Category: n+1

On Liking Women

Andrea Long Chu for n+1
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For n+1‘s Motherland issue, Andrea Long Chu’s essay on transsexuality, Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto and feminist transphobia:

Once a week, for a single semester of high school, I would be dismissed early from class to board the athletics bus with fifteen teenage girls in sleek cap-sleeved volleyball jerseys and short shorts. I was the only boy.

Occasionally a girl who still needed to change would excuse herself behind a row of seats to slip out of her school uniform into the team’s dark-blue colors. For more minor wardrobe adjustments, I was simply asked to close my eyes. In theory, all sights were trained on the game ahead where I, as official scorekeeper, would push numbers around a byzantine spreadsheet while the girls leapt, dug, and dove with raw, adolescent power. But whatever discipline had instilled itself before a match would dissolve in its aftermath, often following a pit stop for greasy highway-exit food, as the girls relaxed into an innocent dishabille: untucked jerseys, tight undershirts, the strap of a sports bra. They talked, with the candor of postgame exhaustion, of boys, sex, and other vices; of good taste and bad blood and small, sharp desires. I sat, and I listened, and I waited, patiently, for that wayward electric pulse that passes unplanned from one bare upper arm to another on an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday evening, the away-game bus cruising back over the border between one red state and another.

The truth is, I have never been able to differentiate liking women from wanting to be like them. For years, the former desire held the latter in its mouth, like a capsule too dangerous to swallow. When I trawl the seafloor of my childhood for sunken tokens of things to come, these bus rides are about the gayest thing I can find. They probably weren’t even all that gay. It is common, after all, for high school athletes to try to squash the inherent homoeroticism of same-sex sport under the heavy cleat of denial. But I’m too desperate to salvage a single genuine lesbian memory from the wreckage of the scared, straight boy whose life I will never not have lived to be choosy. The only other memory with a shot at that title is my pubescent infatuation with my best friend, a moody, low-voiced, Hot Topic–shopping girl who, it dawned on me only many years later, was doing her best impression of Shane from The L Word. One day she told me she had a secret to tell me after school; I spent the whole day queasy with hope that a declaration of her affections was forthcoming. Later, over the phone, after a pause big enough to drown in, she told me she was gay. “I thought you might say that,” I replied, weeping inside. A decade later, after long having fallen out of touch, I texted her. “A week ago, I figured out that I am trans,” I wrote. “You came out to me all those years ago. Just returning the favor.”

This was months before I began teaching my first undergraduate recitation, where for the second time in my life—but the first time as a woman—I read Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto. The SCUM Manifesto is a deliciously vicious feminist screed calling for the revolutionary overthrow of all men; Solanas self-published it in 1967, one year before she shot Andy Warhol on the sixth floor of the Decker Building in New York City. I wondered how my students would feel about it. In the bathroom before class, as I fixed my lipstick and fiddled with my hair, I was approached by a thoughtful, earnest young woman who sat directly to my right during class. “I loved the Solanas reading,” she told me breathlessly. “I didn’t know that was a thing you could study.” I cocked my head, confused. “You didn’t know what was a thing you could study?” “Feminism!” she said, beaming. In class, I would glance over at this student’s notes, only to discover that she had filled the page with the word SCUM, written over and over with the baroque tenderness usually reserved for the name of a crush.

I, too, had become infatuated with feminism in college. I, too, had felt the thrill of its clandestine discovery. I had caught a shy glimpse of her across a dim, crowded dormitory room vibrating with electronic music and unclear intentions: a low-key, confident girl, slightly aloof, with a gravity all neighboring bodies obeyed. Feminism was too cool, too effortlessly hip, to be interested in a person like me, whom social anxiety had prevented from speaking over the telephone until well into high school. Besides, I heard she only dated women. I limited myself, therefore, to acts of distant admiration. I left critical comments on the student newspaper’s latest exposé of this or that frat party. I took a Women’s Studies course that had only one other man in it. I read desperately, from Shulamith Firestone to Jezebel, and I wrote: bizarre, profane plays about rape culture, one where the archangel Gabriel had a monologue so vile it would have burned David Mamet’s tongue clean off; and ugly, strange poetry featuring something I was calling the Beautiful Hermaphrodite Proletariat. Feminism was all I wanted to think about, talk about. When I visited home, my mother and my sister, plainly irritated, informed me that I did not know what it was like to be a woman. But a crush was a crush, if anything buttressed by the conviction that feminism, like any of the girls I had ever liked, was too good for me.

(…)

Fairouz in Exile

Matthew McNaught for n+1
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Featured in n+1, Matthew McNaught’s poignant essay explores the experiences of displaced Syrian civilians through the story of his friend, Ahmad:

FAIROUZ IS UNSTUCK IN TIME: one moment, a 1960s starlet in a silk scarf, a Spanish guitar in her hands; the next, a stately elder in a white dress, all regal poise and consoling gaze before an auditorium of fans. Seconds pass and she is Nouhad Haddad, a late-1940s teenager with puppy fat and frizzy schoolgirl hair, before the stage name, the stylist, the international fame.

“Just search ‘Fairouz morning songs,’” Ahmad told me.1 “There are hundreds of compilations.” This was one of the first I found. Like the images in the slide show, the songs move back and forth through time. The Arabic ensemblestrings, oud, and zither, braiding a single line over the clattering groove of percussionis replaced now and then by bossa nova guitar or jazzy piano. Throughout it all, the voice is unmistakable. The same tender and maternal tone, alighting softly on consonants; the same clear, high notes and birdlike tumbles down the scale.

I write your name, my love, on the poplar tree

And you write my name, my love, in the sand of the street

My God, her voice is like honey, writes one commenter. This is an unusually civil corner of YouTube. Many just stop to say good morning, in the ornate way Arabic allows: morning of hope, morning of roses, morning of love. Others reminisce, and in this the Syrians outnumber any other nationality, even those from the diva’s native Lebanon. That morning sun, that smell of Damascene jasmine, and Fairouz filling every house. God, may those days return. One comment recurs like a mantra, repeated almost word for word under every compilation video like this: There is nothing sweeter than starting the day with a cup of coffee and the voice of Fairouz.

Tomorrow, when the rain falls on our broken stories

Your name will remain, my love, and mine will be erased

AHMAD TOLD ME his Fairouz ritual starts soon after 9 AM. He doesn’t need to set an alarm; by nine, enough of his seventeen roommates are up to make oversleeping impossible. He makes his bed, tidies the portion of the room he shares with two other Syrians, and brushes his teeth. He goes to the kitchen, one of two in the apartment, pulls up the YouTube compilation on his phone, and puts the kettle on.

Sometimes Ahmad enters the kitchen to find Edmund, from Ghana, at the table rolling his morning joint. Hassan, from the Congo, often sits by the windowsill, pouring sweet black tea from one glass to another until it has a head of silky foama habit he acquired in Mali, one of the longer stops on his ten-year journey to Europe. The Albanians listen to Albanian pop music on their phones, Edmund to dancehall, Hassan to Bob Marley. But when Ahmad has his morning coffee, everybody knows it’s time for Fairouz.

WITHIN SECONDS of our first real conversation in six years, Ahmad was mocking me like in the old days. When we last spoke, I had been studying Arabic in Syria for more than two years and gained a limited, inelegant fluency in the Syrian dialect. He’d had fun with this, testing me with a barrage of ornate expressions straight out of a ’30s Damascene period drama or getting me to repeat rude or obscure Syrian insults. Five years in England with an Iraqi wife had left me with a mongrel accent, a Baghdad-Damascus-Hampshire cross that he now found hilarious. “Your Arabic is amazing,” he said, through wheezing laughter.

Between 2007 and 2009 I was a part-time English teacher at a language school in the center of Damascus. Ahmad, who was 20 at the time, helped run a nearby café. When I had morning classes, he gave me my first coffee of the day and often my first conversation.

It didn’t take long for me to update him on my own news. I got married, left teaching, went back to school, and started a job in mental health. I lived in Southampton, on the south coast of England. Southampton was nice, I said, but a little dull.

Ahmad’s news took longer. After March 2011, he threw himself into the protest movement in his home suburb of Moadamiya. He saw peaceful marches turn to bloodbaths, and after months of killing and mass arrests, saw the opposition in Moadamiya turn to violence. He lost his job when the café closed down in 2012. He saw the regime response in Moadamiya escalate to a full-blown siege, and the armed opposition there turn increasingly sectarian and Islamist.

He managed to flee to a safer suburb in 2013, leave Syria for Lebanon in 2014, and fly to Nepal, where a family friend had offered him a job in a Syrian restaurant in the tourist town of Pokhara. After a few months running the kitchen he fell out with the owner, lost his job, survived an earthquake, and spent the last of his meager savings. With the help of friends, he borrowed enough money to get a flight to Istanbul that stopped over in Serbia. He fled the airport during transit. From Serbia he began his long journeyby foot, by bus, by shared taxito Bielefeld, in northwest Germany. Bielefeld was nice, he said.

He listed his losses quickly, as if to skate over the full truth of them: an uncle beheaded by pro-regime shabiha in a mosque. Four cousins to shelling. Another cousin, taken at a checkpoint and tortured to death. An aunt, shot by an antitank round while driving her car. A close friend to a sniper, another to torture, two more to gunfire. All this, he said, was before the siege really began.

His parents and his siblings were OK. His mom and dad had fled to Lebanon along with two of his sisters and his younger brother. His parents were in poor health but lived in relative safety. His two other brothers, his sister, and their families were still living under siege in Moadamiya.

He didn’t want to stay in Germany for good, he said. But for now he wanted to make the most of it: master the language, get a job. And he wanted, more than anything, for some of his family to join him. The younger ones had missed out on years of schooling. If they made it to Germany, they could at least get an education.

(…)

Ghost in the Cloud

Meghan O'Gieblyn for n+1
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Meghan O’Gieblyn writes for n+1 on the relationship between transhumanism and religion.

I DO PLAN TO BRING BACK MY FATHER,” Ray Kurzweil says. He is standing in the anemic light of a storage unit, his frame dwarfed by towers of cardboard boxes and oblong plastic bins. He wears tinted eyeglasses. He is in his early sixties, but something about the light or his posture, his paunch protruding over his beltline, makes him seem older. Kurzweil is now a director of engineering at Google, but this documentary was filmed in 2009, back when it was still possible to regard him as a lone visionary with eccentric ideas about the future. The boxes in the storage unit contain the remnants of his father’s life: photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, and financial documents. For decades, he has been compiling these artifacts and storing them in this sepulcher he maintains near his house in Newton, Massachusetts. He takes out a notebook filled with his father’s handwriting and shows it to the camera. His father passed away in 1970, but Kurzweil believes that, one day, artificial intelligence will be able to use the memorabilia, along with DNA samples, to resurrect him. “People do live on in our memories, and in the creative works they leave behind,” he muses, “so we can gather up all those vibrations and bring them back, I believe.”

Technology, Kurzweil has conceded, is still a long way from bringing back the dead. His only hope of seeing his father resurrected is to live to see the Singularitythe moment when computing power reaches an “intelligence explosion.” At this point, according to transhumanists such as Kurzweil, people who are merged with this technology will undergo a radical transformation. They will become posthuman: immortal, limitless, changed beyond recognition. Kurzweil predicts this will happen by the year 2045. Unlike his father, he, along with those of us who are lucky enough to survive into the middle of this century, will achieve immortality without ever tasting death.

But perhaps the Apostle Paul put it more poetically: “We will not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.”

(…)

Jesus Raves — Sects on the beach

Jordan Kisner writing for N+1 magazine
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Jordan Kisner follows the pastors of Liberty Church as they recruit America’s freshest generation of Christians, for n+1 magazine:

Five pm at the Sloppy Tuna and the Christians are party ready. The house music started bumping around 11 AM—because it is Saturday in Montauk, and summertime—but five o’clock is the golden hour, when everyone is sundrunk and loose and beautiful. Girls in cutoff shorts and bikini tops throw their arms around boys in Wayfarers, and sway. The dance floor is jammed and everything is spilling, the effect being that it seems to be raining PBR, and the mixture of sweat and sand and other people’s beer feels gritty and intoxicating on the skin. The light comes through the crowd slantwise because the sun is setting just past the railing that separates the dance floor from the beach, and while the heat and the stick and the pressing in of bodies is uncomfortable, the visual is stunning: a jungle of skin and light and air thick with energy that is not quite joie de vivre and not quite a collective, ecstatic denial of mortality but something ineffable and in-between.

Pastor Parker Richard Green is standing near the entrance, by the railing where there’s a view of the water, drinking a beer. He’s 26 and almost aggressively healthy looking. Tawny of skin, blue of eye, blond of crew cut, he looks like he’s straight from the manufacturer, a human prototype intended to indicate the correct proportion of biceps to shoulders. His brow is square and his jaw is square, and maybe even his whole head is kind of square, but he’s pulling it off.

Next to him is Jessi Marquez, also blond, also tawny. Her face is familiar from stock photographs of sunkissed girls with highlights—wispy hair, round blue eyes, a smile to please—but mysteriously hard to place, as though the lens tilted. Her chin is soft, not angular; her teeth are slightly crooked. On her wrist she has tattooed Grace, and her right shoulder readsAND THEN SOME, because she wants to remember that God will provide everything you need . . . and then some.

Parker and Jessi have managed to locate the girl in the dancing mass who seems most out of control. She’s coke thin, maybe heroin thin, and dazey and wild, jumping up and down and waving her stick arms. They’re discreet about it—they stand near her group of friends on the dance floor and catch her as she bounces back and forth—and because they don’t invite her to church directly, and Parker, in his board shorts and sleeveless T-shirt, is no one’s vision of a pastor, she doesn’t realize. If she knew she were speaking to a pastor and his bride-to-be, she might not be screaming into his ear, “I love you so fucking much I’m going to jizz all over your fucking face no really I am Imma come and rub it all over your fucking face.”

“You’re like my new favorite person,” Jessi tells her. “You’re like a composite of all our friends. We’re gonna be best friends. Give me your number.” Cokethin stops running in circles for a minute and does this, and then shouts, “Text me you have to text me right now so I have your number too.”

“I am,” Jessi says. “I am texting you. You’re gonna come out with us tonight and then you’re going to spend all day with us tomorrow.” Tomorrow, Sunday.

“I’m gonna text you did you text me you have to text me.”

“I already texted you. I texted you two minutes ago.”

Cokethin accepts the challenge. “I texted you an hour ago.”

“I texted you yesterday.”

“I texted you years ago.”

“I texted you before you were even born! I texted you when you were in your mother’s womb!” With this Jessi wins. Cokethin screams for good measure and then announces, “I’m going now but I’ll see you guys later because you’re my new best friends kbye,” and whirls away off the dance floor and into the road.

They stare after her and then laugh. Satisfied, Jessi leans over and says to Parker, “Now that’show you make a Christian.”

Parker laughs and shrugs. “Yeah,” he says. “In Montauk, that’s pretty much how it works.”

(…)

What Can Feminists Do?

Dayna Tortorici
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Eschewing despondency, Dayna Tortorici explores the avenues open to women after the result of last week’s US election. The full article can be read on the n+1 website: 

WHEN I SAW THE EXIT POLLS on Wednesday morning, I felt gutted. 53 percent of white women had voted for Trump. It wasn’t that I’d expected them to throw their weight unanimously behind Clinton, but I’d expected more than this. No doubt many of these women voted for whiteness above all else, consciously or otherwise. Who knows why anyone votes the way they do? To presume knowledge from data, we’ve learned, is facile. But at least some white women seemed to like Trump because he reminded them of their husbands and boyfriends—arrogant, chauvinist men of exaggerated confidence—and they were sticking by their man. Make America great again, they said: but was life in the US better for women in the past than it is now, even accounting for the vast inequalities between women of different classes and ethnicities? I wondered if these women had rejected the liberal feminism on offer from the Clinton campaign, or whether they had never known it, or any kind of feminism, at all.

Feminism, it seems, has little mass institutional infrastructure beyond reproductive health organizations like Planned Parenthood. Feminist philosophy and history are barely taught outside the relatively small world of women’s and gender studies departments. There are many, many women in the United States to whom feminism has never been available. Solidarity among white women may exist among feminists, but it doesn’t across white women as a whole.

Perversely, I look at Melania Trump and see a woman who needs feminism. I look at Ivanka Trump—perhaps the most privileged white woman in America, the beneficiary of an international domestic-labor market that frees her from housework by putting it on underpaid women from Asia, Africa, and the Philippines; a woman who hardly pays her factory workers in Dongguan for sixteen-hour days making Ivanka Trump shoes; who poses for Vogue while her Chinese nanny Xixi watches her three children—I look at this woman I despise and think even she needs feminism. What else could compel her to change? Segregation of the sexes is especially stark among the very rich, and there’s no doubt in my mind that if there’s any form of oppression Ivanka knows, it’s sexism. No matter how many women she ignores, undermines, or exploits, she will never be a man. Her life, in its way, will be narrow and lonely. And she will injure many women she will never know and never see.

(…)

Bluebeard

Dayna Tortorici on Elena Ferrante
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The ‘unmasking’ of Elena Ferrante earlier this year by Italian journalist Claudio Gatti angered many of her fans. Dayna Torcini argues passionately for Ferrante’s anonymity. The full article can be read on the n+1 website:

WHAT IS IT WE WANT FROM OUR AUTHORS? Too much, and of the wrong sort. A writer publishes seven novels and we ask that she sit for a picture. She signs with the name she chose for herself, but we want the one on her passport. We demand her presence at the Frankfurt Book Fair, her presence at the Strega Prize ceremony, her life story, her real estate records, and not for the scholarly reasons we pretend. The truth is we feel entitled to our celebrities and consider publicity the price of fame. “Elena Ferrante: An Answer?” reads the headline of the latest attempt to reveal her identity. To which one might ask: an answer to what?

For an anonymous author, Elena Ferrante is not stingy. She has given many interviews, usually through written correspondence, and furnished her critics with ample material to aid in their task of interpretation. She has shared her literary influences, her political views, an account of her process, and her working definition of literary truth. She has also explained ad nauseam her insistence on being “absent” as an author, her refusal to appear in public as Ferrante or publish under her given name. Her initial reason was shyness. “I was frightened at the thought of having to come out of my shell,” she told the Paris Review, a hesitation most writers will understand. (Writing, at least in theory, is the rare type of performance at which the timid, nervous, and physically ungainly can excel.) Over time, she came to embrace the implicit stance against publicity, the “self-promotion obsessively imposed by the media,” and the facile readings that author-worship tends to encourage. The trouble with reading biographically—as anyone who’s tried it can tell you—is how quickly it slips into reading symptomatically: search the author for clues to the novel and soon you’ll be searching the novel for clues to the author. It’s not a crime, to read this way, but it tends to foreclose other interpretive paths. It also mistakes the author for an analysand, the novel for a dream. Ferrante’s absence keeps things open: “Remove that individual [the author] from the public eye,” she said, and “we discover that the text contains more than we imagine.”

Ferrante’s case against biographical criticism was, in its way, far simpler and more conservative than its antecedents: the New Critics’ “intentional fallacy” and the poststructuralists’ theory of the author-function. For Ferrante, an author’s absence merely restored the basic conditions of literature to the public: it enabled the writer to write and the reader to read. There would be no time-consuming book tour or demoralizing spreads in the Thursday Styles section, where the women writers often go. (What is Elena Ferrante wearing? Can you imagine?) Nor would there be any irritating authority figure saying this or that character is really X, no obnoxious public presence we would have to square, somehow, with the beautiful things she wrote. The persona of the author is an intrusion on the solitary psychic space of a novel. By protecting her privacy, Ferrante protected ours.

(…)

The Last Summer

Donald Trump and the Fall of Atlantic City
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‘To me, Trump was always a blusterer, a conniver, a mouth: a cotton-candy-haired clown who crashed the AC party late and left it early and ugly’— Joshua Cohen examines the effect Donald Trump has had on his home town of Atlantic City.

THE GOVERNMENTS THAT GET THEMED into casino-hotel-resort properties tend not to be democracies, but oligarchies, aristocracies, monarchies, Africa-and-Asia-devouring empires. Pharaonic Egypt, Doge-age Venice, Imperial Rome, Mughal India. Atlantic City has incarnations of the latter two—Caesars Atlantic City and the Trump Taj Mahal—with the Taj being the last property in the city to bear the Republican candidate’s name, though it’s owned by distressed-asset czar Carl Icahn, who also owns the Tropicana, a crumbling heap styled after the Casa de Justicia of some amorphous banana republic. The worse the regime, the better the chance of its simulacrum’s survival. Atlantic City’s Revel, a hulking fin-like erection of concrete, steel, and glass that cost in the neighborhood of $2.4 billion, opened in 2012 only to close in 2014, which just goes to show that an abstract noun, verb, or imperative in search of punctuation (Revel!) doesn’t have quite the same cachet as a lost homicidal culture.

Today, the fake ruins of Rome and India are among the cleanest, safest havens to be found in the real ruins of Atlantic City—a dying city that lives for summer. I was returning there, to my family there, still unsure as to whether this summer would be my last or its last or both.

Now, given the fact that AC’s been so perpetually press-maligned that I can remember nearly every summer of the sixteen I spent there being deemed, by someone, “crucial,” “decisive,” “definitive,” or “the last,” this suspicion of mine might seem, especially to fellow Jersey Shore natives, irresponsible and even idiotic—so I will clarify: I don’t mean that I thought that after this summer of big media scrutiny but little new money the city would burn, or that the Atlantic Ocean would finally rise up and swallow it. I just thought that, come Labor Day, the city’s bad-luck streak would only break for worse and no one would care.

After the legalization of Indian tribal and nontribal casinos in Connecticut in the 1990s and in Pennsylvania in the 2000s; after the legalization of tribal casinos in upstate New York in the ’90s and of nontribal casinos in the 2010s; after the damage done to the city by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and all the myriad, still-ongoing depredations of the so-called global Great Recession that resulted in the closing of four of the city’s casinos in 2014 (the Revel, the Showboat, The Atlantic Club, and Trump Plaza), leaving AC with the highest rate of foreclosure of any urban area in the country between fourth-quarter 2014 and the present; this summer—the summer of 2016—already felt like the fall. Maybe this wouldn’t be the last summer that White House Subs or Chef Vola’s would ever be serving, but it might be the last summer that I, as a sane, unarmed, and relatively pacific human being would still feel comfortable traveling to them for a cheesesteak or veal parm on foot—taking the stairs down from the overlit Boardwalk to the underlit streets of what’s officially become the most dangerous city in Jersey, now that Camden has stopped reporting its crime statistics to the FBI. It occurred to me that if and when AC is ever visitable or enjoyable again, my parents will probably have retired south to Cape May, and the few acquaintances of mine who still live on Absecon Island—the island of which AC is the northernmost town—will probably have left.

(…)

My Life

Chantal Clark on n+1
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A short story by Chantal Clark on n+1 that is and is not a compulsive taxonomy of disturbingly normal things. 

I have a house, and it’s great. My money bought it, so it’s mine. I love to live in it. Never yours, always mine.

