What I Read This Week - 5th May

More like "what I read over the last few weeks"... - On the Road (Maria Bustillos at Aeon)

Dropping into the Central Valley from the mountains surrounding the Tejon Pass is like breaking open a petit four, getting past the glossy, pretty exterior: inside is the cake. The urban surfaces of California are what we see in movies and on TV: slick, manufactured, shouting, cajoling, bamboozling, seducing, ready to sell you something. And then the confected beauty of the city gives way; now the land reaches far out to the sky. Your ears pop from the pressure change, and a sign advises you that the next gas station is 19 miles off.

- Dove "Real Beauty" Redux (Autumn Whitefield-Madrano at The New Inquiry)

The beauty industry has a stake in keeping women in the space between desperate unhappiness with our looks and bulletproof self-esteem. A consumer who simultaneously believes that she is beautiful and not-beautiful makes for a better consumer.

- The Impossible Decision (Joshua Rothman at The New Yorker)

But, talking to my students, I’m aware that there are too many unknowns. There are too many ways in which a person can be disappointed or fulfilled. It’s too unclear what happiness is. It’s too uncertain how the study of art, literature, and ideas fits into it all [...] And, finally, life is too variable, and subject to too many influences [...] I’ll give advice about grad school if you ask me to, and I’m happy to share my experiences. But these bigger mysteries make the grad-school decision harder. They take a career conundrum and elevate it into an existential quandary.

- The Amanda Palmer Problem: How Does a Cult Musician Become a Figure to Be Mocked? (Nitsuh Abebe at Vulture)

It’s damnably difficult to carve a private audience out of the open web, and the artist reaching out to fans is, ultimately, not necessarily any different from a commercial entity reaching out for sales, market share, and the kind of customer engagement that nets Applebee’s enthusiasts the occasional free appetizer coupon. It just depends on if you like Applebee’s or not.

- Waiting to Be (Sarah Menkedick at Vela)

It feels like waking up on Sunday morning and drinking your coffee and longing for something concrete even when you know that what you do will always operate in a liminal space of unknowing, unknowing if what seems like success will turn quickly into failure or vice versa, unknowing if what feels right to you is right, unknowing what you are searching for exactly, unknowing your next move, unknowing why you keep doing this when there are so many other things you could do.

- All Cozy Now (Christopher Kempf at The New Inquiry)

In the work of Hardt and Negri, the metropolis is the common body of the multitude. The city we live in, lives in us.

The same is true for the city we run in. What makes the marathon such a fundamental event in the life of a metropolis is that it takes place in the same public spaces we occupy every day, transfiguring those spaces into sites of generosity and of sudden, serendipitous friendship. Marathons don’t take place in exurban arenas or in locked-down, hyper-secure stadiums, but in the same streets on which we drive to work, the same parks in which we play, the same campuses where we attend classes together. This is the public sphere. This is what was attacked that day. And it was this— the love of the common— that, like thousands of runners trying to access a single, central server, became obstructed by an unanticipated glitch in the system.

- Rudeness as Resistance: Presence, Power, and Those Facebook Home Ads (Whitney Erin Boesel at Cyborgology)

What if we take the physical co-presence of all that Facebook content a little less metaphorically, such that the three characters are present (and joined by their friends) rather than “absent” when they take out their phones? It doesn’t fully hold up, of course, in part because much of what comes to life seems not to be the characters’ friends, but the document artifacts of the characters’ friends’ experiences. Still, consider each “like” a character taps out as turn-taking in an ongoing, asynchronous conversation that takes place both with and without words. Consider that, for each character, his or her friends really are present, even though they’re not physically co-present. Suddenly, these three scenes look a lot less like people getting sucked into demonic glowing rectangles that take them away from the real world, and look a lot more like people simply being rude as they fail to manage conversations with several people at once.

- The Privilege of Fucking Up (Sarah Nicole Prickett at Hazlitt)

A friend recently tried to console me by saying that I’ve failed at more things than most people have ever tried. Most people, I said, try more honestly. Most people do not owe so much to those who believe in them. That is another privilege we don’t discuss: The unrelenting luxury of high expectations, and with it, the chances to fail.