April 28, 2014
"Spinster, referring to an unmarried woman, is a whole lot more negative-sounding than bachelor, unmarried male. A bachelor connotes an idea of a fun, handsome, available male with the power to choose his mate. A spinster sounds like a woman who has been unchosen, left to the side. It really reflects the way society portrays these two populations, especially in 19th century literature."
Over at Ohio Edit, my new Reading the Tarot column is up, and this one is about the Nine of Cups. I refer to it as the spinster card. Only, spinster Coco Chanel, not spinster Miss Havisham. Certainly not spinster Jane Austen, whose novels always seemed to have that angle, about how dreadful it must be to be outside of a man's sphere of protection. No self-hating spinsters. Spinster as in Henry James.
Men can be spinsters, too. Bachelor always seemed like the pejorative word to me. It suggests prolonged adolescence, a man constantly needing to take his willy out to receive outside confirmation that yes, it is so very impressive, yes it works, let’s just get on with it already. But spinster, that has a dignity to it.
There are very few writers who bothered to think that maybe one could be single and not go crazy from the despair. Henry James did it a few times. W Somerset Maugham had wonderful spinsters. (But then with his marriage, abusive and suffocating as it was, he must have thought not being married would be the most amazing thing in the whole wide world.) Barbara Pym. But for the most part, writers have spinsters being loony or dullwitted, twisted up emotionally, or forever searching for The One. Fuck that. All hail the great spinsters of literature.
April 25, 2014
"In the New York Times, I saw a photo of a very old lesbian couple–they were probably close to 90, and they couldn’t get married in the state where they lived, and they were talking about how cruel it was, that people who had such a long-term relationship were not going to be able to get that certificate. And all I could think to myself was, “You mean you think your relationship is incomplete unless the whole world applauds you? Does that make your relationship more meaningful? What do you want from this certificate? I mean, these ladies had lived through the most oppressive of times. Now they wanted to be accepted and patted on the head by the people who had probably made them miserable for 60 years of their life? “What is the matter with you?” I thought; and I began to get furious."
This whole interview with Bruce Benderson, from beginning to end, is treasure. I've been reading the pamphlet under discussion in the interview, from the Semiotext(e) series, "Against Marriage." One of its charms is the unearthing of the history of the cicisbeo, the male prostitute or companion who would be paid by a woman to provide company. Sometimes this was for sex, but often times it was just for company. Women married men for property and social position, but they had the cicisbeo to take them to the opera, talk to them, show an interest in their conversation, talk to them about art and music and fashion.
Which made me think:
a) now taking applicants for my own cicisbeo
b) I am willing to be hired out to women, I will dress in drag and take you to the opera and I will whisper dirty things in your ear and then after we will go get some flammkuchen
I will be good at this, you should email me.
From "Against Marriage":
The historical documents describing the institution that makes hearts flutter today -- and flares the temper of those denied entrance into it -- were little more than the details of a domestic partnership about money, wills, land ownership and succession, or a way to avoid the alleged sins of the flesh. This brings us to wonder why, today, amidst the shambles of the brief life of marriage for love, more people left out of the equation aren't struggling instead to institute a hardy form of domestic partnership rather than the right to walk around in a deluded dream state wearing synthetic satins and rented tuxedos. The only answer to this is that marriage confers an indefinable legitimacy to a person as a human being and upstanding citizen. It is good for little more than symbolic identity. This not only becomes evident by the early years of the Common Era when the Church began to make grist of the institution for its morality mills, but centuries before, in a Foucaultian analysis of Greek and then Roman attitudes about marriage, all of which were in some way related to notions of authenticity. In other words, even way back then, and just like many of the girls of my Baby Boomer generation, you just had to be married in order to be somebody.
April 24, 2014
Image: Detail from Titania and Bottom by Fuseli
It's funny, I keep giving tarot readings where the Six of Coins plays a very pivotal role in someone's reading. It was the last card I wrote about for the Ohio Edit Reading the Tarot column, but it won't go to bed, the card keeps reappearing and making me think about it.
Here's how I described the card in my column:
Coins cards often have to do with money, but also simply value. Money is just one of the most obvious ways we express what we value. When I pull this card in someone else’s reading, I ask how they are expressing what they value. Do they value Chase Bank? If not, why are they putting their money there instead of in a local bank? Do they value the Christian fundamentalists who run Forever 21? If not, why do they have their clothing in their closets? Do they value the New Yorker worldview? If not, why are they subscribers?
The complaint comes, that it’s exhausting to think about where their money is going, the worthiness of the corporations they support, weeding through all of the other options that are out there. And yet, isn’t that why we are here? To live consciously? Not to zombie our ways through our entire existences? A Six of Coins card can draw our attention to our wallets, that place we shudder to contemplate, that place we want to be the most mindless because money pulls on our anxiety like nothing else. But it asks us — are our scales balanced?
