1969, students did so for five days. Now, it’s been almost a month. Back then, students and teachers were generally on opposite sides of the barricades, or at least teachers represented the establishment. Now, teacher and student are allies against a new establishment—the university’s Board of Directors (College van Bestuur, or CvB)—and against trends in Dutch academia and the broader world: the financialization of the university, something called rendementsdenken, neoliberalism itself.
Watch me eat fifty-one bananas
Fruit is literally made to be eaten — it’s a piece of excess that falls off the branch on its own, a carbo-loaded gift, and the relationship between an apple tree and the creature that eats the apple and transports its seed to some other promising location is symbiotic, a form of barter rather than theft. What better basis for a community could there be than fruit, which is symbol and sustenance at once?
One doesn’t want to be a dreamy romantic all the time, but being woozy from the vapors of your own self-importance turns out to be a better condition for making art, at least in my limited experience, than being convinced that art is reducible to capital just like everything else. It keeps the fires burning, when otherwise art-making seems like a ridiculous game, a kind of meaningless middle school politics.
November 10, 2014
It’s worth asking who and what these anniversaries are for.
“Today,” Fukuyama wrote in 1992, “we have trouble imagining a world that is radically better than our own.” No need to imagine it. It was right there. And then it was evicted by the police force of a “future” that was “essentially democratic and capitalist.”
October 20, 2014
The spurious dignity of this dangerously entitled country, as well as the specious moral high ground it takes when conducting itself around the world, are derived from what is suppressed. It is not peculiar to Americans that most of us find our own past unbearable; but the consequences of not dealing with that past are peculiarly great.
September 19, 2014
A Brief History of “American Poetry”
Divorced from all profound political engagement, the defiance of convention once associated with the avant-garde becomes itself conventional, the most efficient means of bidding up one’s price in a culture market made up of like-minded individualists
Recent books on the present crisis
Telling the story of our current crisis as primarily one of inequality and oligarchy misses how quieter and more gradual economic changes have transformed how politics is conducted today and set new limits on what it can accomplish. The “depoliticization” of economic policy-making has made possible the proliferation of markets. But it has hamstrung democracies, preventing them from making their own decisions about how deep and wide the market’s hand should reach, and making it ever more difficult to respond to the social dislocations that have resulted.
Privilege discourse offers a way for members of the same class to discuss differences in the same room.
It was inevitable that social class would re-emerge as a topic of concern. But class could not come back fresh as a newborn, trailing clouds of glory; nor could the movements that rose up in the interim be brushed aside. What has emerged, as a sort of compromise-formation, is the concept of privilege.
July 29, 2014
The Help Desk
Imagine this paragraph being twenty years long.
Since the age of 12 I have worked forty-five different jobs. I counted for you. No, I am not 300 years old, Bank-robbin’; I worked most of these two or three at a time, like a real patriot, since none of them paid enough to live on. What I will have to say to you, by the end of this, is that anyone who has found a way to transform anger into purpose and even some measure of peace about work has learned to reckon with two contradictory truths.
July 15, 2014
To dress like a respectable middle-aged person in a Western country is not to dress for the heat: too much fabric and not enough ventilation.
The whole sartorial system meant that all summer long you were subtly humiliated, overinsulated, or both. And, thanks to global warming, the summers would only heat up! Just as global capitalism meant that the cult of youth and beauty would grow ever more extreme as the population aged and put on weight! We in the West were going to get hotter and hotter at the same time that we became less and less hot.
Thanks for sending me that [“The Face of Seung-Hui Cho”]. I was mesmerized by it. It’s a scarily good piece of writing. Can’t think of when I read a piece about a mass murderer that was about identifying with him. You DO have a bad personality (so do I ((so do I (((ha ha)))))). In fact, funnily, I actually wrote that (“I had a bad personality”) in the section of my autobio-in-progress that was recently published in the Brooklyn Rail.
“I’m with Marx”
For every Facebook post that links to a rage-provoking article, two provide pictures of puppies, babies, kitties. For every tweet that angers us, a dozen provoke our admiration or envy, cause us to chuckle or groan, arouse us, disgust us, or, most likely, bore us. The machine we live in is not a rage machine, but an affect machine.
Catching disappearing languages
It’s three miles to South Williamsburg, one of the last Yiddish-speaking neighborhoods in the world, where a whole new dialect, some say a separate language, is coming into being. Farther out in East Bushwick, James Lovell is teaching Garifuna, an Afro-Indigenous language of the Caribbean. The Garifuna are descendants of African slaves who escaped a shipwreck off the island of St. Vincent in 1635 and intermarried with the Arawak and Carib natives.
For those in distress
It’s a little bit exciting, the abandon of sitting there anyway and all the nervousness and desire that entails, but I still don’t know why I am outside, and why I can’t move inside. What am I waiting for? And why do I want it so badly? Will I ever be able to go inside or will my desire determine everything?
Against the old sincerity
I left college in 1997 with a motto, Czesław Miłosz’s “What is unpronounced tends to nonexistence,” and a corollary, that pronouncing things might bring them into being. What I wanted to pronounce was politics. To me, that meant making all my book-learning come alive in a shared awareness that people create, preserve, or degrade their own world, joined to a sense that its justice or injustice, peace or violence, belongs to everyone.
March 18, 2014
What n+1 editors and contributors are reading this month.
