n. the awareness of the smallness of your perspective, by which you couldn’t possibly draw any meaningful conclusions at all, about the world or the past or the complexities of culture, because although your life is an epic and unrepeatable anecdote, it still only has a sample size of one, and may end up being the control for a much wilder experiment happening in the next room.
“All I need," said Tony, "is a desire so strong that the world, all of the world, has got to bend itself and forget itself and break out of its circles and rock itself crazy, all to do what I want, and there’s got to be a great crash when the ground under me crashes itself wide open and the fire inside is forced to crawl away from my feet and the sky too turns back so that there is nothing above me and nothing below me and nothing in all time except me and what I want.”—Shirley Jackson, Hangsaman
“Imagine, always pretending to run a world. Always imitating the sort of people they think they might be if the world were the sort of world it isn’t. Pretending to be words like ‘normal’ and ‘wholesome’ and ‘honest’ and ‘decent’ and ‘self-respecting’ and all the rest, when even the words aren’t real. Imagine, being people.”—Shirley Jackson, Hangsaman
Looting is extremely dangerous to the rich (and most white people) because it reveals, with an immediacy that has to be moralized away, that the idea of private property is just that: an idea, a tenuous and contingent structure of consent, backed up by the lethal force of the state. When rioters take territory and loot, they are revealing precisely how, in a space without cops, property relations can be destroyed and things can be had for free.
On a less abstract level there is a practical and tactical benefit to looting. Whenever people worry about looting, there is an implicit sense that the looter must necessarily be acting selfishly, “opportunistically,” and in excess. But why is it bad to grab an opportunity to improve well-being, to make life better, easier, or more comfortable? Or, as Hannah Black put it on Twitter: “Cops exist so people can’t loot ie have nice things for free so idk why it’s so confusing that people loot when they protest against cops” [sic]. Only if you believe that having nice things for free is amoral, if you believe, in short, that the current (white-supremacist, settler-colonialist) regime of property is just, can you believe that looting is amoral in itself.
“The distinction between white and black was thus eventually forged as a way of distinguishing between who could be enslaved and who could not. The earliest working definition of blackness may well have been “those who could be property”. Someone who organized a mob to violently free slaves, then, would surely be considered a looter (had the word come into common usage by then, John Brown and Nat Turner would have been slandered with it). This is not to draw some absurd ethical equivalence between freeing a slave and grabbing a flat screen in a riot. The point, rather, is that for most of America’s history, one of the most righteous anti-white supremacist tactics available was looting. The specter of slaves freeing themselves could be seen as American history’s first image of black looters.”—Willie Osterwiel, In Defence of Looting
“Autonomy – both individual and collective - is certainly not the key to everything, but it is a necessary condition of a consistent fight for human emancipation. Therefore there can be no “useful” propagandist activity. Self-empowerment is incompatible with emote control, positive heroes, role models and mapped-out conclusions. Nothing is obvious. Alienation will not be done away with by alienated means.”—
We feel honored to have a companion like autocorrect who trusts that, despite surface clumsiness or nonsense, inside us always smiles an articulate truth.
Just now, for example, I reached for my phone and bashed my finger pads against the glass to see what wisdom autocorrect might read from me today. I started in the general vicinity of the letter d and then just let loose, trying to tap at random across the characters. The first time I tapped out dcisnence and drew existence. The random string dzyjzynxe produced distance. The third time I went a little longer and beset my keyboard with descinnztsb. This instantly transformed itself into deacon stab. And there it was, a little potted history of humanity: first birth, then exile, and before you know it somebody’s gone and shanked a priest.
We write something and immediately take responsibility for it; we see something in the world and, as charitable interpreters, want to believe that it contains meaning.
”—Gideon Lewis-Kraus, The Fasinatng … Frustrating … Fascinating History of Autocorrect
Years ago, we were smoking outside of a punk collective house.
In those days we discussed ‘possibility’ all the time, and this particular time was no different. We had been spending our time doing ‘possible’ things. Organizing, protesting, distributing literature, having weird-as-shit polyamorous relationships. Someone suggested that these activities were substitutes for the impossible things we ‘truly desired’ (I know, right?). It was true: none of us wanted the tedium of activism at all. What we wanted was to blow holes in the walls of prisons, to unlock grocery stores, to writhe in orgies by the hundreds, to disarm the police, to throw politicians into the back of vans and drive off of bridges into lakes. To be warlords or whatever. These were the impossible things for which our day-to-day activisms played surrogate.
