I have some nice and some not-nice things to say about Michelle Dean’s Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art Out Of Having an Opinion over at Christian Century. This was perhaps the book that my corner of Twitter was most excited to preorder last year: a group study of Hannah Arendt, Renata Adler, Joan Didion, Janet Malcolm, etc.? Sign us all up.
… separating the art from the artist, the State of Michigan’s penchant for cruel and dumb lawsuits, and a number of other things. It is at Commonweal.
Still, the existence of the book scandalizes some readers. Such is the conclusion we must draw, at least, from the lawsuit recently filed by the State of Michigan against Dawkins and his publishers, which seeks to reclaim his book’s royalties to recoup the cost of Dawkins’s incarceration. It should be noted that Michigan, like all other states, appropriates prisoners’ labor at sub-sub-minimum-wage levels for a variety of tasks to ends that nobody any longer seriously pretends are rehabilitative; sometimes in conditions such that, last year at Michigan’s Kinross Correctional Facility, inmates risked death to go on strike. It is just possible that Dawkins is earning his keep. Suits similar to the one filed by Michigan against Dawkins have been levied against imprisoned writers before—most famously, perhaps, in the case of a group of women writers at Connecticut’s York Prison taught and subsequently anthologized by the novelist Wally Lamb. After considerable heartache and expense, that suit was defeated. That Michigan’s government is risking the possibility of such a defeat, and using taxpayer money to do it, might raise one or two questions, especially when one considers that a major Michigan city has been without clean water for, at this writing, well over 1,300 days. One can only marvel at the intensity of the state’s devotion to protecting the readers of The Graybar Hotel from the possibility of moral complicity.
I wrote that in January. Flint’s water situation is still unresolved. Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed is the first and, to my knowledge, only such candidate to take a public stance against the Dawkins lawsuit, which is one of many, many reasons that he has my vote.
Do you need another opinion on Avengers: Infinity War in your life? Let me rephrase that: do you need my opinion on Avengers: Infinity War in your life? Clearly, the answer to the latter question is yes.
(Also, oh man was it satisfying to dismiss Game of Thrones in an aside. Felt good.)
Hey, you! Yes, you! Are you a Midwesterner? Or a reader? Or, like, a sentient being? Then you should preorder Belt’s new anthology Red State Blues, which includes a number of fantastic pieces by fantastic writers, and also my Midwest essay from Hedgehog Review.
Many thanks to that good fellow John Warner, whom many of you will know for his fiction or the years he spent editing the funny parts of McSweeneys, for letting me write about the higher ed labor struggle, my hopes for the rebirth of open-ended inquiry through that struggle, and my union, LEO, at his blog Just Visiting.
This was originally my first draft for something that Maximillian Alvarez and I were going to cowrite. Max (whose columns you are surely reading, right?) graciously allowed me to use this version and put his editorial contacts at LEO’s disposal as well, even though he’s extremely dissertating right now. (He has shown up for LEO in so many ways this year, while guiding the campus struggle against fascism and somehow doing his own work. Here is one leftist intellectual who isn’t just building a brand. I’m indebted to him, and I’m also always indebted to Tressie McMillan Cottom for helping me begin to understand how higher ed is structured.)
It’s about being Midwestern and it’s here.
Many thanks to Hedgehog and to the superb writer and editor B.D. McClay for commissioning it. (I hope this is the beginning of a long cycle of us embarrassing each other by publicly stating our honest appraisal of each others’ work.)
I’ve wanted to write about this subject for a long time and, in small ways, have been doing so (references in other pieces, etc.). But the triggering incident was an email from my dad:
This is really wild. I am reading the biography of Josef Stalin”s daughter, and it talks about how, after her defection to the U.S., she eventually married an architect who was part of a new agey kind of cult/commune run by Frank Lloyd Wright’s widow. The husband helped the commune to cheat and impoverish Svetlana (Stalin’s daughter) and the book suddenly mentions that shortly before their divorce, the husband ‘designed a church for a town called Alma in Michigan.””
Dad put two and two together and realized that this was the weird, kitschily beautiful Catholic church on the other side of the park from the house where I spent my first ten years. As indeed it is!
My reaction to this anecdote was a sort of surprise at the idea of my nowhere hometown being touched by History. I started to interrogate that feeling, and here we are.
By the way, if any millionaires happen to read Hedgehog and want to do a good deed, I just learned that this very same church is headed for demolition. It’s one of the only aesthetically interesting buildings in the entire town! It looks like if Antoni Gaudi and Walt Disney got together on ayahuasca and built Hobbiton! Can somebody save it and do something with it? You’d be doing a favor for generations of mid-Michigan’s Catholics; and also for the generations of random teens who liked to climb on top of the building via its low-slung roof and just hang out on Saturday nights.
I wrote a thing about a book I think is overhyped but that I didn’t necessarily hate.
Most of The Kingdom resembles not a novel or autobiography but a highly engaging series of lectures, taught by the sort of shamelessly biased, engagingly sloppy, inappropriately digressive college teacher whose students love him (this type is usually a him) but who will never get tenure. His analogies and examples dazzle and sometimes blind; he is always ready with the kind of explanatory anachronism that a fully licensed expert knows too much to risk. He says Paul’s conversion is like Philip K. Dick’s famous mystical experience, and that Hellenic Jewish proselytes are like bourgeois Americans who dabble in Buddhism. Are these comparisons true? Are they helpful? They’re certainly memorable.