Thomas Friedman’s books are distinctive for their awesome length and unrelenting banality—sort of like a tech-support chatbot that got a non-fiction MFA. But there’s a question to resolve: Is he a human being or an android?
During his long life, it was said that Gore Vidal’s literary and cultural appeal stemmed from one singular feat: that he pisses from a very great height. Vidal’s rarefied, mingent corpus was disorienting and too snobbish for some, but for grown-ups, it’s a delight.
Growing up, I learned the word solidarity from a vocabulary flash card. It was not something I had ever felt until my shoe became untied in the mosh pit at a NOFX concert in the early 2000s.
It is the quintessential first-world epiphany: a search for a British-made canvas rucksack for a safari trip is made in vain—and a banker’s life is changed forever.
That’s the opening gambit, at least, to one of the many PR pitches that’s hit my inbox over the last few months—yet another story of some “authentically British” handcrafted luggage brand or leather maker “keeping craftsmanship alive.” Pitches about quitting jobs as stockbrokers in order to create a “truly British” brand and sell “old-style country.”
Today’s British fashion exporters have embraced the aesthetics of Imperial England, and for all their talk of transformative style, a retro-colonialism defines this fashion moment instead.
The following extract is from The Cowshed, published in English this month by New York Review Books. The translator is Zha Jianying. The “cowshed” itself was a makeshift prison for intellectuals who were labeled class enemies during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
At the end of 2014, we announced that we would break from our institutional overlords and cast The Baffler’s fortunes into the wilds of independent publishing. So there, zeitgeist!
Let 2015 mark the year we opened a publishing office in New York, as planned, to work in parallel with the editorial HQ in Harvard Square.
The breathless, investor-beguiling fable that the next iteration of the Web has to be the smart one has been around long enough now to qualify as a touching millenarian faith, like the quadrennial fiction of a “deep” GOP presidential field, or the diehard belief that the Chicago Cubs will eventually make it all the way through the postseason.
If it had been up to me—and it really should have been—Playboy wouldn’t have abandoned its voyeuristic legacy of naked-lady photo spreads and centerfolds. Instead, I would’ve doubled down, expanded the magazine to the epic scale that, say, Vogue attains at the height of the fashion season.
A version of this essay was published at Salon.com in 2014.
It’s genius season again. From NPR to the New York Times, they’re talking about where people were when they found out they had won the MacArthur Fellowship, our society’s most prestigious honor.
Reviewers are having a hard time with Book of Numbers, the latest novel from the incorrigibly ambitious and graphomaniacal Joshua Cohen. Responses have ranged from dismissive to enraptured, with most both at once. The book is “a mess,” writes the New York Times’ usually even-keeled Dwight Garner, but also “more impressive than all but a few novels published so far this decade,” a mashup of David Foster Wallace and Philip Roth.
Summer 2015’s first big blockbuster comedy, Spy, may traffic in elaborate onscreen subterfuge, but it’s little more than the latest variation on a baby-simple, well-worn Hollywood formula.The movie’s admittedly energetic and amusing aim is to lampoon and critique the conventions of the spy movie, and of course, to get laughs.
Not, you know, that there’s anything wrong with that.
This weekend, I used up one of my ten free monthly views of The New York Times to find film critic A.O. Scott declaring a national “humor crisis.” No, he wasn’t referring to any of his colleague Maureen Dowd’s perennial struggles with political humor; rather, he described a culture-wide danger zone in which comedians actually get criticized—and worse, not nicely.