This conversation may sound naïve and stupid now, but it represents an important moment in our lives. Once you realize that your desires are impossible, an obvious dilemma presents itself … either:
You pursue your desires knowing that they are impossible, like some kind of priest or terminal workaholic or … (what’s the word for suicide bomber that isn’t weird to say on the internet?) or;
You decide ‘not to waste your time on the unrealistic’. Shortly thereafter, you realize that you can never do what you want to do and that your life is just full of the shit you’re doing instead. Then finally: “Given that I won’t be doing what I want, what should I do?”
In both cases, the distinction between activism and careerism becomes imperceptible. People who choose the first option … at least in the interesting circles … end up imprisoned, ruined, or killed. Those who sit in prison, or are ruined for life, or bleed out on the battlefield … they are our gladiators. They pay the ultimate price so that we will always have something to argue about at dinner parties, or share on Facebook.
The rest of us, like it or not, have made the second choice.
I discovered that if Mountain Goats songs teach you anything, it’s not pessimism or bitterness or melodrama; it’s loyalty. Not to the people you’ve loved, exactly, but to the fact that you did love them. Maybe you don’t anymore, but that doesn’t invalidate the choices you made when you did. If you listen to enough Mountain Goats songs you learn that there is a kind of dignity in honoring feelings you no longer have. John Darnielle’s people fall out of love, yes, but they never forget that they were in it.
Which is, I suppose, why people love the Mountain Goats so shamelessly. That’s a feeling, after all, and we honor it, along with the sadness that made it possible. If we are very lucky, we grow out of that sadness eventually. But the songs remain, along with our Pavlovian responses to them, as relics of former selves that—as John Darnielle is constantly reminding us—we need to respect.
”—Emma Stanford, Let Us Consider The Mountain Goats
“Years later… I saw onscreen that Bernice had been spraygunned in a raid on a Gardeners safe house. This was after the Gardeners had been outlawed. Though being outlawed wouldn’t have stopped Bernice; she was a person with the courage of her convictions. I had to admire her for that - for the convictions, and also for the courage - because I never really felt I had either one.
There was a close-up of her dead face, looking more gentle and peaceful than I’d ever seen her look in life. Maybe that was the real Bernice, I thought - kind and innocent. Maybe she was truly like that inside, and all the fighting we used to do and all her sharp and unpleasant edges - that was her way of struggling to get out of the hard skin she’d grown all over herself like a beetle shell. But no matter how she hit out and raged, she’d been stuck in there. The thought made me feel so sorry for her that I cried.”—Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood
“I said maybe I was too sad for the job: didn’t they want a more upbeat personality in the their girls? But Mordis smiled with his shiny ant-black eyes and said, as if he was patting me: “Ren. Ren. Everyone’s too sad for everything.””—Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood
“Laura ordered a margarita, then sometimes turned her head 90 degrees, to her right, to stare outside - at the sidewalk, or the quiet street - with a self-consciously worried expression, seeming disorientated and shy in a distinct, uncommon manner indicating to Paul an underlying sensation of “total yet failing” (as opposed to most people’s “partial and successful”) effort, in terms of the social interaction but, it would often affectingly seem, also generally, in terms of existing. Paul had gradually recognized this demeanor, the past few years, as characteristic, to some degree, of every person, maybe since middle school, with whom he’d been able to form a friendship or enter a relationship (or, it sometimes seemed, earnestly interact and not feel alienated or insane).”—Tao Lin, Taipei
“Beware of words. Be careful what you write. Leave no trails.
This is what the Gardeners taught us, when I was a child among them. They told us to depend on memory, because nothing written down could be relied on. The Spirit travels from mouth to mouth, not from thing to thing: books could be burnt, paper crumble away, computers could be destroyed. Only the Spirit lives forever, and the Spirit isn’t a thing.
As for writing, it was dangerous, said the Adams and the Eves, because your enemies could trace you through it, and hunt you down, and use your words to condemn you.”—Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood
“'What a time you've been, Norah,' grumbled the old lady.