And when I do readings now, it almost invariably shows up in the Advice position or in the Next Step position of my clients. And so I say to them: you have some accounting to do. Part of what the Six of Coins asks us is, who are we supporting with our money? How can we interrupt the flow of money to corporations we would rather not support? It's not about saving the world through shopping, it's about holding yourself accountable for your participation in the current system.
Six of Coins Reading List
Capital in the Twenty First Century by Thomas Piketty
A great book, an interesting thinker, and he deserves all of the attention he's been getting for this. I mean, you might need to interrupt your reading to vomit occasionally, when you realize that the reasonable modifications and regulations he's suggesting would never in a million years be enacted in the United States, not until Las Vegas turns into The Road from the lack of water and San Francisco resembles a field after a plague of locusts settle in, and maybe not even then. That's the downside of understanding a problem, though.
Gentrification of the Mind by Sarah Schulman
Schulman is very good not only on how cities are ruined by money but also by the aspiration for money, for marriage, for bland homogeneity. But I've written about this book before, extensively.
Monoculture by FS Michaels
Michaels lays down very simply how the only way we seem to express and measure value anymore is through money, and how that did not always used to be the case. Also, what that has done to our culture. It's a very brief book, one of those books that will take two days to read and then will change how you see everything in the world.
The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde
A lot of my friends right now are struggling. Their work isn't supporting them, and so they worry they are failures. Some are having to leave the cities where they live, because they've been priced out, and they don't know where to go. Hyde helps us to remember how to value our own work, even if the world is not valuing it in the form of cash. This is a lesson I have to personally learn over and over and over.
April 23, 2014
In honor of the feast day of St. George (that would be today), we're making our Medieval issue of Spolia available for $1.00.
Contents of "Medieval":
Brush Up Your Chaucer from Kiss Me, Tommy!
by Charles Bernstein
Periodism: Prejudice Against the Middle Ages
by John V. Fleming
by Viktor Horváth, translated by Judith Sollosy
Introductions by Adam Talib
The Other Half
by John Biguenet
by Helen Ivory
Dante, Paradiso. Canto I:
translated by Eleanor Johnson
Pariahs: A Bestiary
by Patrick Stuart
Series of Old English Metrical Charms
translated by Eleanor Johnson
King of Hearts, Queen of Spades, excerpt from Hex
by Sarah Blackman
To Smell, not with the Nose but with the Skin of Cheeks
by Natalya Gorbanevskaya, translated by Misha Semenov
The Holy City, Dream & The Traveler—excerpt from The Realm of the Occult
by Azareen van der Vliet Oloomi
The Words of Lalla
translated by Sonam Kachru
An Excerpt from Selections from the Art of Party Crashing in Medieval Iraq
by Al-khatib Al-baghdadi, translated by Emily Selove
April 22, 2014
Daphne Nominee Spotlight: The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford
Let’s take a quick look at a late but worthy addition to the Daphne nominees--The American Way of Death, Jessica Mitford’s exposé of the funeral industry in America. At a time when the average yearly income was $5,600, the average funeral was likely to cost over a thousand dollars. Mitford lampooned the excessiveness of the price tag and many elements of the funeral itself, meant to capitalize on the grief of the bereaved. An updated revision, The American Way of Death Revisited, was released in 1998, a timely reminder of our funereal extravagances in the age of the space burial.
Read an excerpt from her book as it appeared in The Atlantic in 1963, under the title “The Undertaker’s Racket.”
For more on Jessica Mitford and The American Way of Death, here are a few pieces from around the web:
“A muckraker had been born, one whose spirits would forever be as high as her dudgeon. Disguising her nervousness—she sometimes preceded a difficult phone call with a stiff drink—she learned to dig for the dirty secret and the suspicion-raising fact. “
-- Thomas Mallon, “Red Sheep: How Jessica Mitford found her voice” | The New Yorker
Shortly after her collected letters were published, Thomas Mallon wrote this piece on the life of Jessica Mitford, the lone Communist “red sheep” of the otherwise fascist-leaning Mitford family.
“It was Mitford who got ordinary people talking… Her take-charge, do-it-yourself message helped liberate Americans from the rigid rules and roles they were eager to cast off, as they were beginning to do in so many other areas of life.”
-- Bess Lovejoy, “Fond Farewells” | Lapham’s Quarterly
Bess Lovejoy reconsiders Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death in Lapham Quarterly’s Death issue.
“I always say, ‘I just want the best.’ Six black horses with white plumes, and I certainly want to be embalmed, because the embalmers claim they can make you look 20 years younger.”
-- Jessica Mitford, interviewed in 1996 in the SF Gate on The American Way of Death and her own burial plans.
