General Ephemera: Post-Christmas Scraps, Tidbits, Recos, Trinkets, Footnotes, Scattershots, and Noble Rags

Somewhere deep in his Letters, Wallace Stevens admits that he never liked Christmas much because the holiday never lives up to advance billing. Being of a similar mind, I’m glad the man is not alive to see that Samsung commercial where this minor actor named Dax Shepard (yes, sentient human parents named him Dax) and his pregnant wife decorate their awful Silver Lake hill cube. (Google it if you want to rot inside a little.) And for a variety of boring reasons I’m not drinking this go-round, which makes the season even more tedious, so to stave off boredom-induced madness, I’ve scrawled some things on the digital wall . Get out your knife and fork and dig in.

  • Eliza Griswold is a wonderful young American poet. Like most poets, her readership is appallingly limited. This is her page at the Poetry (magazine) Foundation. You can buy her debut volume, Wideawake Field, here.
  • Turns out Twitter isn’t just for beefing about sports and harassing female journalists. Some writers have started experimenting with it as a platform for bursts that are worth reading closely, and right now the best Twitter scrivener going is Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet). Here is a link to his aptly titled “A Twitter Essay about Twitter Essays.” Writes Heer: “These are essays in the classical French sense of the word: essaying a topic: an attempt, a provisional thought, a notebook entry.” Imagine if Montaigne had an iPhone!
  • Denis Johnson has a new book out. Set in post-9/11 Africa, it is called The Laughing Monsters. Just ordered my copy. It will be very good. Do you know how I know that? Because Denis Johnson wrote it.
  • Sickened by all the Christmas saccharinalia on the radio? Here is TGR favorite Dwight Yoakam covering a Tom Jones song:

  • Paul Thomas Anderson has turned Thomas Pynchon’s novel Inherent Vice into what looks like a pretty good movie. But you should still read the book. It’s not Gravity’s Rainbow–it won’t kill you, unlike GR, which is much duller than its fame suggests. Want to read a huge Pynchon? Pick up Mason & Dixon.
  • Oh hey, David Lynch is rebooting Twin Peaks. Guess who has two thumbs and doesn’t care? *raises and tilts both thumbs* This guy! The show was leaden and lethargic the first time, but I had to pretend to like it during college and grad school, because all my friends said they adored it. Spoiler alert: Audrey died of meta-boredom.
  • After putting off Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory (1940) for years, I’m finally thigh-deep in its cold currents. Theory as to at least part of Greene’s genius: no novelist is better–though a few are just as good–at subtly using his characters’ psychological states to form the epistemological tenor of the narrative universe, without employing first-person narration or hammy metaphors. For stretches of his best books, a mind shades a world that is still far more than that single mind. This is not Ruskin’s pathetic fallacy: the encompassing world remains ontologically other, it is just that we access it through such masterful filtrations. In other words, Greene takes free indirect style to the VIP level.
  • Before Tinder and OK Cupid and the less libidinous social-media platforms arose to try and distract us from our natural state of crawling loneliness, some mad souls kept the lights on by writing stuff like Notes from Underground (Dostoevsky’s idealist jilted and horrified by the impossibility of perfecting mankind) and In Memoriam A.H.H., Lord Tennyson’s at-times-unbearable cry of anguish over the early death of his best friend. While some associate professors might disagree regarding the latter, neither text is sexual or romantic; both speak to and from within the marrow-grade loneliness one feels when sitting in front of a Mark Rothko painting or listening to Astral Weeks. If you can get through In Memoriam without weeping a couple times, get thee to a doctor.
  • You’ll weep for the sins–the ongoing sins–of America if you read “The Case for Reparations,” the 2014 essay that announced Ta-Nehisi Coates as one of the language’s great young essayists. Erudite, methodical, heart-stopping.
  • Check out my former colleague Robert Samuels’s eminently readable Why Public Higher Education Should Be Free (2013). Samuels’s core thesis is that instead of funneling billions into colleges and universities via federal loans, grants, and byzantine tax breaks which individual students then use to pay tuition, the money could be given directly to schools, who would in turn offer tuition-free education. Sounds bracingly simple, right? But then creditors, including the federal government, would lose that deep, swift stream of interest payments on all those loans, loans that, unlike every other form of consumer debt, cannot be refinanced or discharged in bankruptcy. (My own from graduate school are locked in at 6.8 percent, more than double the prime rate as reported by the Wall Street Journal.) If you die, your next of kin are on the hook for the balance. And that’s why Samuels’s book, smart and humane as it is, will never affect education policy in the current American political economy.
  • The Washington Post’s Radley Balko has the best journalist name, and his book Rise of the Warrior Cop will scare the bejesus out of you. It is a chilling chronicle of the United States’ ongoing decline into a threadbare security state where carbines, tear gas, and razor wire protect the ruling ten percent from the rest of us when we aren’t busy fighting over Black Friday sales.
  • Finally, here is a thing that is funny, one of the best sight/editing gags from The Simpsons

May the new year leave you in peace, dear general readers.

