December 21, 2013

6:36pm  |   URL:
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December 20, 2013

Anonymous asked: will you repost that html giant thing where you said what kind of feminism you believe in?


Sure, but I don’t pretend to understand what something like feminism is when there are as many ways of subscribing to it as there are interested parties.

What I do understand is the incredible stability of systems when they are attacked on their own terms.

One system we all live in assumes that women can be treated as a bloc. It understands women as creatures who share a common, female essence that gives each woman her female traits. These are things like frailty, irresponsibility, vanity, and above all, the need for a type of security—emotional and material—that men are uniquely equipped to provide. The system says: ‘Act as though these presumptions were true, and I will reward all of you with an immensely stable set of relationships between men and women.’

Now, if you find these assumptions about women to be totally false and patronizing, the obvious question is: well, how do you change things? I can think of a couple of ways that people try to do this. However, most of the time they’re just engaging the system they despise on terms it can easily repel. Most of the time they’re just changing themselves and leaving the system untouched… 

  • You could protest these assumptions simply by ignoring them. In your behavior towards women, whatever your own gender, you could act as though the woman you’re talking to is in full command of herself. As though she surrenders her soul neither to behavior pre-programmed by her two X chromosomes nor to the system’s expectations of her. That is, you treat a woman like an individual. One who is entitled to act however she chooses, even if her behavior seems to be coincident with a stereotype.
    • This is, I think, how a lot of men understand being a ‘male feminist’ (the term is exactly as stupid as ‘black scientist.’) The problem with this approach towards undermining the system is that any change it effects will be extremely slow. In reality, this is like trying to destroy the IRS by committing suicide as a tax protest. From the system’s point of view, you simply cease to be relevant. You might be square with yourself when you resist the system by treating every woman you meet as an individual, but your contribution to that system’s defeat and dismantlement is so minimal as to approach selfishness. Cf. the rising incidence of rape and sexual assault despite Ryan Gosling modeling the role of male feminist to the hilt. (The smugness of men who love to think they aren’t The Problem because they don’t see women only as quavering wombs perched on delicate, shaved legs is so gross as to become its own problem.) 
  • You could protest these assumptions by pointing out their falseness, their hypocrisy and the injustice that they create.
    • Outside Supreme Court briefs, this isn’t even worth the effort: Any system whose benefits arise from a lie so deeply entrenched as to seem like truth (“Women are vain.”) is probably not vulnerable to points of logic. 
  • You could protest these assumptions by violently attacking their source. You could do this in a physical (FEMEN, sometimes) or rhetorical (A. Dworkin) way.
    • The only way you’re overcoming any bigtime system thru violence is to defeat it in an actual land war. To the beneficiaries of a system that treats women as inferior, it would be a dream come true for that system to be attacked with physical violence. The men who benefit from oppressive systems usually have a society’s levers of power at their disposal too. And these men know that any physical attack on a system of injustice which infects their society is instantly transmuted into an attack upon that society as a whole. Which lets them call in the cops, and then Nixon gets elected and it’s sic transit Sixties and game over all over again…
    • Rhetorical attacks on the system are a good way to release yourself from its restrictions on freedom of thought and self-conception. But in the end, (when it comes to changing the system, as opposed to yourself) this is moving a beach with tweezers. It is possible to tilt the scales by fighting the system as it exists in individuals, but it’ll take an extremely long time for that pile of converts to lend the weight sufficient for dramatic change. (Think about how long it took for literacy rates to make newspapers into sources of political power. And that was just teaching people how to read, not the ins and outs of patriarchy…) 
  • If you’re fortunate enough to be in a position of power, you could protest these assumptions by refusing to let them influence your authority. E.g., if you’re a loan officer or the editor of a publishing house you could resist the temptation to think ‘Oh, I’m not sure we can take on her loan/book, I think we’re supporting just about as many women as we can these days…’ and judge instead the thing itself, not the person who submitted it. 
    • But again, tick tock. Trayvon Martin is dead because the ‘Hey, discrimination’s not cool. Pass it on!’ style of person-to-person antiracism was passed on to exactly one person too few. Similarly, in the coming year, an enormous number of women are going to be derided, harassed, or raped because the men who attack them never had their lives changed by Ryan Gosling. 

