Caligula for President, Or, Your Misanthropy Makes Me Hot

November 4, 2008
As a populace, you are immature and emotionally retarded. Your crazy-dreamer-style political decision making is based on a totally optimistic disregard for actual politics, the learning process and logic in general.
— Caligula

As I stood in line at 5:30 AM to get the bullshit voting process out of the way by offering myself to the abstract intellectual space of free-play that leads to wise political judgment which we Americans locate in the voting booth (now replaced by the small “voting table” and the unwieldy “privacy card”), I took note of the smugness of my fellow voters. As one woman haughtily emerged from behind her voting box to announce that she had spoiled her ballot and needed another one, I was counseled to be patient by the Church volunteer who sat there handing out pens. I snapped at her, “I am being patient!” Earlier, I gave her my voter registration card. “Don’t you want to see my ID?” “That’s not really necessary,” she said. “Yes it is,” I ordered. “My vote isn’t getting disqualified on any grounds.” I couldn’t believe these people taking their vote for granted. Yuppies. These days you have to kick some ass to make sure they process your vote.

Another overly caffeinated woman kept discussing her volunteer work for Obama while rapping a copy of The New Yorker against her knuckles. I looked around wondering, “how many of these assholes have subscriptions to The New Yorker? Jesus Christ, what a racket. They really are cleaning up.” Everyone around me felt good. Even though I was the best looking person in the polling station, they all looked good, as if they felt clean. They felt optimistic. Our nation is ready to optimistically suffer itself back into economic prosperity for the next few years, and we will feel morally cleansed as we pull out of Iraq and remain militarily ensconced only in Afghanistan.

When I heard Obama claim that our troops only belong in Afghanistan looking for the perpetrators of 9/11, I felt the bottom fall out of my stomach. What is the point of war if we are not cynically seeking an extension of our vital resources? While George Bush’s attack on Iraq was blatant, Straussian, imperialism, it had a clear goal: If our military is not going to be trolling for oil, then really what is the fucking point?! And Obama considers himself leadership material?

“Only the Intelligent Vote Obama” stickers, “A vote for McCain/Palin is evil blog posts” and other examples of moral and cognitive self-righteousness mixed in with election time platitudes have been torture to sit through. The willingness to lie, cheat, and steal — the sheer ruthlessness of the rule by might of the past eight years — has been refreshing, if not a tad depressing, in its openness about the true nature of power in this society. The Republicans used the Strauss chapbook. They channeled Machiavelli and Stalin, instead of Lenin. Since my academic interest is largely in the history of ruthlessness and paranoia, I found the past decade educational. As obviously as the moral (does anyone care about morals anymore) of Antigone is don’t fuck around with nut-jobs, the (im)moral of the Republican party’s exploits as the ruling party is that viciousness in politics pays. I don’t need my Vice-President to believe the earth is round! Obama’s speeches could pass for a high school civics class lecture. The next four years promise to be boring with the ethical platitudes and veiled corruption.

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I also found Cintra Wilson’s Caligula for President: Better American Living Through Tyranny, to be incredibly educational. The premise is that Caligula has returned from the dead and the book constitutes his campaign for the American presidency. “America is thisssclose–right on the front-yard line–of having a real, live, old-fashioned, dynastic totalitarian monarchy-cum-military dictatorship. And I intend to drop-kick America orgasmically through this goalpost.” Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, like presidents from the Bush family, the Clinton family the Gore/Kennedy family, and all the other incestuous oligarchies that have ruled America (see The House of Yes), was born into the dynastic line of power. As with their administrations, insanity and sexual perversity and poor government went together. The book gives not only a history lesson on Caligula’s rise to power, the smotherings and political assassinations, the debauchery and the rape of state, the ascension into godhood and the free for all (or, rather, free for him) of his reign, but also shows how it applies to America today. Chapters range from a discussion of dynasty in politics to domestic propaganda, perception management, state religion (monumentality), political depression, Theft (tax give-aways; bribery), “security,” and builds up to chapters like “A Hello to Arms; Or, Eternal War for Eternal War; Or, Catching Your Dick in the Zipper of Imperial Overreach,” and “The Political Animal Must Eat Itself: Paranoia, Cannibalism and Existential Angst.”

