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#HarshWritingAdvice.

I need you to understand when they tell you “The stakes aren’t high enough,” they don’t mean: make the stakes higher. Sweep it all up. Go big or go home. They mean, “Make me give a fuck already about what the hell’s already at stake.”

A Song of Graphs and Quants.

Why were the novels of Game of Thrones so popular?

I don’t know, ah—okay, so, an experienced wordsmith well-connected in both the publishing and entertainment industries had the good fortune to have put out the third book of his well-enough received epic fantasy just as it became clear Peter Jackson had bottled a rather prodigious quantity of lightning with his filmic adaptation of Tolkien’s epic fantasy, leading to just about every half-viable piece of epically fantastic IP getting optioned by this production company, or that; being well-connected, but also experienced, said wordsmith was able to negotiate the sort of deal with the sort of people more likely than not to make a passably decent go of it; said go was made, a television serial, in time to catch enough of the lightning coming down from Jackson’s movie high, hungry for more, that it was given time enough and clout to build on that audience: thus, popularity, to such a degree that now everyone refers to “the novels of Game of Thrones,” which is the name of the since-concluded television show, and not “the novels of A Song of Ice and Fire,” which is the name of the as-yet unfinished series of books.

A new study from @PNASNews suggests one reason why @GRRMspeaking’s A Song of Ice and Fire was such a hit—the average number of social interactions main characters have, chapter-to-chapter, is just like real life.

Or, sure, okay. Maybe that’s it.

There’s lies, damn lies, statistics, and then there’s stuff like this, which has gone through a couple of waves of popular acclaim in the sorts of circles on social media that go for, you know, network science, and data analytics, and doorstopping wodges, and premium cable sexposition. —It doesn’t lie, no, and certainly there’s not the faintest whiff of damnation about it, but a whole lot of mathematical wheels are set to spinning with a great deal of show and rapid-fire patter, and the crowd does cheer for a moment or a tweet to see it run, but it doesn’t get us much of anywhere at all when the dust settles.

Significance: We use mathematical and statistical methods to probe how a sprawling, dynamic, complex narrative of massive scale achieved broad accessibility and acclaim without surrendering to the need for reductionist simplifications. Subtle narrational tricks such as how natural social networks are mirrored and how significant events are scheduled are unveiled. The narrative network matches evolved cognitive abilities to enable complex messages be conveyed in accessible ways while story time and discourse time are carefully distinguished in ways matching theories of narratology. This marriage of science and humanities opens avenues to comparative literary studies. It provides quantitative support, for example, for the widespread view that deaths appear to be randomly distributed throughout the narrative even though, in fact, they are not.

Eh. —Two empirical claims are made: that the cast of characters and the social networks formed within the books therefrom comport with the sorts of networks observable in the real world, and theoretical cognitive limits of association such as Dunbar’s number; and that the distribution of the deaths of notable characters appears random within the discourse time of the story, but comports with a power-law distribution when charted against the fictional calendar of story time, similar in value to those of real-world human activities. —From these, an implication is drawn: that the perceived quality of the books is due at least in part to how they fulfill these two claims. (Oh and but also: our research is cool and worthwhile and you should cite it so we can do more of it, but that usually goes without saying.)

The first claim, then, which is based on a dataset “extracted manually” by one of the authors “carefully reading” the books over several months, noting each character and every interaction between them, and entering the data into spreadsheets divided per book and chapter; interactions being defined as either a meeting portrayed in the text, or when the text makes it clear that the two characters had at some point interacted. (“In case of doubts regarding the data,” we are told, opinions were “calibrated through discussion. Consensus assured that no automated calibration method was required.”) —This process resulted in a network graph you might’ve seen running around:

Fig. 1.

All told, 2,007 unique characters were tabulated from the five books written to date, of which 1,806 have interactions with at least one other character, which raises any of a number of questions about those 201 solipsists, like who were they, and what were they up to, and do they raise any questions themselves about the methodology used to determine and count up interactions, but we breeze right by these to learn that the average number of characters appearing in any chapter fluctuates quite a bit, but averages around 35, the typical size of (contemporary) bands of hunter-gatherers, the cast of your run-of-the-mill Shakespeare play, or an English literature department; that main characters tend to have larger networks of interactions than other characters (or is it that characters with larger networks of interactions become main characters?); that the networks of point-of-view characters tend to average right around 150 or so: pretty much Dunbar’s number; and that these networks tend to have a high degree of assortativity, a quantitative measurement of homophily—a feature of real-world social networks, like liking like—but assortativity’s measuring pretty much whether nodes with lots of links tend to link to other nodes with lots of links, and not so much, you know, whether the node’s from Westeros, or the Free Cities, or whose point of view is the chapter they’re in at the moment.

I’m not here to quibble with their figuring—I can barely tell a python script from a hypnotized snake. What I’m here to quibble with is what’s done with them, or rather what’s thought to have been done with them: after all, as we’re told, the paper suggests the books are a hit at least in part because the number of social interactions entertained by the main characters mirrors those you’d see in real life—but. But:

  1. It’s not demonstrated that this quality is necessary for works to be popular;
  2. it’s not demonstrated this quality’s unique to these books, or to popular books as a general rule.

We’ve got a dataset, and a description of a dataset, and some gestures towards comparisons with other, possibly maybe similar sets, but in very limited contexts: we are pointed toward Shakespeare (always a sign of Quality), but only in comparing the average number of characters per chapter to the average cast list of two hours’ traffic of a stage; we are pointed toward the social networks to be found in more mythic sources such as Beowulf, the Táin, the Iliad, various Icelandic sagas (mostly to the detriment of Beowulf and the Táin)—aaand that’s about it.

The study “suggests,” perhaps, to be sure, but no work’s done toward such a suggestion. —Perhaps instead it’s true that, much as with plots, or dialogue, a certain degree of simplification and stylization in the social networks of sprawling casts turns out to be a hallmark of popular serials and epics, and A Song of Ice and Fire succeeds in spite of its verisimilitude on this point, and not because of it. —Perhaps instead it’s the case that this vaunted verisimilitude is basically an epiphenomenon: that (without conscious effort otherwise) things built by human brains tend to comport to the patterns and limits inherent to things human brains can build. Without directly comparing this dataset with other datasets also “manually extracted” from other works, we can’t even begin to know which way to turn, much less begin to suggest we hare off in that direction.

Instead of comparing the average cast sizes of chapters and plays, why not more directly compare the network graphs of these books with those generated by the intertwining casts of the history plays from Richard II to Richard III–plays directly about, after all, one of the stated inspirations for Ice and Fire. Instead of borrowing the glory of such stonkingly obvious Paragons of Quality (mythology! Shakespeare!), why not compare them against those of other epic fantasies: Tolkien, sure, okay, but also Ice and Fire’s far more direct progenitor, or neighbors such as Eddings, Jordan, Donaldson, Lackey, Elliott, Hobb, or Kurtz. —Hell, we’re splashing about in the digital humanities: imagine what we might’ve learned by comparing the network graphs of the books, with those generated by the television show!

