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Contents

Vax 2 the Max

For all the right-wing outrage over mass resignations of state troopers in Massachusetts (overstated) or mass layoffs of hospital workers in Texas and New York (real), there has been no collective revolt, no mass wave of wildcat strikes. The love affair with ivermectin and homespun nontreatments is disturbing, but does not seem to have grown stronger. It is, in other words, a ghastly new normal. But as other gaps in vaccination rates have narrowed, the partisan gap has increased dramatically.

Billionaire Follies

As weirdos who have been appointed to positions of great social power and influence by nothing more than the accident of their wealth, billionaires cannot be trusted to fix the world’s problems. No matter how much of their money they want to give away, things won’t begin to improve until we take it from them. Not because we need it, but because they can’t be trusted to handle it without destroying the collective preconditions of common existence.

Notes on Losing

So long as the left insists on discussing foreign policy exclusively in terms of morality, so long as it refuses to move into the political, it will continue to exclude itself from the contemporary moment’s most pressing debates. For instance, what would a leftist foreign policy look like with respect to Afghanistan, now that the Taliban has returned to power? It is not enough to say that the US should admit as many refugees as possible. It should do that, but to stop there is to tacitly accept that the US military will continue to turn people around the world into refugees for years to come, when the point is to fight for a world in which there are no refugees in need of resettlement.

The State vs. Ms. X

Even though thinkers like Kimberlé Crenshaw, Beth Richie, and Mariame Kaba have worked to bring police violence against women, nonbinary people, and trans people to light, the extent of that violence is vaster than can be known. This, in turn, limits the possibilities of what can be accomplished in the courtroom. Given that the courts have provided little in the way of protection to those who are not easily presentable as victims, it seems likely that there are any number of women who have been strip-searched who will never see their day in court. Even if they could, the decision in Mary Beth G. and cases like it gives good reason to distrust the courts as a meaningful avenue for doing away with state and state-sanctioned sexual violence — which, in the end, is what strip searches are: a form of bodily violation that the state alone has the legal right to perform. 

China Brain

The truth is it’s always the brain, reading or writing. It’s always the brain talking or eating, having sex, not having sex, lying about why, apologizing for earlier, walking around the apartment wondering where did I leave that thing, saying how could you do this to me, asking is this really happening, asking what will I do without you. Brains softly crying together. Brains kissing brains goodbye.

L’Autore Invisible

Translators themselves want to seem inconspicuous, like imperial clerks toiling away in a dark garret, resolving geopolitical issues by working out the finer terms in the draft of a big treaty. The collective need for invisibility creates a language that’s even, parsed out, correct — a language that escorts books out of their country and dresses them up as responsible travelers.

Elham’s Suitor

I open my eyes. The Colonel stares back at me like a buck’s head mounted on the wall. An abstract painting, blood streams from the old man’s throat down onto Parvin’s Che Guevara poster and over the star on Che’s forehead, where it gets lost in the black shadows on his face to reemerge out of Che’s left nostril.

Lucky Breaks

What is this story I am telling really about? Does it make any sense to continue? In fact, the story doesn’t exist, the narrative doesn’t continue, it breaks off. The florist disappeared. The house where she lived was destroyed.

Circle of Visibility

What is the remedy for dropping a bomb on fellow human beings, allowing their homes and the homes of their neighbors to burn to the ground, shooting at those trying to escape the fire, giving near life sentences to the survivors, and then, covertly, keeping the bones of those who died in the attack as trophies? What is the remedy for the creation and maintenance of the carceral state?

In Thrall

Choose your own birth adventure: either you come out of a dark vagina or an iridescent anus. Taking over for Spinoza, the receding figure who is always with us, Kafka laughs at the childishness of a second creation story. In his work, the animal speaks while the human is, ultimately, struck dumb by anal bureaucracies of his own making. Legal fictions estrange humans from each other and create, in the most sensitive souls, fissures that never heal.

Mammals

She called all the local doulas and hired me because I was cheapest. I still wasn’t sure whether this was a pastime or calling or business or what, but I was leaning toward pastime/calling, as I had neither the desire nor the bandwidth to hustle in this realm. So I asked for the tiniest of honorariums. 

My fellow doulas got wind of this and read me the riot act, because I was undermining the whole community. We all had to charge within the same ballpark. No one cared whether this was my calling or pastime or what; just please charge the standard goddamn rate. I apologized. I hadn’t wanted money to be a thing, but money is always a thing.

Vale

The worst thing about being alone is that you have to talk to strangers, and that’s awkward. He was bullied as a boy for saying funny things at the wrong time. Even his sisters used to say he had an odd manner of speaking, but there’s nothing he can do about that. What’s he supposed to do, not speak?

Literary Miniaturist

Leyner’s miniaturism does not entail a total turn inward — say, a pull-back shot, via a fiberoptic endoscope, up one’s own ass, to adapt another of his images. It is better read as a strategy for bracketing the novel’s viability as a form, which haunts so much contemporary fiction, so that the writing can get back to the serious business of delighting the immediate reader.

Once There Was Cinema

But amid the privatizing ascendance of streaming and the more general hollowing out of working-class and civic social life, a different scarcity pervades our time: the lack of opportunities for shared local cultural experience and democratic community building, preconditions to any left project of working-class organization. We need places to meet, to form bonds, to rebuild mass-popular and working-class social worlds not just at the political level of the party and the economic level of the union but at the cultural level of the neighborhood, the proletarianized suburb, the small town. This was once part of proletkino’s task; film, the great collective art, may yet play a role.

Literary Mercenaries, Ha Ha Ha

I’ve never thought of book reviewing as a means to an end. For me book reviewing is the end. Reading and thinking and writing about books — this is all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s why I went to graduate school (ha!), and it’s why I take jobs that will “let me write” (ha ha!).