Commonplace Book

NB: Selections do not necessarily reflect my own opinions.

“There’s been a strong hint of gendered Schadenfreude in the coverage of the march’s organizational problems—as if a group of girlfriends who had failed to elect a female President were trying to organize the most anti-fascist bachelorette party in the world. This has obscured the fact that activism is internally contentious by nature. Organization is always tedious, and that’s just fine. What’s more, the Women’s March has provided a case study in the unlimited potential for critical exhaustion provided by the Internet. It is unfortunate that Facebook is both the best place to reach people and the worst place to conduct political discussion. Imagine any major protest in the twentieth century promoted via Facebook; there would have been no shortage of “infighting” enshrined on social media for everyone to see.

At a base level, though, one gets the sense that all the questions that dogged Hillary Clinton’s candidacy are being relitigated—inevitably, if regrettably, through an event that has given so many women a glimmer of hope. There is so much overriding confusion about any woman-forward phenomenon. Depending on whom you ask, the conflict over the march either proves its necessity or does the opposite. Perhaps we don’t need a women’s march, or a woman as President—or perhaps we need those things so badly that we can’t even decide which women should get what first. The significant portion of white women who voted for Trump have sown doubts about the possibility of a true coalition. There is a reasonable suspicion that the alliances, rights, and prospects that women have hoped for and counted on are blown away far too easily—by men, by our own divisions, by conflict and contempt.

But this is precisely why the Women’s March feels vital. Of course it’s difficult to pull together an enormous group of women who may have nothing in common other than the conviction that a country led by Trump endangers their own freedoms and the freedoms of those they love. That conviction is nonetheless the beginning of the resistance that those planning to attend the march hope to constitute.”

Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker.

” At the end of August everything would come to life, the shuffle and bustle in the buildings out behind my bedroom window, the teachers returning from summer for faculty meetings, the campus like a ghost town repopulating itself. There was the hopefulness of buying pencils and new clothes, and the promises I would make myself that the summer had changed me and everything would be different now. This fantasy of self-reinvention was almost never true for me, or for anyone – at most, people who returned changed by the summer were back to their same previous year self again by the second week of September — but I believed in it each time, that this year it would be different, I would be different. This turn in the seasons manages, if only for a few days, to make the known strange, to make us believe that going back to what we have already done constitutes a new start. Maybe this is what hope means, to return to the familiar and call it new.

Back to school is a stubborn hope, the thing you believe in despite knowing better, getting up and trying the dumb impossible thing again. It’s believing in narrative myths about a city that’s mostly mythology and very little real place anymore, it’s getting excited over a new beginning even though you should be cynical by now. The belief in redemption stories, the old dumb religious idea that what is lost might be brought back and resurrected, all come home to the break in the weather. Fall allows us to believe, at least for a few days, that the cold clear blue of a morning means something larger than itself, the large hopeful monster of the world stirring and coming awake. All the good things that will break your heart start their irresistible ongoings again, and we rush down the calendar into loss and celebration, into holidays and darkness, emerging out of summer ready for the good suffering, offering our long eager throat up to it. ”

– Helena Fitzgerald, “Grief Bacon” newsletter

“I wished that woman would write and proclaim this unique empire so that other women, other unacknowledged sovereigns, might exclaim: I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, my body knows unheard-of songs. Time and again I, too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst –burst with forms much more beautiful than those which are put up in frames and sold for a stinking fortune. And I, too, said nothing, showed nothing; I didn’t open my mouth, I didn’t repaint my half of the world. I was ashamed. I was afraid, and I swallowed my shame and my fear. I said to myself: You are mad! What’ the meaning of these waves, these floods, these outbursts? Where is the ebullient, infinite woman who, immersed as she was in her naiveté, kept in the dark about herself, led into self-disdain by the great arm of parental-conjugal phallocentrism, hasn’t been ashamed of her strength? Who, surprised and horrified by the fantastic tumult of her drives (for she was made to believe that a well-adjusted normal woman has a…divine composure), hasn’t actually accused herself of being a monster? Who, feeling a funny desire stirring inside her (to sing, to write, to dare to speak, in short, to bring out something new), hasn’t thought she was sick? Well, her shameful sickness is that she resists death, that she makes trouble. ”

Hélène Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa”

— via Danika Paskvan’s The Reader


emphasizes the role of institutions in supporting creative work. Timberg notes that in the years since the Great Recession, it is not only individual artists or creators who have been affected — people who play supporting roles, like DJs, bookstore clerks, set designers, and editors have also been hit hard.

And institutions don’t just play an incubating role for cultural production — they also provide employment to a broad swath of the population. So when records don’t sell, it’s not only recording artists who suffer. Timberg claims that whether one works as an artist or in a supporting role, “we’re all in this together.”

How can we foster this sense of solidarity, not just among creative workers and those whose labor supports their work, but also in the general public?

An important first step is framing the production of art as work, not as a privilege. Despite the supposed glamor of being an artist, most earn an income that falls near or below the poverty line.

In addition to challenging these perceptions, we need to recapture the idea that art and culture can perform public functions: art educates, art provokes, art transforms, art uplifts, art soothes, art imagines other worlds.  The danger of not supporting artist and creative workers is that these functions are left in the hands of elites.

– Miranda Campbell, “Culture Isn’t Free,”  Jacobin

“[I want] to express despair and longing through pictures and to intensify life. It’s the same thing as with music: to make things more grand than they are.”

– Lykke Li

…reviews, though couched in opinion—which is what makes them either illuminating or maddening but also, one hopes, compelling and worth debating—are fundamentally reportage. They are the chronicles of the cultural world, accounts of who did what on a given night, in a given hall, before hundreds or thousands of people interested enough to pay for the experience.

– Allan Kozinn

Music is for the people. For all of us, the dumb, the deaf, the dog & jays, handclappers, dancing moon watchers, brainy puzzlers, abstracted whistlers, finger-snapping time keepers, crazy, weak, hurt, weed keepers, the strays. The land of music is everyone’s nation—her tune, his beat, your drum, one song, one vote.

-Eric Stokes


We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.

– Ursula K. LeGuin at the National Book Awards