Instead, you should do something with a lever:

Gandhi has something interesting to say about struggles. Very early on (1909) he pointed out that a struggle against injustice invariably wins the sort of outcome it deserves. So, the victory won by the violence of the French Revolution was The Terror. And the victory delivered by Napoleon as he conquered most of Europe—in the name of the Revolution’s ideals of liberty and democracy—was (surprise!) an Empire. Gandhi put it like this:

If I want to deprive you of your watch, I shall certainly have to fight for it; if I want to buy your watch, I shall have to pay for it; and if I want it as a gift, I shall have to plead for it; and, according to the means I employ, the watch is either stolen property, my own property, or a donation.

So, the way you fight determines the world you make for yourself after you’ve won. (Obv. Gandhi wasn’t the first to realize this, cf. ‘Live by the sword, die by the sword,’ etc.)

A trivial way of interpreting this would be to say: “If you want to change the system by policing the opinions that support it, you’re going to create a society where people have to watch what they say.” This might be true, but who cares: we’ve had political correctness for decades now and it doesn’t work. A deeper way of looking at it would be to say that it reveals a lever by which a small number of people can enormously magnify their own power. This is what Gandhi saw, and it’s what led to non-violent resistance.

In effect, Gandhi’s line about means works in reverse: What he pointed out is true not only for those who struggle against injustice but also for the system that perpetrates it. So, if there is a lie at the heart of any system of inequality, then it is the job of people who want to destroy that system not to expose the lie, but to reveal how that lie poisons every benefit made possible by it. Now, if the lie is that South Africans or Indians are inferior to the British who rule them, then Gandhi’s job is to show how any act of force undertaken against him by the British is cruel and blatantly illegitimate. This he accomplished by offering no provocation to violence and simply allowing calm and unarmed crowds to be beaten by policemen who were expecting savages. By doing this, as is well known, Gandhi flipped the British imperial system on its back and forced everyone to confront its repellant underside. And to flip something big when you are small, you need a lever.

The challenge that faces you if you’re disgusted by the system we live in is not how to explain or justify your disgust, but instead how to force that system to reveal itself as rotten. A system of inequality has infected our society and made women less valuable than men. And I think that anyone who wants to kill this system ought to be racking their brains to find the levers that its destruction will require.

Because: a powerful machine with a great deal of momentum is all the more vulnerable, and liable to fly apart, when a wrench is thrown into it.

December 12, 2013

Anonymous asked: what do you think about jason segel playing dfw in a movie with jesse eisenberg?

If I wanted to design a personal hell for David Foster Wallace, I would

  • summon a golem from the ashes of his strangled body,
  • put a $ on its forehead,
  • deprive it of the third dimension,
  • reduce it to a quaking shadow,
  • and project it on screen after screen after screen,
  • to prop up a road movie with the kid from facebook. 

9:27pm  |   URL:
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December 11, 2013

valdemarlethin asked: Is painting dead, and if so is capitalism to blame?

It would be easy to talk about ‘the death of painting’ in the sense that

  • nobody cares about it any more
  • the historical momentum that propelled its development forward from Cimabue and Giotto on down is spent
  • photography has made it irrelevant 
  • long-term investment has eaten the previous understanding of a painting’s value (i.e. the physical evidence of a brilliant artist’s self-transcendence) and shit out a new kind of value, precisely determined by market forces and counted in dollars
  • academic painting has turned the representation of reality thru paint into such a solved game that almost any idiot who can draw can be taught to paint 

but these are all easy answers. 

Orozco (J.C., not Gabriel) has a line in his memoirs that’s something like,

Everything should be done against the grain and against the current. And if some moron advocates a solution that would do away with difficulties, we must crush him no matter what the cost, for civilization itself is at stake!

I think that’s basically right. Civilization or human progress or whatever you want to call it is not indexed by benefits, but by difficulties. This means that what we conventionally call ‘landmarks of development,’ like photography or higher education or modern medicine are in fact most valuable to us when we come to the edge of their power and are forced to confront the same old problems all over again.

Painting, dead or not, has a pretty spectacular batting average when it comes to depicting the fixed stars that shine down on all progress. 

For example:

What are you?

  • The difficulty of painting someone’s portrait implies something about the the difficulty of representing a person, and this in turn implies something about how deep or profound people are. E.g. the hundred and twenty hours that Hockney sat for Lucian Freud.
  • And tho every selfie is a knife looking for this question’s heart, it’s never gonna reach it.

What’s the difference between going to school and learning something?