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Everybody’s Readin’ for the Weekend: Some General Links

The weekend—the weekend, first of the NFL season—is approaching like an ecstatic freight train, way better than the phallic ice-locomotive in those Coors Light commercials. We at the Reader have gathered some edifying texts, jams, and sundries to share. None of them are football-related, so don’t worry if you aren’t into wonderful things like sports. (You philistine.)

  • Because I’m a bearded person who teaches college in America in 2014, most people assume that my beliefs are smugly left-wing (COEXIST sticker on my Prius and all that), which I suppose in some sense they are. Heads might explode or spin around cartoon-style when I say that I’m a conservative. Conservative how? Basically—here is my elevator talk—conservatism is a general philosophical orientation that sees change as something that ideally occurs within durable sociocultural traditions and institutions; or, failing that, something that unfolds carefully and gradually in opposition to (or as a replacement for) such traditions and institutions. It is a broad attitude toward the historical world, not a collection of particular ideas, and so one could potentially hold views that code as USA LIBERAL but still be a conservative. I’m with Edmund Burke: conservatism is not inherently anti-change. It is just hesitant to approve of change simply because it is change. For example, to support nationwide marriage equality, a.k.a. Gay Marriage, is to take a fundamentally conservative position, because (and I’m repeating Andrew Sullivan here)  it boils down to inviting new cohorts of Americans into a socioeconomically valuable tradition wherein people commit to each other, buy homes, raise kids, and join local communities. Or: even lefty humanities professors are conservative, to the extent that they have bought into the idea that it is worth shielding universities from contemporary market whims. But most of the time, no one buys my shit about this, so it was comforting to see that four years ago Jonny Thakkar, a philosopher who teaches at Princeton, explained the position much more eloquently, organizing his essay “Why Conservatives Should Read Marx” around the tension between free-market ideology (with its emphasis on disruption, global hyper-networking, the flattening of local difference, and the fluid distribution of abstract capital) and conservatism (with its supposed devotion to history, prudence, care, continuity, and stability). As Thakkar points out, it is strange to hear American Republicans proclaiming themselves “free-market conservatives.” Left conservatism, as he puts it, is possible.
  • Here is a YouTube link to the British-born, Nashville-dwelling composer/soul-singer Jamie Lidell’s best song, the title single from his 2005 album Multiply. Play it loud on your iPhone, maybe on the bus, like a dickhead teenager. Trust me, it’s still hot nine years later. I have read that the TV show Grey’s Anatomy, which I don’t watch, used it in some way a few years ago, which is fucking gross. Welcome to capitalism. This nuke-hot track isn’t quite the Dusty Springfield Experience (that moment of first hearing a white singer whose voice would immediately suggest that s/he is African American), but you get a hint of that when Lidell starts hitting those drawn-out vowels around 1:40.

  • Last week Sinclair McKay (what a name!) wrote a deft trifle for the London Telegraph, reviewing Olivia Williams’s Gin, Glorious Gin: How Mother’s Ruin Became the Spirit of London (Headline, 2014). A lovely little book, sounds like. McKay’s review is sharp, too. But allow me to remind everyone that, in terms of pure carnival force, the gold standard of gin-depictions remains William Hogarth’s Beer Street vs. Gin Lane paintings (1751), those exuberant reactions to eighteenth-century London which transcend their immediate historical circumstances and embody larger Anglo-American fears about drugs, as well as our often-misplaced faith in the possibility of prudent self-restraint.

BeerStreet - William Hogarth

Intoxicated people are enjoying (and exploiting) other bodies, and Industry is the standard of one’s social value (or absence of it), and modern urban buildings are beginning to exist! Welcome to capitalism. Hogarth’s middle-class voluptuousness will appeal to visually oriented contemporary audiences. In conclusion, gin is so great. In moderation. Or not in moderation. Whatever.

