Thursday, June 16, 2022

Nick Estes - The Empire of All Maladies: Colonial Contagions and Indigenous Resistance

One of the most potent myths of mainstream U.S. historiography concerns what Indigenous archaeologist Michael V. Wilcox calls “terminal narratives”: an obsession with the death, disappearance, and absence of Indigenous people rather than their continued, visible presence and challenge to colonialism. The most obvious example of this tendency are historical models that assign blame for the mass killing of the Indigenous to invisible, chance forces—above all, the diseases colonizers unwittingly carried with them—rather than to calculated warfare and theft over centuries of relentless European invasion. - Estes, Nick. "The Empire of All Maladies: Colonial Contagions and Indigenous Resistance." The Baffler #52 (July 2020)

The Northman (USA: Robert Eggers, 2022)

Even if “The Northman” had been a dreadful bore — and not a primal, sinewy, gnarly-as-fuck 10th century action epic that starts with a hallucinogenic Viking bar mitzvah, features Björk’s first narrative film performance since “Dancer in the Dark,” and ends with two mostly naked men fighting to the death atop an erupting volcano — the simple fact that financiers had the chutzpah to bankroll such a big swing in the face of our blockbuster-or-bust theatrical climate would have felt like a (pyrrhic) victory against the forces of corporate homogenization, no matter who was behind the camera. - David Ehrlich (source below)

The Northman (USA: Robert Eggers, 2022: 137 mins)

Brody, Richard. "The Northman: Just a Bunch of Research and Gore." The New Yorker (April 21, 2022)

Daniels, Robert. "The Northman." Roger Ebert (April 22, 2022)

Eggers, Robert. "The Northman: Anatomy of a Scene." The New York Times (April 29, 2022)

Eggers, Robert and Alexander Skarsgård. "The Northman - Behind the Scenes." (Posted on Youtube: May 2022)

---. "The Northman: Beserker Raid Break Down." IGN (Posted on Youtube: April 23, 2022)

Eggert, Brian. "The Northman." Deep Focus Review (April 21, 2022)

Feldberg, Isaac. "Norse Power: Robert Eggers Revives the Viking Age." Letterboxd (April 27, 2022)

Gabrielle, Matthew and David M. Perry. "The History Behind Robert Eggers’ The Northman." Smithsonian (April 22, 2022)

Hudson, David. "Robert Egger's The Northman." The Current (April 12, 2022)

Price, Neil. "Viking Expert Breaks Down The Northman Weapons." Wired (May 3, 2022)

Scott, A.O. "The Northman: Danish Premodern." The New York Times (April 21, 2022)

Strong, Hannah. "The Northman." Little White Lies (April 11, 2022) 

"What is the Slavic Language in The Northman." History with Hilbert (Posted on Youtube: May 13, 2022)

"Why The Northman is a Masterpiece." FilmSpeak (Posted on Youtube: May 2022)

Wilkinson, Alissa. "The bloody, fantastical The Northman refuses to be modern." Vox (April 25, 2022)

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Lizzie O'Shea - The Judgement of Paris: Facebook vs The Communards

“Solidarity grows through increasing liberty, not through constraint or obligation,” writes [Kristin] Ross. “Personal autonomy and social solidarity do not oppose each other, but instead reinforce each other.” In an age in which online spaces feel more divisive and polarized than ever, perhaps it is time to ponder how we can create conditions of personal autonomy that give rise to greater social solidarity. Perhaps it is the structure of these spaces that is at fault, rather than the individuals within them. Centrally determined “community standards” enforced by automated takedowns and de-platforming might generate tendencies that are more infantilizing than civilizing. A sense of freedom with responsibility in online spaces is unlikely to be cultivated when those who set the boundaries of good taste and political correctness are more interested in applying constraint than promoting solidarity.