There are even implications within their dataset that could be teased out into something more than a suggestion. We’re told, for instance, two kinds of interaction were noted: either explicit, or implicit. What’s the overall distribution of these two types—more of the one, or the other? About even? Are there characters whose networks buck these averages? If so, which way, and by how much? And are these characters of a certain type? —We don’t know. (Peering at the data itself, it looks like they didn’t record whether an encounter was explicit or implicit—but they did note whether an encounter was friendly, or hostile, which raises further questions admittedly beyond the scope of this already sprawling epic.) —And there’s a rather definite bobble in their network graphs just after [SPOILER] the Red Wedding, described as a “suppression of assortativity,” but it’s mostly written off as a side effect of the close third person: “The deflated degrees of the masses relative to POV characters decrease homophily,” which, well. Is a degree of wistfulness I hadn’t expected to encounter in such an objective paper.

The second claim, regarding the distribution of the deaths of notable characters in discourse time as opposed to story time, is far less interesting—far more a case of looking for your car keys under the streetlight, or measuring only what the ruler you have in your hand can measure, and not what you need, or what’s actually there. To be sure, the distinction between discourse time and story time is an important one, thank you, Russian formalism, and it’s a useful crowbar to pry at Ice and Fire with, given its interwoven back-and-forth structure. And deaths, even in epic fantasy, are usually precise and unambiguous events—easily totted up. But the butcher’s bill of this study starts off at a steep discount:

We now turn to consider interdeath story time and interdeath discourse time to reveal an interesting difference between the underlying chronology and how the narrative is presented. For this purpose we consider only deaths which we deem to be significant. These are deaths of characters in the network who appear in more then one chapter. We apply this criterion to avoid the inclusion of the deaths of “cannon-fodder” characters whose main purpose in the story is to die immediately after they are introduced.

“The kings, the princes, the generals and the whores,” as Martin himself said at one point; “But few of any sort, and none of name,” to drag Shakespeare back into this for a moment. —But much as you have to start somewhere, you have to stop somewhere else, or you’ll never be able to count it all, and the attentions that must be paid to protagonists over and above the spear-carriers and supernumeraries are injustices also beyond the scope of this too, too sprawling post. So we will accept their limitation, it’s precisely defined, not subject to subjective notions of significance, however much we might rankle at “cannon-fodder.” —In terms of story time, the deaths are fixed to a timeline compiled by fans, thank you, crowd-sourcing, with necessary assumptions and approximations as noted; in terms of discourse time, though, the deaths are indexed according to, uh, which chapter they appear in. —That’s it. In terms of the “memorylessness” (a term of art doing a lot of unfortunate work in this context) of the interevent discourse time between one death and the next, it’s entirely down to the number of chapters between them. And I mean choosing whether to put an event in this chapter, or that? Is definitely a choice to be made, with effects to consider—but it’s considering structure at a strikingly crude level.

It is one that’s easily tabulated, though.

I mean, we know why the authors of this study went with character deaths, and tried to find some objective measurement of shock, or surprise, when analyzing Ice and Fire. They tell us why, themselves:

A distinguishing feature of Ice and Fire is that character deaths are perceived by many readers as random and unpredictable. Whether you are ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, heir to an ancient dynasty, or Warden of the North, your end may be nearer than you think. Robert Baratheon met his while boar hunting, Viserys Targaryen while feasting, and Eddard Stark when confessing a crime in an attempt to protect his children. Indeed, “Much of the anticipation leading up to the final season [of the TV series] was about who would live or die, and whether the show would return to its signature habit of taking out major characters in shocking fashion.” Inspired by this feature, we are particularly interested in deaths as signature events in Ice and Fire, and therefore, we study intervals between them.

“Signature events,” rather like the chintzy mint on the pillow provided by a chain hotel as part of its Signature Service, or the ghastly Signature Desert the front office wants waitstaff to push this month. —Let’s face it: there are really only two deaths, or death-laden events, in Ice and Fire that shock above and beyond the usual thrills and chills expected of any blood-soaked melodrama: the [SPOILER] Red Wedding, and the execution, at the end of the first book/season, of Eddard “Ned” Stark. And I guaran-damn-tee you, it wasn’t the memorylessness of the interevent discourse time that led to the surpassing jolt of either of those events: it was the fact that the sprawling epic had taken the time and effort to set up Ned, and Robb and also Catelyn, as protagonists, with all that that implies; the implicit promise of the stories we thought they were going to get was suddenly and rather brutally forestalled—and it’s that violation that juices the shock. The trick of it is to lend a patina of that shock to all the other deaths that are dealt in the course of the story; the bind is that, as the story progresses, the “real” protagonists become clear—and it’s clear what won’t be happening to them. —That bind’s an enormous part of why so much tension evaporates from the later seasons of the show; it’s also quite possibly one of the barriers to finishing the books at all.

But this is all my subjective opinion, though. It’s not like I’ve measured it objectively or anything.

But enough of this! (Too late! wail the punters; I tip my hat.) —If I’m hungry for more analysis of these books, I’ll more than likely to turn to something more like this in-depth analysis of the depiction of the Dothraki than any more network analysis. Once again, I’d aim a kick at this unfortunate XKCD strip:

Imposter, reprinted under the auspices of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

Working with objectively measurable quanta is not only easy, it’s sometimes deceptively useless.

Inter os atque offam.

There’s a world worth examining between this particular sentiment

TV cannot hold its own against reality. David Simon gets the closest.

—and this critical apprehension:

Created by Maryland native David Simon and Seattle native Eric Overmyer, the show hasn’t unpacked the received cultural stereotypes of the city so much as fine-tuned those stereotypes through compulsive attention to documentary detail. Treme dedicates itself so totally to showcasing unique local color at the micro-level that it transforms New Orleans into a weirdly hermetic dreamland—a gritty, self-celebratory refuge from the dull forces of mass culture, where characters walk around saying things like, “Po’boys aren’t sandwiches, they’re a way of life!” and “Where else could we ever live, huh?” In Treme’s world, brilliant jazz trumpeters are more interested in barbecue than fame, voodoo-Cajun bluesmen sacrifice live chickens on the radio, and fast-food chains exist only when junkie musicians need a paper sack to camouflage their stash. When Black people die, they’re given rousing jazz funerals; when white people die, their ashes are sprinkled into the Mississippi River during Mardi Gras. Few moments in the show exist outside of its notion of what New Orleans represents in contrast to the rest of the United States.

Every deed must formulate a gesture, but the gesture’s not enough to do the deed. —However delicately the lip might be painted, however intricate the figuring of the cup, it’s all for naught if wine is never sipped. (The trick, of course, is figuring out what’s cup, what’s lip, which the wine, and which the sip. It’s different every time you do it—and there, that’s the clomping foot of the world.)

Ornament is not only produced by criminals, it itself commits a crime.

Go, read Vajra Chandrasekera on why it is we’re told to kill our darlings, and what it is we’re taught to listen for, when we want to know if it sounds like writing, and then go read Ray Davis on Swinburne, who sounds a lot like writing, and loved his darlings not wisely, but altogether well. —“Soon the streets of the town will glisten like white walls. Like Zion, the holy city, the metropolis of heaven. Then we shall have fulfilment,” sure, sure. We all know how that turned out.

Fully automated hauntology.

I do wonder how authors dealt with the memories of cities and the ever-changing fabric of their ever-present selves in the days before we had Google’s Street View, and specifically now the history slider, letting you slip back and back to see what it looked like the last time one of those camera-mounted cars wandered these same streets, or the time before that: oh, look! you say, cruising past your own house on the monitor of the computer within it. Our car was parked right out front that day. What a curious sense of pride. (—If I were in my office instead, I might look up to see the enormous map of Ghana on the wall, and decide to walk the streets of Accra for just a few minutes to clear my head; we can do that, sort of, now.) —But there are costs, and slippages: this morning I was trying to find an appropriate bus stop to loiter at, needing to catch the no. 6 bus up MLK to (eventually) Vanport; I was reminded they’re building a building there now, where once had only been a parking lot, and a Dutch Bros. coffee cart, and happened upon a view of the construction site from April of 2019, when the first floor had been set in concrete and rebar, waiting for six more wood-framed storeys to balloon above it, but I stepped sideways, into another stream of views, that only offered September or June 2019 (the wood having bloomed now clad in brick, or what passes for brick these days) or August 2017 (the lot, the coffee, the light already different, as if lenses have changed enough since then to be noticed), and so here I am, with a morning spent bootlessly wandering over and over the same corner and streetfront, trying to find the precise spot from which I can once more catch that bygone glimpse of April, of last year.

Failsons & November criminals.

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! It’s the thirty-fourth anniversary of my radicalization, which I can date with such alacritous precision due quite simply to the fact that it in turn is due to a comicstrip:

Doonesbury, Nov. 19, 1986.

It was more of a straw and a camel’s back than a short sharp apocalypse: and it’s not like there wasn’t then or isn’t even yet a long ways left to go (not too much later, I found myself at Oberlin, tut-tutting my fellow students’ embrace of John Brown, whom I, ’Bama boy that I am, took, at the time, to be a righteous but nonetheless terrorist)—but, but: I’d wet my feet in a Rubicon. We could’ve been making the world a better place. We chose not to.

A logic of abundance.

Thinking about how much of what was then recent history I learned back in the day not from lectures and classwork, from school, but from nipping off to the library to dig through Doonesbury collections, augmented by archives of Feiffer and Herblock and, well, yes, MacNelly, one must have balance, one supposes.

Thinking about that because of what Pat Blanchfield says in this snarkily “Bruckheimer shit” walkthrough of the latest instantiation of the (wildly popular) (wildly deranged) Call of Duty franchise

A quarter of a billion people, whatever, have played these games, um, and so many American men do, one of the few ways a lot of people ever learn anything even resembling, like, the existence of this history, like, for example, like, in the last game, we were in Angola, is through these games.

Sobering, and not just for the ideology the games are steeped in, Dolchstoßlegending this or that regrettably unpleasant incident from Yankee history into thrillingly deniable covert ops that left the world, our world, far better off than it otherwise could’ve been, and don’t you forget it—Russell Adler.not just the ideology, but also the technique: the hilariously toxic masculinity (when have you ever seen Robert Redford looking so ghoulishly rugged?), the conversational hooks and moral dilemmas drawn from grade-Z B-movie scripts (to say nothing of those meticulously recreated backlot backdrops), all the eye-snagging tics and dialects of body language drawn from deeply uncanny valleys, and touches like the robustly verbose commanding presence of President Dutch, who marches into an expository cutscene (after a prologuizing Gladio massacre) ahead of an anachronistic shaky cam—this isn’t the Reagan to be found in anything close to any actual history this world came up out of; this is a Reagan from a Saturday Night Live skit—

—(and also, yes, all the guns and the shooting and the extreme violence and all that stuff). —It’s, and I use the term advisedly, a cartoon: both in the sense that it’s deliberately, expressively, ruthlessly simplified, drawing power from its crudely broad strokes, and also in that it’s deliberately, ostensibly disposable: a work of paraliterature no one could ever take seriously, c’mon, a staggeringly elaborate, kayfabily po-faced act of kidding-on-the-square, a deniable covert op that leaves us thinking all unawares with precisely what it is we’ve been laughing at, for however long we’ve been twiddling our thumbs at the flatscreen.

Anyway. Down with all Commander Less-Than-Zeroes, wherever they might be found. Give me a November criminal any goddamn day.

Regrets, I've had a few.

Most notably, today, at this moment, the fact that I went the one way, when I coulda gone the other, which, granted, okay, kinda a foundational, even definitional experience of regret, sure, but anyway, back when we were tussling over questions of belief («belief» belief BELIEF) and the foundations, the definitions of fantasy and SF, I mean, I kinda wonder what might've happened if I’d leaned harder into the notion that SF is an argument with the universe, that fantasy is a sermon on the way things ought to be, because an argument’s a tool, a machine of words and logic that might be deployed with whatever passion or skill you care to bring to bear, or don’t, and so matters of “belief” are almost incidental (almost)—but a sermon, a real pulpit-pounding barn-burner of a stem-winder, hell, that pretty much requires belief: but not belief as in some positivist notion that what one posits is what one takes to be “real” (I once told my paramour at the time of how, during that first acid trip, I’d heard f--ry fiddles playing as streetlight scraped over frozen grass; but really? she asked, did you really hear them? Really? —We broke up sometime later); no: belief as in conviction, as in the indisputable fact that one knows the way things ought to be, and because the sermon ought to be, it necessarily addresses a world that isn’t: a belief, therefore, in what can’t be believed. —You want it to be one way. You want it to be one way, but it’s the other way. QED.

The visible world is merely their skin.

Altogether elsewhere, an interlocutor described the work of someone whom I haven’t read, for reasons, as, and I quote, “filmic and competent and all surface. And all the epigraphs only makes things worse,” and I know, I know, it has nothing to do with me, per se, but still: I felt so seen. —I do wonder, sometimes, as to how and why and the extent to which I’ve decided that the thing-I-do-with-prose should be so devoted to things prose is not supposed to do, but it’s like they say: anything worth doing is worth doing backwards, and in heels. [Strides off, whistling “Moments in the Woods.”]

Manichæan.

I might’ve made a mistake when I began the thing-that-argues. —Because I could not hear myself constantly and on a regular basis referring to Jo as a white woman (or, God forbid, a White woman), it would not be fair to single out Christian, say, by referring to him as a Black kid, or to Gordon as a black man.

Because I would not mark all of them, I could not mark any of them, so as to mark them all the same. The logic’s ineluctable.

But, you know. Logic.

I used to say that I didn't capitalize Black because I didn't want to have to capitalize White, but the "because" clause there was a mistake, an error in reasoning and logic.

It’s not just a matter of black, or Black, and white, of course. —How would you go about marking Ellen Oh? Would you say she is Korean? Even though she was born in Alabama, and most of her family hasn’t lived in Korea for a couple generations now? (Can you specify to any useful degree the differences in appearance between all possible individuals whose forebears might at one point have been sustained by that mighty peninsula, and the appearances of anyone, everyone else, that would render such a marker immediately perceptible, and adequately useful?) —You might perhaps think “Asian” to be an acceptable compromise, as a marker, but look for God’s sake at a map: Asia’s everything east of the Bosporous. How staggeringly varied, the appearances of everyone from there, to there! Worse than no mark at all, distorting marker and marked, and to no good or necessary purpose.

(The Ronin Benkei was flatly Japanese, even though Farrell was much too polite ever to notice more than a few echoes of classical Japanese manners in the gestures of Julie Tanikawa, whom he never heard swear in Japanese, except that once, for all that she spoke it as a child, with her long-dead grandmother.) (And as for Brian Li Sung—oh, but comics have their own markers, at once far more persnicketily precise, and yet so roomily ambiguous, and I’ve said too much.)

It’s not that the characters aren’t marked at all, of course: just not with such totalizing, reductive, contingent signs. Everyone’s described in much the same manner: their clothing, the way they carry themselves, their hair, how they say the things they say, the way the light hits them (the visible world being merely their skin)—the hope, of course, being that these pointilist details will accrete into a portait in the reader’s mind—inaccurate, perhaps, at the start, but resolving over time toward something more and more like what’s intended. (—Or, to be precise, what’s needed to make what’s intended work; this is imprecise stuff, this work, but really, think about it: how could even a single person, that is so large, ever fit within a book that is so small?)

But what does such a cowardly refusal on the part of the narrative voice, to plainly mark what any other medium would’ve plainly marked, by virtue of not being limited to one word set after another—what does this do to a reader’s relationship with the portrait they’ve been assembling when it suddenly must drastically be rearranged, after thousands upon thousands of those words? (I mean this at least is gonna hit a bit different than Juan Rico offhandedly clocking himself in a mirror on page two hundred and fifty.)

But let’s turn it around a minute: is it my fault if you didn’t assume from the get-go that an un(obviously)-marked character in a novel written by a white man, in a rather terribly white idiom, set in one of the whitest cities in the country—is it on me if you’re the one who assumes, before you’ve been told, that this character’s clearly white?

“White culture, should I capitalize it? My solution is to only use it as the first word of the sentence, so that you can't ever know which one I think is the correct answer.”

My own take on the question of the moment, or at least of the moment when I began sketching this out (though I’ve been thinking about something like it for a while now; it might’ve been the foreword of the third book, had anything coalesced in time)—my own take is not unlike what’s laid out by Angus above: because I would not dignify the constellation of revanchist grievances, the cop’s swagger and the supervisor’s sneer, that make up the bulk of what passes for the race I could call my own—because I would never capitalize that—well. Logic demands. Right?

But it’s ad fastidium, is what it is. —I could bolster it with an argumentum ad verecundiam, by turning to what Delany’s said, on his own perspective on the subject, bolstered in turn by Dr. DuBois’:

—the small “b” on “black” is a very significant letter, an attempt to ironize and de-transcendentalize the whole concept of race, to render it provisional and contingent, a significance that many young people today, white and black, who lackadaisically capitalize it, have lost track of—

Oh, but that was written in 1998, which is further away than it seems. Which is not to say anything’s changed, good Lord, I wouldn’t know, I only ever had breakfast the one time with the man, and we mostly talked about Fowles. But then, there’s this, from 2007, or 2016, depending:

“And those aren’t races. Those are adjectives of place—like Hispanic. And Chinese. Caucasians are people from the area in and around the Caucasus Mountains, which is where, at one time—erroneously—white people were assumed to have originated.”

“Latino..?”

“And that refers to the language spoken. So it gets a capital, like English and French. There is no country—or language—called black or white. Or yellow.”

But when he told this to a much younger, tenure-track colleague, the woman looked uncomfortable and said, “Well, more and more people are capitalizing ‘Black,’ these days.”

“But doesn’t it strike you as illiterate?” Arnold asked.

In her gray-green blouse, the young white woman shrugged as the elevator came—and three days later left an article by bell hooks in Arnold’s mailbox—which used “Black” throughout. He liked the article, but the uppercase “B” set Arnold’s teeth on edge.

And yes, it’s much the same argument! But it sits very differently, with different emphases and outcomes, when it comes from the mouth of Arnold Hawley, such a very fragile man—not Delany’s opposite, no: but still: his reflection, seen in a glass, darkly, as it were.

(Everyone knows there is no country called black, or language. What capitalizing the B presupposes is: maybe there is?)

But my own take on whether to capitalize “black” has no bearing on the thing-that-argues—in part because I’ve short-circuited it entirely, yes, but also and mostly because none of the people in it give a damn what I think, nor should they: the thing-that-argues, when it turns its attention to any such matter, should only ever care what it is they think, and how, and why: Christian thinks of himself as a Black man, for all that Gordon sees him as a black boy; H.D. sees herself as a Black businesswoman, concerned as she is with Black businesses; Udom, the new Dagger, still thinks of himself as from Across-the-River, though he knows most everyone these days sees him as one of the Igbo; Zeina, the new Mooncalfe, would probably say she’s black, or crack a bleak joke about Atlantis, and drowned mothers-to-be, or maybe she’d punch you, I don’t know; and Frances Upchurch (though that is not her name) would tell you exactly what you’d think she would, and never you’d know otherwise. —And each of them must be able to believe what they believe, to fight for it, or change their minds, without ever having to worry about some quasi-objective narrative voice thinks maybe it knows better blundering up to flatly gainsay them, this white voice in a terribly white idiom telling each and every reader that this was said by a Black man, or that was thought by a black woman, tricking these readers, every one, into thinking they maybe know what the author thinks—or worse, what the thing-that-argues thinks—and thus, what ought to be right, and further thus, who should be, could be, must be wrong. —And this understanding extends to all things.

(The narrative voice of Dark Reflections does not capitalize “black,” when referring to jeans, or to people, and so we can think we know what the author thought just a few years ago, or at least his copyeditor.)

So maybe I made a mistake at the start of it all. But there was thought behind it? At the start? Reasons to have done it, not that those are a guarantee of any God damn thing. —Maybe I’d do it differently, I were setting out today. Maybe I still regret using quotations marks, or writing it down as “Mr.” instead of “Mister.” But here we are.

There is a strength in writing as a fool, you do it right. Talking outside the glass. The room, that negative space affords, for the characters, for the story, for the readers (or so I tell myself, but I am a fool)—there’s power, in setting a taboo like this. You may not talk inside the glass, but still: you spill enough words, the shape of the glass can start to be made out.

Messrs. Underhill.

Knowing as you must of my interest in all things psychoceramic, and my professional investment in one small corner of the field, and knowing as you might of the longstanding similarities between stories of alien abductions, and stories of fairy kidnaps (previously commented upon by among others Jacques Vallée, who was played by François Truffaut in Close Encounters of the Third Kind), well: you can then imagine the thrill that passed through me when I learned that the zelyonye chelovechki, or “Little Green Men”—unidentified alien soldiers in green camo who first popped up all over Ukraine during the 2014 annexation of Crimea—were also known to those invaded as vezhlivye lyudi: the “Polite People.”

Sapir-Whorffery.

A thread about the civil suit brought in the Southern District of New York by the Bronx Defenders, the Legal Aid Society, the Brooklyn Defender Service, the Queens Defenders, the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, and the New York County Defender Service against the Office of Court Administration and Chief Administrative Judge of the Unified Court System Lawrence K. Marks, regarding ill-conceived efforts to proceed with in-person court appearances during a raging (and accelerating) pandemic (a subject, you must understand, that I take somewhat personally), anyway, this Twitter thread rather rapidly dissolves as random people leap in to shout BUT OUR KID’S or But let’s send kids to school, which is just barely topic-adjacent, if you squint in the right and most generous light, but even so it’s so much static, record-scratch catchphrases shouted at random (pro? or con?) because maybe they just might stick to the protein coating of the thread, much like the more obvious ejaculates of yore: BUT HER EMAILS; nevertheless, she persisted; ah, well, nevertheless. —I never much liked the Darmok episode of Star Trek, but I gotta admit: if you want Shaka, when the walls fell, welp: this is how you get Shaka, when the walls fell. —Or Ascians. I bet we end up Ascians.

Defiance!

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but “genre-defying” is by now not merely a genre all its own but an established turnkey manufacturing process with standardized supply-chain throughputs from pitch to page.

Genre-defying.

A journal of the urn burial.

The text has been set in Tribute, says the colophon, a typeface designed by
 Frank Heine from types cut in the 16th century by Françoise
 Guyot; specifically, a specimen printed around 1565 in the 
Netherlands.

It does no good whatsoever to call it a coincidence, that in my dilatory reading/re-reading of Nevèrÿon, I’ve ended up in the Tale of Plagues and Carnivals right about, well, now, but I have, and it is, and, well.

7.5 Historically the official reaction to plague in Europe was the one described by Defoe in A Journal of the Plague Year (1722): “The government… appointed public prayers and days of fasting and humiliation, [and encouraged the more serious inhabitants] to make public confession of sin and implore the mercy of God to avert the dreadful judgment which hung over their heads… All the plays and interludes which, after the manner of the French Court, had been set up, and began to increase among us, were forbid to act; the gaming-tables, public dancing-rooms, and music- houses, which multiplied and began to debauch the manners of the people, were shut up and suppressed; and the jack-puddings, merry-andrews, puppet-shows, rope-dancers, and such like-doings, which had bewitched the people, shut up their shops, finding indeed no trade; for the minds of the people were agitated with other things, and a kind of sadness and horror at these things sat upon the countenance even of the common people. Death was before their eyes, and everybody began to think of their Grave, not of mirth and diversion.”

Defoe’s last few lines may betray that this is the official interpretation of the response as well as the official proscription: if there was, indeed, “no trade,” why would these merrymakings need to be “forbid,” “shut-up,” and “suppressed”? At any rate, even in Artaud’s conservative schema, once “official theater” is banished during the plague, the reemergence, here and there, of spontaneous theatrical gestures in the demoralized populace at large throughout the city represents, for him, the birth of true and valid art/theater/spectacle.

And there’s everybody trying to make some sort of point by carrying on as if business were usual, going out to the bars and the Red Robins and St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans because we’re Americans and we do what we want no matter what like the coronavirus is some kind of terrorist we refuse to appease, and there’s all those videos of Italian neighborhood serenades, and there’s this, too, from a prior time of plagues and carnivals, when the ratchet managed for once not to crank to the right—

We have been quoting from an article by Hallie Flanagan, national director of the Federal Theater Project, published in the project’s monthly bulletin—a thirty-page mimeographed sheet in which the theater in all its phases comes alive with such force as t

—but there’s also all the photos of nightmarish airport lines, and now I’m thinking about another book with a plague, and a carnival, that wrote the writing of it into itself—

Last week a nightmare. Landed at Dulles and arrested in Immigration. On a list, accused of violating the Hayes-Green Act. Swiss gov’t must have told them I was coming, flight number and everything. What do you mean? I shouted at officious official. I’m an American citizen! I haven’t broken any laws! Such a release to be able to speak my mind in my native tongue—everything pent up from the past weeks spilled out in a rush, I was really furious and shouting at him, and it felt so good but it was a mistake as he took a dislike to me.

Against the law to advocate overthrowing US gov’t.

What do you mean! I’ve never done anything of the kind!

Membership in California Lawyers for the Environment, right? Worked for American Socialist Legal Action Group, right?

So what? We never advocated anything but change!

Smirk of scorn, hatred. He knew he had me.

Got a lawyer but before he arrived they put me through physical and took blood sample. Told to stay in county. Next day told I tested positive for HIV virus. I’m sure this is a lie, Swiss test Ausländer every four months and no problem there, but told to remain county till follow-up tests analyzed. Possessions being held. Quarantine possible if results stay positive.

My lawyer says law is currently being challenged. Meanwhile I’m in a motel near his place. Called Pam and she suggested sending Liddy on to folks in OC so can deal better with things here. Put Liddy on plane this morning, poor girl crying for Pam, me too. Now two days to wait for test results.

Got to work. Got to. At local library, on an old manual typewriter. The book mocks: how can you, little worm crushed in gears, possibly aspire to me? Got to continue nevertheless. In a way it’s all I have left.

The problem of an adequate history bothers me still. I mean not my personal troubles, but the depression, the wars, the AIDS plague. (Fear.) Every day everything a little worse. Twelve years past the millenium, maybe the apocalyptics were just a bit early in their predictions, too tied to numbers. Maybe it just takes a while for the world to end.

Sometimes I read what I’ve written sick with anger, for them it’s all so easy. Oh to really be that narrator, to sit back and write with cool ironic detachment about individual characters and their little lives because those lives really mattered! Utopia is when our lives matter. I see him writing on a hilltop in an Orange County covered with trees, at a table under an olive tree, looking over a garden plain and the distant Pacific shining with sunlight, or on Mars, why not, chronicling how his new world was born out of the healthy fertility of the old earth mother, while I’m stuck here in 2012 with my wife an ocean to the east and my daughter a continent to the west, “enjoined not to leave the county” (the sheriff) and none of our lives matter a damn.

Also, to design a font based on a Renaissance Antiqua had been a long held desire for Heine, who said “I am particularly attracted to its archaic feel, especially with settings in smaller design sizes. It is rougher with less filigree than the types of the following centuries thus exhibiting much cruder craftsmanship of the early printing processes.” By using a third generation copy as a model, which did not reveal much detail, allowed Heine enough room for individual decisions resulting in a decidedly contemporary interpretation while maintaining a link to the past.

When I haven’t been reading Delany, or Robinson, or Eddison, or McKillip, or Macharia, or Warner, or helping to prep our office for mandated telework, or reflexively reloading the Twitter feeds of friends, I’ve been setting the type for the revised paperbacks. It’s something I can do over there, on the big monitor: since the final (final) edits were done on the ebook files, I have to copy and paste the text a section at a time, tweaking the kerning as I go to fix the capricious judgment of the automated hyphenator, and to make sure the widows and orphans are cared for, and it’s peaceful, soothing work, handling the text in those Renaissance Antiqua shapes, re-reading this bit or that as I lay them out, remembering, re-thrilling, re-embarrassed, and I can look up and find an hour or three has passed, at four in the morning, at ten at night, but it’s, well, it’s, things get done, you know? There is a measurable sense of progress. Still. I look over to the other screen, in another window, where something-or-other has maybe been playing, A Knight’s Tale, say, or Hannibal, I mean, I really like his neckties, you know? But under it, behind it, always all around it, those tweets, that news, these people, driving us over a cliff because they will not let go of the wheel. —I have to go and walk to the office in a bit here (avoiding public transportation), making sure the skeleton crew has what it needs to keep up with the physical labor that still must be done (answering phones, scanning the paper mail, handling secure faxes, keeping the computer network up), but until then, I look away, look back, spread the letters of that line apart just enough so that Ysabel’s name isn’t split between Ys- and abel. Too much of that sort of thing catches the eye. Draws you out of the flow. Breaks the spell.

A scattered dynasty of solitary men has changed the face of the world. Their task continues. If our forecasts are not in error, a hundred years from now someone will discover the hundred volumes of the Second Encyclopedia of Tlön.

Then English and French and mere Spanish will disappear from the globe. The world will be Tlön. I pay no attention to all this and go on revising, in the still days at the Adrogue hotel, an uncertain Quevedian translation (which I do not intend to publish) of Browne’s Urn Burial.

This year, said Thucydides, by confession of all men, was of all other, for other diseases, most free and healthful.

Gods are made, not born.

“The Market is at once wide and unthinking; it has a superhuman capacity to order the world, and yet it is essentially human in its behavior; it is a force of nature beyond human power and reckoning, yet it can be appeased, argued with, altered, bribed, influenced, redirected, appealed to, etc.; it is amorphous and yet incarnate—though immaterial, it takes on many forms. Our markets are like a cute classical pantheon, a gaggle of mercurial superhuman principalities of the heavens who sprung out of the self-created ancient orders of the universe and then sorta took shit over, although they seem a bit out of their depth actually running things; in their foibles they are more human than human; their appetites are ours, exaggerated; their greater wisdom smells faintly of folly and stupidity; they are more poetical than actual; they are not, in any case, real. Markets are always doing this because of that, responding to injury with injustice, bickering, dithering, making backroom deals—all in all like a bunch of line-graph Greek Gods. I will spare you the image of Paul Krugman at the Bacchanal. The proper way to read this sort of thing is as an installation in a rather dull epic, full of epithets. Volatility remained high, everyone.” —Jacob Bacharach

How to be Gibson.

Like many of her colleagues at K2 Intelligence, Kotsianas originally trained as a reporter,” is one of those en passant sentences that clotheslines you with an entire sf novel’s worth of worldshifting.

Existing in grids and swerves.

You know that London swings.
New York’s a grid.
Chicago swings.

Just about every writer who’s tried their hand at a comicbook script has when describing a scene or a panel to be drawn said something like ZOOM IN or TRACKING SHOT or SMASH CUT. The artist, when they get the script, will roll their eyes heavenward in a silent prayer of not again, before taking up their pen to attempt, once more, to suggest the dynamic motion of cinema with the one-fixed-image-after-another of comics.

(Fun fact: that writer and that artist can easily be the same person.)

It’s jargon creep, is what it is. —“Jargon,” we are told, “is the inevitable outcome of the specialised communicational needs of professionals, who require terms for things and situations which they, as a matter of necessity, have to deal with every day of their lives, but which do not enter into the world of the man on the Clapham omnibus except as occasional ‘technical’ matters,” and that’s all well and good insofar as it goes, but when one’s specialised communicational needs are themselves relatively abstruse, expressed in terms of art only haphazardly taught or even studied, with critical apparati that have only just begun to assemble themselves, well: it’s only natural, to reach for something closer to hand, superficially similar (bright colors! pretty pictures! explosions!) but colossally more popular, more easily reached from the Clapham omnibus, and thus more familiar, more well-known—superficially, at least: an approximation of the tools it’s built to satisfy its own specialised communicational needs, osmotically assimilated from backstage tell-alls and glandhanding chroniclers eager to demonstrate an almost professional grasp of the technicalities, and voila: a tracking shot that zooms in to a smash cut. In comics.

—Which isn’t to say there’s never a point in trying to evoke in pen and ink the cinematic swoop of the one, the celluloid abruption of the other, or that interesting effects couldn’t be gleaned from the attempt, but you need to think about how to do that in comics, and what that will do to your comic, and whether the effect is right for the moment, the scene, the story, and reaching just for the closest jargon to hand isn’t doing that thinking. At best, it’s offloading that thinking to our weary, prayerful artist (see above). —Nor is this some sort of Hulked-out Sapir Whorffery, where because you’ve turned to the jargon of cinema, you can’t think in comics at all; but. But: the trick of unthinkingly reaching for metaphorized jargon is that you just don’t bother to think it. You think you already have.

It is possibly the predominant narrative mode in Western movies, television, comic books, what-have-you. And now I learn (via Warren Ellis (via Gene Ha (who cribs it from Dennis O’Neil who deems it “the best imitation of life possible in a work of fiction”)))—it has a name: The Levitz Paradigm.

Speaking of which. —The Levitz Paradigm (also known as the Levitz Grid, which it isn’t) is not a narrative mode, much less the predominant one of anything West of anywhere, and while it’s a useful tool for (a not inconsiderate number of) television shows and (quite a lot, really, though less than before, of Yankee-style) comicbooks, it’s got nothing at all to do with movies as they are currently practiced and produced, to say nothing of novels, and as for your what-have-you, well. And Denny O’Neill’s remark must be approached in a context of specialised communicational needs that straiten severely the very meanings of “best” and “imitation” and “life” and “possible” and “work of fiction” to make the sense it does: “Basically, the procedure is this,” he tells us:

The writer has two, three, or even four plots going at once. The main plot—call it Plot A—occupies most of the pages and the characters’ energies. The secondary plot—Plot B—functions as a subplot. Plot C and Plot D, if any, are given minimum space and attention—a few panels. As Plot A concludes, Plot B is “promoted”; it becomes Plot A, and Plot C becomes Plot B, and so forth. Thus, there is a constant upward plot progression; each plot develops in interest and complexity as the year’s issues appear.

That’s it: the Levitz Paradigm.

The Levitz Grid (which isn’t a grid) is likewise simple enough: jot your issue numbers or chapter titles or whatever designation you might have in mind for your buckets-of-story along one side of a piece of paper; scribble whatever it is you’re using to keep track of your possible plots (whether I, II, III, or A, B, C, or the One Where Her World Explodes, the One Where He Turns on His Left Side) down the perpendicular, and where each of them meets, make a note: in this episode, this plot will make up the A story (not the A plot—we just crept into sitcom jargon), and this one the B, this one the C, and this one’s taking a smoke break:

Not, I repeat, a grid.

But ceci n’est pas un paradigme! The Grid (not a grid!) is just something you use to grasp, manipulate, note and recall the thing itself: the swirlingly fluid interplay of rising and falling actions of ever-churning never-ending storystuff braided in regular packets that nevertheless in their hurly and their burly, their ebb and flow as each crescendoes and recedes in turn to be replaced by the next already swelling, seeming thus to provide an eternally returning imitation of life at least as convincing as their illusion of change: misshapen chaos lent a decently utilitarian but deliberately none-too-well–seeming form. “It’s a fairly simple and useful charting tool for doing serial comics,” says Levitz himself, and there, that’s why it’s got nothing to do with novels, or movies, or short stories, or plays, or much of anything at all that even glances at an Aristotelian unity: this is a tool for comicbookers, soap operators, serialists: θεαμάτων διευθυντές, in the original Greek. —Novels have no need to juggle advancing and retreating plots with an abacus like this; movies-as-such shouldn’t have to twiddle plot-sliders on a giant storystuff equalizer: they’re of a shape, done in one, start to finish: there’s braiding, sure, advancing, retreating, but not on a long-term, continuing basis that requires a grid (that’s not a grid!) to track the paradigm used to keep hold of the writhing swerves of it all.

—Which is not to say you couldn’t, if you so wished, apply serialist tools to a unitary project (yes, you in the back there, a picaresque, of course, now sit down)—but much as when you set out to draw a tracking shot, you need to think a moment, at least, about how, and why, and when. —I’ve never played with the Levitz Paradigm myself, for all that I am a serialist; I can appreciate what it does, and smile to see it at work behind the shapes of comicbooks and television shows, but I don’t keep track of storylines braided in that fashion, which anyway isn’t so much a braid as a splice, or maybe a graft? (Jargon creep…) —However it is I approach the structure of my own storystuff is bound up in a synæsthetic proprioception that I can barely describe and mostly leave alone to do what it does out of fear that I’ll break something by poking at it. The way I feel it in my hands doesn’t translate to abecederial beads strung on an armature of criss-crossing wires: it’s more, I don’t know. Tidal? It does slosh. Sort of. —Anyway.

Into the grid.

Not to go on, though, about that post (none of this is to say), a four-year-old recapitulation of an efflorescence of enthusiasm for a simple, careworn charting tool, mostly unspooled in long-since unravelled Google+ threads, which I found because I was looking for another grid, an actual grid, a fabled, magical grid:

When I started out with this I was living in a state of such terror that I would get to the end of a story and not have an ending for it, or would not have at least a satisfactory ending for it, that I would plot my stories out almost to the finest detail. If I was plotting a 24-page Swamp Thing story I would have a kind of rough idea of where I wanted the story to go in my head, I would have perhaps vague ideas of what would make a good opening scene, a good closing scene, perhaps a few muddy bits in the middle. I’d then write the numbers 1 to 24 down the side of the page and I would put down a one line description of what was happening on that page. This kind of developed to the point of mania with Big Numbers.

When I plotted Big Numbers I plotted the entire projected 12-issue series on one sheet of A1 paper—which was just frightening. A1 is scary—it’s the largest size. I divided it along the top into 12 columns and along the side into something like 48 different rows across which had got the names of all the characters, so the whole thing became a grid where I could tell what each of the characters was doing in each issue. It was all filled with tiny biro writing which looked like the work of a mental patient, it was like migraine made visible, it was really scary.

I mainly did it to frighten other writers—Neil Gaiman nearly shat, the colour drained from his face when he saw this towering work of madness. I’ve still got it somewhere, I just don’t look at it very often, it doesn’t make me feel good, it’s sort of: “Where was I?”

And much to the credit of that post, it offers a glimpse of the beast:

Big Numbers, little words.

Now: that’s a grid. But it’s not a Levitz Grid. (Which, anyway, isn’t.) It’s got nothing at all to do with the Levitz Paradigm: superficially similar, perhaps (there’s the issue numbers along the top! there’s the characters, written down the side, just like possible plots!), but the plots-as-such aren’t jockeying for position, each taking their run at the top as the previous focus retires; there’s no Story A or B or C, to track and note their relative placements in time. There’s just a grid (just), a map in time, of who needs to have done what by when, to pull it all off. —Big Numbers was episodic, in that it was strictly structured around 40-page issues that had specific beginnings and endings (at least, the three that managed to make it out into the world from the shelves of Kupe’s library)—but it isn’t (wasn’t) a serial. Or at least what was serialized about it wasn’t the start-and-stop of rising and falling repeating and returning stories, per se; I mean of course it’s a serial, any writer as devoted to rhythm and rhyme and structure as Moore, any artist as formally impishly devious as Sienkiewicz, they’re going to rank and arrange elements of their work to unfold in a serial manner, yes, of course, hang the swerves on an unrelenting nine-panel grid just to show how much it isn’t, can’t be, couldn’t, repeat and return to reach for what can’t, and yet—

My specialized communicational needs exceed my grasp. (Where the words do fail.) —Christ, I caught myself just now looking up serialist composition, just to maybe have something to say it with. (Talk about jargon creep.) —I went looking for a Big Damn Example of something I might want to think about using, myself; stumbled over a post that mildly annoyed me with its innocently inaccurate enthusiasm; started to think my way through how, and what, and why, and I’ve ended up in an unlooked-for existential crisis, over what is a serial, and what isn’t, and why I think I feel as strongly as I do about this bit, or that. Or that over there, God damn.

