Evil Forces in the World

Reflections on ''Evil Forces in the World,'' as well as occasional remarks concerning ''Good Forces in the World.''

Saturday, July 06, 2002

Friends and foes, we live in strange times: on the radio plays Eminem's new single, a love ballad to his child daughter Hallie. Some of you may remember Hallie's brief cameo on The Marshall Mathers EP, in which we hear her faint baby whine amidst Em's lyrics about killing her mother. This time around, Em bears stark sensitivity to tell us that Hallie "is all [he's] got." Slim, man, he so crazy, he so crazy ... but wait, when he looks into his baby girl's eyes ... now he ain't so crazy.
I recommend to all of you Stanley Fish's cover story in this month's Harpers. I offer a preface-caveat to this suggestion however: do not bother to read a single other page in the magazine, as I have never read a single decent sentence in the godforsaken awful rag. This includes Helen Vendler's recent piece on Czelaw Milowsz's poetry, which failed to offer a single word of interest.
My god, when will all of these boring, oldschool neo literary pragmatists finally die and make way for the up and coming transgressive ethnics in the academy? My watch is set for June 17, 2007, but I can't tell you why.
But as for Professor Fish's piece, which was the logical extension of an earlier post 11 September Op-Ed in the New York Times - Fish brings the postmodern pain, laying waste to slipshod journalist-intellectuals who would make straw men of progressive academics. Fish too constructs straw men here and there as well, but you must give props to the fairly skilled handling of the august Andrew Sullivan.
Stanley Fish: son of a plumber, and force of good as well.
A similarly positive force of good in the world is Brian Wilson, reclusive lead songwriter of the 1960s lineup of the Beach Boys. Many call this man a genius, the first truly great pop songwriter, the man to whom the Beatles owe everything. Upon listening to the recent release of a live recording of Pet Sounds, I must concur with this assessment. I spent last night listening to the album song by song, and I was nearly driven to tears. Brian Wilson, you may be a weird old dude who walks around in his socks all day, but goddamn can you write a pretty pop melody. Paul McCartney says God Only Knows is his favorite song, but this sounds like rock posturing. If I tell you that this song is my favorite song as well, the earth would not move, but I like to think that the earth may now and then move to my favorite song.

Generally speaking, I have no tolerance for "writers." Mind you, I've written a thing or two, and I certainly enjoy doing it, but I think you know what I mean: effete intellectual types with their heads in the clouds, and I mean heads (we're talking multiple-headed hydra-style beast-men), who don't know how to crank a crankshaft, or gear a gearshaft. Of course, I hardly know how to ride a bicycle. I say hardly because I've come close. But yes, "writers": so you write. What do you want, a cookie? A muttonchop? I will say, however, that I absolutely love this Gary Shteyngart character, judging by his story ("Several Anecdotes About My Wife," which is exactly the story I'd like to have written) in the latest Granta: a force for good. This man is a real gem, a real charmer when it comes to the written word. I am completely sockless, my socks having been knocked off.

There are some really choice lines in this sucker -- so many that I couldn't hope to do it justice, but I'll give you a brief smattering in the hope that it'll prompt those of you who come upon my note to go out and purchase Granta 78 as soon as possible.

From the very beginning:

"Her non-profit was known throughout the industry for its wavering commitment to social issues, mine for its slothful, dreamy staff."

This line made me howl with laughter. As I read it, I was at the Canal Street Q stop, surrounded by Chinese people, which is as it should be. Or rather I'm indifferent, being of a generally cosmopolitan inclination thanks to the New York City Public Schools. I was returning home from Me Without You at the always odious Angelika (lordy, how I loved the distressingly lovely Robin Tunney in Cherish, which is showing in Dallas right about now and also starred the increasingly ubiquitous actor-director Tim Blake Nelson, soon to appear in the forthcoming Jennifer Anastassakis vehicle The Good Girl opposite the quite consistently awesome Jake Gyllenhaal, brother of deeply weird Maggie Gyllenhaal, of Donnie Darko fame). Me Without You was also shockingly good, and Anna Friel was an utterly convincing force of evil. Michelle Williams, who was way too good in 1999's Dick, one of many personal favorites, was an utterly convincing Englishwoman "of the Mosaic persuasion." I urge all of you who've been involved in destructive relationships to see this movie; I've never been in one as far as I can tell, but I believe I've seen them in action. And so I also urge all spectators to see this movie, as it's damn good.

On to the next lines, both from the section "Lionya loves Pamela":

"Naked, on the other hand, we were a sight to behold -- Pamela a giant blonde squirrel with her great bushy tail puffed up behind her and I a tiny, dark Semitic savage, genital in hand, standing glumly by her side in the mirror. To imagine that I could take her from behind of scale her pale supine bulk required unusual anthropological perspective, akin to imagining a love affair between a kangaroo and aardvark caged side-by-side at the municipal zoo.