‘It’s only just turned the half-hour, Madam,’ said Norah in a special voice, bright and cheerful like the nurse. I wondered if Maxim’s grandmother realised that people spoke to her in this way. I wondered when they had done so for the first time, and if she had noticed then. Perhaps she had said to herself, ‘They think I’m getting old, how very ridiculous,’ and then little by little she had become accustomed to it, and now it was as though they had always done so, it was part of her background.”—Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
“Maxim’s grandmother suffered her in patience. She closed her eyes as though she too were tired. She looked more like Maxim than ever. I knew how she must have looked when she was young, tall and handsome… That was all finished now for her, all gone. Her husband had been dead for forty years, her son for fifteen. She had to live in this bright red gabled house with the nurse until it was time for her to die. I thought how little we know about the feelings of old people. Children we understand, their fears and hopes and make-believe. I was a child yesterday. I had not forgotten. But Maxim’s grandmother, sitting there in her shawl with her poor blind eyes, what was she thinking? Did she know that Beatrice was yawning and glancing at her watch? Did she guess that we had come to visit her because we felt it right, it was a duty, so that when she got home afterwards Beatrice would be able to say ‘Well, that clears my conscience for three months’?
Did she ever think about Manderley? Did she remember sitting at the dining-room table, where I sat? Did she too have tea under the chestnut tree? Or was it all forgotten and laid aside, and was there nothing left behind that calm, pale face of hers but little aches and strange discomforts, a blurred thankfulness when the sun shone, a tremor when the wind blew cold?”—Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
“I wanted to go on sitting there, not talking, not listening to the others, keeping the moment precious for all time, because we were peaceful, all of us, we were content and drowsy even as the bee who droned above our heads. In a little while it would be different, there would come tomorrow, and the next day, and another year. And we would be changed perhaps, never sitting quite like this again. Some of us would go away, or suffer, or die; the future stretched away in front of us, unknown, unseen, not perhaps what we wanted, not what we planned. This moment was safe though, this could not be touched. Here we sat together, Maxim and I, hand-in-hand, and the past and the future mattered not at all. This was secure, this funny fragment of time he would never remember, never think about again. He would not hold it sacred; he was talking about cutting away some of the undergrowth in the drive, and Beatrice agreed, interrupting with some suggestion of her own, and throwing a piece of grass at Giles at the same time. For them it was just after lunch, quarter past three on a haphazard afternoon, like any hour, like any day. They did not want to hold it close, imprisoned and secure, as I did. They were not afraid.”—Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
“She smiled, and pinched my arm, and I thought about being placid, how quiet and comfortable it sounded, someone with knitting on her lap, with calm unruffled brow. Someone who was never anxious, never tortured by doubt and indecision, someone who never stood as I did, hopeful, eager, frightened, tearing at bitten nails, uncertain which way to go, what star to follow.”—Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
I try to avoid the news as much as I can. The kind of anger it produces – an anger that cannot possibly materialise the desire for which it stands – is ultimately just a corrosive, melting away whatever hope one has for the world. The position I take is one of informed apathy: I know what sort of thing is likely to happen, I can do without the details. Of course the cops break the law, they’re a gang of thugs hired by the State to keep order. What do you expect? Of course politicians lie and CEOs line their pockets while impoverishing society. That’s what they do. And if you cut one down, there’s ten more to take their place. And, of course, the discussion in the ‘free press’ circles round and round the absent signifier of structural causation – like those little horses on a merry-go-round – individualising blame, producing and directing anger towards those who – whatever the ethics of their personal choices – are ultimately only carriers for their social function. If this particular pseudo-controversy manages to depose the Garda Commissioner he’ll be replaced by another fucking cop. You can skim a layer of shit off the top of the tank, but there’s always more lurking in the depths waiting to float to the top. Some victory.
What should be obvious, but somehow isn’t, is that ‘popular anger’ is not some primordial force entering politics from the outside: it’s actively produced by the political conjuncture. We’re invoked to be angry here and not there, in this way and not that, at this individual and not this structure, and to consume our own anger through the mediation of the press in ways that are never allowed to amount to a meaningful collective challenge to power.
