The Sunday Post for March 10, 2019

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.

From Connection to Coexistence

This wonderful essay by Daegan Miller ranges from ecology to personal experience to typography, pulling from between the layers a rumination on the core concepts of environmental action and what they imply for the future.

Environmentally speaking, we tend to stick in one of two places. Fuzzy mysticism, hard-nosed harm reduction — both based on the idea of the connected world, where Elon Musk stirs his delicate wings and on the other side of the globe a hurricane takes down Jeff Bezos’s house.

Miller reminds us of a third, neglected option: an environmentalism that sees the wild world as irrevocably strange and utterly necessary, and where our lesson is not how to control or even steward, but something else entirely.

"In nature nothing exists alone,” wrote [Rachel] Carson. Though she never used the word, coexistence—not connection — is the idea around which her thinking begins to coalesce. It anticipates the work of eco-critic Timothy Morton, who has spent the last ten years (so far) spinning an ecological theory of _coexistence_, and who, like Carson, suggests that existing together isn’t the same thing as being connected. Instead, as he writes in _Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence_ (2016), it is premised on unbridgeable, untranslatable, unknowable difference — “strangeness,” he calls it — between humans and the world.
Travels in Pornland

First up, a note: this piece is about pornography, and there is some description of what the author sees both on film and in person as part of research. The descriptions are not long, but they are blunt, so if you’re uncomfortable with that, skip down. Otherwise, onward!

Yes, the question of whether the “right kind” of pornography can be feminist has been so thoroughly chewed that it’s barely even mush between our cultural critics' teeth. This is still an interesting take, partly because of the sheer breadth of Andrea Stuart’s exploration of feminist pornography and partly because the focus is less on right or wrong and more on female pleasure and power, and how and when and whether porn can abet both.

B’s experience fascinated me. It illustrated that it was not that she had been filmed having sex which was the issue – indeed for her that was liberating. It was that she didn’t rely on the porn business for her bread and butter, that she was already a financially independent, professional woman who could chose to do this or not. She could remain largely anonymous, and thus avoid the taint (however unfair) associated with sex work. It illustrated, in other words, that a woman can only be sexually free if she is also in control of the means of production.

It made me wonder whether, in these, the best of circumstances, whether it is more rewarding to be the performer than the voyeur; doing, living and touching, rather than merely passively watching. In an age where more and more of us conflate doing with watching, it is important to remember that porn is not sex; it is merely its fleshless representation.

Toward My Own Definition of Disability

Ashley Taylor on internal and external narratives around ability and disability. A writer with a difficult but mostly manageable neurological condition, she was surprised to be identified as “disabled” by editors and peers. A careful examination of what it means to claim the term “disabled,” personally, professionally, and bureaucratically.

I do, however, still feel trepidation about what I think of as “coming out” as disabled. I fear that disabled people might see me as trying to exploit a marginalized identity; I fear that drawing attention to my weaknesses might make me the target of ableist discrimination.

At the same time, the more I’ve explored my medical issues, in part by writing about them, the more grounded I feel in reality; no longer do the difficult parts of my life feel disconnected from the narrative I tell. No longer do I have a secret that distances me from others.

The Banality of Empathy

Courtesy of the marvelous Mark Athitakis, a rewarding takedown by Namwali Serpell of the “books make you a better person” trope. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for anything that deflates Knausgaard by even a few puffs of hot air — but personal pettiness aside, this is very good. Empathy plays a solid role in human behavior, but mostly as a cognitive function, not an emotional one — not the fluffed-up stuff we usually mean when we say books will broaden our world. That old-school way of thinking about empathy — and how stories can inspire it – is pandering, marginalizing, and destructive, says Serpell.

Also, such a lovely takedown of Knausgaard.

Knausgaard captures how our concept of empathy has shifted. This isn’t just putting another person’s shoes on. Rather, the space between people “dissolves”; the reader “assimilates” the other into his or her mind. It’s a kind of ghostly possession or occupation. Knausgaard goes on to give an example of how to access an individual’s experience rather than lazily adopting a generalized, standard account of them. “If we allowed that remoteness to dissolve, what we would see would no longer be the very image of evil, but a boy growing up in Austria with a violent, authoritarian father and a mother whom he loved. We would see a sixteen-year-old so shy he hadn’t the courage to speak to a girl with whom he was in love…” And so, boringly, on. The individual in question turns out to be none other than Adolf Hitler. Knausgaard’s perversity here — using a Nazi to exhort us to humanize others — isn’t that surprising. After all, he named his multi-volume autobiographical opus My Struggle. Many readers feel that its last book is at its worst when he eschews empathizing with his ex-wife, clearly under severe mental duress, because he’s too busy writing about … Hitler.
Unnameable Things

Coming full circle, Kerri ní Dochartaigh on finding hope, in the midst of violence, in the inhuman world. A lovely, lovely piece and the right place to end your reading and begin your exploration of the day.

I hope you never find yourself in a situation where you need to protect any child from witnessing bloodshed on the very streets they have no choice but to live on. But if you ever should, I urge you this: find books about wild creatures for them, find them a microscope, a magnifying glass — anything at all that makes the unknown make sense. It doesn’t matter how broken the surroundings may be, how bombed out; no matter how terrifying every single bit of it all may be. Just find them a way to sit in muck, as creepy crawlies do their do, as bees buzz through holes in concrete walls, as spiders build webs on empty coal bunkers under a sky that — no matter how grey and uncertain – holds room for butterflies, moths, dragonflies and unnameable things; things like whispered hope.