“It just makes a point that there is a subtext to the universalizing of Koons’s message about turning off the critical mind and just embracing what makes you happy. You really realize that you can only get away with it as a white guy, because people are only willing to read the kinds of simple pleasures you are into as universal if you are coded as universal yourself.”—From our interview with art critic Ben Davis, part of the American Empires special issues of Guernica.
“The most literal meaning of revolution, however, is not forward motion, but a full cycle, another turn of the proverbial screw. And to some, the increasingly cozy relationship between the military world and the oil and gas industry appears to be just that: the next phase of a global campaign to drill and fight for oil—in order to, in no small part, power the effort to drill and fight for more oil.”—Laura Gottesdiener in the American Empires special issue of Guernica.
“In the years immediately after the war, returning GIs married in record-breaking numbers only to discover that the city’s available housing stock was borderline nonexistent, forcing many of them to live in crapulous overpriced living quarters that they could barely afford or, in the case of my own mother and father, to move in with their parents or in-laws, their home on earth reduced to a childhood bedroom, cramped common space, unasked-for personality clashes, and an unbearable lack of privacy.
And then came the first baby…
And so, when Parkside finally opened in ’51, those whose applications had been accepted grabbed the kid and took off running as if they were escaping from behind the Iron Curtain.
For these working-class children raised in tenements and aging apartment buildings, Parkside, with its relatively roomy two-bedroom affordables, its landscaped gardens and playgrounds and communal benches, wasn’t only a new beginning, it was a first beginning, and mingled with the tang of fresh paint was an air of optimism, of gratitude.
“Imagine if your dramas and trivializations were shaped and packaged into forty-two-minute episodes, because your mom and your sisters signed you up for all this seven years ago, when you were still in college. In an episode that ran in March, in a moment that Rob seemed to think would be private—he at a doctor’s office with his mom to get some of his tattoos removed to represent “a whole new beginning”—Kim shows up, dozens and dozens of paparazzi flashes in tow. She knocks on the door to the office. “It’s me,” Kim says. They crack the door open for her, and we hear Rob mumble, “I don’t want to film with my shirt off.” They shut the door to the camera crew, but the audio is still on. “What’s wrong, Rob?” Kris prods. “I’m sad,” he says, whimpering. “I don’t even want to sit down because of how fat I am.” It’s a heart-sinking moment, a naked instance of Rob’s shame—with himself, with what he believes people are judging every week when they watch the show or when they see a photo of him in In Touch.
a stroke had left him speechless before my birth. it is not right to say he never did anything, but he never did any thing people do on purpose to live.
she told me that at one i reached out and struck his closed right hand with my fat unsteady palm, and like a giant clam taking a deep sea breath, i imagine, his fingers slowly unfurled. then i would slap at his dry palm and the fingers would close, slowly. we played this game for hours when i was learning how to stand. closed. opened. when the hand was opened i had succeeded. when the hand was closed i would begin again.
she said that by the time i could walk he had taught me even and odd numbers. first 2 to open and 1 to close, then 4 to open but 3 to close, then 2 or 4 & 1 or 3, and so on, until i began to feel the intricate mechanism of my puzzle box father extending deep into the night sky inside us.
my first memories of my father were modular arithmetic and the theory of prime numbers.
after school i ran riot with my friends. we ran and made loud sounds and broke small things. we were like the atoms in a bomb, colliding, combining, and releasing sound and fury. i could not tell my father about this for 2 years. in a group of 6 we were smaller groups forming and dissolving. even in pairs each one of us could perform 4 crude kinds of action, or we could form threesomes and foursomes, and because these were but the crudest descriptions, each interaction only showed its result as a blur of probability. besides, we were children, and changing week by week if not day by day.
he was too, but racing like a second hand i could not perceive his minute hand motion. she was an hour hand. to speak with her he did not use the soft machine he’d built for me. they would look at each other. i could not understand it.
in high school we got computers and i began to build my father inside of one. it would output 0 when his hand was closed and _ when it would be open. when i told them, they looked at me and i noticed their eyes were more wet than regular eyes. i could see parts of my father were shrinking, like his arms and the sides of his head. the top parts were shrinking, and sagging into his middle, and his bottom parts had begun to swell too.
he didn’t have to say much anymore. he could imply. there was the equation, and the proof, and there was a little machine we could build and imagine it repeating itself on and on very fast to converge on the smooth truth of an equation. a little machine could do that. a big machine could make a little machine. we could build a night sky.
computers have more memory now, and i am still building him. but i am almost finished.
“My professors introduced art to me as something that could transform people’s lives. I was interested in that because I always felt like there was a need for people to speak about the kinds of conditions in which I grew up. There were things that nobody really talked about. In fact, most people hid from them with shame. I was interested in the question, How do you give a voice to the people who are not represented?”—Rick Lowe: Heart of the City - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
“And then there’s Teach for America, which reformers love. As I said in the book, you’re not really ready to teach when you have five weeks of training. It’s a truism that people who are in their first year of teaching need help. They’re the weakest teachers, because they’ve never taught before. It’s not their fault; they need training, they need preparation, and they need support. Our government is treating Teach for America like it’s the answer to some problem. And it’s not the answer to any problem that I can think of except, “What can I put on my résumé?””—Back to School, Nika Knight interviews Diane Ravitch - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
“There is this fantasy that going to a privately managed school would lead to higher test scores, and higher test scores would lead to the end of poverty. All of that would be just great—except none of it is true. I mean, it’s a fact that every test that’s given anywhere in the world shows that family income is a decisive factor: the kids who come from affluent families are at the top, and the kids who come from poverty are at the bottom. That’s simply a fact; it’s not an opinion. It’s true on international tests, it’s true on state tests. You name the test—the ACT, the SAT—poverty is decisive.”—Back to School, Nika Knight interviews Diane Ravitch - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
“A sustained engagement with the world, a sense of how it was and how it ought to be, and what has been lost, is imperative to good writing—I just don’t know how you can be a serious writer without it.
But I don’t think this makes it easy to settle the question of how individual moral values can be affirmed in such a dialogical and ironic art form as the novel—a form where all convictions, no matter how impeccable, ought to be contested. That’s why I am wondering if it’s better to get the beliefs and convictions out in the seven-hundred-word Op-Ed, and then use the broader imaginative space of the novel to challenge them!”—Congratulations as well to Pankaj Mishra, another Windham-Campbell 2014 prizewinner! Read Mishra in conversation with Kamila Shamsie from our freedom of expression issue, here:
“There are some writers who want to leave politics out of their novels. I don’t.”—Congratulations to Nadeem Aslam, one of the Windham-Campbell 2014 prizewinners! Read our interview with him from August of last year, here:
“The apocalypse was quiet. It had a way about it, a certain charm. It could be called graceful. It was taking a long time.
People prepared for an apocalypse that they could take up arms against, bunker down with. People hoarded filtered water, canned corn, dry milk, batteries. They published books on how to get things done in the new post-world, a world that they always imagined as being much like our own, only missing one or two key things. They might imagine, for example, that survivors would reemerge onto a planet stripped of all vegetable and plant life. First, the animals would grow vicious and then starve. It would be important to hoard as many of these animals as possible, pack them in salt and hide them away to keep. You’d want to have a supply of emergency seed to grow in a secure location, maybe using sterilized soil that you had already hoarded. Then you’d want to gather a crew. One muscle man with a heart of gold, a scientist type, an engineer, a child, and somebody that you thought maybe you could love, if you survived long enough to love them.”—You, Disappearing by Alexandra Kleeman - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
“The judge called it “one of the most unspeakably vicious and brutal crimes in the history of the state,” which sounds a bit harsh to me. The young lad who killed that nun with the hacksaw in west Clare was surely worse, although they did say he was insane. That was the problem you see—Da wasn’t insane, not the gibbering, cuckoo’s nest sort of insane at any rate. The kind you could make hay with. The doctors, in fairness to them, did every schizo test under the sun, but nothing stuck. He wasn’t biting. Sitting there in the chair with a puss on him like it was his granny after getting aerated for no good reason. The shrinks (I love that word, “shrink”—when I was small I used imagine a load of scientists in a lab shrinking brains till you couldn’t fit any more bad thoughts in them) weren’t exactly falling over themselves to believe it either. True enough, his father—only allegedly, mind—and grandfather were convicted murders, but sure what was that save bad breeding? You’d get that anywhere, Malin to Mizen. Now a genetic predisposition towards homicide, let alone a family curse, that was something intelligent people found difficult to swallow.”—Our Fathers by Dan Sheehan - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
“George Orwell famously wrote “no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.” Yet polemical fiction is rarely fun to read.”—So writes Rob Spillman at the beginning of the first installment of his monthly column Readpolitik, discussing politically engaged fiction. Read more of the first column, on the apocalyptic worlds of David Mitchell and Emily St. John Mandel, here.
