To all appearances, the old man’s delirium seemed left behind him with the Cape Horn swells, and he came forth from his dark den into the blessed light and […] issued his calm orders once again; and his mates thanked God the direful madness was now gone; even then, Ahab, in his hidden self, raved on. Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing. When you think it fled, it may have but become transfigured into some still subtler form.

– Hermann Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)


Anthony Horowitz: “There is a rigidity in the way we have begun to think and speak. If we step outside certain lines on certain issues, we find not just people disagreeing, but disagreeing to the extent of death threats. When somebody says something untoward in the press, people don’t just say that was a stupid thing to say. They say, ‘Lose your job.’ They want you to never ever have an income again.”

Read Tom Floyd’s Integration is a Bitch, a series of cartoons published in 1969 and based on the author’s experiences as a black employee in a predominantly white workplace.

Claire Messud: “We think kids make up stories and live in a sort of fictional place but that as grown-ups, we tell the truth and live in fact. But, of course, the reality is we take the facts that we know, and then we fill in all the blanks. And what we fill them in with is invented.”

Rebecca Solnit: “Back in the 1970s, when some men were figuring out how their own liberation might parallel women’s liberation, there was a demonstration at which guys held a banner that said, ‘Men are more than just success objects.’ […] A lot of white middle-class men of my era seemed to rebel by failing, because the expectations had been set so very high for them. That had the upside of more support, sometimes, for their endeavours, but the downside of more pressure and higher expectations. They were supposed to grow up to be president, or their mother’s pride and joy, or their family’s sole support, or a hero every day – to somehow do remarkable things; being ordinary, decent and hardworking was often regarded as not enough.”

On viral news: “Classic social psychology experiments have shown that if a group of people stand at the end of a street corner, all looking up at the sky, most passers-by will automatically look up as well, because we process such behaviour as evidence that something important is happening. This behaviour has simply been moved online.”

From Mike Peed’s review of Americanah: “The phrase ‘beautiful woman,’ when enunciated in certain tones by certain haughty white women, undoubtedly means ‘ordinary-looking black woman.'”

Hilary Mantel: “From her first emergence in public, sun shining through her skirt, Diana was exploited, for money, for thrills, for laughs. She was not a saint, or a rebel who needs our posthumous assistance – she was a young woman of scant personal resources who believed she was basking with dolphins when she was foundering among sharks.”

[see also “Royal Bodies”]

Broaden your emotional portfolio. Why limit yourself to “smiley happiness and pouty sadness” when you can “scowl in anger, smile in anger, widen your eyes in anger, squint in anger, shout in anger, stew silently in anger, and even bond with others over anger.”

Bayard Rustin: “There is a strong moralistic strain in the civil rights movement which would remind us that power corrupts, forgetting that the absence of power also corrupts.”

Paul Krugman:  “Nobody can be presumed pure simply because he is currently without much power or access to power — for that very lack of power can have its own distorting effect.”

Thomas E. Ricks: “Most art has a public face—music is played, paintings are displayed, plays are enacted, movies are filmed and often watched by groups. Books tend to be more private, from one person’s act of writing to another’s act of reading. Most mysterious of all is the hidden middle stage, the offstage act of editing. Yet sometimes it can make all the difference.”

“What requires less intellectual engagement, less genuine consideration, than smiling and looking into a camera?”

Ian Buruma: “Near the beginning of The Memory of Justice, the violinist Yehudi Menuhin declares that the barbarism of Nazi Germany can only be seen as a universal moral catastrophe: ‘I proceed from the assumption that every human being is guilty.’ The fact that it happened in Germany, he says, doesn’t mean that it cannot happen elsewhere. This statement comes just after we have seen the Nazi leaders, one after the other, declare their innocence in the Nuremberg courtroom. […] There was nothing special about the Germans that predisposed them to become killers or, more often, to look away when the killings were done. There is no such thing as a criminal people.”

Kyle Paletta: The New Yorker’s paper subscription slips have long carried a tagline: ‘The best writing, anywhere.’ It follows that the source of the best writing, anywhere, must also be the finest available authority on grammar, usage, and punctuation. But regular readers know that the magazine’s signature is not standard usage, but its opposite. Nowhere else will you find an accent aigu on ‘élite’ or a diaeresis on ‘reëmerge.’ And the commas—goodness, the commas!”

