Baghdad, Beirut, Paris: Six Women to Think With

You could walk into the water and stay there. What was the problem?
(1) Guilaine Kinouani France is still a country which uses the everyday expression “du travail d’arabe” (literarily ‘Arab’s work’) to refer to botched or poor quality work. A country that is so removed from the violence it inflicts onto its racial minorities that it has no qualms using this expression as the title of one of its movies whilst simultaneously denying all responsibility for the hurt, tensions and offence this causes. A country where just a few years ago, the appointment of the first ever Black newsreader, Harry Roselmack, on the national channel TF1 (the equivalent of BBC1), caused demonstrations and uproar because, wait for it… he was Black. A country that still bans all-Black cast movies. “Hatred breeds hatred”: Charlie Hebdo, marginalisation and terrorism (2) Laila Lalami What happened in Paris on November 13 has happened before, in a… Read More...

Safe Space

An immature, overly-coddled Yale student lashed out after feeling that his “safe space” had been violated...
An immature, overly-coddled Yale student lashed out after feeling that his “safe space” had been violated. I’m talking, of course, about George W. Bush. Isn’t the War on Terror nothing but an attempt to maintain the safe spaces of the cosmopolitan elite? At a time when black college students are being called “fascist” and “immature” for trying to carve out a safe space for themselves on campus it seems worth while to ask this question. Both tasks are equally impossible, but one actually brought us closer to fascism by restricting our civil liberties and ensuring that we waged perpetual war for perpetual peace, while the other only brought about fascism in the minds of critics on the left and right whose minds imagined the slippery slope that would be created by taking student’s concerns seriously. As Malcolm Harris has shown,… Read More...

Best American Poetry Pseudonyms

Can Big Data save poetry?
Every time some clever white person puts on yellow-face or uses a black name (or any variation thereof) in order to benefit from some real or imagined affirmative action benefit, the thing they haven’t done is demonstrate that the system is skewed against white people. If anything, they’ve shown that adding a situational advantages of non-whiteness to the structural advantages of whiteness can lead to success. But it’s the ability to pick and choose, depending on the situation, which makes whiteness the real advantage. Only white people can play this “card,” the ethnicity that’s there when you need it, but disappears when you don’t. (more…) Read More...

Purity in Oakland

a supercut of Jonathan Franzen sentences in Purity that include the word "Oakland."
(In the spirit of the youtube sharing community, here is a supercut of Jonathan Franzen sentences in Purity that include the word "Oakland.") Some of her friends in Oakland also had problematic parents, but they still managed to speak to them daily without undue weirdnesses transpiring, because even the most problematic of them had resources that consisted of more than just their single offspring. I use the word spies loosely, of course, though perhaps not entirely inappropriately, given the fact that there are some thirty-five members of the Oakland Nuclear Disarmament Study Group, of which Pip and Stephen are by no means the least dispensable, and yet the house that the Germans have chosen to favor with their all too typically German earnestness and nosiness, for nearly a week now, is ours. Annagret would dump her boyfriend and move to Oakland and… Read More...

Against Students Stories

Students are the Worst.
On Friday, the Duke Chronicle—the student paper—ran a story whose headline declared “Freshmen skipping ‘Fun Home’ for moral reasons.”: “Several incoming freshmen decided not to read “Fun Home” because its sexual images and themes conflicted with their personal and religious beliefs.” Freshman Brian Grasso posted in the Class of 2019 Facebook page July 26 that he would not read the book “because of the graphic visual depictions of sexuality,” igniting conversation among students.” Since then, the story has been picked up by: CNN, USA Today, Salon, The New Civil Rights Movement, the Washington Post, the Onion AV club, Inquisitr, Slate, the Daily Beast, and a variety of other newsy-journalistic-ish outlets. But as far as one can tell, Claire Ballantine for the Duke Chronicle is the only journalist who has actually seen Freshman Brian Grasso’s inflammatory words. And this is as… Read More...

“The Sacred Mattress”

“The fortress-mansion has high walls built of ashblack-brown volcanic stone, the same stone cut into large bricks for the heavy, fortified-hacienda-style architecture inside, which included…
"The fortress-mansion has high walls built of ashblack-brown volcanic stone, the same stone cut into large bricks for the heavy, fortified-hacienda-style architecture inside, which included a massive watchtower with arched windows, topped by a crenellated mirador. To provide access during the fortress's construction, El Indio had to carve out a new side street, which he named Dulce Olivia after the actress Olivia de Havilland, whom he had some kind of thing for. Three seemingly separate residences—did secret corridors or sliding bookcases connect them?—faced the main courtyard, which had a dry fountain in the middle. A broad stone staircase led back into the rest of the mansion, always permeated by the chill of cold stone, and filled with staircases and corridors and rooms and galleries and halls that had once held huge parties attended by Marilyn Monroe and other stars but that… Read More...

We Are All Gawker Now

Who the hell knows what is really happening at Gawker, and who the hell cares? Answer: Gawker and Gawker. Which is the interesting thing to…
Who the hell knows what is really happening at Gawker, and who the hell cares? Answer: Gawker and Gawker. Which is the interesting thing to me about all of this, the way a story about Gawker has, primarily, been reported on Gawker. And without Gawker leaking internal Gawker memos to Gawker, would we know what’s happening at Gawker? And would we care? Probably not, and probably not. Which is to say, simply: this is how “the news” is made. Not “reported,” which would imply that it was already news before news-media decided it was, but “made”: news is news because the news says it is. This is why Nick Denton gets points for admitting that his litmus test for a story’s newsworthiness is whether it’s “interesting”: he is interesting in publishing stories, primarily, that he is interested in publishing, and… Read More...

Short Story Day Africa: Interview with Rachel Zadok

Water no get enemy
Short Story Day Africa is a wonderful initiative that was started by the South African novelist Rachel Zadok -- author of Gem Squash, Tokoloshe and Sister-Sister -- and in the three years of their existence, they've already managed to do excellent things. In the last two years, they've put out two of the best anthologies of new fiction I've read in some time (Feast, Famine & Potluck and Terra Incognita: New Short Speculative Stories from Africa) as well as a lovely looking anthology of young fiction by young people, Rapunzel is Dead, that I just purchased for $0.99 (and so can you). They're fundraising for their third anthology Water -- you can donate here -- and I anticipate it will be amazing. Did I mention that you can donate here? You can donate here. I had a chance to meet Rachel a month ago in Kampala, and interviewed her over… Read More...

Inside Out, Namwali Serpell’s “The Sack”

How should we read “The Sack”?
Namwali Serpell’s “The Sack” stands on its own, if it must. When I discussed the story with a classroom full of undergraduates—as part of my “Global Contemporary Short Story” class—I think they found it both rewarding and challenging, which is a nice way of saying it was frustrating, but that there can be something nice about being frustrated. There is a certain formal unity to the story, in that the beginning feels like a beginning and the ending feels like an ending—leaving the middle free to feel like itself—and yet, at the same time, that narrative arc does anything but resolve. It ends up where it began, yet inverted, like running your hand along a Möbius strip until you reach the same point (but underneath) and there’s nothing to do but keep going until you get back to the beginning.… Read More...

“A sort of post-colonial studies joke”: Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation

Do you need to read Camus before you read Kamel Daoud?
Do you need to read Camus before you read Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation? If you read The Stranger ten years ago, twenty years ago, do you need to re-read it? I had a Camus phase, in adolescence. I read The Stranger—and even bought L’etranger, with the ambition of using it to improve my French—as well as The Plague, The Fall, and others whose titles I don’t remember. I know that I read them, because while I bought those books new, they looked used when I gave them away. But books I read when I was a teenager didn’t stay in my brain, or at least these haven’t. Of The Stranger, I remember that mother died today, and ennui, and existentialism, I guess. Smoking. Killing an Arab because of the sun. The last time I thought about The Stranger was… Read More...

Writing a bodaboda to Rideavism

border-border
At the Writivism festival last week, in Kampala, Uganda, a certain conversational form played itself out over and over again: I know you from the internet, it’s so wonderful to finally meet you in person! I spoke variations on that theme to various people, people spoke it to me, and I overheard people speaking it to each other. Many of the guests at Writivism had already met each other, of course—there was a small reunion of some of the Africa39 writers, for example, who had all met at Port Harcourt last year, and many of the guests came with already-assembled cohorts (the Nigerians who came together, the Kenyans who took a bus from Nairobi, etc). But bylines and facebook profiles and author photos travel much faster and farther than bodies do, those sweaty meat-sacks which lag behind struggling to catch… Read More...

