The annotated table of contents below offers a sneak peek at what’s in issue 20. To get the issue delivered straight to your door, subscribe now.
On Choosing Life
[Anastasia Berg and Rachel Wiseman]
It’s reasonable to wonder whether it’s fair to bring children into a deteriorating world, and yet it’s nevertheless hard to shake the suspicion that, for many of the people inveighing against the morality of childrearing, the prospect of a life without children appears to be less a sacrifice than a relief.
“I learnt, too, the Law as to my children—that the right was with the father; that neither my innocence or his guilt could alter it; that not even his giving them into the hands of a mistress, would give me any claim to their custody.”
The endurance of the liberal imagination
Perhaps the recent rhetoric of crisis—in the liberal arts or the liberal polis—tells us more about the strange persistence of our present system than its imminent end. Like Twitter or YouTube, such rhetoric is a kind of machine, built to generate an atmosphere of ongoing disaster. It’s a machine that offers no future and yet somehow continues to determine it—a machine generating not only shock and frustration, but also rapture.
Beyond millennial burnout
“Capitalism!” I say, thinking, ridiculously, of that smallest sliver of the universe where a tramp is contentedly drinking a glass of wine, “I’m so fucking sick of talking about capitalism!”
Symposium: What are children for?
Half a Person
There is something distinctively miserable about sitting in a hotel room, cramping and bleeding, pretending you are “doing something” when really you are just undergoing something you don’t know how to conceptualize. I thought about my misery, and it hit me that there is something else that is difficult to conceptualize: modern art.
For the first six hours of my daughter’s life, I felt no love for her. I smiled for my camera and I smiled for my wife, but what else was I going to do?
In retrospect, this obsessive desire to understand and know what had happened to her makes me think of what Jung said: “The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of its parents.” The word “burden” sounds so negative, but if I think about the calculated systemic oppression against women, the erasure and subjugation of women in my community, what the women have had to sacrifice to stay alive, I wonder if sometimes a parent’s unlived life could also be part of our responsibility. The trade of one generation’s sacrifice to another.
Although the church recommended the immediate baptism of newborn infants and developed its own fascination with genealogies and ecclesiastical dynasties, it has never quite lost its sense that there is now a clear way to appreciate children without pinning all your hope for the future on them.
The World Without Children
Although procreative decisions are properly viewed as matters of individual choice, they nevertheless belong to wider social patterns that raise a range of questions about the future of our society and our world: questions ranging from immigration policy to the scope and depth of our commitment to liberal values. At the most basic level, they raise questions about the kind of future we want our countries and humanity as a whole to have.
To Be Continued
You could say parents are like Sisyphus, except their role is less heroic. Replace his mountain with a mini-slide, his rock with a rubber ball, and the parent is the one who has to stand nearby and make sure he doesn’t break his neck so he can keep bringing the ball back to the top of the slide and watching it roll down over and over again.
Being a Kid
“I think being a kid is like the first stage… to grow up. You need to start somewhere. Because if you don’t start somewhere you won’t end anywhere.”
Waiting for the revolution in Tehran
For someone like me, a post-1979 Iranian, Yashayaie represents a revolutionary movement that was open to membership across religious and political affiliations, and while opposing imperialist ambitions at home could still leave itself exposed to a questioning world. He is an embodiment of the diversity that made the transition of power in 1979 possible.
Between James and Graeber, we get an image not only of a busted material economy, but of an economy of meaning that’s weirdly warped as well: a wide base of important jobs denied social recognition, a thick middle of pointless or destructive feudal make-work, and a little penthouse on top full of tenured professors, superstar artists and NGO executives, the one-percenters of purpose, munching hors d’oeuvres and talking in hushed voices about the dire state of the world.
Today, the social shaping of leisure time remains apparent. We are pressured to spend our leisure time in certain ways (watching Netflix, shopping, exercising) and not others (organizing boycotts, attending protests, leading revolutions). If all we do is drift between tasks, we give up our ability to discriminate between these various kinds of uncompensated activity.
The Real Lolita
Back then I was too naïve to register that Lolita should offend me, and it is a relief to even remember how unreservedly I was able to love it. Maybe the book did not outrage me because its subject matter struck me as the least important thing about it.
Already in 1989 one could see that, like the local currencies, the Eastern values had long lost their worth and were eagerly being converted into those of the West, often in their most tawdry form. I frequently encountered faded, outdated Western calendars with pinups or racing cars, such as I would rarely if ever see at home. A friend of mine collected Western beer cans, brought to him from the hard-currency shops by Western guests, which (after emptying) he arrayed in his kitchen in a pathetic shrine to consumerism.
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