- The reviews of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins are in, and well, my favorite is by Parul Sehgal:
Cummins has put in the research, as she describes in her afterword, and the scenes on La Bestia are vividly conjured. Still, the book feels conspicuously like the work of an outsider. The writer has a strange, excited fascination in commenting on gradients of brown skin: Characters are “berry-brown” or “tan as childhood” (no, I don’t know what that means either). In one scene, the sisters embrace and console each other: “Rebeca breathes deeply into Soledad’s neck, and her tears wet the soft brown curve of her sister’s skin.” In all my years of hugging my own sister, I don’t think I’ve ever thought, “Here I am, hugging your brown neck.” Am I missing out?
The real failures of the book, however, have little to do with the writer’s identity and everything to do with her abilities as a novelist.
After a few days, an editor responded. She wrote that though my takedown of Dirt was “spectacular,” I lacked the fame to pen something so “negative.” She offered to reconsider if I changed my wording, if I wrote “something redeeming.”
Because the nicest thing I can say about Dirt is that its pages ought to be upcycled as toilet paper, the editors hauled out the guillotine. I was notified that I’d be paid a kill fee: 30% of the $650 I was initially offered for my services.
Cultural institutions have played a key role in the privatization of Istanbul’s waterfront. Developers tout museums—including those already sited in neighborhoods earmarked for transformation—as one of many benefits of urban renewal. During the groundbreaking of Tersane Istanbul in early 2019, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was sure to point out that the project would feature three new museum buildings, including Istanbul’s first museum of women and the Koç-owned Sadberk Hanım Museum. This seemed to preempt protest against the privatization of Istanbul’s cultural heritage: the shipyards contain structures that date from the Ottoman conquest and settlement of the city in the fifteenth century.
In this harsh light, it is significant that Bourriaud’s ecology-themed biennial conveniently avoided a critique of the specific socio-political and economic structures impacting urban ecologies across the world. Even the biennial’s satirical advertisements seemed to divert the blame from corporate or political entities to suggest that our personal actions or consumer choices, not corporate greed, are responsible for our environmental crises. In these ads, The Seventh Continent’s diplomat—a giant trash bag—thanks the public for expanding its territory by consuming ever more plastic. This focus on the symptom over the cause—demonizing the use of plastic rather than the growth of the petrochemical industry, for example—served to exculpate those profiting from the neoliberal global order.
But Twitterstorians have been preoccupied with more weighty matters in the Trump era, a time when the President and his followers are known for spreading dubious versions of American history. Donald Trump recently wrote, of his impeachment hearings, “More due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials,” which is not strictly accurate. Many Twitterstorians have taken it upon themselves to correct the record. The crowd at the Sheraton mentioned the “rock stars” of social media: Kevin Kruse, at Princeton; Joanne Freeman, at Yale; Heather Cox Richardson, at Boston College. They discussed epic Twitter threads. In December, Nikki Haley claimed that the Confederate flag was about “service and sacrifice and heritage” until the mass murderer Dylann Roof“hijacked” it in the name of racial violence. Kevin Levin, a Civil War historian, responded with photographs showing white mobs brandishing the flag during the civil-rights era, and an engraving depicting the Fort Pillow massacre, when Confederates murdered black Union soldiers after they’d surrendered. “Dylann Roof didn’t ‘hijack’ the meaning of the Confederate flag from these men,” he wrote. “He embraced it.”
The bogeyman of Twitterstorians is Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative writer who has become the maga crowd’s court historian. His latest book, the best-selling “Death of a Nation,” compares Trump to Abraham Lincoln and attempts to link today’s Democratic Party to the Nazi Party of the nineteen-thirties. Last fall, D’Souza asked his 1.4 million Twitter followers, “If Frederick Douglass were alive today, is there any doubt he’d be a Republican and a Trump supporter?” Kruse tweeted in response, “This might well be the stupidest thing you’ve ever said here, and that’s saying a lot. Congrats!” The prominent Twitterstorians have all tangled with D’Souza, but Kruse is his best-known adversary. Last February, he began an extensive response to D’Souza’s Democrats-and-Nazis argument with “Fine, let’s do this.”
- People were fascinated/horrified by someone who shared their tendency to split big books to make them more manageable to read on the fly:
Amongst the recent controversies, many interpreted Apple’s decision drop the 🇹🇼 Taiwan flag from the emoji keyboard for users in Hong Kong and Macau as an act of corporate subservience to the Chinese government. Apple rolled out the change in its 2019 iOS 13.1.1 operating system update without mention, quietly aiding mainland China’s efforts to establish sovereignty over areas it considers its own.
While this decision doesn’t directly impact most Americans, the unilateral decision to remove an icon should cause pause. If Apple will aid Chinese government’s censorship efforts for the purpose of profit, would they do this for our own government as well? Although different in motive, internet linguist and author of Because Internet Gretchen McCulloch drew a comparison between Apple and Mainland China’s decision to remove the Taiwanese flag and the Associated Press’s (AP) recent announcement to use the Ukrainian spelling of its capital city, Kyiv. As rationale for the change from its English spelling, the AP wrote in a statement, “To many Ukrainians, the former spelling Kiev appears outdated because it is associated with a time when Ukraine was part of the Russian and Soviet states, rather than an independent country.”
Unlike a vernacular use of language that evolves organically and democratically, small groups of people make decisions about communication standards ranging from spelling recommendations to emoji availability that impacts millions. But whereas the Associated Press acts as an authority that influences language usage in the press, it has no control over what spelling people use in their emails and personal text messages. Apple, Unicode, and the governing bodies of nations, on the other hand, do have that power. “There’s a material difference of Ukraine making a recommendation that people and organizations can choose to accept or not, and what emojis you’re able to physically type,” McCulloch told Gizmodo.
- Homogenization in our society has impacted everything (full article):
- “A man sued his employer for racial discrimination, settled the suit, took the settlement check to the bank to cash it, then the bank didn’t believe the check was real and called the cops on him, leading to another racial discrimination lawsuit.” —@tomgara … file under, you can’t make this up:
First, the Detroiter sued his employer alleging racial discrimination in a lawsuit that settled confidentially. Then he went to the bank this week to cash his settlement checks, but the Livonia bank refused to cash or deposit his checks. Instead, they called the cops and initiated a fraud investigation — actions that dumbfounded Thomas and his lawyer, triggering another lawsuit.
On Wednesday, Thomas sued TCF Bank for alleged race discrimination, saying the Livonia branch mistreated and humiliated him by calling four police officers when all he was trying to do was deposit legitimate checks. According to police, the bank’s computer system read the checks as fraudulent.
Required Reading is published every Saturday, and is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.