February 4th, 2024
“The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”

Highly recommend this essay.

November 30th, 2023
‘Henry Kissinger, War Criminal Beloved by America’s Ruling Class, Finally Dies’

Headline, Rolling Stone. Excerpts from the article:

Henry Kissinger died on Wednesday at his home in Connecticut, his consulting firm said in a statement. The notorious war criminal was 100.

Measuring purely by confirmed killsthe worst mass murderer ever executed by the United States was the white-supremacist terrorist Timothy McVeigh…

McVeigh, who in his own psychotic way thought he was saving America, never remotely killed on the scale of Kissinger, the most revered American grand strategist of the second half of the 20th century. 

The Yale University historian Greg Grandin, author of the biography Kissinger’s Shadow, estimates that Kissinger’s actions from 1969 through 1976, a period of eight brief years when Kissinger made Richard Nixon’s and then Gerald Ford’s foreign policy as national security adviser and secretary of state, meant the end of between three and four million people. That includes “crimes of commission,” he explained, as in Cambodia and Chile, and omission, like greenlighting Indonesia’s bloodshed in East Timor; Pakistan’s bloodshed in Bangladesh; and the inauguration of an American tradition of using and then abandoning the Kurds. 

Not once in the half-century that followed Kissinger’s departure from power did the millions the United States killed matter for his reputation, except to confirm a ruthlessness that pundits occasionally find thrilling. 

American elites recoiled in disgust when Iranians in great numbers took to the streets to honor one of their monsters, Qassem Soleimani, after a U.S. drone strike executed the Iranian external security chief in January 2020. Soleimani, whom the United States declared to be a terrorist and killed as such, killed far more people than Timothy McVeigh. But even if we attribute to him all the deaths in the Syrian Civil War, never in Soleimani’s wildest dreams could he kill as many people as Henry Kissinger. Nor did Soleimani get to date Jill St. John, who played Bond girl Tiffany Case in Diamonds Are Forever.


More, from David Klion in the New Republic.

 In his obsessive mastery of his own public image; in his eagerness to share a stage with anyone who seemed to matter; in his zealous personal ambition, his total lack of shame about the human cost of that ambition, and above all how richly his ambition and shamelessness were rewarded, right up to the moment of his death, Kissinger was, as Greg Grandin has argued, the quintessential American…

The point of associating oneself with Kissinger wasn’t to express specific support for, say, wiretapping American journalists or disappearing Argentine dissidents—it was to present oneself as above caring either way about such things. 

July 12th, 2023
Milan Kundera: 1929 -2023


But why would a novelist want to deprive himself of the right to express his philosophy overtly and assertively in his novel?


Because he has none! People often talk about Chekhov’s philosophy, or Kafka’s, or Musil’s. But just try to find a coherent philosophy in their writings! Even when they express their ideas in their notebooks, the ideas amount to intellectual exercises, playing with paradoxes, or improvisations rather than to assertions of a philosophy. And philosophers who write novels are nothing but pseudonovelists who use the form of the novel in order to illustrate their ideas. Neither Voltaire nor Camus ever discovered “that which the novel alone can discover.” …

[M]y intention is to give [philosophical] reflections a playful, ironic, provocative, experimental, or questioning tone. All of part six of The Unbearable Lightness of Being (“The Grand March”) is an essay on kitsch which expounds one main thesis: kitsch is the absolute denial of the existence of shit. This meditation on kitsch is of vital importance to me. It is based on a great deal of thought, experience, study, and even passion. Yet the tone is never serious; it is provocative. This essay is unthinkable outside of the novel, it is a purely novelistic meditation…

My lifetime ambition has been to unite the utmost seriousness of question with the utmost lightness of form. Nor is this purely an artistic ambition. The combination of a frivolous form and a serious subject immediately unmasks the truth about our dramas (those that occur in our beds as well as those that we play out on the great stage of History) and their awful insignificance. We experience the unbearable lightness of being.

May 20th, 2023
Martin Amis has died.

Like his buddy Hitch he was charismatic, sexy, unruly, hilarious. Also intensely and sensitively literary. Here are all my Martin Amis posts.


Parul Sehgal on her love of Amis:

Amis’s saw-toothed sentences seized me by the scruff and carried me off for good. The insolence of the novels, the high silliness, the shame, the jokes: “After a while, marriage is a sibling relationship — marked by occasional, and rather regrettable, episodes of incest.”

April 10th, 2023
‘What a way to go out.’

Scathing Online Schoolmarm doffs her Watkins Glen souvenir sun hat to Halliea Milner, famous author of famous Kenneth Kenne Joseph Pluhar, Jr’s obit.

Most of the many comments on Pluhar’s Legacy page are from people – from around the world! – who never knew him (one of the comments is this post’s headline) but were so stirred by Milner’s obit that they had to say something.

And if you click that link up there you’ll see why. The substance of almost anyone’s life, rendered with lucid accuracy, would occasion some species of laughter (‘Anyone with brains understands that he is destined to lead a stupid life because there is no other kind,’ says a character in Philip Roth’s Sabbath’s Theater. ‘I’m fairly positive that I’ll regret my stupidity the most in my final moment of awareness,’ said Alec Guinness to James Grissom in an interview.), but his daughter’s rendering of redneck Kenne’s sojourn is so piercingly brilliant you’ll be peeing yourself. People adore this obit because there’s something exuberantly liberating about encountering not evasion and platitude and Hello Jesus but head-on honesty about the actual life an actual person lived.

Ol’ Kenne, an irredeemable rascal, finds himself rendered an irredeemable rascal by the truth-teller he raised.

SOS doubts he’s shocked/offended. Wherever his gin-soaked, weed-smoked spirit wafts, it’s laughing too.

October 6th, 2022
Nobelist Annie Ernaux talks about her famous memoir…

… in this Shakespeare and Company Bookshop appearance.

The news.

“[The] world is made to be pounced on and enjoyed, and … there is absolutely no reason at all to hold back.”

Writes Ernaux. And I … naux what she means, and I pounce on what she says, and I agree etc etc. ETC.

Live out loud!

And yet … even as I delight in images of revolutionary Iranian girls and women hurling hijabs heavenward or incinerating them, and demanding freedom in a revolution they lead… I fear for them.

March 22nd, 2022
Nabokov on Farmer Putin

She thought … of the incalculable amount of tenderness contained in the world; of the fate of this tenderness, which is either crushed, or wasted, or transformed into madness; of neglected children humming to themselves in unswept corners; of beautiful weeds that cannot hide from the farmer and helplessly have to watch the shadow of his simian stoop leave mangled flowers in its wake, as the monstrous darkness approaches.

March 11th, 2022
‘Everything they wanted to perceive as decadent and weak has proven strong and brave; everything they wanted to represent as fearsome and powerful has revealed itself as brutal and stupid.’

A beautiful sentence, by David Frum, about the right-wing attack on America/worship of Putin.

January 17th, 2022
Wow. UD’s beloved Janis Ian is still at it.

Put her in high heels, so she can’t run
Carve out between her legs so she can’t come
Get her a dress, for easy access
Tell everybody that she’s just like all the rest

How long? How long, how long, how long
How long? How long, how long, how long

Tell me I’m ugly so I’ll buy your crap
Tell me you want me ’cause I don’t talk back
Tell me I carry the original sin
Tell me I’m holy when I cover up my skin


Pushing all the buttons there, eh? We’ve got FGM; we’ve got burqas. “[S]ome radio stations have told her they won’t play it,” and good for her! Who gets to be seventy and still get banned? “I will not disappear,” she sings.

Her voice is still remarkably strong, and her guitar work has held up well.

For UD, the Ian song that’s held up beautifully over decades and decades is Jesse, which I love to sing and play at the piano.

‘All the blues and the greens

Have been recently cleaned

And are seemingly new

Hey Jess me and you’

The song has a drifty sad pace which really grows in dramatic focus and intensity; more than that, the poetry of the thing is remarkable: All of its details are banal and domestic – the bed, the hearth, the light on the stairs, the floors and the boards, the pictures, the table – but they heighten until we feel the pathos of her material as well as emotional isolation (she still sets the table at noon).

And then we have at the end this amazing image: ‘We’ll swallow the light on the stairs.” Come back, and we’ll become the light. We’ll become all the light we need.

December 23rd, 2021
Remembering Joan Didion, who has died.

I wrote about her on this blog a few years ago. Here’s what I said.


I’ve been reading Joan Didion’s Blue Nights – her chronicle of her daughter’s death and her own aging – on this flight from Phoenix to Baltimore. It’s kept me occupied. We land in fifteen minutes.

I like Didion’s mournful chant, her brief, much-repeated litanies. She plays the “blue night” idea (we want to think of our lives as long summer nights that never darken) beautifully through the text. Her constant rounding back to painful motifs and memories cuts a deeper and deeper circle of implication, the prose grinding down until we’re surrounded by very dark canyon walls.

It’s poetic prose, stating and restating its symbols, making them a dirge. She’s troubled, in the text, by her technique of indirection, but she needn’t be. Solemn poetic dance is the best way to get at this stuff – in particular, the ridiculous tendency to believe in the permanence of life and health and happiness, “this refusal even to engage in such contemplation, this failure to confront the certainties of aging, illness, and death.”

