I know Sam Kriss was cancelled or whatever, but this is fantastic:
"The most advanced digital technologies are used to keep culture in a permanent stasis.
It’s the end of anything resembling dignity. Look how Star Wars wheels out dead Carrie Fisher for one last sappy CGI-assisted waltz. She deserved better, but there’s no hope now. They’ll resurrect you, spin you backwards through time; they’ll crap in and through your mouth. You can live forever, but the price is a total passivity. Living forever is so much like being dead."
Ben Sixsmith on M.H. in The Agonist:
Atomised and Submission were bricks hurled through the windows of the cultural establishment: damaging its optimistic pieties about the promise of the sexual revolution, mass immigration, and technological progress. Now, though, Houellebecq is not outside throwing bricks through the windows but inside throwing food at the walls. He has been assimilated into the establishment: a Prix Goncourt winner and a recipient of Légion d’honneur. Why has this anti-modern writer been so heartily embraced by the modern world? Perhaps it is because the depths of his pessimism make him perversely unthreatening. Houllebecq is not an angry man in search of change but a cynical man who revels in mischief and mockery. This has been to his advantage artistically as he has maintained his sharp sense of ironic observation. Here, though, it seems to have made him listless. How many times can you tell the same jokes, regardless of their power, without them growing weak? Atomised, Platform and Submission were no less grim but had a freshness of theme, while The Impossibility of an Island and The Map and the Territory had structural playfulness and ingenuity. Here, Houellebecq is less exploring gloom than wallowing in it. Dull-minded critics, knowing only the environs, will not tell the difference.
If Serotonin underwhelms on the macro level, it still has elements that will endure. Houellebecq’s portrait of decline, though overegged in the beginning, becomes more perversely impressive as Florent-Claude limps towards the end of the book, deciding against suicide only because he cannot bear to leave his savings unspent.
Houellebecq’s charmless, gluttonous protagonist is a challenge to the reader; a challenge made explicit in the religiously-inflected final paragraphs.
"Walk into a patch of forest in New England, and chances are you will—almost literally—stumble across a stone wall. Thigh-high, perhaps, it is cobbled together with stones of various shapes and sizes, with splotches of lichen and spongy moss instead of mortar. Most of the stones are what are called “two-handers”—light enough to lift, but not with just one hand. The wall winds down a hill and out of sight. According to Robert Thorson, a landscape geologist at University of Connecticut, these walls are “damn near everywhere” in the forests of rural New England.
He estimates that there are more than 100,000 miles of old, disused stone walls out there, or enough to circle the globe four times."
"In reacquainting us with the forces which inhabit us, which mysteriously cause us to kill or love or suffer, Busqued estranges us from our cliche expectations about what true crime literature should do... The great artist does this not by staging simplistic political positions or moral answers, but by turning the world back into a wondrous question. Some might argue that this is a way of undermining the notion of simple truth, but truth is never simple. I’d argue that Busqued is reverential towards truth, the way a mystic struggles in awe to understand God as something both intimate and ineffable. The mystic experiences the power of the deity within that tension. MAGNETIZED lives within a similar tension, slowly spiraling around certainty, watching it recede the closer we get."
My latest in the latest Agonist:
The American hubris that confuses interests and values, downplays deep cultural differences, and clings fanatically to the hope that military operations can almost always create a clean and fog-free political result was on full display in our invasion of Iraq. “All of the traditions,” Michael MacDonald writes in his book Overreach: Delusions of Regime Change in Iraq, “that called for regime change blended American power and values; all considered American values transportable; all equated threats to American values with threats to national security; and all assumed that American power was welcome in Iraq because it materialized liberal values.” MacDonald means the Washington hawk-consensus of neoconservative-liberal hawk-neoliberal. This ideological cul-de-sac, that everyone in the world is really an American liberal in colorful ethnic costume and technocratic market-economies are inevitable, is a synecdoche for the closed loop of our military logic. We take the impossible for the inevitable and call ourselves the agents of history. We don’t make mistakes; it’s just that the world hasn’t yet been bent far enough along the arc of history towards justice.
It's important to reflect and take stock of the work you've done in the past year. It's also difficult. With writing, just like with any other trade or profession, there's always a nagging sense that a never *just quite* right, no matter the results. That's what keeps you coming back to the keyboard. And as vital as cultivating that hunger is, it's just as important to make sure you take a moment to take pride in your accomplishments. I don't think I'm quite "there" yet, wherever that might be, but I also think that I'm improving. Getting better every year. And in 2019, these were the pieces that I was most happy with. The pieces which most indicate the direction I'd like to continue moving in.
In chronological order:
"Lasch and Limitlessness" - The Agonist
"Sleep-Away Prison Camp" - The American Conservative
"The OA and the Prison of Self" - The American Conservative
"Searching For Su Tissue" - The Outline
"Candy Jail" - Daily Caller
"An Intercourse with Ghosts" - Mere Orthodoxy
"The Cubicle Archipelago" - American Affairs
"The Bad Side of Books review" - Washington Examiner
"The Consumer's Regress" - Church Life Journal
"Ghosts Watching Ghosts" - Splice Today
One might expect that this long history of terror, blood, and violence would lead Western students of the Ottomans to dehumanize them or turn them into diabolical caricatures of hate and tyrannical oppression. That is certainly what readers of Edward Said’s famous study, Orientalism (1978), would be led to expect, but it is one of Malcolm’s main points that such a representation is far too simple, if not entirely wrong. It does not begin to capture the complexity of Western responses to the Ottoman threat. There were certainly some Westerners, like Martin Luther, who regarded the new Islamic empire as essentially evil, the Sultan as the Devil’s servant, and Islam as a perverted religion of the sword. Such responses can be found throughout the three centuries covered by Malcolm’s book. But there were also many admiring responses both to the Ottomans and even to Islam.
Malcolm coins the useful term “shame-praising” to draw attention to one way that Westerners formulated positive descriptions of the great Islamic empire. To shame-praise means to praise a different culture or people as a way of shaming one’s own people and culture into better behavior. This practice has an old history in the West, going back to Xenophon’s praise of Persian monarchy in his Cyropaedia, meant to shame fractious Greek democrats,or Tacitus’s praise of barbarian virtue in the Germania, meant to shame his over-civilized fellow Romans for their lack of martial valor. The humanists of the Renaissance turned shame-praising into a light industry; the inferiority of Christian to pagan virtue was a regular theme in their pedagogy. Christian-on-Christian violence was a deplorable feature of early modern Europe, and the Ottomans, with their unswerving devotion to smiting the enemies of their faith, were constantly held up as better models of unified purpose and religious loyalty than any to be found in Christian Europe, torn apart as it was by selfishness and sectarian hatreds.
These spectacles have arrived not a moment too soon. This $5 billion not-mall is opening amid reports that the mall is dying. An army of trend forecasters have decided that millennials would rather spend money on experiences than on stuff. The retail imagination has been transposed to Instagram, and shuttered storefronts have been infiltrated by “pop-up experiences” primed to monetize the selfie. As department stores retreat, they have left “ghost malls” in their wake, complexes that lack the center of gravity to pull townspeople in but that live on in the form of eerie YouTube memorials. Meanwhile, the developers of American Dream — Triple Five, the Canadian conglomerate behind Mall of America in Minnesota — believe its gravitational pull is so strong that it will draw millions from the region, the nation, the world.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor