Announcing Issue 28

Writing by Richard Beck, Thea Riofrancos, Trevor Shikaze, Jenny Zhang, Meghan O’Gieblyn, Vinod Kumar Shukla, Elizabeth Schambelan, David Samuels, A. S. Hamrah, Tim Barker, and Alyssa Battistoni.

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The Intellectual Situation

Now Less Than Never by The Editors

On Saturday morning, the President thumbs off a string of tweets accusing the former President of tapping his old residence. The internet bursts, the networks roar. Officials and commentators mug for the camera and deny, harangue, shake their heads. “Norms” are said to be “violated,” “democracy” is said to be “at stake.” Everything is “unprecedented.” It has never been like this, it will always be like this. Now and forever, farewell the tranquil mind. On one station, there’s a break in the scrum: terrible images from Mosul, people starving in the streets. If only they could feed on hot takes.

Party Foul by The Editors

Yes, the Democrats are the party—or they’re not not the party—of testing and charter schools, health-insurance conglomerates and pharmaceutical lobbyists, university privatization and sham meritocracy, deindustrialization and the interests of the professional elite. Yes, they seem incapable of propping up a sturdy sentence without allowing an idiot wind of circumlocutions to blow it down. Yes, they seem to have a teeth-grinding fondness for the rhetorical figure of chiasmus (“We can build on the strength of our diversity, and the diversity of our strengths”). Yes, yes—yes. But . . .

Politics

The Syria Catastrophe by Richard Beck

Again and again, countries across and outside the Middle East have decided that escalating the war by military means is justified by whatever little sliver of national interest they feel is at stake. The US, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, China, France, and Britain have all pumped military resources into the conflict, increasing not only the war’s capacity for destructive violence but also its duration. To the extent that it needed to take place at all, it should have been a civil war fought by two sides with limited military resources. Instead, it has turned into a series of extravagantly funded proxy wars across two or three separate axes, none of which has any organic connection to the questions of regime tolerance for political assembly and speech that prompted the conflict in the first place.

Democracy Without the People by Thea Riofrancos

What followed Trump’s victory among confounded political analysts was an epidemic of self-castigation over “our” failure to “listen” to “white working class” voters. Since the inauguration, however, elitism in the guise of centrism is once again on the move. Democracy, they say, is under threat from populism, and only a defense of norms and institutions can exorcise the specter of a reckless citizenry. But what if the truth is the opposite, and populism is not the problem, but the solution?

Essays

Ghost in the Cloud by Meghan O’Gieblyn

A new, more pernicious thought had come to dominate my mind: transhumanist ideas were not merely similar to theological concepts but could in fact be the events described in the Bible. It was only a short time before my obsession reached its culmination. I got out my old study Bible and began to scan the prophetic literature for signs of the cybernetic revolution. I began to wonder whether I could pray to beings outside the simulation. I had initially been drawn to transhumanism because it was grounded in science. In the end, I became consumed with the kind of referential mania and blind longing that animates all religious belief.

Old Veranda by Vinod Kumar Shukla

The house in Raipur that we moved into later has verandas that are more like rooms. It’s hard to say why they aren’t rooms, or what makes them verandas. One of them is called the old veranda. The house was built slowly and all at once. Since one of the verandas was the old veranda, the other became the new one. The old veranda of our house in Rajnandgaon is now in the house in Raipur. The pole star in Raipur is the same pole star that was in Rajnandgaon. Because there is the sky and the pole star, the homeless do not feel that they are homeless but that they live in the same one place under the same sky, which is the same everywhere. Even as a little boy in Rajnandgaon, I would think about the universe. However much you may learn about it afterward, you never forget those early associations.

League of Men by Elizabeth Schambelan

Rereading the story now, the detail I keep returning to is the broken coffee table, the shards of glass. It reminds me of the scene in Heathers where Heather No. 1 issues her dying croak—Corn nuts!—and then falls, smashing her own glass table. The scene opens with a shot of Heather asleep, not lying down but reclining, in a satin-draped bower. The whole movie has that stylized, magical quality. The same is true of Jackie’s story, which is why the article caused such an uproar in the first place. It beggared belief. You read it and thought: Unbelievable! And in retrospect, the failures of its naturalism seem so clear. The dark chamber, the silhouetted attackers, gathering close . . . But most of all, it’s the table, the crystalline pyrotechnics of its shattering. That’s the place where the narrative strains hardest against realism, wanting to move into another register altogether.

Oldchella by David Samuels

Keith Richards is a hero to many of these folks because he had the courage to live out the late-stage consequences of his self-mythologizing without recourse to golf or Xanax, even after his wife got cancer. How many in this desert can say the same? A few, perhaps. Some may count themselves young at heart, but they are clearly in transition, as we all are, beneath the banners of aging and departed greats like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Tom Weiskopf, the golfing champions of yesteryear who lend their names to the streets of PGA West, the gated community with the nicest lawns. Soon, there will also be Jagger Drive and Richards Way, which followed to the end of its gentle, undulating cul-de-sac will deposit you at the Keef Leaf Teahouse.

Fiction

Beast Leave by Trevor Shikaze

The first decision I have to make is bits or brawn, as they say. For me, that one’s a no-brainer. I decide right away I don’t want to go digital. I guess you could say I’m a traditional sort of guy in that respect. Plus, once I’d made up my mind to build, Parm gave me a copy of this book, Shop Class as Soulcraft, and it really got me thinking. I don’t want to just download a life. I want to build my man from the guts out, really get my hands bloody.

Why Were They Throwing Bricks? by Jenny Zhang

She stepped back and took my hand. “Baobei, you can sleep with your nainai if you want, but your brother will, too. I don’t know if three will fit, but I’m very happy to try. Does anything make your nainai happier than having her two grandchildren by her side? Your brother will sleep with me until he’s old enough to sleep in his own bed. Most people say 13 is the age when a child learns to sleep on their own but most people are selfish and looking out only for themselves. Not me. I say 16. I say 17. I say 18. And if he needs me to, I’ll gladly sleep with your brother until he’s 21!”

Reviews

One Word: Authenticity! by A. S. Hamrah

Never does the film allow that maybe people can like both a-ha and Thelonious Monk, or that there’s a time and a place for everything. That is a hard-won sentiment, but it’s in great supply in American musicals of the 1950s, where frivolity and maturity play on a soundstage more level than this one. Here, the director is happy, but his characters are not. The post-classic French musicals that do away with singers and dancers (A Woman Is a Woman) or emphasize melancholy and failed romance against a backdrop of societal drabness (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) serve as models for La La Land. Their use seems academic, befitting a director running for Student Council President of the Movies.

The Bleak Left by Tim Barker

The editorial collective describes itself as “communist”; its members want the abolition of capitalism, which because of its powerful self-reinforcing tendencies can only be overcome by a coherent social force. But what group of people has enough in common to imagine itself as a social force and also has the strategic leverage to change the world? Unlike many socialists, the editors of Endnotes do not reflexively answer, “The working class.” They ask the question in order to show that this cannot possibly be the answer.

Monstrous, Duplicated, Potent by Alyssa Battistoni

By the end of the book, we’ve learned all manner of detail about the Acacia tree genus, made up of fifteen hundred species, living in climates ranging from desert to tropics and found in ice cream, beer, and postage stamps. We learn about the Pimoa chthulu spider, Haraway’s neighbor in the North Central California redwoods and another inspiration for the Chthulucene. We learn about the history of Premarin estrogen tablets, made out of horse urine, and their effects on both midcentury reproductive politics and Cayenne Pepper’s bladder.

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