1. "Just because we have enemies, Sedgwick proposes, does not mean we have to be paranoid. Our cynicism may be justified, but it is also sad. That so many of us find it entirely plausible that a vast network of researchers and health officials and doctors worldwide would willfully harm children for money is evidence of what capitalism is really taking from us. Capitalism has already impoverished the working people who generate wealth for others. And capitalism has already impoverished us culturally, robbing unmarketable art of its value. But when we begin to see the pressures of capitalism as innate laws of human motivation, when we begin to believe that everyone is owned, then we are truly impoverished."
    — Eula Biss, On Immunity 
     

  2. "The question that was always raised by my teachers, such as Rawls and Nozick, was not merely why someone has been harmed, but why someone else should pay. Who should pay what to whom because of whose wrongdoing and for whose benefit? And it was really inconceivable to most of my contemporaries trained in liberal political theory that you could have reparative or inter-temporal justice because it involved making people who didn’t do anything wrong pay people who didn’t suffer anything wrong for the benefit of someone who isn’t there — which is the paradigm of injustice for liberals. That’s why they think that real justice is generally forward looking."
    — Robert Meister, from interview in Full Stop
     

  3. Paris, New Mexico

    I had a margarita for lunch and had to walk it off for a half hour or so before returning to the Santa Fe Public Library to continue my work for the day. I am here to drop my little brother off at college, to see some new things, and to take a little break from New York. I tell myself.

    I decide to flip through the stores like pages in a magazine. I wander through one store for five minutes, realize they only sell lingerie, and walk out. I don’t need any lingerie, thank you. I go to the “Santa Fe Card Store” and ask the woman at the front desk where the postcards are, load up.

    The store I spend the most time in is right next-door. I can’t tell how nice it is from the outside so I just waltz in. It’s filled with exuberant quilted jackets, beaded bags, embroidered scarves. I am the only person in the store except for the saleswoman. She is maybe seventy with Farrah Fawcett hair on top and no hair on the bottom. Her dramatic frontal flip meets her face in a bright white crest that shoots up from her hairline. The rest of her hair is inky black. Her lipstick is bright red, her nails are painted with Mondrian patterns, cut into harsh but perfect squares. She wears black now, but the deep, tousled collar of her silky shirt tells me she did not always wear it.

    I stroke one of the scarves, twice with the back of my index finger, then stop when I see the price. “It’s a beautiful scarf,” I say. She tells me each thread is hand-cut, and that they’re the most beautiful of their kind she’s ever seen. And she tells me more—that she’s a designer, but she did not design these scarves. She has a background in fine arts. At sixteen she got a scholarship to go to an arts college in New York and at seventeen she dropped out to work with a fashion company, with scraps and for scraps. During her second week the company merged and she was let go. She found another job doing who knows what. After five years in New York City she moved to Paris with her girlfriend., and after a year in Paris her girlfriend got a job in London. She stayed in Paris though, where she met her ex-husband. When she was in her mid-twenties she moved back to her hometown in Arizona to take care of her sick mother.

    “And what do you do?” she asks.

    “I’m a journalist.”

    “Oh, great.” Then she lays all the keys to life at my feet like little presents. She says with dreamy eyes that life is full of surprises but that they’re always wonderful. She says that you can never talk about doing things, you just have to do them. She says do what you love. Somehow all of her advice doesn’t seem to add up, but I’m on a deadline and not so sure of myself, so I drink it up like watered down margarita mix.

    “Are you writing about anything now?” I tell her I am writing an article about the militarization of campus police forces for a publication that millennials read.

    “Oh I’ve been hearing so much, not about campuses, but about police.”

    “Ferguson?”

    “Ferguson.”

    I see her retreat slightly, like a runner winding up to shoot down his lane when the gun goes off. “I know you didn’t ask for my opinion,” she says, “but I’m going to give it to you anyway.” She says it like someone who is always right, and disagrees with others for a living. It is a proposal I have no grounds to refuse, though I know what she’s going to say.

    “If an officer approaches you and you stay in your place, and you don’t talk back, and you show respect, nothing is going to happen to you. It’s just not smart to argue with a cop.” And she goes on to say what I’m heard so many times before slither from the lips of pundits and people on the street: He got what was coming to him.

    I launch into a new discussion with her. I am patient but wary as I explain the biased media reports, the eyewitness testimony, the way cops lie. I try to explain in a few short sentences to a woman who gives out advice so candidly, why I’m outraged that the murder of a young man in cold blood might never be answered for, and why she should be too.

    She was once sixteen and far from home, then she was twenty-one and even farther from home. I hold this young woman in my mind. I bet in Paris her hair once undulated well below her shoulders. Or maybe she cut it all off, let it grow back a little, dyed it pink for her wedding. In truth, I only know a few facts about this woman’s life, but I am already building a case against her. I want to know how she could condemn a young black man, and many others, to death, and how I can change her mind.

