Scary Sites

— You know Cody is pretending to be an outsider artist. — I know! Anyway, this guy, Phoebe’s husband, was like, how did you get this, and I was like, I used to hang out with these people, and he was like, oh yeah I knew them, or this circle of people, and then it came out that the person he knew best was Cody. And he just said it like that, “Cody Garrison.” And I think I had given some generic version of the story in which I said I used to be married to someone who was close to Oren Droste. And after the guy said Cody Garrison, I was like, yes, that’s the person I used to be married to. And the guy was like, oh. He sort of didn’t know what to say.

So are you saying, common victimhood? Is that what it is?

From Cosmogony by Lucy Ives, published this week by Soft Skull Press.

— So you’re asking me if I know, specifically, of another instance of this thing, apart from yours?
— I guess my question is how did you know that? Because I did not.
— I’m trying to think if I know of another instance. In a way it all operates by hearsay, and what you get is an accumulated negative opinion in the next circle out. And of course the opinion does not become uniformly negative. For some people . . .
— They’re like, great!
— Like the victor is . . .
— Like, that fucking woman, why did she be a woman?
— Right. Like, why was that cunt a cunt?
— As it’s usually put.
— As it’s usually put. So, to me, the social effects are—let’s take your example, I do notice every time Cody comes up in conversation and what is said about him. We used to live in a quasi-polite society, so, like, whether those opinions get reflected back into action against this person, however slight, is always unclear.
— He doesn’t live here.
— Right, well, like, before. But I do know, and I do think this is true, and this is, ha, unfortunately for him, doubly true for people who are in the arts, reputational issues rustle around you in a pretty intense way.
— It’s weird because no one seems to know who he is. Like they may have known that I was married for a fair amount of time or something. But they don’t know who that person is I was married to. Like, to the extent that, when I moved out of my place, I basically was like, everybody come and take my furniture.
— I remember.
— I was a bit deep in trauma.
— Do you miss any of that stuff?
— No!
— Great.
— It was the best thing I’ve done in years, and I did it by accident. But someone came over with Phoebe Klein, actually this guy she’s married to, I don’t even know what his name is. But I had this print by a guy who lives in Iowa, and this guy, Phoebe’s husband, was like, are you giving that away? And I was like, oh no. I am not giving the art away! I hope I said that in a nice way. And then this guy was like, oh that’s so great, who is it by. And I said, Oren Droste. And he was like, oh, I know him! That’s crazy, how do you have his work, he’s an esoteric outsider artist. And I was like, yeah, but he teaches at a university.
— He’s not really an outsider!
— I mean, what is an outsider?
— You know Cody is pretending to be an outsider artist.
— I know! Anyway, this guy, Phoebe’s husband, was like, how did you get this, and I was like, I used to hang out with these people, and he was like, oh yeah I knew them, or this circle of people, and then it came out that the person he knew best was Cody. And he just said it like that, “Cody Garrison.” And I think I had given some generic version of the story in which I said I used to be married to someone who was close to Oren Droste. And after the guy said Cody Garrison, I was like, yes, that’s the person I used to be married to. And the guy was like, oh. He sort of didn’t know what to say.
— Poor schmuck.
— Yeah. And then he said, “Is Cody still in New York?” Because I guess that’s the question you ask!
— (laughs) You were like, leave my home.
— I was like, Phoebe I am sorry that you had a child with this person. Hope it works out.
— (laughing)
— I was like, um, no, he doesn’t live in New York. I was like, he—and I mean, I was freaking out internally at this point, I felt like I was in a nightmare—he, Cody, had to leave, I said. I said he did some really bad things. And I just left it at that. And basically Phoebe packed this guy up, her husband or whatever. But it left me in this mode of, this person didn’t know where Cody was or anything about his life, and clearly it had been four years since he had spoken to him. And that’s the only time that Cody has come up, like with anyone anywhere. And I must have seen, maybe you showed me this, that Roberta Smith tweeted about his work years ago.
— I sent that to you.
— Which made me think, maybe I should do something about this, but then I was like, who cares. It’s just another drop in the bucket.
— How would you have responded?
