The Intellectual Situation
Epilogue for a Way of Life by Marco Roth
Now, with seemingly unlimited time, it turned out our horizons were still limited by money. Even if we were the lucky ones who still had jobs, we’d lacked the capital and the strategic planning to afford safe houses in New Zealand, or just the Hudson Valley. It turned out we’d believed, perhaps too much, in the benefits of civilization. After social death came the death of the wider social: no more simple pleasures of nodding acquaintance, of subway solidarity, of breezy street eroticism. The last form, that of solidarity eye contact with fellow human beings, across a distance of six feet or the width of a sidewalk, nearly vanished once everyone put on masks — the reading of cheekbones and eyebrows will be one of the newer social skills in the years to come.
From Now On, I Vow to Only Read Fiction by Nausicaa Renner
I began my quarantine like most people, stuffed to the gills with news and scrambling for insight from writers. It was hard to slow myself down. I was working a lot more than usual (I work in journalism) and, in my spare time, desperately trying to adjust my state of mind to the new conditions. I felt like one of those shrimp injected with goo to augment its size, but instead of goo I was injecting myself with words: notes from a pandemic, blogs from a pandemic, dispatches from a pandemic, and pandemic journals.
Living Inside by Rachel Ossip
I worry about my lungs, about my girlfriend, about my 75-year-old aunt down the street, about my boomer parents across the country and my immunocompromised friends in New York and my healthy friends in New York, my friends who work in the service industry who have lost their jobs and my friends who are doctors and nurses, security guards and building attendants, who can’t stop working. My girlfriend hasn’t been ill in a decade, and she remains somehow serene about the illness itself, trusting her strong, WASP-athlete’s body to perform healing with the grace and efficiency it performs everything else. We fight about the utility of worrying; she says there’s no point, that all we can do is rest and wait, be kind to ourselves.
Paraphrase by Sarah Resnick
An advocate reports, Heard no water coming out of the sinks, and folks are not allowed to take showers. Instead they are giving them buckets of hot water every morning. Another advocate reports, Heard a guy had shortness of breath and started coughing up blood. He was taken to an outside hospital. “Are you considering clemency for elderly New Yorkers in state prisons?” a reporter asks Andrew Cuomo at his press briefing. “It’s something we’re looking at,” he replies.
Send in the Clowns by Namara Smith
Given the choice between a weak candidate who knew he was weak and a weak candidate who thought he was strong, the party establishment and the electorate settled for the first one. I used to think that putting Biden on the ticket was one of the biggest mistakes Obama made—he was a prosthetic, a concession to white identity politics. But this is unfair to Obama. He wasn’t wrong, after all, about the dangers of white identity politics. And perhaps this is also unfair to Biden. Being willing to be used as a prop can be a virtue.
We Used to Run This Country by Richard Beck
Reality utterly discredited the idea that the US could simply ship secular, democratic government and liberal market economics to the Middle East and then assemble them like so much IKEA flat-pack furniture. Yet America’s neoconservatives, loitering furtively around the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations or the Fox News studios in the hope that Donald Trump will catch one of their appearances, have not even bothered trying to explain how Iran would be different. The likeliest outcome of war with Iran is a hellish regional power vacuum, one that countries like Russia and China would be better positioned to exploit than the United States.
Coronavirus and Chronopolitics by Gabriel Winant
There is a great contradiction embodied in the facts that the virus is fundamentally a threat to the old; that this threat has been magnified enormously by the incompetence and malice of the ruling regime; and that the old are the primary mass political constituency of that regime. The coincidence in timing of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States and the crushing of Bernie Sanders’s bid to democratize our health system and face the related crisis of climate change—a defeat inflicted through extreme generational polarization—intensifies this contradiction further. The young are trying to save the old, as well as themselves; the old are trying to kill the young, as well as themselves.
Uncivil Commitment by Judith Levine and Erica R. Meiners
People who commit sexual harm have commonly experienced trauma as children or adults. Like most of us at some point in our lives, they could use therapy. But civil commitment is prison, and incarceration is psychologically destructive; indefinite detention borders on psychological torture—the opposite of therapy. Furthermore, the “treatment” arm of the sex offense legal regime asks us all to collaborate, recruiting the public, helping professions, schools, religious institutions, and even families to police the state’s boundaries between sexual normalcy and deviance. The radical approach to civil commitment is to stop thinking of sexual violence as a sociopathology from which the community must be safeguarded, and to turn instead to social and environmental approaches that engage the community in helping people who have done harm to live nonviolent lives.