A most unusual charge, against the regimental goat-major (a corporal), was first framed as lese majesty, but later reduced to ‘disrespect to an officer: in that he, at Wrexham — on such and such a date — did prostitute the Royal Goat, being the gift of His Majesty, the Colonel-in-Chief, from His Royal Herd at Windsor, by offering its stud services for a fee to ___, Esq., farmer and goat breeder, of Wrexham.’ Though the goat-major pleaded that he had done this out of consideration for the goat, to which he was much attached, the Colonel reduced him to the ranks and took away his job.
Robert Graves, motherfuckers. From Goodbye to All That
April 18, 2014
Image: The Unmade Bed by Imogen Cunningham
Semiotext(e) created a pamphlet collection for the Whitney Biennial. They published chapbooks by some of my favorite writers: Simone Weil, Bifo, Eileen Myles, Abdellah Taia. It's a huge collection of work, so I've only started to go through them, but Jackie Wang's "Against Innocence" is a stunner, and Franco "Bifo" Berardi's "Neuro Totalitarianism" is apparently the philosophical critique of the tech culture I've been waiting for. (Rebecca Solnit's cultural critique of Silicon Valley is just as powerful.)
While we are fetishizing, when will Seagull start getting the loyalty and love that NYRB, Melville House, Dalkey Archive, and other publishers that seem to get their own wall in clever independent bookstores get? They do fucking amazing, beautiful books. Francois Morin's A World Without Wall Street? should be read alongside Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
And while you're supporting good independent publishers, don't forget about us. Our second chapbook may have sold out, but we still have copies of Daphne Gottlieb's "Bess" and John Biguenet's "The Other Half," all lovingly handmade and illustrated and gorgeous. And of course we are already working on numbers four and five.
I don't know why I am in sales pitch mode, but just a word about Spolia* itself: we decided that the best way to pay our contributors would just to split the proceeds evenly between everyone, so that is what we are doing now. When you buy an issue for $5, or subscribe for $50, that money goes directly to our writers. I'm not even taking a cut at this point, since we're new and fledgling and not yet the powerhouse I am certain we will be, once people realize what incredible writers Rebecca Brown, Daphne Gottlieb, Mia Gallagher, Gary Armdahl, Joanna Kavenna and our other regulars are, not to mention the people who swing by for just a visit instead of moving right in, like Sjon and Mikhail Shishkin and Curtis White and Viktor Horvath and jesus christ all of the others. Hopefully that will happen before we are all dead, so someone other than heirs gets the money.
I'm trying to be very Six of Coins! Conscientious about where my money goes and how that expresses what I value. To like an insane degree I am doing this. Today I am expressing my value of the company that makes German organic rhubarb soda, those fuckers are geniuses, and Robert Graves**. As well as Powells, our new affiliate partner.
* Speaking of Spolia, I am looking for someone to write an essay about Vivian Maier for our upcoming issue. I am interested in this process of turning a "forgotten" woman into a cash making machine for the men who discovered her negatives. If you're interested, please get in touch.
** Someone please please please put this movie back into production.
April 16, 2014
Image: Two Nudes by Marguerite Zorach
Some odds and ends:
- I wrote a short piece for Mystic Medusa marking the one year anniversary of not having a place of my own, one year of living out of a suitcase. (Trigger warning for people anti-astrology -- it's an astrology website. One that I like. But I do talk about my Virgo moon conjunct Odysseus, wouldn't want you to go in there unprepared.) I've noticed, both in the comments over there a little and in the interactions I've had in the past year or so, that if you tell people that you have decided to fuck off and travel for a long period of time, they will assume that someone else is paying for it, a man of some sort, or that you "come from money." And if you say, no, actually, I make a pretty insignificant amount of money, but I know how to spend that money very wisely, and I've been supporting myself financially since I was 19, they don't necessarily believe you.
I think it's maybe being a woman. I have no proof for this, so that can be a miscalculation, but I think it is partly because we don't have a lot of stories of women on the road, it is such a man thing to do. Bruce Chatwin, the Durrells, Henry Miller, all the way down to Anthony Bourdain, right? It's not that women travelers don't exist, but they are not iconic. A lot of them are out of print. Freya Stark, Ella Maillart, Gertrude Bell, Isabel Burton. Only Burton, really, went on adventuring because of a husband, the other were very independent. The only iconic woman traveler we have is... Elizabeth Gilbert? Who was, let's say, privately funded and didn't exactly do us women on the road any favors.
So read some women travel writers. Just nothing that mentions yoga or ashrams.
- The woman artist here, Marguerite Zorach, while in Paris and needing to go back to New York, traveled through Europe, North Africa, South Asia, Indonesia and then by steamer over the Pacific and then by train. I think this was in 1910, I forgot to write the year down. WHERE IS HER BOOK. (Oh right, out of print.)