— There’s nothing I could say. I mean, I think my main thing has been, actually, I tried to talk to Thomas Rice, be like, Tom, in case, I want to make sure that you know about what happened with this artist. And I’ve also tried to be like Tom, you should be aware of what happened between me and Darren. I mean, I haven’t said that explicitly to him, but I’ve made it just about as clear as I possibly could without telling him.
— Why does it matter to you that Tom Rice knows that about you and Darren?
— Because Tom has three daughters.
— Wait, they had another kid? When did they have another kid?
— Two weeks ago.
— What?
— It’s crazy. And they are like, we actually do not know how we are going to pull this off, in terms of real estate and stuff. I was like, how can that be? You guys are both working full-time and I assume that your families are wildly wealthy.
— I don’t know about him, but she looks very moneyed.
— Well, I think Tom’s family is in oil. He’s like, super rich. I thought! But what do I know, it’s hard to tell what goes on.
— You never know.
— You never know! But I guess it’s important to me because Tom is somebody who entered a certain space and like his relationship was criticized by his friends as being uxorious. There was some—OK, this is weird gossip—but there was some intervention.
— Before they married?
— Yeah.
— You know that she is supposedly on Tinder? Have you heard this?
— What?
— Oh yeah.
— That sounds like a crazy rumor!
— To be clear, the rumor comes from Danny French, who is a congenital and compulsive liar.
— That’s really mean! And I think that may be a symptom of—I think a lot of these guys who are in that circle are really intimidated by this woman.
— Why do you think that?
— Because she’s very successful, professionally, and she doesn’t really, there’s like no empathy coming from her at all. And in a certain way she’s hard to pity. Like I think people pity Alana, for example. They’re like, oh she’s such a genius, but she’s so emotionally fucked up. I don’t know. I need to get away from all this stuff. I find it so emotionally toxic.
— (laughing)
— (laughing)
— Have you had this conversation with people?
— It’s just, every conversation is that! That’s the message about Alana. And I’m just like, I do not know this person!
— Do you not? Have you never spent time with her?
— I mean, I have. But I don’t know her! Anyway, this is all neither here nor there, and I am saying mean things. But I think it’s interesting, because Tom is in this kind of double position, where he’s made these alliances with different white men, and French, for example, has talked to me about how he specifically seeks out other straight white men to work with because it’s a good way to make money.
— That’s the most French thing ever.
— It was amazing to hear someone say that.
— Talk about pulling the veil back!
— It was interesting to see someone take that route. But with Tom, there are other routes where he’s like I’m all about, like, diversity! But, then, he has this situation where he lives with four women. And he has three daughters. And I think for him, this is just a theory, but he’s like, oh fuck I see how my friends have treated women, what they’ve said about them, what they’ve explicitly told me they would do and then did.
— Wait. Other than French, who are you talking about?
— I don’t know but, like, I told you that stuff Darren said to me about how he and Alejandro would behave at parties.
— As in?
— They would have these plans for women, like for picking women up, that they would then execute.
— But that doesn’t seem hyper-misogynistic to me. That just seems like a thing that straight guys have done since time immemorial.
— Oh, it seems hyper-misogynistic to me, but that is probably because I’m super naive.
— You can do that in a hyper-manipulative way then having succeeded treat the woman badly, or you can ingratiate yourself according to basic laws of human behavior, like the kinds of things they teach you in the FBI, like here’s how to make someone trust you, it’s just steps 1 2 3 4 5. So you can use those for bad ends or good. It could be used against either sex.
— It’s not specific, except insofar as they were not targeting other men.
— Sure. They were doing it for a specific end.
— (laughing)
— (laughing) I’m not necessarily defending this sort of behavior.
— I mean, men can jerk each other off, too.
— I don’t find this shocking.
— All I’m saying is, I’ve had this theory about Tom for a long time.
— So many theories about such a boring person!
— He’s not boring!
— He’s boring.
— He’s really funny! He is. I think he’s a very good public speaker.
— (laughing) Because that’s all that matters. That is damning with faint praise, if I have ever heard it.
— I’m horrible.
— How are you doing?
