There’s a reason Ukraine is at the heart of the most significant geopolitical crisis yet to appear in the post-Soviet space. There is no post-Soviet state like it. It does not have a recent (interwar) memory of statehood. Nor does the majority population have a radically different language and culture to distinguish itself from the Russians.
The Intellectual Situation
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.
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.
Fiction and Drama
One night Diana finds herself thinking: One night while her husband was sleeping . . . The easiness of the thought surprises her, as if you could just start writing a novel, no permission or even decision required, just some pulse toward the truth, so you could know it and say it, or maybe know it in the saying. With these no doubt highly improvable first words in mind, she could get up and move to the dining room table that she uses as a desk, and open the laptop and type.
If you’re smart you take a number before you even start writing. They say not to take one until you have a finished manuscript. But believe me, there’s always time to finish a book between the time you take a number and when it’s your turn.
In the summer of 1998 I graduated from college and went to work as a programmer at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington. I was put on the group that was building MSN Messenger Service, Microsoft’s instant messaging app. The terrible name came from Marketing, which had become something of a joke for always picking the clunkiest and least imaginative product names. Buddy List? C U C Me? MSN Messenger? No, MSN Messenger Service. I’ll call it Messenger for short.
In his book of travel essays Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It, Geoff Dyer writes: “All visitors to the developing world, if they are honest, will confess that they are actually quite keen on seeing a bit of squalor: people living on garbage dumps, shanty towns, that kind of thing.”
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?
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.
Sitting used to be considered essential to the West; it was presumed that the “great divergence” came because those in the East did not have chairs. A British colonialist in 1851 was disgusted to see Indians squatting while they worked. “All work with their knees nearly on a level with their chin,” he sniffed, “the left hand — when not used as the kangaroo uses his tail to form a tripod — grasps the left knee and binds the trunk to the doubled limbs.
The Communications Act — which gives the FCC its power — distinguishes between “telecommunications services” and “information services,” and only the former may be regulated as “common carriers.” In various decrees issued during the 2000s, the FCC had chosen to classify broadband as an information service rather than a telecommunications service. The Order, however, by forcing broadband providers to offer their services “indiscriminately and on general terms,” regulated those providers as common carriers.
When I was 14, I chose a best friend who shared my name. At school they called us “the Sophies,” and when I talked about her I called her “other Sophie,” or sometimes, when we were on the outs, “bad Sophie.” People who didn’t know me well sometimes thought that I was talking about my alter ego — and also, probably, that I was insane.