Ibram X. Kendi: “An anti-racist America can only be guaranteed if principled anti-racists are in power, and anti-racist policies become the law of the land.”

Scott Attran: “In the world of liberal democracy and human rights, violence – especially extreme forms of mass bloodshed – is generally considered pathological or an evil expression of human nature. But across most history and cultures, violence against other groups is claimed by the perpetrators to be a sublime matter of moral virtue. For without a claim to virtue it is difficult, if not inconceivable, to kill large numbers of people innocent of direct harm to others.”

David Blight: “When Moses sent the Israelites across the Jordan, he instructed them to put up memory stones to mark their journey and their story. Americans have put up more than their share of memory stones, and are just now living through a profound process of deciding which ones will remain.”

Michael Robbins on a passage by James Wright: “It is easy to feel that, if fetal alcohol syndrome could write poetry, it would write this poetry.”

“Against such a wild beast another beast was needed, also wild but more just.”

John Herrman: “A community of trolls on an internet platform is, in political terms, not totally unlike a fascist movement in a weak liberal democracy: It engages with and uses the rules and protections of the system it inhabits with the intent of subverting it and eventually remaking it in their image or, if that fails, merely destroying it.”

Brian Aldiss, “one of Britain’s most accomplished and versatile science fiction writers,” has died aged 92.

Zoë Heller: “Perhaps the greatest service that the director Patty Jenkins does her protagonist in Wonder Woman, the Warner Brothers blockbuster released this June, is to give her a new set of clothes. The female superhero has been charged with various ideological impurities over the years—jingoism, a too-cozy relationship with America’s military-industrial complex, an excessively heteronormative lifestyle—but by far the most frequent complaints have been about her man-pleasing, bondage-inflected get-up. Those go-go boots! Those bracelets of submission! That quivering embonpoint! It’s hard to be taken seriously as a feminist icon when the only thing you’ve got to wear to work is a star-spangled corset.”

Steven Poole: “The angry white men who congregated in Charlottesville were widely described as ‘Nazis,’ a usage for which there are arguments both for and against. On the one hand, these people love swastikas, chant things like ‘blood and soil,’ and hate Jews and black people, which definitely seems pretty Nazi. On the other hand, to call them ‘Nazis’ is a convenient ‘othering’ that refuses to acknowledge their identity as Americans, standing in the US’s own proud tradition of violent racism. […] The unfortunate truth is that nazism does not exhaust the scope of possible human evil.”

Nicole Krauss: “In a sense, the self is more or less an invention from beginning to end. What is more unreal, what is more a creation than the self? Why do we have such a heavy investment in knowing what is true and what isn’t true about people’s lives?”

Over the past decade a new, and very revealing, locution has drifted from our universities into the media mainstream: Speaking as an X … This is not an anodyne phrase. It tells the listener that I am speaking from a privileged position on this matter. It sets up a wall against questions, which by definition come from a non-X perspective. And it turns the encounter into a power relation: The winner of the argument will be whoever has invoked the morally superior identity and expressed the most outrage at being questioned.

So classroom conversations that once might have begun, I think A, and here is my argument, now take the form, Speaking as an X, I am offended that you claim B. This makes perfect sense if you believe that identity determines everything. It means that there is no impartial space for dialogue. White men have one “epistemology,” black women have another. So what remains to be said?

– Mark Lilla, “How Colleges are Strangling Liberalism”

Carol Anderson: “The standard for respectability requires blacks to have a level of probity and purity that is close to sainthood status. Any intimation of impropriety—an arrest, a child born out-of-wedlock, on welfare, or even carrying a cigarette—creates an Achilles’ torso that makes the black body vulnerable to deadly force.”

Michael Shermer: “It turns out that nearly all murders (90 percent by some estimates) are moralistic in nature—not cold-blooded killing for money or assets, but hot-blooded homicide in which perpetrators believe that their victims deserve to die. The murderer is judge, jury, and executioner in a trial that can take only seconds to carry out.”

What if Michael Bay made Waffles? What if Alfonso Cuaron made pancakes? What if Tarantino made Spaghetti & Meatballs?