Behind every brave outing I saw a legal liability. I suppose that’s what happens when you know enough men with money. Such men are minor kings among us, men with lawyer-soldiers at their employ who can curtail certain kinds of talk. While I do believe in false allegations, and I do believe that women can be bullies, it’s hard, sometimes, not to be cynical about the defense. Some men love free speech almost as much as they love libel lawyers.
The Intellectual Situation
It strikes me that to miss or be missing, in my brother’s case, requires a part-of-speech modification, too—one that could perhaps help me, at least, understand his particular condition, meaning the Condition of Bruce as it intersects with the subjugated identities we know are related, race and gender. To be missing, as a noun, would be the designation itself, like a black, the racial category without the noun person. A failed sight. A passed by without touching. A failed inclusion. An unattended. A missing.
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.
Taboos are charged with emotional energy: you’ve hidden these thoughts away because they were, likely, too much to bear. When you uncover them, they can feel so intensely real, the most real, because they reveal an emotional, not literal, truth for you. There is a reason right-wing trolling is more effective than its left-wing equivalent: trolling that harnesses the power of taboo—the most ancient, retrograde, collectively unconscious stuff of sex, the family, the species—is more effective than trolling toward enlightenment.
Fiction and Drama
When the worrying got too intense, Dorothy had a choice of palliatives arrayed in pouncing distance of the saggy patient sofa: stress balls, beads, figurines for rubbing and handling, various-size pillows for pounding and embracing, and the eternal tissue box, draped in its hand-knitted elephant-gray cover. The box was always full. The therapist must be keeping watch on the box’s levels. Dorothy respected her attention to detail. Fullness, plenitude, preparedness, a material well of empathy—excellent clinical values all. But where did the therapist hide the half-full boxes? Or did she cram new tissues into the same old box between sessions?
The night romance of the city made little differences sparkle. I kept encountering things I didn’t quite know how to see: suet studded with cloves? A row of shuttered windows painted crimson. A toy store lit only with candles, crowded with grown-ups moving and talking among dolls and dinosaurs, stickers and blocks, potholder looms and simplified puzzle maps. I thought I saw reflected water flickering: the bay so close you hear it slap the boat ramp. For a moment I stood near dripping stacks of traps, an overlooked crab still struggling in one.
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.
One afternoon, you accompany your father to a birthday party. The host has gone all out. There’s an open bar, a quesadilla buffet, and a cover band playing Buena Vista Social Club. The crowd is illustrious: television executives, celebrity academics, esteemed newspaper columnists, and a whole generation of folklorist poets. There are also politicians, both firebrand leftists and a former president of the Catholic party. You spy the owner of the telecom monopoly, the sometime richest man in the world. He wanders around the party, holding an iPhone above his head, trying to find a signal.
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.
I don’t know how or where the Safdies find their actors. Even the unbandaged people in the movie look like they’ve been punched a hundred times. The Safdies’ genius is that they can fit Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Barkhad Abdi into a cast that does not include actors I’ve seen before. Taliah Webster as a teenage girl who helps Connie for no good reason, maybe just to get him out of her house or because she’s bored; Peter Verby as a calm, strange psychiatrist; Buddy Duress as Ray, a just-out-of-jail rat fink who makes a series of idiotic moment-to-moment decisions the Safdies present with a demented, drugged logic—none of them is expected, and all are great.
What distinguishes the reissue of the EPA manual from Standards Manual’s other publications to date is the inclusion, as an appendix, of forty-seven out of more than fifteen thousand photos that the EPA commissioned as part of its Documerica Project, which ran from 1971 to 1977 and sought to “photographically document subjects of environmental concern.” The captions tell the story: “Mary Workman Holds a Jar of Undrinkable Water That Comes from Her Well, and Has Filed a Damage Suit Against the Hanna Coal Company. She Has to Transport Water from a Well Many Miles Away. Although the Coal Company Owns All the Land Around Her, and Many Roads Are Closed, She Refuses to Sell. October 1973.”
The ontological turn in anthropology presupposes that we can live in different worlds, each marked by its own “doctrine of what there is,” even while all living on the same planet. According to Descola, in the modern West we have been living under the ontology of “naturalism,” which is peculiar among ontologies in its appeal to universal authority. Naturalism holds that other ontologies are not equal to itself, and it purports to show these other ontologies are mistaken, superstitious, ignorant. To some extent, anthropology has always been in tension with naturalism, since anthropology has been able to entertain “false” reports from native peoples of how the world is, of the entities and forces that make it how it is, as if they were true.
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.
As someone who is both a secondary English teacher and a PhD student in American literature, I was encouraged to see Marco Roth calling for more like me. But the best way to ensure the future of literary criticism is to address the problem of economic inequality. The strongest predictor of a school student’s success is their parents’ income, and sometimes this variable is expressed in terms that reveal the specifically literary form inequality takes.