Get This Wine Bottle Away from My Short Story, and Other News


On the Shelf


Image via Web Urbanist

  • What can writers and intellectuals do to stem the rise of fascism in America? Well, we should look to history, of course, where theorists stand time and again with quivers of poison-tipped arrows, their bows pointed at the eyes of tyranny. Take the Frankfurt School, for instance. In the twentieth century, facing seemingly insurmountable adversity, they steeled themselves and—oh … wait … “As the 1930s progressed, a number of the Frankfurt School idealists ‘lost faith … in the power of critical thinking to transform society.’ What role could the left-leaning intellectual have in a time when the socialist revolution was failing and fascism seemed set to conquer Europe? Max Horkheimer was one of those who despaired of the struggle, fearing that the ‘commodity economy’ would bring a period of progress so that ‘after an enormous extension of human control over nature, it finally hinders further development and drives humanity into a new barbarism.’ ”
  • Still struggling to understand Donald “I Love the Poorly Educated” Trump? Maybe it’s your Facebook bubble. Or maybe, as Pankaj Mishra writes, you haven’t read enough Rousseau lately: “Beginning with his first major publication, in 1751, Rousseau, too, defended unlettered folk and their simple ways. Significantly, he did so just as the world’s first well-educated, networked élite—the Enlightenment philosophers—came into being, advocating a far-reaching program of progress through the use of science, reason, and international commerce. Rousseau’s more radical move was to position himself against the project that we now call modernity; he practically invented the category of ‘the people.’ ” 

  • H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine invented the concept of the time machine—kind of. As John Lanchester writes in his review of James Gleick’s new book on time travel, “We should be precise about what Wells invented. Other writers had displaced fictional characters through time … In 1892 the Scots golfer J. McCullough, his given name no longer known, published Golf in the Year 2000; or, What Are We Coming To. Gleick, who has read it so we don’t have to, reports that ‘in the year 2000 women dress like men and do all the work, while men are freed to play golf every day.’ No comment. The crucial thing about these trips through time is that they are inadvertent. The hero (always a man) has no agency. Wells’s Traveller was different because he built a machine to travel through time on purpose. In his story humanity had, through its ingenuity, conquered time. That was what was new.”
  • There’s not much use for literature in the marketplace, except, occasionally, as a prestige object. For instance: if you need a way to endow your unremarkable wine with some upmarket cachet, try slapping a short story on the bottle and tying it up with a tasteful length of twine. It’s a surefire way to convince your customers that they’re the wisest, breeziest, most deeply attuned members of the bourgeoisie. And if they pair your fruit-forward red with a Chipotle burrito, so much the better—they can have two sides of literature with supper!* 
  • Literary wine bottles are an act of bad faith—better, I think, to live an authentic life and eat cheese curls instead. They’re essentially repurposed horse feed, as Ernie Smith writes, and that’s the kind of feed for me: “The accident that made the cheese curl proved hugely fruitful for Flakall Corporation, a Beloit, Wisconsin animal-feed manufacturer … The company’s approach to producing animal feed was to put the material through a grinder, effectively flaking out the corn to get as much material as possible from the grain … The grinder did its job, but it wasn’t perfect, and periodically required cleaning to ensure it wouldn’t clog. One strategy that Flakall workers used was to put moistened corn into the grinder. During this process, however, something unusual happened: the moist corn ran directly into the heat of the machine, and when it exited the grinder, it didn’t flake out anymore—it puffed up, like popcorn, except without the annoying kernels. By complete accident, Flakall had invented the world’s first corn-snack extruder.”

*But this is the pot calling the kettle black—the Review has, this very year, given away mouthwash bottles with a short story on them.