GinLane -William Hogarth

  • Adam Gopnik remains a crowd-pleaser, his essays erudite and affable. His punningly titled recent article in The New Yorker, “Heaven’s Gaits” (hi-yo!), starts with biomechanical science but shifts to the para-biological realm of cultural history: the lure of walking in big cities, taking in the enormous buffet of faces that Walt Whitman loved. Worth your time, reader. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell that you that there are also some captivating academic studies of walking out there. No, really. They are smooth reads. Accessible. Stop laughing like that! Anyway, here are three favorites: Ian Marshall, Peak Experiences: Walking Meditations on Literature, Nature, and Need (University of Virginia Press, 2003); Roger Gilbert Walks in the World (Northeastern UP, 1991), which is, fair warning, all about poetry; Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking (Penguin, 2001).
  • The Canadian critic Jeet Heer consistently drops intellectual fire on Twitter. If the idea of breaking an already short essay into tweets strikes you as superficial and dumb, you might be surprised by how much liberal intelligence Heer wrings from the Twitter-essay genre. Check out his recent series on why Sideshow Bob is a fascinating Simpsons character. What does it mean to be a “cultural elitist” like Bob? Can you even actually be one in contemporary mass America? Well, can you? Heer pokes that beast. Fantastic.

Have a lovely weekend, y’all. Wear sunscreen and don’t take the brown acid.

Required Reading: “The State of the American Dog”

Hi, I’m Ryan, and sometimes I wish the Internet were made of paper. I worry about our culture’s mind as we transition to a heavily visual, Cloud-hosted mode of living; I distrust the conceit that the humanities will survive and perhaps even prosper through digitization; and I dislike that popular Web writing is often bracketed by and/or sliced up with images that distract readers, myself included, who nonetheless feel anxious without images in view. As a discursive conservative, I think writing-intensive, preferably printed texts are better at conveying complex ideas and feeding thought.

But it would be stupid to claim that these texts are always superior to visually intensive media when it comes to serious inquiry. Done well, hybrid digital texts can rise to the level of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Tom Junod’s essay “The State of the American Dog,” published this week in Esquire (a magazine I’ve griped about before), is in that league. The article would be staggering on its own, but the gallery of pictures that accompanies it might cause things to get a little, uh, misty near your computer. Junod builds the text around his family’s experience owning pit bulls (Dexter and the late Carson), beautiful, emotionally intuitive animals whose lives provide the basis for an ethnography of America that doesn’t reflect well on us. Ever met a pit bull or a pit mix? If their owner isn’t a creep, then that dog is probably one of the best creatures you’ll ever encounter. Pitties are built like high-school wrestlers and bond quickly with people.

The problem is, pits are built like high-school wrestlers and bond quickly with people, which means that terrible humans can easily train them to fight other dogs and generally project menace. The fact that such reptiles are a small minority of owners does not matter much at this point, because for thirty years American popular media has slotted pit bulls into paranoid cultural fantasies about race (the canine lieutenant of black/brown gang-bangers FROM THE CITY), while at the same time the breed has fallen victim to the worst impulses of a frantically consumerist society. (When Junod describes watching a young professional casually dump her pet at a shelter before work because her new condo doesn’t allow dogs, you’ll want to scream for several reasons.) What this means is that today Petey from Our Gang would most likely die in a shelter or on the street.

The demographic shifts that are transforming America’s human population find a mirror in the demographic shifts that are transforming America’s canine one, with the same effect: More and more we become what we somehow can’t abide. We might accept pit bulls personally, but America still doesn’t accept them institutionally, where it counts; indeed, apartment complexes and insurance companies are arrayed in force against them. And so are we: For although we adopt them by the thousands, we abandon them by the millions. The ever-expanding population of dogs considered pit bulls feeds an ever-expanding population of dogs condemned as pit bulls, and we resolve this rising demographic pressure in the way to which we’ve become accustomed: in secret, and in staggering numbers. We have always counted on our dogs to tell us who we are. But what pit bulls tell us is that who we think we are is increasingly at odds with what we’ve turned out to be.

