n i g h t i n g a l e s h i r a z / shelf
James Baldwin | The Fire Next Time
 
James Baldwin | The Fire Next Time

I read Dark Days last year (bought, of all places, from the bookstore at the Palazzo Strozzi... of all times, after Marina Abramovic...).  And I read I Am Not Your Negro the year before (bought, of all places, from the bookstore at Al Ghurair Center in Dubai...).  But for all serious intents and purposes, I had for some time intended for this to be my first “proper” Baldwin.  And so with a little nudging from Carlotta, it was.

And so what to say?  Where to begin with all the examples of how, as Ta-Nehisi Coates puts it, he refused to hold anyone’s hand?  How instead he makes you take that hand of yours and turn it over and hold it up to the light to look at, hard.

Like in that line I had already and only just encountered for the first time, in Roy’s Azadi: And they would not believe me precisely because they would know that what I said was true.

Like this: The subtle and deadly change of heart that might occur in you would be involved with the realization that a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.

And this: Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know.  To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger.

And like this: White people were, and are, astounded by the holocaust in Germany.  They did not know that they could act that way.  But I very much doubt whether black people were astounded...

Also.  All the things that are still, and everywhere (not only in the US), and so resoundingly—true:

How [we] are controlled here by our confusion, far more than we know, and the American dream has therefore become something much more closely resembling a nightmare, on the private, domestic, and international levels.  Privately, we cannot stand our lives and dare not examine them; domestically, we take no responsibility for (and no pride in) what goes on in our country; and, internationally, for many millions of people, we are an unmitigated disaster.

How [in] any event, the sloppy and fatuous nature of American good will can never be relied upon to deal with hard problems.

How [the] word “independence” in Africa and the word “integration” here are almost equally meaningless; that is, Europe has not yet left Africa, and black men here are not yet free.

(When I read how Europe has not yet left Africa, especially...  Here and now in 2020...  It is hard not to think of a certain grand and far-reaching international development organization, and the entire premise upon which its bloated and heaving, magnificently well-intentioned machinery rests...)

I love the very idea of a letter from a region in one’s mind.  And I am taken too—intrigued—by so many other, more specific ideas.  That it is the innocence that constitutes the crime.  That the impossible is the least that one can demand.

That people who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are.  

And perhaps finally, that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.


[Acquired in late September.]
[Read through late September and early October (in tandem with Carlotta...).]

Jenny Offill | Weather
 
Jenny Offill | Weather

How to explain this book?  In trying, I said to Andrew that it’s a bit like Renata Adler’s Speedboat, except minus the speed.  Also, while it looks more fragmentary, visually anyway, than Speedboat, really it feels less so.  You can feel the form of it, both clearly and yet inexplicably.  The way a Sunday of puttering alone around the house still feels like a day.  The way life, when viewed without the rose-tinted glasses of cause, effect, and beginnings-that-lead-to-endings, of narrative and meaning and story—all of that...  The way life in all its formlessness too, feels like a form.

It reminded me a little also, of Lerner’s 10:04.  For the ropy tenderness and empathy that seems to breathe outward from each page, like the echo of a blue note.  But also for at least one specific detail.  In Lerner, there is that moment with the Manhattan skyline at night (and what a moment, what a Mona Lisa painting of a moment it is...), when he feels the small thrill I always felt to a lesser or greater degree when I looked at Manhattan’s skyline and the innumerable illuminated windows and the liquid sapphire and ruby of traffic on the FDR Drive and the present absence of the towers.  It was a thrill that only built space produced in me, never the natural world, and only when there was an incommensurability of scale—the human dimension of the windows tiny from such distance combining but not dissolving into the larger architecture of the skyline that was the expression, the material signature, of a collective person who didn’t yet exist, a still-uninhabited second person plural to whom all the arts, even in their most intimate registers, were nevertheless addressed.  Only an urban experience of the sublime was available to me because only then was the greatness beyond calculation the intuition of community.  Bundled debt, trace amounts of antidepressants in the municipal water, the vast arterial network of traffic, changing weather patterns of increasing severity...

