Heavy Objects Are Lighter When You’re Drunk, and Other News


On the Shelf


  • I’ve worked candy-ass office jobs my whole life, and so have never known true pain. That I still manage to complain constantly is a testament to my indefatigably sunny worldview and all the privilege backing it up. Finn Murphy, by contrast, made a career as a long-haul truck driver, as his new book explains, and he hardly ever complains. He got his start in an even less glamorous career: moving. He was one of the guys who picked up your heavy shit and put it somewhere else. This is exactly as unpleasant as it sounds. If you’ve ever wondered how teams of broad-backed movers persist, day after day, no matter how many four-hundred-pound filing cabinets they have to carry down the stairs, the answer might be simpler than you think: they drink. Recalling his moving days, Murphy writes, “Moving companies like Callahan’s perform four categories of moving work: local, commercial, long-distance, and international. Callahan’s work was mostly local moving, which entails loading up someone’s house in the morning and then unloading in the afternoon at the new house. It takes the greatest toll on the body because you are handling stuff every working day. Long-haul drivers get plenty of days when they’re just sitting and driving; international moves are almost never time-sensitive, so the pace is easier; and commercial jobs—moving offices around—are mostly done with dollies and elevators. It’s the local stuff that eventually kills you or drives you to drink; more commonly, both … On particularly tough jobs, John Callahan himself was known to show up late in the day with a case of beer for the crew. On road trips, it was the job of the guy in the shotgun seat to prepare a thermos of cocktails for the driver. At the end of a move, the shipper always offered us beer. Often our work would take us into New York City, which required a seven A.M. start. At seven twenty we’d get off I-95 in Pelham and stop at Arthur’s Bar and drink a couple or three screwdrivers before heading into Manhattan. As far as I could tell, the moving business floated on an ocean of alcohol.”
  • Now let’s depart the world of work and men—actually, let’s depart reality entirely—here’s Fredric Jameson, wondering why One Hundred Years of Solitude has so captured the literary imagination all these years: “What is it, then, that García Márquez did to the readers and writers of a still relatively conventional postwar world? … Not ‘magic,’ then, but something else must be evoked to account for the undeniable singularity of García Márquez’s narrative invention and the form that allows it to come into being. I think it is his uncanny, rapt concentration on his immediate narrative object … it isn’t really appropriate to credit some exceptional storytelling genius to a fictive entity called García Márquez’s ‘imagination.’ Rather, it is an equally indescribable or unformulatable intensity of concentration which produces the successive materials of each chapter, which then, in their accumulation, result in the appearance of unforeseeable loops and repetitions, ‘themes’ (to name another literary-critical fiction), finally exhausting their momentum and beginning to reproduce themselves in static numerical patterns … We have no ready-made literary-technical terms with which to approach the strange mode of active contemplation that lies at the heart of this compositional process (and of reading too).”

  • Wyatt Mason, in a long essay on Jay Z, stops to dissect the paramount role of the authentic in hip-hop: “Authenticity in rap is its own conversation. It gets tricky, fast. The appeal of the cipher as a space is clear: Here someone can see himself transformed from nothing into something in the eyes of the world and, in so doing, redefine the way they see themselves. Given that the cipher as a space originates in places—Compton, Bed-Stuy, Chicago’s South Side—where that imaginative space is one of the few dependable refuges from an inescapable reality, the idea that someone in the cipher would be speaking from the heart of the self takes on a different charge. Authenticity would be all one has—the most valuable currency … To counterfeit that purity would be the purest form of corruption. And yet if we consider that of the more than one thousand unique songs Frank Sinatra recorded, he was a credited writer on only seven, and that some of Johnny Cash’s most memorable performances are of other people’s songs, we understand that, in some domains, authenticity comes from a different place … In hip-hop, though, the stakes are different, because the art is different, is an art of authenticity: Speakers in hip-hop are, most often, voices that hadn’t been heard from in American life.”
  • Justin Taylor thinks about Denis Johnson’s Christianity: “The questions of individual and universal redemption are not merely linked or related; they’re identical. In fact they aren’t even two questions. It’s one question, asked over and over and over forever, because there is no person out there on whose behalf it is not worth asking … [Johnson] is always asking this question, and is deeply invested in its answer, which he knows is urgent and in no way guaranteed. Despair, desperation, violence, and self-destruction are to be understood as the effects rather than the causes of spiritual atrophy. No wonder then that Johnson saved his deepest empathy for those whose Hells were wholly self-made. He knew that to be both the perpetrator and the victim was to suffer twice.”