Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed, good for 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.
You should read this piece by friend-of-SRoB Rahawa Haile multiple times (as I just have), and you should also trace each link, each video, and each photo in Haile’s footsteps, looking with careful attention to see what she saw. Haile effectively documents the connection between Libya’s slave trade, immigration policies worldwide, and racism. Throughout she drags the reader’s focus back to small moments in her research where she connected with another human’s suffering. It’s deeply unsettling: we’re familiar with how journalists write about terrible things, and we know how to take it — how to digest their words safely. Haile doesn’t write to keep herself safe, or us.
In 2016, several articles spring up about slave auctions in Libya. A year later, video of an auction goes viral. Black men sold for $400. The president of the U.S. calls those who reported the story purveyors of "fake news"; a Libyan broadcaster latches onto those words to discredit the video. African leaders, European heads of state, and the United Nations feign ignorance, but they have known. And we, of the African diaspora, have done our best to tell these stories. What those in power can't name is the way the world has become too much at all times for them.
Brandon Taylor writes reflectively and eloquently about desire, especially navigating a kind of longing that looks quite different from what anyone else expects.
Sometimes, I say that I want to be with someone who I only have to see three or four times a week, and only to cook meals and go book shopping. I say that I want some flannel-wearing bearded man to descend from a rainy mountain in Washington State or Vermont, who smells like crushed ice and the sharp scent of pine sap, who will read Proust to me in French and drink from enamel mugs beside a firepit with me. That’s what I want. And what my friends say to me is that I want a best friend who dresses like Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and I say, yes, probably. But the look in their eyes is rueful pity, that this is not enough.
As accusations and resignations and firings related to sexual assault, sexual harrassment, and just plain jackass behavior continue to roll out, it's hard to pick a single essay to promote. Right now the internet is doing something the internet does really, really well (yes, those things exist): a multitude of smart, experienced, excellent thinkers and writers are analyzing, arguing, negotiating with themselves and with each other — prodding the rest of us to think harder and not be complacent in our own righteousness and sense of outrage.
This week, Ijeoma Oluo is brilliant and angry and honest, as always, in her response to her hero Al Franken's resignation. The New York Times's breakdown of how Harvey Weinstein used his power and influence to silence women he had irrevocably wronged and the men who might have spoken up for them is chilling. Lucinda Franks, also in the NYT, talks with honesty and weight about revising her perception of her past — it's the other side of the male complaint that "things were different then," a side that hasn't been fully addressed. Jess Zimmerman responds to Claire Dederer's piece on "the Art of Monstrous Men" with one of her own about how gatekeepers not only determine what's good art, but what good art is. Josephine Livingstone argued with Allison Benedikt about what women will have to give up — what cherished fantasies and self-conceptions — if we continue, as we should, to walk through the door that Weinstein's accusers opened for us all.
So it's really a matter of personal taste that Laurie Penny gets top billing this week — Laurie Penny, our resident master of articulating inarticulate-able rage.
We know the world doesn’t work the way most of us want it to. We watch a bunch of badly-fitted suits stuffed with self-satisfied swagger frogmarch our nations down the road to economic calamity and climate destruction, and we try to tell ourselves that we chose this, that we have some sort of control, that there is a thing called democracy that is working more or less as it was designed to. We want to believe that some of this is our fault, because if it isn’t, then maybe we can’t do anything to stop it. This is more or less the experience of being a citizen of a notionally liberal, notionally democratic country these days. It is depressing and scary. And if we ever actually speak about it honestly we can count on being dismissed as crazy or bullied into silence, so it’s easier to swallow our rage, to bear up and make the best of things and try not to start drinking before noon every day. Being as furious as we want feels like it might be fatal, so we try not to be too angry. Or we direct our anger elsewhere. Or we turn it inwards. Or we check out altogether.
Sound familiar? That’s about how most women experience sexuality.
It’s perfectly fair to wish the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature had gone to a writer who was nothing like Kazuo Ishiguro: a writer less expected, less established, in particular less powerful and privileged. Big prizes have muscle — muscle that could be used to shake the equilibrium of the literary mainstream, to break the vacuum seal and pull different voices into the conversation with a great whoosh of fresh air.
However, for readers who love Ishiguro and his quiet, terrifying sentences, who love Ishiguro and his quietly terrifying books — especially the ones that aren’t suited to a Merchant Ivory film — pfft on reasonable thinking: your man won. Here’s his Nobel Lecture, interesting for its insight into his process (cameo by Tom Waits!), his history, his hopes. I only wish Ishiguro had been, in addressing the imperatives for writers and readers right now, as quietly terrifying as our current political moment deserves.
So here I am, a man in my sixties, rubbing my eyes and trying to discern the outlines, out there in the mist, to this world I didn't suspect even existed until yesterday. Can I, a tired author, from an intellectually tired generation, now find the energy to look at this unfamiliar place? Do I have something left that might help to provide perspective, to bring emotional layers to the arguments, fights and wars that will come as societies struggle to adjust?
And now! Hummingbirds! Birds’ tongues are straight-up weird. If you pull on a flicker’s tongue, for example, the feathers on the top of their heads stand up. TRUE. (This is both difficult and rude — to the flicker — to test out in daily life, so please don’t.) Here’s another one: We thought we knew how hummingbird tongues work; turns out we were completely wrong. Also their flight style is insane, they can bend their beaks, and there’s absolutely no reason they should be able to thrive in the environments they prefer. Also science. This article by Ed Yong is pure joy.
Rico-Guevara handcrafted artificial flowers with flat glass sides, so he could film the birds’ flickering tongues with high-speed cameras. It took months to build the fake blooms, to perfect the lighting, and to train the birds to visit these strange objects. But eventually, he got what he wanted: perfectly focused footage of a hummingbird tongue, dipping into nectar. At 1,200 frames per second, “you can’t see what’s happening until you check frame by frame,” he says. But at that moment, “I knew that on my movie card was the answer. It was this amazing feeling. I had something that could potentially change what we knew, between my fingers.”