…Sicha has spent the past decade developing what has become the lingua franca of the Internet: un-snobbish endorsements, presented in a candid, self-consciously hysterical tone. (A recent tweet: “Vicious news cycle today! Like many others, I just got bumped by Weiner.”) His humorously helpful parentheticals, doubt-inducing scare quotes, casual “like”s dropped carefully amidst otherwise competent sentences, and gratuitous exclamation points litter the online landscape. When typed by Sicha, though, these superficial markers of style—so easy to replicate!—communicate a set of core values that he’s carried with him from job to job: genuine egalitarianism, acrobatic diplomacy, unregulated intimacy.
Once upon a time The New Yorker (dot com) wrote about our dear Awl co-founder’s “idiomatic dominion,” with especial focus on the gratuitous exclamation point—I don’t know about you but they just don’t do it for me anymore. Has this motherfucker ruined them for anyone else?
“she attained a status in New York somewhere between Edmund Wilson and Dr. Zizmor.”
In 1926, a twenty-year-old girl held in the women’s branch of Tokyo’s Utsunomiya Prison asked if she could help weave a length of rope. The girl, Kaneko Fumiko, was an anarchist and a nihilist; she was proud, preternaturally bold, and had been accused of plotting to blow up the Japanese imperial family. After months of defiantly refusing to do any prison work she suddenly changed her mind, and the prison authorities shrugged and agreed that she could be put on the rope-weaving taskforce. She twisted hemp into rope for an entire day; by 6:30 the next morning a guard passing by her cell noticed that she was already back to work. Ten minutes later, she’d be dead.
Fumiko was dirt poor, barely educated, beaten, starved, abused, and yet managed to claw her way to a position of political and historical significance. But very few historians bother to study her, and even fewer readers delve into the anarchical and darkly inspiring depths of her memoir. She came of age during a time when Japan was divided, and heavily policed; the country had annexed Korea in 1910, creating serious tensions between the two nations, and Fumiko—with her own reasons for resenting the authorities of her homeland—fell in with anarchists associated with the Korean independence movement.
She had always distrusted any form of activism. A nihilistic egoist, influenced by Nietzsche and Max Stirner, Fumiko believed that asserting the self was the best means of political resistance, that anarchy could be individualistic, that society was a howling void in which the strong devoured the weak, and that political movements offered no relief. “What is revolution, then, but the replacing of one power with another?” she wrote in her memoir. The only worthy action, she thought, was to “stake [her] life” on rebelling against authority. In jail, she wrote that death was freedom—“if one has but the will to die.”
When a judge asked Fumiko to write her memoirs, taking advantage of a lesser-known law that said “a defendant should be asked not only about what can be used against one, but about things that may stand in one’s favor,” Fumiko dove into the painful muck of her past in order to explain how society had “warped” her into the nihilist she was today (the original title of her memoir was, What Made Me Do What I Did). When the judge had finished reading it, she asked for the manuscript back—she wanted to send it to her comrades, hoping that they would publish it, to “help them to understand me better.” This simple wish, sketched in the preface, is heartbreakingly vulnerable for a girl who claimed to believe in nothing but the self. It went unheeded: her friends did not immortalize her, and her prison records stayed sealed until after World War II.
Lot 1: The Tale of Tom’s Kitten
If the musical Cats has a point of origin, it may be right here on this dainty square of linen bearing the embroidered image of a cat and his yarn ball, executed in yellow, green, and black thread. It was made by six-year-old Thomas Stearns Eliot, later known as T.S. Eliot, the austere English poet who published a book of verse in 1939 called Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which became the basis for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award-winning glam-cat success.
But this little scrap of needlepoint derives from Eliot’s deep dark past—before he wrote his most famous work, “The Waste Land,” before he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, before he was even British. Say what? Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and he lived there for the first sixteen years of his life. (He renounced his American citizenship in 1927 at the age of 39.) As a child, he fashioned this kitty as a Christmas gift, and it is signed “Tom” in pencil on the back. The American Eliots have cherished it ever since, according to Heritage Auctions.
Next month, however, this piece of literary/Broadway ephemera goes to auction, conservatively valued at $1,000. If that’s not reason enough to revisit the musical’s Macavity scene, what is?
You don’t need me to tell you what’s terrible (everything) so let me just tell you what’s good: Yumi Zouma. I am still enraptured by the first single from their forthcoming record, and here is another one. You know what’s terrible out there (everything). This, at least, is not. Enjoy.
★★★★ From indoors, the outdoors looked flawless, especially from the shadowed side of the building and with a breeze coming in the windows. The river was flat blue-brown, without luster. A red-tailed hawk drifted above and below the roofline of the apartment slab across the way. Out in the day, the sun was a little much when it hit directly, but shade was never far off, and the breeze was running through it. It was easy to add a block or two to the shortest route for errands. Sunbathers lined the southern end of the roof deck on the other side of the avenue. The roses in the planter boxes there were swollen and so intensely rose-red they seemed to fluoresce.
“There was a very, very slight rancid butter smell to it, but other than that, the cake looked and smelled edible,” she said. “There is no doubt the extreme cold in Antarctica has assisted its preservation.”
Forget diamonds—fruitcake really is forever.
The hyper-literate contrarian, H.L. Mencken, wore many hats: journalist, lexicographer, scourge of religious and political charlatans and—depending on who you read—unreconstructed racist and anti-Semite or “a tremendous liberating force in American culture” (or maybe, somehow, both). Mencken was the most provocative, entertaining American writer of the early 20th century. He was also a first-class literary critic and, just about a year ago, one of his observations about poetry began tolling again in my head.
“I enjoy poetry as much as the next man — when the mood is on me,” Mencken wrote in a 1920 essay, “The Poet and His Art,” which I first encountered in college, several lifetimes ago. “The mood … of intellectual and spiritual fatigue, the mood of revolt against the insoluble riddle of existence, the mood of disgust and despair. Poetry, then, is a capital medicine.”
Yes. Disgust and despair. Like countless people in the U.S. and around the globe, I spent most of 2016 growing painfully familiar with those two ways of being. (“Emotions” seems too weak a word.) With every sleazy utterance, every open incitement to violence and every brazen right-wing campaign lie, I felt more anxious, angry, and helpless. The cynicism and cruelty on display during the campaign was getting to me.
THE GLOBAL ORGANIC personal care market is expected to exceed $25 billion by 2025; as it grows, so too will the number of companies that rely on syncretic and occult ideas: paranormal energy fields, electromagnetic flows, straight-up magic. It’s no longer enough to employ pesticide-free ingredients — these days, products should have superpowers, too. Many companies are concocting formulas to offset the radiation allegedly emitted by technological devices, while others promote oils that don’t just moisturize the skin, but also feed the soul.
On the one hand, this is a—verbally, linguistically, literarily—wonderful walk through the historical woods of myco-powders and Rudolf Steiner and soul-salves, but on the other hand isn’t it sort of, I don’t know, In Defense Of Nature’s Placebos? I guess this is the great thing about liberty and capitalism: you get to say, “Why not spend thirty-eight dollars on three-gram sachets of powdered bullshit?” You do you. Glorious!
“Holy crap! The Nazis are back! What are we gonna do?”—Freaked Out Phil
No one said being an American was going to be easy. Unless you’re white and rich. What happened in Charlottesville this weekend was unspeakably ugly and maybe should not have been so surprising. If you blow enough dog whistles for long enough, sooner or later, some packs of dogs are going to show up. Nazi dogs. KKK dogs. White supremacist dogs. Very, very bad dogs. Dogs that should not be given bacon treats.