Log in

Last Thursday, the Girl and I watched an acquaintance celebrate the release of his debut book of poetry. Several poets read their work. Or, rather, they performed it and the room, filled with beauteous diverse shades of black, swayed in motion to the words, some of us recoiling when we'd been hit with a particularly powerful line or stricken with an especially insightful couplet. It felt as though wisdom and pain and celebration and home were thrown at us in equal measure so that it filled the spaces between us, flowed like a breeze over and under and around held hands.

The last poem, about the black folks in Cleveland after the death of Biggie, was read to us on a rooftop in Brooklyn by the light of an iPhone. We'd all crowded around as this prophet spoke to us, at us, and some of us wept at the end. And that's when it happened. That's when the visions struck me. First, a dissociative portrait of the moment where she and I, her arm threaded through mine, crouch and watch this man we will both come to know do the thing he was born to do, and I saw us doing it again and again and again. Participating in these events, immersing ourselves even more deeply into the world of the Black New York literati. We'd seen or known much of the room beforehand and our acquaintances increased in number by night's end.

Also at the event was the author at whose event we had first met. When she discovered that she had played a special role in initiating our union, ecstasy was writ large on her face. Plans were soon put in the air for a get-together, the three of us, to be beautiful and black and dope and lovers of the written word.

After the rooftop, we were told we needed to get the hell outta here, as the building was closing. Outside, we stood in line while the man of the hour sold copies of his new book out the trunk of his car. The whole thing struck me as unabashedly Brooklyn.

It happened again, the visions, when we sang "Earned It" together, spontaneously. And she giggled at the end.

The thing that happened that night, the think I had not even realized I was waiting for, those visions of a future containing the both of us.

It's like that maxim about writing where you're walking through a dark forest and can only see the little bit of path in front of you illuminated by sourceless light. Here, the darkness hasn't abated, it's just the case, now, that where I could only hear footsteps that weren't mine crunching over leaves, I can now see them. Next to me. Keeping pace.
Current Location: Sugar Hill
Current Music: Storm The Sky - Alive
-- Inside The Playlist Factory - Reggie Ugwu, Buzzfeed, Jul. 12, 2016

"We’ve come to expect that virtually all of our problems can be solved with code, so much so that we summon it unthinkingly before doing almost anything: from choosing what movie to watch, to finding a doctor, to deciding where to wake up the next morning and who with. But what if music is somehow different? What if there’s something immeasurable but essential in the space between what is now called “discovery” and, you know, that old stupidly human ritual of finding and falling in love with a song? Algorithms excel at the former, but the latter is stubborn heritage: It’s your father’s old record collection, your sister’s stash of mixtapes, a close friend’s desert island soundtrack of choice."

-- Fences: A Brexit Diary - Zadie Smith, New York Review of Books, Aug. 18, 2016

"Extreme inequality fractures communities, and after a while the cracks gape so wide the whole edifice comes tumbling down. In this process everybody has been losing for some time, but perhaps no one quite as much as the white working classes who really have nothing, not even the perceived moral elevation that comes with acknowledged trauma or recognized victimhood. The left is thoroughly ashamed of them. The right sees them only as a useful tool for its own personal ambitions. This inconvenient working-class revolution we are now witnessing has been accused of stupidity—I cursed it myself the day it happened—but the longer you look at it, you realize that in another sense it has the touch of genius, for it intuited the weaknesses of its enemies and effectively exploited them. The middle-class left so delights in being right! And so much of the disenfranchised working class has chosen to be flagrantly, shamelessly wrong."

-- Northern Lights - Nathan Heller, The New Yorker, Feb. 16, 2015

"Some say that the American Dream is not what it once was: wages are low, retirement is not a parachute glide but a plunge, and those chosen to fix such problems labor at undoing one another’s laws. For these doubters, there are the Swedes. On any given day, a Swedish man—call him Viggo—might be reclining on a sofa underneath a Danish lamp shaped like an artichoke. He is an artist, and he has a pension. He is wearing boldly colored pants. His young wife, Ebba, is a neurosurgeon, though she has never paid a krona in tuition, and her schedule runs between the operating table and the laboratory. Things are busy. She and Viggo have small kids (the government gives them a combined four hundred and eighty days of maternity and paternity leave for every child), and when the younger ran a fever yesterday he needed to be whisked from day care to the doctor (both charged mostly to the state). Now it’s the weekend. They are in their country house. It’s nothing fancy, just a little place among the birches near the Øresund, but Viggo spiffed it up with some ikea deckware, and their friends drop by for oysters and beer. As dawn comes, he brews coffee. He is listening to a radio report on the Prime Minister, who brokered a budget agreement among six parties, and then Stieg Larsson, who is being memorialized on-air. He turns the dial to the multiethnic band Icona Pop, which has soared across the global charts. Icona Pop sings, “We’re just living life, and we never stop,” and that is what Sweden now means to Viggo. Freedom to follow your talents. Community and coalition-building all around. American life promises liberty, cultural power, and creative opportunity, but by many measures it’s the Swedes who turned this smorgasbord of concepts into a sustaining meal."

