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A moveable feast

December 22, 2011

From Saeed Ensafi‘s ‘War and Peace’ collection, a solo exhibit in Tehran.

W. H. Auden said poetry is rhetoric, and rhetoric moves. I sometimes turn to this description in thinking about how essayistic forms of writing move me. Regardless of topic or content, rhetorical movement implies transgression—at least etymologically speaking, stepping deliberately over a line. It can also mean pointing out that there was a line to step across in the first place.

(Parenthetically, since I read 100% of these titles on the web, one could say that they are a list of longreads, but I tactically shun that word because no one has been able to satisfactorily answer how long a longread is. It’s a product of an insecure internet language that defines itself by what it is not: not a tweet, not a book, etc.)

Turning in earnest to the writing that moved me this year induced a disconcerting mental fog. Hundreds upon thousands (literally thousands I’m sure) of browser tabs later, when the only movement that muscle memory could readily recall is the errant gyration of a mouse click, I’m trying to be mindful about what it was that stirred me about these pieces. In the public duel between fast data (the fetishization of information) and slow knowledge (the mastery of a body of information) I am at pains to describe what that stirring is or what it does. But I know that whether it was reflexive or investigative or polemical or distancing or expository it moved.

I’m still cutting through a faulty, half-eaten memory and several thousand bookmarks, so in the spirit of Occupy I want to say that this is a living document.

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Max Blumenthal on the ‘Israelification’ of American domestic security.

Given the amount of training the NYPD and so many other police forces have received from Israel’s military-intelligence apparatus, and the profuse levels of gratitude American police chiefs have expressed to their Israeli mentors, it is worth asking how much Israeli instruction has influenced the way the police have attempted to suppress the Occupy movement, and how much it will inform police repression of future upsurges of street protest. But already, the Israelification of American law enforcement appears to have intensified police hostility towards the civilian population, blurring the lines between protesters, common criminals, and terrorists. As Dichter said, they are all just “crimiterrorists.”

Jenny Turner on North/South feminism, class, work, and eating one’s cake.

Feminism, according to the sociologist Angela McRobbie, has been ‘disarticulated’ and ‘undone’, bits pulled out, reworked and retwisted, and other bits dumped. At the moment, the popular elements include ‘empowerment’, ‘choice’, ‘freedom’ and, above all, ‘economic capacity’ – the basic no-frills neoliberal package. It’s fine for any ‘pleasingly lively, capable and becoming young woman’ to aspire to this. It doesn’t matter if she’s black or white or mixed race or Asian, gay or straight or basically anything, so long as she is hard-working, upbeat, dedicated to self-fashioning, and happy to be photographed clutching her A-level certificate in the Daily Mail. This young woman has been sold a deal, a ‘settlement’. So long as she works hard and doesn’t throw bricks or ask awkward questions, she can have as many qualifications and abortions and pairs of shoes as she likes.

Alexander Chee on comic books and public superhero fantasies.

Captain America punching Hitler in the jaw is Captain America knocking him across the room with the weight of the culture. The X-Men going from multiracial to white to needing a white Messiah is the weight of the culture. The Avengers becoming black-ops agents is the weight of the culture. Thor, Captain America, and X-Men movies coming out simultaneously this summer is the weight of the culture. If a comic book can get us into World War II, can one get us out of Afghanistan? When can a hero be someone without a mask, who ends a war?

Adam Curtis on the rise of the TV hug.

Maybe it was a lotus-eating moment, a dream allowed at a moment of incredible prosperity in the west. But as you watch everyone hug and cry on television you do get a sense of how much it was a society looking inward – and that was blind to  the giant, dynamic forces of history outside. Or maybe they were hugging because they actively didn’t want to see what was happening outside?

Sara Wookey on refusing to perform art under exploitative conditions.

If there is any group of cultural workers that deserves basic standards of labor, it is us performers working in museums, whose medium is our own bodies, which deserve humane treatment and respect. Artists of all disciplines deserve fair and equal treatment and can organize if we care enough to put the effort into it. I would rather be the face of the outspoken artist then the silenced, slowly rotating head (or, worse, “centerpiece”) at the table. I want a voice, loud and clear.

Isaac Miller on sampling, race, and power in music.

Watching the video, as a white person, I immediately felt uncomfortable because it seemed made by and for white people. That is to say it felt exploitative, racist, disingenuous, and totally uncritical of its own white gaze. The video was filmed by a white director (Eric Wareheim) for a group of white DJs. Though the vocalist on the track and the dancers in the video are all people of color and the song, as a Dancehall track, draws on a genre that originates from a community of color, it is interpreted through the gaze of white artists.

Michael Kelleher on the present-future of publishing in Poetryland.
There was an interesting study published recently about voting habits. It sought to discover why poor voters would willingly vote for lower taxes for the rich. The assumption had always been that they did so because they hoped to one day be rich and therefore developed an identification with the interests of the class to which they aspired. What the study found, however, was much more base in nature. They discovered that people voted for lowering taxes on the wealthy not because they aspired to personal wealth, but because they wanted to be certain that someone else was always poorer than themselves. This, I think drives much of the status-seeking in Poetryland.
Maya Mikdashi on nude female bodies not playing by the rules.
Before we condemn or praise Alia’s decision to take a naked picture of herself and circulate it as either revolutionary or not we must understand the context in which her statement was made. It is not a context where the nude female form is foreign, and it is not a context where people don’t talk about sex. In fact, sex is at the center of much public anxiety and government policy. This is not surprising, given that at times of great social upheaval, much of a public’s anxieties about political change are fought on the terrain of sex and gender roles.
Paul Chan on community, New Orleans, and how art is like being.

Art bears the signature of something inescapably singular—something utterly and compellingly incomplete. Without this signature to authenticate its presence, it is merely an illustration, a luxury item, propaganda, a tax shelter, an investment, a spectacle, an event, a decoration, a weapon, a fetish, a mirror, a piece of property, a reflection, a tool, a critique, a prop, medicine, a campaign, an intervention, a celebration, a memorial, a discussion, a school, an excuse, an engagement, therapy, sport, politics, activism, a remembrance, a traumatic return, a discourse, knowledge, an education, a connection, a ritual, a public service, a civic duty, a moral imperative, a gag, entertainment, a dream, a nightmare, a wish, an application, torture, a bore, policy, a status symbol, a barometer, balm, a scheme, furniture, design, a mission, a model, a study, an investigation, research, window-dressing, a social service, an analysis, a plan, a publicity stunt, a donation, an antidote, poison, a pet. With this signature, art is none of these. And more.

Eve Ensler on being over it.

I am over women still being silent about rape, because they are made to believe it’s their fault or they did something to make it happen.

I am over violence against women not being a #1 international priority when one out of three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime — the destruction and muting and undermining of women is the destruction of life itself.

No women, no future, duh.

I am over this rape culture where the privileged with political and physical and economic might, take what and who they want, when they want it, as much as they want, any time they want it.

Sam Jacob on London and privatized, networked grids.
The riots were an assault on something entirely unexceptional, something all around us, something inescapable, something as fundamental to the city as oxygen or gravity. As everything in the neo-liberal city is a commodity, then it is logical that everything is attacked. As the city has become a machine for surveillance, a mechanism for extracting capital, a place where our liberty is framed by the spectral neo-liberalist arguments of terrorist paranoia and economic pragmatism, the riots perhaps recognise the city itself as a device of control and so lash out at its most symptomatic space: the high street and the shopping centre—what is described in developer-speak as the ‘retail offer’.
Roxane Gay on ‘ambient intimacy,’ the death penalty, and public personhood.
And then, we must occupy ourselves with our lives. We work and we have families and we have lovers and children or the idea of children that we hold in our hearts or that slip through our fingers. We have petty concerns and serious problems and complex histories. Somehow, we need to create room within ourselves for these things too. How do we find the time to care? How do we make the time to care? How do we remember what happened last month and four months ago and last year and ten years ago? How do we keep from going numb?
Comrades in Cairo on democracy, tactics, and public space.
What you do in these spaces is neither as grandiose and abstract nor as quotidian as “real democracy”; the nascent forms of praxis and social engagement being made in the occupations avoid the empty ideals and stale parliamentarianism that the term democracy has come to represent. And so the occupations must continue, because there is no one left to ask for reform. They must continue because we are creating what we can no longer wait for.

