Killer Kings on an Etruscan Cup

Art, Books and Literature, Culture, Economy, Poetry, Religion, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized, War and Politics

You can’t visit Paris anymore.
There are no tourists in churches; only priests.
The Bois de Boulogne’s full of wild beasts.
They’ve shuttered the Louvre and closed department stores.
The Porte de Clignancourt has lost its whores.
Boulangeries use dried, pre-packaged yeast.
They’ve burned the last copies of A Moveable Feast,
drawn the shutters and locked the courtyard doors.
A bateau mouche without a captain’s run
aground against the Île de la cité;
the willows in the Square du Vert-Galant all weep
with joy to see an unencumbered Seine
now swell with fish and swans. Each Paris-gray
morning quiet and slow as a dreamless sleep.

Pilgrim’s Progressivism

Art, Books and Literature, Culture, Economy, Justice, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized

The leaks are real. The news is fake. The sky
is blue. Love always lasts. The dead return
to life at night. The fire will not burn
the true believer’s flesh. The pig can fly.
Use whiskey when a teething baby cries.
No matter what good wages workers earn
they can no longer save enough; they yearn
only for the slightest ease, which we deny
them, spouting instead our stupid incantations:
be enterprising; learn new skills; a man
no longer works to live, he loves his work
and works unto his soul’s attenuation;
pays tax to keep the drones in distant lands;
becomes, faute de mieux, at last, a jerk.

The Art of the Bona Dea

Art, Books and Literature, Culture, Media, Poetry, Religion, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized

When he is thirty, Caesar comes upon
a bust of Alexander Magnus and
laments his rather lacking personal brand;
Alexander’d conquered Babylon,
while Caesar suffers Clodius’ carrying on
in a bad frock, soon revealed as a man.
He calls his aides. Please help me understand
how some horse-loving twink in chaps had gone
by now from Greece to India and back,
built self-named cities, fought with elephants,
stymied at last by the sheer immeasurable size
of the globed earth and encircling sea, you hacks.
Torment was the thought of irrelevance:
unmade by age, conquestless, Caesar dies.

We Defile Augury

Books and Literature, Culture, Economy, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, The Life of the Mind, Things that Actually Happen, Uncategorized

capture

I call my own shots, largely based
on the pigeons that my priests release, observed
through a single narrow window as they turn and swerve.
The world we think is ours is interlaced
with the realer world of the bored, immortal race
of gods, who’ve little else to do but serve
each other fruit, and get on each other’s nerves.
Yet their gestures do create all time and space.
Why the bird thing works, we cannot know,
though I am assured it can inerrantly
predict a harvest’s weight or revenues
from tax, a war’s conclusion, how much snow
will clog a pass. All popularity
depends upon the augurs that you use.

Skinks for Rump

Art, Books and Literature, Culture, Education, Media, Religion, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized, War and Politics

Milo Yiannopoulos, the sort of post-Warholian Z-list celebrity aspirant that the anti-social era of social media hocks up with silly frequency, is a public face—a mascot is maybe the better word—of an equally irrelevant but sociologically and aesthetically interesting not-quite-a-movement called Twinks for Trump.

Twinks—some of you already know this, so bear with me—are a gay sub-genre characterized by being young, thin, mostly hairless: the acceptable contemporary for the classically desired pubescent or pre-pubescent boy. The enduring beauty and sexual attractiveness of the adolescent male is one of those things that we’re very careful not to talk about too plainly in the age of gay respectability and marriage and the HRC (that’s the Human Rights Campaign, not Hillary Rodham Clinton, though if you squint, there’s not much difference). The preferred image of gay men specifically and queer people generally is of two fit, mid-thirties, slightly be-stubbled white professional studs who look disturbingly fraternal being married by Joe Biden. But the fact that there is a large gay sub-culture and a mountain of pornography that sexually fetishizes 19-year-olds who look like 15-year-olds is unavoidable, and the defense mechanism is to wink at it as a kind of joke. All those barely legal boys may be barely legal, but they are legal nonetheless.

Also note that twinks, by and large, are white. There are black twinks and Asian twinks and latino twinks, etc., but the group is definitely racially coded as Caucasian: its default setting so to speak.

The twink is a ubiquitous figure within the complex erotic taxonomy of gay male pornographic desire, but unless he is paired with another twink, his function is almost always the same: he is the actor whose youthful effeminacy and receptive position (i.e., he’s the bottom) serve as a highlighting counterpart to the masculine virility of his partner(s). So a common scenario would be to pair a twink with a jock: a slightly older, more muscular, more traditionally and recognizably masculine character. You can imagine the setup. The video is called “My Older Sister’s Boyfriend” or some such.

But equally common and more germane to the erotics of Twinks for Trump is the twink—the boi—and the daddy. The jock will be 29 or 30; the daddy will be 40 and up. In professional porn, the daddy will be somewhere between beefily athletic and totally ripped, a figure of obvious domination; in amateur porn, he’s probably got a gut and some unsightly hair in the small of his back. Either way, this is a sort of recapitulation of the same classical arrangement I mentioned above, where a grown and probably ostensibly heterosexual man gets to take care of his non-procreative sexual energy while the youth gets a figure of, if not wisdom, then at least strength and authority. Obviously this is all overlaid with the titillation of an aestheticized violation of the incest taboo. The video is called “My Mom’s New Boyfriend” or some such.

Unlike straight porn, with its inevitable ugliness and recapitulation of all the weird power pathologies of that strangest of afflictions, heterosexuality, gay porn, though it certainly can be ugly and exploitative, tends to read as good-natured and consensual, and most of these daddy-son scenarios are harmless fun. That said, there is something slightly depressing about the attempted sexual valorization of the daddy figure as an avatar of sexual potency and an object of youthful desire; it can’t avoid a tinge of self-parody, like an ex-NFL coach tossing a football through a tire swing as a euphemism for his pharmaceutical erection, and you can’t help but remember the other part of the exchange: that this older guy who probably can’t get it up without some pretty serious chemical assistance is also the guy with the money and the house and the reservations at the fancy restaurant.

So what you actually end up with is a superficially transgressive erotic exchange as a veneer for the most boring straight cliché: the hot young woman who dates the older guy for his money. And what’s sad about it is exactly what’s sad about Mike Ditka and that fucking tire swing: the exaggerated enacting of male virility only serves to show all the rest of the giggling world just how limp and pathetic daddy really is. No one other than another limply desirous daddy looks at this scenario from the outside and concludes that daddy is a hard, throbbing man’s man; quite the opposite. And the younger and more beautiful daddy’s boi, the less potent he appears, and the more we all titter when he excuses himself from the dinner party to re-up his Cialis in the restroom.

This is the excellent irony of Milo and the twinks for Daddy Trump. These little blond racist shitbirds have got it in their heads that they can help present him as a figure of phallic power, when in reality he—and they—become even more figures of fun. (Interestingly, by the way, the Classical world considered both impotence and well-endowed-ness to be pretty much equally hilarious and unmanly.) They are a punchline that comes to life and imagines itself as the comedian.

Peter Thiel Sues Gawker

Art, Books and Literature, Culture, Economy, Justice, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized

Every night, lonely and scared, a Crassus
retires to a private screening room to view
a phony gladiator in a natty do-
rag fuck a forum-screamer’s wife. He passes
a hand across his lap and wipes his glasses.
Aroused, confused, he hates and loves these few
pornographic pleasures and the voyeurs who
provided them; the fortune he amasses
endlessly cannot touch him, cannot keep
his bed warm or the plebs beyond the walls
from peering through the keyhole at the sad rich wreck
who can’t decide to masturbate or weep
when the show ends and the grim shadow falls:
death’s debit, unpayable by cash or check.

Vagina . . . Without Previous Approval

Art, Books and Literature, Culture, Education, Media, Poetry, Religion, Science, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized

District officials sent WWMT a quote from a school handbook that says teachers are required to get approval before discussing any topic related to reproductive health.

The Washington Post

The word itself makes some men uncomfortable.

-Maude Lebowski

Imagine the spring. Imagine the tulip trees
in the garden—still a chance of morning frost,
the gold-black baby spiders, the first bees
betting on dew instead by instincts that we’ve lost.
Consult the Farmer’s almanac; consult
the weather on the internet; we are obsessed
with warnings, dire predictions; with results
whose precursors embarrass us. Confess:
you too, sex-positive and libertine,
are slightly squeamish at the ordinary bits
a flower represents: fecund, gene-
wet, vaginal. Marble tits?
Appropriate. But a flower is a stealth
lesson in the forbidden: “reproductive health.”

While White

Books and Literature, Culture, Education, Justice, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry

Is my job just to respect your experience and accept your conclusions?

David Brooks

Hey, don’t blame me; you hired me to write
these several columns every week, and I
must write each in a little while. White

space is the beginning; it glares back, a bright
tease and an impossibility: for why
(and how) could I have something new to write

three times a week? Why, just the other night
my ex-wife said we’d always lived a lie:
a topic for a column? While my shrink’s white

too-modern couch exerted just a slight
cool leather pressure on my head and on my
weakening back, he averred I not write

about her quite so often. “It isn’t right
to air a private trauma; take the high
road,” he said. His great hair, while white,

is thicker than mine. Sometimes I want to die.
What harder fate than to be a man of high
moral character condemned to write
for money in America while White?

