Every Day Is Friday the Thirteenth, and Other News


On the Shelf

From the theatrical release poster of Friday the 13th.


  • Today is Friday the thirteenth—but then, hasn’t every day been, since November 9? New horrors greet us each morning and tuck us in each night. Rebecca Solnit runs a long, thorough postmortem on the election that got us here, imploring us to remember the sexism that coursed through it from start to finish: “In the spring, Trump retweeted a supporter who asked: ‘If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?’ Perhaps the president is married to the nation in some mystical way; if so America is about to become a battered woman, badgered, lied to, threatened, gaslighted, betrayed and robbed by a grifter with attention-deficit disorder … Hillary Clinton was all that stood between us and a reckless, unstable, ignorant, inane, infinitely vulgar, climate-change-denying white-nationalist misogynist with authoritarian ambitions and kleptocratic plans. A lot of people, particularly white men, could not bear her, and that is as good a reason as any for Trump’s victory. Over and over again, I heard men declare that she had failed to make them vote for her. They saw the loss as hers rather than ours, and they blamed her for it, as though election was a gift they withheld from her because she did not deserve it or did not attract them. They did not blame themselves or the electorate or the system for failing to stop Trump.”
  • While we’re pressing our noses to the cold, clear glass of reality, we might as well ask—just to be prepared—how our society could practice cannibalism without hating ourselves for it. It just seems like it might be a valuable skill in the not-too-distant future, I don’t know. Bill Schutt’s new book Cannibalism offers some guidance. Libby Copeland writes in her review: “What does cannibalism look like in a culture that doesn’t attach as much stigma to it? Like many other peoples, the Chinese practiced survival cannibalism during wars and famines; an imperial edict in 205 B.C. even made it permissible for ‘starving Chinese’ to exchange ‘one another’s children, so that they could be consumed by non-relatives.’ But, according to historical sources cited by Schutt, the Chinese also practiced ‘learned cannibalism.’ In Chinese books written during Europe’s Middle Ages, human flesh was occasionally cited as an exotic delicacy. In times of great hunger or when a relative was sick, children would sometimes cut off their flesh and prepare it in a soup for their elders. One researcher found ‘766 documented cases of filial piety’ spanning more than 2,000 years. ‘The most commonly consumed body part was the thigh, followed by the upper arm;’ the eyeball was banned by edict in 1261.”

  • Looking at early twentieth-century ads for Prince Albert Tobacco reveals just how far the art of copy writing has fallen over the course of the last century. Why, just marvel at the surplus of chutzpah emanating from this pitch to smokers: “It’s P.A. that jams such joy in jimmy pipes. Say—bet you’ve often bent-an-ear to that spill-of-speech about hopping from five to f-i-f-t-y p-e-r by ‘stepping on her a bit!’ Guess that’s going some, all right—BUT just among ourselves, you better start a rapid whiz system to keep tabs as to how fast you’ll buzz from low smoke spirits to TIP-TOP-HIGH—once you line up behind a jimmy pipe that’s all aglow with that peach-of-a-pal, Prince Albert. Prince Albert is john-on-the-job—always joy’usly more-ISH in flavor; always delightfully cool and fragrant! For a fact, you never hooked such double-decked, copper-riveted, two-fisted smoke enjoyment! Go to a pipe—speed-o-quick like you light on a good thing! Why—packed with Prince Albert you can play a joy’us jimmy straight across the boards! AND YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS!”
  • Meanwhile, in France, Houellebecq is writing poems again, having exhausted the fine arts of fiction writing, painting, acting, and TV-dinner microwaving. In verse, his worldview is … different, David Wheatley says, but he still gets his point across: “Having missed out on the 1930s, Michel Houellebecq is perfectly suited to the age of Trump. The war of ideologies, religious fundamentalism and sexual dystopia are well-worn Houellebecq themes, but under them like an ostinato runs the death of Western liberalism: the full Spenglerian decline. As he explains in ‘A Last Stand Against the Free Market,’ ‘We reject liberal ideology for failing to show the way, or a route to reconciliation between the individual and his fellow beings.’ As snappy aperçus go (and bear in mind, that’s a line of poetry), it’s not quite ‘We must love one another or die.’ Long-windedness, however, is the least of Houellebecq’s problems.”
  • Joshua Jelly-Schapiro on Morning, Paraffin, a collaboration about Trinidad between Derek Walcott and Peter Doig, both of whom have called the country home at various points in their lives: “The book finds Walcott, who has himself always made paintings, and who will soon turn eighty-seven, responding to the dreamscapes of the painter thirty years his junior. On the left-hand pages, prints of fifty-one of Doig’s paintings from the past twenty-five years face poems by Walcott, written in the past two, on the right. Walcott’s free verse dilates upon the places the images evoke for him. A beach scene in crimson elicits an elegy, for instance, for ‘the wisdom you get from water-bearded rocks’; a painting of one of Paramin’s blue devils prompts an ode to islands whose ‘heredity is night,’ their ‘bats and werewolves, loups garousdouennes.’ The palette of Doig’s ‘Gasthof,’ a painting of two figures in beige silhouette, has Walcott recall his first glimpse of an English mustard field—‘like opening a book’s brass-studded doors.’ ”