- Terjei Vesaas's The Ice Palace is exquisite, why is this so obscure? In the bookstore that I run in my mind, there is a room for The Strange Inner Worlds of Young Girls, and The Ice Palace is there, with Kathryn Davis's The Thin Place and The Secret Garden, and Heavenly Creatures and The Picnic at Hanging Rock play endlessly on a loop. Except for at night, when we play Stoker.
- We have switched affiliate programs, from Amazon to Powells. We resisted at first (and then continued because of laziness) because we needed the money, but it barely brings in anything anymore, so what does it matter? But yes, now we link to Powells.
- Everyone should be reading Capital in the 21st Century. Especially if you are broke and working hard just to stay afloat and your self-esteem gets caught up in it, you wonder, why can't I just afford to live in a city that I like, what is wrong with me, why am I failing at being a person? Explanation here.
April 15, 2014
Image: Leonora Carrington, Le chant des oiseaux
In the April issue of Bookslut, Nicholas Vajifdar reviews Jane Bowles’s novel Two Serious Ladies, which was reissued by HarperCollins earlier this year. Jane Bowles is almost as famous for her undeserved obscurity as she is for the strength of her body of work. A Google search for her name turns up results from blogs titled things like “Writers No One Reads;” The Daily Beast’s piece on Two Serious Ladies starts off with the claim “You’ve likely never heard of Jane Bowles...” Despite the scarcity of her output, what work Jane Bowles did produce (which, aside from Two Serious Ladies, amounted to a few short stories and a play, In the Summer House) earned her great admiration from her contemporaries Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and John Ashbery, and continues to awe readers to this day.
For those who would like to know more about this unsung modernist writer, here are some brief essays:
“All of Jane Bowles’s writing has about it an otherness that feels expressive of a child’s perceptions. Her vision lands on people and places and finds them funny—a child’s version of funniness.”
-- “Lost and Found: Alice Elliott Dark” | Tin House
Alice Elliott Dark dissects Jane Bowles’ short story “A Stick of Green Candy” in this 2002 essay republished on the web through Tin House’s Lost and Found series.
“Her novel, Two Serious Ladies, was a revelation -- a work of genius, unique, subversive. These terms are overused, and usually misused, but are true of this audacious, brilliantly written novel, this masquerade, comedy, tragedy, with its anarchic, singular views of sexuality, marriage, femininity, masculinity, American culture, exoticism.”
-- Lynne Tillman, “Nothing is Lost or Found: Desperately Seeking Paul and Jane Bowles” | Joyland
Lynne Tillman writes about reaching out to Paul Bowles in search of work for an anthology she was editing; in return, however, she received friendship, and a chance to look deeper into the lives of the Bowleses than she previously would have thought possible.
“She agonized over the simplest decisions: where to go for dinner, what to eat, etc. Her fear and pain, so unfathomable, were seemingly two-fold. There was the fear of freedom, but also the fear of never claiming it.”
-- Christiane Craig, “‘Locked in Each Other’s Arms’: Jane Bowles’s Fiction of Psychic Dependency” | The Quarterly Conversation
Christiane Craig takes a close look at the motifs and anxieties that pervaded Bowles’ life and work.
Finally, Jon Carlson has a piece in rain taxi on visiting Jane Bowles’s grave in Malaga.
April 14, 2014
Image by Caravaggio, murdering fuckhead
We made a change to the Daphne shortlist. We removed David Irving's Destruction in Dresden in favor of Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death.
I have a... standard, let's call it. I believe that it's important to separate the art from the artist, but only when they are dead. When artists are raping or beating their wives and still up and around, I am of the opinion that you should not give them your money or support. Part of it is because of this here. Do I want that artist that I happen to like who murdered his wife and got away with it to have more money to do things with and enjoy his life? Do I want to express my value to him in the form of cash? No, not really. And it's not like someone like Woody Allen needs my money at this point, but it's the principle of the thing. My money is finite, I'll give it to someone who isn't an asshole.
Because of all that, letting Destruction in Dresden onto the shortlist, given that its author is a Holocaust denying fuckhead (alleged! He sues!) and is still alive, was a difficult decision to make. And I never quite felt okay with it, as much as I admire the book. After a couple conversations, and then bringing it to a vote with the nonfiction panelists, we decided to remove the book after all. And replace it with a Mitford, whose family knows all about being fuckheads, but okay. (That's a really nice top you've got on, Unity, where'd you get it? It's so cute, oh my god, really? Really, Unity Mitford?) Jessica was a tough babe, she'll be fine.
I still think there's an interesting conversation to be had around Destruction in Dresden, but maybe we'll do it without the book in play. Stan Carey, one of our panelists, recommended Gregory Bateson's Steps to an Ecology of Mind, which also discusses how we turn other people into something less than human, and don't regret wiping them out.
As a result of all this, the Daphne Awards, which would have been announced May-ish, will probably have to be pushed back a little, we had a new book to order and distribute. (And read. And debate.) We'll keep you posted.
April 12, 2014
It turns out that it wasn't just pagan holidays and so on that the Christians tried to co-opt. (Saturnalia=Christmas, Ostara=Easter, St. Valentine's Day with that day you whip yourself and turn into a wolf or whatever.) Way back when Medieval was shading into Renaissance, some people had the idea to create a Christian version of astrology.
The way to do that was to change the beasts of the zodiac into apostles or parables. Wilhelm Schickhardt's L'Astroscopium turns Aries, the Ram, into the sacrifice of Isaac. (The story of Isaac is mostly just a way to differentiate themselves from Carthage's Moloch anyway.) The twins of Gemini, which represent the trickster aspect of Mercury, become Jacob and Esau, which is only really interesting in PL Travers's telling.
Andreas Cesllarius gave each zodiac sign an apostle variation: as a Cancer, I would have been born under the sign of John the Apostle. John from the Book of John is not very interesting, but John from Revelations -- that I could be okay being born under the star of. Fiery death and the whore of Babylon and apocalyptic angels? Yes, please.
At any rate, it does make some sense: a lot of the Surrealists, who all seemed pro-Apocalypse, had a lot of Cancer in play. Including my favorite, Leonor Fini. Her Battle of the Angels is quite something. (Not to mention her Beast from the Sea.)
On another note, does anyone know where one can find some Will-Erich Peuckert in English? I'm going off the little that Culianu translated for his Eros and Magic. Would appreciate any leads.
April 11, 2014
Daphne Gottlieb has been one of my favorite writers since I read Final Girl.
there is nothing i can do
except open my throat
and say the word for girls
who are the ghosts of want:
We've been publishing her very regularly in Spolia, both in our issues and in chapbook form. You can find new work by her all over our store.
I joked on Twitter that Daphne Gottlieb was our Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, the poet who was the most frequent contributor to Margaret Anderson's Little Review. From Nicholas Vajifdar's column about the Baroness:
Her thirteen years in Greenwich Village were her heyday. She spent them playing the part of The Baroness, a sort of Statute of Liberty come to life who also submitted poems to The Little Review. Early on she made The New York Times after a policeman arrested her for smoking and wearing men's clothes, under the immortal headline "She Wore Men's Clothes." Other stunts included wearing car blinkers on her hips and tin cans on her breasts, and bothering William Carlos Williams by following him around. Nevertheless both Williams and Pound were sufficiently charmed by her to namecheck the Baroness in their poems. Like many of the most aesthetically satisfying aristocrats, she was made, and not born, noble, and took to her role with the zeal of a method actor. Her face in photographs is inevitably one of affected disdain, like a Borgia smelling a peasant, all to conceal her enthusiasm for the part she was playing.
At any rate, you should read Daphne Gottlieb, buy her chapbook "Bess" (a beautiful piece of work, if I do say so myself as its publisher), and read the excerpt from her latest Spolia contribution, "Compliant."
April 9, 2014
Image: Ilka Gedő, Untitled Number Two
If you read enough about materialism, you start to wonder if you accidentally picked up an intelligent design book. The language is weirdly similar: we are all machines, we have no free will. It's just that in materialism, there is a scientific explanation for why this is so, rather than a religious one.
The materialist worldview has been pushed forward by the so-called "New Atheists" (somehow so much worse than the old ones!) like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins. (Dawkins himself has for some reason decided to push a racist, sexist agenda as well, as if deciding the best way to defeat the biggest dicks of Christianity is to become the biggest dick of Science.) Andrew Ferguson does a better job of outlining this worldview:
The most famous, most succinct, and most pitiless summary of the manifest image’s fraudulence was written nearly 20 years ago by the geneticist Francis Crick: “ ‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons.” ...
If we repeatedly tell folks that their sense of free will or belief in objective morality is essentially an illusion, such knowledge has the potential to undermine civilization itself, Dennett believes. Civil order requires the general acceptance of personal responsibility, which is closely linked to the notion of free will. Better, said Dennett, if the public were told that “for general purposes” the self and free will and objective morality do indeed exist—that colors and sounds exist, too—“just not in the way they think.” They “exist in a special way,” which is to say, ultimately, not at all.
And this is a worldview. It is one way of viewing the world, but somehow, materialists have confused this with the Truth. Like Christians did! And yet this view of the world seems wholly derived from Christianity, if you know your history, of how Christianity didn't just attack paganism, but going back to the Reformation went after the human imagination as well.