Returning, as I am now, from seven blissful days in Sedona, Arizona, I could almost assume this ridiculous tendency myself. The sweet spot: Didion’s eye travels over that long moment when her life achieved the sweet spot: Love, vocation, money, friends, glamor, fame, seaside Malibu in bloom… It’s rare for anyone that things turn out that well, and that they turn out that well for any length of time. Didion had this; and inevitably her book dwells on that delight, wonders if the recollection of the delight can sustain her.

She doesn’t think it can.

UD will cop to sharing with her a failure, so far, to confront certain certainties. She does, though, Didion-style, circle around them a lot.

The darkening to black of the blue night. It’s happening just outside UD‘s window right now. Maybe it’s not so much about not confronting it as not knowing how to play it (play it as it lays) – this bizarre concurrence of sweet and dark.

I know what I do. What I do is – like Didion – keep moving, keep feeling gratitude and love and excitement. The red rocks shine in the short blue night and I passionately respond.


The sun cannot change, writes James Merrill to his just-born nephew in Little Fanfare for Felix Magowan:

It’s earth, it’s time,
Whose child you now are, quietly
Blotting him out. In the blue stare you raise
To your mother and father already the miniature,
Merciful and lifelong eclipse,
Felix, has taken place;
The black pupil rimmed with rays
Contracted to its task –
That of revealing by obscuring
The sunlike friend behind it.
Unseen by you, may he shine back always
From what you see, from others.

October 6th, 2021
Laurie Anderson…

… is UD‘s prediction for this year’s Nobel in literature. I like her because she’s on NO ONE’s list, so I get to claim her. I like her because they gave it to Bob Dylan so they should give it to a woman who’s kind of like Dylan. I like her because she’s truly avant-garde, a hard thing to be today. Israel already figured all of this out, having recently given her its version of the Nobel, the Wolf Prize.

Not literary enough? Is the 2021 Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University literary enough for you?

April 12th, 2021
UD has long been a fan of the non-fiction writer Drew Jubera.

She celebrated his unbeatable account of life at no-‘count junior colleges for sports fuck-ups back in 2015, and Jubera was kind enough to write her thanking her for the post. He’s a truly terrific writer (for details, go to the link in the previous sentence.)

And maybe it’s because Jubera combines fine prose with a special gift for writing about male fuckups that Hunter Biden, recovering wreck of the hour, chose him to ghostwrite his memoir. You will recall that I (and other sharp-eyed types) noticed how remarkably good the writing was in Hunter Biden’s book – which was produced “in collaboration with” Jubera, and who knows who did what, but if you want a guaranteed excellent read, you go where Hunter went, to Jubera. And not that UD will read the memoir in its entirety, but she’s read enough excerpts to know it’s a superior example of its type.

April 6th, 2021
Paul Theroux on the Truth of Art.

This post continues the theme in this one, where a propagandist is quoted glorying in the fact that (as she tells it) many young women today don’t read our greatest modern fiction writers because they’re sexist pigs. UD doesn’t think we should pause too long in that woman’s world; on the other hand, it’s good to remind ourselves about art vs. propaganda — a distinction you’d think would be insanely easy to grasp, but maybe not.

Here’s Paul Theroux, reviewing his life as he turns eighty.

In my youth, Henry Miller’s novels “Tropic of Cancer” and “Tropic of Capricorn” were banned; so were D. H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” William S. Burroughs’s “Naked Lunch,” and Edmund Wilson’s “Memoirs of Hecate County.” “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” was a problem at the time of its publication, in 1885, and, by the way, it is still a problem. Because some books were viewed as vicious or vulgar, writers were suspect, potential corrupters, and consequently they were, to my mind, figures of transformative power… I was at a lunch, as an invited guest, a few years ago in a university setting when I mentioned that “Heart of Darkness” was a favorite book of mine. A young Nigerian student across the table, an aspiring writer, howled, “I hate this book!” The teachers equivocated in discomfort, but one of them spoke up on behalf of the student, agreeing that it was a flawed book and that Conrad’s ethics were questionable. Another teacher there told me that she was teaching “Moby-Dick” as a travel book. I found myself staring wildly at my plate of quiche…

You either care about transformative subversion in the name of human truths… you either care about beautiful, packed-with-life prose … or you don’t. Don’t rely on your literature professor to get you there; as Theroux notes, you might get a propagandist. And anyway, you’re supposed to have cottoned to the scandal of great fiction a good many years before you get to college.

Many of the palm trees, their fat roots undercut, have fallen into the sea, and the beach is now crowded, and stonier, in places bleak and gravelly—the visible effects of time passing and a reminder that I am doomed, too.

