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Commuter Riots

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The Kansas City Royals’ Kauffman Stadium is in a suburban sports complex that is perfectly modernist, which is to say, perfectly designed to quash riots.

On game day, the Harry S. Truman Sports Complex could be described as the innermost suburb clinging to the outermost periphery of Kansas City, Missouri. Containing Kauffman Stadium and its neighbor, Arrowhead Stadium, the Complex exists in an eastern industrial buffer zone between the Kansas City metro and the suburb of Independence. But Kansas City sports used to have a decidedly less suburban home. From 1955 to 1971, Municipal Stadium, warmly situated in the birthplace of jazz, shoehorned fans of the Athletics (who decamped for Oakland in 1967), the Chiefs and the Royals into its wooden grandstands until Arrowhead and The K were christened.

For much longer, Municipal Stadium had been home to the Negro American League’s winningest team, the Kansas City Monarchs. They were so popular in the 1930-50s that church congregants would leave services to attend a Monarchs game, up to the point that many of the Black community churches altered sermon times to facilitate reverence to both God and game. Spectators would walk to the stadium dressed in their Sunday bests ready to baptize themselves each week in the hot summer sun. Bright metro buses parked along the first base line outside the stadium, shuttling people to and from games.

Kansas City Municipal Stadium is an old testament to what made baseball the national pastime. The fans felt a neighborly connection to the team, and with that came a sense of communal ownership of the stadium (rather than seeing it as an outside agitator encroaching on a space where it wasn’t invited).

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Ghostbusters

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Barbara Johnson showed that while deconstruction had ignored feminism, it was nonetheless a form of feminist critique.

Twentieth century literary criticism was a boy’s game. The prominent male critics of the time (including Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman, J. Hillis Miller, and others known as the Yale School) often disagreed, but they all adored the Romantic poets (Percy Byshe Shelley, Lord Byron, John Keats, William Blake) who adored one another. As the late deconstructionist critic Barbara Johnson casually noted in the 1980s, “Like others of its type, the Yale School has always been a Male School.” Along with her fellow feminists, Johnson sought to rewrite the deconstructive process and its academic brotherhood from a different angle. (Alas, the feminist manifesto “Bride of Deconstruction,” which Johnson and others planned as a response to the Yale School’s Deconstruction and Criticism, never quite took off.)

Deconstruction was radical because it dramatized the manner by which literary texts, rather than communicate a single meaning, inevitably betray multiple and often contradictory meanings. For Derrida, the touchstone figure for deconstruction as a reading practice and philosophical system, this was a result of the basic structure of language—rhetorical figures, syntax, the etymology of words. Meaning, Derrida argued, often appears in hierarchical binaries: public/private, presence/absence, and so on. As a translator of some of Derrida’s early deconstructive work, Johnson was instrumental in ushering Derridean ideas into the center of American intellectual life. She was also key in pointing out that the organization of many literature departments in the 1970s testified to a major problem with the theory: Namely, that this otherwise revolutionary mode of close-reading seemed to ignore one of the most fundamental binaries of all, that of gender.

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A Cut Below

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Tracts conceived by crusaders seeking to eradicate the foreskin were published by pornographers seeking to avoid censors.

For several years now, I have been collecting a strange series of books put out by two mostly forgotten publishers, Panurge Press and Falstaff Press. Both operated in the first half of the 20th century, flourishing in the late 1920s and 1930s, and both focused on so-called “gentleman’s” titles: unexpurgated literature, curiosa, and pornography. More than bizarre curios, they’ve drawn me in because of the way they illuminate a strange moment in the history of American censorship that had vast consequences for almost all the dicks in America. The presses themselves emerged from a quirk of American obscenity laws, which left a strange lacuna that allowed them to operate.