Gore Vidal liked to point out that Americans (“The United States of Amnesia”) don’t have much of a historical memory unless memory suits a present desire. It strikes me that this also enables us to feel less and less shame about how little our contemporary institutions and behaviors resemble the founding theory of America. As Junod has it:

America is two countries now—the country of its narrative and the country of its numbers, with the latter sitting in judgment of the former. In the stories we tell ourselves, we are nearly always too good: too soft on criminals, too easy on terrorists, too lenient with immigrants, too kind to animals. In the stories told by our numbers, we imprison, we drone, we deport, and we euthanize with an easy conscience and an avenging zeal.

But hey, they’re vicious kill-beasts, so they had it coming.

What’s Old Is New

A few summers back, I taught a course on representations of the “American Dream” in novels after 1980. As is the case with most summer classes taught by grad students, the syllabus was a slapdash affair dreamed up while I was finishing my dissertation and stressing about what would happen when the school cut off my funding and health insurance in a few months. So yeah, I readily concede that my reading list (Don DeLillo’s White Noise, John Rechy’s The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gomez, Chuck Palahniuk’s Survivor, and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad) wasn’t some comprehensive journey through Reaganomics, Clinton’s sexual neoliberalism, and the Bushes’, well, Bushness. It wasn’t meant to be. Mostly, I was just hoping to get some kids living exclusively in their swimsuits in Isla Vista for the summer to read a few books and to think about how we’ve all been set up in this country to have massive expectations that rarely match up with the lives we lead. I wanted them to think about how disappointment, denial, selling out, addiction, and making do are inherent in the American Dream, so that they might, to borrow a bit from Faulkner’s grandest drunk, Father Compson, “forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all of [their] breath trying to conquer it.” If literature really is, as Kenneth Burke claims, “equipment for living,” I was trying to give them some matches to burn down the houses they’ll never be able to afford anyway.

But then many of them didn’t bother to read a damn word of any of the books. So much for productive arson. There were, of course, a few kids who kept up with the reading, and I remember a couple even coming to my office hours every now and then to talk about what whether Rechy is a racist and/or a sexist (no), if they are allowed to laugh at Survivor (of course), and what DeLillo was trying to say (figure it out for yourself). I was already long past the point where I took students not reading personally. I mean, how can postmodern American literature possibly compete with this?

In the second-to-last week of the class, I had to leave town for a couple days to attend a wedding in New York. I had planned to show a movie, Richard Linklater’s Slacker, during the periods I would miss, and since it’s a little long, I anticipated being back in time to watch the end with them. The wedding was great, and my trip to New York turned out to be a memorable one when Hurricane Irene decided to strafe Manhattan and turn the place into a weird party ghost town. It was some serious I Am Legend shit walking through the deserted canyons of the city the morning after the storm. Lingering gusts would pick up the occasional chair and throw it across the street, but that seemed like a reasonable price to pay for a New York minute most would never experience. One problem: my flight back to California was cancelled. This meant that I would miss the end of the film, and given how packed the rest of the summer session would be, I figured I wouldn’t get a chance to talk to the students about how Slacker fit into the story our course syllabus was trying to tell.

Much to my surprise, my students forced the issue and demanded that we talk about the movie. Some hated it and wanted to vent. Others, though, were furious at these kids, and explained why it not only fit into the course, but was a really important movie. One girl who hadn’t said anything throughout the semester was particularly moved by the film, and said that it made her feel awful about all the time she’d wasted not trying to make art. This is exactly the kind of thing I’d hoped the novels in the course would inspire someone to say, but I wasn’t expecting that a plotless 20-year-old film about stoners, nerds, and other assorted weirdos in Austin, TX would speak to them. I put it on the syllabus because it was a movie I loved, and because I needed to show a film.

I now realize that I should have seen this coming. Students (yes, even English majors) routinely tell me that they “don’t have time to read,” and we live in an increasingly visual culture. Hell, even the respected business reporter Felix Salmon recently declared himself “post-text.” He writes:

Text has had an amazing run, online, not least because it’s easy and cheap to produce. When it comes to digital storytelling, however, the possibilities — at least if you have the kind of resources that Fusion has — are much, much greater. I want to do immersive digital stuff, I want to make animations, I want to use video, I want to experiment with new ways of communicating in a new medium. I can do all of that at Fusion.

My summer class was a few years back, but this kind of thing was already shaping my students’ minds. Text is just so boring and, well, textual. Still, I was stunned that a film as loose as Slacker made some of them think about anything other than what they might need to remember to pass my reading quizzes, which one student called “the bain (sic) of my existence” in a course evaluation. I am particularly proud of that one.