When discussing perception management, Wilson employs the anthropological concept of “interpretive drift,” the theory of how “rational thinking can gradually become irrational. It’s the way normal people become cult members, for example, or free Americans become slave labor for a totalitarian military dictatorship.” This leads her into an explanation of how Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric (and owner of NBC) used his corporate interest to manipulate NBC news’ election coverage so as to have Bush called as winner of Florida the unforgettable night of the 2000 election. While Welch’s involvement was investigated, it was hardly reported upon. And even if it had made the front pages, Caligula rejoices in the knowledge that

PR agencies like Burson-Marsteller can literally fix any reputation. You can go down to Bhopal and spray oven cleaner into the eyes of orphans for six months, just for fun, and they’ll make it look like you were trying to correct their astigmatism.

How does the drift take place? During the past eight years, every major story about the current administration’s corruptions and manipulations (when reported) has been sidelined by conveniently breaking stories about Britney Spears, Anna Nicole Smith and Lindsay Lohan. “Lindsay Lohan’s personal issues considerably helped to eclipse the dismissal of the U.S. attorneys controversy,” claims Wilson, as she tracks the news cycle on July 24 and 25, 2007. After asking “Did Betsy Ross do more for her country than Lindsay?” and “Which story do you remember happening?” Wilson cum Caligula proclaims that Lohan is a small potatoes distraction:

Paris Hilton is, in fact, a Warholian genius of media manipulation. If Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana were “candles in the wind,” and Anna Nicole Smith was a bonfire in a hailstorm, and Lindsay Lohan is an electric toaster oven thrown intentionally into a Jacuzzi, then Paris Hilton is a strobe light in an epilepsy ward.

Hilton “managed” to begin her jail sentence on the same day that Scooter Libby was sentenced. “Was this sheer luck? Pure coincidence? Or was it raw patriotism?” Hilton has been quoted in Glamour Magazine on the subject of Palin as saying “I think she’s hot and I think it’s great that a woman is running for office. … I don’t think she’s stupid – she wouldn’t be where she is today if she was stupid. I think she’s smart, and it’s just because she’s a woman people are saying she’s not.” Paris would know… or wouldn’t. I’m confused. As Caligula points out in his campaign speech, “tragedy comes from the Greek words tragos, meaning “Goat” … and odia, meaning “song.” It was basically an ancient Greek entertainment-industry term — tragoidia–meaning “goat men sacrifice song.”” Today, he points out, it has been replaced by “designated celebrity scapegoating.” It is

the prevailing cultural trope I whimsically like to call “Death to the Slut.” Admit it. America is really not so different from Somalia: You love to stone the adulteress just as much as anyone under sharia law. You just prefer to psychologically torture your fallen women to death because it takes longer. I understand… The yellow press will hound a blonde into an early grave every five years or so, and parade her bloody bedsheets through the streets, and oily black gushers of inexhaustible tabloid revenue will blast up out of supermarket lines everywhere and fall upon us all like a dirty mist.

One of the great devices of the book is the way in which Caligula constructs revenge fantasies against celebrity culture for its distracting tactics. “As punishment for cycling with members of the last administration, Lance Armstrong will be forced to wear a very tight stack of yellow rubber bracelets around his only remaining testicle for several months. For charity, of course.” Crime appropriate punishments are meted out against Tucker Carlson, Willie Geist, Bill Hemmer, Dana Perino, Ann Coulter, Ryan Seacrest (who a slut friend of mine, Meagan, once dated years ago. Yes, he is as miserable in bed as you’d expect), Jessica Alba, and more.

The scope of Cintra’s argument can be difficult to manage. She and Caligula weave through ancient Rome, back to the Clintons, the Bush family, the Sopranos and to the Hiltons. The book is a history lesson, a history of our present and its own social theory. “Realpolitik is not for the twee. If you really want to understand how worlds corrode, you have to look at the fragile web of interconnected personal relationships in top cabinet positions,” says Caligula before discussing his uncle Tiberius, as well as Bush’s recent self-awarding of classified Presidential powers, and the close proximity of Presidential statutes to actual law now that Congressional recognition has been granted to them. It’s truly refreshing, for once, to read a conspiracy theorist who writes from the point of view of the conspiracy! You really think Obama will agree to lessen his own power? If so, Caligula has an aqueduct he wants to sell you.

