4. a reprieve: what i've been reading
five articles/essays i found noteworthy
This week, I thought it’d be nice to take a break from the theory and essays (partly because I’m swamped with work on a script). So, I figured I’d do a quick post on five different articles/essays I’ve read in the past week or so that have been on my mind.I highly suggest checking all of them out.
Some of you may recognize the title, as I referenced it in last week's newsletter. “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” is a fantastic breakdown and criticism of the academic culture of the 1960s, where many acclaimed thinkers were cosigning false statistics that supported the Vietnam war. In a recent interview, Norman Finkelstein commented on Chomsky in a way that I think is befitting; to paraphrase, he stated Chomsky is able to maintain a hard intellectual rigor, while still being disgusted with institutions. No dissent is lost in the pool of theory. Regardless of one’s politics, it is a useful model for good political writing.
“Plays” by Gertrude Stein
Cutting away from the political, this essay by Stein is one of my favorites and I happened to be rereading it recently. In a complete rejection of the Aristotelian theater, she suggests a form of plot based off of landscapes. Furthermore, the essay itself is written in a style of landscapes - different aspects and concepts come in and out of view, rather than in a logical order. It can be infuriating to read, but the genius at its core makes it worth it.
note: i could not find a public link to this essay - it is normally included in the beginning of her play collection Last Operas and Plays, published by Johns Hopkins.
Suggested to me by a friend, Roy presents a brilliant article here on the Indian response to the COVID-19 crisis. She cleanly displays how the socio-economic issues that were already present in India are suddenly expanded for the world’s view - from the simplicity of poverty to a deep nationalist sickness in the current federal Indian government. Roy is also a unique writer - her choice to live and continue to critique India has turned her into a scapegoat for many disagreeing parties. She always offers a refreshing perspective, and is always worth reading.
Similarly, Michel Houellebecq’s article on the pandemic re-emphasizes an adage I’ve been quite interested in: that everything will stay the same, which means everything will just get worse. In the abstract, it seems cynical - however, its thinking born out of a begging for immediate change in our contemporary politics. Similar to Roy, Houellebecq uses the pandemic to point out the socio-economic issues that have been brought to our attention have already existed - yet Houellebecq takes a harsher approach - that the end of our quarantining will result in the same world before, but one that has gotten slightly worse. It isn’t a happy work, but it contains useful thoughts.
Let’s end on a literary note. In this essay, Lukasc takes a controversial stance - he argues against the literary innovations that took place in the avant garde towards the beginning of the 20th Century. He focuses on very unique values for literature, in relation to accessibility and topic. I think it’s very important to read writers who will challenge your values. It’s very easy to read the multitude of critics who will honor figures like Joyce or Woolf (writers that I admire of course) - but to read someone who critiques those innovations so clearly is an educational experience. If I could, I’d make every writer alive read Lukasc.
If you get a chance to read through any of these, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Otherwise, have a fantastic end of February. I’ll have an actual article next week.