The Decameron came to mind first, but as the weeks went on, our minds wandered to reruns of The Jetsons that we used to watch as kids. A smug depiction of an optimized society so stratified that its beneficiaries literally lived above the clouds, The Jetsons always made us wonder about all the people living below, on Earth, in cities abandoned by the techno-optimists of the future. Now we knew.
The Intellectual Situation
I admire those who are stable enough to keep reading essays. From now on, I vow to read only fiction. For me, the well of individual experience has run dry, the mountain been mined, the carcass picked clean.
The virus tours my organ systems, wreaking havoc at each checkpoint. My girlfriend likewise personifies it, thinking of the virus as a sci-fi invader. She tells me she imagines it taking up temporary residence in her brain, the command center, maneuvering a joystick across her sensory receptors.
Later, on May 14, when I am making final edits to this essay, I will learn that according to UCLA’s Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project, there have been 380 confirmed deaths of people incarcerated in jails and prisons across the United States — a number already greater than the 329 formal death sentences that have been carried out in this country since 2010.
The Democratic primaries, in their modern form, have always been a dance between imitating Republicans and rejecting them, rewarding politicians able to reconcile these two poles the most gracefully. But Trump heightened this tension to new levels, turning what had in the past seemed like a choreographed performance into a series of convulsions. All the customary moves were there—the turn to the left, the pivot to the center, the coming-together at the end—but the timing was off and no one seemed in control of what they were doing. If this was a dance, it was one that had gone badly wrong.
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.
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.
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.
No matter how far away you were from New York that day, no matter how distant your connection to that day was, no matter how much lower than zero the count of the people you lost on that day was, if you were white, 9/11 happened to you personally, with blunt and scalding force. Because the antithesis of an American is an immigrant and because we could not be victims in the public eye, we became suspects. And so September 11 changed the immigration landscape forever. Muslims and Sikhs became the targets of hate crimes. ICE was the creation of 9/11 paranoia.
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.
[W]hile various factions within Gaza encouraged the protests, there was no conscription, no men with guns waiting to shoot the young Gazans down if they refused an order, no artillery to cover their advances. These are people who went to the fence again and again, without weapons, to face being maimed or killed. In the end, whether they went out of political commitment, boredom, hunger for excitement, or suicidal intent, the fact that they continued to show up long after it was clear that the protests were not going to deliver any meaningful changes speaks to the deep misery that they shared.
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.
Fiction and Drama
To think that my dead penis had turned into our last best hope in this world. How ridiculous life turned out to be sometimes!
Her mother’s prophecy struck me as a terrible, sinister curse: You, daughter, will die before me. The curse of a miserable woman who should never have had a child. A daughter. A Greek curse, though I don’t know of a Greek tragedy with that in its story. Here is a daughter cursed by her mother, who becomes a curse to her friends. I wasn’t alone.
My daughter was my reason for waking each day, and I wanted to kill myself for having in some fashion already resigned myself to losing some part of her. Selfishly, I saw my world as illusionary, fragile, existing only because others allowed it to exist. I realized that I was ever awaiting such a moment of loss, that I was, in fact, daily resigned to death but had never resigned to life.
The communist family in these stories is a fortress and a prison. No one gets out— and just as importantly, no one gets in. Who would understand, who could be trusted? Unable to reproduce, possessed by an inflamed partial recall of historical events drummed out of popular memory, communist families appear in red diaper family sagas as branches of a dying aristocracy.
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.