"But scale her I did. To mutual delight."

Shades of "Goodbye, Columbus."

"Out amid the Greek revival houses, the fluted porch columns of her borough, I goosed her in the middle of the street with my wide-open greasy palm; I licked her freckled nose at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Court Street; I begged her over and over to say 'I love you.' She refused, of course, but I liked hearing myself repeat those three ridiculous words to her. When you ask for something often enough, I learned, even a refusal can seem like an acceptance." [Italics mine.]

By this point, I was sitting on my parents' porch, locked out and reading under low light.

This man is a real talent, and he went to my high school.

America must control space: this is no joke

Thursday, July 04, 2002

Hello my fellow Americans.

I am not mathematical.

(Others, I should hope, also read this blog, including North Korean pachinko hustlers and deadbeat Dads. That's right: if you're a goddamned deadbeat Dad, you've forfeited your right to fire up the barbecue and salute Old Glory, in large part because you're a schmuck and a menace, and I don't mean Dennis. Evil's too good a word. How're the kids going to buy Fruit Loops? Store brand my ass.)

I don't know how many of you know this, but Reihan Salam is nuts about the United States. And for a whole host of intellectually sound reasons, I might add. God-damn Harper's. I think Anthony Kronman made the case best in a Boston Review forum on a characteristically sharp and sharp-edged Martha Nussbaum assault on patriotism, broadly conceived, but it's no longer on the web (and, much to my chagrin, never appeared in the all-too-slender Beacon Press edition, which inexplicably did include extremely boring contributions from Nathan Glazer -- normally a personal favorite -- and the scintillating Sissela Bok). Appiah, predictably enough, also wrote a wonderful essay, but, for obvious reasons, it centered on his own cosmopolitan upbringing. Yackety-schmackety. Suffice it to say, you should read the two essays, both of which constitute a one-two punch for goodness.

I'm nuts about the United States for a wide variety of reasons. First, I've lived here my entire life, though I have done a little traveling; there's an inevitable sentimental attachment to a country I know pretty well. I've never been to, say, the Dakotas or Hawai'i, but I'd like to do so before I croak. These places matter to me. This is perhaps arbitrary, but it's entirely true. For those who don't know, I'm of South Asian descent, and thus my appearance represents a marked departure from the somatic North American norm; even so, I've always felt at home here, even in the most profoundly un-diverse places, and I've never felt like that anywhere else, which is saying something. Other places matter to me as well, as do all human beings irrespective of origin, certainly as a matter of principle and also, I should hope, as a matter of fact. But regardless, I love cowboy hats and gangsta rap and suburban sprawl. This is the same instinctive nationalism that informs almost all moderns. Ethically speaking, it's neither here nor there; in fact, it's probably "there," paging Thomas Pogge, but that's the way the cookie crumbles. Second, as Kronman argues, the historical struggles of the United States represent the instantiation of broader struggles for human freedom, and it makes sense (to me, at least) to respect and appreciate the institutions "we've" managed to build, despite considerable obstacles. America's national life does involve a not inconsiderable amount of everyday ugliness. And Americans certainly haven't abolished grave social injustice. But the values -- of openness, tolerance, even-handedness -- are sound, and indeed worth firing pistols for. Third, I firmly believe that the United States is by far the most powerful force for good the world has ever known. Max Boot's The Savage Wars of Peace is a good introduction for the naysayers among you. We could doubtless do more, and we ought to, but few countries have sacrificed so much for the noble cause. US actions are, to be sure, often short-sighted and foolhardy; just as often, or rather far more often, US actions are grossly misrepresented by policy entrepreneurs here and abroad: American concerns are never legitimate, American motivations are always suspect. It's a sad spectacle. Still, the United States soldiers on, both literally and figuratively. Damn straight.

I can't say I'm religious, but I enthusiastically affirm the Lee Greenwood song: God Bless the U.S.A.

Also, it is extremely difficult to deny that American women are exceptionally beautiful, in part because of America's relative affluence and the diverse origins of its population. The French do reasonably well along this metric, as does virtually all of the Levant (particularly Israel, judging by Dover Kosashvili's Marriage Tardif; incidentally, Sapir Kugman is the cutest kid alive; also, the would-be fashion designer in the opening sequence is such a knockout that she'll knock out even the dead). I'm told Eritrea, Serbia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Vietnam are also worthy of note, but I'll reserve judgment. Good looks and a bag of chips will get you a bag of chips. And potentially a life of happiness and success. Dang.