Against Popular Culture

There is so much meat to chew on in this essay discussing Adorno’s views on art and popular culture. What is the function of art? What is the danger of its commercialization? What is all this easy entertainment doing to us?

– via (to whom I recently subscribed, because it’s hard to find writing this interesting and this accessible these days, and finding it consistently is worth way more than they charge for a subscription)

The Default Setting

The world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing. I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational. What it is, so far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish.

– David Foster Wallace, This is Water (pdf)

Just reading that you can imagine a little bit of how hard it must have been for Wallace to operate day in and day out with an awareness of the world this raw and difficult and intimate. I never met him, but miss this man sooooooo much.

Fighting for Journalistic Freedom

Just a reminder that witnessing is a powerful act, and that recording what one witnesses can influence who’s voices are represented in history. This is why journalists are so important: they are our witnesses. In America, journalists are protected by the Constitution, which means at least they have a shot at fighting charges in court, but in Egypt, they walk a dangerous line between recording reality and being forced to pay for the fear that this reality engenders in the government. Mahmoud Abu Zeid, or “Shawkan,” is a journalist, a witness to Egyptian history, and for that, he is in jail.

– via Huck Magazine

The 14 Features of Fascism

Umberto Eco’s list of 14 features of eternal fascism. These are important signs, which Eco notes, may never all be present, but if any one of these signs is present, regardless of the system in which they appear, there’s a problem to address. America is not a fascist country, but we exhibit enough of these signs to remind us that we’ve got work to do if we want to better ourselves and live up to our rhetoric of freedom and equality.

– via

The Mental Tyranny of Expectation

This opinion column by Nigerian poet Ben Okri raises an interesting point: through a social expectation that writers of color should write about oppression, slavery, or injustice, are they being pigeonholed away from a space to be creative? This is obvious and easiest to understand when talking about writers of color, but the problem applied to artists of any group. The greatest art comes from complete freedom of expression, and while that expression may, at times, be influenced by the history of the artist, expecting their art to directly address that history at every moment limits the artist’s voice, and their potential.

– via The Guardian

On Banning Books

We can prevent reading: but in the decree that forbids reading there will still be read something of the truth that we would wish never to be read

– Italo Calvino in “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler”