Featured

Last night I watched a young woman set fire to herself: a slim young woman, dressed in gauzy flammable robes. She was doing it as a protest against some injustice or other; but why did she think this bonfire she was making of herself would solve anything? Oh, don’t do that, I wanted to say to her. Don’t burn up your life. Whatever it’s for, it’s not worth it. But it was worth it to her, obviously.

What possesses them, these young girls with a talent for self-immolation? Is it what they do to show that girls too have courage, that they can do more than weep and moan, that they too can face death with panache? And where does the urge come from? Does it begin with defiance, and if so, of what? Of the great leaden suffocating order of things, the great spike-wheeled chariot, the blind tyrants, the blind gods? Are these girls reckless enough or arrogant enough to think that they can stop such things in their tracks by offering themselves up on some theoretical altar, or is it a kind of testifying? Admirable enough, if you admire obsession. Courageous enough, too. But completely useless.

– Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin (2000)

I remember that I’m invisible and walk softly so as not awake the sleeping ones. Sometimes it is best not to awaken them; there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers.

― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

Few people among the crowds flowing through Paris flock to Notre-Dame to pray, but yet it is there. Westminster Abbey and Cologne Cathedral may still dominate the places in which they stand, and though they have ceased to be places of pilgrimage they still signify something, though we do not know exactly what. We are able to be tourists or scholars, to study the history of these monuments as amateurs or professionals. But their meaning has been lost or mislaid. And of course the glorious debris we live among is not only physical but moral and imaginative. The English atheist theologian Don Cupitt wrote in 2008 of the fact that “Nobody in the West can be wholly non-Christian. You may call yourself non-Christian, but your dreams are still Christian dreams.”

– Douglas Murray, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam (2017)

The London Review Bookshop’s most stolen authors are, in order, Baudrillard, Freud, Nietzsche, Graham Greene, Lacan and Camus.

Roxane Gay doesn’t want to watch “slavery fan fiction”: “We do not make art in a vacuum isolated from sociopolitical context. We live in a starkly divided country with a president who is shamefully ill equipped to bridge that divide. I cannot help worrying that there are people, emboldened by this administration, who will watch a show like ‘Confederate’ and see it as inspiration, rather than a cautionary tale.”

Sonny Hallett: “I know next to nothing about Thailand, my grandmother’s birthplace, and it slightly amuses but also depresses me that there are people who’d vehemently defend my right to police how others want to experience Thai culture, should I so wish. Saying that only certain people, largely based on appearance and/or parentage, can do or wear or eat certain things, or become experts in them, not only implies ingrained differences between peoples where there essentially are none, but also leaves no room for those who are caught in between, those who are a mixture, or adopted, who maybe pass for only half or a quarter of their cultural identities but none of the others, and who are uncategorisable.”

No man who says ‘I’m as good as you’ believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept.

And therefore resents. Yes, and therefore resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation. Presently he suspects every mere difference of being a claim to superiority. No one must be different from himself in voice, clothes, manners, recreations, choice of food: “Here is someone who speaks English rather more clearly and euphoniously than I — it must be a vile, upstage, lah-di-dah affectation. Here’s a fellow who says he doesn’t like hot dogs — thinks himself too good for them, no doubt. Here’s a man who hasn’t turned on the jukebox — he’s one of those goddamn highbrows and is doing it to show off. If they were honest-to-Godall-right Joes they’d be like me. They’ve no business to be different.”

– C. S. Lewis, “Screwtape Proposes a Toast” (1959)

It’s that time of year again. Who should be on the Man Booker prize longlist?

From Shannon Burns’ compassionate (but ultimately wrongheaded) defence of the “bad, white working class”: “The willingness to expose your wounds is another sign of privilege. Those for whom injury has a use-value will display their injuries; those for whom woundedness is a survival risk, won’t. As a consequence, middle-class grievances now drown out lower class pain. […] Those who cannot afford to see themselves as disadvantaged are instinctively repulsed by those who harp on about disadvantage.”

On the excellence of TV opening titles.

The Internet gathers factoids and half- baked ideas, and it then splays all that bad information and poor reasoning all over the electronic world. (Imagine what the 1920s would have sounded like if every crank in every small town had his own radio station.) Maybe it’s not that people are any dumber or any less willing to listen to experts than they were a hundred years ago: it’s just that we can hear them all now.

– Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters (2017)

She knows there’s something demented about this expectation of hers – he won’t send a message to her, or if he does, this is not how it will arrive – but she can’t free herself of it. It’s hope that spins these fantasies, it’s longing that raises these mirages – hope against hope, and longing in a vacuum. Perhaps her mind is slipping, perhaps she’s going off the tracks, perhaps she is coming unhinged. Unhinged, like a broken door, like a rammed gate, like a rusting strongbox. When you’re unhinged, things make their way out of you that should be kept inside, and other things get in that ought to be shut out. The locks lose their powers. The guards go to sleep. The passwords fail.

– Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin (2000)

Ann Powers: “The process of canonization is always controversial. Many musicians despise lists and other anthologizing efforts that threaten to freeze their work within hierarchies. This is doubly true for many women, who fear that being honored as the best within their gender simply marginalizes them further. […] Being ‘lumped in with the women’ can feel like winning a plastic trinket that, in the real scheme of pop history, feels like second place.”

“Publishing is a business, not an art. If the agent or editor thinks he can sell your idea or manuscript, he’ll buy it.”

Peter E. Gordon: “If we pause to consider what it has meant in the past for political regimes to mobilize the distinction between the normal and the pathological, we confront the unsettling fact that this distinction has nearly always been used against the weak and the infirm.”

The other lesson I quickly learned was that being unwhite also seems to mean that people make assumptions about what you can do. I remember once going to an audition for another familiar scenario, ‘Middle Eastern woman in a relationship with a white man and they have to fight everyone’s prejudices’. […] We did the scene and the director frowned at me. ‘Can you do the scene in Hindi for me?’

‘Nope.’

‘I think it would be a good idea.’

‘But I can’t speak Hindi.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because I’m not from India.’

He grabs my printed out CV. ‘Well, what do you speak?’

‘English.’

‘And you don’t speak any other languages? You should be ashamed of yourself.’

Should I? Would they be saying this to a white actor who hadn’t bothered to learn German?

– Miss L, “The Wife of a Terrorist,” The Good Immigrant (2016)

“Much American psychotherapy aims not to explore the unconscious but to transpose the genre of the patient’s life, usually from a tragedy to a domestic comedy.”

What do women want?

Jesse Singal: “There’s an intriguing area of behavioral science known as mind-set research, and one of its tenets is that the relationship between stress and humans’ response to it is partially mediated by how people expect stress to affect them. […] If you tell students over and over and over that certain variants of free speech — variants which are ugly, but which are aired every moment of every day on talk radio — are traumatizing them, it really could do harm.”