— I’m OK. I guess I look at other people’s behavior and I’m like, do they think I’m a marked human? One of the last things Cody said to me—this was over the phone before I hung up on him—was, “You’re always going to be a victim.” And the implication was, this is why this happened, because you are a victim.
— What he was implying, I think, was, not because you are a victim but because you conceive yourself to be one.
— Yes. But the point was, you inspire these kinds of actions in other people. To me, when I heard him say that, I felt there was a kind of aggression, whether it was conscious or not. That, while he might have thought he was saying, this is a performance that you do because you can’t stand to occupy any other kind of role, I think he was also saying, like, that’s actually your role, is to be a victim for people who need to do some fucked-up thing.
— It’s possible that’s what he meant.
— I don’t think he heard himself saying that. That’s just the way it sounded to me.
— Was this in the context of a fight?
— This is in the context of him saying, I don’t know why—we were talking on the phone—maybe he wanted to pick some stuff up at the house, I don’t remember. I mean, it was just really hard to go from being with someone for eleven years to not speaking to them. I may have even initiated the conversation. I think what happened was I was like, hey, you lied to me for a really long time. Why did you do that? That was really fucked up.
— And what did he say?
— That was when he said it. Well, the first thing he said was you never loved me, and the second was, you’re a victim and you’ll always be a victim.
— So, to further extrapolate, what he was saying was, it’s your fault, you forced me to behave this way.
— Exactly. And that is what I wanted to ask you about, the invisible social effects. I think that Darren took a similar position, he was like, you’re crazy, you’re out of control, no one who wants to have the kind of professional success I want to have could be your partner because you’re so crazy.
— You’re not a good gala wife.
— Exactly.
— And I was like, but I’m pretty!
— Oh no.
— And he was like, your ass is too sexy. And I was like, this is not going to end well.
— What I was talking about is more a kind of quiet reputational harm that can happen—which is the case with Cody but less with Darren, because you had a preexisting and highly public social contract with Cody.
— I still have that contract, even.
— I bet you do. So, the invisible social effects are liable to be greater with Cody because anyone who is in the little ripple around you two has some version or other of what happened and to the extent there’s a whisper network, or shunning, or changes in opinion that may never ever even become explicit but will in some way affect how that person is treated for a long time, like, I can’t give you empirical evidence about how it operates, but I know that it does, because I do it, and other people do it, too, so we know it’s real.
— I think with both of them I was freaked out because their take on this was, you’re crazy and you’re projecting and that’s why all of this happened, essentially. Because you didn’t have a good grip on reality.
— What does that have to do with the situation with Cody?
— I think he was saying that I thought that I was being a partner in a normal way, but actually what I was doing was really fucked up and no one could live with me. That was the thing that he said to me, no one could live with you. Which is what is so hard for me to understand, because for years I’d been picking him up off the floor and carrying him back to the house. And I was kind of like, no one could live with me?! Like, I thought the whole thing about our relationship was that I took care of you? And that was really—I’m still shocked by that. It’s so hurtful to me. I was giving up a lot of stuff to be with him. It was stupid of me, which is why it’s great that the relationship ended, but it did a lot of damage. But the same thing was true of Darren, because I would listen to him all the time when he would talk about his insecurities and I would just be like, no, you’re great! Like, don’t worry about it, you’ve got this. He used to call me all the time when he would have a bad meeting with somebody, and I would say, don’t listen to that asshole, you’re a good person and things will work out.
— He was like, they didn’t give me enough money!
— No, that’s what would happen! I was so naive! I was such a naive fool. And then, later, he sort of said the same thing, like, you’re too unstable or something, and I was like, but my marriage of eleven years just ended and you’d be unstable, too. But that’s the thing I started to be really afraid of—that everyone I knew also saw me that way. Like, as being someone who just projects things, who is really out of control, and I was worried because I didn’t feel like I was behaving this way, I felt like I was trying to support both of these people. So it’s those effects that I’m trying to understand. And it sounds like it’s mostly within me and has nothing to do with the objective world, so called.
— Right, right. I mean, I can really only speak for myself.
— OK.
— I mean, because I don’t know how others saw you during that period, because they didn’t tell me.
