Sunday Reading, June 18, 2023

“The Limits of David Foster Wallace” by Isabel Pabán Freed

The shape of depression is often hedging. Writers are asked not to hedge; being sure of oneself is necessary to get from point A to point B, we’re told. In Isabel’s essay, she mobilizes her own hedging to a syntactically innovative end. In the piece, she cannot confront David Foster Wallace’s limits without first tackling her own; and she knows she hasn’t achieved the epic treatise she envisioned. Our articles rarely become our treatises, and yet they have value––but this can be increasingly difficult to believe as writers must desperately compete for a shrinking pool of resources. In the same way, this essay on David Foster Wallace is tender, well-researched and written, and valuable. Regardless of your feelings about David Foster Wallace, this essay is worth a read and reread.

“The Anatomist, the Poet” by Maxi Wallenhorst 

This past March, writer Maxi Wallenhorst published “The Anatomist, the Poet,” a piece about allegory as trans aesthetic which is itself an allegory, and also not. Wallenhorst’s essay analyzes a rift within trans culture: the fake choice between literalism and opacity. Instead of making us choose, Wallenhorst looks at how this false dichotomy was produced in the first place.

The anatomist sees gender as a cause and effect chain between hormones and glands. Transition “isn’t a metaphor”; it’s a thing the body does. “This is what the anatomist calls, perhaps tongue in cheek, realism.” To her critics, this is “a realism of the too real, like most social realisms, of the too obvious.” But the anatomist doesn’t care about this critique. To her, it’s good. “At the risk of sounding like a mom, the anatomist turns to the too obvious: there is nothing essential to ‘life itself’ except that everyone deserves to get better, in a sick sense of the word, not only at wanting it all.”

The poet is the opposite: subtlety. “The poet’s aesthetic begins with the too abstract—with a world that seems irreparably out of reach; with silly words like world.” Caught in the crosshairs of hyper-visibility and—for some—capture, the poet evaporates. To those who don’t get it, this is the same as the nothing it becomes. But not to Wallenhorst. “Precisely where she is virtuosically shifting gears between explicitness and vibe, recipients and dedicatees, she doesn’t conflate this or any one thing with the totality of what it is that is to be done. She theorizes an alienation whose abolition cannot happen in any one place.”

“So Sexy” by ThugPop

Welcome to the song of the summer btw. “So sexy,” Thugpop says. “Make it so sexy.” What’s so funny is that this is also what the song is called: “So Sexy.” The single’s cover art features ThugPop (aka Christen Mooney) with a pink dress and pink sunglasses on a baseball field, holding a baseball bat.

The tracklist to Pinch, Thugpop’s 2022 EP, is as follows: “ABBbbbBBBBbbBBBBbbbbbb,” “DusTy Ang3l,” “CHICKEN,” “GooGoo Gaga,” “baaaAAAaaaaAAaaaaAAAAAAA,” and “ThugPop by ThugPop Jacobs.” Mooney’s music is just happy to be here, Barbie beauty queen, laughing. In “GooGoo Gaga,” different definitions of “baby” ping off each other, rotating:

I can take your man

I can fuck him all I please…

I’m such a fucking happy baby 

Your baby makes me so happy

Yeah I took your man

Bald-headed gaga

Goo goo gaga 

“Baby” is a pet name, a lover (your lover), and literal, as in, an infant. Instead of making us pick between opacity and signifying, “GooGoo Gaga” lets you pick based on the occasion, and on how you feel. To quote Maxi Wallenhorst, ThugPop is an anatomist, a poet.

“WELL I guess I knew sooner or later it would creep up on me but this last week or so I’ve really come to the end of my rope trying to deal with being a twin in my body.” So begins “You Make Me Swoon,” excerpted from We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan, 1961-1999. In their intro, editors Zach Ozma and Ellis Martin say that Lou’s writing reads like “texts from a close friend about a new crush.” A close and horny friend. In the section that follows, which takes place in the early 1980s, Lou describes moving into a building where “no one knows he’s trans.” Instead he’s just another guy; he would become the first publicly out gay trans man in America, dying of AIDS in 1991 at only forty years old.