I have sex with a man, my husband. It’s great. We do it a long time. It feels good. A great time.

My mother comes to visit. She lives somewhere else. I came out of her vagina.

My job is at an office. I do it with a computer. It’s a lot of work. For one half hour I eat lunch.

I wear dresses, because I’m a woman. I also wear a bra, underpants, stockings, high-heeled shoes, a ring, a coat, a hat, and something else I’m forgetting right now. Eyeglasses. When I go inside my work

I take off the coat, the hat, and one time my shoes, but never all the other things.

My father was a man, and my mother is a woman.

My father is dead. His body was put into a coffin, and the coffin was put into the ground. He will be there until the end of time.

I am thirty-four years old. There are gray hairs on my head and wrinkles on my brow. I do a diet and jog around the track. I wear makeup on my face, such as lipstick.

Sometimes I hear voices, and they make me scared. The voices are in books, on television, on the radio, in the computer, and sometimes in a real person. They are different voices than my own. I’ve seen more dead bodies than most people I know.

Forget about the future, the past is what’s great. I remember the past, and I tell people about it in stories. My stories never include the future, which hasn’t happened yet.

When my father died from an illness, people said, “I’m sorry.” My friend said, “Take it one day at a time.” When I was younger I thought these were dumb words because lots of people had said them before, but now I think that these are smart words because lots of people have said them before. When he stopped breathing, I cried dozens and dozens of tears.

I have a dog named Meatball and a cat named Skinbag.

I am a light beige person. My hair is dark brown. My eyes are green. The bra I wear is for my breasts, which grew when I was a teenager. I also grew hair on my vagina and other places. Children can be distinguished from adults by their inferior height.

Some of my hairs I pull out. Hair is ugly—better to be shiny and smooth.

God lives inside a church, and he tells me that everything is great.

I had a wedding in a beautiful building. My dress was white and admired by everyone. A ceremony, rings, kissing, a toast, eating, speeches, and dancing happened. After my husband and I left, someone executed clean-up maneuvers.

My car is white and great. My husband has a vehicle too—green. We wear our seat belts when we drive and turn the steering wheels.

A child came out of my vagina. It was small and crying. Sometimes it was quiet. Later it grew. I sang so it would go to sleep and gave it milk. There were a lot of diapers. It was a girl.

Last week I put cheese and crackers on a tray. I bought wine. Lots of people came over. Music was playing. It was a great party.

My husband is in the garage kissing the babysitter. I pay the babysitter money to watch my child when I go to the office or to other people’s great parties. I am full of anger, but that’s okay.

Just kidding! Everything I’ve told you is a lie.

Seventies Throwback Fiction

From the new issue of n+1
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Good piece by Nicholas Dames on nostalgia for the 1970s and historical pastiche, in the new issue of n+1: 

HISTORICAL PASTICHE IS ONE OF OUR MOST important art forms, cutting across all media. We come to know it best through what we might call “decade-ism,” the artistic practice of parceling out history in ten-year spans. There is a menu of decades to choose from, and an audience with sophisticated tastes in recent period detail waiting to sample the latest clever, self-aware tweaking of classic ingredients. That TV serial set in the Sixties? It’s as rich as it looks, but the bitter aftertaste tells you the chef is sending up the clichés. Perhaps you’d prefer instead something from the Fifties (meaty, starchy) or, if you need something lighter, the Eighties (faintly metallic, a bit too sweet)? It doesn’t matter that these are simulacra. That knowingness only results in a finer appreciation for the precision and flair with which the results are prepared.

Not everything on the menu has been craved, though. The Seventies, that ragged decade, tends to be fodder for easy comedy. The details that attach to it — the polyester-and-feathered-hair-and-Moog-synthesizer aura — haven’t seemed ripe for mythic reinvention or idealizing treatment, more because of their banality than their unattractiveness. Images from the Seventies seem like meaningless citations without any larger significance, funny only because of their weird hollow particularity. Wasn’t the decade a dead end? Aren’t its details purely hermetic and self-regarding, artifacts from a time capsule no one would have intentionally preserved? Who would want to revisit that? Even Fredric Jameson, anatomist of our nostalgias, once commented that the specificity of the Seventies was its lack of specificity (ah, dialectical criticism! — one might almost think it an artifact of the very time it diagnoses). You can have a sincere or ironic taste for that trashy style, but you can’t pretend that anything world-historical gave that taste its alibi.