— That’s good. (laughing)
— (laughing) So I don’t have a lot of empirical information on that front. I guess I would say doesn’t everybody expect someone going through a divorce to be highly unstable? Isn’t that even what society wants from you?
— I think so.
— Aren’t you just fulfilling a role in a way?
— OK, so, there are roles, and then there are these social effects that are associated with gossip.
— Yeah.
— But I felt like when we talked about this before you were also talking about something that comes from the person themselves, the aggressor?
— I completely think that’s true.
— So, what is that?
— The truth is that I don’t know that many of those aggressors ever deal with it, but it’s inside. Like, I can guarantee you that if either of those two people ever took a solid dose of psychedelics they would be dwelling on their situation with you for a good portion of time. It’s the kind of thing that gets trapped in there and like maybe you deal with it ten years later or twenty, but whenever you strip off the first layer of mind—I can say from experience that you don’t give up the times that you’ve hurt people. They come up really fast and strong when your mind is able to see it. It’s all in there.
— It’s like the ghosts of genocided aliens? Like in Scientology?
— There’s a “th” word for it?
— I don’t know.
— It is a “Thetan”?
— Yes! They’re Thetans! That’s really good that you know that.
— I was like, “Thanatos”? But it’s not Thanatos. (laughing)
— (laughing)
— No, but those things are—I can only speak analogically because I have not perpetrated anything like this, but when my conscious mind is not in control, I mean, a drug is just one example. It could be dreams, it could be grief, or whenever you find yourself in an unusually vulnerable situation, that stuff is very close to the surface. The body does not forget about those things.
— This is really helpful because when my mind is not in control or doing whatever it does to produce consciousness, for me everything goes back to something that happened to me when I was a child that I don’t understand at all and it’s really horrible. I don’t know what it is, I can’t see it; it’s so scary that I can’t see it, or look at it, and it’s like everything that has happened to me interpersonally since then doesn’t even show up. It makes it really difficult for me to understand how it is for people who are picking up these things as they go. I think in a way there’s some truth in what Cody was saying about me always being a victim.
— Interesting.
— I have a kind of aphasia. I can’t understand how people change as adults. I’m stuck.
— This is probably difficult to answer and why would you know, but, are you sure that there is an event associated with this thing, or is it possible that it is just a miasmic malevolence that has filtered into your way of being and has no specific and singular cause?
— I thought for a while that it was that, that it was a series of things that tipped something and became something that the sensorium couldn’t process anymore (coughing). Sorry (coughing). Sorry, when I start talking about it I get physical symptoms. It’s always associated with my throat. That’s all I know. The other weird thing is I know that both Cody and Darren were people whose parents beat them up. I think Cody had it bad in a lot of ways, particularly because he had a lot of allergies and circulatory and respiratory things that were caused by his mother smoking when she was pregnant, and for years they had a dog that he had terrible allergies to, and he couldn’t breathe. This is a thing that causes me to have a really deep connection to people, but it’s a connection that’s along something that’s so fucked up, I really don’t want to keep doing it.
— So are you saying, common victimhood? Is that what it is?
— Maybe. Or maybe it’s a thing where there’s something that happened, but the person doesn’t have access to it. Like Cody would never talk about this stuff. I just know it through bits and pieces. Darren was aware of what had happened to him, and all of his mania about making money and having success is basically about avoiding being the person someone’s hitting. Which is why I empathized with him so excessively.
— Too bad it made him unbearable.
— Yeah.
— He is not well liked, I hope you know.
— I’ve gotten that impression.
— In part from envy, but just, in general. He’s in that world and people are like, fuck that guy.
— I think he represents a lot of stuff that hurts other people. He took one path in relation to harm. Anyway, what you’re saying about the internal things is helpful. It makes sense. But then the question is, how does that play out for that person? I don’t know whether it’s in terms of their feelings or their actions or how they live. Are they always running away from that?
— I don’t know. I know very little about theories of mind. I’ve never studied them, aside from a stray Freud essay here or there.
— But what’s your intuition?
— My intuition is that disordered behavior results from these things, and the way that disordered behavior manifests happens differently depending on the person, but I think it gives rise to impulses or desires or compensations that remain mostly invisible. We build up fortresses of ideas. And it does affect a person to have a fortress in their brain.
— So, how should society react? Let’s just pretend it’s the 19th century and we can have these kinds of conversations! Because we’re going back there anyway, you know.
— But this is the central disorder of human existence.
— It’s what tragedy is based on, you mean?
— This is the disorder of our world. This is why we have everything.
— We’re completely on the same page.
— This is our sickness. That’s what it is. (laughing)
— (laughing) Right, but so, how should we react to it? I’m not denying its centrality.
— (laughing) This is why everyone in 1967 felt like it would be good to take LSD and meditate and make the Pentagon lift off the ground.
— Is that what we should do now?
— I sometimes think about this in relation to the way people use social media. On the one hand, everyone has to use social media in a somewhat performative way. And they have to come to terms with the voice they use. For some people it’s a very false voice, like a picture, like “This is who I am!”
— Shrill.
— Or, “This is what I’m dealing with.” There is a countercurrent to performativity where people are like, this incredibly intense thing has happened and I’m telling a lot of people. I’m having horrible issues in my marriage or someone close to me died in a really horrible way, or my kid is incredibly sick or I’m really sick or I’m infertile.
— I was fired.
— Right. I was fired, or I’m going to call out my harasser; things it was impossible to be honest about in the past. Or you could potentially use the press.
— As long as you weren’t harassed by Harvey Weinstein.
— Right.
— In which case you could not use the press.
— So, in our society I feel there’s a lot of duplicity, but there is also a countercurrent of candor. Which is interesting. I’m not saying that the candor itself is not in some way performative. It often is.
— Or self-exploitative?
— It’s a very mixed bag. But one thing I will say is that certain stigmas are being shattered and in service of what is always a question. I’m not going to deny that aspect of it. I’m merely identifying a current. People are different about this stuff than they were a half century ago or even a quarter. It’s one of the few things in our society that I think is OK.
— Yesterday I was taking this bus, and it had these movie screens in it? And for some reason they played the Steve Jobs movie with Ashton Kutcher.
— Did you watch it?
— I didn’t listen to the sound but I would gaze up. There’s something very revealing about watching a movie without sound. You find out what it’s about. And it’s amazing because the movie is about, I mean, there are like two female characters in it; it’s just all about these mostly white men and how they get together in these windowless rooms and they’re like, we have this idea that only we can understand, let’s use it to make money. That’s what the movie’s about. And then, at the end, suddenly Steve Jobs is in a garden with his wife, who’s put him in touch with the earth, and he’s reunited with Lisa Brennan-Jobs, who’s sleeping on the couch, and he has a loving non-incestuous relationship with her, although he steals her blanket. And then he goes and dies, but we don’t see that. I mean, Ashton Kutcher is a moron and he’s playing a genius, and it kind of works in this interesting way if you don’t listen to the sound. It’s like an L.L. Bean catalogue.
— Ashton’s very L.L. Bean.
— I love his emotions. He’s like a Muppet. But I did think about how it’s the last time we can tell this story in this way. Like there’ll be a niche show where there’s a Midwestern guy with a beer belly and a beer and it’s like, oh you’re so crazy, and he’s like, I’m so crazy, but there won’t be this Knights-of-the-Round-Table sort of thing. I’m just saying I see this occurring on a representational plane. I don’t know what it means for actual people.
— Yeah.
— I do know that in classes I teach I consistently have a white guy who writes super-violent, exploitative stuff. That guy’s always there.
— Do you call that person out?
— There are some things I can say, but they are dissociating and it can be dangerous. The people I’ve dealt with so far are genuinely ill. I have a really bad one right now. It’s this guy who’s written a story that takes place in “Hispaniola” and it’s about this girl who’s raped in incredible detail. And it’s like eighty pages long and he’s completely done with it and has handed it in and is like, respond to this now! It’s written in a magical realist style. It could not be more awful.
— Oh.
— This is a trend.
— I feel bad for white men, and bear with me, because I think they do this to say, I’m relevant.
— But they can be raped and beat up, too!