    She asks (and answers): Do you really think a cop would harass a person on purpose?

    I tell her about Byrne grants, about how cops are incentivized to arrest the most people possible, with no regard to the severity of the crime. I explain why black and brown people are the targets of these policies, and—in the leanest terms, but they’ll have to do—why she may not be aware of this. I don’t feel self-righteous by the end of it; I feel shaky.

    A customer walks in and fingers a beige dress.

    “It was nice talking to you, I’m going to leave now.”

    “It was nice talking to you too. Thanks for telling me all those things.” I thank her for telling me all that she did too.    

    I look around at all the nice things in the store, how well they hang, how graciously they fold. And I think about how good it felt to believe for a minute that doing things mattered and talking about them didn’t. 

     

  4. Thoughts on Ferguson: Tuning Out the Nihilism

    I can’t get what’s happening in Ferguson off my mind. I don’t want to. My brain is itching from altitude change, on top of cups of coffee, on top of glasses of red wine, and still it’s swimming in reports of teargas, grainy livestreams fleeing down dark streets, hands up, military-grade weapons aimed.

    A few nights ago I was still on the subway home when the first curfew kicked in. As soon as the train doors opened I scrambled home to soak in my twitter feed and watch a pen of frustrated reporters narrate rumors of arrests from afar. It occurred to me, and not for the first time since the protests began last week, that these confrontations between the peaceful protestors and cruel cops have become highly serialized. I would say “sensationalized” too if that didn’t make it sound so much like a cheap tabloid date between two stars entertaining a brief and fascinating orbit. Police violence is endemic to America, not a melodramatic plotline that begins and ends in a suburb of St. Louis. I hadn’t followed the idea of Ferguson-as-entertainment too far before, but it made me uncomfortable.

    On Sunday I finally articulated that feeling for the first time. I was at a picnic for a friend’s birthday and the murder of Michael Brown and unfolding clashes in Ferguson came up. I was instantly relieved and began talking. It was a litany of opinions, really, falling from my lips, gushing. Between what I wanted to say and what was simply fleeing my mouth, I said something surprising. I said that I felt sometimes that Ferguson had become like this tv show that thousands of people watch at night and gossip about in the morning. That got some nods from my friends. And I was glad I said it, because I realized as soon as it slipped out that I didn’t believe a word of it. I was full of shit.

    Over the past week I’ve listened to and overheard a lot of people saying that they hope some good comes of all this. By this they usually mean that the brutality of the police will ease up in Ferguson and “real reform” will be possible. And, just to be more specific about the people I’m talking about, they are sad and cringing and don’t understand how things “got so out of control” or why the whole process can’t be more diplomatic, even as they comment from the sidelines.  

    In this way, though the situation itself is very different from the Israel-Palestine conflict, one popular reaction is applied evenly to both. In the face of a complex, deeply rooted structural sickness, violence makes some squeamish and yearn for a peace that yearning can’t bring about, even as it flings before our eyes an injustice that should make our own blood boil. In the case of Gaza it was hard to turn away, but also difficult for me to feel like I could be part of the change. Sure, I could go to a rally, share on social media, but I still have to pay my taxes, and at the end of the day, no matter how much I read about rockets flying through the sky, they’re not coming to my part of the skies; I wouldn’t recognize a missile if I saw one. But Ferguson, as I said, is very different from Gaza, and, in fact, a kind of ongoing event I’ve rarely seen in my lifetime. And that’s because it’s one of the few times I’ve ever felt that to hope that “something” comes of it all is an untenable position, not just for politicians in their sad little speeches, but for every politically conscious person in the United States. By which I mean every person who knows that Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown six times.

    I don’t mean that nothing like this has ever happened before. In fact, everything that I am trying to articulate arises from the fact that people of color, black men in particular, are killed, cuffed, felt up, beaten up, locked away, and humiliated by cops every day in droves in every town, city, and county in America.

    This means, first of all, that we are all implicated in what happened to Mike Brown. Not guilty, but a part of it, each in our own way. We will all navigate the coverage in our own way. Some will plug in every night like clockwork to tv, and social media, and online reporting. Others will check CNN sporadically, listen to radio reports as they drive to work in the morning, read stuffy white-person opinions and shake their heads, show up to a rally then get busy for a while and stop tuning in. The point is not to shame each of these people for their particular lack of commitment, to say that this will all come to nothing because for the time being most of us are watching, and taking breaks, and checking the time. Far from it. The point is to acknowledge what has been created, wonderfully, miraculously but with bravery and grit, in an oppressive police state. The point is we have a responsibility not only to move forward but to admit that Ferguson has changed this country for good because a dialogue has expanded in ways we could have imagined, but never have predicted, before. Now it is justice we are after. Whether legislation is proposed or the president speaks matters little. In America that sort of statement is sacrilege. But in Ferguson, where people are tear gased, arrested, and fired at for protesting peacefully, knowing this in one’s bones has become more powerful than taking another step toward the barricade of officers and their raised guns. 

