The value of fiction was clear to Virginia Woolf, who argued that nonfiction consists of half-truths and approximations that result in a "very inferior form of fiction." In Woolf's terms, reading ambitious fiction isn't comfortable or easy. Far from it: "To go from one great novelist to another—from Jane Austen to Hardy, from Peacock to Trollope, from Scott to Meredith—is to be wrenched and uprooted; to be thrown this way and then that." The illuminations that fiction offers are gained only with considerable effort. "To read a novel is a difficult and complex art," Woolf wrote. "You must be capable not only of great fineness of perception, but of great boldness of imagination if you are going to make use of all that the novelist—the great artist—gives you."– The Virtues of Difficult Fiction by Joanna Scott. She was interviewed by Larry Mantle on public radio show AirTalk about her essay. In the passage above Scott's quoting Woolf's How Should One Read a Book?
Hitler's World by Timothy Snyder [New York Review of Books]
In Hitler’s world, the law of the jungle was the only law. People were to suppress any inclination to be merciful and were to be as rapacious as they could. Hitler thus broke with the traditions of political thought that presented human beings as distinct from nature in their capacity to imagine and create new forms of association. Beginning from that assumption, political thinkers tried to describe not only the possible but the most just forms of society. For Hitler, however, nature was the singular, brutal, and overwhelming truth, and the whole history of attempting to think otherwise was an illusion. Carl Schmitt, a leading Nazi legal theorist, explained that politics arose not from history or concepts but from our sense of enmity. Our racial enemies were chosen by nature, and our task was to struggle and kill and die.
Living in the Age of Permawar by Mohsin Hamid [The Guardian]
You see from your nook that humanity is afflicted by a great mass murderer about whom we are encouraged not to speak. The name of that murderer is Death. Death comes for everyone. Sometimes Death will pick out a newborn still wet from her aquatic life in her mother’s womb. Sometime Death will pick out a man with the muscles of a superhero, pick him out in repose, perhaps, or in his moment of maximum exertion, when his thighs and shoulders are trembling and he feels most alive. Sometimes Death will pick singly. Sometimes Death will pick by the planeload. Sometimes Death picks the young, sometimes the old, and sometimes Death has an appetite for the in-between. You feel it is strange that humanity does not come together to face this killer, like a silver-flashing baitball of 7 billion fish aware of being hunted by a titanic and ravenous shark. Instead, humanity scatters. We face our killer alone, or in families, or in towns or cities or tribes or countries. But never all together.
And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.Sabbath, an essay by Oliver Sacks (NYT) [more inside]
"Pajubá is one of the many queer anti-languages of the world. People study them in 'Lavender Linguistics'. It's hard to study those languages because their usefulness vanishes if they are not secret anymore. Pajubá is a moving target, evolving so rapidly that it can't be documented." — Pajubá: The secret language of Brazilian trans women [via mefi projects]
Sizzler and the Search for the American Dream :: Inside the paper was another brick, bright yellow-orange and vacuum-sealed in plastic. We had never seen food that color before. We had never eaten anything that perfectly geometric. It sat in our fridge for days, like an unwelcome guest that never said anything. It just sat there without a word of explanation. We had staring contests every day. The cheese always won. I always had to blink. [more inside]
"This is one of the ways in which my second adolescence was absolutely faithful to the first: it was so difficult, so emotionally overwrought, so suffused with terror and confusion and embarrassment. It takes a perverse kind of bravery to start over—it's a selfish and deluded thing to do, and you need that courage to deal with what comes next. It's one thing to burn your life down and walk out of the ashes, but nobody tells you the phoenix is born as a tender, featherless baby bird."
A Midlife Crisis, By Any Other Name: an essay by Jess Zimmerman (previously, previouslier) for Hazlitt. [via]
A Midlife Crisis, By Any Other Name: an essay by Jess Zimmerman (previously, previouslier) for Hazlitt. [via]
"The thing I find very exciting is waiting for the subway train and sometimes you'll get a glorious one that arrives decorated like a birthday cake!" Watching My Name Go By is a short 1976 BBC documentary about graffiti, artists, and graffiti artists in New York City. The film is based on Norman Mailer's 1974 essay for Esquire magazine, "The Faith of Grafitti." [via]
The Invisible Man: The End of A Black Life That Mattered Or how Charly Keunang finally went home.
