Spending Sundays with Susan Sontag

porticos in Bologna, ItaliaSpending Sundays with Susan Sontag

Rebecca Chace’s “Regarding the Pain of Trump” in the Los Angeles Review of Books, September 30, 2017, has several nods and references to Susan Sontag.  And I was reading some Sontag these last two weeks: Where the Stress Falls (2001) and At the Same Time (2007), and came across this observation in the latter book:

The writer in me distrusts the god citizen, the “intellectual ambassador,” the human rights activist—those roles which are mentioned in the citation for this prize, much as I am committed to them. The writer is more skeptical, more self-doubting, than the person who tries to do (and to support the right thing).  –“Literature is Freedom”

Milkweed seeds #nature #Texas #wildflowers

A post shared by Christopher Landrum (@bookbread2) on

The Rhetoric of Data in the Writings of Ta-Nehisi Coates

porticos in Bologna, Italia

The Rhetoric of Data in the Writings of Ta-Nehisi Coates

I don’t have much to disagree with after reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s latest piece for the October 2017 issue of The Atlantic, which is an excerpt from his next book. The excerpt is titled: “The First White President: the foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.”

I do think Coates’ rhetorical framing of the voting statistics he cites is quite misleading, but I’m will to grant that Coates’s misleadership as a writer in this particular case was unintentional.

When Coates quotes the data-crunchers at Edison Research–

 Trump’s white support was not determined by income. According to Edison Research, Trump won whites making less than $50,000 by 20 points, whites making $50,000 to $99,999 by 28 points, and whites making $100,000 or more by 14 points. This shows that Trump assembled a broad white coalition that ran the gamut from Joe the Dishwasher to Joe the Plumber to Joe the Banker. So when white pundits cast the elevation of Trump as the handiwork of an inscrutable white working class, they are being too modest, declining to claim credit for their own economic class. Trump’s dominance among whites across class lines is of a piece with his larger dominance across nearly every white demographic. Trump won white women (+9) and white men (+31). He won white people with college degrees (+3) and white people without them (+37). He won whites ages 18–29 (+4), 30–44 (+17), 45–64 (+28), and 65 and older (+19). Trump won whites in midwestern Illinois (+11), whites in mid-Atlantic New Jersey (+12), and whites in the Sun Belt’s New Mexico (+5). In no state that Edison polled did Trump’s white support dip below 40 percent. Hillary Clinton’s did, in states as disparate as Florida, Utah, Indiana, and Kentucky. From the beer track to the wine track, from soccer moms to nascardads, Trump’s performance among whites was dominant.

–I must assume all the above numbers are accurate. But so are other numbers and contexts: like “Voter turnout at 20-year low in 2016” as CNN’s Gregory Wallace reported at the end of last November.  Only “about 55% of voting age citizens cast ballots this year.”

So after all of the rhetoric and emotion and hard number-crunching logic behind the citations Coates gives, he has yet to consider the 45% of American voters who abstained from voting for anybody for any reason.

When Coates writes “Trump’s performance among whites was dominant,” that’s was only among  those who bothered to leave their house. Nearly half stayed home, no matter their creed or color.

Not to mention that data by the American National Election Studies “suggest that about 8.4 million 2012 Obama voters backed Trump in 2016 and 2.5 million Romney voters supported Clinton,” for whom Coates (at least in the excerpt in The Atlantic) says nothing of these voters who switched from 2012 to 2016.

A Soros by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet


A Soros by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet

Some people these days say “Soros” but mean “Rothschild,” the way Dostoyevsky did:

Something that is very small for Rothschild is enormous for me, and as to the gain or profit, it is not only at the roulette table that people keep winning and snatching things away from one another….[1]

They must all work like beasts of burden and amass money like Jewish usurers….[2]

“Then, in fifty or maybe seventy years, the grandson of the first Vater last has a really substantial amount of capital to turn over to his son, who turns it over to his, and so on, for five or six generations, when the descendants may be a Baron Rothschild, or Hoppe and Co…”[3]

It was some Jew from Frankfurt; he had remained at my elbow all the time, and I believe had occasionally given me some advice on how to play….[4]

Oh, I never had any pity for those fools, never, nor have I now—I say it with pride! Why isn’t he a Rothschild himself? Whose fault is it that he hasn’t got Rothschild’s millions? ….[5]

Wealth yes, but not on the Rothschild scale; an honourable family, but one never distinguished in any way….[6]

Ganya was annoyed with Ptitsyn because his brother-in-law did not set out to become a Rothschild. [7]

But for “Soros” to mean “Rothschild,” is silly, because, Soros is such a peon, in terms of global reach, a word like “Zuckerberg” would be more appropriate. Yet neither Soros nor Zuckerberg have (yet) an empire whose administration is based on nepotism–unlike Baron Rothschild (and unlike Donald Trump).



