In Memoriam

The Blaze

The Blaze

On Daniel Quinn, 1935–2018

I persuaded my three best friends to read Ishmael, and they were similarly affected. At night we convened a kind of book club in a motorboat parked in my friend Matt’s garage, smoking cigarettes and stacking empties of Milwaukee’s Best Ice, discussing how best to spread the word about the Civilization problem.

I Write Because I Hate

I Write Because I Hate

William Gass, 1924–2017

It is not hard to imagine young Gass chafing at the bit that midcentury analytic philosophy had sought to place in his mouth. In interviews he sometimes compared metaphor to junk food, which is of course dangerous, but also hard to define. In a broad sense any food is junk if you eat too much of it, or at the wrong time; in a narrower sense, junk food is delicious, and can be very good for the soul.

Indian Liberals Must Die

Indian Liberals Must Die

On Gauri Lankesh and the vernacular Indian left

Liberal snobbery is real, and it’s worth dismantling, but real elitism is claiming that the vernacular radical, the secular laboring man, the socialist with military service, or the atheist with bad English cannot exist; as if those subjectivities can only be produced by Moet and a master’s degree.

Gonna Try for the Kingdom if I Can

Gonna Try for the Kingdom if I Can

On Denis Johnson, 1949–2017

For all of its glorious derangement—hallucinatory tales of druggies and low-lives and murderers and fuck-ups, including a guy so far gone his friends all call him “Fuckhead”—Denis Johnson’s writing is always rooted in the conviction that life is sacred, that evil is a symptom of suffering, which is to say of estrangement from the sacred.

Relating to or Resembling a Peacock

Relating to or Resembling a Peacock

Recent and not-so-recent music

There is perhaps no working musician in whose case the asymmetry between critical accolades and actual musical content is so steep and acute, and so misleading. Stephin Merritt’s music is flat, gray, unmemorable, and “melodic” only in most contrived sense; his melodies seem to scream “I am writing a song in a usually disposable medium that is usually meant for mere entertainment but I am smart and special and this is meant to be real art.”

On John Berger, 1926–2017

On John Berger, 1926–2017

No matter what he was looking at, Berger never stopped asking uncomfortable and therefore stimulating questions.

One way of thinking of the uniqueness of John Berger’s accomplishment is that he wrote almost completely without irony. The particular joy of his work comes directly from this unyielding earnestness, a profoundly difficult thing to pull off.

A Liquid State

A Liquid State

In Memory of Alexis Arquette

The always deferential Huffington Post noted at the end of its article on Alexis Arquette’s death that it had “reached out to a representative for Alexis for further clarification on how the actor identified at the time of death.”

The Last Last Summer

The Last Last Summer

Donald Trump and the Fall of Atlantic City

All along the Boardwalk, the sun-bleached tattered banners read do ac—the city’s latest marketing catchphrase. The Boardwalk was a scrum of such imperatives, with Trumps on every side issuing edicts, diktats, offering bargains. Trumps in toupees and with their guts hanging over their change-belts, out on Steel Pier, out on Central Pier, trying to get me to try the ring-toss, though the rubber rings always bounce off the rubber bottles, or to try the beanbag-pitch, though the lily pads they’re supposed to land on are kept wet and slippery with a shammy. Try Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy, which contains no saltwater. Step right up and I’ll guess your weight, or at least I’ll make your wallet lighter. What American literature taught me—what Melville taught me in The Confidence-Man, what Poe taught me in Diddling, that imagination or fantasy can be a form a greed, even a uniquely American form—the shills and carny barkers taught me first, at $2 a lesson: I would never win that stuffed elephant.

Kiarostami and <em>The Purge</em>

Kiarostami and The Purge

All the things Kiarostami could not show in his films became the only things Hollywood filmmakers chose to show in theirs.

All of a sudden The Purge: Election Year became a stand-in for America’s violent, cynical, stupid cinema—the exact opposite of everything Kiarostami stood for and everything he achieved over four and a half decades of filmmaking in Iran and elsewhere.