*

About a year ago, I wrote that Steven Soderbergh may go down as the most important mainstream filmmaker of his generation. I stand by this statement, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Coens or Wes Anderson are in the conversation too. And after watching the trailer for Richard Linklater’s new film, Boyhood, I kind of wish I’d mentioned Linklater in the same breath as Soderbergh. I can’t help thinking of one and not the other. Like Soderbergh, the diversity of Linklater’s projects sets him apart from other directors. While Anderson’s films have a stylistic consistency, there isn’t a “Richard Linklater look” (other than the fact that the guy himself is in his 50s, but looks about 35). He’s made rotoscoped movies, slick Hollywood comedies, a real-time dramatic adaptation, a gonzo travel show, and, for my money, one of the best and most consistent (from film to film) trilogies ever shot. And this list doesn’t include Dazed and Confused, the best movie about high school and salmon-colored pants ever made.

Linklater’s latest film is perhaps his most experimental. Boyhood tells a simple story about a kid between the ages of six and eighteen, but it has taken twelve years to finish shooting. This isn’t due to some power struggle with a studio, as was the case with Kenneth Lonergan’s excellent movie, Margaret. No, this was by design, as the film uses the same child actor, Ellar Coltrane, throughout. Filmed for a few weeks each summer, Boyhood features Linklater’s frequent collaborator, Ethan Hawke, and Patricia Arquette as Coltrane’s divorced parents. Hawke’s role in the movie is particularly interesting, as it means he was involved in two long-term projects with Linklater, including two installments of the Before Trilogy (Before Sunset and Before Midnight) over the course of shooting Boyhood.

As the world becomes more “post-text,” Linklater may be the mainstream filmmaker best positioned to bring the virtues of the novel into film. Hollywood movies have been eschewing long takes in favor of MTV-style quick cuts (Soderbergh is the master of this) for decades now, but Linklater’s process, and his products like Waking Life and the Before Trilogy (which may get even more installments in the future) reveal a commitment to the idea that the fullness of time is integral to understanding relationships between people and ideas. Tweets and shorts are great, but the bildungsroman has been the most durable narrative form because we’re all fascinated by the idea that moments within the thousands of days we’ve lived have determined where we are, and that unknown moments will determine where we will go. The moments need context in order to resonate, and context is what Linklater depicts through dialogue, visual metaphor, and implied scope better than any director today. Watch the trailer for Boyhood to see what I mean.

Monday Beats: Straight Outta Gainesville

Tom Petty is a man. A man who draws deep water on this website. A man from Florida who made an album. An album that came out 25 years ago, when Tom Petty himself was a robust 39.* An album called Full Moon Fever. An album that you would almost certainly enjoy, general readers.

Having been a teenager during the mid- to late-1990s stage of Petty’s fame, when MTV and M2 (long since renamed MTV2) were still actually curating videos by famous and sub-famous musicians alike, I got a heavy dose of the strange, intermittently brilliant visual complements to the Petty singles that were all over the radio, and kind of still are, if you limit your definition of “radio” to classic-rock stations in large American cities.

This video, for example, is fantastic. It gives you plenty of smirking, lowbrow meta-textuality, and besides Petty doing his stoned-Mad-Hatter thing at the front and back ends, you get the elaborate hair of Jeff Lynne and George Harrison, complex shirts all around, and Ringo Starr looking like a blind Muppet (I’ve been told this final association only makes sense to me). The camera goes all sorts of places, y’all. Fun. As a visual text it befits “I Won’t Back Down,” my favorite of the album’s ten songs (when my favorite isn’t “The Apartment Song” or “Yer So Bad”), all of which are near-perfect articulations of transatlantic (but still distinctly American) garage-pop.

Tom Petty with his flimsy hair and that dry suggestion of a twang, what a mensch. A man without a home country, having adopted LA after escaping north Florida, his audience is getting older. That’s a shame. Many people in their teens and 20s would dig Full Moon Fever. I bumped it in my Camry when I was seventeen; my dad and I both liked it. In aesthetic terms, its cover is pure bedroom-poster material. Young people, you need not relinquish your skateboards and body sprays to embrace Tom Petty!

The opening riff of “I Won’t Back Down” slices and lingers, establishing a basic sadness that persists beneath the song’s general catchiness and collaborative ethos. The lyrics, rigged as urgent couplets and more spacious choruses, mirror this tension. Like Petty’s incomparable voice they seem resigned to being optimistic.