— No, I know. But they’re like, I’ll never get anywhere because I’m not trans or a person of color. This is a thing that white men feel. Hard core. So they’re like, oh, I should make art about those things. I’m not kidding. Like this person doesn’t see that they’re being appropriative. They just think they’re engaging with the issues of their time.
— It’s scary.
— I know.
— It’s unreadable, these descriptions of penetration. I’m like, we don’t need—we get how this works, mechanically.
— I would put money on the fact that he believes that he’s woke and engaged.
— I think the part of him that’s conscious is also thinking, I really enjoy these scenes. I’d like to see more violence like this.
— Did you read Preparation for the Next Life?
— No, but I have it. Mike gave it to me.
— If you ever read it, I want to know. It has the most violent and disgusting rape scene I’ve ever read in any piece of literature. I just felt it was exploitative. I don’t know if that’s defensible on my part.
— Mike has a lot of interest in violence.
— The other night I was trying to explain why I thought it was not a good book because of this rape scene. I mean, it is a good book. But it’s melodramatic. The book is sodden with sentimentality and melodrama. And the linchpin of the soddenness is this revolting rape scene.
— That’s very 19th century.
— Indeed. So I was trying to explain to people how I was impressed by the book but I morally object to it.
— It’s like The Road.
— Tell me, doctor, how can I defend my opinion using the proper tools?
— I think you already did.
— If rape is just a fictional tool, why is it objectively objectionable to use that tool?
— I think that trying to argue that something that happens in a book is objective is usually a mistake.
— That’s not what I’m saying.
— But I think that’s part of the difficulty you’re having. You don’t have to decide that other people have to accept your argument. I think you can say that you think that this rape scene is designed to elicit a kind of prurient interest.
— This is what I said.
— In violence.
— It is.
— Do a comparison. For example, the most violent thing I’ve ever read is in this Joyce Carol Oates novel called Zombie, which is about a psychopath slash serial killer slash rapist who has a fantasy about creating a passive sex slave who will love him forever, and he reads something or sees something somewhere about lobotomies and tries to give lobotomies to—
— His victims.
— His victims. It’s so disturbing. And what’s so disturbing is not the act of trepanation or whatever you want to call it, putting holes in someone’s head or putting a stick in there. It’s the period of time when he tries to keep the zombie alive.
— Right.
— I feel like I’m going to vomit. It isn’t about someone being beaten in the present, it’s about the way in which things that have already happened are leading to events in the present. Leading to hopes that inspire violence, that inspire enslavement, even in the face of death, even in the face of the fact that the victim is already dead and this completely passive object and you can’t do anything more to control them. So, if I were going to try to criticize the Lish book I would set up a comparison between the two and talk about why what Joyce Carol Oates shows you in this super-exploitative book—because who’s more exploitative than she is?
— Number one. Number-one exploiter.
— I would be like, look how much more disturbing this is. And look at what you’re being disturbed by. And look how agency is being deployed in the Lish book and don’t be fooled. And once you say that, the reader is like —
— I surely would not want to be fooled.
— My strategy.
— I suppose I don’t have to read this Oates book.
— Don’t read it! I remember when I was 16 or 17, I guess I was trying to read all her novels and I came to this one and read it all in one night and had this horrible cold clammy sweat and was like, why?!! Why?!?
— God. A mere high schooler.
— That was when I was really at my best.
— Reading-wise?
— Reading-wise and also just—no, I mean, I like myself better now, but that was the time when I look back on how I behaved and I’m always like, that was the way!
— Acting out on the reg.
— Do you need to go back to your desk?
— Not yet. What have we not gotten to?
— The reason I was up all night. It’s that I was trying to write this talk for Friday I’ve been meaning to write all week but just been too scattered. I’ve been thinking a lot about satire, and this talk is about satire and realism and the ways I see them being interrelated. And about how people have a misapprehension of what satire is, how they think it’s like an insult or a hyperbolic portrayal but it’s actually a more complex, older category.
— This week’s flap about the correspondents’ dinner is a perfect example of the misapplication of satire.
— Exactly. It’s interesting to me that the thing that was so upsetting to people was actually the one satirical moment. That thing about the perfect smoky eye.
