Thursday, January 14, 2021

Watching

Despite watching hours of television every week, rarely do I watch it for entertainment's sake alone. It's one of my many failings as a human, as an American. Instead, I tend to watch TV for what I can learn about others.

For example, did you know you can learn about the waning days of Trumpismo by watching Succession? It's all there: an utterly unlikable roster of characters who are trying to game a system where the one in charge is so senile and incompetent that he pisses all over the place.

I did, however, have to stop watching after a handful of episodes because it became more and more apparent that they were letting the interns write the shows. Rookie mistake: having a character have some kind of impossibly lucid epiphany after taking fistfuls of drugs.

A series that taught me about the goat-fucking underbelly of 4chan and QAnon was PEN15. Watch the "Vendy Wiccany" episode (S2E3) if you don't believe me: hysterics blended with wishful thinking all because mom and dad are getting divorced. (Only some of those words are used metaphorically here.)

If you want to understand solidarity, then perhaps there's no better show than the unconvincing, naively counter-factual miniseries Hollywood, where the Blacks, Asian Americans, young gays, and feminists all conspire to usurp power from shitty old straight—and gay—white men. You did not see that twist coming!

Or for a less fantasy-based miniseries, also about solidarity, check out Mrs. America, where the Black lesbian feminists don't get along with the Black non-lesbian feminists who also don't get along with white feminists who also don't get along with white religious feminists who are feminist in the same way that Reagan and Bush and Bush and Trump were conservative. Kudos for showing that cunt Phyllis Schlafly being thrown under the bus by both her husband and Reagan. (Sadly, more metaphoric language.) It's the exact opposite, more believable, more historically accurate story about solidarity.

I wish more shows were as cutting edge as The Conners when it comes to cutting out reprehensible people from the cast. It truly has been a sweet few months not hearing or seeing Roseanne. If only America were as competent at so-called cancellation.

Most shows I abandon after one or a couple of episodes. One show I watched entirely this past year was The Americans, which was violently terrible, especially when it became a teen drama and an infomercial for est. Credit, though, for the writers who came up with the will they/won't they story line about fucking a teenager. Said in thick Russian accent: "You have to do it for the Motherland." Yuck!

Silicon Valley was maybe the only sitcom that offered me any delight this past year, though some of those episodes were sheer drudgery. Part of what I enjoyed about it was assigning various Twitter friends roles, sort of like what boring white women in mid-management used to do with Sex and the City. I think you all know who our Gilfoyle is.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Books Read in 2020

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgA Luminous History of the Palm by Jessica SequeiraSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgDitch Water: Poems by Joseph DelgadoSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgMusic & Philosophy by Gabriel Marcel

My reading this past year was all over the place. I began 2020 participating in an in-person reading group called something along the lines of Books Your Parents Probably Read that ended with the pandemic. That's why you'll find Judith Krantz, Erich Segal, Mario Puzo, and Jacqueline Susann on this list. It was revelatory rediscovering how sexist, homophobic, and racist New York publishing was in the Sixties and Seventies. What a fucking garbage industry, no less to blame for shit American culture than Hollywood. Alas, times haven't really changed all that much.

The year ended with a couple of titles by Toni Morrison, whose voice is painfully missed. The few philosophy titles, also mostly garbage, were primarily for research on my phenomenology of music book that I'm still, and slowly, working on. Then even fewer literary works that I reviewed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Midnight in Drohobych

Originally, this drink, that I designed after translating Bruno Schulz's "Undula" and in honor of its release, which took place at midnight in Schulz's hometown in western Ukraine, was called the Republic of Dreams. But after the book launch, I decided Midnight in Drohobych was a better name and more of a specific reference to my work on Schulz. I've been teasing the recipe for months, often simply forgetting to post it as soon as I mention it. And it's been several weeks since I made one. But now's the time to share it with the world.

My 2020 project, thanks to a cocktail book I received last Christmas as well as to the circumstances of life in a pandemic, has been to educate myself on cocktails, liquor, and liqueurs. I've educated my palate, to say the least. I've taste-tested rums, vodkas, tequilas, and triple sec-style orange liqueur vs brandy-based orange liqueur. I've developed a taste for both sweet and dry vermouth, I've come to adore Lillet blanc, and for the first time in my life I actually like both frozen and fresh margaritas as well as other tequila-based drinks, with the right tequila, of course.

