Saturday, December 20, 2008

wewitnessedtheapocalypse classic

I'm going to post some painful old diary entries here, from the days when my online diaries went by a series of other, long forgotten names.

[A face is closing in on your face!]
[What will you do?]

[Take evasive action]


[Submit to be kissed on the mouth?]


You turn your face just in time to prevent the oncoming lips from brushing up against your lips. The lips press harmlessly up against your cheek.

You are standing outside of the Astor Place train stop.

An Asian man in a blonde jacket coat is studying your face.


Your eyes remain fixed on a broken segment of sidewalk.


"Good night." says the Asian man.


You are already standing outside the subway.


As you start heading north toward the subway station, the Asian man continues walking alongside you.


"I'm going to the PATH train," he says.


You walk down the stairs to the platform. It's cold and bright and lonely. You return home on the train and spend the night haunted by what might have been.

********************GAME OVER***************************

Score: 0/250



Thursday, December 18, 2008

Morgenthau on Realism

Realism maintains that universal moral principles cannot be applied to the actions of states in their abstract universal formulation, but that they must be filtered through the concrete circumstances of time and place. The individual may say for himself: "Fiat justitia, pereat mundus (Let justice be done, even if the world perish)," but the state has no right to say so in the name of those who are in its care. Both individual and state must judge political action by universal moral principles, such as that of liberty. Yet while the individual has a moral right to sacrifice himself in defense of such a moral principle, the state has no right to let its moral disapprobation of the infringement of liberty get in the way of successful political action, itself inspired by the moral principle of national survival. There can be no political morality without prudence; that is, without consideration of the political consequences of seemingly moral action. Realism, then, considers prudence-the weighing of the consequences of alternative political actions-to be the supreme virtue in politics. Ethics in the abstract judges action by its conformity with the moral law; political ethics judges action by its political consequences. Classical and medieval philosophy knew this, and so did Lincoln when he said:

I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I went to see Lost in Translation at Cinema Village with a girl named Karen. Karen had inhumanly large, slightly distended, milky-blue eyes. Afterward, we walked to Union Square, and then to the Cedar Tavern on University Place. We agreed that the movie had been useless and that it fell into the second category of things that should be abhorred: there were things that deserved to be hated, and then there were the things so hateful that you had to hate anyone who liked them. I explained to her that the only way I could experience love for one thing was by hating other things, that the people I loved reminded me to hate others: they were a reminder of the way things could be, but weren't. I told her that all of the things that were really meant to happen between people had a way of happening, and by this I specified a special category of things that one could not do otherwise. I still believed in this category of thing, though I had not myself experienced it. The insinuation, and also the thought, was that this might be one of those things. She had caramel colored hair that always looked a bit fried, and was wearing a high-necked sweater. She was small and lemur-like, all eyes and hands, and had grown up in a farm in South Dakota. I told her that the Masters and Johnson survey had found that as many as 40 percent of all rural males had had sexual contact with an animal. I told her that I had a habit of losing my erection whenever a woman was on the verge of climax. I told her that I defied all of the stereotypes that were imposed on Asian males. I was not studious, for instance, and I could hold my liquor. There was only one way that I resembled other Asian men, and that was, of course, that I had a very small penis.

We had met in an apartment in what we were still then calling East Williamsburg, by the Morgan stop, and a a 5 am, we had danced to a Smiths LP. Later she would tell me that I had seemed at once bored and expectant. At that at hour, in our condition, it had seemed like, together, we had become the still point of the turning world. The sun was setting and it was early fall, and now the magic was gone. Later, she would tell me that I had seemed on that occasion, both bored and expectant, which seemed to me an unfair, and an unperceptive, account of my mood. Three months later, she was engaged to be married. The Cedar Tavern, established 1866, and once host to generations of total fakers who banded together and inscribed their names, simply by default, into the annals of our cultural history, is now a seven story luxury condominium.

Further commentary on: Game Theory

I genuinely liked the Game guys. I recommend the book without equivocation or disclaimer to anyone who is curious about it. It has the quality of being immediately, and continuously engrossing that not many books, serious or popular, possess. Anyone who starts it will finish it in two days after marathon reading sessions. It is one at one and the same time, one of those naked fragments of painful truth that popular culture is always producing -- like the show "To Catch A Predator," or the career of Britney Spears, or the candidacy of Sarah Palin -- and a reasonably intelligent, self-aware, and always ingratiating account of the things it stands for that knows how to draw its readers, even the ones inclined to despise it, into a temporary complicity with itself. I have made the analogy between the Game and the 9/11 Commission Report: they are non-literary texts that provide much of what we turn to literature to provide, often through an unintentional series of elisions of perspective that take on the quality of literature.

I told the Voice reporter who was asking me about my piece, and who wanted to know the extent to which my researches were confined to the theoretical, that I hadn't, in fact, applied any of the methods taught in the Game, but had instead, absorbed a "whole ethos of approaching life as one of manipulating others to do our will." I was kidding, or exaggerating, of course, but there was an element of truth to it.

The Rousseauist egalitarianism of television and the wide-eyed, sentimental idealism of our American youths -- steeped in ideals of innocence, and true sincerity, liberal perfectionism, bourgeois moralism, and unmediated love -- do not withstand the test of life. I discovered, at 30, the Maxims of La Rochefoucauld, and found in this jaded 17th century French aristocrat and Frondeur, a guide through the vicissitudes of life, and the hypocrises of people . I feel at home with him in a way that I do with only a few other writers:

He helped me to find bearable things that I hadn't been equipped to deal with about life in a place like New York. And in their own homespun, autodidactic, nerdy way, the Game shows people their own world as it is in a way that has palpable and immediate value to them. It also equips them to destroy themselves and become complicit in their own misshaping and the further misshaping of the world -- the difference between a critical and a positivist system-- so the book has to be read at the proper distance, but also with the right intellectual framework. That's what I was groping for in my Game piece.

Further commentary on: The Face of Seung Hui Cho

There didn't seem to be much to say about the Virginia Tech shootings. A mentally ill person went on a rampage, as mentally ill people will sometimes do. The independent variable was that he had such ready access to guns. You could talk about gun control, violence in popular culture, or the ways we have failed to provide for the care of the mentally ill. There was something to each of these points, but they all had a rehearsed, formulaic quality when you read about them. Any effort to yoke this thing to some larger agenda felt forced. There was, for instance, an extremely lame attempt by right wing bloggers to link "Ismail Ax" (a cryptic term that Cho had written) to Islamic terrorism. The temptation was to conclude that this was an essentially meaningless event, without any larger significance beyond itself.

It was my feeling that the event actually enacted something about the structure of American society -- something so apparent that no one could see it. Not something that could be read in terms of reform, or of moral outrage, but about the way it felt to confront a society of open opportunity, where your own actions determined your fate, and your own actions could make you, if you were an elegant, smiling, self-possessed, brilliant, handsome, but then also unthreatening, person with a preternaturally cool demeanor and a heart full of idealism tempered by wisdom and pragmatism, into the President of the United States, even if you had come from nowhere and had started as nobody; and it could also lead you, if you were a weak, wounded, stunted, sickly soul, into a position of total and unmitigated isolation, even though there were people whose job it was to care about you and care for you.

We celebrate winners, but a society conceived in these terms is premised on the existence of losers; people who try to make it but can't, people who don't have what it takes to earn a place for themselves; people who have earned their total exclusion from life as surely as others have earned their place at the center of it. Let us call them the untalented tenth. And since we aren't comfortable with this fact, we don't want to look at the losers, even if we know something about what those people felt and knew; especially because we do. To evoke some of this feeling, I found it necessary to go beyond the usual commentary and try to involve the reader in some of the internal turmoil of youth, particularly male youth, and to remind everyone of the aspects of Cho's predicament that are expressed all around us, every day of our lives. Cho wanted, above all, to be looked at and regarded as the things he was not: strong, manly, and capable; and he fantasized into existence a shadow life, fashioned out of the detritus of American popular culture, in which the same fantasies of the besieged self rising up to smite down a sea of enemies are in constant circulation. What desire is gratified by these images? And don't they arise from out of the matrix of our everyday lives? The experiment I attempted in this piece -- and its success or failure is for others to judge -- was to see if I could make that connection.

Friday, December 5, 2008

On torture in the Abu Dhabi National

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

From a Harlot High and Low

"Anybody who was once caught up in journalism, or is caught up in it still, is under the cruel necessity of meeting men he despises, smiling at his worst enemy, condoning actions of the most unspeakable vileness, soiling his hands to pay his aggressors out in their own coin. You grow used to seeing evil done, to letting it go; you begin by not minding, you end by doing it yourself. In the end, your soul, spotted daily by shameful transactions always going on shrinks, the spring of noble thoughts rusts, the hinges of small talk wear loose and swing unaided. The Alcestes become Philintes, characters loses its temper, talent degenerates, the belief in works of beauty evaporates. A man who wanted to take pride in his pages spends himself in wretched articles which sooner or later his conscience will tell him were base actions. You came on the scene, like Lousteau, like Vernou, intending to be a great writer, you find you have become an impotent hack."

latest in nextbook

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Some autobiographical notes

I don't remember much anymore. It's how I stay young. I don't think much of the future or the past. How did I spend seven years without health insurance? How did I live on less than $12,000 a year for seven years? Not by thinking of the future or the past.

I am not a member of the threatened middle class. The relentless appeals to the interests of this class do not reach me where I live. I have lived for so long in the condition that this group fears that I do not share its fears; I never believed what this group believes about the efficacy of its own efforts, or the worthiness and decency of the life they have earned to try to earn it for myself, and I have thus not earned it for myself, and thus I am not outraged when the promise has turned out to be false, and thus I do not believe it when a politician promises to restore this life in which I cannot believe, though I acknowledge its basic decency, or at least I see the extent to which it is intrinsically benign.

Neither am I a member of the liberal elite. Like them, my relationship to the life they observe and comment upon and for which they provide us the symbolic structures, as the sociologists would put it, to parse our experience, is mediated by book learning. Unlike them, I am not protected by earned position, recognized prestige, or inherited wealth, and unlike them, I do not feel guilty about the way that I am protected from life's cruel vicissitudes (because I am not protected) and thus I do not feel obliged, as they do, to clothe myself in an outward show of commitment to some principle -- any principle -- so as to convince the world, or most of all themselves, that they are in it for anything other than themselves, and the infinite expansion of their own self-regard.

Neither do I feel any solidarity toward people who make as little as I do. I am a model of bourgeois propriety and rectitude in all things other than earning a living, and the daily business of manipulating others to do my will voluntarily, and with the sense that they serve themselves by serving me, that is life under managerial capitalism -- I pay my debts, I live within my restricted means, I surrender to vice only in highly controlled and protected settings, I research every purchase to ensure that I get the best value for the least money spent, and I am sure that anyone can learn to discipline themselves in this way without the intervention of the state or a deity. In my neighborhood, if a voice is audible on the street, it is saying the word "fuck" -- I am just barely exaggerating when I say this -- and I know for a fact that this constant venting of rage is keeping my neighbors down at least as much as anything any Man has ever done to them; it is a small, quotidian form of collaboration in one's own imprisonment that one has no choice but to transcend, or failing to transcend it, there is no one to blame but oneself.

What kinds of appeals would reach me where I lived? They would not be political ones. With whom should I feel solidarity, if I were capable of this feeling?

I read an account of an Obama rally in Philadelphia in the New Republic. It ended by quoting an old retiree named Edith MacDonald:

"This is just such a happy place," she says, watching the crowd stream past. Brooks and Dunn's "Only in America" is playing again, and McDonald shouts over it to tell me that she's the last one left from her generation, born in South Carolina before migrating north. "I told my family, God left me here for a reason," she says. "So when I go up to heaven and see my family, I tell them" that the country had a black president.

And I wept at this. And what I wept for was not for anyone else, it was just for me, and me alone, because sentimentality is the mark of the person whose ability to feel -- in this case, the emotions of solidarity and hope -- has been fatally compromised. And what I mourned for was the person my own time hadn't permitted me to become: someone who could believe in a cause, and fight for it, and endow my life with meaning that wasn't either futile or actively malign.

I believe that Barack Obama is a good man and a capable one, and an intelligent one, and a person who knows things that lots of good, capable, and intelligent men who haven't been forced by the accident of their physiognomy, to know things about other people, will never be able to know. I also know that he is, in the end, a conventional Democratic politician operating within the limited and limiting framework of conventional Democratic politics. The one hope I can still muster is that like JFK, who was himself a conventional politician, something about the irrational and unjustified hope he arouses can itself awaken an appetite deeper than the one he can himself satisfy, and thus make possible things beyond himself. So here's to victory for Obama, and also to the hunger for something beyond.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Question for Richard Cohen

Dear Richard Cohen,

I liked your piece on Sarah Palin.

But then I came across this sentence:

"Ah, but the scorn, approbation and ridicule that would have descended on Clinton -- I can just imagine the Journal editorial -- have been withheld from Palin."

Do you know what the word "approbation" means?

I'll give you a hint: it's not a synonym for "opprobrium."

Another one: it helps, when decrying the stupidity of others, particularly of other mainstream journalists, not to expose one's own.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Most recent publication: Review of Guyland

Saturday, September 6, 2008

I thought I would share with you

The most pathetic feature profile I have ever read:

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Saturday, August 23, 2008

"The only philistinism that counted was the kind that deforms the heart, trapping us in an attitude of scorn and fear until scorn and fear are all we know."

Zadie Smith

Monday, August 18, 2008

Friday, August 15, 2008

(no subject)

Just because we did it doesn't mean we're the kind of people who would
do that.

Does it?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


" 'True courage is often nothing other than the expression of a metaphysical conviction, so to speak, of our own superfluousness."

You Jew, Georg thought without animosity, and then: perhaps he's not so wrong.'

-- Arthur Schnitzler, The Road Into the Open

Advice, Part II

Yes, one must choose with the heart. And the heart desires riches.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Stones Vs. Springsteen

Here's the Stones during their Golden Age:


Here's Bruce:

Anybody that knows the first thing about rock ensemble playing knows which is the dynamic, explosive, kinetic performance and which is the bunch of largely inept poseurs phoning it in onstage.

So maybe you haven't tried rock ensemble playing yourself or trained your ear to hear it in others: Anybody who nonetheless has their instinct for rhythm intact ought to be able to perceive that one of those things has real groove while the other is lame-ass limeys wanking. And they should be able to tell which is which.

If you don't know enough to know the difference -- it's not important to me to persuade you. That's your problem, and, if you want to write lengthy posts exposing your problem to others, that's OK with me too. We'll just to have to disagree.

Mick Taylor had a nice tone and feel, but his playing was always a dull collection of blues licks strung together in no coherent order; Bruce's solo here is actually a far more carefully structured composition than anything Taylor ever played. It uses simple elements, but it builds to a climax; it's musical in a way that not much the Stones ever did really was.

To subject the lyrics of Prove it All Night to detailed textual analysis is to commit a category error. They do the work that is required of them.

Lyrics of songs like Spirit in the Night, For You, even the River, nonetheless survive the test of close textual examination better than any Rolling Stones song, and better than almost any rock songwriter other than Dylan.

"But that medal you wore on your chest always got in the way
like a little girl with a trophy so soft to buy her way
We were both hitchhikers but you had your ear tuned to the roar
of some metal-tempered engine on an alien, distant shore
So you, left to find a better reason than the one we were living for
and it's not that nursery mouth I came back for
It's not the way you're stretched out on the floor
cause I've broken all your windows and I've rammed through all your doors
And who am I to ask you to lick my sores?
And you should know that's true...
I came for you, for you, I came for you, but you did not need my urgency
I came for you, for you, I came for you, but your life was one long emergency
and your cloud line urges me, and my electric surges free:

Now, you can take that apart and find various solecisms embedded within it. But when placed within the context of that song, and with his delivery, that thing sings. It has poetry, and it stands up to Dylan's stuff, which was itself full of solecism and can also easily be pulled apart and ridiculed.

Bruce's songs tell complex stories; they bristle with verbal ingenuity; they bring to life characters struggling with the pain and limitation of life. They are full of an almost crushing generosity of feeling and empathy.

By contrast, Brown Sugar:

"Drums beating, cold english blood runs hot,
Lady of the house wondrin where its gonna stop.
House boy knows that hes doin alright.
You should a heard him just around midnight.
Ah brown sugar how come you taste so good
(a-ha) brown sugar, just like a black girl should

Stray Cat Blues:

I can see that youre fifteen years old
No I dont want your i.d.
You look so rest-less and youre so far from home
But its no hanging matter
Its no capital crime

Oh yeah, youre a strange stray cat
Oh yeah, dontcha scratch like that
Oh yeah, youre a strange stray cat
Bet your mama dont know you scream like that
I bet your mother dont know you can spit like that.

Under My Thumb:

Under my thumb
Her eyes are just kept to herself
Under my thumb, well i
I can still look at someone else

Its down to me, oh thats what I said
The way she talks when shes spoken to
Down to me, the change has come,
Shes under my thumb
Say, its alright.

I like all these songs, of course, in part because they are so dirty and wicked and so rankly fraudulent, and it can be fun to play along with the disgusting misogyny that is so central a current in the Stones' pose. But it's transparently childish posturing.

Anyway, the videos speak for themselves. If anyone watches both and picks the Stones as the more compelling performers -- let's just say that I don't understand that person, and don't care to try.

Viewer's Diary, Introduction

My brother has an apartment near Lincoln Square. I've been dogsitting here weekends for the last four months. He used to have a pair of dachsunds that he shared with his boyfriend. For a while they lived in Fort Lee, NJ. Then they moved into a rent-subsidized one-bedroom at 64th and West End Avenue. They lived together for three years, and even talked about adopting a child together. Brian was a blonde-haired Jew from Atlanta. He had a very gentle drawl; a long, slender body with a very long torso; dark, intense eyes; and a pronounced limp. They met while my brother was a graduate student in political science and Brian was an undergraduate studying English literature. While he lived there, Brian had bookshelves that lined the walls stocked with clean paperback editions of Remembrance of Things Past, the Man Without Qualities, and Foucault's the History of Sexuality. He had all of the books that a person who was serious about studying literature in those days would have owned. He had studied French and he also knew Ladino. He explained to me over a Korean dinner what Ladino was.

Eventually, Brian moved out, taking his bookshelves and one half of the canine pair with him. The remaining dog is named Mookie. The one remaining half-bookshelf is stocked with opera books, CD guides, and four nonfiction books about professional tennis, including John McEnroe's ghost-written autobiography _You Cannot Be Serious_, all of which I have read while staying here. I walk Mookie three times a day, feed him twice, and pick up after him. Sometimes he poops twice on a single walk, and if I haven't thought to bring two bags with me, I leave the second one. This has happened twice. There is always poop from other people's dogs on the sidewalk, so I feel entitled to leave a turd every now and again. I do feel bad, but I also feel entitled, and anyway, what other option do I have?

On my way to the apartment, I ride my bike from the World Trade Center PATH all the way up the West Side Highway. I pass the Chelsea Piers, and the USS Intrepid, and I veer around the sharp turn to the broken and rutted stretch of road connecting the bike path along the Hudson River to West End Avenue, and make the steep climb from 56th Street to 64th Street. Usually I stop in at the Western Beef Supermarket at 62nd Street and buy orange juice, tomatoes, luncheon meat, skinless, boneless, chicken thighs, smoked almonds, Raisin Bran, and mozzarella cheese. There are two grocery stores on West Avenue -- a large, fairly clean Gristedes across the street from the new high-rise, and a cramped, filthy Western Beef for the project-dwellers across the street. The Gristedes costs roughly one and a half times what the Western Beef costs.

My brother's sixth floor apartment has bare white walls, a blonde linoleum floor, and two windows that face south at an adjacent apartment complex. He does not have a river view, but in the late afternoon, the apartment fills with a river light. It is very lovely, and a little sad.

My brother has a 26 inch TV and an excellent sound system. He also has digital cable. When I come here, usually I come with a heavy load of books. My purpose here is to write. I seem always to be taking on projects that require me to read a dozen books. I usually read seven and a half, skim the rest, and decide I've done enough. I have trouble getting myself to do more once I've done a certain amount.

I am three weeks overdue on a piece I'm writing right now. I am in my brother's apartment, all alone, and away from distractions. I have nothing to do but finish. I am therefore watching TV.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


OK, I'm going to lay down a rule, and excuse me if this seems presumptuous. In fact, it's the contrary practice that is presumptuous, though I am all too aware that it is the general one.

Nonetheless, I feel it's important, lest I lose all control of my Facebook page, to assert the rule, however quixotic the assertion may turn out to be.

Here it is: you must have been at least sort of a friend at one some point in my life in order for you to befriend me here. Let's define friendship this way: at some point in our lives we were inclined to greet each other with benign intent, at no point in our lives has either of us insulted or abused the other, (or if this happened, we have subsequently reconciled ) and at least once or twice in our lives, we have had a conversation that extended beyond small talk, and that left both of us with a feeling of having gotten to know one another better than we do the other minor acquaintances in our lives whom we do not count as friends.

This is not a very high threshold to meet. Quite a few people meet this minimal threshold, many of whom you can see listed in my friend's list. But, the world being a very large place, many more people in the world do not meet this threshold than meet it. There are 6 billion people on the planet; my friends list has 130 people on it. There's plenty of room for it grow without adding the many people I have encountered in life who do not meet this minimal threshold, nor can I understand why any of them would want to add me to their friends list.

From henceforth, I will not accept anyone who does not meet this threshold, and I encourage you, if ever, for some strange reason, I try to add you without myself meeting this threshold for you, to reject me in turn.


I'm not sure that there's another man on earth that manages, on a nightly basis, to make himself so fully a conduit of humankind's capacity for untrammeled joy. One actually feels, watching this low-res video, that one is looking at the promise of American democracy incarnate. That a person could be at once so fully self-realized, so completely the star, and yet so weirdly selfless in his exertions, so utterly without ego or condescension toward the masses of ordinary people he galvanizes -- feels magical and heroic. I can completely understand why so many liberal writers, in particular, feel the urge to rhapsodize (as I have just done) over the man: he is the last remaining link for many effete and disenchanted people, to a dream of the decency and goodness of the American people.

He makes the Stones seems like utter poseurs.

This is just a note

To send you my neutrality.

Musings on the Public Interests

Dear Nicholas,
I've been thinking about the analogy you make between pluralism in domestic affairs and realism in foreign affairs. There appears to be a confusion here. Isn't pluralism in foreign affairs, after all, the opposite of realism in foreign affairs? Realism says that there is a rational calculation that can be made about what America's national interest "really" is. The realists say that if you look at the correlation of forces in the Middle East, it's folly for us to be supporting Israel, and that lobbying by interested parties on behalf of Israel has distorted our foreign policy and placed it out of alignment with our "actual" interests.

The pluralists say that the American national interest is whatever the American people believe it should be, and because most Americans support Israel, supporting Israel is by definition in the American national interest, and there is no such thing as a rational "realist" calculation that can stand over and above this desire.

Pluralism in domestic affairs also argues that interest group politics is the only politics there is and that invocations of a "public interest" that stands over and above the petty politicking of narrow interests are just ways of disguising a discrete bundle of narrow interests. It's Progressivism that says that we have a transcendent public interest that our best intentioned, most enlightened liberal intellectuals and their political allies can incarnate.

Then again, I can also see how both domestic pluralism and foreign policy realism are analogous in that they both eschew transcendent politics.

It seems to me that the relevant axis here is between democratic and monarchical politics. "Realism" is the watchword of monarchical politics; in domestic politics, it's the king who claims to be the only person able to represent in himself the unified general will of the people as a whole.

There are certain things, like national health insurance that have only one interest group: and that would be "everybody". Narrower interest groups, however -- private insurers, doctors, hospitals, etc. -- have a clearer sense of their own immediate interests, and the ability to mobilize in their defense to block everybody's interest in favor of their own. (They will, of course, argue that their own interest is everybody's interest, as they did back in the 90's, but this won't really be true.)

The mobilization required on behalf of national health insurance would call for someone to incarnate "everybody's" interest. And since no concrete set of pre-existing institutions represent that interest, we need someone to stand over and above the existing set of narrow interests to incarnate everybody's interest. For this, we need a strong unitary center of power -- a strong executive, as the liberal reformers of the Kennedy Administration argued. Enter Obama -- that's the wish he incarnates: the desire for a king. Our multicultural, meritocratic king. It /does/ feel a little bit apocalyptic in its grandeur.

Maybe you would classify what I call "everybody's" interests as something more like "consumer's interests"?


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

(no subject)

She has a beautiful smirk.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

An Old Manifesto

Most people are not that interesting. They have no values other than simple self-preservation; they have no interests other than the ones specified for them by the media; the most they aspire to is a few harmless eccentricities, and even these are pursued in a spirit of shamefaced self-denigration. Many of them go to great lengths to disguise this fact about themselves, often expending as much effort to dissemble their basic human nullity as it might require to alter it, but their interest is not to change their shapelessness but to repackage it, the latter being their instinct and the only thing they have learned how to do, the former being something they fear for what it might disclose to them of their own failings. Their attachments are meaningless conspiracies of collective self-evasion and most of what they feel for the people they are stuck hanging around with is justified, and reciprocated, disapproval.

Occasionally, a new person will come along upon whom they can practice their arts of deceitful self-presentation, and, seeing their own mugging and capering reflected in the eyes of a stranger, can partake in a momentary self-intoxication that permits them to suspend awareness of their own emptiness. The euphoria of most sexual attraction consists of this and nothing more; the eventual decline in desire tracks a mutual realization of the truth that people glimpse in one another. We tire of each other because we are tiresome; we see through the carefully crafted illusions to the dismally commonplace appetites within, and recoil.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Advice for the anti-bourgeois

You will have to marry a poor man. Or, failing that -- a rich one.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

Vermin, Part 1

Each summer, we’ve been afflicted by a new form of vermin. There were tiny roaches, and then there were ants, and then there were mice. A bird made its way into the room beside mine, spattering the wooden floor with its droppings. The white shit mixed in with the white powder of crumbled sheetrock. A squirrel skittered around our kitchen for a weekend before being swept into a garbage can. He hunched in the corner of the counter, every muscle tensed, every hair standing on end. When the broom made its foray into the crevice, he uncoiled in a show of impotent fury, flurrying his clawed fingers. In accordance with his intention, he looked momentarily bigger than he was, and more dangerous. He was putting all of himself into this charade, and he really did scare me. I could scarcely look at him. With a blind flick of the handle, he was whisked downward to darkness.

They come and go, and then they return. This summer, it’s fleas. They are curiously indolent. They gather on your ankles, and you can catch them with your thumb; they make the most perfunctory efforts to elude it, and usually fail. They are incredibly hardy. Even after pressing down on them with the full weight of your thumb, often they recover, and jump away to some other part of your body, only to be caught again. Sometimes, you get them just right, and you squeeze; they are helpless beneath your peremptory digit. With a slightly indecent relish, you leave behind a smear of blood. Eventually you get the ones that you notice, though a dozen escape detection for every one that you catch.

I’ve lost my squeamishness about vermin. Perhaps I never really had any. Some things that have never really frightened me: night, black people, Catholic priests, death. I’m not saying that they should have scared me, or that they shouldn’t have scared me: just that they scare others, but not me. My ankles are stippled with red perforations where the fleas have gnawed and sucked, but I remain where I have been: supine in my bedroom, though I know it crawls with these tiny bloodsuckers. To my credit, I haven’t done much to exacerbate the damage by scratching. I did my scratching in youth, and all through my teenage years. By now my skin is practically impervious to adversity: all of its sensitivity has been torn out of it. I used to tear off the skin that covered the underside of my thighs, and sometimes the tops of my thighs too: the slot on the underside of my knee, the notch where the kneecap protrudes into the shin, the shins themselves. I liked to leave white streaks and to look at them, and then the white streaks would become flecked with red on my flayed skin.

This is what I remember of the house on Manchester Lane, where I was born, and where I lived for four years: vanilla wafer cookies, Sesame Street, inflamed skin, torn skin, that grisly feeling beneath my nails, compound of dust, flaked skin, oil, and traces of blood, the cold rapture that came when you surrendered to an illicit urge, all the way to satiation. There were other things too – a child’s pain, a child’s sadness, a child’s discomfort – so much larger and more intransigent for being new. The first picture of me shows a baby on a flourishing lawn frosted with sun. I was dressed in a white diaper and a cream-colored bib. I was pear shaped and wore a world historical scowl – V.I. Lenin could scarcely have mustered the same attitude of disdain. It’s perhaps my earliest memory: the chafing of the grass against my skin, the heat that welled up around the plastic openings where my legs protruded from my diaper. I’m too sensitive for this world, I thought: I knew it even then, in the midst of those hot fits. Once I had drawn blood, the itch would recede. The open wound would cool in the air. Those were my first intimations of heaven.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Reader Response

I received two responses to my muxtape. Here is the first:

Subject: re: your your muxtape

""what do all the people know" is one of my favorite songs in the world"

Here is the second:


9:36 PM XXXXXXX: mazzy star? really?

People disclose themselves in the things they do, the small gestures no less than the large ones. In many cases, it's the small gestures that tell us the most. When confronted with a list of twelve songs selected in accordance with some principle, presumably that of admiration, love, or simple attachment, one person will write to tell you they loved one of the songs, that they shared your enthusiasm. Perhaps they hated the rest, or felt indifferently toward them: what matters is that they loved one of them, and they wanted you to know.

Another person will scan that same list and fasten on the one song that they can try to make you feel foolish for liking. Perhaps they liked the other songs, or felt indifferently toward them: what matters is letting you know that they can scarcely believe you included one of them.

It's a small thing, a subtle thing, but it's a very deliberate gesture intended to assert many things all at once: I know better than you; I'm in a position to judge your choices; I know what you were trying to do; you haven't done it. Not just that I have judged -- because of course we all judge -- but that I want you to know that I have judged you. And it exposes a certain way of looking at the world: that of a person anxious that he will choose or declare the wrong thing, a person that assumes that everyone else is engaged in the same project, and beset by the same anxiety.

The purpose of a mix-tape, as I understand it, is precisely to select out those songs that come from unexpected -- unhip -- sources and put them in a new context -- specifically, the context of one's own affective life. That Mazzy Star song is not a song for the ages, but it has a surface gorgeousness that left an indelible impression: one afternoon it transformed Brower Cafeteria in New Brunswick into a site of sublime beauty. I was young, I was nearly suicidal, and I was in love. It was ephemeral, and it was glorious, and it's never sounded quite the same again. But I listen to it sometimes to relive that moment. I'm not on the defensive about liking it, nor am I proudly flaunting it in the spirit of ironic glee that people bring to their purported love of Andrew WK or other things in that spirit, nor do I accept the attempt by another to put me on the defensive about liking it.

It's a good song, and anyone who listens impartially will agree.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

(no subject)

You were never my cause, but you are now lost.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Notes, Part Deux

All of my power expresses itself in the form of apathy. As the one
grows, so does the other.

I think if people don't write, they go crazy. They also go crazy if they
write, but in a less haphazard, more structured way.

He is as fastidious as a man of large, ungainly appetite can be.

She is incapable of accountability, to say nothing of contrition. But it
would be an injustice not to give her a chance to exceed her moral

For him, it's less about terrible abjection, and more about golf.

And then, perhaps, the underminer shall become the undermined.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Various Fragments

He doesn't loathe himself for the right reasons.

You're right that it's hard to understand why he chooses them, but in
fact the much greater puzzle, to my mind is -- why they choose him.

She hates herself for being a Jew -- as only a true Gentile can.

I love you more than I hate your work.

She wants so intensely to be admired that it feels like a cruelty to

I know you well enough to know that you will always be a mystery to me.

A despicable woman should have a beautiful house.

I'm not half as vain as I have a right to be.

It's part of the dignity of my life -- such dignity as I've managed to
acquire -- that I have lived it as a man without an instinct for the
winning move.

Just because they are hypocrites doesn't mean they are not saving the

Relationships do not end -- they merely disclose the fact that they
never existed in the first place.

I broke her hymen. She broke my heart.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Discarded Preface

There have always been people who have never quite been able to get over the outrage of sex. That men should want to do what they do to women -- which is, in the best of cases, an invasive penetration of another's bodily integrity intended it induce a wild excitement that might easily be mistaken for agony -- that women should consent to let it be done to
them, that they might even want it, indeed, more than they want anything else in the world -- there are many worldviews with which this tableau does not square easily, one of the most prominent of which happens to be the dominant Western spiritual tradition. The early Christians expected Christ to appear again in their lifetime; in the meantime they aspired
to remain, in emulation of their spiritual ideal, perfectly chaste.