For the majority of white people, race is something that happens to other people. Whiteness is a default that needs no name — all deviations must be categorized and given a "race." If race is always something that happens to other people, how are you able to see the part you play in the system?An essay by Ijeoma Oluo (previously, previouslier) for Scenarios USA. [more inside]
As with anything in this world, excess is excess, but inadequate is inadequate. A writer must know when the weight of the words used to describe a scene is bearing down on the scene itself. A writer should develop the measuring tape to know when to describe characters' thoughts in long sentences and when not to. But a writer, above all, should aim to achieve artistry with language which, like the painter, is the only canvas we have. Writers should realize that the novels that are remembered, that become monuments, would in fact be those which err on the side of audacious prose, that occasionally allow excess rather than those which package a story — no matter how affecting — in inadequate prose.Chigozie Obioma for The Millions: The Audacity of Prose.
How to Love Your Father When He’s in Prison for Child Porn, an essay by Lindsay Popper. SFW. Some may find the content disturbing.
The New Normal: Pieces of Grief, by Stephanie Wittels Wachs, sister of Parks and Recreation's co-executive producer Harris Wittels, who passed away in February.
This is hard, this divided attention. But it isn't just an emotional and intellectual focus divided by half. This is no mere doubled consciousness. Race in this country, with each successive generation, with every historical echo, and for all our technological advancement, has become a prism. This new racial prism — this 24-hour access to every horrible, three-dimensional detail of black trauma, requires constant, multiplicitous division. I can anticipate occasional euphoria, but I will always do so with the understanding that injustice will disrupt my joy. That is its own kind of violence, a forced splintering of identity, intellect, and emotion.On the second day of her successfully crowdfunded trip to the THREAD at Yale program, stacia l. brown wrote an essay on race, consciousness, and black trauma in America as viewed through The Racial Prism. [more inside]
“One night we were eating spaghetti and meatballs and it fell out and rolled across the kitchen table. You said, ‘Dad, your eye popped out’ and kept on eating. I’ll never forget it. You must have been seven or eight. He felt so bad about that—for your sake.”
“I don’t think it bothered me,” I say.
“He worried it bothered you.”
The Glass Eye, by Jeannie Vanasco
“I don’t think it bothered me,” I say.
“He worried it bothered you.”
The Glass Eye, by Jeannie Vanasco
via NYT: "Each year, we put out a call for college application essays about money, work and social class. This year, we picked seven -- about pizza, parental sacrifice, prep school students, discrimination and deprivation."
The Inexplicable by Karl Ove Knausgaard [The New Yorker] Inside the mind of a mass killer.
It was out of this world that the thirty-two-year-old Anders Behring Breivik stepped when, on the afternoon of July 22, 2011, he set out from his mother’s flat in Oslo’s West End, changed into a police uniform, parked a van containing a bomb, which he had spent the spring and summer making, outside Regjeringskvartalet, lit the fuse, and left the scene. While the catastrophic images of the attack, which killed eight people, were being broadcast across the world, Breivik headed to Utøya. That was where the Workers’ Youth League had its annual summer camp. There Breivik shot and killed sixty-nine people, in a massacre that lasted for more than an hour, right until the police arrived, when he immediately surrendered.
“It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals,” write two New York Times reporters. “Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.” In Washington, this weekly meeting has been labeled “Terror Tuesday.” Once established, the list of nominees is sent to the White House, where the president orally gives his approval to each name. With the “kill list” validated, the drones do the rest. [more inside]
"To spell out the law of the land in the dead language of your time: on a Letterman Top Ten list of this situation, we are all number one, and you are numbers two through ten. The fleek have inherited the earth." -- A Millennial Revenge Fantasy ( The Hairpin)
Dinofarm Games explain why the demand for higher definition graphics have led them to abandon pixel art... over the course of a wonderfully explained, beautifully illustrated, and clearly demonstrated love letter to pixel art.
The psychotherapist Carl Jung, after seeing a photo of the Arctic explorer Augustine Courtauld, remarked that Courtauld's was the face of a man 'stripped of his persona, his public self stolen, leaving his true self naked before the world.' For women, this is doubly true: a woman's life is one lived under surveillance, a system of inner and outer regulations even more restrictive than a man's. Even a simple stroll down the sidewalk becomes an exercise in self-loathing. Suck in your stomach. Straighten your hem. (What if it rides up, exposing you?) Every shop window offers a glimpse of your own reflection. Adjust, adjust, adjust.So where are all the women hermits? [more inside]
It's enough to drive a woman crazy (and isn't this what we're always being accused of?). It's enough to drive any woman to the woods.
My mother is like another country I used to live in, familiar but no longer a place I call home. When I visit, I don't stay long; dysfunction is the official language, the terrain is a desert of constantly shifting emotions, and the weather is grey when it's not dark and stormy. Estrangement is so much easier.