Anyone who’s been around the historical block a few times knows that democracies tend to mutate into either empires or anarchies, both of which tend to devolve quite handily into tyrannies, and all of which ultimately decompose into authoritarian military dictatorships. You may whine all you like, but I can’t guarantee your safety afterwards. I prefer to think that America is moving away from the stagnant democracy it has been mired in, according to stodgy, literal, Borkian interpretations of ancient documents like the Constitution (which is as risible as any literal interpretation of any document from the New Testament to The Hobbit), and moving into something truly exciting: a more Rabelaisian, “carnivalesque” democracy…

In fact, Obama may represent a considerably greater danger than McCain ever would have. The religious power Obama holds over people with the words “hope” and “change” is quite frightening. As I keep telling people, the optimism they feel when he speaks is pure ideology. Their viscera is enacted and their bodies become complicit in his (homophobic and misogynistic) opportunist political program. I am sure he will be less horrible a president than McCain (which was the only criteria I used in voting for him), however, there is something compelling about the Caligulan logic that says we should be choosing the more horrible candidate. It’s the logic of political obscenity (not political satire; there is a difference). It’s the logic that demands even greater feats of extravagant corruption to which no one will react just to see how far we can be tested. For, if Obama is our reaction, then we truly are incapable of considered reaction.

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After I voted, I trudged my way to Starbucks. I was informed that if I showed the barista my voter card, I’d get a free coffee. It’s one of the many “discounts”/bribes for voting available today. I ordered a blueberry muffin I didn’t really want along with my free grande, decaff, lotta room for cream, cafe Americano, because I felt bad just trotting in and getting only free stuff. Then I showed my proof of voting. The barista frowned and said in a baby voice, “oh, that’s only good for talls, not grandes.” I ended up spending $4.50 I never planned on spending. As I stood there, munching on my stale muffin, I felt all my hope for change slide away. It’s gonna be a long four years without you, Caligula.

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Boxfresh

October 22, 2008


Guest columnist, Josef F., from the UK, discusses his latest musical recommendation – ‘Black Butta.’

Beverley Knight’s latest auditory tour de force, whilst being a vocal masterclass, disguises what can only be referred to as “An ode to being a black woman.” With the recent criticisms of certain black artists being “Too white,” such as Beyonce’s “Loreal-gate,” it is refreshing to see not only an artist embracing who she is, but to do so, with such a Boxfresh* sound. The song itself soars from a Husky verse into a rousing, belted chorus, which can only cause one response in the red blooded man – Spontaneous Dance. All in all, Beverley Knight’s latest contribution to the music world, is, quite frankly, echelons above most of the recent drivel we have been receiving.

*Boxfresh- Word originated by Danni Minogue on Saturday 18th show of X factor.

‘Let All the Poisons that Lurk in the Mud, Hatch Out!’

October 16, 2008

Cintra Wilson discusses her hilarious new book, Caligula For President: Better American Living Through Tyranny, which I am currently reading and might discuss here.

An Early Halloween Surprise

October 15, 2008

I am writing this at 1:30 AM –

Tonight we were awakened at midnight by an older woman screaming outside. “Help me, help me, somebody help me.” She was screaming bloody murder. In a daze, I found myself sitting up at the edge of my bed looking for a cell phone. I wanted to look out the window, but the air-conditioner which I still haven’t put away was blocking my view. The woman then began screaming, “I need a man. I need a man.” Was this some university student with a twisted sense of humor? Or the low life neighborhood crack addict who once approached me in the middle of a hot summer day with tight denim shorts on and a tube top, telling me with desperation that she was menstruating and had no tampons? Unlikely. The voice was a little more dignified. “My husband is hanging there. I need a man. I need a man.” I had no idea what was going on but I was starting to put two and two together. I ran outside along with half my building. A young woman from upstairs who is in the Department of Biology at the university was clutching her throat and gagging as she ran past me back inside. He hung from a tree by their third story porch.

