WRB—October 18, 2023
“a quintessential New York City artist”
The Managing Editors were not at all amusing. Forced to write every day on all sorts of subjects, to read countless newspapers, to listen to a great many arguments, and to produce startling paradoxes, they had ended up by losing all sense of reality, blinding themselves with their own damp squibs.
[Okay, this one’s a little too close to home. —Chris]
In NRO, John J. Miller with a history of conservative journalism from the beginning of the Republic to now :
The sucking-up was bad enough. The refusal to admit the bias was a cover-up operation that made matters worse. It also betrayed the deepest traditions of American journalism, in which writers and editors announced their perspectives rather than tried to hide them. From the founding of the nation and well into the 19th century, newspapers were openly partisan. “Protestations of impartiality I shall make none,” wrote William Cobbett in 1797. “They are always useless and are besides perfect nonsense, when used by a news-monger.” Because printing was expensive, Cobbett and his colleagues worked for publications that required subsidies, which they received from party loyalists and included patronage in the form of government printing contracts. This scandalized nobody and produced some of America’s greatest opinion journalism. The Federalist Papers, after all, is fundamentally a collection of op-eds.
In Harper’s Magazine, an essay by William T. Vollman about three homeless men in Reno and the process of turning suffering—both his own and that of others—into writing for publication:
I am an evil person. I tried this on to see if I believed it. If that was so, then what about the indoor man at the coffee shop who had long since run out of pity for the homeless? Maybe I was better, because I paid for their stories and tried to raise other indoor people’s so-called awareness; or maybe I was worse, because I knew that the system was against them, yet did not help them more than I did. I considered this matter some more. Then, at least for five minutes, I stopped caring.
In American Purpose, Francis Fukuyama reviews two books on approaches to freedom and identity in the modern world (Self-Made: Creating Our Identities from Da Vinci to the Kardashians, by Tara Isabella Burton, June; and The Sullivanians: Sex, Psychotherapy, and the Wild Life of an American Commune, by Alexander Stille, June):
Tara Burton is restrained throughout Self-Made in passing moral judgments about the growth of self-worship and the narcissistic, self-indulgent characters that this movement has produced. She nonetheless makes clear in her epilogue that “self-making” is a very problematic phenomenon that has the effect of devaluing social obligation—the sorts of constraints and rules that make societies possible.
The Sullivan Institute was a perfect instantiation of many of the pathologies she describes. The inner self was understood simply as desire—indeed, at its core sexual desire. Personal development (or what Newton and Pearce referred to as “infinite growth”) did encourage artistic expression and their institute did include many artists in its circle. But for many, personal liberation was nothing more than the maximization of sexual opportunity. Human autonomy had nothing to do with moral autonomy or the ability to exercise self-mastery as earlier philosophical traditions would have maintained. Rather, autonomy implied the relaxation of all inner constraints in the pursuit of pleasure. The Institute’s doctrine attacked the natural feelings of love and affection that parents and children have for one another as destructive instincts that harm the inner growth of both parties.
In, Bill Ryan reviews a reprinted collection of short stories by Lisa Tuttle (A Nest of Nightmares, 1986, reprinted 2020):
In fact, a large number of the stories I read for this essay deal directly with the, I won’t say horrors, but physical and psychological issues of child-bearing and childbirth, as well as the specifics of female biology. One story, “A Birthday,” deals (inevitably, I suppose) with both. Peter Squyers goes, reluctantly, to visit his mother. He doesn’t despise her or anything, but he’s simply not that comfortable with her. But they agree to meet at her apartment for drinks. Shortly after he arrives, and she begins serving drinks, he notices that she seems to have a bleeding wound on her hand. However, soon blood seems to be seeping out of her everywhere: her legs, her scalp, her entire body. It’s coming out of her pores, she casually explains. She also says that this is simply part of her “change of life.” She is telling him, in essence, that menopause brings with it so many features and bugs that most men know nothing about. Peter comes to, tentatively and only to an extent, believe his mother, but is especially calmed when she tells him she’ll have a nurse check in on her until the whole thing passes. But when he returns to his mother’s apartment, joined by his concerned girlfriend, he learns so much I would suppose it probably drove him mad.
It is here in the city’s anonymous public where I prefer to meet Reed, in any mood. Stalled on a street corner or the subway, running circles around the park, or strutting briskly down the sidewalk. My New York City has quite a different face from Reed’s, but if I listen carefully to his music I can better recognize its many masks in the moments they slip on and off. The store fronts dim and shutter, only to be replaced by facades that burn brighter and faster. One person shows a cold shoulder to the stranger in need; another turns toward them in kindness. In New York City, where it’s normal to glimpse hundreds of people on an average day, you are bound to be a nobody to just about everyone. If you live here long enough, this inescapable anonymity becomes something of a spiritual property. Lou Reed is a quintessential New York City artist because he tapped straight into this spirituality and found in it a glittering potential for transcendence.
[I understand why one person quoted in this review wants to defend Reed from people saying things like “I saw Lou Reed on the street when I went to New York, and I went up to him and he was an asshole.” He does so by saying that you would never get the chance to go up to Bob Dylan or Miles Davis, who have similar reputations, on the street. As far as judging human conduct goes, fair enough; as far as acknowledging a latitude granted to artists, rightly or wrongly, fair enough. But the implicit suggestion that all three are on the same artistic pedestal is just too much. I love Lou Reed. He’s responsible for a lot of great music. But compared to Bob Dylan? Compared to Miles Davis? What are we doing here? Might as well say that Beethoven was pretty surly too while you’re at it. —Steve]
[Behind the paywall: Steve and Chris discuss some works dealing with that classic WRB subject, the illegibility of desire; Julia on a poem about the aftermath of a relationship; and more links for your enjoyment and edification. Why not subscribe?
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