Wilfrid Blunt Hates Your Gift, and Other News


On the Shelf

Hope you kept the receipt …

  • Sometimes, when you’re in dear need of advice, and there’s nowhere left to turn, and no shoulder to cry on, and the sky is dark and all your food tastes like ash, and you’re just, like, super, super bummed … you’ve got to read the stoics. Elif Batuman picked up the Enchiridion, Epictetus’s manual of ethical advice, and found herself the better for it: “Reading Epictetus, I realized that most of the pain in my life came not from any actual privations or insults but, rather, from the shame of thinking that they could have been avoided. Wasn’t it my fault that I lived in such isolation, that meaning continued to elude me, that my love life was a shambles? When I read that nobody should ever feel ashamed to be alone or to be in a crowd, I realized that I often felt ashamed of both of those things. Epictetus’s advice: when alone, ‘call it peace and liberty, and consider yourself the gods’ equal’; in a crowd, think of yourself as a guest at an enormous party, and celebrate the best you can.”
  • But maybe you don’t need Epictetus. Maybe you don’t need anyone’s advice at all, ever! Maybe you don’t even need people! Because here’s the thing: you could just watch slime videos instead. It oozes, it goops, it does a million things, and most of them are active verbs with oo in them. The Instagram slime-video community is booming, Isabel Slone reports, and its pleasures are myriad: “The origins of the slime community are murky, but the practice appears to have begun in Indonesia and Thailand and then spread to North America, where it’s been growing exponentially since June 2016 … Part of slime’s appeal is that it is endlessly customizable. Slime can resemble a pastel blue puff of cotton candy or a tub of crude oil. There is fairy princess slime containing beads and glitter, frothy slime with a surface covered in bubbles, and crunchy slime called floam, which contains tiny Styrofoam beads … When you watch a slime video, just for a moment, the outside world ceases to exist; when everything feels overwhelmingly bad, it’s good to have something foolproof you can turn to, to soften the blow. Slime yields to the human touch.” 

  • Thinking of throwing a dinner party for the laureled, aging poet in your life? Great! Just don’t do it like Yeats and Ezra Pound did it—in celebrating the Victorian poet Wilfrid Blunt, they were too fixated on their young, hip ways: “After the foppish festivities, during which a roast peacock was collectively devoured, seventy-four-year-old Blunt opened the present his guests had left him. It was an ornate box carved by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, a young avant-garde Parisian sculptor whom Pound had recently ‘discovered.’ Made from a delicate mixture of Pentelican and Siennese marble, on one side of this box was a Futurist bas relief of a naked Egyptian woman. On the other side were the solemn words ‘Homage to W.S. Blunt.’ The box contained eight poems by the younger generation of poets who had gathered to honor him at dinner, representing the ritual, humble transmission of culture from one generation to the next. Blunt, however, was not impressed. He disliked the female figure so much he had to turn the side with the bas relief to the wall. To him, Futurist art was ghastly, ‘mere nonsense, the sort of thing a child might make.’ And the poems? ‘Word puzzles.’”
  • In which Rafia Zafar traces the origins of African American literature: “The trials of women in slavery often went beyond even their own loss of personal freedom; they were forced to physically reproduce the system by giving birth to future bonds folk. (American law mandated the children of slaves followed the fate of their mothers.) Their particular sufferings, Harriet Jacobs would aver, made the profession of a writer all the more difficult for an enslaved woman. Writing under a pseudonym, Jacobs laid bare the gendered horrors of slavery in her Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), published on the eve of the Civil War. Sensitive and well-read, she seized on the parallels between her life and seduction novels recounting the trials of orphaned and friendless young women—and because of that creative insight, her memoir was dismissed as fiction into the twentieth century.”
  • Remember John Oliver’s stupid Drumpf thing, which briefly made young people feel like they were doing something productive just by swapping out Trump’s surname for his actual, ancestral, ever-so-slightly more comical surname? You didn’t actually like that, did you? You should’ve been doing something else, Sarah Jones argues: “The year of faux-protest arguably started with Donald Drumpf. John Oliver’s revelation of the Trump family’s ancestral German name was intended to rattle Trump’s followers. Behold the inner thought of the Drumpf superfan: ‘Haha! Trump supporters are so dumb they don’t understand the hypocrisy!’ Some of them are that dumb, but most of them just don’t care. They only would have cared if Trump’s ancestral name was ‘Rodriguez’ or ‘Ahmed,’ not Drumpf. Drumpf is solid and reassuringly German, like a warm Luger in your hands. Oliver fed into xenophobic stereotypes to produce a meme with no political utility. It didn’t succeed in harming Trump’s campaign at all.”