    So many news stories show us what we already know. They confirm our suspicions and feed them anew, keep us caught in a morass of half-truths and stony-faced white men staring down cameras. But Ferguson resists this easy primetime formula; it’s about something else. The story goes so far beyond confirming fears, it actually inspires courage. The people of Ferguson haven’t just challenged the police, they’ve challenged everyone who passes off their nihilism as hope, everyone who stands in the no man’s land between the protestors and police (in this case, usually the journalists, whose cover of subjectivity is now mercifully being blown). Yes, we’re tuning in, but that doesn’t cheapen anything, it only amplifies everything. Anyone who hopes that some good comes of this might as well change the channel on their tv sets. The people of Ferguson are changing what’s around it. 

     

  5. "

    That’s a primary difficulty: pleasure
    means something, and something different, for each organ;
    each person, too. I may take exquisite pleasure
    in boiled eel, or blacmange — or not. One pleasure
    of language is making known what not to give.
    And think of a bar of lavender soap, a pleasure
    to see and, moistened, rub on your skin, a pleasure
    especially to smell, but if you taste
    it (though smell is most akin to taste)
    what you experience will not be pleasure;
    you almost retch, grimace, stick out your tongue,
    slosh rinses of ice water over your tongue.

    But I would rather think about your tongue
    experiencing and transmitting pleasure
    to one or another multi-sensual organ
    — like memory. Whoever wants to give
    only one meaning to that, has untutored taste.

    "
    — Marilyn Hacker, from “Canzone” 
     

  6. Conservative Classifieds

    Note: I wrote the following last fall when some of the individuals mentioned below were more relevant. Fewer of them are relevant today. They are all irrelevant always. 

    Posted by Ted Cruz

    Balding, fascist Cat-In-The-Hat with wind-blown eyebrows and chin to spare seeks a friend—just one god-damn friend. He promises that person will also be his best friend and that when Ted Cruz becomes president of the Tea Party World Inc., he will make his friend vice-president. Ted Cruz is third-person omniscient.

    He also really needs someone to get rid of the Poang chair that some fucking freshman just left in his office.

    Posted by Michele Bachmann

    Let’s just say Miley Cyrus were a problem for a certain someone. Maybe you’d be just the person to make that problem go away.

    I pay in pennies. No lunch will be provided. 

    Posted by David Brooks

    Hey, kid, want to be published in the New York Times?!? 

    I’m looking for ideas for my next column, but I left all my Machiavelli books at a wedding I crashed. So I need one of the students enrolled in my “Humility” course at Yale to do me a solid and write a five-page essay, and, who knows, maybe I’ll quote it extensively or just publish it in full as my next column! Was thinking about writing on the decline of the American family, or what Google autofills after “420”, or what Carl Schmitt would say about gay marriage, or why there’s no Mayan apocalypse this calendar year. But, you know, those are just some rough ideas. Please don’t ask for an “A”, I have integrity. 

    Posted by Justin Bieber when he’s around his monkey, Mally

    I told Kanye West he was a product of affirmative action and now I need a place to lay low for two, maybe six months. 

    Posted by your uncle

    Your uncle who surprised everyone this year by deciding to show up for Thanksgiving seeks completely like-minded dinner guest who can stand to listen to, and, yes, even agree with, his NOT-crazy conspiracies. Ideal candidate would:

    - Point out giant government cover-up in response to any argument against fracking

    - Think nothing in this country ever happens without Joe Biden’s say-so

    - Call all brown people “Arabs”

    - Ask what day it is at some point in the evening

    - Announce as soon as you walk through the door that you don’t like turkey or eat vegetables

    - Be really fucking cool

    - Make the actually nice parts of your childhood somehow sound creepy

    - Not work well with others

    - Have voted for Romney

    - Have voted for Romney twice but won’t say how

    Posted by Scott Walker 

    I need to stop hurting people. 

    Posted by Mitt Romney 

    My name is Mitt Romney. Things have been unraveling pretty quickly for me since 2012. I was working at a mid-level paper-pushing company for a while, but I was let go when a Paul Ryan lookalike came into the office for a week to assess which of us were essential and which of us were expendable. I got a pretty sweet severance package for threatening my boss with a sexual harassment lawsuit. My wife is having an affair with a real-estate agent—to think we used to be just a couple of recent college graduates eating off ironing board because our mahogany dining room table that once belonged to Henry Kissinger was out being dipped in a vat of liquid gold! I’ve started lifting weights and smoking pot (a lot!!). Sometimes I think there is so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, which is also how I feel whenever I see an “Obama for America” yard sign. I’m here because I need help filling out a form to apply for a fast food service job at McDonald’s. I don’t know what the going rate is, but I think $100,000 for someone who’s really efficient at filling out forms sounds reasonable. It’s never too late to get it all back.