American Dream by Francesco Pacifico
On my flights back from New York, I alleviated my fear of flying and the claustrophobia of the middle seat with noise-canceling headphones and, yes, Xanax. This was the first thing I’d ever done in my life that really felt like the zeitgeist. Before that, I’d been an obsessive Catholic who’d practiced the body art of sexual abstinence and the abstract art of counter-history, both of which I’d instrumentalized in my previous novel, The Story of My Purity, which follows an impotent Catholic anti-Semite from Rome to Paris. (This is the kind of thing that would be the zeitgeist today, if I or anyone else were trying to pull it off.) In the course of my trips to New York City I was starting to understand that for this class of people, for both groups, cocaine was making Xanax inevitable. “The city never sleeps, better slip you a Ambien,” as the anthem of the time went.
Take Me with You by Jacob Burns
To understand the protests, one must look beyond the grand narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which alone are insufficient to explain what is going on. There are other stories, stories about how, amid the smoke, bullets, and barbed wire, the protesters of Gaza forged an identity for themselves, found friendship, and temporarily escaped the suffocating boredom of life in a place where there is no future and that is almost impossible to leave.
Ground Zero by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
Years later, during my freshman year at college, a popular topic of conversation in the dining hall was where you were on 9/11. I learned that no matter how far away you were from New York that day, no matter how distant your connection to that day was, no matter how much lower than zero the count of the people you lost on that day was, if you were white, 9/11 happened to you personally, with blunt and scalding force. Because the antithesis of an American is an immigrant and because we could not be victims in the public eye, we became suspects. And so September 11 changed the immigration landscape forever.
The Bad Feature by Danielle Carr
To be clear, I’m not complaining. Even in the worst phases of a dysmorphia too mortifying to describe any further, I knew, rationally, that it was a politically conditioned tic of the mind, inseparable—like everything else—from its political-economic-historical conditions, but not inherently politically valorous for being so. Two months before my consultation with the surgeon, I had run the numbers. Surgery was cheaper than therapy, assuming as I did that it would take at least two years to get to the bottom of things by way of the couch. I didn’t want to stop wanting what I wanted. What I wanted was to be wanted in the way that I wanted. I wanted to change my appearance, not how I related to my own visibility. I was making a targeted strike.
Fiction and Drama
Misery by Danial Haghighi, translated from the Farsi by Salar Abdoh
It was like I was seeing her and myself for the first time. We soon got to talking about other subjects. Women and men. Injustice. Love. Before long another half hour had passed and suddenly I felt a surge under my skin. As if some other body had entered me. I reached over for the light and turned it off. Then I locked the door. We were at it all night long.
The Dead Live Longer by Lynne Tillman
This upper-middle-class servitude wasn’t renounced until she was much older, had gone to graduate school, and found work at which she was surprisingly good, I heard, as a kindergarten teacher. This job came along after she’d had other positions including work as a dominatrix or S&M prostitute, at which she was very good, I was told. She had trained for it all her life, really. My dead ex-friend was smart, had many talents, and could be sympathetic, if it served her interests, like any seasoned narcissist, and, if you didn’t know her well, and if you weren’t a female like her, and if you didn’t get too close so that ultimately she envied and hated you as she did her mother, with a certain emotional restraint, with distance, you could get the very best from her.
Middlegame by Percival Everett
We performed well enough in the scene that preceded the afternoon appointment with the neurologist. We prepared as if headed for a routine visit to the dentist, Meg even reminding Sarah to brush her teeth, a request that made no sense and somehow all the sense in the world. In the car we listened to “Sarah’s” music, always worse in theory than in practice. At least for me. The sappy pop seemed to irritate the poet in Meg, but I had to admit I sort of liked it. While a girl sang a cheery, up-tempo ditty about happily casting off the devastating hurt of lost teenage love, I reached over and squeezed Meg’s hand. She rubbed her thumb against my knuckle. And this was the only expression of panic during our ride.
The Family Romance of American Communism by Ari M. Brostoff
I stopped arguing with my parents about Israel sometime in my early twenties. My mother in particular is a difficult person to disagree with. She is a woman who does not use a tape measure; her feet, she claims, each measure exactly one foot. Our fights had been exhausting and gotten us nowhere, so we learned to talk past each other. Neither of us had any desire to be marginal or besieged; we each wanted to be embedded in a transparently righteous social world, and tried to create hegemony through sheer force of personality. She would tell me who she had run into at the Israel march that day and I would tell her about my afternoon at the Palestine rally. Because we lived on opposite sides of the country, there was no chance of running into each other.