In honor of father's day we share the Daddy issue of TNI, published summer of 2015.  Here's the editor's note:
The knowledge of paternity is said to be the origin of human society as we know it: that is, born of women’s labor but held in men’s name. In the world before, there could be no such thing as a father, only children, mothers, and sexual partners and childrearers. In this telling, the tree of knowledge and the tree of life were one and the same, and kept a secret amongst mothers and daughters.Fathers are haunted by this prehistory: they are always the last to know. The father invents a whole new meaning for himself based on the knowledge of paternity. Their anxiety manifests in many ways, sometimes violent, often tedious, always grasping for control. As that drama plays out over the course of children’s lives, it’s never clear when Father will be found out.In this issue, a duo of sex workers share what they’ve learned from their professional family obligations. Alana Massey addresses the young sugar baby as she would a junior trainee, reminding them that a sugar daddy is simply a crude kind of boss, getting away with wage theft and unpaid overtime by keeping his babies in the dark about the work they are actually doing. It’s only a matter of time before the veil slips and the sugar baby is revealed to have been mommying all along. In another essay, Caspar explores how getting paid for sex by men who share his background helps him experience his ultimate fantasy: that in a world where love is distributed along race and class lines he could ever deserve what he receives.In America, where we are writing this, race is a fantasy about daddies, too. Hannah Black once wrote that race is the social form that “mediates between sex and death, tells us who should be loved and who can be killed.” But of course the same is true of daddies. Yahdon Israel’s “I Know You Are, but What Am I” addresses the way that growing up black in Brooklyn exposed him to different kinds of Africanness, routing history, language, and resources through differentially valued lineages. His mother and father raise him in their version of Africa, one constructed of kings, queens, and soap, while his sister leaves their home for an Ivoirian man, but neither daddy’s patriarchal power remains intact by the end. In “Daughters Have Their Own Agendas,” Tiana Reid rereads Dick Gregory’s 1964 autobiography in the light of her relationship with her dad, weighing her loyalty to the mother who waits against the hateful desire to despise a black father in a world designed to kill him.Under Reaganite conservatism, the 80s were peak dad, inspiring our cover–the spirit of history acting simultaneously as the authoritative know-it-all trying vainly to curb the revolts for freedom of the decade prior, and the midlife crisis selling coke and AKs to despots and contras. The violence of the dad was perhaps never more lurid. Teju Cole, in “Fathers and Sons,” unearths an old, foundational trope in the West’s mythology — the son carrying the father on his back, fleeing war— in the aftermath of this attempt to maintain the global structure of imperialism without its formal name. Out of this period of reaction, a liberal wing of patriarchy attempted to forge a newer, more palatable dad. The undertaking was diffuse but global, and Giovanni Tiso argues it may have reached its peak in the book Being a Great Dad for Dummies. Tiso takes the ideology of soft patriarchy without feminism to task in “Great Dads.”A soft dad may just be a dad with a bad bod, a body type famously rechristened this spring by a college newspaper columnist. Vishnu Strangeways takes a deep dive into the structure of desire illuminated by the dadbod’s social cues. Desire formed in relation to social power structures in turn upholds them, he writes, and desire for the body of the father is no exception. If the appeal of fucking a dad is “exhilaration at the potential of taking in the dominating violence of claustrophobic suburban horror as a special blessing,” celebrating the dad bod is nothing special. In Matthew Lawrence’s “Daddy O,” the booming genre of sex with stepdads and grandfathers in the gay porn industry comes in for examination, seeing its flirtation with incest as the animating drive and absolute limit of these films, whose point is actually to displace the father from the center of fantasy.For a few years, the principle of our solidarity at TNI was No Dads. But unable to escape fathers, we’ve decided we prefer making and unmaking daddies instead. In “Feeling Myself” off her most recent album, Nicki Minaj sings “Yes daddy I do,” and you can hear her smile. As always, Nicki’s diction is clarifying: the otherwise off-putting shades of incest in eroticizing childplay aren’t present here. She isn’t casting herself as a daughter. Deputizing a daddy for a night, like extending the permission of roleplay, demonstrates that you have some power to extend. And a nightly, weekly, or monthly daddy is only one in a series, while a father draws his tenuous power from uniqueness. Designating your own daddies short-circuits the dependency inherent to childhood.The current popularity of “daddy” as a term of endearment ranging in irony levels from 0 – 100 marks an era of social and economic precarity that leaves young people righteously without faith in institutions, but more fluent in language with points of origin online. Casting faves as moms and dads is a fantasy gesture by those orphaned by school curriculums we know to be biased, news media we know to be propagandizing, and job opportunities that aren’t. We can look up to whoever we want: the hot selfie we caption with the filial titles, the fandoms we indulge in, the bonds we insist on making as rich or devoid of meaning as we please. Fathers are free, disproportionately empowered, and disappointing. Daddies are whoever we want them to be.

Harvard Medical School's morgue manager and his wife were stealing and selling human remains as part of a "nation wide network". One of the indicted purchasers had human face skin turned into leather, ostensibly to sell through her Instagram storefront: Kat's Creepy Creations.

This week, Texas governor Gregg Abbot signed into law House Bill 2127. Republican lawmakers claim, as ever, that the bill is to benefit "the economy". In truth, it's a massive expansion of the right wing project to erode hard won worker protections and expand the state governments ability to overrule local laws and ordinances. Dubbed the "Death Star,"  the new bill impacts democratic legislation in categories as essential as construction regulations and bans on discrimination in hiring and housing, but it isn't limited to these. The bill's broad language bars local governments from establishing any legislation that conflicts with the Texas constitution. This makes it impossible to further protective or regulatory legislation, entrenching the GOP commitment to blocking progress and security for Texans. As a result of this bill, which goes into effect in September, workers subject to the extreme (and increasing) Texas heat are no longer mandated water breaks. In response to heat related deaths on Texas construction sites (which have doubled over the last decade) Dallas and Austin began requiring water breaks. HB 2127 revokes these because they're not already a part of the state's labor code.