-- When cuteness comes of age - Neil Stenberg, Mosaic Science, Jul. 19, 2016

"Kumamon has a far wider field of operation as the yuru-kyara for Kumamoto Prefecture (a prefecture is like a state in the USA or a county in England). He has become more than a symbol for that region, more than merely a strategy to push its tourism and farm products. He is almost regarded as a living entity, a kind of funky ursine household god (it is perhaps significant that the very first licensed Kumamon product was a full-sized Buddhist shrine emblazoned with his face). He hovers in a realm of fantasy like a character from children’s literature, a cross between the Cat in the Hat and a teddy bear."

-- The Very Quiet Foreign Girls poetry group - Kate Clanchy, The Guardian, Jul. 14, 2016

"She typed it in front of me, exactly like that, audacious line breaks, eccentric vocabulary, disturbing punctuation – the lot. The echo of Duffy was precise, but the original force of the poem even stronger. Priya was in the lower set because her critical skills were, at best, ragged, yet when it came to poetry it was as if she were listening, with extra ears, as much to the sounds of the words as their sense. I thought it might be to do with the loss of a language: Priya moved from Bangladesh when she was six. If that was the case, there might be more students like her in our school. In fact, we might have a wealth of them. Poets."
Current Location: the office
Current Music: A$AP Rocky - Canal St.
21 July 2016 @ 12:25 pm
-- I Know Why Poor Whites Chant Trump, Trump, Trump - Jonna Ivin, STIR, Apr. 1, 2016

"I understood their anger. Since crying isn’t an option, we swallow the sadness, and it sits and churns and gets spit back out as anger. I’ve felt this anger more times than I care to remember. I was angry that I couldn’t afford to paint my walls in shades of possibility. I was angry at my life choices that never felt like real choices. I was angry that wealth and prosperity were all around me while my hands remained clenched in empty pockets."

-- Pale Fire - Hua Hsu, The New Yorker, Jul. 25, 2016

"Within a couple of days, Counts’s photograph was everywhere, and inspired letters from around the country castigating the unidentified white girl. In “White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” (Viking), the historian Nancy Isenberg describes Bryan in this photograph as “the face of white trash,” a ready-made contrast to Eckford’s calmness and sense of purpose. In Isenberg’s telling, Bryan was the latest in a long line of poor whites who believed that black advancement would come at their expense. Bryan didn’t have much. But she wanted at least to maintain her status somewhere between the upper-crust white and largely disadvantaged black worlds. One of the defining features of living in a putatively classless democracy, as has often been observed, is a constant feeling of status anxiety. In the absence of a clearly delineated hierarchy, we determine where we belong by looking above, at those we resent, and below, at those we find contemptible."
Current Location: the office
Current Music: The Weeknd - The Hills
I was scanning the Current Affairs section for the Senate Intelligence Committee's torture report, Ted Chiang's story collection under one arm, when the woman, accompanied by a friend in a dress, admonished me never to shave, grinning. Suddenly, I'm back in Paris on Mother's Day at a café with a dear friend and a waitress who apologizes because she can't stop smiling at my laugh. Back when, just as I was about to leave, the city put on its most charming face, that moment an encapsulation of so much of what that past year had done to and for me. A bearable lightness of being.

Then, waiting for me back home were the same psychopathologies I'd figured I'd grown out of but, it turns out, I'd only left behind.

In the year prior, during the spring of 2014, I'd written an essay for a class analyzing the dialogue between the ekphrasis in Book 18 of The Iliad (in which Homer describes the shield that Hephaestus, the blacksmith of the gods, designs and constructs for Achilles at the request of the warrior’s mother, Thetis) and a poem by W.H. Auden entitled "The Shield of Achilles", itself written during Auden’s pendulum swing into political poetry, a swing prompted by the Second World War and the reemergence into popular and political consciousness of great totalitarian evil.

The essay was entitled "The Citizen and the Dictator: Caging Personal Furies in the Poems of W.H. Auden," which should give you an inkling of the paper's bent. It was written in the post-apocalypse of a personal relationship's collapse, and what had initially drawn me to Auden was a profile I'd read in the New York Review of Books around that time. The important parts for me weren't the discourse on political poetry nor Auden's reticence regarding political campaigning, but rather the personal demagoguery, the ways in which he himself had played the role of the dictator in his personal relationships. I came away from the piece with the understanding that no one is foreclosed from committing cruelties. We are all capable of becoming Stalin when Russia consists only of the person who has dared to love us.

From my essay, an excerpt:

"W.H. Auden, during World War Two, saw in the twistings of national consciousnesses a process twinned in the hearts of individuals; a pervasive theme in his poetry, composed during that time and afterwards, is the umbilical cord between the citizen’s failure to successfully monitor baser impulses and the success of the dictator in effectuating the banality of evil. This view posits that citizen and dictator are not of separate species. They are connected, not merely in their destinies, but in their possibilities. The impulse to bloody our neighbor’s nose exists in all of us. Perhaps the only difference between the citizen and the dictator is an economy of scale."

The subject of the essay is law, its necessity, and its built-in capacity for failure, constructed as it is by the very human beings who, to varying degrees of success, struggle to monitor and cage their baser impulses. Edward Mendelson, in the profile, speaks much more eloquently of how Auden viewed those evils than I could hope to, how Auden belonged to the camp of "those who[...]sense the furies hidden in themselves, evils they hope never to unleash, but which, they sometimes perceive, add force to their ordinary angers and resentments, especially those angers they prefer to think are righteous."

I don't know if Graham Greene had any of this in mind when he wrote to his wife, Vivien, that he had "a character profoundly antagonistic to ordinary domestic life," and that "unfortunately, the disease is also one's material", the disease behind his depression.

Occasioned here are some of my thoughts on the matter of braiding personal inhumanity with biological abnormality, how hiding in the language of biological determinism is to wrap one's arms around a terminological deceit, how there is more than the sound genetic material makes when it speaks to us.

A man is prompted to wonder if all his partners have been and will be divided into two categories: saints and gluttons for punishment, with the caveat that perhaps gluttony for punishment is requisite for sainthood.

Eternal bachelorhood need not be the mandated answer regarding questions of the future. But I'd be lying if I didn't admit to missing that lightness, that effervescence, that place without depth or consequence, not hedonism but something softer. Kinder. Paradise is Paris in the spring of 2015.

I may be capable of more. But determining that would require drafting another person--victim or volunteer--in the conducting of that experiment, a body to throw upon the gears to slow or stop the machine's worst parts.

That strikes me as a singular cruelty.
Current Location: the office
Current Music: Hucci - A Perfect Storm
19 July 2016 @ 09:56 pm
"I have often said, and oftener think, that this world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel — a solution of why Democritus laughed and Heraclitus wept." -- Horatio Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford, in a letter to Sir Horace Mann

Get you a man who can do both.
Current Location: Sugar Hill
Current Music: Spotify - Sam Adams commercial
18 July 2016 @ 10:35 pm
-- Is America Repeating the Mistakes of 1968? - Julian E. Zelizer, The Atlantic, Jul. 8, 2016

“Commission staffers had produced a blistering and radical draft report on November 22, 1967. The 176-page report, “The America of Racism,” recounted the deep-seated racial divisions that shaped urban America, and it was damning about Johnson’s beloved Great Society programs, which the report said offered only token assistance while leaving the “white power structure” in place. What’s more, the draft treated rioting as an understandable political response to racial oppression. “A truly revolutionary spirit has begun to take hold,” they wrote, “an unwillingness to compromise or wait any longer, to risk death rather than have their people continue in a subordinate status.” Kerner then nixed the report, and his staff director fired all 120 social scientists who had worked on it.”

-- One year out - Washington Post, Jul. 8, 2016

“I have five children. When I left, the baby was 2 and the oldest was 12. I get out, the baby’s 19. I’ve got a pretty good relationship with him, but we’re still working. I’m a stranger to him. I’ve got four grandkids. They call me Papa. That’s the good part.”

-- The Tamir Rice Story: How to Make a Police Shooting Disappear - Sean Flynn, GQ, Jul. 14, 2016

"That’s how a dead child, how Tamir Rice, eventually becomes a half-remembered name on a long and miserable list of other half-remembered names. When strangers think of him, if they think of him, it will be with a weary sigh as they try to sort out which one he was, and where. Maybe they will recall something about a toy gun and the cops thinking it was real and, well, mistakes happen—because isn’t that what the grand jury’s decision effectively meant?"
Current Location: Zoe's
Current Music: Periphery - Marigold
18 July 2016 @ 06:17 pm
-- This Is Your Brain On God - Jack Hitt, Wired, Nov. 1, 1999

"After restoring everything to its proper working position, the techies exit, and I'm left sitting inside the utterly silent, utterly black vault. A few commands are typed into a computer outside the chamber, and selected electromagnetic fields begin gently thrumming my brain's temporal lobes. The fields are no more intense than what you'd get as by-product from an ordinary blow-dryer, but what's coming is anything but ordinary. My lobes are about to be bathed with precise wavelength patterns that are supposed to affect my mind in a stunning way, artificially inducing the sensation that I am seeing God."