NOTES
* The 3/31 “Hollywood Prospectus” podcast on Grantland drew the date to my attention. I am indifferent to large swaths of the pop-culture landscape that Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan have taken as their bailiwick, but they are thoughtful dudes, and they spend the last twenty minutes of this episode talking about why Tom Petty’s music is amazing.

 

 

 

Keep the Post-Christmas Depression at Bay

I’m always struck by how few Christmas movies are broadcast on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. You basically have to watch A Christmas Story (according to Twitter, I might be the only person who still likes that movie) twelve times or go without. So I probably should have posted this before Christmas so that folks could have supplemented what was a pretty boring slate of basketball games (the teams in New York should be ashamed) with my favorite Christmas movie from childhood, A Muppet Family Christmas.

Muppets, the Sesame Street gang, AND the Fraggles? It’s like a supergroup that doesn’t suck (probably because it doesn’t feature Ted Nugent). Unfortunately, this version of the movie doesn’t feature the original commercials from the television broadcast, but it’s still a good reminder that Christmas specials don’t need to have special guest appearances by reality TV “personalities” or country music stars. They can just tell simple stories about people (or strange talking animals and things) who want to hang out and sing. Happy Boxing Day!

Sunday Night Links

As the frozen moon called North America upon which many of our readers live continues to darken, its daylight progressively emaciated and its nights positively steroidal, your cortex needs food. Here are some links. Take, eat. Stay warm.

  • Advertisements that use kids to sell grown-up commodities like cars and cable packages are repulsive. Just look at this and this, and try to ignore that sad, green revulsion mushrooming in your chest. “We want more, we want more.” Or don’t, and just take our word for it. An Urban Outfitters ad for cancer-style skinny jeans wouldn’t be much worse.
  • David Foster Wallace could be a bad TV guest, like many (maybe most) writers. If you tend to consider your words and think about whether the complicated answer you are about to give is plausible, then most TV hosts won’t know what to do with you. But when Wallace sat down with a German station in 2003 the results, which are on YouTube, were riveting. Here is the man himself talking about how pleasure within market societies can be a form of slavery; and here he is admitting how small the demand for serious writing is, compared to the immensity of the American fear of silence; and later homie gets to the paranoid wastage of the Bush years.
  • There is plenty more Wallace material on YouTube and for cheap on the usual book-buying sites, so do your brain a favor and stop watching Glee or reading Twitter or buying linen scarves or whatever, because as long as people read English, people will read Wallace. Chances are that reading him will make you at least a little happier. He’s consistently on the aesthetic and thematic level of his gregarious, crowd-loving forebears (e.g. Austen, Dickens, Faulkner, Pynchon, Rabelais, Dostoevsky), which is rare enough; most writers are just lucky to occasionally do something comparable to what an influential presence did. He’s one of those writers whose work gives enormous pleasure to a lot of well-read people. As such, anyone who dismisses his work outright (which is very different from saying that you don’t personally like his work*) is likely a pedant whose opinions aren’t worth listening to. Samuel Johnson is right: if a book is long esteemed, it is good, to the extent that we can ever define “good.”
  • Unfortunately we live in a USA where writers have to remind people that public colleges should be free for Americans prepared for college-level work. A democracy must be seriously deranged if its members have trouble with that principle, but many Americans are only OK with spending public funds on simultaneous trillion-dollar wars in multiple theaters. This means that the USA has some serious problems, given the current national acceptance of five-figure in-state tuition bills and leagues of alumni who carry five- or six-figure debt loads. But that shit has a righteous foe in Sarah Kendzior, whose work you should follow. It is great: sarahkendzior.com. American higher-education systems may have gutted their faculty (the loan racket helped), but many of the castaways are vicious writers. Have hope. TGR is roping together some logs in the ship’s wake.
  • High art is not always pleasant. (Just ask anyone who has looked at a Francis Bacon.) I say this because someone recently put together a file of every “YEEAH-UUH!” that Metallica’s frontman James Hetfield has ever barked, snarled, rasped, or sneered. Though conceptually beautiful, it might drive you insane after 45 seconds. Seriously, don’t listen too closely unless you are already a metalhead.

* I don’t like Austen, just as I dislike Woolf’s novels (besides Mrs. Dalloway), but  I wouldn’t pretend that either isn’t worth reading for a person wanting to know more about the canon.