Tuesday, October 27, 2009



This post, written in reply to my New York Magazine cover story on the Sex Diaries, seemed weirdly intelligent, and literary, from someone who identifies himself as a "life coach."

It turns out that the author is a former psychoanalyst who studied with Lacan in Paris and wrote an important book about the master for Harvard University Press.

But with the declining public interest in psychoanalysis, he has reinvented himself as an executive life coach. I find this act pretty interesting -- and of course, perfectly consistent with the doctrines espoused by life coaches. So one can have no doubt that Mr. Schneiderman in fact practices the practical credo he preaches.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

I threw a party on Saturday night

It has always been my feeling that a party will reflect the character of the person throwing it. I threw a party on Saturday night. It would be false modesty to suggest that the party wasn't a reflection of my character. If the principle is true generally, there is no reason not to apply it when the person throwing the party is you.

And so, to all of the guests who attended my party, and helped to make it the pleasing occasion that it was, I would like to say: Thank you for providing a fitting reflection of my character.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Latest story at Tablet Magazine

I wrote about the Dreyfus Affair and Guantanamo Bay for Tablet Magazine.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Back by Popular Demand

A few years ago, I posted some videos onto YouTube. Filmed on the cheapest webcam extant, they portrayed a pixellated image of me wearing two buttoned-down shirts -- a black one with epaulets superimposed atop a blue one with white pinstripes -- bashing through acoustic cover versions of a handful of popular songs: Springsteen's Factory; U2's Van Diemen's Land; the slave ballad Old Black Joe; Leonard Cohen's Chelsea Hotel; and the traditional Irish drinking ballad Whiskey in the Jar, in the somewhat grandiloquent baritone I was affecting in those days.

The audio and video were improperly sync-ed, the performances were too fast, and the guitar playing was hopelessly thrashy, max-ing out the levels and tipping the sound at certain important junctures of each song into that peculiarly wicked digital feedback that sounded like that moment in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Infocom game when, with the aid of the Infinite Improbability Drive, you wound up materializing inside of your own brain.

I received a surprising amount of feedback, a striking share of which did not consist of race baiting and abuse, and thousands of hits. It was a small satisfaction for a period of life in which there were no larger satisfactions on offer. It was understood by all, and most of all by me, to be a fairly pathetic thing to do -- on YouTube, one could participate in a perpetual coffee-house amateur hour to no tangible end, broadcasting around the globe the image of the earnest loser one no longer had to fear becoming, having become it -- and an even more pathetic thing to derive one's satisfactions from. But I was coming to understand that one would have to take whatever satisfactions one could get in the form that was given, and the Internet was rapidly extending the range of miniscule, nugatory, and ultimately self-undermining satisfactions which one would not have the self-possession to refuse.

You see, the videos went up right around the time it was clear that I was never going to attain the very modest ambitions I had once attached to music. I had pursued them desultorily, and without the requisite spirit of enterprise, and yet with a certain belief that I did, in fact, as a performer and songwriter, have something to offer the world. If you Google my name, you'll see that I am credited with my writing partner, G F McN, with a song that aired on the pilot of the television show the Gilmore Girls. I wrote, performed, and recorded that song. It's pretty good -- as competent and well-crafted as any album track on any of the large majority of major label releases; indeed, probably better than most. We recorded more than 30 songs on 4-track tape and even a handful at a small project studio run by a locally successful Central New Jersey band.

We were not good enough, maybe, to have made ourselves the next whatever whomever. But we were good enough to, you know, maybe do some regional tours, release some records on some indie labels, perhaps, even engage in the intermittent act of sexual intercourse -- disappointing in itself, but gratifying in what it signified, or in any case, gratifying inasmuch as it was preferable to its alternative (masturbating alone, desultorily, but then oddly, unaccountably, in tears) -- with a fan. We did not look like anything that anyone was going to pay much attention to,

and we did not sound like anything that was presently in vogue,

and the combination of our sound and image did not tap into some deep structure of shared desire among the sensitive liberal youth who would have been our prospective audiences, if we did not abhor them even more than we did the mainstream audiences who seemed so distant from us in sensibility that their existence could easily be forgotten. There would always be some male music nerds -- short, black-clad, pudgy but solid -- who would give us respect for sounding like we did, without any real passion, and then the beautiful girls -- neurasthenic, with diaphanous skin, invariably trailing some haughty ephebe -- who would watch for a while, and then turn away.

Right around then, these bands were emerging in New York City -- principally the Strokes -- who were creating a gorgeous pastiche of everything that excluded us. They were rich and urban and sophisticated, smart but anti-intellectual. They hung out with models and fashion people, while we were awkward, angry, suburban, and thwarted before we had even entered the contest. And we knew that they had everything that was going to rocket them fame while we could only remain forever mired in obscurity, and we had admit that some of their songs were just perfect, and so good that we were never going to match them.

There will be more to say about all of this, and further documentation of it all, when I can figure out how to post music and pictures, but for now, what I'm getting at is that I'm back up on YouTube. You see, I bought this great new digital camera, and the video I took has all these different shades of mustard and amber, and is pleasing to the eye for that reason.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Delightful Afternoon

This was a spontaneous gathering of young people on Lafayette Street. It emerged that all of them had something strongly in common that drew them to stand in single file, gesticulating toward an imagined crowd of of onlookers, and beaming those inimitable smiles. Maybe it was the cheerful and complementary colors of their swimsuits, the very small breasts on the women, or the highly toned mid-sections of the men, none of whom had done so much as a sit-up since passing the President's Commission on Physical Fitness in the eighth grade. But glimpsing one another in that transitional stretch of road between Prince and Spring Street, on a lovely Sunday afternoon, their pale bodies glistening in the sun, all of them felt drawn to one another and came to understand, instinctively, that they would share a common destiny.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Hound Dog

Summer Fling

I attended the second and third sessions of the Summer Institute for the Gifted at Blair Academy in Blairstown, NJ. There we were encouraged to think of ourselves as we already did: as people set apart from the ordinary school population by the curiosity and talents that our peers (the prematurely mustachioed boys and the girls with the big hair) were intent on snuffing out. The idea that there were children possessed of abilities beyond the ken of what the world could regard without jealousy and malice and that you were one of them was at an early stage of the universal diffusion that would instill a mild personality disorder into every child of college-educated parents in America. By now we know that all of the children are above average; back in the summer of 1987, the idea of running a camp consecrated to this proposition still seemed obnoxious. Of course I wanted to go.

Here I would learn my first significant lesson in love, which was also a lesson in society. The camp was an artificial setting that reversed the hierarchies of the American public school, giving the assorted nerds, drudges, grinds, closet homosexuals and Asians who attended a taste of social preeminence they might not otherwise experience. As was usually the case in such instances, the popular people turned out to be the ones who still had it going on in the conventional sense. A clique of wealthy, attractive, and stylish – according to the curious standards of 1987 -- Asian people turned their ethnic solidarity into an instrument of domination of others. I was happy to discover that I was not excluded from this solidarity, though I was not myself wealthy, attractive, or stylish. The Asian kids came from Bergen County suburbs like Tenafly and Alpine, and they had discovered music – New Order, Erasure, and Depeche Mode – that felt more interesting and subversive than alternative music has the capacity to feel anymore. We looked down on white people and coined a derisive term, “meegs” (short for the Korean word – itself a derisive term – for “white person,”) to refer to them.

It was my first exposure to the quality of self-entitlement that could inhere in other people, (that there were people far more self-entitled than these people could ever have dreamed of being, and for better reasons, did not change the effect it had on me -- all perception being relative to one's own restricted experience,) and I did what I could to adopt it. With surprising success. Because by the end of the first weekend, when everyone had begun to pair off, I found that my ruminative nature and watchful demeanor had somehow earned me the affection of the bubbly center of our little clique – adorable, sparkly-eyed, babyfat Carissa – with whom, by the end of the camp, I would finally reach a milestone I would not reach again until I arrived as a freshman at college – first base.

While all of this was going on, a pale and solitary white girl with a drawn expression and long butterscotch blonde hair had conceived of a crush on me. I recall her sad eyes regarding me as I engaged in the supercilious antics that the camp setting had empowered me to unleash. The look in her eyes is one I will never forget, though of course I affected not to notice it. It was pure ardor. And so the little tableau I want to paint for you here is just this – sitting in the front seat of the short bus with Carissa's head against my shoulder, and the pale blonde girl – I never did learn her name – in the back seat with her face in tears. I knew back then that I was gaining a privileged glimpse into what genuinely rich and popular boys (white boys, mostly, but not all) in the real world were going to go on to experience all the time, as often as the world (which was happy to collaborate with them in the satisfaction of this desire) would allow – the exquisite pain, and pleasure, of a breaking a young girl's heart. What I experienced at that moment was a premonition of what I knew I was going to see more of throughout my life – women preferring to be used and discarded by worthless men who cared nothing for them to all other alternatives – and it made me sad for two reasons: because it was sad in itself, but also because I knew then that my momentary glimpse into an experience outside of my own true portion -- the experience of being among the popular, rich, and stylish people that others would look upon with longing and ardor -- was an accident that fate was quickly going to correct.

New Story at Tablet Magazine


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thursday, April 23, 2009

On survivalism in Abu Dhabi National


Friday, April 3, 2009

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Advice to the Lovelorn

The only further point I wish to convey about last night is the following thought: obsession, of the kind you described, that goes on for years, and is not reciprocated -- it isn't real, and it isn't love. It's something else, and it isn't good, and there's only one way to treat it. You have to tear it out by the roots.

Of course, you should feel free, as you have, and as I'm sure you will, to disregard this truth. But you should hear it, so as not to be able to say, at some later point, that you were never told.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Wittgenstein book at Nextbook

I reviewed a book about the Wittgenstein family at Nextbook.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Inside the Box

Inside the Box
February 2nd, 2009

I knew about Britney Spears a few months before the rest of the world. What I mean by this is that I was a viewer of The Box in 1998. You could call into The Box to request a video, and the idea was that at some interval after you had made your call, the video you had requested would appear. I sometimes thought about doing this, but the logistics of it seemed daunting to me, and I could never muster the nerve. Instead, I was content to watch the videos that others had chosen, which were not the videos I would have chosen. To judge by the videos that did play—and there seemed no difference between this pseudo-democracy and the usual kind of pre-programmed channel, since the same handful of videos rotated with numbing regularity—The Box catered to an "urban" demographic underserved by MTV, which was then in a transitional phase of its existence, long past the heroic days when it featured gender-bending synth-pop from limp-wristed limeys with a perpetual sob in their voice, and just at the beginning of Carson Daly's brazen ascent at TRL.

The Box played the trashiest videos by the trashiest acts with the lowest production values. And many of these videos showed a lot of skin, which made them an indispensable resource to young men caught in the New Jersey suburbs. Back then, in the days of dial-up Internet access (and it may be hard for our younger readers to conceive of this) it was hard to find things to masturbate to if you weren't ready to admit—as mostly people weren't, back then—that you were a disgusting pervert willing to spend money to see women treated like objects in front of a camera.

If you had one of the old cable boxes, you could press channels 3, 5, and 7 simultaneously and get a flickering, distorted look at the Playboy Channel. Sometimes the screen resembled a gold mosaic bearing the faint outlines of an image; other times a chaos of harsh colors in scrambled flux. Occasionally, it would resolve into a clear image, though only for a few seconds at a time. You would see a breast surging in slow motion as it passed through a sprinkler, brushed by the water's prismatic spray, or cut-off jean shorts shucked off onto a haybale. Or a car wash would degenerate into a naked sudsy free-for-all. Though you could not hear, you could imagine the various soundtracks—the perfunctory fiddle and banjo accompanied with the airless syn-drum beat; the wart-hog growl and squeal of a neon pink BC Rich, as the guy with the black-painted fingernails eased off the whammy bar. Time was short: you had to be ready to respond to these inducements, to answer the call to solitary arousal.

If you wanted to see a picture of a penis penetrating a vagina, you had to venture out to a former warehouse space on the West Side Highway and pay $25 for a magazine that came hidden in a brown paper sleeve. You had to put yourself in the company of seedy characters bathed in blear light amid the all-pervading odor of ammonia. If this was your interest, you desired something known then as "hardcore" pornography, which was ostensibly against the law as recently as the early 1990s. It was a curious time to be trapped in the hormonal tempest of that period of life—between the Meese Commission's report on pornography, and the publication of Catherine MacKinnon's groundbreaking work (and more than thirty years after the release of the Beatles' first LP)—when one of the consequences of sexual exploration was death from an incurable illness, and when Christian morality and radical feminism both inveighed against what the consumption of pornography was doing to the heart and soul and loins of a people.

We took these dire admonitions at least partially seriously, we earnest youth of America, because though we didn't really believe in any Christian creed, we believed that there was something inherently precious and singular in everyone (but particularly in ourselves) that deserved to be loved, something that was endlessly fragile and needful of protection. Even if we held the hysterical aspects of campus feminism at a remove, we believed that equality was the foundation of the true love that would express itself in an intimate, mutually fulfilling eroticism. That's what we thought back then.

My mood in those days was somnolent. I drove a 1989 Nissan Pulsar NX that my parents had bought me for $500. I was working as a reporter at a free weekly newspaper in East Brunswick, NJ, earning $15,482 a year and living in Milltown, NJ. I would drive down a peculiar strip of Route 18 that looked like one of those long tracking shots that filmmakers rely on to establish a mise-en-scene of anonymity and cheapness—those garish colors attenuated by years of grime, those ghostly commercial icons suspended on massive pedestals projecting into the sky, and all those tons of polished metal darting around the off-ramps bearing their vulnerable human cargo. You grew accustomed to risking death at the jug-handled turn ramps that were unique to New Jersey highways. It felt like the end of the world.

The music I preferred on these excursions were hissy dubbed cassette tapes of Glenn Gould playing Bach in that bludgeoning, affectless style he invented, so remorseless in its inhuman power. The music, turned up all the way so as to be audible over the wide open windows—the car had no air-conditioning—felt a little bit like purgatory, and a little bit like anesthesia, and most of all like the cold rapture of thought struggling to transcend its surroundings. I've never felt as alone as I did in that little box, the hot wind battering my face, cutting through those desolate stretches of big box stores, passing through the newly built subdivisions that had sprung up on raw pastureland. But sometimes, when the music was high, and the sun was a hot smear at high noon, or you were hurtling down an empty stretch of road at night, you felt the immense power of the car you were driving to propel you beyond yourself and into—Jameson called it the hysterical sublime.

Those were the days when (if I wasn't watching the Box) I would work my way through the dense thickets of the pseudo-philosophical jargon that proposed to name this condition in which I was living, to dignify it with a lofty vocabulary that radiated a paranoid dread that seemed to be the only feeling worth feeling back then, the only feeling that was real and alive. What was this malign historical stasis I was living through, that my own life seemed so helpless a product of, in which there was no fate beyond bored passivity in the face of capitalism's triumphal march?

When I first saw Britney Spears on the Box, in the fall of 1998, what I thought about was Britny Fox. Now, Britny Fox was a terrible hair metal band that had scored a hit earlier in the '90s with a song called "Girlschool." It featured a classroom full of Catholic schoolgirls gyrating to the beat in defiance of a stern teacher. They roll up their shirts to expose their abs, and muss their hair, but they don't go any further—there isn't anywhere further to go. Thus the video, which started off promisingly, reaches a narrative impasse, and the women just keep swaying around in the classroom for the rest of the song.

But that was a sexist video by a horrible hair metal band that exploited women. Britney Spears was something else—an inflection point in the culture. TRL's arrival in Times Square was an important signpost in that neighborhood's new identity. Giuliani's quality-of-life police ran out the junkies and the prostitutes. Disney remade the square as a gleaming, candy-colored monument to anodyne, family-friendly, corporate-sponsored mass entertainment. Britney, the former mouseketeer, literally straddled the divide between Times Square's old and new identities. It was a further elaboration of the "winner take all system" that still obtained in the world of 1998, whereby all the money that might once have supported an ecosystem of joke-tellers in the Catskills was sitting in Jay Leno's pocket. Instead of an army of diseased whores, there would be one perfectly airbrushed youth whom the whole world would watch together.

Now, none of this became clear to me until the spring of 2001, when Pepsi ran an amazing ad in which Bob Dole is sitting alone in his bedroom, bathed in that eerie blue light cast by the TV screen, watching Britney Spears dance around singing an anthem of generational change that is also a paean to Pepsi. And this one-handed war hero and Presidential aspirant who was, by that time, better known as a commercial spokesman for Viagra, is as engrossed by the image of the young Spears as any man who would like to have an erection but requires the help of cutting-age technology would be. His dog barks, and Dole says: "Down Boy."

And there was something about this moment more eloquent, radical, and true than anything I had read in those candy-colored paperbacks. It was like a wild utopian novel condensed into a single, electric image: freedom, spontaneity, youth, and a sexuality that was boundless, innocent, and all-encompassing confronting age, authority, infirmity, limitation, subsuming and vanquishing it. Or it was like a dark dystopian satire folded into an instant: a man of power and authority prostituting himself to the seduction of a dream world concocted by corporate masters who feed out endlessly deferred dreams of power, success, and love in the name of fizzy, corn-syrupy water. The commercial did not merely suggest, but actually demonstrated in the most palpable way, that no man had the dignity to rise above this fate.

Most of all it, it was a picture of world as it was, it felt like the world, the American present and it felt like life. I went on Amazon and liquidated what remained of those theory books, while they still retained some value. It was the spring of 2001 and American prosperity was at its height. We had elected George W. Bush president, Britney Spears was the biggest pop star in the world, and I had finally acquired a broadband connection. I was ready for what was to come.

Monday, February 2, 2009

n+1 Symposium on Britney Spears curated by me


Friday, January 30, 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

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