-- The Inheritance of Crime - Douglas Starr, Aeon, Jul 7, 2016

"In 1871, while performing an autopsy on a notorious bank robber, the Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso saw something unusual. It was a small hollow at the base of the skull, under which lay an enlarged section of the spinal cord. The feature was rare in Europeans, but he had seen it in lower apes and certain ‘inferior races’ of South America. Eureka. ‘At the sight of that skull,’ he later wrote, he understood the biological nature of the criminal – ‘an atavistic being who reproduces in his person the ferocious instincts of primitive humanity’."

-- Night Moves - Amanda Petrusich, Virginia Quarterly Review, Jul. 5, 2016

"Still, a kind of basic, axiomatic discomfort with darkness persists. Anyone who has stayed up until dawn fretting about the future, suffering through the gloaming, hungrily watching the sunrise, cherishing the relief it entails (“People are buying newspapers!”), understands the weirdness of night in her bones. Awake in the dark, we are scared, vulnerable, and existentially afloat. Reconfiguring deeply engrained cultural ideas about darkness is a complicated task. It’s not just darkness we fear, it’s the vastness and loneliness of the universe, spreading out from here to God-knows-where. The relative size and emptiness of the universe is a lot to hold in mind: “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me,” Pascal admits in his Pensées."
Current Location: the office
Current Music: The Weeknd - The Hills
18 July 2016 @ 09:16 am
So stifling last night that not being able to find relief had me up at 5am eager to get to the office where Central AC offers at least temporary solace.

Not only has the past 6 weeks entailed daily dress shirt sacrifices, but this morning, I arrived at the office to find my patch, slick from the punishment enacted on my pores, had migrated several inches south, southwest.

Few things accentuate the feeling that this time in New York has been an exile more than having to spend the summer here.
Current Location: the office
Current Music: Freakz, Benji - Hash Brownies
15 July 2016 @ 04:45 pm
-- Where are we now? - Responses to the Referendum - David Runciman, Neal Ascherson, James Butler, T.J. Clark, Jonathan Coe, Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, Daniel Finn, Dawn Foster, Jeremy Harding, Colin Kidd, Ross McKibbin, Philippe Marlière, James Meek, Pankaj Mishra, Jan-Werner Müller, Susan Pedersen, J.G.A. Pocock, Nick Richardson, Nicholas Spice, Wolfgang Streeck, Daniel Trilling, London Review of Books, Jul 14, 2016

"The many people in Wales who have spoken to me see that their own lives are getting harder, and that their children’s future is bleak. They’ve had Labour MPs for decades, under Labour governments and Tory governments, but nothing very much has happened to change their lives or bring jobs. When Tata Steel announced potential job losses in Port Talbot, it merely felt like a continuation of the story that began with the closing of the mines, and the repeated downsizing and mothballing of the steelworks in Newport. Ukip do especially well in Wales because they are seen as anti-establishment. Nigel Farage might have gone to Dulwich College, but he didn’t go to university, and presents himself very differently from the Oxbridge set. Direct democracy offers the opportunity of a protest vote for the disgruntled, especially in the safe seats of Wales: voting to leave was a chance to be heard for once, to kick back at Westminster and the vast majority of Welsh MPs who voted to remain in the EU. And it worked: Wales was heard. And its economic future has been scuppered."

-- When the Body Attacks the Mind - Moises Velasquez-Manoff, The Atlantic, Jul/Aug 2016

"For Helen, given her background, the experience also raised a much larger question: If an autoimmune disorder of the brain could so closely resemble psychiatric illnesses, then what, really, were these illnesses?"

-- Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime? - Gene Weingarten, Washington Post, Mar. 8, 2009

"The charge in the courtroom was manslaughter, brought by the Commonwealth of Virginia. No significant facts were in dispute. Miles Harrison, 49, was an amiable person, a diligent businessman and a doting, conscientious father until the day last summer -- beset by problems at work, making call after call on his cellphone -- he forgot to drop his son, Chase, at day care. The toddler slowly sweltered to death, strapped into a car seat for nearly nine hours in an office parking lot in Herndon in the blistering heat of July."
Current Location: the office
Current Music: Motorcycle - As the Rush Comes (Armin Van Buuren's Universal Religion Remix)
Alamut - A ReviewCollapse )
Current Location: Sugar Hill
Current Music: ScHoolboy Q feat. Jadakiss - Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane