Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
Paisley Rekdal's beautiful, devastating comment on her poem "Philomela" deserves a willing commitment of time and attention. Fair warning: it's anchored by an open recounting of sexual assault, so read at your own emotional risk. Rekdal draws on centuries of poetry — Shakespeare, Ovid, Chaucer are just a start — to gloss her experience and her own lines, spiraling away from and back to the narrative. This is literature at the top of its game.
Perhaps the greatest desire a victim of violence has is to look, in memory, at that violence dispassionately. But remembering, the heart pounds, the body floods with adrenaline, ready to tear off into flight. For some, there is no smoothing chaos back into memory. Poetry, with its suggestion that time can be ordered through language, strains to constrain suffering. It suggests, but rarely achieves, the redress we desire. Language does not heal terror, and if it brings us closer to imagining the sufferer’s experience, this too does not necessarily make us feel greater compassion, but a desire for further sensation. If we cannot articulate pain beyond inspiring in the listener a need for revenge, we only speak of and to the body.
An impassioned piece by Scott Esposito, author of The Surrender, on why books matter — with a visceral example from his own life. As Esposito says, it’s easy for even the most dedicated readers, writers, and booksellers to feel overwhelmed by the daily grind and the “mind-numbing cascade of new books, book reviews, author interviews, profiles, lists, gossip, feuds, and so on.” His essay is a welcome antidote.
I know that against the awesome power of the President of the United States a single book doesn’t seem like much, against a hateful Klan rally a mere LGBTQ bookstore display seems puny. But I’m here to tell you that these things do make a difference for a lot of people. We must not doubt the importance of books. When we publish, or handsell, or review, or simply recommend to a friend, we must think very deeply about the kinds of messages we are putting into the world, as well as the sort of country we want our literary culture to represent. They are heard and seen by people all around us, and they are affecting lives.
Lana Lokteff runs a media company that’s the digital hub for the alt-right, and advocates for using the fear of rape as a conversion tactic to bring other women into the fold. Ayla Stewart is a successful YouTube personality who dresses her children (her “BASKET FULL OF ADORABLES”) as Pepe the Frog. Mary Grey is a podcaster and the author of the children’s book Walls and Fences (“Why do we build walls? We have walls for protection.”).
These are women walking a very thin line, stepping into positions of power within our nation’s ugliest political splinter group while advocating for their own subordination. Seyward Darby’s investigation of how the alt-right’s perhaps most dangerous members operate, and what they hope for, is a long, slow punch in the stomach.
For months, America has tried to understand what the movement wants. Perhaps the better question is, who gets to decide? In grappling with how to set priorities, the alt-right is bumping up against ideological contradictions, divergent opinions, and other schisms in its ardent, loosely formed ranks. Assertive women are exposing some of these fissures, which seem likely to grow as the movement vies for a modicum of political acceptance.
Lokteff, though, is sanguine. “Ten years from now, a lot of these alt-right concepts are going to be very mainstream in white people’s minds,” she told me. Then, as though a light bulb had clicked on in her brain, she continued: “Look at feminism. It started as a fringe movement. Now it’s mainstream, left and right.”
Benjamin Haas spent a week in Hong Kong’s ironically named Lucky House, where “the poorest people in the most expensive city in the world” find shelter in tiny plywood enclosures, so small they’re openly referred to as “coffin homes.” Haas got just a taste of life in twelve feet of personal space; as you read his essay, imagine the experience without an exit date. This photoessay on the same subject from June has blunter impact; the two pair well.
The plight of Hong Kong’s coffin dwellers is well known throughout the city. The tight living conditions have become so infamous, one hostel styled its dormitory as a sort of hip hybrid of coffin homes with modern details.
The hostel bills itself as “authentically HK”, which strikes me as insensitive, as no one who has spent a night in a coffin home would ever think there is anything trendy about how the poorest live.
But the hostel’s existence speaks to the complacency that has developed, with many Hong Kong residents convinced the city’s problems are unsolvable.