Remnick on Clinton (Bill just wants to be loved)

September 19, 2006

Even by New Yorker standards I think the article might qualify as elephantine. Perhaps this is simply one of the advantages of penning a profile for the magazine you edit, or perhaps the length is meant to underline the cultural significance, the historical moment of it all: David Remnick, leading member of the liberal bien pensant media-intellectual set, expatiating on Bill Clinton, bill-clinton.jpgpresent-day icon and former President (Sept. 18 edition; and now available on-line). Then again, we might just as easily say expiating. For, of course, Clinton is more than simply one more ex-President. The failure of his presidency – an especially bitter one when one considers what it helped pave the way for – is also the failure of the American liberals who put their hopes in Clinton (many of whom subscribe to the New Yorker).

This is perhaps one means to account for the unexpected tone of Remnick’s piece. Certainly there are some more than obligatory nods to Clinton’s post-presidential philanthropy and its not altogether self-serving motivations, but on the whole the portrayal of Clinton is uncharitable to the point of being mean-spirited, even vindictive. The use of italics, for example, is always discretionary when recounting speech and Remnick never seems to pass over an opportunity to make Clinton sound gushing and worthy of mockery. “Oh Hillary just loves giraffes” is a typical Clinton comment mediated by Remnick. There is also no shortage of snide authorial asides and non sequitur conversational snippets from Clinton that, again, appear designed to make him out as something of a buffoon. In general, the impression one has of Clinton after reading the article is of the kind of person you’d hate to be stuck sitting beside on a plane (as Remnick often was; although these planes were owned by hedge-fund managers), a logorrheic blowhard whose knowledge is as broad as it is shallow.

But I’m not questioning the veracity of Remnick’s account. It may all be true – and likely is; I don’t, for example, need much convincing that Bill has a boundless appetite for the adulation of others. Indeed, we should perhaps be grateful for Remnick’s honesty. (Here’s a recent intelligent portrait of Remnick in The Guardian.) It’s just the snideness of his treatment that leads me to venture there’s more at work in this piece than simply a journalistic desire for verisimilitude. Something about it smacks of a long-awaited score-settling. Not that Bill didn’t have it coming.


“stay tuned!” or confirmation of the end of gravitas (Weltschmerz)

September 15, 2006

katie couric, like, so totally celebrates the end of her first week anchoring the manifestly unmoored cbs evening “news”:

“We’re trying to make the news more accessible, more compelling, more interesting, and we’re trying to give people a little hope, optimism and even a chuckle when we can.”

Quel mandate! Sure hope they can live up to it! To quote again from the formidable Ms. C’s blog: “As the late Karen Carpenter sang, ‘Close to you’, I mean, ‘We’ve only just begun.’ Wow, how hip am I?”

sigh. so, our super awesome (imported directly from German) WordOfTheDay? (and come on i just know you saw it coming and no it’s not “snide”): Weltschmerz, which the generally non-ebullient OED defines as: A weary or pessimistic feeling about life; an apathetic or vaguely yearning attitude. indeed. kudos, katie.

katie’s breathless first week

(thanks milloy)

BibliOdyssey (congeries)

September 14, 2006

fantastic scans from old books and a congeries* of what is referred to as “visual materia obscura“.

quite a stunning site.

(via the indomitable storyglot.

similarly quarried (our verb of the day), I’ve since taken note, by the irrepressible lifeinapanel.

great minds.)

*from the OED: congeries, A collection of things merely massed or heaped together; a mass, heap.


“you and I are on the other side of almost everything” (pellucid)

September 13, 2006

a thought that perhaps speaks to the essence of romance. isn’t that what the feeling is with another person, that conviction of making another world, un monde à part, not just separate from “almost everything” but in some sense actually against it? and isn’t that in part what becomes so addictive about being with the other person? here i’m paraphrasing the backcover blurb of a little novel by kundera called l’identité (written originally in french but readily disponible in english). much of it is a meditation on the nature of couples, of what we seek in joining them and what is thereby gained and, perhaps, lost. I read it a couple of months ago – the prose is typically spare and limpid – and find my thoughts often returning to it. kundera is lucid, life rendered pellucid* (to deploy our WordOfTheDay).

dears.jpg I was put in mind of kundera by that thought, “you and I are on the other side of almost everything”, which is actually a song lyric I heard performed last night by the dears (though it could be “on the outside of almost everything”. I’m awaiting clarification, but “truth is subjectivity” to invoke the lonely daneofmanynames so I’ll go with my ears.) hadn’t seen them in a while nor indeed any live music in a proper concert setting for some time. a really wonderful show – sound, lights, ride cymbal, hearts-on-sleeves, the whole thing – for which I wanted to thank them. it’s always good to be reminded what humans can do when they get together.

(a sidebar thought on kundera: for anyone with some intermediate manoeuvres looking to work on their french reading chops, kundera novels are a great place to start; plus he now writes in french and personally revised the french translations of his earlier novels. he’s almost minimalist in his prose; short, polished sentences. you’ll have to start by looking up a bunch of words but then find they keep recurring. also the chapters are short and the pages go by quickly. important to have that feeling of accomplishment. l’insoutenable légèreté de l’être. you have to admit it does sound even better in french.)

*from the OED: pellucid, 1. Transmitting or allowing the passage of light; translucent, transparent.

(entry composed and posted with breakfast # 2 en plein air in bryant park in the midst of the preening madness of fashion week. I think I was offered about 6 copies of the times style magazine as I tried to navigate the well-calved crowds. inside the park, by the carrousel, the bust of goethe looks on impassively. I’m tempted to write stoically. the sorrows of aged johann.)

beards, armpits, eyebrows

September 12, 2006


Highly recommended New Yorker article. I’d create a category for it called “the social-anthropology of everyday life” but then that seems a tad long-winded.


‘On January 30, 1937, a letter to the New Statesman and Nation announced that Darwin, Marx, and Freud had a successor—or, more accurately, successors. “Mass-Observation develops out of anthropology, psychology, and the sciences which study man,” the letter read, “but it plans to work with a mass of observers.” The movement already had fifty volunteers, and it aspired to have five thousand, ready to study such aspects of contemporary life as:

Behaviour of people at war memorials.
Shouts and gestures of motorists.
The aspidistra cult.
Anthropology of football pools.
Bathroom behaviour.
Beards, armpits, eyebrows.
Distribution, diffusion and significance of the dirty joke.
Funerals and undertakers.
Female taboos about eating.
The private lives of midwives.

New Yorker article

Link to the author of the article’s blog with more information and links on Mass-Observation (and further down a great slideshow of Walker Evans’ photos) and a nod to the humble toilings of your very own didactique. First we take Manhattan…


sontag on sontag

September 11, 2006


31 December, On Keeping a Journal. Superficial to understand the journal as just a receptacle for one’s private, secret thoughts — like a confidante who is deaf, dumb and illiterate. In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.

The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather — in many cases — offers an alternative to it.

NYT magazine

les classes sociales pas mort (homogamy)

September 10, 2006

One of the chief questions that exercise the good social theorists (and which the others, aka apologists for the status quo, would rather see exorcised) is how power relations are reproduced in a given society. Once we dispense with the anodyne notion that we all start life from the identical starting line with identical chances of winning the race, we’re forced to consider what gets passed on from generation to generation, how domination and classes function, how much mobility, permeability, between classes really exists. Certainly money is central here, but it’s not the entire story. There is capital also in a much more diffuse sense; the so-called cultural capital (see Bourdieu) that affords the legatee a kind of unerring sense for how to get ahead, an ability to navigate social situations, an unquestioned feeling of at-homeness in a given milieu (say that of an elite academic institution or a corporate boardroom). This is partly how to account for the stubborn fact that, statistically, people born into a given class are far more likely to stay within that class than, say, ascend into a class above them.

This posting was sparked by my reading of a recently published French sociology journal article,* taking on the third way “flat” world thesis of a social world where class is supposedly becoming an increasingly less salient means of understanding daily life. The author introduced me to a new word – homogamie, or homogamy in English. Selon the OED, it’s a biological term – (a) homogamous condition; fertilization of a flower by its own pollen or by that of another flower on the same plant. As often happens, the biological term migrated to the social sciences (and often such migrations come with unacknowledged costs, i.e. reducing society to a depoliticized “natural” biological mechanism). Homogamy came up as the French author, armed with a battery of stats, demonstrated how class continues to dictate many life choices, perhaps even more so now than before, and that like continues to marry like, people from working class backgrounds tend overwhelmingly to marry other people from similar backgrounds, and people from the liberal and professional classes, for example, tend to an overwhelming degree not to marry people from the working class. To borrow a citation from the OED definition: 1947 Evolution I. 270/2 “The concept of homogamy or associative mating states that within a population the most similar individuals will mate with each other.” The children of such associative mating are then ever more likely to grow up and stay within that association, reproducing the same power relations that contributed, along with cupid bien entendu, to their parents getting married, either not questioning their privileges, or not imagining such privileges to be within their ken.

None of this is a straitjacket of course, but class matters and efforts to suggest it’s an outmoded discourse – bearing in mind, as Tony Judt points out, that the Left itself bears a lot of responsibility for this discrediting – tell us more about the agenda of the person making the argument than the phenomenon itself. Anyone doubting this could consult the most recent staggering numbers on income inequalities in the US and conservative attempts to gloss them, a theme of numerous Paul Krugman columns.

*Chauvel (Louis), « Le retour des classes sociales ? », Revue de l’OFCE, n°79, octobre 2001, Observatoire Français des Conjonctures Economiques/Presses de Sciences Po, p. 315-359.

and song for the lonely grad students

September 10, 2006

‘He hoped to study biology in school, but at the time most high schools shied away from teaching Darwin’s theories of evolution, and so [Stephen Jay] Gould read Darwin on his own, and his parents took him on amateur fossil hunting expeditions. He went on to study geology and paleontology and wrote his dissertation on an extinct land snail native to the Bahamas. He once said that his research on the taxonomy of the snail was of interest to about eight people in the world, but, he said, “Those eight people really care.” ‘ [my emphasis, nous soulignons]

Writer’s Almanac

self-imposed surveillance

September 10, 2006

“Imagine a device that monitors the social marketplace the way a blinking Bloomberg terminal tracks incremental changes in the bond market and you’ll get the idea.

‘That’s all anyone talks about on campus actually,” she said. “My day was totally messed up because of the new Facebook.’ ”


if you’re going to have a tag called “libraries”…

September 10, 2006


…then I suppose one has to post this sort of library porn douce when it falls into your e-lap. besides, it’s kind of nice to imagine old karl (see impressive, hard-won beard on display in previous posting) ferretting out the inner contractions of capitalism during the endless days and nights in the reading room. selon engels, “later he withdrew into the British Museum and worked through the immense and as yet for the most part unexamined library there for all that it contained on political economy.”

pictures of impressive libraries