Maybe we were better off with loneliness. In that meme “How It Feels to Listen to Podcasts,” three laughing friends eat sundaes in a brightly colored ad while our IRL stand-in laughs along beside it, a bowl of ice cream slowly melting in his hand. Is that us?
The Intellectual Situation
To leave terrorism out of the analysis of what produced the New Zealand shooting is an attempt to narrow the scope of who is responsible. Clutching its knees to its chest and rocking back and forth, the news media self-soothes with the thought that Donald Trump and the internet are to blame for everything.
I suppose what I’m saying is not that the desire for a universal is politically defensible but, more simply, that the desire for a universal is synonymous with having a politics at all. In a punishing twist, feminism has become both the preferred name for this desire and the very politics which must not claim it. Indeed, the minimal definition of a feminist might be a person who, affirming that women will never constitute a political class, privately hopes it might happen anyway.
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.
On my last trip to the border, I saw a young woman who had paused in her journey, sunburned and sitting on her suitcase in a cloud of dust, still sixty miles outside Boa Vista. Why keep lugging everything you own toward an unknown place where you are already unwelcome? The answers are multiple, but there is one common denominator, repeated enough times among immigrants to have become a hallowed promise. In Brazil, bread can be bought with coins.
We had staggered through hell, and came out to look at the world with the jaded, contemptuous eyes of the combat veteran. Some people might think it’s hyperbolic to describe a frat initiation as a hell akin to combat. Those people don’t know much about frat initiations.
The problems of misogynist PIs and tepid reference letters may stem from the same root: the widespread assumption that only men can be brilliant. This view is prevalent in the hard sciences, but also in literature, musical composition, and philosophy. “As predicted,” noted Sarah-Jane Leslie and her coauthors in a recent article in Science, “the more a field valued giftedness, the fewer the female PhDs.” Philosophy is nearly off the charts in this regard. Yet not only do men not seem to believe in the possibility of female genius, they seem to doubt female competence.
Fiction and Drama
Always got to wait for this goddamn drawbridge, says Des. He rolls down his window, lights a cigarette. The quiet makes my stomach light with nervousness. I exhale deeply and it’s still there. I look out the window and inhale the swamp. Finally, I turn to Des and say, You believe in an afterlife?
During the years when we couldn’t reach him, I had fantasies about my dad. A classmate’s mother was rumored to be a spy for China. My Syrian father had studied political philosophy in Beirut and London. I thought maybe he had become a pan-Arab revolutionary and that was why we didn’t know where he was.
The truth is, we were all lucky enough to have experienced writer’s block at some point in our young lives. The block was the reason we were at the program in the first place. Selected from a competitive pool of talented writers who nevertheless lacked our special gift, we represented the potential of an entire generation. From the beginning, the strength of our funding, from tuition remissions to stipends, as well as the entire trajectory of our so-called careers, was based on the severity of our blockage, which was taken as a sign of the promise of our ability to create something “new.”
Sometimes, I wonder if there is a spell at work when we write, one that causes what is said to be said without us. And indeed, that is perhaps what writing is, isn’t it: what is said there is said without us. If I could stop writing, I think maybe I would.
So, with my back leaning against the door, I mumbled: Do this, do that. What an algorithm! Let’s recap . . . Defend the citadel. Don’t hide. Don’t be afraid of your anger. Know when to indulge yourself. In other words, be a heretic in order to be more devout than the faithful. Follow the intuition of the ancestral bacteria in your stomach in order to keep track of the metaphors of the soul. But did I really understand?
The worst advice anyone ever got in a movie is in Casablanca. An underage, newly married Bulgarian girl (Joy Page) wants to leave Casablanca and go to America with her husband, but without having to sleep with the local corrupt cop (Claude Rains) to get them both visas. She asks café proprietor Humphrey Bogart what she should do. “You want my advice?” he says. “Go back to Bulgaria.” Cold War is the story of that girl if she had gone back to Bulgaria.
Buildings like these are everywhere in America. More particularly, they’re the pre-1990s inner sprawl around the multi-lane peripheries of older Eastern cities; the outer downtowns of St. Louis, Indianapolis, and other cities of the lower Midwest; the inner downtowns of the Sun Belt; and pretty much all of Oakland, California. In New York City these buildings tend to be the dull-seeming libraries, schools, police stations, and fire stations built in the ’60s and ’70s, as well as a lot of storefront offices and some of the old white-brick apartment buildings you see throughout Manhattan.
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.
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.