"It's completely alone," I said. That baby, that poor baby. What had it done? "Nobody is coming for it."A meditation on adoption, heartbreak, and healing, by Sarah Church Baldwin for The Rumpus: Build-A-Bear.
Softly she asked, "Would it be OK if we called it 'her'?"
It was then as though my therapist's finger grew very long. It arced through the air, crossing the space between us, and touched my chest, the tip of it pressing into my heart, and my body collapsed around it, folded in on itself from pain, the worst pain I had ever felt because it had no source. I was the pain. I saw that baby on her back, alone, and I understood that she was me. In that moment I was flooded—intellectually, emotionally, physically—by the very knowledge I had so long barricaded myself against: that someone had given birth to me. And worse: that I had not been fit to keep.
The Women I Pretend to Be, by novelist and game writer Naomi Alderman (previously):
No one in tech has ever been as sexist toward me as teachers and rabbis before I was 12 years old. But I've come to notice more and more how working within the particular masculine sexism of the tech industry has nudged the way I present myself, just a little. I've noticed how, very slowly, I've started to acquiesce into playing roles that get assigned to me. I've noticed how I disappear behind these masks.
What follows is not a horror story. It's a series of moments.
If I had still been at my heaviest weight, I never would have approached Brian. As a fat woman, I have been taught that there is an order of operations for love: First, you get thin; then, you can date who you want. Until you do the first thing, the second thing is impossible. So for many women who struggle with their weight, it becomes a fight not just for their health or well-being, but a struggle to just be worthy of the love so many people take for granted.The inimitable Kristin Chirico (previously) for BuzzFeed: My boyfriend loves fat women. As a fat woman myself, I'm still struggling with how I feel about it. [SLBF]
A General Feeling of Disorder by Oliver Sacks [New York Review of Books]
“As an example of this, migraine is a sort of prototype illness, often very unpleasant but transient, and self-limiting; benign in the sense that it does not cause death or serious injury and that it is not associated with any tissue damage or trauma or infection; and occurring only as an often-hereditary disturbance of the nervous system. Migraine provides, in miniature, the essential features of being ill—of trouble inside the body—without actual illness.”
[E]ven though the restaurant's cartoonish decor bordered on offensive, it was still a temple to a people and a cuisine that America couldn't ignore. Taco Bells were everywhere. In every strip mall. Off every highway exit. Even the racists, the immigrant-haters, the people who'd laugh at my elementary-school stand-up comedy routine would run for the border.John DeVore writes about finding the "unexpected, self-affirming solace" of home... at Taco Bell. [more inside]
You can laugh or sneer at Taco Bell. Shake your head at its high fat and salt content. Go ahead and lecture on what true Mexican food is. My mom would probably just roll her eyes at you, and take a broken yellow shard of crispy taco shell and use it to scoop up the pintos, cheese, and salsa.
Variations on the Right to Remain Silent is an essay by poet and classicist Anne Carson about translation, cliché, divine language and the way some words violently resist being explained. She touches on Homer, Sappho, Joan of Arc, Friedrich Hölderlin, and the painter Francis Bacon.
Raising Teenagers: The Mother of All Problems by Rachel Cusk [New York Times]
Children are characters in the family story we tell — until, one day, they start telling it themselves.
Why I didn't call the police when I saw two black boys with guns next door. [The Guardian]
"My husband’s instinct was to call law enforcement, but that didn't seem like the solution. Especially after Tamir Rice."
Shakespeare in Tehran by Stephen Greenblatt [New York Review of Books]
"For more than four centuries now he has served as a crucial link across the boundaries that divide cultures, ideologies, religions, nations, and all the other ways in which humans define and demarcate their identities. The differences, of course, remain—Shakespeare cannot simply erase them—and yet he offers the opportunity for what he called “atonement.” He used the word in the special sense, no longer current, of “at-one-ment,” a bringing together in shared dialogue of those who have been for too long opposed and apart."
In an essay for the New Yorker, John McPhee (previously, previously, and previously) reflects on the points of reference writers choose in order to illuminate their topics, sometimes to the annoyance of readers. "Mention Beyoncé and everyone knows who she is. Mention Veronica Lake and you might as well be in the Quetico-Superior." Frame of Reference: To illuminate—or to irritate? [more inside]
Friends often try to assure me that people mean well, urging me to go easy on them, to be gracious, to give people the benefit of the doubt. "People don't mean to be offensive," they tell me. "They just don't know how to say it without coming across that way."Nishta Mehra writes about her family's experience with learning how to navigate the landscape of interracial adoption in a "post-racial" America: Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair.