Eventually those millenarian hopes faded, and the curious sect of Jews who believed the Messiah had come in their lifetime and would come again to redeem all mankind, made a rather successful transition to a new strategy of propagation of their numbers. But the concession made to the necessity of marriage was always a grudging one -- it was the thing you
had to do if you just couldn't manage the true ideal of chastity -- and the original contempt and hostility toward the body and its desires has never entirely been effaced from the way we regard sex. It flares up at different times and different places to bedevil us all.

In every age, even one as, by turns, "healthily sex-positive," and grossly licentious as our own -- from a certain viewpoint especially our own -- there's a temperament that still struggles with the conundrum of sex. The loftiness, vehemence, and idealism of youth can easily find themselves provoked by it, and provoked to a rage by the spectacle of a whole people freely rutting and flaunting it before world. When we try to peer into the menaced psychology of the Muslim youth that murder themselves in order to murder Americans, the dutifully right thinking in our number catalog the political grievances they hold against us, (American troops in the land of the three holy places, etc.) but the rest of us can't help but thinking -- and sometimes we'll even say it on our irreverent talk shows, and at our irreverent dinner parties, with the same cynical bluntness that we feel it -- those dudes just need to get laid.

And the thing to realize about this -- the dialectical balancing act that must be performed -- is that, of course, on this score, anyway, we're right about them, and they're right about us. They're right about us because it's true when they say that we love life and they love only death; and it's true when they say we find it impossible to conceive of an order of values other than our own grossly materialistic and hedonistic one. They're so desperate to prove otherwise that they're ready to kill and die, violating every stricture of decency and morality that they purport uphold, and we're right about them, because hey -- those dudes just need to get laid.Because once that happens they'll be just like us -- the eventuality they are willing to kill and die to prevent -- and then they'll see. They'll see that it's not so bad, that sex is a part of life and part of the freedom of being a grownup is to have it, though it comes with perplexities and difficulties, it's a thing that men and women have always wanted to do, and always will want to do, and it's no occasion for the apocalypse.

All of which brings me, by apparently circuitous means, to the subject of Otto Weininger. Stay tuned!

On the Ivy League


I used to have an online diary, then I took it down. Then I started again, and stopped, started and then stopped, and then I didn't blog for a long time. My online diary used to portray the people I knew a little and then the strange new people I met, and also the funny, or at times poignant, and often perplexing conversations we would have. Sometimes I would post email. I kept my blog, such as it was, private, or private enough, which is to say that I held it aloof from the search engines, so that anyone who wanted to read it would have to have gotten the address from someone else who knew about it, and the idea was -- there was no idea, really.

Today I begin anew, with a different mission, if not quite an idea. I used to be avid to write long emails to people, not excluding women I wanted to get to know better, and I used to watch a lot of TV and movies so as to be in touch with the times, and also because I found it a struggle to get through a book of any genre. I can no longer watch TV, and I've lost the urge to answer email other than tersely in all lower-class letters on logistical matters alone. Nothing really seems worth the effort anymore, though I sometimes trade the odd link or quip or aphorism or inappropriate confession with my old correspondents.

In my spare time -- and there is a sense in which all of my time is spare time -- I read a lot of wikipedia on subjects such as Mike Tyson, inter-species sex, and the career of Andrea Dworkin, (my current girl-crush of the moment) and updates on my favorite depraved news stories. My favorite news story from the last ten years is still the one about the schoolteacher who had a child with her 12 year old student, was released from prison after a few years under the stipulation that she not contact him on her release, immediately got herself pregnant by him again, spent a few more years in prison, and is now happily married to him.

I also try to stay in shape. I skip rope, do an ab workout, and push-ups, never as regularly as I should, just enough to slow rather than to halt or reverse the rate at which my youthful hardness diminishes into the softness and complacency of middle age. My life is a series of routines meant to hold at bay the existential torpor of a life lived in solitude, outside of any larger context, or even the illusion of such a context, of purposeful striving, historical consequence, or cultural meaning.

Dear reader, my double, my brother, my relevance to your life will exist, to the extent that it exists at all, in its total irrelevance to everything outside of its cramped and narrow self-regard. The world here will be parsed, digested, and consumed like a series of treats skewered on toothpicks and served up for you idle and sated appetite. I will go to movies, attend lectures, parties, readings, galleries, and museums, and write about them, idly, without notable expertise, and in accordance with my own somewhat perverted priorities alone. In lieu of individual relationships, which I hereby abjure, I will live my life in prose only through the medium of this blog, and of this blog alone. I make no promises to be entertaining or worthwhile, but I will never be anything other than truthful.

Follow me on this mediocre endeavor, if you dare.