For whatever reason (maybe because it really does feel like a great painting, and so you remember that particular detail, like the face of the small dog looking out at you, like the curve of the angel’s ankle...), you remember those trace amounts of antidepressants in the municipal water.

And so, early on in Offill’s Weather there is a sense of repercussion, or of call-and-response:

So now we have extra bread.  I eat three pieces while my brother tells me a story about his NA meeting.  A woman stood up and started ranting about antidepressants.  What upset her most was that people were not disposing of them properly.  They tested worms in the city sewers and found they contained high concentrations of Paxil and Prozac.

When birds ate these worms, they stayed closer to home, made more elaborate nests, but appeared unmotivated to mate.  “But were they happier?” I ask him.  “Did they get more done in a given day?”

Elsewhere, an (other) example of how she makes a kind of magic, out of saying things without saying them:

After the election, Ben makes many small wooden things.  One to organize our utensils, one to keep the trash can from wobbling.  He spends hours on them.  “There, I fixed it,” he says.


[Acquired in early October 2020, from Todo Modo.]
[Read mostly through bouts of insomnia (related to climate change, kind of...), in early October.]

Victoria Chang | OBIT
 
Victoria Chang | OBIT

I would tell you about all the ways in which these poems define and undo the defining of grief.  Like the shape and nothingness-around-it, of each poem on each page.  A box with everything you can put in it, and everything again, that you cannot.

(Once I started trying, I realized how hard it was to explain and how it wasn’t even one thing I was trying to explain. Grief scatters. It’s like smoke, it gets in your hair, your clothes, everywhere, but you can’t touch it...)

The way so many of these poems begin on my birthday.  (The way my birthday is always a week after my father being gone.)  The way this is about a so-called fully grown human being, contending with what she knows every so-called fully grown human being must contend with, if their parent is a lucky parent.  (A parent who gets to die before their child.)  The way her contending brings back my contending.

Approval—died    on   August   3,   2015
at the age  of  44.   It  died   at 7:07 a.m.
How much money will you get was my
mother’s  response  to  everything.  She
used  to  wrap  muffins  in  a  napkin  at
the buffet  and  put  them  in  her purse.
I never saw  the  muffins  again.  What I
would  do  to  see  those  muffins  again,
the thin moist  thread  as she pulled the
muffin apart. A photo shows my mother
holding my  hand.  I  was  nine.  I  never
touched her  hand  again.  Until  the day
before she died.  I  love so many things I
have never touched:  the moon, a shiver,
my mother's heart.  Her  fingers felt like
rough  branches  covered  with plastic.  I
trimmed  her nails one  by one  while the
morphine   kept  her  asleep.   Her   nails
weren’t  small  moons   or  golden  doors
to somewhere, but  ten  last  words I was
cutting off.


All the ways.


[Acquired in August 2020.]
[Begun in August with the Sealey Challenge; finished in September with the Poetry Foundation.]

Arundhati Roy | Azadi
 
Arundhati Roy | Azadi

The God of Small Things didn’t do it for me (though there will always be those lines about what careless words can do—lines I can imagine leaving in some rooms I have lived in, like a forgotten earring or a clutch of keys to houses whose locks were long ago changed...), but for her essays I have loved Arundhati Roy since I first read her, in 2003.  In January of that year there was “Confronting Empire,” and later that spring there was the one-two punch of “Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy (Buy One, Get One Free),” and “Mesopotamia. Babylon. The Tigris and Euphrates.”  Users of Yahoo! email, do you remember the Briefcase?  A kind of clunky precursor to today’s clouds and drives?  I saved those three essays in my Yahoo! Briefcase (along with that famous/infamous piece by Sontag in the first New Yorker after September 11th, the one about courage and cowardice, consequences and concealment, democracy and drivel...), because they felt like pages from a manual for equipment that I had until then been using with a kind of shrugged-on complacency.  Like an expensive camera you keep on auto-focus for years, and then one day someone shows you how to sharpen the parts of the image that happen to lie outside its center.  Suddenly, a way to see a different picture.

Anyway.  There is much here, that feels like it builds on that kind of manual.  And while the essays seem mostly to be talking about India, really, they are talking about everywhere.  For example, the ways in which religious fundamentalism and unbridled free-market fundamentalism can waltz arm in arm, like lovers...  For example, the idea that national pride has more to do with hate than love.  For example, the appalling logic of Hindu nationalists, when they explain that Muslims have so many homelands, but Hindus only have India. (Where have I heard something like that before...?)

For example too, the idea that today’s fascism, and the fake history of Hindu nationalism [or really, any kind of nationalism], rests on a deeper foundation of another, apparently more acceptable, more sophisticated set of fake histories that elide the stories of caste, of women, and a range of other genders — and of how those stories intersect below the surface of the grand narrative of class and capital.

(Italics mine.)


[Acquired in September 2020, from Todo Modo.]
[Read in September 2020, in Florence—including at Ristorante Goong, on ice...]

Audre Lorde | Your Silence Will Not Protect You
 
Audre Lorde | Your Silence Will Not Protect You

I didn’t need to buy this book.  Almost every essay is in Sister Outsider, and Sister Outsider has been a kind of bible on the shelf now, for some time.  But I discovered that this UK edition has an introduction by Sara Ahmed.  And thanks to some recent conversations with Erica, I have lately developed a fellow-feminist kind of crush on Sara Ahmed...  Besides being awesome (as I have noted below, and elsewhere, and elsewhere again), she is also a fellow Lorde-lover.

Also thanks to some recent conversations with another Sara entirely (who has been reading this edition—and yes, I know that’s not really a reason...).  And finally too, thanks to that talk with Roxane Gay at the 92nd Street Y, in which Mahogany L. Browne performs “A Litany for Survival,” and Porsha Olayiwola performs “Power.”  This UK edition, unlike Sister Outsider, has some of Lorde’s poetry too—like “Litany,” and like “Power.”  And so it was enough.  I bought it.

I read the introduction by Sara Ahmed—and it was good.

Each time you write or you speak you are putting yourself into a world that is shared.

To speak from anger is to bring something into existence...

To write is to create something that will have its own life; writing as afterlife.

When we speak, we open the possibility of a return address.

Reading her work is a way of speaking too.

And I read the poems—and Lorde were they good.

When you are hungry
learn to eat
whatever sustains you
until morning
but do not be misled by details
simply because you live them.



[Acquired in August 2020.]
[Read in September 2020, in Florence.]

Ben Lerner | 10:04
 
Ben Lerner | 10:04

It seems Ben Lerner is the only living white male writer I’m able to read these days.  (I had to add in “living” because I can read Rilke.  Thank heaven, I can always read Rilke...)  I think the reason, really, is that Ben Lerner writes kind of like the opposite of say, everyone in this book.  How to explain this oppositeness?  Here’s an example:

While I stirred the vegetables I realized with slowly dawning alarm that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d cooked by myself for another person—I could not, in fact, ever remember having done so.  I’d cooked with people plenty, usually acting as a dazzlingly incompetent sous chef for friends or family.  On various occasions I’d said to a woman I was interested in, “I would invite you to dinner, but I can’t cook,” at which point I would hope she’d say, “I’m a great cook,” so I could ask her to come over and teach me; then we’d get drunk in the kitchen while I displayed what I hoped was my endearing clumsiness, never learning anything. [...] I simply could not recall a single instance in which I had by myself constructed a meal, however rudimentary, for another human being.  The closest memory I could summon was of scrambling eggs on Mother’s or Father’s Day as a child, but the uncelebrated parent, as well as my brother, always assisted me.  Conversely, there was simply no end to the number of meals I could recall other people making for me, thousands upon thousands of meals, a quantity of food that would have to be measured in tons, dating from my mother’s milk to the present; just that week Aaron had roasted a chicken for our monthly dinner; Alena had made some kind of delicious trio of Middle Eastern salads the night before; in neither meal had I lent a hand, although I’d cursorily offered. [...] Surely there were instances I was forgetting, but even assuming there were, they were exceedingly rare.