“'What a rubbishy arrangement sex is,' said Leonard Browne. 'And I don't just meant the machinery of it, though that's stupid enough in all conscience. A projection upon one body is labouriously inserted into a hole in another. It's the invention of a mere mechanic, and a very fumbling and unimaginative one at that. I remember when someone told me about it at school I simply didn't believe him, I thought it couldn't turn out to be something so totally grotesque. Later on when I had more of a stake in it I persuaded myself otherwise. But now that it's all past and done with I can see it again for what it is, a pitiful awkward ugly inefficient piece of flabby mechanism. And consider flesh too, if it comes to that. Who could have dreamed up such stuff? It's flabby and it stinks as often as not or it bulges and develops knobs and it is covered with horrible hair and blotches. The internal combustion engine is at least more efficient or take the the piston rods on a locomotive and it's quite easy to oil them too. While keeping flesh in a decent condition is almost impossible even leaving aside the obscene process of aging and the fact that half the world starves. What a planet. And take eating, if you're lucky enough to do any. Stuffing pieces of dead animals into a hole in your face. Then munch, munch, munch. If there's anybody watching they must be dying of laughter. And the shape of the human body. Who but a thoroughly incompetent craftsman or else some sort of practical joker could have invented this sort of moon on two sticks? Legs are a bad joke. Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle.'”—Iris Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat
“She had now no memory of what had been said, only of that terrible air of suffering. She tried to remember how much it had irritated her once. Tallis was framed for suffering. Let him suffer. She must remain cold and hard and purposeful and vile. She must keep sharp and rigid her intent to survive, whatever cries were heard, whatever blood was shed. So long as I can keep it all completely dismembered, she thought. Keep everything small and separate and manageable. Frame no general picture. Do not wonder what he is doing now in the kitchen. She thought, and her consciousness seemed to reel at the effort, I simply must not give way to that ghastly heart-breaking tenderness, that animal feeling. For this moment, I must have no heart strings and no heart. She felt giddy. It was as if love or terror or something were trying to thrust itself through into her mind. She felt a pain which was curiously like sexual desire. She knew that in a moment she would be in tears.”—Iris Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat
“Tallis pulled his legs up and leaned back. He could not think without a table. Better give up and sleep now. Get up early and finish lecture. Better not thoughts now. Sleep. Unbeing. No point in kneeling down, folding hands, muttering. Self-abasement, prostration, licking the ground and wriggling through. Tears and sex. God, what a muck-heap my mind is, thought Tallis. He closed his eyes and tried to breathe slowly and regularly. Words came without volition, sinking very slowly through his mind like pebbles. Words out of some lost and ancient past. Lighten my darkness. Tiddy pom tiddy pom tiddy pom from up above. The perils and dangers of this night. With his eyes still closed he uncurled his legs and turned over to lie prone on the bed, burying his face in the pillow. That peace which the world cannot give. There was light somewhere, cool precious light, somewhere quite else. The pillow smelt of dust and age and grief. It was an old pillow. It had attended upon life and death and birth and was tired of them all.”—Iris Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat
“Nay point hoping for the best. Ye could spend yer life doing that; hoping. If ye were gony sit about hoping then okay, go ahead, but that’s all ye’ll do, know what I mean, it’s like waiting, ye’re aye waiting. Waiting rooms. Ye go into this room where ye wait. Hoping’s the same. One of these days the cunts’ll build entire fucking buildings just for that. Official hoping rooms, where ye just go in and hope for whatever the fuck ye feel like hoping for. One on every corner. Course they had them already: boozers. Ye go in to hope and they sell ye a drink to help ye pass the time. Ye see these cunts sitting there. What’re they there for? They’re hoping. They’re hoping for something.”—James Kelman, How Late It Was, How Late
“The whole breadth of the river was filled with boats, waiting for a lock-gate to be opened. In all the boats were gay young people in light, bright-coloured clothing; they were almost reclining there, freely abandoned to the warm air and the coolness of the water. They had so much in common that their convivial spirit was not confined to the separate boats; joking and laughter was passed on from boat to boat.
He now imagined that in a meadow on the bank… he himself was standing. He was contemplating the festival, which was not really a festival at all, but one could call it that. He naturally had a great desire to join in, indeed he longed to do so, but he was forced to admit to himself that he was excluded from it, it was impossible for him to fit in there; to do so would have required such great preparation that in the course of it not only this Saturday, but many years, and he himself would have passed away; and even if time here could have come to a standstill, it would still have been impossible to achieve any other result; his whole origin, upbringing, physical development would have had to be different.
So far removed, then, was he from these holidaymakers, and yet for all that he was very close to them too, and that was the more difficult thing to understand. They were, after all, human beings like himself, nothing human could be utterly alien to them, and so if one were to probe into them, one would surely find that the feeling which dominated him and excluded him from the river party was alive in them too, but of course with the difference that it was very far from dominating them and merely haunted some darker corners of their being.”—Franz Kafka, 1920 diaries