That's why I wanted to do an issue of Spolia devoted to The Mind. To the idea that we are not just a pack of neurons, a "moist robot" as Dennett insists on calling human beings. That things like emotion and imagination (and free fucking will) are things to be valued, and are not just bad data. So to that end, here is an anti-materialist, pro-Mind reading list:
Science and Poetry by Mary Midgley
We have to start with Mary Midgley. She is perhaps the greatest and most humane critic of materialism we have. And she's still writing, into her 90s. This particular book argues that science should know its place, that science should not try to explain poetry. Or consciousness. They are different impulses, different worlds, and there is strength in that. But by trying to reduce everything down to a simplistic formula, we lose a large part of our humanity.
Varieties of Religious Experience by William James
I was talking to a writer, and we deviated onto the subject of the New Atheists, and how terrible their books are. And their worldview. Moist robots, etc. And how simplistic their understanding of religion is. "Who was the last non-believer who was actually able to use their outsider position to fully see and understand religion?" he asked, and I immediately answered: William James. An agnostic who understood the religious and poetic and philosophic impulse better than any dogmatic believer (Christian or science).
Eros and Magic in the Renaissance by Ioan Culianu
His book chronicles both the rise of the scientific worldview and the attack of Christianity on imagery and imagination, but also how we misunderstand the scientific breakthroughs of the era. And the thinking of the great Renaissance scientists. It is the last time science melded thoroughly with faith, imagination, soul. He's very good at why that collaboration fell apart.
The Master and His Emissary by Iain McGilchrist
As much as I yammer on about this book, it is amazing to me you haven't read it yet. Or at least bought it in an attempt to get me to shut up. His book remains one of those world-changing books, you suddenly see things differently after reading it. The evolution of the mind, the effect hemisphere dominance has on culture, how big shifts in society's views (monotheism, Enlightenment, etc) happen.
Gravity and Grace by Simone Weil
Aphorisms about the self, about faith and belief, about history, that will split your brain open.
April 7, 2014
Image: Nudo e paesaggio fiorito by Guido Cadorin
We are doing some stuff that is different from the stuff that we have done in the past, isn't that exciting?
First off, we present to you our April issue. It is kind of bloody, which I didn't realize until I was finalizing it this morning. Book about war. Book about insanity. Book about death. Hooray! It's spring, we should cheer up.
(It is maybe that new Afghan Whigs album we are listening to on repeat, Do the Beast. Sets a weird tone.)
Under the heading of war/insanity/death, we introduce you to Patrick White, Nobel Prize winner, just in case you were not previously acquainted.
Then John Kelly kills a president. (But truly, his From Out of the City is something you should track down and read.) Jane Bowles shows up for tea, more death and destruction, even Peggy Shinner muses on mortality.
Go read the new issue. But wait one second, we have to talk about something else.
I want to announce that Corinna Pichl will be joining our wee little media empire, to serve as Executive Editor for Bookslut and Spolia. She will be helping stitch together both publications, and hopefully she will keep me from fucking up quite so much. She works as a translator here in Berlin, and I'm thrilled she'll be joining us. Everyone say hi to Corinna.
Okay, that's all. You can go now.
April 4, 2014
In the March issue of Bookslut, Coco Papy leads an illuminating roundtable discussion on making a living as an artist. Sharon Louden, editor of Living and Sustaining a Creative Life: Essays by 40 Working Artists, and artists Beth Lipman, Peter Drake, and Julie Heffernan join Papy in a conversation about the challenges artists face when entering “the real world,” the conflation of fame and success, the risks of including one’s personal life in one’s work, as well as other topics relevant to visual artists today. From Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own to James Baldwin’s “The Creative Process” to Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?, the question of how one can live as an artist is continually asked as the world of art is constantly changing.
For further reading on the difficulties of living as an artist in the digital age, here are a few articles:
“At one point I thought I would find another full-time job after finishing the book, but then I must have convinced myself that teaching yoga part time would better enable my writing. I also thought that I would immediately start another book, which I would sell, like the first, before I’d written half of it. In order to believe this I had to cut myself off from all kinds of practical realities; considering these realities seemed like planning for failure.”
-- Emily Gould, “How Much My Novel Cost Me” | Medium
Emily Gould’s essay chronicles the financial missteps she made while writing her novel and living as a blogger in New York, where diversions from writing are plentiful and costly.
“Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again.”
-- Tim Kreider, “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!” | The New York Times
Writer and illustrator Tim Kreider’s op-ed warns artists against providing free labor in exchange for exposure in an age where people are increasingly unwilling to pay for content.
“Kickstarting a project demands that we transform ourselves from artists into marketers. Are these two selves compatible? We are forced to streamline our heterogeneous senses of self, the complicated pushes and pulls that make up our personalities, for the sake of attracting investors.”
-- Josh Macphee, “Who’s the Shop Steward on Your Kickstarter?” | The Baffler
Josh MacPhee at The Baffler looks into the downsides of crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, but his essay is also an examination of what’s at stake when artists are forced to be their own promoters.
At the same time, Racialicious has a blog post about how Kickstarter is relevant to artists of color in ways that the NEA has failed to be.
What We're Reading
Even if nonhuman animal studies seem to be pretty popular nowadays and build some genuine hype outside the animal rights groups that were initially advocating them, I still feel that there are pieces missing -- essential pieces, like the ones daring to critically examine the effects that human animals do have on other species. Like the uncomfortable pieces that question the human progress by revealing some uncomfortable insights on the things that were done in order to achieve this so-called progress. Things most of us would rather not know so that we could easily go on with our lives. And this is precisely the point where Animal Oppression and Human Violence: Domesecration, Capitalism, and Global Conflict by David A. Nibert comes to fill the void.
Linking domesecration (the systemic practice of violence in which social animals are enslaved and biologically manipulated, resulting in their objectification, subordination, and oppression) to some of the extremely violent developments throughout the history of humankind, Nibert’s book points in the direction of a vegan socialist alternative and it does so in a very graphic manner. But again, what happens to the nonhuman animals out there is not a piece of cake either. And as much as I dislike the notion of mandatory reading, this book comes pretty close to being one.
Miha most recently reviewed the Lisa Factora-Borchers edited anthology Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence for Bookslut
April 3, 2014
From the introduction:
Your brain is like a computer. How many times do we read this obnoxious statement in contemporary science and philosophy? Your brain is a computer, your body is a machine. You are just some parts, cobbled together, functioning until you do not.
Here is why you love: it is hormones and endorphins and a drive towards procreation. We have the brain scans to prove it.
Here is why you are sad: your serotonin levels are imbalanced, and we can remedy this with prescription medication.
Brain versus Mind. It seems like someone is always trying to compartmentalize us, first the religious trying to remove the body from the soul. Now it's the word "soul" that gets eyes rolling and gets you scolded for not being more serious.
So when we use the word Mind here, we are resisting the idea that we can be fully understood by some brain imagery, or by our endocrin system, or by our meat. That our brain, the mushy bits crammed into our skull, is not more important than our Mind. That we are bigger than the sum of our parts.
To talk about this idea, we have poets and scientists. Our contributors this month include Curtis White, author of The Science Delusion and Dana Becker, author of Through the Looking Glass: Women and Borderline Personality Disorder. We also have a Swedish modernist poet, a contemporary American poet, a Slovenian novelist, and others.
Down with Materialism. Up with the Mind.
Image: Closed Eyes by Odilon Redon
April 2, 2014Image: Umberto Boccioni, "States of Mind"
A guest post by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, author of, most recently, The End of San Francisco
My Amtrak Residency
”That’s so romantic” is something people said over and over again when I mentioned that I took the train cross-country for my last book tour. Actually, for my last several book tours, except for one airplane in an emergency, and that I regretted. I don’t take planes because they destroy me. When I say they destroy me, I mean the landing gives me a horrible ear and headache, which I know is pretty typical, except that my head feels like it’s splitting apart and then that progresses into a sinus headache that’s like a drill going through my head for weeks, and after that eventually subsides I fall into a deep, dark, physically-induced depression that goes on for months and I never know why until it ends and I realize oh, that was the plane.
I deal with a lot of debilitating chronic health issues, loosely termed fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue or whatever -- pain all over my body, exhaustion, migraines, intestinal bloating, hypersensitivity to scents, temperature, certain foods -- and then everything wraps around me until it’s difficult to function. Taking the train cross-country wrecks me, but it’s better than the other options if I travel by sleeper, so I can shut the door and control the environment as much as possible.
Strangely, I sleep kind of well with all the movement, as long as I bring a white noise generator and the electrical outlet in the room actually works, but the recycled air and the fumes from the fuel and the endless Febreeze-a-thon make me incapacitated for pretty much the whole time, so I’ve learned not to think that I’m going to do anything. Mostly I just stare into space, and zone out, and I’ve done this so often that it becomes more or less bearable. Sometimes I study the backsides of tiny towns, or the wreckage from places that barely even exist anymore, or a big new farmhouse built right beside an old crumbling one. The sky, yes there’s the sky, tumbling by in all shades of blue and gray, red, pink and yellow, and at night when you turn off the lights and try to see what you can see outside.
