No one wakes up in the morning hoping to be as vapid as possible. But eventually you internalize the squeeze. Everyone down the chain adjusts their individual decisions to the whim of the retailer, or to their best guess at the whim of the retailer. If it’s Barnes & Noble, you may hear that a cover doesn’t work, that the store won’t carry the title unless you change it. If it’s Amazon, you may not hear anything at all. You go back and adjust your list of wildly optimistic comparative titles — it’s The Big Short, but . . . for meteorology!
The Intellectual Situation
The buildings are enormous, the bridges are like Rome’s. I was told that DC was modeled after the gardens at Versailles. But unlike the European cities it emulates, there are no layers of history here—just that horrible orangey beige stone. I went to see a touring band play, and the lead singer said, “I forgot where we are.” To have history, you can’t simply have monuments; you also need a population to prop them up. Here, that natural accumulation is stunted, the city’s grandiosity hollow.
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.
Instagram people did not seem mean or clever. They were earnest and sincere. They drank green smoothies and went on hikes, sought personal bests, good health, peace of mind, and oneness with the universe. They believed every day was a beautiful day to be alive. Leaving Twitter for Instagram was like moving to Los Angeles, only cheaper.
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.
My ears rang. My rage evaporated and in its place there arose an ugly combination of hope and fear. My body lifted itself from the chair. The world sharpened, as if I were wearing new glasses. I took a step, then another, taking care to avoid the eyes of the other foreigners. My legs moved. I advanced. What would I be willing to do for a green card? For citizenship? In that moment, I realized, I was ready to do a great deal of betraying.
But people do such horrifying things in the name of love and in such violent contexts in her novels. The Bluest Eye is the source of the quote that’s been circulating since she passed: “Love is never any better than the lover.” In a novel in which intimate partner violence and child abuse take center stage, it’s hard not to read this sentence as a claim about love’s uselessness. Because of her dedication to chronicling the fallibilities of lovers under assault by the state and by their communities, her work seems quite ambivalent about love.
It wasn’t “New Critical” thing-in-itself close reading, because poems weren’t things in themselves, they were living subjects, and as full of contradictions and private dramas and unconscious desires and hauntings as any other.
Fiction and Drama
What was stopping him from selling his honey in Ukhtoma? What, with a car, he could go anywhere he wanted. Even to Yaroslavl. Even to Moscow. Sasha turned green with envy when he saw someone buy anything from the old man. He clenched his jaw with rage. If Vovka weren’t in prison, he would give him a thousand to pop the old man’s tires. Or just to scare him a little. Doing it himself would be too much. The police were nearby, too. Sasha weighed in at a hundred kilos and could smash the fidgety old man like a fly, but unfortunately it just wasn’t possible.
Noora is unable to feel anything. She scans her repertoire for an appropriate emotion — sympathy, horror, sadness — but there’s nothing there. She climbs back into the car. After a while, Michael and Christina follow her. Michael makes another U-turn and they drive back toward the highway. He turns the radio on and Noora turns it off again. They drive past the point where Noora had stopped them last time; after another one and a half miles they reach a village. Toward the end of the village they spot a pub, which appears to be open.
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.
Today, rather than serving as a model for conservatives, the memory of El Salvador and the solidarity movement it generated may be increasingly relevant on the other side of the political spectrum. For those contemplating how to fill in the foreign policy missing from a newly resurgent left, it is a conflict with lessons worth reviving.
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.