Monthly Archives: November 2014

Structures of violence

“Legal interpretations pronounce guilt, deny custody, demand payments, and destroy lives. These are violent acts. The grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson was a violent act. Like many acts of legal interpretation, it confronted two different narratives, two different claims of truth and justice, and chose one over the other. In affirming one narrative, it necessarily negated the other. And there were consequences to that act.

The violence of legal interpretation does not make the grand jury’s decision a moral failure. Nor does it make the grand jury in any way responsible for the physical violence that has ensued. Rather, the decision is one of many violent acts within the violent system of law that we inhabit.

The grand jury would not have escaped the ubiquity of law’s violence with a different decision. Its interpretive act would still have chosen between two narratives, and its act would still have had consequences. In fact, it’s possible that the decision not to indict was the correct interpretation of law and facts. […]

The law that structures our society kills people. Some of the people it kills are innocent. All of the people it kills are human.”

—John Inazu, “Law and Violence”



Fruity cocktail donnybrook

“As the plane descended toward JFK airport, I came to the conclusion that books like Pop Goes the Weasel are for people who don’t really like to read but love to be able to say they have read, much as fruity cocktails are for people who don’t really like to drink but love to get knee-walking drunk.

That’s less a knock on James Patterson than on the people who shell out $90 million a year for the stuff he and his stable of co-authors grind out. I’m guessing that if James Patterson drank some magic potion and suddenly started writing like, say, Cormac McCarthy, he would lose every last one of his millions of fans. This points to a larger, unspoken problem in American book publishing: There’s no shortage of good writers today, but there is an appalling shortage of good readers.”

—Bill Morris, “First Encounter of the Worst Kind: On Reading James Patterson at 32,000 Feet”

I enjoy a 1900-word hatefuck as much as the next snob, but it seems the height of elitist hypocrisy to acknowledge that you just bought a novel for the explicit purpose of slumming it, only then to lay the blame for the fact that you chose to read this crappy book on the fact that you only read it because a million other people read it, and it’s really their fault that this crappy book exists for you to slum it with.

It’s probably true that there’s a shortage of good readers, but good readers don’t hatefuck their reading material. Or their fellow readers. (And yes, I’m guilty of it, too. This post is, in its own way, a hate-quickie. Dei mihi ignoscant.) What makes this particular screed particularly exasperating is that Morris makes no attempt to educate the desire of his targets (should such fruity cocktails drinkers ever read a Bitburger beer connoisseur like him); it’s caustic hauteur for its own sake. So… okay. Sure. But 1900 words?

Morris pits a problem of scale against his problem of aesthetics. I’m not sure he makes his lucubrations worth his own while. The people who don’t love to read but love to be able to say they have read don’t sound terribly different from the guy who doesn’t love reading bad books but loves to say that he hated reading them.

Prospecting in the children’s library

“Truth to tell, I never felt I really belonged in the adult library, and I wonder now if that’s because the loss of human space figured the even more important loss of books as stories. I was not ready to give up stories. If I didn’t actually read all the children’s books, I read every one I checked out—from the first word to the last. Today the only books I still read that way are mysteries. I am a proper grown-up about all the books and journals I use in my work. Like a good librarian, I order and maintain them, and even replace those that disappear. They are shelved according to topic in alphabetical order. I can almost always find what I’m looking for. But the mysteries are shelved to replicate the children’s library, or at least my memory of it. I am not usually looking for any one in particular, and so I read what catches my eye. And when I want a particular book, I tear the shelves apart looking for it, happier than I care to admit wallowing in the stacks of books surrounding me.”

—Linda Brodkey, “Writing on the Bias” (1994)