Theroux gazes at the Hawaiian beach where he’s writing and… and for goodness sake — don’t just read the words! He’s a stylist, okay, like all great writers! Propagandists don’t give a shit about style, but as a thoughtful human being who cares about art, you should. You should notice the poetry of this sentence, the many hard alliterative Ts (trees, fat, roots, undercut, stonier, time) balanced by the calm ah softness of palm and fallen — and how poets love words like palm and fallen because their brevity and their long ah-A is so lyrical placid and wise… UD thinks the most beautiful English word is: All. Listen to her beloved Purcell do a riff on all. Art is everything; don’t piss your life away failing to take on board as much of reality as you possibly can.

February 4th, 2021
‘Well, that’s just snobbery, isn’t it?’

Edith Pretty says this to the hilariously uppity archeologist, who disdains self-taught Basil Brown, in the film The Dig — and I gotta tell you, this film was MADE for UD. She has watched it three times already, and it’s clear she’s not done with it. A fictionalized account of the staggering Sutton Hoo discovery, it’s got everything UD: archeology, architecture, reading, philosophy, music, British accents (UD loves British accents), moody landscapes, true dark skies (Brown brings his telescope to Pretty’s rural firmament)… And UD ain’t alone! A just-released film she figured would attract an audience of a few dozen already ranks third on Netflix.

UD’s preferences here are exactly those of UD‘s mother – the trowel doesn’t fall far from the tree. A student of Wilhelmina Jashemski’s at the University of Maryland, UD‘s mother accompanied Jashemski on several digs at Pompeii … And UD‘s mother dragged wee UD herself, one hot summer, through all that site’s ins and outs (her mother’s association with Jashemski meant we got access to off-limits human casts and villas), which was wonderful but exhausting.

All those moment-of-death human bodies, all that vast charred living landscape – it was a morbid treat, in the way powerful unburied ruinous settings tend to be; and The Dig is exactly the sort of extended memento mori one would like, with Pretty’s impending death – and the possible death of Europe itself in the impending war – haunting the narrative. “What’s left of us?” “We die. We rot.” The film’s characters, gazing into the faint outline of a submerged sixth-century ship in the Sussex dirt, fall into this grubby nihilism all the time in the film; but they are always lifted out by friends and lovers, who voice a soulful faith in the human story of which we are imperishably a part.


But snobbery, now. What got me going on that?

Easy. The letter Christopher Hitchens’ widow and agent just sent to his friends and associates commanding them not to cooperate with a biography of him that’s in the works. So at odds, rhetorically, with Hitchens’ own relaxed and democratic voice, the letter was jarring to UD, a huge Hitchens fan.

We are aware that a self-appointed would-be biographer, one Stephen Phillips, is embarked on a book on Christopher. We read his proposal and are dismayed by the coarse and reductive approach. We have no confidence in this attempt at the man in full. We are not cooperating and we urge you to refuse all entreaties by Mr. Phillips or his publisher, W.W. Norton. In solidarity…

I found the “in solidarity” particularly jarring, drawing as it does on a political tradition dear to Hitchens – that of the social justice left, as in his oft-expressed solidarity with democratic forces like the Kurds. It seems cheap of these authors to assume that mantle when the rest of the note locates them clearly in the trivial and off-putting realm (“dismayed,” “one,” “self-appointed”) of the literary mandarin.

They make no effort, for instance, to explain what in the manuscript is likely to be coarse and reductive; they simply high-handedly invoke these terms and let it go at that. Coarse is particularly problematic, since anyone who has read gobs of Hitchens and watched virtually all of the Hitch YouTubes knows he had no problem with coarseness – he exhibited it often, and made its relative absence in women one of the main bases of their inability (most of them) to be funny. Was it coarse for Hitch and Martin Amis to go trolling whores in New York City? I guess so. I mean, Hitch thought it was. Is his biographer supposed to overlook it, or somehow snob it up?

As David Nasaw writes:

Blue-Hitchens and [Steve] Wasserman are well within their rights to refuse to cooperate with this particular biographer, but by reaching out, as they have done, to so wide a universe of individuals who might have something to say on the subject, they are engaging in a sort of preemptive censorship, intended to frighten away not just this one writer but any others who might not, for one reason or another, pass muster with them.

January 28th, 2021
Gotta admit AOC writes one hell of a tweet.

In response to Ted Cruz reaching out to her over their agreement about Robinhood:

“I am happy to work with Republicans on this issue where there’s common ground, but you almost had me murdered 3 weeks ago so you can sit this one out. Happy to work w/ almost any other GOP that aren’t trying to get me killed. In the meantime if you want to help, you can resign.”

Next Page »

Latest UD posts at IHE