[1] Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Игрок, Igrok. (The Gambler.) 1867. Translated by Andrew R. MacAndrew. NY: Bantam Classics. 1964. II, p. 29.

[2] Dostoyevsky, Игрок, Igrok. (The Gambler.) IV, p. 43.

[3] Dostoyevsky, Игрок, Igrok. (The Gambler.) IV, p. 44.

[4] Dostoyevsky, Игрок, Igrok. (The Gambler.) XIV, p. 145.

[5] Dostoyevsky, Идио́т (The Idiot) 1869. UK: Translated by Alan Myers. Oxford World Classics. 1992. III, v, p. 414.

[6] Dostoyevsky, Идио́т (The Idiot) IV, i, p. 487.

[7] Dostoyevsky, Идио́т (The Idiot) IV, i, p. 490.

Dare To Not Watch the Speech of Any President

porticos, Bologna, Italia

Dare To Not Watch the Speech of Any President

I didn’t watch last night’s speech by President Trump.

I haven’t listened to any speech by a president since “yellow cake.”

Besides, I’m exposed to enough high-quality pornography already.

I instead watched an old movie about an older story full of government corruption, terrorism, and false-imprisonment (with a classic ’90s trailer):

Perhaps I should’ve watched the speech instead.

Perhaps I am one of wise Odysseus’ foolish sailors with ears full of honeycomb, unable to hear the sirens shriek.

Or perhaps it is because I cannot trust the music of politicians, not unlike Kafka’s dog:

But how should they not be dogs? Could I not actually hear on listening more closely the subdued cries with which they encouraged each other, drew each other’s attention to difficulties, warned each other against errors; could I not see the last and youngest dog, to whom most of those cries were addressed, often stealing a glance at me as if he would have dearly wished to reply, but refrained because it was not allowed? But why should it not be allowed, why should the very thing which our laws unconditionally command not be allowed in this one case? I became indignant at the thought and almost forgot the music….

Even if the law commands us to reply to everybody, was such a tiny stray dog in truth a somebody worthy of the name? And perhaps they did not even understand him, for he likely enough barked his questions very indistinctly. Or perhaps they did understand him and with great self-control answered his questions, but he, a mere puppy unaccustomed to music, could not distinguish the answer from the music. (“Forschungen eins Hundes.” / “Investigations of a Dog.”)

Or is it that every president is but a cheerleader for the nation?––while the citizens remain the actual players on the field getting dirty, getting hit, engaging with our enemies, those old rivals: economics, bureaucracy, apathy of neighbors, etcetera.

Instead of listening to and watching a president speak, I would rather stare too much at the sun shining on the grass—for so oft does it seem that that is all that is left of America’s forefathers and godmothers.

Walt Whitman, where are you? #Whitman #grass

A post shared by Christopher Landrum (@landrumc) on

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them.
It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken soon out of their mothers’ laps.

––Walt Whitman “Song of Myself” § 6.

Trump Quotes Goethe

Mortadella in Bologna, Italia

Trump Quotes Goethe

I’ve been reading Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship and will write about that soon. In the meantime, all I have are Goethe memes:

Trump quotes Goethe #Trump #Goethe #deutschland

A photo posted by Christopher Landrum (@landrumc) on

Trump quotes Goethe #Trump #Goethe #deutschland

A photo posted by Christopher Landrum (@landrumc) on

Trump quotes Goethe #Trump #Goethe #deutschland

A photo posted by Christopher Landrum (@landrumc) on

Trump quotes Goethe #Trump #Goethe #deutschland

A photo posted by Christopher Landrum (@landrumc) on


I stayed home today

Mortadella in Bologna, Italia

I stayed home today

I voted third party. So I didn’t partake in any protest today. But I don’t disapprove the idea of protesting; although I’m sure if particularly extreme examples of that protesting were presented to me in a biased, dishonestly-framed context (as this country’s institutional and individual-social-based media tend to present such things), I’m sure I too would disapprove of those things presented.

I confess to being in the habit of saying things like, “yeah, protesting in the streets may have worked in the 60s, but it doesn’t do dick these days….” But as I get older and learn to be more attune to my body’s aches and pains, I know that for corporate political bodies (like those protesting today) as well as for corporal individual bodies (like my poor hungover aching-self) that sometimes it feels good, indeed, cathartic (in every Aristotelian sense of the word), to purge oneself of anger and frustration the same way one would purge oneself of gas or snot the way one does when farting or belching or sneezing.

