To a child, the adult world is oppressive in part because of its apparent competence, its air of knowing what ought to be done and when and what to call everything. The unending, dogged, elaborate, even painstaking failure of Plan 9—the way it seems to go out of its way to fail—was tonic to the imagination, a kind of carnivalesque reversal. I needed to see adult inadvertence, and name it as such; I needed to observe the little hole it made in the world.
I wrote about loving terrible movies for Hedgehog Review.
(To the tune of “Ring My Bell”) You can buy my boo-ooo-ook!/Buy my book!
You can do it here, and you can also gaze at the cover design, which is so good I want to go buy the thing. Comes out in March 2020 unless the revisions I’m about to turn in need more revising.
It’s an expansion of the Midwest essay, but I’m concentrating more on the ways in which the Midwest has been a focus of technological change and ideas about the future, and how these interact with the idea of its “plainness” and “averageness” and “normality,” and how all of it comes into play again when we talk about the future under climate change.
The two people who have read it (in its first draft) did so in one sitting without meaning to, so I take that as a good sign.
Or, as I put it on Twitter, “I reviewed the FREAKIN’ BIBLE, no big deal.” It’s at Plough.
A couple small pieces I forgot to post here: Me on Meghan O’Gieblyn’s Interior States, a book that tied with lazenby’s Infinity to Dine as my favorite of 2018. And my tribute to Mary Midgley, the late English moral philosopher, at Hedgehog.
My book Midwest at Midnight (current title, anyway) is with the publisher now. (Sentences of this form remind me of the thing a parent says to a child about a dead pet. “Mittens is with God now, honey.”) We’ll see what amount of edits I get back, but I believe our target is still publication in 2020. Visitors to this web site will, Heaven knows, hear a great deal more about that subject.
I reviewed the correspondence between Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner, two of my favorite writers, for the University Bookman.
One, I reviewed Keith Gessen’s novel A Terrible Country for Commonweal and used the occasion to try to repay (well, acknowledge) some of my own intellectual debts to n+1, a journal of which Gessen was a cofounder.
I am so happy to be making my Outline debut, part of their Unconditional Wisdom series, in which writers take on pieces of conventional wisdom that (in editor Brandy Jensen’s words) “make your eye twitch” with irritation. I decided to say a few things about that old chestnut “Religion is something people turn to so they can have a sense of certainty in a complex world.”
My response to this little platitude is always “I effing wish” and this essay talks about why.
Besides teaching and my union (yay!) and moving (boo!), this essay was the main thing I spent time on during the first half of this year. It is about masculinity, a subject some of my acquaintances consider me too little qualified to speak on, and others too much. It also talks about lawnmowing, poverty, The Godfather, Riverdale, Bronze Age wrist sizes, why overworked moms make me feel … small, Samuel Delany’s Triton, and the time my then-girlfriend-now-wife and I got robbed at gunpoint. It settles my beefs with the following people:
–Carl Jung’s one-man shitty Canadian cover band
–all those “traditional men” with YouTube channels and ex-wives who hate them
–the sport of cross-country. Oh, cross-country, why did I waste my time on you when we were so clearly adding nothing to each others’ existences? Why didn’t I just put in three comfy miles a day and spend all those grueling training hours learning Hittite or something?
–that dude who flicked my balls when I was clocking out at McDonalds that one time. Not cool, buddy. We both work at McDonalds. Haven’t we both suffered enough? Can’t we unite against our true enemy, capitalism?
… 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.