One of the books, published anonymously in 1931, tells the story of surgeon who treated a man with “a very long but thin and narrow prepuce that had always been an annoyance to him.” The man, after witnessing the benefits of circumcision for his two children, “arranged to do it all by himself, and give the family and the surgeon a sample of his courage and a simultaneous surprise party.” The surgeon recounts what he saw:

When I at length arrived at the scene of carnage, I was directed to the wood-shed, on the outskirts of which hovered the family, frantic with fear and apprehension; within, in the darkest corner, with wildly dilated eyes, and performing a fantastic pas seul, was a man with a huge pair of scissors dangling between his legs, warning all persons as they valued his life not to approach or lay a hand on him. He had shut the scissors down so that it clinched the thin prepuce, and there his courage and determination had forsaken him. He lost his presence of mind, and was not even able to remove the scissors. He had simply given one wild, blood-curdling yell—like the last winding notes from Roland’s horn at Roncevalles—that had brought his family to the wood-shed door, and they had sent for me.

Though violent, this passage doesn’t depart too far from the hallmarks of the genre. Asking why a book like this would be distributed with pornography, even as a disguise, points the inquirer to the governing irony of gentlemen’s titles: The restrictions on publishing sexual material often activated the erotic content of otherwise innocuous or boner-killing stories. Their fate becomes even more juicy when the role of this censor-evading smut in promoting circumcision as an anti-masturbation cure comes to light.

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Fully Operational

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A building erects the present in the midst of a nostalgic dream.

51 Astor, a new building on the eastern edge of Astor Place in New York City, looks like something Will Smith would kill in a movie. It is mirrored, angular, black, and malevolently futuristic. Critics ranging from the New York Times to parents of NYU students, as they carry sleek TVs from Volvos to dorm rooms, have lambasted the building. Many activists and developers think the building brings a dash of midtown to an area that ought to be bohemian. At the end of an eloquent critique of 51 Astor, Justin Davidson of New York magazine says it “obliterates the personality of an open-skied funky square.” A fake Twitter account for the building, @51deathstar, which loans it a lonely, hollowly needy persona, recently tweeted in its voice: “Hey East Village! Sorry I had to destroy you. My dad made me do it and he’s kind of a dick.”

To understand why people ascribe this building so much power, a few facts are helpful. In 2011, the building received a $160 million construction loan from Bank of America, rare these days for speculative office spaces in New York City. Its flagship tenant is IBM, which plans to bring Watson, the Kasparov-beating hero to young ­iPads everywhere. In the lobby is a sculpture by Jeff Koons called Balloon Rabbit. It stands 14 feet tall and weighs 6,600 hundred pounds and is made of genially stacked shiny, semi-tumescent metal parts. The building’s first retail tenant is Ian Schrager, who as the founder of Studio 54, was once the don of decadent, Warholian nightlife in New York. Then he was convicted as a tax evader; now he’s a hotel magnate. One thing is clear: This building isn’t bashful. Its commitment to its attitude is total.

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How Many Licks

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What are we actually getting at when we talk about “sucking dick”?

What is a dick, who has one, and what does its sucking entail? Unpacking such questions is key to understanding the spectacle of the dick and the mouth. It is a sex act with an amended symmetry: two heads that become faceless by the nature of their encounter. They are differently faceless, differently consuming one another—one literally, through the mouth, and the other through the idea of a mouth. The cultural imaginary around dick sucking, almost more than other sex acts, has as much to do with what came before as it does with its physical presentness. It comes to us as stories, as histories, as gay-artist retrospectives, as breakfast. If there is something long, and an opening, look hard enough and eventually there is a dick and it has been sucked.

Sucking dick is imagined and reimagined as a particular set of power relations—something more extended and impactful than asskissing, perhaps. Roman poet Catullus actually used irrumare (to force dick sucking) to describe a boss who treated others very poorly. The overquoted and over-orientalized Kama Sutra, meanwhile, has a chapter on the eight different types of “mouth congress” and then goes into a detailed account of who does and doesn’t approve of or practice the congress and its variations. There is an understanding that it’s not an act for those privileged by caste, class, and other markers of social standing. Dick sucking often gets marked as a submissive act, but a very much not passive one, and always with the impending threat of the bite. Outside of a penetration-centric framework, the mouth can actually be imagined as having a great deal of power, or at least a momentary hegemony through enclosure. The sites of giving and receiving are constantly under question. (Did I give or take head or dick or pleasure? Neither or both or all of the above?) One hears, “I want your dick in my mouth,” and also “I want you to suck me off.” A dirty mouth and a cleaned dick, the switch.

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