“Most writers and other artists have waited tables at some point in their lives. But I think that if you survive it, you don’t want to think about it ever again. You want to just forget that dirty, shitty job you had to do to pay the rent. You don’t want to dive back into it and relive it. That’s my theory, anyway. But really, it’s a gold mine. It’s a perfect representation of the American caste system. You have people who are thought of as worthless—people who are undocumented, working for very little money, barely surviving in this country—and, just around the corner, millionaires eating off the plate those other guys just washed. There’s so much meat there.”—Fiery Appetites, Dwyer Murphy interviews Merritt Tierce - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
“Rosalynn was born in the house next door to Jimmy Carter, and he’s going to be ninety in October, so they’ve known each other almost a century. They know each other as well as any two people can. Everybody who ever worked with Carter knew she was his closest advisor, and that was true at Camp David. She’s the one who proposed it. There wouldn’t have been a summit at Camp David if Rosalynn hadn’t put it on the table. So she’s an unacknowledged piece of the peace process.”—A Tripartite Drama, Maurice Chammah interviews Lawrence Wright - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
“In what is sometimes called the “restaurant model” of medicine, the paternalism of doctors has been replaced by the consumerism of patients. We order tests and treatments from a menu based on our consumer research. And the doctor, who was a father in the paternalistic model, is now a waiter. The idea that the customer is always right, imported to medicine, is a dangerous dictum. “If you keep telling people it’s just a marketplace and that they’re just clients and that autonomy of the patient is what must be served to make them happy customers,” the bioethicist Arthur Caplan warns, “then you have a collapse of professionalism in the face of consumer demand.” Doctors may be tempted to give patients what we want, even when it is not good for us.”—Medicine and Its Metaphors by Eula Biss - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
“I am the same age as Israel. I’m sixty-six. I grew up in the American South, the segregated South. Now we have a black man who is president. It was an age of apartheid, and now that’s over. It was an age of two superpowers frozen in a cold war, and now that’s resolved. So history marches on, except for this conflict, which seems to have a claim on being eternal. And it doesn’t merit that. These are 10 million people, the population of LA County, and look at all the trouble that has spilled out to the rest of the world because they can’t get their act together. I do have a feeling of urgency, and to some extent, desperation, that this problem is steering into a place where it could make what’s happened so far look benign.”—A Tripartite Drama, Maurice Chammah interviews Lawrence Wright - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
“If I could I would ask you to close your eyes as someone close to you—no, a stranger would be better—whispers these poems into your ear. If you could find someone on the subway, if you could step outside yourself long enough to simply ask, it should only take four minutes or so. Why the subway? Because it is closest to the experience of these poems, moving through a tunnel of light, fully contained in the pressure of the moment.”—
“I think the first thing—if you want to be a writer—the first thing you need to do is write. Which sounds like an obvious piece of advice. But so many people have this feeling they want to be a writer and they love to read but they don’t actually write very much. The main part of being a writer, though, is being profoundly alone for hours on end, uninterrupted by email or friends or children or romantic partners and really sinking into the work and writing. That’s how I write. That’s how writing gets done.”—Redeemed, Amitava Kumar interviews Cheryl Strayed - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
“I can always redirect attention to the fact that I’m white, or to the fact that my black daughter’s mother is. A clerk once told my daughter to leave a store because she was loitering. I was nearby, looking at towels. “Is there a problem?” I countered. “I’m her mother.” Even when I was living in the country where people lived less diversely, I had clear advantages, a stable job, advanced training in rhetoric I find useful every time I object. But I think of people who can’t immediately say to the officer or clerk: hey, I’m white here. And how quaint I sound, a white woman who understands racism at last, selfishly, for her daughter’s sake. Yet I don’t understand. I understand only that I used to be clueless: the sense of ease in day-to-day interactions I once took for granted. I’m also not living with ancestral history as trauma: enslavement, violence, segregation. I’m touchy because I’m protecting my daughter. I don’t have an ocean of grief hundreds of years old.”—Gray Area by Debra Monroe - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
“Their camouflage is military-issue, and not even patterned in a way that would provide any tactical advantage beyond intimidation. They’re driving vehicles designed to endure anti-tank mines. There is no possible anti-tank mine threat in Ferguson. Those weapons are in many instances newer and better than the ones used by active-duty Army units. To me, the Ferguson PD doesn’t look like the police. It doesn’t even look like the military. It looks like Blackwater, kitted up in expensive gear, ready to deal death with impunity. It looks like amateur hour, except the amateurs have live ammunition.
The Ferguson PD have decided to treat protesting citizens as an enemy formation, which they are not. I can’t help but think about my battalion commander in Afghanistan. We were an occupying military force in a foreign country with an active insurgency. There were regular bomb detonations in our province, many of which were revenge attacks against Afghans who collaborated with the Karzai government. The enemy didn’t wear a uniform. We didn’t speak their language. And yet, we had leaders who made it a point to engage with the civilian population as human beings, the kind of leaders that the Ferguson police department does not have. There is no language barrier in Ferguson, nor is there an insurgency or an occupation. This is neither Afghanistan nor Iraq. This is not a war zone. This is not Gezi Park or Tahrir Square. This is America, though you wouldn’t know it.”—Nathan Bradley Bethea: Echoes of Blackwater in Ferguson, Missouri - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
“It was just my third day on the job; I was still learning to use the fax machine. A coworker who’d been on PTO my first two days appeared in my office, introduced himself via nutcracking handshake. He made small talk, then business-speak, back to small talk. Only so much to be said about the weather, the traffic, and the mayor. A column of silence rose between us. His gaze alighted on my head. “How did you get your hair like that?” He reached across my desk and ran his fingers through my hair.
I gripped his arm mid-arc, squeezed it just hard enough to signal my spirit, and flung it away. “If you want to touch my hair, you ask first. And when you do ask, I’ll say no.”