Put differently, what constitutes acceptable content is always a political question, constantly being negotiated and renegotiated by those who hold power and those who do not. Public bodies, like courts and parliaments, are often the forums for such debates, which is why they are a common focus of struggle. In the digital age, however, enormous private entities like Facebook (or Twitter, or Google, etc.) are increasingly the hosts for these discussions. When citizens and policy makers ask Facebook to curate content or design algorithms to do so, the implicit assumption is that people cannot be trusted to have these conversations themselves. Of course, some people are awful online—and this can have real world consequences, for which we need remedies. We need to have cultural norms and practices that minimize this behavior, that cultivate shared understanding and mutual respect. But we ought to be careful about assuming that tech companies can achieve this by us appointing them as cops.


We could start with the assumption that these digital spaces are open and belong to the public. Why not require that the design of the newsfeed algorithm be made transparent? Why not allow people to redesign their content feeds and become active participants in creating their own sense of self rather than having it curated for them by a tech bro? Why not ban the microtargeting that underpins and animates this business model? A data extraction approach to monetization operates by exploiting our emotions to keep us hooked as audiences to be sold to advertisers. As essential pieces of digital infrastructure, why do we accept that these platforms remain in private hands, beholden to the bottom line?

We could pay moderators to manage groups of a particular size, and allow those roles to be elected and accountable, much in the same way as we might pay district council members or representatives. Imagine a social space on the internet that wasn’t filled with ads! Imagine a web where content moderation decisions were governed by a public charter with an accountable board of elected representatives. Perhaps it is even possible to conjure a platform that doesn’t leave complaints about harm buried in some cyber slush pile, but that actively found a strategy to take those complainants seriously and to design rules around resolving their concerns. Platforms, services, and tools could be designed not just for the average user but with the most vulnerable user in mind. Maybe you don’t like these ideas (maybe you do), but maybe there are lots of other ones out there, waiting to be articulated, discussed, adopted, tested, or discarded.

By breaking down the divide between action and consequence in online social life, we might start to “set capacities in motion” that aim to rebuild a sense of freedom with responsibility. It is an argument against outsourcing politics to machines and the few who build them, and in favor of greater public participation by the many in rulemaking in the digital age. It’s not to say it would be a seamless experience of delight; it would certainly feature conflict. But it could be a place where people could collectively explore ideas in conditions of freedom, without being organized in a clandestine way by billionaire tech overlords.

O'Shea, Lizzie. "The Judgement of Paris: Facebook vs The Communards." The Baffler #56 (March/April 2021): 9, 11-13. 

Thursday, June 2, 2022

The Innocents (Norway/Sweden/Denmark: Eskil Vogt, 2021)

 The Innocents (Norway/Sweden/Denmark: Eskil Vogt, 2021: 117 mins)

"Four children become friends during the summer holidays, and out of sight of the adults they discover they have hidden powers. While exploring their newfound abilities in the nearby forests and playgrounds, their innocent play takes a dark turn and strange things begin to happen."
Nicholas, Alexandra-Heller. "The Innocents." Alliance of Women Film Journalists (April 22, 2022)

Saito, Stephen. "Eskil Vogt on What Leads to Bad Behavior in The Innocents." Moveable Feast (May 13, 2022)

Tallerico, Brian. "The Innocents." Roger Ebert (May 13, 2022)

Vogt, Eskil. "The Innocents." Film at Lincoln Center Podcast #397 (May 13, 2022)

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Zadie Smith: "In my capacity as a writing teacher, I've noticed, in the classroom, the emergence of a belief that fiction can or should be the product of an absolute form of 'correctness.'"

 "In my capacity as a writing teacher, I've noticed, in the classroom, the emergence of a belief that fiction can or should be the product of an absolute form of 'correctness.' The student explains that I should believe in her character because this is exactly how X type of person would behave. How does she know? Because, as it happens, she herself is X type of person. Or she knows because she has spent a great deal of time researching X type of person, and this novel is the consequence of her careful research. (Similar arguments can be found in the interviews of professional writers.) 

