“Joan Didion Is the Best Thing About Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” for the New Republic
Didion long ago transcended the modest space our culture reserves for writers to become a kind of living metonym for the whole period of postwar American history, from the dark-underbellied triumphalism of the California boom through the seemingly endless succession of social crack-ups that have defined this country ever since.
From the perspective of an American sick to death with the unshakable centrality of the State of Israel in contemporary Jewish life, it is a kind of metaphor for all that is wrong with Israel itself: a reconstructed and backward-casting holiness barely papering over a lot of grotty and stupid territorial disputes.
“The Democratic Party Is a Ghost,” for Jacobin
I’ve said before that the Democratic Party isn’t really a political party at all, but rather something closer to a think tank — a kind of failed academic enterprise whose principal output is dubious research written in the style of a press release and the occasional bemusing and ineffectual appearance on cable news.
“Trump’s Israel Trip Was One Big Gaslighting Charade” for Haaretz
There’s an element of mockumentary to Trump’s Israel visit, which has so far consisted of a great deal of bumbling about by both him and his hosts, from the goofy red-carpet greeting on the tarmac beside Air Force One to the uncomfortable shuffling and stage direction around the podium at Yad Vashem.
Fascism has always been equal parts terror and kitsch. Its clubs and societies are darkly comic performances.
“Beyond the Alps,” for The Paris Review
I cobbled together a proposal to write a sonnet sequence based on my Roman travels. My poetry professor was obviously wise to my half-assed scam, but he was that wonderful breed of college faculty who thinks a month in Rome is more important than an independent study. He signed off.
“The Madness of King Donald” for the New Republic:
Donald Trump has not yet gone out to graze on the South Lawn, so far as we know, but there is nevertheless a vague sense, already, that the administration, which at first terrified us with the dictatorial swiftness of its mean, vindictive travel ban, is out to pasture.
“Who Lost the White House” for The Concourse:
In this regard, the election didn’t represent a great groundswell of support for fascism, but rather a great, national exhaustion with politics.
“I Was a Teenage Nazi Wannabe” for the New Republic:
Out of a weird mash of the X-Files, the Turner Diaries and anti-government paranoia, Frank Herbert novels, Ubermensch libertarianism, Aleister Crowley, Indiana Jones, and over-the-counter dissociatives, my best friends and I had brewed a goofy aesthetic, a political moonshine not all thatdifferent from today’s so-called alt-right.
An interview with WNYC’s On the Media about “When Forgetting is the Proper Response to Terror”
“When Forgetting is the Proper Response to Terror” for the New Republic:
The proper response to terror is not to be terrorized, and that means taking a coolly actuarial position on attacks: they will be relatively rare, but that they cannot be stopped entirely by more police, metal detectors, intelligence sharing, vague strength, gun registries, invasions, drone strikes, or God forbid, internment camps and deportations. It’s no admission of defeat to admit that cars crash, houses burn, some people get cancer, hurricanes make landfall. Tomorrow, you could be hit by a bus. We live every day on the precipice of death. Reasonable caution is advisable; hysteria is not.
“Jews for Bernie: Don’t Give In to Fear” for Haaretz:
Trump is also an object lesson in effective intraparty advocacy, the end result of a long-simmering break between the vague promises of a party elite and the growing anger of their constituent base. The base won. There is direction here for Sanders’ constituency. Political parties do not respond to unconditional support.
“Bernie Backs Jewish Values Millennials Believe In” for Haaretz:
Sanders, the only Jewish candidate, calls back to an earlier era of Jewish politics, before the almost complete integration of Jews into white, affluent America and before the notion that the most important thing for Jews in America was support for a foreign county thousands of miles away.
“Ayn Rand Made Me a Communist” for the New Republic:
I don’t suppose that when my parents sent me off to the University of Virginia Young Writers Workshop they imagined I’d return, a few weeks later, both gay and an objectivist
“Stop Immediately Linking Violence to the Perpetrator’s Beliefs” for The Intercept:
The idea that violence, including political violence, emerges out of a coherently ideological set of beliefs is simplistic.
“Ben Carson is Wrong about the Holocaust” for the New Republic:
Ben Carson, the suddenly notable presidential candidate, is a slightly better interviewee, if only because, if you can get past his sleepily anodyne delivery, he is almost guaranteed to say something oblivious, terrifying, or both
Review of The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
…quite simply a book of essays in the true sense, the sense of Montaigne, who said of his own “Essais” — “I am myself the subject of my book,” although at the same time it was about the whole world.
Review of Multiply Divide by Wendy Walters for The Rumpus:
White people are always looking for the black Pope…
Review of The American People by Larry Kramer for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
It seems to me that “The American People” is an important but flawed work, a book that should be read widely but cautiously.
Review of The Drone Eats with Me by Atu Abu Saif for The Rumpus:
…a lacerating journal of daily life during Israel’s latest pummeling of the Gaza Strip.
Review of Indigo by Clemens J. Setz for The Rumpus:
Like so many really great novels, Indigo teaches you how to read it as you go. I struggled through the opening, then found myself reading the most entertaining book I’d read all year, at once charming and horrible, like a serial killer on a TV show.
Review of Thrown by Kerry Howley for The Rumpus:
If there is a central theme—better, a central philosophical concern—to Thrown, it is the relationship of ecstasy to precariousness.
Review of Ian McEwan’s The Children Act for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
And yet, unlike the great books, or even just the very entertaining ones, this novel has a certain quality of the school essay or the magazine assignment. It seems as if it were written in response to a prompt, and that makes it very bizarre.
Review of James Ellroy’s Perfidia for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
There are the books we like and the books we don’t like, and there is a wide borderland of ambivalence: books we sort of like; books that aren’t that bad. Then there is a fourth category. “Perfidia,” the newest novel by James Ellroy, is a book I admire, even though I have my doubts that it is actually good.
“The Last Book I Loved: Human Wishes/Enemy Combatant“ at The Rumpus:
At a moment when the New York Times Book Review section features fewer book reviews and more celebrity interviewees telling us about the Gladwell and Austen on their bedside table, when the same few dozen authors seem to appear on NPR with the frequency of The Four Seasons on the dwindling classical radio stations, there’s something thrilling and subversive and almost sexual about finding a novel (it was published by Say It With Stones, a small press that mostly publishes poetry) that bothers to think about what it is to be a novel
Review of Thomas Sweterlitsch’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
“Tomorrow and Tomorrow” is a bleak, gorgeous romp through a pornographic and political American id.