Dear visitor, if you take the trouble to read : I apologize for all the bad, syrup-thick blog prose here. Man is it bad, so much of it. I wish hereby to take responsibility and express regret for many wrongs committed by keyboard. — pdb
That’s Poe in full smirk, ‘How to Write a Blackwood Article’ — parody it might have done me good to come across sooner than I did, some years back now.
Quare id faciam I pulled from one of Catullus’ better-known little verses, encountered in low-level Latin courses in college. Embarrassing, yes, that I borrowed it in the first place (albeit without much pretension; just liked the excised snippet for itself) twenty-odd years ago. More embarrassing that I’m kind of using it as a handle still !
Well, I’m kind of attached to it still — what can I say? Not every dumb thing you do when young has to be repudiated utterly.
brief items( see all )
A significant chunk of my working life this year, since spring, has been devoted to a modest publishing project called Ownership Matters, a biweekly email newsletter and corresponding website ‘for the founders and funders of the emerging solidarity economy.’ I’m in the role of ‘Design / Content Manager’ (a title I gave myself first in connection with Solidarity Hall, from which in some respects, adjacently rather than subordinately, this new project is a development). At some point, I expect, I’ll have more to say about it here. Enough for now to note that it seems to be a project with solid prospects. I’m hopeful for and about it.
CJR’s latest episode of its podcast The Kicker is a conversation with Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose 1619 Project at the NYT two years ago has been such an enduring occasion for foolish right-wing tantrum-throwing and abuse. Appreciating her thoughts here, addressing decisions she made in response to a big-donor-backed push to deny her tenure at UNC this spring, as I continue to ruminate on problems of organizing and re-ordering / re-centering.
This moment felt like a moment that I could — when people were trying to diminish me — that I could come into my power in a very particular way. That, instead of using whatever power I have to force my way into an institution, I could actually use that power in a way that builds up institutions that already exist to support people like me and students who are like I was. And to send, really, a message. You know, I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that reading all of the things that Walter Hussman, the wealthy donor who I think obviously had some influence over what happened with my tenure situation, was saying about the type of journalism I do, what he considers the right way to do journalism — which I’ve long disavowed. It helped me understand that maybe my role was more than just teaching kids in a predominantly white school journalism in a classroom; that there needed to be a larger push-back and a larger effort to weigh in on the values of our profession and what should be our higher calling in this moment.
Someone told me, ‘It seems like the most powerful message you could have sent was to go to Duke.’ I actually think that would have been less of a powerful message, and the most powerful message is to say: At some point we have to stop deriving — as Black Americans, as members of marginalized groups — we have to stop deriving our power from these institutions.
The story of Birobidzhan resonates for Gessen because, born in Moscow in 1967, she grew up in a Soviet Union in which this dream had long been immolated and Jewishness was only a negative signifier — the school she could not attend, the job she could never have, the experience, she says, of ‘non-belonging.’ When her family decided to try and emigrate in the 1970s, she was thrust back into the same thinking about Jewish options that dominated the lives of Dubnow and Bergelson. There was Israel, an ideologically pure choice that appealed to her twelve-year-old self, and the West, which offered the possibility of normalcy, of no longer identifying as different, disappearing, and which appealed to her parents.
What she no longer had, the option that does not exist today, is Birobidzhan. The actual place, the experiment, was a mess. And on a visit in 2009, Gessen found that its Jewish character had long ago been trampled out of existence. Birobidzhan clearly teaches us not to count on dictators for autonomy. What they give, they can take away. It is a lesson that contains in it the rationale for Zionism, and a pretty convincing one.
Gessen doesn’t arrive at this conclusion herself, probably because, like many Jews, she prefers to inhabit a kind of Birobidzhan of the mind — a Jewish identity that resembles nationalism but with an allegiance not to flag or army but to culture and language, not to religion as faith but as the bearer of a long written tradition of thought and disputation and storytelling.
‘Prefers to inhabit a Birobidzhan of the mind,’ Gessen says in the talk in the video below, might be the highest compliment anyone’s ever paid them.
I’ve been (re-)listening to Timothy Snyder’s many recorded lectures on the Bloodlands and Black Earth themes / theses a good deal since posting the longer item here in May, and that’s led me to listening to Gessen as well.
Currently mid-way into the book (in audio format, via Scribd), put out by Schocken in 2016.
Something further — see brief item of March 30 — on John C. Calhoun, that peculiar(ly important) figure of the seven short decades between establishment of the U.S. as a nation and the conflict between South and North, known here as the Civil War, that redefined it.
To be clear, this is an episode much more about the twentieth century than the nineteenth, as you’d expect of Know Your Enemy. But it illuminates helpfully Calhoun’s significance as a theorist and shaper of American modernity.
A comment left this morning by my friend Laura on the last of these brief-item posts has had me revisiting two summer-of-COVID episodes of the Digiday podcast today, interviews with The Dispatch CEO Steve Hayes and Defector operations VP Jasper Wang — separately on the show to talk about their quite differently politics-oriented internet-based publications’ remarkably similar business schemes.
I’ve given a good deal more attention to Defector than to The Dispatch in the past year or so. But there’s no denying that the latter’s case lends the former’s a degree of the vividness and weight it has for me and (I suppose) many others right now, both of them read as phenomena of the moment’s ‘great media unbundling.’
It’s an especially curious thing to hear Hayes speaking, without trace of irony, from the position of a smaller market player concerned to protect the work he’s become invested in from destructive forces hyperconcentration in the financial order generates. Digiday host Morrissey’s repetitions of the expression notwithstanding, Hayes and crew are in no meaningful way ‘small-c conservatives.’ In respect to policy, these guys are simple ideologues of unrestrained capital. They share with a Paul Ryan the dream of a world where everything outside the bounds of an arbitrarily-conceived, always unstable space of ‘the private’ is reducible to commodity — ideal that a recently rising, no less dangerous modern U.S. right has taken, with good justification, to attacking as ‘dead consensus’ American conservatism. (Conflict much on my mind these days.)
Without quite acknowledging the trend they’re part of, these same embattled (for branding purposes, at least) Reagan-Thatcher-gospel believers are building something of a cooperative media enterprise together. It sure is interesting.
now on 1 of 11 pages