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.

I Would Prefer Not To

Books and Literature, Culture, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion

It is a chest of drawers within which dwells
a whole society of tiny men
unweaving, mothlike, so as to weave again
the selfsame fabric; each worker parallels
his neighbors’ motions like the sine-wave swells
of the deep ocean. Rushing toward the ten
blessedly mandated minutes when
they pause for bitter coffee, yet each rebels
at repetition and at repetition’s
repetition; isn’t it, however,
evolution, God, or devil that
bargained the soul’s wages and working conditions?
Security a curse pronounced forever.
Who slaves, at last? Maze-maker? Or rat?

The Defeatist Reviews 2014

Books and Literature, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Science, The Life of the Mind

Several years ago some guy named Pinker
wrote a book, which said that human kind
has now become less violent, more refined.
I pictured him composed like Rodin’s Thinker,
but sitting on the can leaving a stinker.
Here’s the triumph of the counterintuitive mind:
to pitch the fruit of knowledge, eat the rind;
fish proud to have caught that hook and line and sinker.
Was last year the worst that’s ever been?
I doubt it. What’s a good year? What is bad?
History has no progression. It
only accumulates, and no one wins;
to think it otherwise is to be mad.
Care less. Do nothing. Fuck it, man. And quit.

No, Angel

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

Not six-wingèd, nor a fiery wheel,
not four-bodied, though a living being,
human but for other human’s seeing
only what they a priori feel
to be true. Did he say fuck? Did he steal?
Was he sometimes prone to disagreeing?
Black? A teen? All but guaranteeing
some journalistic posthumous appeal
to see the nuance, meaning the bad sides.
No life is a story, and no story has
two sides: it is a universe, expanding,
not some taxonomic Alcatraz.
Here is the truth your subtlety elides:
there is no peace surpassing understanding.

A Love Poem Awkwardly Inspired By a Stupid Video Feature at Slate.Com

Art, Books and Literature, Culture, Media, Poetry, Things that Actually Happen

Do the rights and freedoms we currently enjoy mean that now is the best time in history to be gay?

When was the best time ever to be gay?
It was when we met. Before that we
were accidents of sex taxonomy;
now we’re texts and winks throughout the day.
Were we to travel back through history,
find ourselves in Death in Venice’s day,
or lounging like ancient Greeks carved in clay
as charms against queer specificity,
I’d still measure the good from when I first
swiveled a barstool so our knees would touch
and laughed too loud and hard and talked too much
and covered my nerves with beer and was the worst.
You still came home with me, and stayed, and here
we are regardless of the marked and measured year.

Sometimes You Eat the Bear and Sometimes the Bear Tortures, Rapes, and Murders Your Entire Family for No Particular Reason ¡Boobs!

Art, Books and Literature, Culture, Movies

Game of Thrones is supposed to belong to a post-Tolkienian form of fantasy that dispenses with the pewter trappings of the high-fantastic sword-and-sorcery formula, where, in Miéville’s game, funny description, “morality is absolute, and political complexities conveniently evaporate. Battles are glorious and death is noble. The good look the part, and the evil are ugly. Elves are natural aristos, hobbits are the salt of the earth, and – in a fairyland version of genetic determinism – orcs are shits by birth. This is a conservative hymn to order and reason – to the status quo.” The GoT series’ creator, George R.R. Martin, obviously and self-confessedly mined actual history as inspiration—he notably cites the War of the Roses as a source.

As literature, his writing is no better than Tolkien. If Tolkien is, per Miéville, “like opera without the music,” then Martin is Tom Clancy without the helicopters. Workmanlike would be too much praise by half. But, like Tolkien, Martin manages despite the sentence-by-sentence weakness of his work, to maintain an impressively consistent air. Tolkien’s was dread and doom; Martin’s is fear and gloom. To his credit, his most beautiful and noble (in the genealogical sense) characters are often the ugliest and most irredeemably evil and cruel. He is a misogynist, but his misogyny is at least in service of his deliberate atmosphere of unrelenting brutality, unlike Tolkien, whose Pre-Raphaelite maidens gaze virginally out of their frames while fey, faygeleh menfolk seem ever on the verge of the wrestling scene from Women in Love.

Martin’s fantasy world is distinguished by its impossibly long seasons, each lasting many years, and there’s at least some passing mention of storing up food for the long winter that approaches. HBO’s version effectively forgot about this peculiarity of its fictive setting once it killed off the majority of its Northerners—the nobly flawed Stark family’s motto (its “words”, in the in-universe terminology) were, in fact, “Winter Is Coming.” That’s fine. The show’s first season was pretty good TV, an improvement, if you ask me, over Martin’s turbid and overlong volumes, and it helped that it had a compelling central plot. Good art is frequently made not in spite of formal constraints, but because of them. Martin’s York-and-Lancaster framework keeps the story from wandering too far into the weeds. The bad guys, such as they are, win in the end, which subverts the genre but not the narrative; in fact, when the shock of it passes, it feels inevitable, which is a mark of good storytelling.

Subsequent seasons have dissipated into a series of parodically violent picaresques with occasional jump-cuts to various scenes of sub-Verdian scheming nobility. I’ll leave aside, for the moment, the white girl, her brown army, and her three dragons on the other side of the world. By its end, the third season resembled nothing so much as the Black Knight sequence from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, though carried off with such an air of dourly amoral self-seriousness that I half expected Kevin Spacey to stop into the capital’s whorehouse and mention his Congressional campaign. The level of violence is cartoonishly absurd; I mean, we are in, like, Itchy and Scratchy territory, here. At one point, a warrior woman fights a bear. It isn’t meant as a punch line, yuk-yuk, but it is.

Now, as we enter the fourth season, the overwhelming question is: how do these people eat? Fiction, of course, necessarily dispenses with plenty of fundamentals of actual existence in order to force life into its linear format, and no one, not even Houellebecq, wants to write a novel in which everyone spends all of their time opening doors, sleeping, pooping, and remembering that they need to buy mouthwash and paper towels on the way home. But the world of Game of Thrones is meant, despite its fantasy-genre affect, to feel lived-in and real. No one stops to wonder, amidst the depopulated and desolate marches of Middle Earth, how Rohan gets all that meat and mead, any more than they do in the middle of Beowulf, but it is impossible, as we wander into one more Westerosi tavern, rape all of the women, kill the cook, and burn down the village, just how on earth these people, from peasants to princes, manage to fill their bellies from time to time.

The portrait of feudal society as unremittingly violent and bleak, a never-ending, failed-state, crypto-Hobbesian war of all against all, is the really fantastical element of all this, far more so than a trio of squabbling adolescent dragons. This is not to say that Europe between Rome and the Enlightenment was a Hobbit-y idyll, verdant and free of war, plague, and exploitation. It was not. And yet, this fundamentally agrarian society lasted for a millennium, with the various forms of feudalism as social mechanisms for organizing productive land and the Church, for all its earthly corruptions and abuses, serving a complementary social organizing role. What is the manor, after all, if not a farm? Lords may have exploited their peasantry, overworked them, and taken too large a share of the crop, but they didn’t devote quite so much time and effort to randomly and wantonly terrorizing, raping, and murdering them, because, after all, who else is going to till the fields? Warfare in medieval Europe was limited due to primitive technology and low population, but also by the demands of the fields. It would not do to destroy all of the farms. The fundamental activity of this society was feeding itself, not, I don’t know, not mindlessly murdering everybody all the time in incoherent wars of dynastic succession. Game of Thrones makes the very worst excesses of the Crusades an hourly occurrence, an entire civilization an unrelenting, pre-mechanized Stalingrad.

The criticism of Game of Thrones—that it is a violent, sexist, rape-fantasy farrago whose fantastical-historical setting is little more than moral excuse-making for the fact that it wants naked women to beat each other with spiked clubs—is now wholly correct. The proof of this is in the fact that it has not the slightest interest in engaging with or depicting an actually realized world. How many times must it be said: realism is not the quality of set design. Nothing about this world makes any sense, unless the world is taken only as a convenient exercise in excuse-making for the dullest sort of murder-rape fantasy. Its setting is a moral excuse constructed solely to absolve viewers of their own interest in a pornography of sexualized bloodshed. Even a show as crassly, unnecessarily gory as The Walking Dead, for all its silliness and perversity, challenges its audience with some vague hint of complicity; there, but for the grace of the fact there is no such thing as a zombie apocalypse, go we. Game of Thrones just gives an otherworldly hall pass to our own unseemly tastes.


UPDATE: Commenter Patrick links a great post from cool Tumblr People of Color in European Art History that covers similar territory, and better.