David Owen’s The Man Who Invented Saturday Morning: And Other Adventures in American Enterprise should be way, way more famous than it is. Somebody reissue it. The collection of essays— published in Harper’s and the Atlantic in the 1980s— is about advertising, market research, how to get people to do what you want them to do. Owen goes to Liverpool with a bunch of Beatles fanatics, attends a convention for convention planners, close-reads trade magazines, explains how divorce rates influence the toy industry. The conceit, in retrospect, is a little flimsy, but it doesn’t matter: his essays are among the least tortured journalism I’ve ever read, and his choice of subject matter—novel, seemingly slight—epitomizes the kind of obsolete intellectual audacity that, for whatever reason, you only ever really come across in out of print books.
March 13, 2014
City by City
Hartford is the ugly little truth that stomps around in the brain of the American people, the perfect inversion of Silicon Valley, a place with almost 400 years of history and no future. It is ten years younger than Boston, but nobody takes guided tours of its cobblestone. Technically in the middle of a megalopolis, you can stand in Hartford’s center and feel utterly alone.
The spectacle of a clique of Ivy League alumni loudly renouncing the conditions of their own success — a familiar enough piece of bourgeois psychodrama — might pass without comment. But “Death by Degrees” betrays a deeper state of political disorientation. While there can be no doubt that institutions of higher education reflect and reproduce existing class divisions, they do not create them.
February 25, 2014
This wasn’t just a political crisis anymore; what followed was a revolutionary situation with elements of civil war.
The thing is, in their fight against a corrupt government and its oligarchs, the middle class, the bourgeoisie, the intellectuals, the students, the peasants, the migrant workers and the proletariat from Western and Central Ukraine are appealing to an even more powerful bourgeoisie and to a super-state that is, unlike Ukraine, a subject, rather than an object, of world-historical processes.
Ultimately, the antipolitics of fear—as it would be more properly called—would deprive the person of his status as a political, even a social being; a man or woman would constitute, for public purposes, only a bare animal existence to be protected from the collapse of the natural environment and the engineered conditions sustaining that existence. This would be survival rather than life; and mere survival, no matter how comfortable or uncomfortable, is something less than being human.
February 5, 2014
I continued to wonder about popular books. What is so attractive about so-called “lens histories” of salt, trout, or whale oil? Why are we so keen to read books that “explain us to ourselves,” as one editor helpfully put it over lunch? And just who gets to write these books? I also wondered: What about a topic? Could I help make a topic or an argument popular? I rubbed my hands together in my mind.
January 13, 2014
If “global capitalism” is responsible for eliding the local, so too is any cultural criticism that sees the whole world and all its writers as a valuable unit of analysis. The piece simply does not account for work that does speak to local contexts (anticaste literature, for example), hasn’t been translated, and/or is out of tune with the tectonics of the global market.
Ultimately, though, none of this matters. Because the translation-from-abroad market merely demonstrates what all serious American novelists must feel in their bones: now is not the time for literature, or at least for greatness in literature. Social consciousness has become the new beauty.
How do you tell the history of the world? Not long ago this question would have seemed naive. The only people enthusiastic about universal history were complacent idiots who thought that history had ended with the cold war and the twin triumphs of democracy and globalization, or that it was moving toward an ever fuller manifestation of the glory of the Western way of life. Raining on their parade felt like a civic duty.
The problem, the Subalterns said, was that this agency was articulated in an “archaic” vocabulary—religious, superstitious, hierarchical, premodern—that did not translate into the modern, autonomous, egalitarian subjectivity that Marxism predicted would emerge under capitalism.
The script is basically a tissue of banalities and nonsense, enlivened mostly by Tom’s faulty speech: he spells important as impotent, refers to a dam as a darn, and is prone to bending idioms. When he runs into the Mayor, he often blurts out speak of my devil; once, when he’s asked to make an extra effort, he replies he’ll give it the old junior-college try.
This August I went to Moscow for the first time in over a year. I was there to help my grandmother move, a move necessitated in part by the fact that my sister, Masha, is leaving the country after twenty years. Masha is leaving the country because she is gay, and the Russian parliament, with the full support of the Kremlin, has decided that gay people are what’s wrong with Russia. A recent law even suggested that gay couples who had adopted could be stripped of parental rights; Masha adopted her son Vova twelve years ago. It was time to go.
October 25, 2013
What is an author for? asks Medvedev. Is he a private citizen who tries to produce masterpieces of literature—whereupon his responsibilities end? The answer, especially in contemporary Russia, must be no. The author must be willing to answer for his texts. The only justification for an essentially unproductive life is that it be lived without compromise.
October 7, 2013
Most Germans had relatively little awareness of the day-to-day in Greece before the crisis; conversely, most Greeks have enough to contend with without worrying about Germany. It goes without saying that neither nation’s press is particularly interested in remedying this problem, not when intractable cultural difference and nationalist appeals move so many newspapers.
September 25, 2013
“The idea that I have called ‘the politics of authenticity’ is a dream of an ideal community in which individuality will not be subsumed and sacrificed, but fully developed and expressed.” Yes, we thought and dreamed that way, and Berman put such yearnings in the context of the Romantic Age and even Marxist ideology. The student left was driven in large part by a desire for just this sort of authenticity.
September 18, 2013
The great injustice of modern life was not the inequities alone but the high tax they placed on us: the ways in which they limited our range of expression as well as our formal freedoms, our libido as well as workweek, the ways they helped turned whole neighborhoods into expressways.