When Game of Thrones Stopped Being Necessary

In the context of romantic high fantasy, the show’s sado-masochistic narrative engine had a moderately subversive purpose.
(believe it or not, no spoilers for yesterday's finale, which I haven't seen) I’ve been fascinated by the notion that a rape scene should be (or could be) necessary. “Episode six ending was brutal - but was it necessary?” is a common way of framing it; Vanity Fair declared that “Game of Thrones Absolutely Did Not Need to Go There with Sansa Stark,” while over at Slate, the argument is made that “this particular scene was necessary,” given the grim bargain Sansa Stark had struck. Most striking, to me, was Jill Pantozzi (the editor-in-chief of the The Mary Sue) explaining why The Mary Sue would no longer actively promote the show: “In this particular instance, rape is not necessary to Sansa’s character development (she’s already overcome abusive violence at the hands of men); it is not necessary to establish Ramsay… Read More...

Recrimination and Ruined Hope

Everyone seems to agree that this kind of conflict is new...
This is a guest post from Rei Terada, one of my favorite thinkers, and a piece which--in view of its timeliness and pertinence--I was delighted to be able to host.  Reading Laura Kipnis's "My Title IX Inquisition" prompts the need to consider student-faculty hostilities in a more historical and relational light. Kipnis's article details how she has become the target of student protest and Title IX retaliation complaints. She had published an essay, written in what she calls a "slightly mocking tone" arguing that new codes ruling out consensual erotic student-faculty relationships "infantilized students while vastly increasing the power of university administrators over all our lives." For Kipnis, complaints of retaliation against her appear misplaced because she had never been accused of harassment and therefore had nothing, in her view, to retaliate for; as she saw it, she had simply… Read More...

Summer Reading

Some newish and upcoming literary-type books that didn't make the NYT's silly summer reading list
Some newish and upcoming literary-type books that didn't make the NYT's silly summer reading list: Ladan Osman, The Kitchen-Dweller's Testimony April 1 Chigozie Obioma, The Fishermen April 15 Abdourahman Waberi, The Nomads, My Brothers, Go Out to Drink from the Big Dipper April 15 Saraba, the Survival Issue April 18 Elizabeth Alexander, The Light of the World April 21 Eight New-Generation African Poets April 28 Julie Iromuanya, Mr. and Mrs. Doctor May 12 Alain Mabanckou, The Lights of Pointe-Noire May 14 KUT May 24 Kamel Daoud, The Meursault Investigation June 2 Ivan Vladislavi?, 101 Detectives June 16 Mia Couto, Confession of the Lioness July 14 Fiston Mwanza Mujila, Tram 83 September 15   Read More...

What Even Can You Even Say About The Princess-Man of North Sudan?

What is the emoji for vomit.
What is there to say about the “Princess of North Sudan” that isn’t already so incredibly soul-killingly obvious that it feels embarrassingly superfluous to say it? That it’s racist and stupid? Yes, obviously. I mean, are you kidding me? You cannot not be kidding me. You have to be kidding me. It’s like condemning blackface. If you even have to say it, if you have to articulate the actual words, then are we even having the same conversation? Are we even a “we”? What are we even talking about? It feels insane to even have the conversation. We should be better than this. “We” should recognize that massively encouraging and indulging a child’s childish desire to be a princess by trying to invent a country in Africa is not only terrible, weird parenting—and seriously, good luck to that kid in… Read More...

Witnessing Patriarchy

Men Witness, Women Gender.
The first PEN event I attended last weekend in NYC, was a gathering of the Elders, “the Witnesses,” a group of old men whose collective wisdom we were invited to witness: Boubacar Boris Diop, Yusef Komunyakaa, Achille Mbembe, and Ng?g? Wa Thiong’o. They were led onto stage, however, and introduced with so much ceremony and praise that there could be no vitality to the event. This was not exactly their fault, not exactly; if you’d already read their work before, you’d probably already heard everything before, a repetition which was what it was. And I’d have paid the price of admission to see any one of them speak, alone: they are each interesting and flawed and vital thinkers, with archives of work that haunt the present, and they aren’t dead yet. They have said so many interesting things, over the years;… Read More...