Sometimes I’m startled by the beauty, like the Wisconsin Dells, who knew about the Wisconsin Dells, so much water and the softness of greens and browns, tall birds walking through. Of course, everyone knows about the California coastline, and the train takes full advantage of that, perched on a cliff right over the ocean, that’s the one train to take if you take just one, from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles, especially if you go through the beautiful parts right around sunset. But overall the long-range train experience is mostly numbing, which isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. Like I said, it destroys my health, but I’m not completely incapacitated, so it works better than the other options that aren’t really options.
Anyway, when someone says “Oh, that sounds so romantic,” I mention that there’s no way to take a train directly cross-country, and the trip from Seattle to Chicago is already 48 hours, and you’ll almost never make your connection because the train always arrives late in Chicago, and most long-range Amtrak trains only run once a day. So then the total trip to get to the East Coast becomes a minimum of four days. And, even though the long-range trains are usually hours and hours late, the later it becomes the more rigid the conductors get about not letting anyone off the train for fresh air unless they’re departing. Sometimes the train even skips designated smoke stops, which is unfortunately still what they call the places where you can get out for a few minutes, even though there are some of us who want smoke, and some of us who want air (and maybe even some who want both), and in any case, if the train is already five hours late will it really matter if we add on another five minutes?
On Amtrak, a delay of three or four hours is pretty much on-time, and a 15-hour delay isn’t out of the ordinary. I remember once, on the way back to California, sitting in the train on some steep incline in the middle of nowhere for five or six hours, half of that time with all the ventilation off in the hot sun. A 24-hour train ride might sound long, but try adding on 20 hours while you’re in transit and it becomes excruciating. While the conductor will make all sorts of excuses about these disastrous delays, I’ve learned that the vast majority of the time they occur because the freight lines own the train tracks, so if Amtrak isn’t on time, the freight companies have the right-of-way. This means that sometimes you can be sitting on the train in the middle of nowhere, while coal train after coal train speeds by. Oh, the priorities in this country! Yes, Amtrak is subsidized, but not to make it efficient or pleasant or practical -- certainly the trains in this country receive only a tiny fraction of the funding for highways.
A car will almost always be faster than a long-range train, often twice as fast -- sometimes when you’re on the train you can even watch cars speeding by -- shouldn’t it be the other way around? Plus, if you need a sleeper, that’s generally way more expensive than a plane, often more expensive than first-class. The sleepers are generally populated by seniors, families with young children, and people who can’t take planes for one reason or another. Some of these people romanticize the travel, for sure, but what else are you going to do when it takes a minimum of three days to go on a journey that would be a five-hour plane -- or, a smooth overnight train if we just had dedicated passenger train tracks and high-speed rail.
If there’s anything that all the buzz about the Amtrak residency for writers should call our attention to, it’s the lack of funding for writers in this country. I’m still depressed that thousands of people have applied for the hallowed privilege of being stuck on a train for who-knows-how-many-hours. Some of these people are well-known writers, extolling the virtues of train travel online with the hopes of snatching a barely-discernible prize. With coverage from the New Yorker to CNN to the Chicago Tribune to NPR to PBS to the Paris Review to Huffington Post and on and on down the list from the old guard to the new guard and back, this has to be the biggest publicity bonanza Amtrak has experienced in ages. It’s almost like they’re glamorizing the worst parts of the journey: you’re stuck in a tiny room for hours on end with nothing to do -- perfect! You don’t even have to pay us for this torture.
As Evan Kindley writes in a skeptical piece in n + 1, “there is something disturbing about the spectacle of so many writers and intellectuals banding together to help launch a viral promotional campaign.” Amtrak has recently faced controversy over terms in the application that imply the company owns the rights to anything applicants send them, but the overwhelming tone of most of the coverage remains somewhere between jubilant and mesmerized. I’m worried that this media trance will make train travel worse—now that literati are so excited about this outmoded method of transportation, Amtrak doesn’t even need to make improvements, right? Just imagine the privilege of all that time to yourself. If someone uses an Amtrak residency to do an exposé on the hideous state of train travel in this country, then maybe it will be worth it. I just want Amtrak to pay me back for all the trains I’ve already taken.
April 1, 2014
I continue my Reading the Tarot series over at Ohio Edit with the Six of Coins card, a card about charity and figuring out what you truly value and asking others for help.
If you are the beggar (and we are all, all of the time, the beggar in front of someone), who are you holding your hand out to for help? And what behavior are those people going to reward?
The stories you read, the movies and television you watch, do they value you for who you are? Or only for your sexual availability? The people who pay you money, do they pay you for work you think is important? Or are you simply doing what needs to be done to receive your paycheck? What are you being valued for? Will your friends be happy for you if you suddenly decide your value system deviates from them? If you decide to start fucking with your gender or your definition of success or your idea of what a relationship looks like, will they still invite you over for dinner? Or will you suddenly start making them uncomfortable?