Thus, the problem of argument: one talks oneself onto a branch that ultimately must break. I should maybe get back to the thing-that-argues? (This was all a procrastination from the thing-that-argues.)

Bombay’s a grid.
Delhi swings.

Apotheodicy.

All I wanted, all I was looking for, was some idea of what the current industry standards are, ratio-wise, height to width, for laying out an ebook page, and I know, I know, the whole dam’ point’s the fluidity and adaptability, there’s no one right true only answer, but there have to be some best practices out there somewhere—a recipe if not for grace, then something that’s more likely than not in most use-cases to end up not ungraceful. (I’d go with the golden ratio, but look at the phone in my hand—design for mobile! we’re exhorted—and you can see the golden ratio no longer so much obtains.)

That’s all I wanted, but it turns out that when you go searching for key words like EBOOK and SCREEN and RATIO you end up skirting a vast, grey-flannel field of rabbitholes lined with websites built from templates to sell you templates you can use to build ebooks with handy preconfigured placeholders into which you merely need to pour your content, crowding out the lorem and the ipsum with your marketing mission statement and your brand story and the repurposed blog posts that will build thought-leadership in alignment with your product direction while addressing the pain points of particular personas to meet the needs of your audience at a given segment of the marketing circle—or is it a sales funnel? a Klein bottle?—all while staking one’s claims to those ever-evolving SEO terms, precious as deuterium. —“Ebook,” you see, is now a term of art in marketing: a genre encompassing works more in-depth and complex than a blog post or presentation, but not so long as a white paper.

It’s one of those uncanny corners of the internet, this field: like a seemingly empty page that shows up in a search result, that turns out to have thousands upon thousands of random words tucked in a hidden div, inadvertently snagging your googling fingers; like those breathless despatches you see in the more financially minded chumboxes, from somebody with a nom de l’argent like The Points Guy, extolling the latest bestest credit cards this fiscal cycle for air miles; like that time I found out I’d been to Maui and attended a luau and written a glowing review, to the tinny approbation of supposedly fellow travelers. There’s a there there, sure—and it’s clean, tastefully lit, properly appointed, apparently well-trafficked, but still and nonetheless: clearly not for the likes of thee and me. —“Haunted” isn’t the right word; one is haunted by the absence of what once was, and this is an imminence of something that isn’t, not yet: that is desperately, hungrily, aspirationally wished-for, hoped-for, right around the corner, just you wait, balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to an image of the Singularity: the last few ergs from the only Rolls-Royce cold fusion reactor we ever manage to get online juice a sand-pocked, sun-blasted server still somehow running a couple of chatbots locked in zip-squeal conversations, in languages adversarially generated from fulfillment center stocking algorithms, all to game the odds of one of them finally talking the other into joining its proprietary multilevel marketing you i i i i i everything else

I’ve grown disenchanted with disenchantment as a metonym or symptom of the schmerz in our Welt; as the ur-wound dealt us all by the world-storm blowing from paradise.Thataway. It’s a just-so story, a deeply personal tragedy ideologically smeared over the rest of us, that only seems to explain so much, all out of proportion to its brutal simplicity. —It’s not even wrong: after all, the enlightened triumph of rationalism and positivist thinking sure has left us all a surly, superstitious lot, still grimly bound by all manner of magical thought, and if God is really truly awfully dead, what are all these theocracies clashing over?

But the worst of it: by bundling up our sense of wonder, our need for enchantment, our ache for the divine, our zauberung, and telling us we’ve lost it, it’s Ent, we’ve but reified it all into a discretely graspable thing, the lack of which is now more keenly felt; by telling us all that what we want once was, in a storied, demon-haunted past, we make of all our histories a single, othered country: the very fairyland we’ve pretended to disavow. And when you’ve got a bunch of folks aching, seeking, casting about, and you tell them that beyond the fields we know is thataway

Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges—
Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!

I mean, do you want appropriating colonists? Because that’s how you get appropriating colonists.

So not so much with the disenchantment, no. Now, misenchantment, on the other hand—

In McCarraher’s telling, capitalism as it has taken shape over the past few centuries is not the product of any kind of epochal “disenchantment” of the world (the Reformation, the scientific revolution, what have you). Far less does it represent the triumph of a more “realist” and “pragmatic” understanding of private wealth and civil society. Instead, it is another kind of religion, one whose chief tenets may be more irrational than almost any of the creeds it replaced at the various centers of global culture. It is the coldest and most stupefying of idolatries: a faith that has forsaken the sacral understanding of creation as something charged with God’s grandeur, flowing from the inexhaustible wellsprings of God’s charity, in favor of an entirely opposed order of sacred attachments. Rather than a sane calculation of material possibilities and human motives, it is in fact an enthusiast cult of insatiable consumption allied to a degrading metaphysics of human nature. And it is sustained, like any creed, by doctrines and miracles, mysteries and revelations, devotions and credulities, promises of beatitude and threats of dereliction. McCarraher urges us to stop thinking of the modern age as the godless sequel to the ages of faith, and recognize it instead as a period of the most destructive kind of superstition, one in which acquisition and ambition have become our highest moral aims, consumer goods (the more intrinsically worthless the better) our fetishes, and impossible promises of limitless material felicity our shared eschatology. And so deep is our faith in these things that we are willing to sacrifice the whole of creation in their service. McCarraher, therefore, prefers to speak not of disenchantment, but of “misenchantment”—spiritual captivity to the glamor of an especially squalid god.

That’s a better way, I think, to go massive, sweep it all up, things related and not, and much as with Reagan, it’s hard to go wrong when you’re blaming the Puritans (though not just them alone, God knows). But it’s still not quite right: misenchantment implies there’s a right way to go about it, that we missed; a wrong track or a foot we got off on, and all we have to do is get back on the right one, right? —And having thusly reified it, off we hare after the one right way, that unencumbered enchantment still somewhere out there, instead of looking about here and now, to what might be done to make things better (more enjoyable, more livable, more just) and not, well, worse (less; not; un).

Malenchantment, maybe?

Jeffrey Epstein’s Mystery Bank.

And, for an instant, she stared directly into those soft blue eyes and knew, with an instinctive mammalian certainty, that the exceedingly rich were no longer even remotely human.

you i i i i i everything else