Thoughts: I Love Dick

Categories Bookshelf

I Love DickI Love Dick by Chris Kraus

This was a fun book to carry around on the subway in New York.

It’s also the kind of the book that if I hadn’t known previously that it was seen as some sort of feminist breakthrough, I might’ve been more amused, or less.

Once I knew it was based on real people and that it was less fiction than a very conscious attempt to create art from reality, I felt like I was complicit in violating Dick’s privacy.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the genre-bending read, and slipping from feminist essay to memoir to romantic noir, all while staying resolutely meta about the creation of it. I definitely scribbled notes to myself about the artists/writers/feminists I’d like to check out, and highlighted in my mind gems like this one, “There’s not enough female irrepressibility written down.” Plus, the whole meditation on Kikes versus Cowboys was dangerously alluring.

(It got a little academically heavy, even for a novel that didn’t fully intend to be a novel, towards the end. Which is why I have no idea why Chris keep saying that she’s not an intellectual. Was it because the people around her didn’t consider her one? Is it another effort at pointing out how women erase themselves? Does she mean a paid intellectual?)

Under it all, it’s a very simple story of the power of love, even (or especially) unrequited love. It wasn’t Dick’s love of her; it was the awakening of her own love/libido that turned her on as an artist so that she became irrepressible and wrote and came alive and Dick became a muse that she kept creating for herself.

That could be a disempowering message, because love like that isn’t a choice. And if that’s the case, than neither is inspiration. Unless the message is that by nurturing that initial spark between her and Dick, by embracing it wholly and submitting to it and thereby risking everything — that’s what woke her up.

 

Austerlitz

Categories Bookshelf, Comment

In Sebald’s book “Austerlitz” it isn’t until you’re more than halfway through that you find out what you probably knew a lot earlier, that Austerlitz left as a child during WWII, that whatever life he’d had before the war was gone, in reality, and in memory too.

Only after unlayering the years of his childhood, and then his years as a student, and then a professor, and then a loner wandering through London and talking with strangers on trips to Brussels, do both we the readers and Austerlitz himself go back to find his past.

It’s then when he’s talking with Vera in Prague, Vera being his nanny as a child and a friend of his parent, that she tells him everything he had repressed.

Vera tells Austerlitz what his father Maximilian told her about his trips to Germany in the 1930s, about the “positive horror” it filled him with, watching the country become ready for greatness. It’s hard to excerpt this part, because the effect of the way Sebald writes is its buildup, over pages, and the sentences that don’t end but that you can trace through the pages. Here’s how he begins a description of a Hitler rally in Nuremberg:

Hours before his arrival, the entire population of Nuremberg and indeed people from much further afield, crowds flocking in not just from Franconia and Bavaria but from the most remote parts of the country, Holstein and Pomerania, Silesia and the Black Forest, stood shoulder to shoulder all agog with excitement along the predetermined route, until at last, heralded by roars of acclamation, the motorcade of heavy Mercedes limousines came gliding at walking pace down the narrow alley which parted the sea of radiant uplifted faces and the arms outstretched in yearning. Maximilian had told her, said Vera, that in the middle of this crowd, which had merged into a single living organism racked by strange, convulsive contractions, he had felt like a foreign body about to be crushed and then excreted.

What emerges from these pages is not that Maximilian saw it coming, but that he knew what he was witnessing. But Maximilian didn’t need to know the future—he didn’t need to know the camps and the gas and the dead children and the death marches—to know that these crowds and their need for Hitler’s promises; their worship of them, was its own evil. And all because, in Maximilian’s words to Vera, repeated to Austerlitz who then tells them to the narrator and the narrator to us, he recalls Hitler’s speeches coming through the wireless, “drumming into the Germans the notion that the promise of their own greatness was about to be fulfilled.”

And their wild, hungry, bottomless acceptance of it.

Maybe you don’t need 1939 to be held accountable for 1933.

 

Review: Between the World and Me

Categories Bookshelf

Between the World and Me
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t feel qualified to review this in my own words, but here are some of Coates’ own that struck me.

 

On writing/thinking:

“She also taught me to write, by which I mean not simply organizing a set of sentences into a series of paragraphs, but organizing them as a means of investigation.”

“It began to strike me that the point of my education was a kind of discomfort.”

“I remember watching her eat with her hands and feeling wholly uncivilized with my fork.”

“They gave the art of journalism, a powerful technology for seekers.”

 

On race/identity:

“My great error was not that I had accepted someone else’s dream but that I had accepted the fact of dreams.”

“The violence rose from the fear, like smoke from a fire.”

“According to this theory “safety” was a higher value than justice.”

“We know that the authorities charged with investigating the shooting did very little to investigate the officer and did everything in their power to investigate Prince Jones.”

View all my reviews

Thoughts: Eichmann in Jerusalem

Categories Bookshelf

Eichmann in Jerusalem : A Report on the Banality of Evil
Eichmann in Jerusalem : A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There was too much to think about so I wrote the review in point form.

