Empathy & Ultraviolence

For all of my talk about people being seduced by culture and violence, it’s worth saying that I’ve fallen under the spell many times. From late gradeschool on, when I first discovered writing, oftentimes I tried to sum up my sense of loneliness, and later actual depression, by writing fictional accounts of school shooters. One…

To Criticize the Critic

What use does criticism serve, if any? I’m thinking here of the reviews of books, movies, or music, whether the smallest notices in newspapers on up to book-length studies. Do some of us genuinely enjoy a good suggestion? Have we found a handful of voices that we trust, that feel like a friend, and so…

Civilization Does Not Civilize

There is a remarkable moment in an interview with the writer George Steiner. That familiar question about the Nazis comes up, of how someone who listened to Bach and Beethoven by day could put people in gas chambers by night: Steiner: “[there are those who are] certain that the cultivation of the sensibility of beauty,…

Home is Where One Starts From

Last week I spoke about the tendency of many, including myself, who discover a sense of belonging far from where they’re actually from. Such an experience of home is intense but also fleeting, a two-week trip or a series of later returns; or it lives on just as an immensely powerful memory. But I was…

On the Road

Does anyone else feel a kind of intangible attachment, even nostalgia, for the road? One day and long into the evening I remember driving from El Reno, Oklahoma, to Holbrook, Arizona; just hoping to cross out of New Mexico, there were fewer hotels than I expected, so during that last hour of trying to find…

Go Ahead and Fuck Up

Not sure who the equivalent is for you, but Albert Camus was one of the first authors I found outside of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. The high school teacher who introduced me to him also laid an egg it took years to get over: the apparently insurmountable gulf between “popular” and “serious” literature; and…

We Are Not Safe and Never Will Be

There are many stories from the late 1930s of European and American intellectuals being taken on stage-managed tours of the Soviet Union, nearly all of them returning to their home countries with glowing reviews of what they had seen. An exception was the novelist Andre Gide’s account, Back from the USSR, where he claimed that…

Historical Accuracy

I’ve long noticed a general suspicion shown towards movies purporting to tell a “true story.” Even though it’s no surprise that they take license with real events, after they’re released there are always dozens of webpages treating even the smallest of these instances negatively. What are we so afraid of? On the one hand, surrounded…

The Internet is Not Real

I woke the other day to find this sentence in my email: The internet is not real. Because after we go beyond all the news that has been filtered to reflect our opinions, all the ads that reflect our preferences and all the entertainment that we choose to fall into for hours on YouTube or…

Notes from the Grid #1

A few years ago I was in the bathroom with my headphones on, holding my cellphone up and balancing that hand against the mirror. I was watching some video while trying to shave. I suddenly felt ridiculous. I couldn’t even shave without watching or listening to something. *** In the summer of 2001, while getting…

Notes from the Grid #3

I write about bittersweetness a lot. It seems worth noticing that the essence of life is not doing away with every bad or unfortunate thing, or pretending we can completely avoid them, but rather in living with them decently when they occur. Living like this, we have no choice but to do away with so…

Notes from the Grid #2

The greatest gift we can offer the future is the example of our daily lives, how we are living in the present moment. All the specifics of cultural, political, religious or national identity amount to trivia if they only make us merely distracted, merely angry, merely arrogant, merely unable to care about anyone but ourselves,…