- (//2020)

At the Stranger's Gate - Adam Gopnik (4/14/2021)

My father’s advice when I left Canada for New York was simple: “Never underestimate the other person’s insecurity.” This was excellent counsel, and what trouble I would get into came mostly from forgetting it. Everyone, even the apparently powerful, is struggling inside with a raging fear of being unloved, or at least unappreciated, an emotion only magnified by the enormity of the city.

she loved “beautiful things” of all kinds. Okay. But what was astonishing to my teenage mind was that each beautiful thing was for her nestled in a kind of web of invisible wires, each tugging on scenes from old musicals and chapters from old books, from Mary Poppins to novels by Virginia Woolf, so that a Wedgwood plate or a tartan robe pulled with it, toward it, entire worlds of feeling that she longed for. For her, it was by being not strange and not new that things earned their beauty. They were familiar, but familiar not from a middle-class life in Canada; rather, from an imaginary life glimpsed in books and movie theaters, which she was determined to get to. Ever since she was small, she had been following the invisible wires that tugged on things from their point of origin, the places she longed for. The things also longed for their original homes, and if one simply followed them religiously enough, one might get there, too. The invisible wires all led away from Montreal, sweet though it was, away from family, loving though they might be, away from home. The invisible wires all led elsewhere.

New York real estate already raced ahead of all but the truly rich. A game of musical chairs was played, with music and no chairs. People mostly just sheltered in place, adding a loft bed high above as the child arrived, or having ingenious shaggy carpenters build hidden storage or renovate bathrooms. When we eventually managed a paint job, the painter assured us that it would “really open the place up.” Of course, nothing, aside from an explosion, could have managed to do so, but that didn’t matter.

We Few - Nick Brokhausen (3/27/2021)

It is considered unhealthy to be in the water when four or five grenades go off. If you are, you will come floating to the surface like everything else.

The door gunner is chewing gum as if he thinks that chewing fast enough will make him either bulletproof or invisible, preferably both.

The smell of a C-130 burning aviation fuel is distinct from a Huey. Each has its own set of memories and triggers. A C-130 means traveling with no one shooting at you, a Huey’s smell will give you an anus tightening for the rest of your life.

The Hell of it All - Charlie Brooker (3/13/2021)

I've got nothing against well-educated people, but it's hard to behave naturally in their presence. Often, when I'm talking to someone terribly clever, I find I'm concentrating so vehemently on disguising my own ignorance, I can scarcely hear them. My brain's worried that they're about to refer to some book I've never read, or use terms I don't understand, and I'm going to have to go into 'nodding mode', because the alternative - screwing up my face and going 'buh?' like a farmyard animal - is too humiliating to contemplate.

With his polarising views and divisive political campaigning, George is just the man to be fronting a makeover show, and the broadcast will doubtless be accompanied by the percussive sound of thousands of Christians enthusiastically smashing their foreheads against the wall with delight at the way they're represented. Still, let's not blame Channel 4. Let's forgive them. Just like Jesus n' shit, yeah?

And never was there a more sickening display of archetypal hat arrogance than ladies' day at Royal Ascot, which took place last week. The British press seems to view it as a harmless, tittersome annual tradition-cum-photo opportunity; a playful contest in which an assortment of leathery upper-class crones and willowy swan-necked debutantes compete to see who can wear the silliest piece of headgear...Royal gowns apparently woven from angel hair and diamond string. Countless sceptres and orbs. God knows why you'd need one sceptre, let alone a four-metre cabinet full of them, but here they were regardless, each more gilded and unnecessary than the last. P Diddy would look round the room and laugh at the absurdity. It took the concept of 'bling' and pushed it beyond comprehension.

My physique's wired up all wrong. Even if I sit indoors eating deep-fried cake for a month, my arms and legs stay skinny, while my neck and face swell up like wet dough. And my head's too big for my body anyway. In fact, I'm built like a novelty Pez dispenser. A disappointing one. The last one left in the shop, after all the Donald Ducks and Popeyes and even Geoff Hoons have gone. Thankfully, women are able to overlook such physical defects and see the person within. Or at least they can if it's a potential partner they're looking at. When they stand in front of a mirror, all that pent-up criticism comes rushing back and their brain reinterprets the image until all they can see is a flabby, unlovable sea cow staring back at them. It's demented, because even though men are shallow and fussy, we're also desperate. And this blinds us to much of this perceived blubber. Besides, extreme skinniness is horrendous. Ever had sex with an incredibly skinny person? It's like being attacked by a deckchair.

Consider the Lobster - David Foster Wallace (1/21/2021)

I’m guessing that for the young educated adults of the sixties and seventies, for whom the ultimate horror was the hypocritical conformity and repression of their own parents’ generation, Updike’s evection of the libidinous self appeared refreshing and even heroic. But young adults of the nineties — many of whom are, of course, the children of all the impassioned infidelities and divorces Updike wrote about so beautifully, and who got to watch all this brave new individualism and sexual freedom deteriorate into the joyless and anomic self-indulgence of the Me Generation —today’s subforties have very different horrors, prominent among which are anomie and solipsism and a peculiarly American loneliness: the prospect of dying without even once having loved something more than yourself.

As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it’s only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let’s-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. My personal experience has not been that traveling around the country is broadening or relaxing, or that radical changes in place and context have a salutary effect, but rather that intranational tourism is radically constricting, and humbling in the hardest way — hostile to my fantasy of being a true individual, of living somehow outside and above it all. (Coming up is the part that my companions find especially unhappy and repellent, a sure way to spoil the fun of vacation travel:) To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all non-economic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.

It’s actually not true that our literary culture is nihilistic, at least not in the radical sense of Turgenev’s Bazarov. For there are certain tendencies we believe are bad, qualities we hate and fear.Among these are sentimentality, naïveté, archaism, fanaticism. It would probably be better to call our own art’s culture now one of congenital skepticism. Our intelligentsia distrust strong belief, open conviction. Material passion is one thing, but ideological passion disgusts us on some deep level. We believe that ideology is now the province of the rival SIGs and PACs all trying to get their slice of the big green pie . . . and, looking around us, we see that indeed it is so. But Frank’s Dostoevsky would point out (or more like hop up and down and shake his fist and fly at us and shout) that if this is so, it’s at least partly because we have abandoned the field. That we’ve abandoned it to fundamentalists whose pitiless rigidity and eagerness to judge show that they’re clueless about the “Christian values” they would impose on others. To rightist militias and conspiracy theorists whose paranoia about the government supposes the government to be just way more organized and efficient than it really is. And, in academia and the arts, to the increasingly absurd and dogmatic Political Correctness movement, whose obsession with the mere forms of utterance and discourse show too well how effete and aestheticized our best liberal instincts have become, how removed from what’s really important — motive, feeling, belief.

back to top ⤴