Yes, many onlookers–particularly many onlookers from very far away–see such farting and belching and sneezing as disgusting, but that has nothing to do with the individual need to expel the anxiety and frustration and infection that has been physically or mentally frustrating certain individuals with regard to the current political situation.

But spare me the holier-than-thou arguments: if Hillary had won there would still be rioting in the streets. The original tea party was a protest, the neo-tea party was a protest, and today’s marches and gatherings are but a protest.

So go ahead protestors. Fart it all out. It won’t change the status quo. But it may nonetheless be necessary in order to maintain our political health.

Male Leaders to Never Look Up To


Male Leaders to Never Look Up To

Over at First Things,  Alexi Sargeant talks about great male role models growing up then complains that Trump doesn’t compare.

Sargeant makes some interesting points, and the whole post, “Making Better Men,” is worth reading,  but its underlying assumptions don’t quite add up. I don’t see what great role models in a child’s day-to-day life have to do with the quality of leadership they receive from the executives its parents elected. Kids watch cartoons on television, not presidents.

I had a good church-participating father and a few adequate male role models but they were neither politicians nor clergy nor bureaucrats nor professional athletes. Nor do I remember my alpha-male peers expressing their admiration or paying dues of gratitude to any of the above classes of professionals. I find it an absolute lie that every day Americans (especially under the age of 18) look to politicians for any sort of guidance, yet the fact that many journalists and academics assume that to be the case is not only perplexing, perhaps in a Maimonidesian sense, but also only further elevates“the worst examples of masculinity” mentioned by Sargeant.

Christians in Name Only


Christians in Name Only

Noah Millman goes for the knock out punch in today’s American Conservative:

Donald Trump’s primary victory is the final proof that even the religiously conservative base of the GOP doesn’t really care about things like abortion and gay rights, because Trump manifestly didn’t care about these questions or was actively on the other side from religious conservatives, and yet he won plenty of evangelical Christian votes in the primaries. So voting for Trump out of religious conservative conviction sends a clear-as-day message that Republicans need do absolutely nothing on those issues in order to win religious conservative votes. It is a statement of abject surrender.

A Funny, Brazen Franzen Friday

bookbread typewriter

A Funny, Brazen, Franzen Friday

Over at National Post, Emily M. Keeler has some apt and awfully funny observations about American novelist Jonathan Franzen (Not Yet Read). In reference to Franzen’s recent interview in The Guardian, Keeler writes:

In the words [Franzen] used, in the Guardian, against everyone young: “I thought [young] people were supposed to be idealistic and angry. And they seemed kind of cynical and not very angry. At least not in any way that was accessible to me.” It’s here, in his inability to humanely imagine what it might be like to occupy the consciousness of a person under the age of 40, where the novel falls down. Instead of portraying characters with fully realized consciousnesses of their own, he uses them as too-often artless ciphers for the rage he wishes people my age would feel.

His anger at millennial feminism, at the incrementalization of public opinion after the advent of social media, at young people in general, with our apparent lack of an appropriate response to the world he lives in, is more alienating than it is engaging. Even as he throws in a few great jokes to chew on – the novelist has repeatedly been made into an example of male privilege, targeted by other writers for his blithe sense of male entitlement, and so includes in this book a section by a male journalist who is so neutered by love for his feminist artist girlfriend that he sits down to urinate as a gesture of his willingness to handicap his masculine privileges – his disdain for his reader is as clear as his displeasure in the world he’s depicting.

(Read the whole thing.) And isn’t disdain just another word for resentment? And isn’t that just what America needs, more resentment? Some supporters of Donald Trump seem to think so. But, having recently written how resentment only breeds resentment, I can only add an observation from the late great Walter Jackson Bate:

The whole range of misunderstandings, rivalries, and resentments that divide human beings from each other is viewed, in short, as the product of imagination acting upon what we now call ‘anxiety,’ or the chronic, crippling preoccupation with our own problems and fears. Johnson himself uses the word, as when he states that ‘anxiety’ tends to increase itself. By keeping a man ‘always in alarms,’ and looking at all costs for safety, it leads him ‘to judge of everything in a manner that least favours his own quiet, fills him with perpetual stratagems of counteraction,’* and, by wearing him out ‘in schemes to obviate evils which never threatened him,’ causes him to contribute unwittingly to the very situations he fears.

–The Achievement of Samuel Johnson (1956)

To find out if Purity, Franzen’s latest work “fills him with perpetual stratagems of counteraction,” one will have to ask him. But I’m somewhat filled with counteraction in the sense that I’ve had little desire to read Franzen’s work up until now. A new experience awaits.