In issue six, we published a poem included in an untranslated essay by the Russian poet Kirill Medvedev who, because of his principled opposition to all literary institutions, refuses either to give or deny anyone to publish him. This superb Medvedev poem, we later discovered, was written by Bertolt Brecht.
The Intellectual Situation
Late-imperial malaise prevails on the home front too. Our new President presides over a recession (if not worse), a dilapidated infrastructure, an aging population, and more numerous environmental catastrophes: wildfires and drought in the Southwest, a longer and more brutal hurricane season along the Gulf coast and Eastern seaboard, harbingers of greater, unknown changes to come. We didn’t have a Chernobyl, but we had Katrina. (Or was it Katarina?)
No one can look at Heeb, or the “Superjew” and “Yo Semite” T-shirts, without feeling ashamed—even if that magazine and those T-shirts are themselves products of that feeling of shame and are meant as a rebuke to it. The greatness of this people was also that it once believed its experience of oppression to be a universal one, and its fortunes tied to all those who are oppressed.
Bolaño, of course, was not Jewish or German, and was released from Pinochet’s prisons after a few days. He returned to Mexico to read books and smoke weed. (Later on, he took heroin.) Nevertheless, if you can only take your serious literature with a lump of state terror, eventually you run out of authentic Nazis and have to make do with the next best thing: South American generals of the ’70s.
Because in the end the way you make a ton of money is calling paradigm shifts, and people who are real finance types, maybe they can work really well within the paradigm of a particular market or a particular set of rules—and you can make money doing that—but the people who make huge money, the George Soroses and Julian Robertsons, they’re the people who can step back and see when the paradigm is going to shift, and I think that comes from having a broader experience, a little bit of a different approach to how you think about things.
At the end of the subprime orgy, it became difficult to place a lot of this debt. So the banks would end up warehousing it. They had a profitable business in purchasing and securitizing these assets, but it was ten minutes to midnight and they didn’t know it. They thought they would be able to place it and securitize it when things calmed down. But it turned out the clock struck midnight and these assets turned into—pumpkins. And they couldn’t move them, and while all these assets were sitting on their books the real estate market started to deteriorate, and the value of these subprime mortgages started to deteriorate with it.
This is not unique in the history of capitalism. What is different this time around is the extent of it, and the degree to which the financing changed its manner. For instance, when the property market crashed in 1973, it was mainly local banks that got caught out, because if you had a mortgage, you had it with a local bank, and the developer would also borrow from a local bank, so the mortgage market was localized. During the 1980s the mortgage market became securitized, and they started to put together all these mortgages and push them into organizations like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or they would get packaged into collateralized debt obligations and then sliced up and sold to some innocent party in Norway, or a pension fund in Florida, or a bank that had excess liquidity in Germany. So the mortgage market became really global.
We haven’t reached a point where people feel like all the bad news is out of the way. It’s like a rainstorm of shoes: the shoes keep dropping, and there are still clouds in the sky, and there’s still going to be more shoes dropping, and until the footwear stops falling, you know, the crisis will continue.
For two months this summer the only movies I watched were movies about the war on terror. While other moviegoers were enjoying cinematic treats like You Don’t Mess with the Zohan and The Happening, or the revival of Kobayashi’s The Human Condition, or that Norwegian movie that everybody liked so much, I was immersed in the backlog of global war-on-terror movies released since 2002.
One of the main features of our moment in history, in anything that affects the state of the body (though, importantly, not the life of the mind), is that we prefer optimization to simplicity. We are afraid of dying, and reluctant to miss any physical improvement. I don’t want to die. But I am caught between that negative desire and the wish for freedom from control. I think we barely notice how much these tricks of care take up of our thinking, and what domination they exert.
So while politics, like porn, supplies one of the main preoccupations of internet culture, the contrast between the two could hardly be more stark. Porn recognizes no taboo except coercion, and the event of being found out (cheating, peeping, et cetera) is always welcome for the increased chances for sexual fulfillment thereby afforded. Politics, on the other hand, mines the entire terrain of public life with taboo after taboo and makes discovery an occasion for dread.
A year later, I graduated college and wanted to write a novel. This in fact is why I had been doing all these difficult and uncomfortable things and reading the most outlandish books I could find: I was trying to understand the human condition, so I could write a book about it. But writing a book takes time, and time is expensive. I ended up in the comp lit department at Stanford.
Economics favor the DJ. A club can make an event out of one bigname DJ plus local support, and pay just the headliner. (And DJing can make for a long night of drinks-buying: in a rare example, eight hours of nonstop entertainment from a particularly famous Chilean-German drugged-up minimal techno superstar.)
Fiction and Drama
Peymann after trying on six pairs of Zegna light summer pants in a boutique on the Graben and eventually buying the second pair and wearing them out of the store, with his old pants under his arm, walking quickly but not frantically toward the Plague Column
The girl had to go away for work to the coast for two months. She missed her visits to the family friend’s house, and carefully selected a gift for them a day before her return: a plastic packet full of hand-picked avocados the size and shape of giant gem squashes, and a bottle of raspberry vinaigrette.
Easy to deride / The way he stayed alive inside / His women with his puffed-up pride. / The pharmacy supplied / The rising truck ladder that the fire did not provide.
The “seduction community”—most insidious of oxymorons—grew up on message boards and newsgroups when the internet was still a place of social exile. The early adopters were people prepared to start life anew—that is, losers. As in recovery movements, acknowledging the problem was the first step.
Yet it is the Swedish welfare state rather than Swedish racism that is the villain of Faceless Killers. Toward the end of the book, Wallander ruminates about the new violence of Swedish culture and how the welfare state fails to protect its own citizens: “How long would the principle of the generous refugee policy be able to hold without leading to chaos? Was there any upward limit?” The Swedish couple’s murderer does turn out to be a foreigner, though not a racial outsider: he’s a Czech who convinces immigration officials that he’s a Gypsy, a persecuted minority, to gain refugee status.
The Shire website offers some vague information about ADHD, the disorder for which Adderall is prescribed, and warns that the consequences of untreated ADHD can include relationship problems, drug abuse, and frequent job changes. There is a link for people who are already taking Adderall. “Congratulations!” it reads