>> I read the book after I watched the movie Hannah Arendt which is great. Despite the name, it’s actually a movie about an idea, and how that’s really inseparable from its author.

>> Despite Arendt being a philosopher, and one accused of being heartless, what drives her idea on the banality of evil is how disconcerted she is by Eichmann the person. He’s petty and mediocre: a paper pusher who is also a mass murderer. How do you reconcile that? How to make sense of a mass murderer that can say, “But I never killed,” and mean it? Her starting point was emotion, but it was backed by knowledge. She’d literally written the book on totalitarianism.

>>The book spends several chapters detailing the deportations from every country in Europe that came under German control, divided by regions. It’s tedious and horrifying, like Eichmann himself, and what he represents. Bureaucratic mass murder.

>> During those chapters Arendt refers to statelessness often. That almost every country began with deporting their foreign Jews who were also stateless, having fled from Germany or German occupied countries. Germany had made them stateless to facilitate this process. That got me wondering about this idea – that we’ve designed a system where you have to be a citizen to qualify for basic human rights. It turns out Arendt had written about that before too and that it’s a way bigger issue than just about Jews and WWII, though Jews were uniquely stateless since unlike a stateless Russian or Bulgarian, they didn’t have a homeland. Lots of implications of this.

>> It gets four stars for being important and readable, not for being good in a literary sense.

View all my reviews

Review: Fire Shut Up in My Bones

Categories Bookshelf

Fire Shut Up in My Bones
Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles Blow

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve finished the book but I wrote this while I was still half way through. The overall sentiment didn’t change.

I started and read half of a book called “Fire shut up in my bones”. It’s a memoir of a writer who grew up poor in Louisiana on the black side of town. He was sensitive and likely gay and that made him an outsider in a place where being brash and aggressive, even gun-loving and angry and violent, was strength and everything else weakness.

There’s a constant of violence and death around him. His Mom shot at his Dad and his Dad was mostly absent, women regularly shot at husbands who regularly cheated, Grandma had a mean streak, two kids that lived across from Grandpa drowned at a neighborhood festival, and his gay second-cousin was found tied to a bed and murdered.

The writing is evocative but the rhythm doesn’t vary. There are a lot of these descriptions: half-witted, full-bodied, beer-can-swigging, foul-mouthed, and a lot of “they lived in a small run-down house at the bottom of a round hill near the field where Grandpa Joe raised the hogs.” It works but it gets old.

I like that he attributes so much importance to his loneliness at six years old, his near suicide attempt at 8. It’s unclear if he’s going back now and giving all that the meaning that it has now that he’s an adult, or if he knew it already then then — why he spent time in the house where the two drowned children had lived, his need of a sanctuary, his need to learn resilience in the face of ridicule, what he needed from his father, how he felt about Jed, his mother’s mother’s husband.

There are a few pages about race: the first time he’s called nigger, and the fact that a friendship between his grandmother and a white family saved him from the instinctive reverse racism of fear/anger of white people (his words), but this is not a race-identity story.

Update: Now that I’m finished the book, not much of my initial opinion has changed. It’s a book worth reading, an almost too-gentle account of what must have been a pretty rough beginning. (It probably deserves 4 stars but i’m stingy.)

View all my reviews

Wealth Inequality is the new Income Inequality

Categories Bookshelf, Comment

If you care about Piketty and his 900 page book on capital you should go read a review from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. (Good luck with that. There are hundreds.)

If you don’t care about Piketty and his views on income inequality you should not read the rest of this post because that’s what it’s about.

(If you don’t fit into either one of the above two categories, you don’t fit into my black and white worldview and I don’t know what to make of you.)

So I read Branco Milankovic’s 20 page review of Piketty’s book “Capital in the 21st Century”, the wonderful How To Write a Thomas Piketty Think Piece in 10 Easy Steps, Piketty on Piketty  on Vox, and lots of tweets and headlines that said smart things about Piketty. These are my conclusions:

  • Capital = wealth = assets, real estate, stocks, machinery, businesses etc.
  • Wealth to income ratio is growing, which means that wealth is being concentrated in the hands of very few, and it’s becoming more important to hold on to wealth (inheritance etc.) than have a high income. In other words, it’s more worthwhile financially to marry a rich heir than get a good job.
  • Post WWII, when wealth-to-income ratio, was low was an anomaly and can’t be duplicated. It was because of really high growth rates, which an economy can’t sustain forever. Younger economies (China, India) may go through a period of low wealth-to-income ratios (or not, because the economy is more interconnected now) but will then end up in the same place as the US and Europe today.
  • We need global tax laws on wealth and inheritance if we want to stop the concentration of wealth. It will only work if there is global agreement because otherwise there will always be tax havens.

Tl;dr (which mean you couldn’t be bothered to read my 3 line review of the 20 page review of the 900 page book): Wealth inequality is the new income inequality.