    Posted by one of the Koch Brothers 

    When I’m not around the other Koch Brother I literally have no idea who I am. I need bus money, and for someone to tell me what my name is.

    Posted by Paula Dean 

    Butter.

    Posted by Clint Eastwood 

    Looking for a chair on the cheap. Like one of those IKEA Poang chairs or something. It’s for a shtick I do. 

     

  7. "

    And once she lay over against me late in the night and she started talking, her breath in my ear, and she just went on and on, and talked faster and faster, she couldn’t stop, and I loved it, I just felt that all that life in her was running into me too, I had so little life in me, her life, her fire, was coming into me, in that hot breath in my ear, and I just wanted her to go on talking forever right there next to me, and I would go on living, like that, I would be able to go on living, but without her I don’t know….

    …I guess you get to a point where you look at that pain as if it were there in front of you three feet away lying in a box, an open box, in a window somewhere. It’s hard and cold, like a bar of metal. You just look at it there and say, All right, I’ll take it, I’ll buy it. That’s what it is. Because you know all about it before you even go into this thing. You know that pain is part of the whole thing. And it isn’t that you can say afterwards the pleasure was greater than the pain and that’s why you would do it again. That has nothing to do with it. You can’t measure it, because the pain comes after and it lasts longer. So the question really is, Why doesn’t that pain make you say, I won’t do it again? When the pain is so bad that you have to say that, but you don’t.

    "
    — Lydia Davis, “Break It Down”
     

  8. On “Trying To Figure Things Out”

    Here is that saccharine piece of writing I promised myself I would never write. I feel much better having written it.

    Many people I talk to these days, if I talk to them long enough, will say they are “figuring things out.” Last week a fellow 23-year-old told me she “is just figuring things out.” So it’s a function of age, right? Later that day her mother repeated the phrase verbatim. 

    This “trying to figure things out” is very important. It not only constitutes a set of actions, but also a purpose and a complete outlook on the world. You could be unemployed and still have things figured out. You could be working for a hedge fund and doing terrible things to the earth and humanity and have things figured out. You can have a family and a deeply rooted network of friends, or you can be completely alone and either way you can have things figured out.

    But I choose not to see myself this way. It’s a powerful motivator this “not having things figured out.” It’s a way of interacting with other people. It is an identity. It is close to “not having your shit together” but not quite. That’s a different person—or maybe me at a different time and place—who doesn’t have their shit together.

    Trying to figure things out means I will go to that protest, or that rally, or that meeting. It means I will take that assignment and pitch that article even though I don’t know what it will be yet. Especially because I don’t know what it will be yet. Trying to figure things out means new fears all the time and new ways to overcome them. It means new love all the time and new ways to open your heart to them. It means new metaphors and new connections between the old ones; new stories and new failures of language. It means you cry about things that never used to make you feel sad, or anything at all. It means your sense of humor now goes in new and interesting places, darker corners of the human heart get illuminated. Sometimes it means new ways of closing your eyes, sometimes it is new lies you tell yourself. 

    It is, in some ways, a willingness to go anywhere and do anything at any risk. But I refuse to believe it can’t also be maturity, a stronger sense of your convictions, the ideas becoming actions you want to share with others. Even your body starts feeling more like the solid earth beneath your feet. 

     

  9. "If you believe that people speak slogans to one another, or that women are turned by bourgeois society into marketable objects, or that human pleasures are now figments and products of advertising accounts and that these are directions of dehumanization—then what is the value of pouring further slogans into that world (e.g., “People speak in slogans” or “Women have become objects” or “Bourgeois society is dehumanizing” or “Love is impossible”)? And how do you distinguish the world’s dehumanizing of its inhabitants from your depersonalizing of them? How do you know whether your asserted impossibility of love is anything more than an expression of your distaste for its tasks? Without such knowledge, your disapproval of the world’s pleasures, such as they are, is not criticism (the negation of advertisement) but censorious (negative advertising)."
    — Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film 
     

  10. "Paradise is not the place in which you arrive but the journey toward it. Sometimes I think victories must be temporary or incomplete; what kind of humanity would survive paradise? The United States has tried to approximate paradise in its suburbs, with luxe, calme, volupté, cul-de-sacs, cable television, and two-car garages, and it has produced a soft ennui that shades over into despair and a decay of the soul suggesting that paradise is already a gulag. Countless desperate teenagers will tell you so. For paradise does not require of us courage, selflessness, creativity, passion: paradise in all accounts is passive, is sedative, and if you read carefully, soulless."
    — Rebecca Solnit, Hope In The Dark