Thee, N-Word

Books and Literature, Culture, Education, Media, War and Politics

I’m as skeptical of safe spaces and trigger warnings as the next asshole, and I’m on the record comparing them to “the crystal vibrations of homeopathy and hypnotherapy,” but in that same post, and by the same token, I believe that while most of the proponents of this sort of thing suffer at worst from a naively misplaced trust in institutions to do right in the hands of the proper government and an overabundance of sincerity, it’s their loud public detractors who frequently suffer from a cancerous form of intellectual hypocrisy. So it was this past Sunday when, emerging from the palace to denounce the worries of the gardeners, Judith Shulevitz, a prominent critic and author frequently published in the most prominent and widely circulated publications in America, rang the alarm on the most worrying trend in the universities today. No, it is not the necessity of entering a lifetime of debt servitude to graduate from even our lousier state schools, nor the declining practical value of general education outside of a few faddish and vocational majors, nor the fact that war criminals and state security charlatans occupy positions of prominence in our best universities, nor even something as banally scandalous as the criminal extortion cartel that is the NCAA. No, indeed, it is the tremendous trauma inflicted upon poor administrators, and society as a whole, when, for example:

Last fall, the president of Smith College, Kathleen McCartney, apologized for causing students and faculty to be “hurt” when she failed to object to a racial epithet uttered by a fellow panel member at an alumnae event in New York. The offender was the free­speech advocate Wendy Kaminer, who had been arguing against the use of the euphemism “the n­-word” when teaching American history or “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” In the uproar that followed, the Student Government Association wrote a letter declaring that “if Smith is unsafe for one student, it is unsafe for all students.”

“It’s amazing to me that they can’t distinguish between racist speech and speech about racist speech, between racism and discussions of racism,” Ms. Kaminer said in an email.

Now, I actually agree with this sentiment; I think the notion that we may be harmed, or traumatized, or “re-traumatized” by the mere utterance of unpleasant or offensive or troubling words and ideas, especially in the service of exploring and criticizing those words and ideas, ranks high on the list of the most bogus notions ever dreamed up by our species. And, I mean, what is the Anthropocene if not one grotty epoch of our species’ inexhaustible supply of bogus ideas? But here is the rub, and the hypocrisy. Judith Shulevitz is making this argument, lighting these lamps in the Old North Church, in America’s premier organ of news and opinion, which, Oh By The Way, does not permit the use of the word nigger in its pages, not even “when teaching American history or ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.’”

Here, for instance, from last month, is Dwight Garner’s review of the widely praised new novel, The Sellout:

So much happens in “The Sellout” that describing it is like trying to shove a lemon tree into a shot glass. It’s also hard to describe without quoting the nimble ways Mr. Beatty deals out the N­-word. This novel’s best lines, the ones that either puncture or tattoo your heart, are mostly not quotable here.

I should mention that Garner is also required to “[work] around a perfectly detonated vulgarity,” lest the mere appearance of such traumatizing and re-traumatizing language should besmirch the Average Reader’s tender eyes and brain.

This is a minor point; we could all very easily find thoughts and expressions and whole political ideologies which would never pass the gates of the unofficial but powerful censors of mainstream discourse in America. But I happen to believe that its smallness makes it all the more pertinent, because what, after all, is the complaint about safe spaces and trigger warnings if not that they are small, petty, and un-serious; that they are the ill-considered attempts at prior restraint by what amount to a novel class of intellectual prudes, whose contempt for freewheeling debate is at last a kind of puritanism? Well, so what if it is? Where is the greater threat to freedom, in the seminar room, or in the nation’s most important paper? Censor, censor thyself.

A Prayer for the Tsar

Books and Literature, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, War and Politics

“Despite all of this, we will not witness a mass exodus anytime soon.” –Jeffrey Goldberg

The author didn’t find much evidence
with which to support his deeply dire thesis.
Journalism’s artless non-mimesis:
subjunctive mood, and yet the future tense.
It’s not just that the piece is rather dense-
ly peopled with mere anecdote; its weakness
is a sort of fallacy of psychokinesis:
motion as concentration’s consequence.
As Jews, we do ourselves no special favor
by making ourselves the shonda proxies for
the various think-tank nuts and politicians
who, regardless circumstances, labor
to pull, out of a hat, another war:
Jews are just the rabbits. They’re magicians.