I know I hate the taste of anything with red dye, so Campari- and Aperol-based drinks are out. I know that I don't appreciate a Vesper because it's just too boozy; there's no nuance. I know Sidecars really are just too sweet for me. I now know when an inexpensive bottle is perfectly fine for a drink and when you really should splurge for something spectacular. I've tweaked the Tumbleweed recipe until its sugary sweetness has been adequately subdued by the fiery chili liqueur, which is what I appreciate more.

I've made my own simple syrups, both flavored and plain. I've made my own flavored rim salts. I regularly, as in monthly, make my own ginger syrup for Moscow Mules and Dark and Stormys. I've made my own coffee liqueur. I make my own grenadine. I will try to make my own orgeat in the next few days.

And I have most of the equipment required to run a public bar. I've learned to shake and stir like a professional. My garnish game is impressive. I can rim a glass better than your grandma. I can juice like a whiz and muddle like a motherfucker. I've even successfully converted a handful of drinks into frozen versions: the Bichon Frise and the Corpse Reviver No. 2, especially.

All this to say: I didn't just throw some shit together to make the Midnight in Drohobych.

Ingredients

  • 1 oz horilka, or Ukrainian or Polish vodka
  • ½ oz ginger syrup
  • ½ oz seltzer
  • ¼ oz cinnamon schnapps
  • ⅛ teaspoon absinthe

Technique

  • coat the sides of an old-fashioned/rocks/lowball glass with absinthe
  • fill glass halfway with ice (or with 1 large ice cube) and set in freezer to chill
  • add horilka (or vodka), ginger syrup and seltzer (or 1 oz of ginger beer), and schnapps to a mixing glass, fill mixing glass ¾s full with ice, stir for about 15 seconds
  • strain mixing glass contents into chilled old fashioned glass
  • pinch orange peel over drink and rub peel across the rim
  • garnish with an orange slice

With its cinnamon and ginger and hint of anise, this drink should definitely be enjoyed during the winter holidays. I like ginger beer a lot, so feel free to use less ginger syrup and more seltzer. For seltzer, I typically rely on Topo Chico, which is my favorite bubbly water. Absinthe is something you should, if you can, splurge on. I prefer Pernod, though you can replace it with any anise-based liqueur. Cinnamon schnapps--because Cinnamon Shops--can be replaced with just about any cinnamon-based liqueur; Tuaca, for example, has a cinnamon and vanilla liqueur that also works in this drink.

Sip responsibly!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Haunted Future

The future is haunted. It's something that I've known for a few years now. I first recognized this state of affairs while reading the English translation of Ivo Andrić's The Bridge on the Drina. I had had it on my shelves for a couple of years already before choosing it for a trip to western Germany.

The book was just so good that within the first hundred pages I felt certain that because of age and several other circumstances that it would be near impossible to read the novel a second time. It was the first time I remember being so piqued by the bittersweet closing in of time. I savored my time with the novel, knowing that it was probably not ever going to be repeated.

There actually really are few books I've read more than once. When you exclude the books I've taught or that played an important role in my research, the list becomes even scantier. Nobody cares, least of all me, now, that I read Being and Time, Martin Heidegger's analysis of human being as time, no less than three times in 2008. Yet it was the first, and only, time I read Andrić's book, which I can't even remember if it was before or after having read Being and Time, that attuned me more to the question of my own time and the shutting off of possibility. It was my reading of The Bridge on the Drina that showed me the abrupt retreat of a future that remains both unwritten and illegible.

Since then I've read other novels that have meant just as much to me if not more. And time's retreat grows ever sharper and more vivid. There are just so many hours in a day, a week, a life. And from the shit books I've read, even those I've read multiple times, I know I'll never get that time back. I can only shuffle toward the future surrounded by these ghosts from the past that are all the more ghostly for no longer showing themselves on my shelves.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Alive and Kicking

Berlin-based Rixdorf Editions continues to establish itself as the premier publisher of Wilhelminia in English translation. Although a streak of social conservatism marks the reign of German Emperor Wilhelm II, which lasted from 1890 until the end of World War I, an undercurrent of progressivism coupled with a razor-edged avant garde ensures that Rixdorf’s catalog somehow still manages to feel like it’s ahead of its time.

Rixdorf’s most recent addition is James J. Conway’s translation of Austrian critic Hermann Bahr’s Antisemitism. Originally published in 1894, this is the first time it has been translated into English. The book is a collection of Bahr’s interviews with contemporary politicians and intellectuals on the topic that was experiencing its pre-Nazi zenith. Despite the force of Bahr’s critical work (art and literary criticism, dramaturgy, and essays) and the pervasiveness of his creative work (journalism, interviews, plays, short stories, and novels) across a life that spanned seventy years, few of his writings have been translated into English. This publication begins to correct more than a century of neglect by the English-speaking world.

Conway, who impeccably captures the original’s literary qualities, says it was the text’s sense of place that first caught his attention and made him want to translate it. From the eloquence of its opening paragraph, the reader can immediately appreciate that sense of place that Bahr’s book offers:

Hohenzollernstrasse, wide, white and empty, leads to the long, long street that borders the Tiergarten. Your footsteps echo and there is not a human sound to be heard. Only on the corner is there a shrivelled, scrawny woman selling wilting yellow stalks as though they were actual flowers (12).
Conway provides plenty of notes detailing the histories and biographies behind even the simplest of passages. In this example, he informs us that Hohenzollernstrasse was renamed Hiroshimastrasse in 1990 and currently runs through Berlin’s embassy district. Such details establish necessary contexts and equip readers with meaningful frames of reference.

The book’s original German title (Der Antisemitismus: Ein internationales Interview) effectively combined and gave currency to the then novel terms antisemitism, internationalism, and the new journalistic genre of the interview. At the time, Bahr’s use of the interview format was groundbreaking, and if even only for its historical significance in the history of journalism, the translation provides a critical resource. But it is its contribution to the vast field of Holocaust studies, offering a historical context of Europe before the rise of Nazism, that proves to be most significant. Antisemitism records a period of history in which millennia-old religious hatred and bigotry were being weaponized by virulent strains of nationalism and racist pseudoscience, and it’s telling how many of those interviewed interpret and dismiss antisemitism as a mere economic problem under the pretexts of religion and nationalism.

Bahr’s conversation with leftwing parliamentarian August Bebel, who founded German’s Social Democrat movement, provides a good example among several others. Bebal argues:
The true adherents of antisemitism, the small traders and the small landowners, are not entirely wrong from their point of view. It is largely in the figure of the Jew that they encounter capital. In Hesse and other parts of south-western Germany, … mortgages are in the hands of the Jews and in every market the buyers of agricultural products are Jews. As a result, the negative effects of capitalism always appear in the guise of the Jew, and of course it is natural that these classes, who are not given to pondering the capitalist system at length, but rather abide by the forms and experiences in which it confronts them, succumb to antisemitism (25).

Today this kind of economic account seems almost quaint, and it is particularly alarming to see how banally impotent such a diagnosis was and still is in the face of genocidal rhetoric, of which there are also several examples throughout the book.

From French polemicist Henri Rochefort we can hear pre-echoes from the “all lives matter” [sic] faction: “I do not oppose equal rights for Jews, I favour equal rights for others” (159). And from Belgian legal scholar and proud race-baiter Edmond Picard we catch a glimpse of overt racism and xenophobia: “there is great danger in granting liberty to Jews, who have an entirely different psychology, a very different way of thinking and feeling to us, even if they adopt our dress and our customs” (175). The sheer breadth of perspectives is striking, while the ways those perspectives resonate with our current discourse is disquieting.

It is to the translator’s credit that the book maintains such a high degree of readability while still sounding like something written more than 125 years ago. Conway describes the stylistic challenges of translating Bahr’s book as “trying to capture the flavour of conversation between prominent figures of the era, many of them at the top of their rhetorical game, in a way that might have been expressed in the English of the time.” To facilitate the process, he consulted “a few late Victorian texts to get a sense for syntax, register, tone, idioms, especially in dialogue.” He masters the effect of the German while injecting the English with enough verve to keep it from bogging down into a syntactical morass. His stylistic choices become another critical buttress, much like the helpful notes, concise biographical sketches, and meticulous and accessible Afterword he provides, that serves the text well in its new life in English.

From rabid anti-George Soros conspiracies across broad swathes of the Hungarian and American populations to the near-global rise of Holocaust-denying rightwing extremism, antisemitism still manifests as one of the foremost assaults on civil liberties and on liberalism in general. For all of its supposed specificity, antisemitism always appears as but the vanguard of a more general, more savage ethnonationalism. Bahr’s Antisemitism remains the epitome and apex of the modern form of what he calls a “seductive poison” before polemics gave way to a policy of genocide. For this reason alone, his book will continue to be more than just a mere historical curiosity.