I would like to say that, at the very least, I resolved to cook henceforth for my friends, to be a producer and not a consumer alone of those substances necessary for sustenance and growth within my immediate community.  I would like to say that [...] I was disturbed by the contradiction between my avowed political materialism and my inexperience with this brand of making, of poiesis, but I could dodge or dampen that contradiction via my hatred of Brooklyn’s boutique biopolitics, in which spending obscene sums and endless hours on stylized food preparation somehow enabled the conflation of self-care and political radicalism. [...] Realizing my selfishness just led to more selfishness; that is, I felt lonely, felt sorry for myself, despite the fact that I was so often cooked for, because, as I stood there in my little kitchen stirring vegetables, stood there at the age of thirty-three, I was crushed to realize nobody depended on me for this fundamental mode of care, of nurturing, nourishing.  “Don’t leave me,” Nina Simone begged in French, and, for the first time I could remember—whether or not the desire was a non sequitur—I wanted a child, wanted one badly.

I loved this book because it has so many moments like that.  Moments that are at once both intellectually virtuoso and deeply, vertiginously human.  Moments in which the experience of looking (in this scene, at the self; in other scenes, at others), is defined by empathy and vulnerability—a not-knowing...  A kind of osmotic receptiveness (Lerner might call it proprioceptiveness) or liminal permeability—to people and to the world and to time—that transcends the traditional idea of ego (and especially of the male ego—toxic masculinity, I’m looking at you...) that feels achingly rare.  You get why that Whitman quote is everywhere—for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.  And yet he out-Whitmans Whitman in a way, for this is not even a song of the self—the self-as-universe...  Really, it feels like a humming.

Also the metafictionality.  I loved it for that, too.  Also the hilariousness.  Also the scene in the co-op, with Noor.  (Also the co-op itself.  Carlotta!  He does the co-op!  He mentions the nannies!)  Also (speaking of the co-op), the bit about the new biopolitical vocabulary for expressing racial and class anxiety...  Also the empathy.  Also the hilariousness.


[Acquired in September 2020, from Todo Modo.]
[Read in September 2020, in Florence.]

Sara Ahmed | Living a Feminist Life
 
Sara Ahmed | Living a Feminist Life

In preparation for an eventual paragraph to put here, I started jotting down some thoughts on this book, and some favorite quotes.  Along the way, I wound up with a blog post on self-care (and lots else), and a blog post on the conveniently double-edged sword-and-standard of (mostly) white exceptionalism (and lots else), and (at last count), some seven pages of collected quotes, both from the book and from an array of interviews with Ahmed herself.  I’m not even close to being done, and I won’t be for a long while.  But even if I were, I would not know how to choose what to put here, in a way that didn’t end up giving you a third of the book (and lots else).

So instead I will give you this.  It is not representative of the book, except it kind of is.  It is not about feminism per se, except it absolutely is.  It is not my favorite bit, except sometimes, it is:

I do not think it is good to be too confident in one’s decisions and, thus, to be too confident in the shape of the life you live, a life that has acquired its shape because of decisions you have already made along the way.  I think it is good to think of life as always potentially in crisis, to keep asking the question: how to live?  [There] is value just in this; the value of opening up life to a decision, of realizing that life is open to a decision.

Also, two quotes on reading books exactly like this one.  First this:

A world can flood once we have let it in, once we have unlocked the door of our own resistance.  Feminism too can become a flooding experience: one book read that leads to another, a trail that leads you to find feminism, more and more feminism, new words, concepts, arguments, models: patriarchy, phallocentrism, rape culture, the sex-gender system.  In finding feminism, you are finding out about the many ways that feminists have tried to make sense, already, of the experiences you had, before you had them; experiences that left you feeling all alone are the experiences that lead you to others. [...] I will always remember that feeling; a sense that there are others like you out there, that you are not on your own, that you were not on your own.  Your own difficult history is written out in words that are sent out.  I often think of reading feminist books as like making friends, realizing that others have been here before.

