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.
There’s a swathe — a broad swathe, of which “broad swathe” is one — of overused words and phrases that I struggle each week to avoid … There’s no better word, though, than the detestably common “gripping” for this essay by journalist Wil Hylton. For years, Hylton carried on an intense if intermittent relationship with his aggressive, violent, fascinating cousin. Here, he examines how his own ideas about being a man led to a nearly fatal attack from one of his most intimate friends.
I loved the shelter of his violence. It gave him the power to make wrong right. It made no difference that he never did, only that he could. I loved that when he came to a party, people made room for us to pass. I loved when he told me about breaking a pool cue in half and beating two guys with the fat end. I loved him even when I hated his violence, even when it hurt me.
This is a strange and lovely possible truth, and an interesting showcase of how scientific proofs are built. As a bonus, read this, about Norway’s fascination with its captive wolves and visceral resentment of the free ones. (Spoiler: The most violent opposition to wolves comes from older white men.) Wolves are returning to the Pacific Northwest — how will we respond? Are they other? Or are they us?
When watching the dogs in the Mexico City dump, a number of our students would say, “These dogs are different from real dogs — these are mongrels.” The implication is that the kennel club breeds are the ancestors of the village dogs. People seem to believe that if a dog doesn’t look like one of the kennel club recognized breeds then it must be a hybrid or mongrel. People think if you let all the pure breeds go and they interbreed for a few generations, the resulting population of dogs would look like the Mexico City dump dogs.
Rebecca Solnit brings her furious eloquence to bear on Democratic presidential field. This is a no-brainer: the more often we say that only white men have the potential to beat the whitest, mannest man in our country in the 2020 election, the more true it becomes. Marketing 101! Here’s hoping journalists get the message.
The New York Times in all its august unbearability just published this prize sentence in a piece about Joe Biden’s failure to offer Anita Hill an apology she found adequate: “Many former Judiciary Committee aides and other people who participated did not want to talk on the record because they feared that scrutiny of Mr. Biden’s past conduct would undermine the campaign of the candidate some think could be best positioned to defeat President Trump, whose treatment of women is a huge issue for Democrats.” That translates as, let’s run a guy whose treatment of women is an issue, and let’s ignore that treatment because even so we think that he’s best positioned to defeat the guy whose treatment of women is an issue, and also fuck treatment of women, especially this black woman, as an issue, really.
Finally! An essay by Karl Ove Knausgaard from which you can extract everything important without reading a word. In fact I suggest you do, or rather don’t, and go directly to the portfolio of Stephen Gill, the amazing photographer Knausgaard profiles. Gill’s images of birds are precise, messy, delicate, feral, awkward, sublime — all the perfection of imbalance that Knausgaard’s writing so deeply fails at every time.
All kinds of birds, from the smallest sparrow to the biggest eagle, were drawn to the pillar. Not only were they drawn down from the sky but the sky was drawn out of them: the birds in Gill’s images are so physical, so of the body, so material as to make plain to us how even their flight belongs to the ground. These birds came from the earth, there is nothing ethereal about them. The order to which they belong is prehistoric, predating our own by millions of years, and, although they have developed optimized beaks, claws, eyes, wings, they still struggle against matter every single day, the way they’ve always done — tossed about by the wind, compelled from their perches, dipping their wings to the water on hot summer days. That they are never perfect, that they are forever improvising, that no fixed form exists in their lives, are things I have never thought of as applying to birds until I saw these photographs.
In The Word Pretty, Elisa Gabbert says that “notebooks achieve so much of what poetry tries to achieve, but organically” — beginning and ending where they will. Instant amnesty for inveterate notebook start-and-abandoners everywhere! Robert McFarlane probably finishes his notebooks. But we love this photo-essay anyway — images from the notebooks he kept while traveling for his latest book.
The notebooks vary from a tiny lilac-coloured Moleskine just seven or eight centimetres high, to robust hardback journals, tough enough to withstand being dragged through limestone tunnel systems and soaked in slate mines. I’ve doodled on the covers of some of them; the ink has faded from black to sepia on the oldest of the notebooks, where they’ve seen the most light.
There are places in these notebooks where my handwriting has been smudged into illegibility by underground streams, or where mud and silt stains the pages brown, or where the spines and corners have been foxed and folded. These are, to me, as much part of the archive of a landscape as my poor-quality biro sketches and my transcriptions of conversations.