But the ideologies of property and propriety will manifest themselves again. Whether through the overt opposition of property owners or municipalities to your encampments or the more subtle attempts to control space through traffic regulations, anti-camping laws or health and safety rules. There is a direct conflict between what we seek to make of our cities and our spaces and what the law and the systems of policing standing behind it would have us do.

Paul Ford on in-vitro fertilization.
Three years of waiting. Everywhere around us there are waves of bouncing sons, bounties of daughters, stroller wheels creaking under the cheerful load. Facebook updates, email messages, and Christmas cards arrive with pictures of tots, their faces smeared with avocado or cake frosting. Babies on rugs, babies in hats. Invitations to baby showers with cursive script and cartoon storks. Over a beer an expectant father—another expectant father—gives me the news, tells me that his wife will soon have her second or third. Am I happy for him? What else can I be? Once again I put out my hand, close my eyes, and wish them joy.
Glenn Greenwald on politics and posthumous hagiography.
The blood on his hands — and on the hands of those who played an even greater, more direct role in all of this totally unjustified killing of innocents — is supposed to be ignored because he was an accomplished member in good standing of our media and political class. It’s a way the political and media class protects and celebrates itself: our elite members are to be heralded and their victims forgotten.
Brittany Julious on sexy.
Sexy is real and true, but the performativeness of sexy – of tight clothes and short hems and high heels – means that true sexiness is a choice. Sexiness does not just happen. It is observed and then developed. It is executed and then maintained. It morphs through time and situation.
Chris Hedges on spectacles and swindles.
The public, at some point, will have to face some very unpleasant truths. The good-paying jobs are not coming back. The largest deficits in human history mean that we are trapped in a debt peonage system that will be used by the corporate state to eradicate the last vestiges of social protection for citizens, including Social Security. The state has devolved from a capitalist democracy to neo-feudalism. And when these truths become apparent, anger will replace the corporate-imposed cheerful conformity. The bleakness of our post-industrial pockets, where some 40 million Americans live in a state of poverty and tens of millions in a category called “near poverty,” coupled with the lack of credit to save families from foreclosures, bank repossessions and bankruptcy from medical bills, means that inverted totalitarianism will no longer work.
Claire Potter on universities’ administrative priorities.
Penn State seems, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, not to have known what they did not know: society and the law have much stricter rules when child abuse is finally uncovered. Since most people don’t believe that ten year olds want to be anally penetrated by grown men, once there is credible evidence that the sex happened, people tend not to spin alternative scenarios about little boys like:  ”look what he was wearing;” “he’s probably just mad that Coach Sandusky wouldn’t hook up with him;” “he was drunk;” or “it was just bad sex and he’s trying to get back at Coach.”
Jose Antonio Vargas on life in the U.S. as an ‘undocumented’ immigrant.
After a choir rehearsal during my junior year, Jill Denny, the choir director, told me she was considering a Japan trip for our singing group. I told her I couldn’t afford it, but she said we’d figure out a way. I hesitated, and then decided to tell her the truth. “It’s not really the money,” I remember saying. “I don’t have the right passport.” When she assured me we’d get the proper documents, I finally told her. “I can’t get the right passport,” I said. “I’m not supposed to be here.”
Ella Shohat on life as an Arab Jew.
Stripped of our history, we have been forced by our no-exit situation to repress our collective nostalgia, at least within the public sphere. The pervasive notion of “one people” reunited in their ancient homeland actively disauthorizes any affectionate memory of life before Israel. We have never been allowed to mourn a trauma that the images of Iraq’s destruction only intensified and crystallized for some of us. Our cultural creativity in Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic is hardly studied in Israeli schools, and it is becoming difficult to convince our children that we actually did exist there, and that some of us are still there in Iraq, Morocco, Yemen and Iran.
One Comment leave one →
  1. December 22, 2011 10:58

    Looking forward to the continued growth of this living document.

    What’s funny is that last night I opened a Word document and threw in links and quotes from various online reads that I enjoyed or learned from throughout much of 2011, spurred by a sudden need to remember. Perhaps the gift of (re)attention might be the best thing to give while adrift in fast data.

    (I hope to get my act together and actually have a list up on the blog before the year ends.)

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