And then this:

For those of us who found feminist company in books, I think it is helpful to ask ourselves what we want from those books.  We can want different things, of course, and we do not always know what we want until we find it.  Sometimes it is a matter of what finds you.  I think of companion books as those books that make me feel less lonely, and also those that allow me to meet myself in a different way.

You can read the introduction over at Duke University Press.  It is f*cking good.


[Acquired in late July 2020—thank you EM, for putting me (back) on to Sara Ahmed...!]
[Read mostly in August 2020 (alongside the Sealey Challenge); finished in September 2020.]

Ijeoma Oluo | So You Want to Talk About Race
 
Ijeoma Oluo | So You Want to Talk About Race

Oh no, not another race book!  (I know.  You’d think this was something important or something.)  At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to get this one (I read Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility last August, and had just begun Crystal M. Fleming’s How to Be Less Stupid About Race).  But I’ve seen how often Oluo’s book comes up in lists of resources and recommended texts for better understanding race, racism and white supremacy, and unlike some people (sigh), I get that these lists and articles are written by people who know and understand much more about all this, than I do.  I get that I’m nowhere near done with knowing what there is to know.

(Which reminds me, small world that this can sometimes seem, of a quote from MLK in Fleming’s book: It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.  Exactly.)

Anyway.  Those people who made those lists and wrote those articles?  They were right.  In fact, this book may be (for most people) the best first book to read on racism and white supremacy.  It feels slightly lighter and more accessible than Fleming’s (which is a little heavier on theory, and a little tougher in its talk too, perhaps...), and while it does ask the (white) reader to do some ‘work,’ it is not nearly as demanding in this sense, as I think White Fragility might be for many folks.  Finally, the layout is nothing if not straightforward: every chapter addresses a likely question / area of understanding, from tone policing to police brutality, from privilege to the prison pipeline, and from intersectionality to the “N” word.  Really, she could have called it Racism for Dummies.  But something tells me that might not have helped the way it does with all the other Dummies titles...  Huh.


[Acquired in August 2020.]
[Read in August 2020, in Florence.]

Crystal M. Fleming | How to Be Less Stupid About Race
 
Crystal M. Fleming | How to Be Less Stupid About Race

You know that feeling (if you’re a person of color in a white world), when you wish you could drop a pointed-but-ostensibly-not-at-all-pointed quote in your email signature, as a way of telling a well-intentioned (and of course, impeccably progressive) white friend what you would really like to tell them, about the sometimes rather magnificent gaps in their understanding of racism, whiteness, and white supremacy?  This book has plenty of those quotes.  Enough that if I had to pick just one, I’d have to pick at least four:

In order to oppose racism, we have to actually be concerned with oppression writ large.  This means drawing critical connections between the plight of people of color and the poor in the United States and the broader struggle for freedom and tolerance on our small planet.  It means fighting ethnic and religious bigotry throughout Asia and standing in solidarity with the Roma in Europe as well as African migrants.  It means denouncing the immoral violence of anti-Semitism as well as Israel’s immoral destruction of the Palestinian people.  It means taking a stand against ethnocentrism and genocide in Rwanda and standing up against antiblack racism in Brazil, Latin America, and the Arab world.  As antiracists, we have to cultivate concern and compassion for the suffering marginalized people in our own communities and on the other side of the world.

Have you ever wondered how people lived with slavery, Jim Crow, and lynching [or, I might add, with Hitler, Mussolini, and the Manifesto of Race...] but looked the other way?  Look around right now.  This is how they did it.  They did it by going on with their lives.  They did it by being polite, not rocking the boat.

Let the record reflect: white supremacy persists, to a great degree, because of white folks’ refusal to aggressively challenge other whites on their racism.

So, white people: y’all need to team up with your antiracist homies, leverage your social influence, stand up against racist behavior, and be willing to make your racist family members, friends, and/or colleagues uncomfortable.  Even more to the point: white folks need to make a proactive decision to do this work, rather than rely on people of color (who are already subject to the terror of racial violence) to pick up your slack and carry the burden of dismantling oppression.

Also: interpersonal and institutional racism are connected.

Read the books.  Do the work.  Just, please.  Do the work.


[Acquired in August 2020, from Todo Modo.]
[Read in August 2020, in Florence.]

Beth Ann Fennelly | Heating and Cooling
 
Beth Ann Fennelly | Heating and Cooling

Early in July I started ‘going’ to more poetry readings (because what better for an introvert, than a poetry reading for which you don’t have to get dressed, don’t have to make small talk, and don’t have to perform your interest, interestingness, and sociability).  And there was this one, in which Beth Ann Fennelly read a piece from her new(ish) book of what she calls micro-memoirs...  And this piece, it made some gears grind to a halt inside me, in a way that—whatever you call it, micro-memoir or flash or prose poetry or poetry too—it’s these short, shaped forms that know how to do it.  Shaped to fit in your cupped hands.  Small enough to carry in a pocket, if your dress has a pocket.

The Visitation

I remember being in the car on the way to my sister’s surprise funeral.  In the backseat, I think.  I can’t imagine who was driving.  At a stop sign my head swiveled toward a flicker in the roadside greenery: a fox, poking its snout from between two bushes. I thought, or chose to think, That is my sister. That is my sister, come back in animal form to tell me it’s okay.  She’s okay.  I’ll be okay.

But it was not okay.  She was not okay.  I would not be okay.  I would not be okay for so long that when okay arrived it couldn’t place me.  It looked right past the veil of flickering leaves, my long red snout, my gloved paws swiping tears into my little black mouth.

(The other poets were amazing too.)


[Acquired in August 2020, from Todo Modo.]
[Read in August 2020, in Florence.]

June Eric-Udorie (Editor) | Can We All Be Feminists?
 
June Eric-Udorie | Can We All Be Feminists?

It’s been a year and half since I started my little reading project on intersectional feminism.  And I have to say that this one book delivered on more fronts than many of the books I’ve read so far—maybe not so much in depth, but very much in terms of the sheer breadth of perspectives.  The essays vary widely in style (and a few are not as well-written / well-shaped as the others), but if you want some truly intersectional bang for your anti-capitalist buck, this is a starting point for all kinds of isms across all kinds of bodies—black and brown (including from Pakistani to Punjabi and beyond...), deviant and disabled, trans and migrant and fluid and fat.  I’ve underlined and asterisked all over this book, but in terms of a (very random) sampling:

On the plurality of feminism: There’s no explicit platform for feminism because it’s an idea, ownerless and atomized, based on the observation of one specific, persistent source of imbalance in a stunningly unfair world.

On intersectionality: Asking that feminism be intersectional is not asking it to do anything other than make sense.

On abortion: Folks who believe that abortion is permissible in the case of rape, but not permissible in the case of accidental pregnancy from consensual sex, are not actually condemning abortion; rather the moral axis here is the sexual behavior—the blameworthiness—of the pregnant person.

On beauty: Public policing of Beauty isn’t always obvious, but it is constant.  Its threat haunts every plan, every outfit, every decision you make before stepping out in public.

On fat: A good body can be permitted to carry weight, unlike a beautiful body, but this must be in moderation, carried in seamless proportion and coupled with hyperfemininity.

On the trans toilet-wars: Use of bathrooms and changing rooms is predominantly about safety, and which bodies are deserving of safety—and which aren’t.

On cultural appropriation: [It is] ignorance that leaves people believing, unthinkingly, that cultural exchange happens in a fair context and on a level playing field...

And on the everyday rollercoaster of being a nonwhite minority among your white friends: [That instant in which] whiteness becomes aggressive and hostile to our way of being.  One moment, it’s a normal conversation, and in the next, the person we’re with has revealed the limits of their understanding.