  • In the early 1930’s the Rockefellers paid Orozco around $7,000 to come to Dartmouth College, and he painted an answer to that question.

You’re going to die, so what’s the point?

  • In 1562 Peter Bruegel painted The Triumph of Death. In the very, very back of the painting, beyond the dog eating a child’s face, beyond the weeping tree where a man has been hung from a fork by a nail through his neck, just past the three crucified bodies that have been set on fire, there are two skeletons. They are standing on a cliff, arm in arm, and one of them gestures appreciatively towards the sea. 


3:24pm  |   URL:
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December 11, 2013

December 6, 2013

Anonymous asked: What is one afraid of?

  • eating something soft and biting down unwittingly on a piece of metal
  • being shot in the head somewhere in the isosceles triangle formed by the bridge of your nose and the two corners of your mouth. bullets that enter the skull through this triangle almost always pass through the brainstem on their way out of it, interrupting the signals that control breathing and heartbeat
  • being present during the loading of a cremation oven in which dozens of dead housepets will be reduced to ash together 
  • hospitals
  • derision
  • celebrity
  • insects with mouthparts that suck or puncture
  • swollen and inexpressible respect for another person
  • policemen
  • bleeding that cannot be stopped
  • a rapaciously convincing schema for the world that dries up the flow of your intuition
  • freefall into poverty, as opposed to your life in it
  • drowning: the need to cough that can’t be answered and which grows more and more urgent until it consumes your whole awareness and you lose consciousness
  • that octaves of meaning and organization exist which no intuition is subtle enough to perceive nor words ductile enough to construe: that if god (among any number of other things) is real, any feature of its existence might easily be beyond our capacity for faith
  • your mother dying
  • awards, prizes and brass rings of all kinds
  • colicky frustration in public
  • vomiting in public during the daytime
  • the first coup of the US government
  • being present for a preventable death you can’t prevent
  • narrow passages in caves that turn out to be too narrow to go through and too tight to back out of
  • anyone in any position of power who hasn’t had a deliberate, private, and extended conversation with a person who is homeless
  • " " " " with a person who is in recovery
  • " " " " with a person who is on the other end of the greatest run of economic prosperity the Western world has ever experienced
  • big black sunflowers late in the season after their petals have withered, when the heads are so heavy with seeds that they droop towards the ground

2:32am  |   URL:
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December 4, 2013

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November 27, 2013

Anonymous asked: I don't think I'm insightful enough to understand the things you say here. But I have a question. I'm scared about going abroad to get a masters because I'm afraid I'll end up alone by dedicating my 20s to study and career. It might sound shallow, but living a loveless life is no fucking joke. Is this a valid concern?

false distinction. what seems like two choices is only one prison with two ways in

either get off the treadmill or learn to live with the fact that you’re living only for yourself

November 26, 2013

Anonymous asked: where are you from??

One time I was in New York City with a friend. We went to the Bronx, up above Spuyten Duyvil to see someone who was housesitting.

It was about ten o’clock in the morning and the sky was low and dark gray. We arrived at the house, which was set into an odd-shaped lot. The lawn was mown and everything else was overgrown. There were bare trees whose trunks were wet. The house was a two story white-plank and didn’t have a front. We walked up to a sliding glass door on a brick pathway that had veins of moss living in the mortar.

The inside of the house didn’t have a plan. There was a long, unfinished wooden table with mismatched dining chairs. There was a wide-brimmed hanging lamp whose single bulb was quite close to the surface of the table. The gray light shone through the windows and met the yellow light from the lamp on a worn Persian carpet. The border between the two lights got lost in the pattern on the rug. 

There were yellow and gray plank bookcases on every wall. They were filled with hundreds of books. The books had been in their cases for such a long time that they had taken on the soft colors that the room produced.

The three of us ate bagels, cream cheese, and smoked fish at the long table. The bagels weren’t sliced. We tore them up piece by piece, spreading the cream cheese and placing the fish on the ragged ends.

After we had eaten we got up and stood in front of the bookcases and tilted our heads to the right. We called out the titles of books we’d read and books we hadn’t. We asked if this book was any good. Sometimes we pulled out books that we had liked and read the first lines to each other.