— That was the one true satire?
— Everything else was basically insults. Cheap shots. And if you look at the recent jokes, like Hasan Minhaj’s jokes or the lady from SNL whose name I can’t remember who I find very generic, they all told exactly the same jokes. That’s what I find really strange! Everyone’s like, this is all so original, but it’s all exactly the same.
— I didn’t watch Hasan or the person before that.
— Hasan is very beautiful.
— Isn’t he?
— You’re just like, oh say anything.
— Just say it out of your beautiful mouth.
— But anyway it’s all exactly the same jokes. You know there was a media blackout around Colbert’s thing?
— I vaguely remember that.
— It was an emergency in 2006 in a way that this thing in 2018, it’s really just a topic that’s being offered up. Like, oh yeah, she’s a brassy lady who doesn’t wax her pussy, et cetera, so let’s say mean things.
— But wait, how does this relate to the question of satire?
— Well, it used to be that novels and other forms of literature partly existed to explain these things to us, to explain invisible things, to be like—
— Here’s human interiority; now you can understand what’s happening.
— Right. Edith Wharton’s like, here’s a guy who doesn’t consummate a relationship; or, Henry James is like, here’s a guy who doesn’t consummate a relationship; or, Virginia Woolf is like, here’s a guy, who doesn’t consummate a relationship. And they’re like, here’s why! It’s a very common theme. And it seems like we are in this moment when—I’m having trouble describing it except by calling it the intersection of satire and realism.
— Hmm.
— Realism is just a mode of novel-making that talks about the event as secular. Realism emerges when you have secular events that are produced by the confluence of material conditions and human history. And there’s no god. But satire is an older category. It’s an older democratic category predating Christianity. It comes from Latin: it’s a medley; literally, it’s a full plate. It has nothing to do with s-sa-say—how do you say that word?
— Satyrs? I always heard about satyrs.
— It sounds too much like the Passover dinner! So I’m trying to think about that in relation to laughter but also in relation to the idea that literature can be a place where information is leaked.
— Right.
— Literature used to exist to share information that couldn’t be shared otherwise. And it seems like social media does not obviate that. And the correspondents’ dinner joke is another site where you can have that information leak. That’s why I thought that Michelle Wolf’s observation about Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s smoky eye is true satire. It’s very intricate. Like, there is this concept, The Perfect Smoky Eye™ that exists, and, like, if you’re not female, chances are you don’t know what that is. Like, I don’t mean you don’t know what it refers to; you don’t know what its deeper meaning is, what meaning is encoded in it. It has to do with female aggression and control of the visual realm, and it also has to do with how women have entered the white-collar workplace. There’s a lot of stuff in that term that she was pointing to by using it. Which is actually, I think, a lot scarier and more unstable than other things she said.
— So, people had misinterpreted the comment but correctly identified the scary site within it?
— I think it doesn’t happen by accident. It stands out because there is something there. There’s a form of privacy being invoked.
— What’s the form of privacy?
— A series of codes.
— That aren’t made public, typically?
— Yeah.
— Interesting.
— I think that’s what’s threatening to people, that they are like, oh I am not up to date. And it happened in a very condensed way. It’s even hard to understand the metaphor as a joke. Like, she burns lies, I mean, she burns facts, and then uses the ash, from the facts, for her makeup. Is that a joke? That seems like a weird metaphor you would read in someone’s short story.
— It’s kind of ornate.
— She was working really hard to sell it. She ended up being like, hey, it’s a tough room, but it wasn’t really a good joke.
— I thought it was a very good joke.
— I mean, I liked the phrase, “The Perfect Smoky Eye,” but the setup didn’t work for me.
— It has metaphorical integrity. She’s saying that she uses lies as a public face. There’s no missing link in the metaphor. It wasn’t sloppy.
— It was too literal. But I did like it as being associated with some form of Christianity. Like she’s burning them in her brazier. And I was like, oh I remember this from the Bush II presidency!
— You’re like, very evocative. Rich allusions here.
— That would have been my comment. If I had seen that on a student paper. I would have been like, very good! Vehicle needs work!

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