Everyone knows now how decades come back into fashion with motiveless regularity. That’s what pastiche does: it supplies styles for a market that craves novelty, even the refurbished kind. But the recent burst of fictional resurrections of the Seventies — the most acclaimed novels of recent years among them — doesn’t just represent the establishment of a new consumer market. The novelists who have lately returned to the Seventies seem to be making a stronger claim: that there is something uniquely vital to the decade, and in fact uniquely to be missed. In a bid to transcend our knowing cynicism, as well as the shabby reputation the Seventies have had, these stories hold up that moment for complicated admiration and longing. No small melancholy attends that task of historical recovery. Few people, Flaubert remarked to a friend after writing Salammbô, could guess how sad one had to be to want to resuscitate Carthage. How sad does one have to be to want to resuscitate the era of stagflation?

Here is the territory the novels evoke: a mythic late summer, spacious, unsupervised, a little druggy, a little restless, hedged only by the feeling that everything is about to end. The actual location varies. It could be an upstate New York commune, a legacy of 1968, finding itself a victim of its own success (Arcadia); it could be a college campus in Rhode Island, a quiet refuge from Indian political turmoil (The Lowland); it could be a duplex community in Roanoke, Virginia, a turnout on the highway of downward mobility (Sister Golden Hair); it could be SoHo as the artists first move in (The Flamethrowers) or a Queens apartment complex as the immigrants start to move out (Dissident Gardens); it could even, in a slightly more literal version, be a Massachusetts summer arts camp (The Interestings). These are temporary, ramshackle utopias; no one ever quite gets over them. They are all, strikingly, collectives of one kind or another. Communal mourning saturates these stories: Norman Rush’s Subtle Bodies gives us a literal funeral, where college friends grieve over a dead friend and their mid-Seventies college days — but none of these novels is ever very far from a feeling that a group is coming or has come to an end. This feeling can take the form of wistfulness or, in the case of the professor of “Nixonology” who narrates A. M. Homes’s May We Be Forgiven?, a barely respectable obsession. Put it in the terms of the tag-line leading in to one of the decade’s most famous guitar riffs: close your eyes and it slips away.

This can all seem very archetypal, just a middle-aged generation mourning its youth. But what’s being mourned is even smaller and sharper than a decade: the post-OPEC-embargo, pre-Iran-hostage-crisis détente years on the American scene, as encapsulated in some landscapes that, however topographically different, share a family resemblance. Passive and wide-eyed protagonists, without obvious talents other than their sensitivity, drift through a world where grandiose hopes — for liberation or equality or world peace — are receding, but seem perhaps more realizable in the wash of their retreat. It’s not a moment to which any piety is owed: it’s “a world of fuckers,” as Meg Wolitzer’s teenagers see it; “a Ponzi scheme of herpes and divorce,” as one of Jonathan Lethem’s disillusioned ranters puts it. But there was space and time, we’re told. “We felt like we could play around,” one of Rush’s mourners recalls. It’s not that it was bliss in that dawn to be alive — more that it wasn’t all that bad to laze around in that late afternoon. Not much to miss, it seems; why might we miss it now?

(…)

On Fruitarians

Alexandra Kleeman in the Guardian (via n+1)
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The Guardian excerpt Alexandra Kleeman’s essay on Fruitarians, forthcoming in issue 21 of n+1

On the second night of the Woodstock fruit festival in upstate New York, long after dinner had been cleared, I stood in the dining hall and waited with other festivalgoers for what was rumoured to be a “fuck ton” of durian, a large, spiky tropical fruit famous for smelling like dung. Thick bass pummelled the air from the rave-style DJ in the corner. It was mid-August, and with the nearness and number of other peoples’ bodies I was overly warm, almost sweating. Beneath the buzz of long fluorescent bulbs, small children limboed under a piece of string to the sloppy clapping of adults, and somewhere in the hall a drum circle stuttered to an entirely different rhythm. It was too bright, too noisy, and everywhere I went there was the slight whiff of fruit-rot, a sweet, sticky smell whose origin was decay.

It was the first of the festival’s many “Sweet Durian Nites”, a dance party that climaxed with the consumption of hundreds and hundreds of ripe durian fruits. The dining hall was packed with exemplars of health and youth and whiteness. There were lean kids in T-shirts and shorts, hippie chicks with rippling hair, sporty-looking guys wearing toe shoes – snug, rubberised foot-gloves that swaddle the foot in hi-tech materials in order to mimic the conditions of running barefoot. Everyone looked comfortable. Everyone had good posture. Everyone was attractive, or more precisely, all the attendees looked so well that I felt like I should be attracted to them. Even the older attendees seemed young: I had the experience many times of walking towards a girl with long hair and skinny legs only to discover up close that she was well over 60.

A narrow-headed man with arms like an action figure introduced himself as Jay and asked if this was my first time trying durian. I told him I’d only had it cooked in puddings or cakes, and he assured me that raw, fresh durian was a completely different thing. He said I’ll go nuts for it, especially if I stuck to a fruitarian diet. “The cleaner you get,” he said, “the more your body craves that sulphur flavour. And you’ll be able to taste more in it – coffee, ice cream, whiskey, lemon. If there’s something you miss eating, durian starts to taste just like it.”

