Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
For Kristen Millares Young, the examination of anger is an art. Her essays are relentless teachers, building arguments through experience and image; consent to the first, and you’ve already, unwittingly, agreed to the last. Here she unpacks the commodity of womanhood: who defines it, who owns it, and what it means to be defiant.
What I value has long made me vulnerable, in ways I did not foresee. I spent much of my life accrediting my brain so that I would be allowed to rise from this body and be seen for my mind. And yet, as a writer, I’ve learned there is no greater wisdom than that of my womanhood. To think I almost turned my back on my own lived experience in favor of a third person I’ve never met, an omniscience I don’t believe in. Our brushes with annihilation are constant and varied and mostly unsung.
Helen DeWitt is brilliant, and delightfully odd. And what’s especially delightful is that she’s so rationally odd that when you read her, you realize it’s the rest of us who are off-kilter. Unfortunately Helen DeWitt is also vastly underfunded to do the work she needs to. Here’s Kris Bartkus on the blinding originality of DeWitt’s work and the cost of not attending to it.
One can simply imagine a world such that when one of our best writers says she has projects that will change literature immured in her hard drive, we do better than plugging our ears, waiting until she’s dead, and giving our descendants the joy of opening her laptop and asking how we let this happen. If DeWitt wants to give our descendants a hint, she can set her login password to a line of Proust: “So it is that a well-read man will at once begin to yawn with boredom when anyone speaks to him of a new ‘good book,’ because he imagines a sort of composite of all the good books that he has read and knows already …”
Ashleigh Synnott dissects the ethics of writing fiction about the devastation of other lives — how to tell stories that should be told, without appropriating or exploiting their violence. Perhaps, she suggests, the way out of the labyrinth is to find a common thread.
At this point, I came across the concept of precarity, a concept that seemed to offer a way not out of my ethical anxieties, but through them. By exploring how this term could be applied to questions of ethics and literature, I began to shift the lens through which I was viewing the problem, as opposed to trying to solve the problem itself. Perhaps, I wondered, the concept of precarity could hold within its scope the disparate ideas, concerns and interests with which I was thinking about. Rather than seeing my writing as being about an issue, such as asylum seekers or the experience of exile, I wondered if I could explore the imaginative and structural possibilities of writing about this increasingly shared condition.
One of the New York Times’ “100 Notable Books of 2018” is Shane Bauer’s exposé of the prison industry, American Prison, based on his experience as a guard at a private prison in Louisiana. The world he describes in this five-part Mother Jones series, where financial incentives underscore the power politics of incarceration, is relentlessly vicious and corrupt.
Bacle says he wishes an investigative reporter would come and look into this place. He complains about how, in other prisons, inmates get new charges for stabbing someone. Here, they are put in seg, but they rarely get shipped to another prison with tighter security. “CCA wants that fucking dollar!” Bacle says through clenched teeth. “That’s the reason why we play hell on getting a damn raise, because all they want is that dollar in their pocket.”