What these friends don't understand is that when the act of defining your family structure becomes an expected part of every day of your entire life, you grow tired of being gracious. It's exhausting to have strangers view your life as an up-for-grabs educational experience. For my kid, it's to constantly hear the underlying message: "Your life, your family, doesn't make sense to me. Someone needs to explain it to me. You owe me an explanation."
It's the people who live comfortably inside majorities who tend to discount any sort of commentary from minorities as being "overly sensitive." And I imagine that it's hard to step back and grasp the fact that when the world you occupy is built to accommodate you, you fit inside the boxes. You make sense. You are expected.
My Saga, Part 1 By Karl Ove Knausgaard [New York Times] Following the trail of the first Europeans to set foot in America, the first of two parts. Previously. Previously. [more inside]
In 1963 novelist Doris Lessing took in a fifteen year old former schoolmate of her son she had never met who couldn't live at home anymore. This teenage girl later grew up to be a writer herself, Jenny Diski (formerly of this parish), and has written a couple of essays in the London Review of Books about her relationship with Lessing. The first, What to Call Her?, was an obituary published shortly after Lessing's death. The second, Doris and Me, is a part of Diski's longer reckoning with her own life following her diagnosis with terminal cancer. [The last essay has been linked previously as part of a megapost.]
When you watch the Putin Show, you live in a superpower. You are a rebel in Ukraine bravely leveling the once-state-of-the-art Donetsk airport with Russian-supplied weaponry. You are a Russian-speaking grandmother standing by her destroyed home in Luhansk shouting at the fascist Nazis, much as her mother probably did when the Germans invaded more than 70 years ago. You are a priest sprinkling blessings on a photogenic convoy of Russian humanitarian aid headed for the front line. To suffer and to survive: This must be the meaning of being Russian. It was in the past and will be forever.Gary Shteyngart watches a week of Russian television.
Rape on the Campus by Zoë Heller [New York Review of Books]
"Few would disagree that the systems for preventing and prosecuting sexual assault on US campuses are in need of change. But the efficacy and fairness of recent reforms that focus on making college grievance procedures more favorable to complainants and on codifying strict new definitions of sexual consent remain highly questionable."
In this essay I argue that an important recent development in the struggle to represent algorithms is that computer algorithms now have their own public relations. That is, they have both a public-facing identity and new promotional discourses that depict them as efficient, valuable, powerful, and objective. It is vital that we understand how the algorithms that dominate our experience operate upon us. Yet commercial companies -a recent phenomenon- now systematically manage our image of algorithms and the information we receive about them. Algorithms themselves, rather than just the companies that operate them, have become the subject of mass marketing claims. To make this clear, I analyze a variety of visual and multimedia depictions of algorithms. I begin by reviewing a variety of historical and contemporary attempts to represent algorithms for novices in educational settings, and then I compare these to recent commercial depictions. I will conclude with a critique of current trends and a call for a counter-visuality that can resist them.
No-man's Land. (Fear, Racism, and the Historically Troubling Attitude of America's Pioneers)
DISCUSSED: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Kansas, Bonnets, “A Great Many Colored People,” Copper Gutters, Martin Luther King Jr., People Who Know Nothing about Gangs, Scalping, South Africa, Unprovoked Stabbing Sprees, Alarming Mass Pathologies, Chicago, Haunted Hot Dog Factories, Gangrene, Creatures from the Black Lagoon, Tree Saws, Headless Torsos, Quilts, Cheerleaders, Pet Grooming Stores, God
'Are we becoming too reliant on computers?' by Nicholas Carr [The Guardian]
The habitual liar may be a very honest fellow, and live truly with his wife and friends; while another man who never told a formal falsehood in his life may yet be himself one lie-heart and face, from top to bottom. This is the kind of lie which poisons intimacy. And, vice versa, veracity to sentiment, truth in a relation, truth to your own heart and your friends, never to feign or falsify emotion—that is the truth which makes love possible and mankind happy. Robert Louis Stevenson on truth and writing.
"... I love the version of the Thanksgiving story in the movie Addams Family Values, because I get to see the Indians win." [SLGuardian]
"Here's the thing. You have no real control over popular success. You only have control over artistic success. If you're not concentrating on the latter, the best case scenario is you do not achieve the former." Jeffrey Cranor, co-writer of "Welcome to Night Vale," talks about what has made it a success. (Night Vale, previously.)