I was first introduced to fruitarianism by a close friend who crashed with me for a weekend in 2012. I opened the door and watched her roll a carry-on suitcase into the entryway, set it down, unzip it, and remove two 40oz plastic containers of red globe grapes, which she rinsed off and consumed in their entirety while standing in the middle of my kitchen. When she was done, she put the spindly grape-skeletons back in their plastic clamshells, and the clamshells back in her suitcase. She had been on a fruit-based diet for just a couple of months, but was already reporting astounding changes: an end to the stomach pains that had troubled her for years; bursting, glowy levels of energy; sharpened concentration; happiness. “I love it,” she told me. “It’s like the whole world is made of delicious, dripping sugar.” Her diet didn’t sound safe, but my friend looked well. She buzzed with intense wellbeing and her skin looked enviably great, although she took frequent naps.

Most faithfully described as a “plant-based raw vegan diet” (the term fruitarian is preferred among practitioners, although only a fraction are on an all-fruit diet), fruitarianism largely adheres to a nutritional regimen known as 80-10-10. This is a high-carb, low-fat diet in which at least 80% of one’s calorie consumption is expected to come from the simple carbohydrates found in fresh fruits and vegetables, with at most 10% each coming from protein and fat. As a point of comparison, the Atkins diet begins with a recommended ratio of 10% carbs, 29% protein, and 65% fat. Because fruits and vegetables naturally contain small amounts of fat and protein, Dr Doug Graham, an unlicensed chiropractor and the man behind 80-10-10, claims that you can thrive on a diet composed entirely of fresh raw fruits, raw leafy greens, and only occasional supplements of nuts or seeds. For a fruitarian, breakfast might be 1lb of kiwi blended with 1lb of orange juice, with 1lb 12oz of peeled bananas wrapped in romaine leaves for lunch, and a three-course dinner consisting of 1lb blended tangerines and pineapple; 1lb of tangerines, celery, and red bell peppers blended into a soup, and a side salad.

This diet is not easy to maintain, but raw fruit experts promise a vast array of benefits. In testimonials, fruitarians claim that going raw has done everything from curing cancer to eliminating body odour and changing the colour of one’s eyes from brown to blue. Unlike other diets, 80-10-10 promises to transform your experience of your body, revealing levels of thriving that you didn’t know existed. In this way, “going raw” breaks with the traditional function of diet as rudimentary medicine (seen even in early Hippocratic medical texts) and becomes a lifestyle. A diet tells you what you should eat; a lifestyle tells you how you should feel about it.

The history of recreational dieting is fairly brief. Until the rise of natural-food communities in the 1970s, it could be argued that for most secular people, diet and lifestyle were imagined as distinct, compartmentalised aspects of daily life. Diets were faddish, seasonal, geared towards achieving a specific goal and then abandoned once they were no longer needed. They were not supposed to rearrange social ties or create new communities, only help you to succeed within your existing community by becoming a slimmer and more attractive version of yourself. From the 1880s onwards, after the discovery of food as a composite of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, most diets emphasised eating the right amount of existing mainstream foods in the right proportion to satisfy nutritional needs. That changed with the leftist utopian food communities of the 1960s and 70s – a precursor to today’s fruitarians – and the age of negative nutrition, which sought to reduce or eliminate foods that had previously been part of a nutritious standard American diet. Negative nutrition spurned sodium, cholesterol, sugar, and fat – and the suspicions it raised about the standard American diet lent momentum to the growing natural foods movement.

In the natural foods movement of the 1960s and 70s, activists and hippies combined diet, politics, and community, to provide a vision of how one could live a life that matched one’s diet. Foods were eliminated not only for health reasons but in order to cultivate a desirable personality – meat-eating, for example, was denounced as an impediment to spiritual growth and a cause of aggressive behaviour. Groups such as The Diggers in San Francisco gave food away for free and popularised wholewheat bread baked in emptied coffee cans as part of a broader experiment in creating a miniature society free from capitalism, while the macrobiotic Zen diet proposed eating your way to enlightenment through 10 different stages, each more restrictive than the last, until the eater reached an apex where she sustained herself on brown rice alone. The fruitarian lifestyle shares the narrative structure of the macrobiotic diet, its emphasis on eliminating toxicity within the body, as well as its ethos of restrictive decadence. Where it differs from macrobiotics is in its fixation on a utopian past. Like those on the nutritionally inverse “paleo” diet, fruitarians eat in hope of returning to a past that predates the primal wound of agrarian society, but whereas paleo dieters hark back to the era when humans were hunter‑gatherers, fruitarians look back to an even earlier time, when we were simply gatherers – equal, undifferentiated, and deeply in harmony with nature.

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