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Silver Screen

Silver Screen

On Joan Micklin Silver (1935–2020)

If, as Manny Farber and Patricia Patterson wrote, the Godfather movies are uppercase filmmaking, the movie synonym for those Gothic friezes that one submissively admires before walking into the garish church that they adorn, then Hester Street is proudly lowercase.

Car Guys

Car Guys

Is there a straight line from the libertarian exuberance of the Cannonball Run to the political philosophy of the anti-masker?

The traffic stop is by far the most common site of police-initiated contact with the public. At their wide discretion, police may ticket, detain, and even jail drivers for many violations. Data shows clearly that African Americans are stopped, searched, and threatened with the use of violence at significantly higher rates than are white drivers. Although we never think of it this way, that means the inverse is also true: white drivers are let by, let off, and less harassed by police than Black drivers.

The Hour of the Barbarian

The Hour of the Barbarian

Which America is the true one?

What happened on January 6 was profoundly American, emerging as it did from our long and very specific history. No one did this to us. But despite the geographic confusion, George W. Bush, Jake Tapper, and Meghan McCain correctly identified that nothing like this has happened here for a long time.

Lost Lost Causes

Lost Lost Causes

The day went how it went

“This is not America.” That strange, contradictory phrase seems to descend like fog every time a legible and precedented event occurs in the United States. If it wasn’t America, it wouldn’t need to be said.

Salt Fat Acid Defeat

Salt Fat Acid Defeat

The restaurant before and after Covid

Pandemic-era restaurant culture extends and amplifies forces that were already apparent under the old regime: the numbing frictionlessness of delivery food, the retreat into private spaces, the appification of everything. By raising the cost of staying afloat online, Grubhub and Yelp have contributed more to the demise of Covid-era restaurants than their survival. Delivery workers’ bodies are now deemed essential, but their paychecks remain as murderously trivial as ever.

All Eyes, No Skin

All Eyes, No Skin

On virtual Archtober

When I get tired I stop at an awning above a tall sidewalk table and an unopened Corona, thinking I’m at a bar. It turns out to be a barber shop, but the man inside insists I sit down as long as I like, and even lets me drink his Corona. The sidewalk is uneven, and this particular stretch of Flatbush is dusty and empty. The awning is not a particularly attractive color, nor does it really sit in my memory. But it was not created to be looked at; it was created to be used, and it was.

Land Noises

Land Noises

I’d stumbled upon the set of the Ronald Reagan biopic

The sky looked precisely like Oklahoma’s license plate, light blue with swirls of what I thought was a white cloud but is actually the outline of a scissor-tailed flycatcher. A lot of the ranch gates had cowboys on them—emblems of a lost frontier. (There’s a cowboy museum in Oklahoma City.) The interstate was built mostly in the 1960s and made backroads like 77 and the towns along it obsolete, and it’s in these towns where I saw the most Trump flags. One county was called Love. A welcome sign said THACKERVILLE AMERICA: WE BELIEVE IN OKLAHOMA. THACKERVILLE OKLAHOMA: WE BELIEVE IN AMERICA would have made more sense, but little did.

We Live in a Society

We Live in a Society

Organization is the entire question

Political speech does not find individuals as points on an economic grid, directing them toward the party or politician whose platform matches their abstract preferences. It finds them, instead, embedded in particular lifeworlds. And if class processes form the basis of political action, they still must become manifest through the organization of social life, which in turn becomes meaningful as culture. This goes some way toward explaining how so many people could vote for Trump and his party, even as large majorities endorse progressive policy goals in surveys and ballot initiatives.

Why I Write Novels

Why I Write Novels

Is it from your life? Did this really happen?

To me, a sentence that serves as a purely functional join in the syntax of the novel, like “They drove towards the building,” is as much hard work, and requires as much attentiveness, as a sentence like this one from Afternoon Raag, my second novel, in which the narrator is describing his mother’s hair: “It falls in long, black strands, but each strand has a gentle, complicated undulation travelling through it, like a mild electric shock or a thrill, that gives it a life of its own; it is visually analogous to a tremolo on a musical note.” I don’t consider “They drove towards the building” easier to write than that sentence from Afternoon Raag. If anything, it’s more difficult.