... Writing is a far larger act of presumption. Sensing this, we seek to shore up the act of writing with false defenses, like the dubious idea that one could ever be absolutely "correct" when it comes to representing fictional human behavior. I understand the desire - I have it myself - but what I don't get is how anyone can possibly hope to achieve it. What does it mean, after all, to say "A Bengali woman would never say that!" or "A gay man would never feel that!"? How can such things be possibly claimed absolutely, unless we already have some form of fixed caricature in our minds? (It is to be noted that the argument "A white man would never say that!" is rarely heard and structurally unimaginable. Why? Because to such a self is to be afforded all possible human potentialities, not only a circumscribed few.) --  Zadie Smith. "Fascinated to Presume: In Defense of Fiction." The New York Review of Books (October 24, 2019): 6, 8.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Asheville, NC

 Asheville, NC:

12 Bones Smokehouse (River Arts District)

Addissae (Ethiopian Food)

Art in the Park (Pack Park - Saturdays in June)

The Arts


Blue Ridge Parkway

The Botanical Gardens at Asheville (S)

Chai Pani (Indian Street Food)

Craggy Gardens and Craggy Pinnacle  (Blue Ridge Parkway)

Cucina 24 (Italian meets S. Appalachian - has a daily chef's menu that might be fun - need reservations)  Reservation Saturday


Drum Circle at Pritchard Park

Dupont State Forest (near Asheville, NC)

Firestorm Co-op (Radical bookstore/coffeeshop: 610 Haywood Rd.)

French Broad River

Gaea Gifts for the Soul (S)

Gan Shan (Asian Fusion)

The Grey Eagle (Music Hall)

Gypsy Queen Cuisine (Mediterranean/Lebanese)

Hot Springs (on the French Broad River, NC)

Instant Karma (Downtown - S)

Linville Falls

Little Bee Thai

Lookout Trail Hike in Montreat

Mount Mitchell State Park

Nine Mile (Jamaican Food)

The North Carolina Arboretum (S)

No Taste Like Home (Wild foraging tours - S)

Points of Light (Crystal and Mineral Gallery - S)

River Arts District [Studio/artists guide] (S)

Riverside Cemetery (S)

Roan Mountain

Rosetta' Kitchen (Vegetarian/Vegan Soul Food)

Sovereign Remedies (Locally sourced global menu)

Sunny Point Cafe (Breakfast/Lunch - decadent Southern. Usually a line, but lauded as very worth it)

Thai Pearl

Upper Whitewater Falls


White Duck Taco (Downtown: also the art walk next to it) Friday Lunch (OK, but it has clearly become a lame corporate chain (3 states now) - Thai Peanut Taco was ok, Korean Bugogi taco was excellent, chips were stale and queso was strange, watermelon/mint had no mint flavor and was a tiny portion. 

Zen Sushi - Friday Dinner

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Walt Whitman - "Do I contradict myself?"

"Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)"
Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself, 51" (1892 version) 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

On the "loneliness epidemic" in America

In thinking about the dangers of our current "loneliness" epidemic in America, we must consider that loneliness is not actually a state of being alone (hiking in a forest, reading a book, working on a project), it is instead a continuous state/sense of detachment or isolation in the midst of others or a community. This is important to consider when reflecting on violent terror enacted by the mass shooter in Buffalo this past week (and countless others from various ideological perspectives), but also in regards to the blind allegiance to our party lines or identity allegiances in which all that matters is that "our" team wins, even if it destroys our lives/community/country/world. Arendt uses the word "totalitarianism," but I find, for this moment, that "authoritarianism" is a more useful word. In the desperation of their loneliness people cede the ability to think (and act) to a governing force and silence the important ongoing dialogue within themselves, driving out any considerations of contradictions or recognition of the plurality of the world. This is a high price to pay for the false promise of peace of mind.

Responding to Samantha Rose Hill's "Where Loneliness Can Lead." Aeon (October 16, 2020) and current events.