7:46pm  |   URL:
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November 22, 2013
John McCloy 
J. Lee Rankin
Richard Russell
Gerald Ford
Earl Warren
Lyndon Johnson
Allen Dulles
John Sherman Cooper
Hale Boggs


  • John McCloy
  • J. Lee Rankin
  • Richard Russell
  • Gerald Ford
  • Earl Warren
  • Lyndon Johnson
  • Allen Dulles
  • John Sherman Cooper
  • Hale Boggs


November 20, 2013

kristienvan asked: How do I stop wasting being 17?

The only way it is possible to waste being 17 is to wish that you were 18.

When you’re very young, the world is full of atmospheres instead of objects. Think about what memories of childhood are like. They’re memories of how things felt, rather than records of what happened. The red and white dimples that carpet pile presses into your bare knees. How burps smell after you’ve accidentally swallowed pool water. The static electricity that hisses and ticks as you drag your finger across the screen of a television tube. These grains of experience evaporate into the aura of what it was like to be a kid.

Then you get older. The cloud you lived in as a kid starts to fall as hail. Think about how the act of picking a movie changes. When you’re seven, the aura and excitement of WATCHING A MOVIE creeps like a fog into the act of picking one out and it almost doesn’t matter which you choose. Ten years later and you’re weighing this film against that film, comparing tenths of an IMDb star, noticing how Lindsay Lohan doesn’t look like a scuffed Barbie in it, etc.

Life starts to turn dry. The grains of experience no longer evaporate. Instead they collect into little drifts. Lots of people get stuck here. For them the drifts turn into dunes and the dunes turn their lives into a desert of happenstance.

These are the people who need a form to give their life a shape. The same way you pack beach sand into a bucket and flip it over to turn out a cylinder. (It goes without saying that this is what’s happening when you get excited after you’ve bought something.)

The point is that growing up is all too often growth in the wrong direction.

But which other way is there?

About two years before he died, Wittgenstein was talking to somebody who asked him how he could admire a person like (Cardinal) John Henry Newman, who believed in miracles (specifically the miracle of Napoleon being defeated at Moscow because the Pope had excommunicated him three years earlier.) Anyway, the thing Wittgenstein says in response is your answer—

Wittgenstein: Twenty years ago I would have regarded Newman’s action as incomprehensible, perhaps even insincere. But no more…

Somebody: But what changed in you that you no longer think so?


W.: I came gradually to see that life is not what it seems.

[very long silence]

W.: It’s like this: In the city, streets are nicely laid out. And you drive on the right and you have traffic lights, and so on. There are rules. When you leave the city, there are still roads, but no traffic lights. And when you get far off, there are no roads, no lights, no rules, nothing to guide you. It’s all woods. And when you return to the city you may feel that the rules are wrong, that there should be no rules.

S.: I still don’t understand.


W.: It comes to something like this—If you have a light, I say: Follow it. It may be right. Certainly life in the city won’t do.

5:17pm  |   URL:
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November 19, 2013

November 19, 2013

November 18, 2013

sbspen asked: can you please explain your timeline with jack kerouac, gil scot-heron, vaclav havel, etc.


  • Last haircut: October 14, 2010
  • Benoît Mandelbrot: d. October 14, 2010
  • Leslie Nielsen: d. November 28, 2010
  • Captain Beefheart: d. December 17, 2010
  • Mohamed Bouazizi: d. January 4, 2011
  • Nate Dogg: d. March 15, 2011
  • Warren Christopher: d. March 18, 2011
  • Elizabeth Taylor: d. March 23, 2011
  • Sidney Lumet: d. April 9, 2011
  • Osama bin Laden: d. May 2, 2011
  • Gil Scott-Heron: d. May 27, 2011
  • Jack Kevorkian: d. June 3, 2011
  • Peter Falk: d. June 23, 2011
  • Cy Twombly: d. July 5, 2011
  • Lucian Freud: d. July 20, 2011
  • Muammar Gaddafi: d. October 20, 2011
  • Ken Russell: d. November 27, 2011
  • Christopher Hitchens: d. December 15, 2011
  • Kim Jong-il: d. December 17, 2011
  • Václav Havel: d. December 18, 2011
  • Helen Frankenthaler: d. December 27, 2011
  • Wisława Szymborska: d. February 1, 2012
  • Hair pulled: February 1, 2012

2:33pm  |   URL:
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November 16, 2013

If I had planned it, I should never have made the Sun at all. The Sun is too bright and too hot. If there were only the moon, there would be no reading and writing.


Ludwig Wittgenstein, around 8:30pm, August 9, 1949. Ithaca, New York.