[Acquired in August 2019.]
[Read on and off from January 2020 through to July 2020.]

John Berger | and our faces, my heart, brief as photos
 
John Berger | and our faces, my heart, brief as photos

For his talk of poetry: In all poetry words are a presence before they are a means of communication.

For his talk of time: The deeper the experience of a moment, the greater the accumulation of experience.  This is why the moment is lived as longer. [...] The lived durée is not a question of length but of depth or density.  Proust understood this.  (So did Rovelli, I think to myself.)

And for his talk, finally, of train stations: Before the railways were built, what took the place of stations in people’s dreams?  Perhaps cliffs or wells or a blacksmith’s forge?  Like a tram or a bus this question is a way of approaching the railway station.  (I think of Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.  And Neruda’s Book of Questions.)

For his talk, too, of Caravaggio.  And for the future of that parcel.


[Acquired in June 2020, from Todo Modo.]
[Read in June and July 2020, in Florence.]

Angela Y. Davis | Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement
 
Angela Y. Davis | Freedom Is a Constant Struggle

Some things in this book—like all the books from 2019’s birthday crop on blackness, whiteness, and wrongness—have felt like salvos.  Some other things, like salve.

Like understanding incarceration and detention as ways in which the state consolidates its inability and refusal to address the most pressing social problems of this era.  Like understanding the need for collective and community-based change, at a time when neoliberalism attempts to force people to think of themselves only in individual terms.  Like understanding the tyranny of the universal (and the abstract).

And any book that describes marriage (in passing, mind you) as a bourgeois hetero-patriarchal institution, and as a capitalist institution designed to guarantee the distribution [or rather the lack thereof] of property... is my kind of book.

Still, this was sometimes hard to read—hard anyway to finish—through a June (and July) like 2020 has had.  But also urgent, necessary, long overdue.  One of those books (and there are at least a couple more, from that birthday crop), that I wish I could press into the hands of my wonderful white friends and say, read this.  Because we cannot go on as usual.  We cannot pivot the center.  We cannot be moderate.


[Acquired in August 2019.]
[Read on and off from August 2019 through to July 2020 (in tandem with Carlotta...).]

Fernando Pessoa | The Book of Disquiet
 
Fernando Pessoa | The Book of Disquiet

Among the blurbs at the beginning, a reviewer from the Daily Telegraph speaks of exhilarating lugubriousness.  This feels perfect, and yet there is so much more, so much quotable, so much that I have underlined and starred and squiggled across the multitude of mirrored and othered selves that make up this book...  On every page, something that reaches out and makes a wave in you.

Like this: I enjoy using words.  Or rather: I enjoy making words work.  For me words are tangible bodies, visible sirens, sensualitues made flesh.  (I think of Humpty Dumpty, holding forth with Alice...  “They’ve a temper some of them—particularly verbs...”)

Like this: Each thing is the intersection of three lines which, together, shape that thing: a quantity of material, the way in which we interpret it and the atmosphere in which it exists.  (I think of content, form, and context.  Also, of everything.)

And like this: Some people have one great dream in life which they fail to fulfil.  Others have no dream at all and fail to fulfil even that.  (I think of you and me and the universe of people that may or may not lie, between us.)


[Acquired in June 2016.]
[Read on and off from June 2016 in Santa Marinella, through to July 2020 in Florence.]

Ben Lerner | The Topeka School
 
Ben Lerner | The Topeka School

The idea of America as adolescence without end, and of the vacuum at the heart of privilege.

The idea that the deep truths are sedimented in syntax...

Now when I close my eyes and see phosphenes (though I seem always to need to search for the word, seem always to need to consider first, for a moment, whether they are pheromones, and then phonemes)...  And all my life I have wondered too, if they were universal, if everyone saw them.  But they were so faint and difficult to describe that he was never able to figure out if his parents or friends shared this experience just above the threshold of perception; the patterns dissipated under the weight of language, remained irreducibly private.


[Acquired in January 2020, from Todo Modo.]
[Read in July 2020, in Florence.]