She needed a man to help get her husband down. A neighbor who watches too much CSI said that we shouldn’t move the body. The new widow was having none of that. She wanted her husband down and it would happen now. The guy from the condo downstairs helped lift him up and back onto the porch. The woman kept screaming for an ambulance. She screamed the entire time. Putting on my FUCT hoodie, I edged over to the porch of the four bedroom next door. The classics grad students live there. “Hi, Alex,” I said. I had given Alex his cat, a stray I found when he was three months old. He was watching the tree. He brightened up when he saw me: “Hey, how’s it going?” I directed my eyes to the screaming woman and then back, “Uh? Not good!” “Oh, yeah,” he said. There wasn’t much left to say after that.

12 hours later –

I’d fallen asleep last night at around 10:00 reading Lauren Slater’s chapter, “In the Unlikely Event of a Water Landing,” from her controversial book Opening Skinner’s Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the 20th Century. Along with Eli Zaretksy’s Secrets of the Soul: A Social and Cultural History of Psychoanalysis and Geof Eley’s Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, 1850-2000, it’s one of those amazing intellectual histories that have actually taught me something – ones I started a few years back but whose reading was interrupted. I’ve been eager to get back to them, and the other day, I sidelined some of the stuff I’ve been working on to read something I want for once.

Slater opens the chapter by describing the post-911 paranoia that led her to order rubber gas masks for herself and her daughter (the husband refused to participate). “Now I pick up my gas mask and try it on. It fits to my face with a loud sucking sound. The gas mask for my daughter is really unbearable. It is so small, such a dense miniaturization of horror. I hold it in my hand. I call her over and try to put it on her, but she backs away, cries out, of course. Help is so hard to give.” Slater’s signature style in the book offended quite a few people in the psychiatric profession (Good). It was OK for her to do in such memoirs as Welcome to My Country, about her experience as group counselor for a schizophrenia patients at Harvard while she was a graduate student. What her supervisors did not know was that Slater had been a patient in this same ward and a member of the group when she was a teenager. In Lying, she details how prone epileptics are to exaggerating the magnitude of their seizures, as well as the way many non-epileptics who are given to lying pathologically enjoy faking seizures. Opening Skinner’s Box, however, was a different matter altogether as Slater employed narrative techniques found in fiction and autobiography to describing scientific case studies. Her method is appropriate, though, insofar as these are the psychiatric case studies of the 20th century that captured the popular imaginary and questioned the “scientific” groundings of Psychiatry. Slater is pretty up front by using this style: Psychiatry isn’t a science and the essay form allows her to subject to moral and ethical questioning.

The gas mask incident helps her think through why “helping” others has been such a vexing problem for psychiatrists. She discusses the study by John Darley and Bibb Latane, inspired by the public murder of Catherine “Kitty” Genovese at 3AM after parking her car by her apartment building. A man followed her and stabbed her. She cried out. Ran away. Lights went on in the nearby buildings. The attacker followed her and continued his rape/attack. She escaped again and he followed her. The murder took 35 minutes and took place in front of 38 active witnesses, none of whom phoned the police until after the murder was complete and the rape consummated. Once the story was reported by the New York Times in a series of articles, readers who were outraged by the bizarre behavior of the witnesses wrote in demanding that the Times publish their names on the front page of the paper. It was especially enraging that New York State had no by-stander law (à la the final episode of Seinfeld) that would prosecute witnesses to a crime who did not in some way intervene.

What were the psychological forces at work?

Experts from all corners offered hypotheses to explain why the witnesses did what they did. Renee Claire Fox of Barnard College’s sociology department said the witnesses’ behavior was a product of “affect denial”; they had been, in other words, shocked into inaction or numbness. Ralph S. Banay hypothesized that TV was to blame; Americans, he said, are so subject to an endless stream of violence from the television that they can no longer separate real life from the screen. The same Dr. Banay also offered up the proverbial psychoanalytic explanations, the sort of thing that, a decade later, Rosenhan would so discredit in his pseudopatient study. Banay said, “They [the witnesses] were deaf, paralyzed, hypnotized with excitation. Persons with mature, well integrated personalities would not have acted this way.” Karl Menninger wrote, “Public apathy is itself a manifestation of aggressiveness.”

Slater claims that Darley and Latane “were not not happy with these explanations, in part because, like [Stanley] Milgram, they were experimental social psychologists who believed less in the power of personality than in the power of situation, and in part because the explanations defied intuitive sense.” I’d say from reading about their study that they were more interested in developing a social theory of the “scene” than the “situation,” but that’s just semantics. Slater’s account of their study on offering help discusses the way in which the crime and the response didn’t quite “fit.” She offers mundane examples of this lack of fit. A fire alarm is going off in your building, “and no one seems worried,” so you ignore it as well. A person falls in the street, and no one offers help, so you keep walking. I’ve seen that one before. You just assume that everyone else around saw the fall differently, realizing that the collapsed person was drunk, not having a heart attack. Someone else already phoned the ambulance, etc.

Darley and Latane’s experiment, which involved checking to see if a test subject would respond to a cry for help (taped) from someone in the next room who was having a seizure, was less important for my purposes in its details than it is for its results. Only 35% of people stood up to find help for the seizure victim over his six minute seizure. More importantly, this percentage dropped according to “group” size. If more than four test subjects were present during the experiment, a helping response would be unlikely. Chances that someone would take on a leadership role dramatically increased to 85% if only two test subjects were together at a time with the epileptic student next door.

You would think that the larger the group, the more emboldened you would become, the less fearful, the more likely you would be to reach out across danger. After all, do we not feel most intimidated alone, in the dark, in the back ally, where no light shines down? … Latane and Darley’s experiment challenges the evolutionary adage of safety in numbers. There is something about a crowd of bystanders that inhibits helping behavior.

They called this “diffusion of responsibility,” which means that we start relying on someone else to do the helping for us. Also, social etiquette norms mean that no one wants to be the one to make a fuss. The more time passing decreases the chances that someone will help. This is not apathy. It’s the conscious choice not to respond with a helping action.

It struck me, after I came back in and thought about what I had been reading before I fell asleep, that last night I did not get off my bed until the woman announced that her husband had hanged himself. Until then, I was sitting on the edge of the bed holding my head, listening to her screams for help and for a man, trying to decide what to do. I’d had a beer, which I’m not supposed to take with medication; felt incredibly woozy. But was my mixing of substances a moral alibi?

When I came outside probably three minutes had passed since her screams first woke me up. At least 20 people were mingling outside watching the “victim’s” feet hanging in the air. The woman I mentioned earlier, who was running back in to vomit, had made it outside and was already turning back before I shuffled unhurriedly down the back stairs in my flip flops. Through early inaction, I’d already decided that this wasn’t my problem. One of my co-workers said, after I’d described the Catherine Genovese murder, “At least you all went outside.” “Sure,” I answered, “and people were calling an ambulance and a neighbor was helping by swinging the husband down off the tree after he lynched himself. The difference is, while our response was helping and immediate, it was secondary. People were ready to offer help when we knew the crime was over. I guarantee you, none of those people would have gone outside if there was a crime/murder in action.” He was interested by my answer.

“How come no one heard the guy setting up the rope to hang himself?” I explained, “The neighborhood is class mixed. My street is nice, but we also have a lot of losers in our building and all around who aren’t interested in bourgeois respectability. There is noise at night sometimes. Some of the neighbors are always trying to sell my friends weed or porn VHS tapes when they come over (who watches VHS anymore?). Also, one of the neighbors has a retarded kid who runs around screaming in the same monotone all afternoon long. You get used to screening things out.”

“But if you had seen the guy rigging the rope, would you have shouted something out or called the police?”

“He thinks he would,” said another co-worker. “But according to the study he mentioned, he probably wouldn’t.”

“I have no problem calling the police on my neighbors. Actually, I know I wouldn’t in this case. I know the woman was in that instant destroyed by the death of her husband, but suicide is a personal decision. It’s no one else’s business. My opinion on the subject is pretty anti-social. Hanging, though, that’s the most performative way to kill yourself, and probably the most passive aggressive.”

When I think about last night, the most disturbing image wasn’t the guy’s feet floating in the shadow of the falling tree leaves, illuminated by porch light behind him. Rather, it was after he was down. By then, we had all dispersed back to our respective apartments. From my windows, by the computer where I was to start typing this entry, I watched the EMTs and police arrive to “take care of” the situation. It only took ten minutes for them to arrive and then vacate. And while the backyards of these buildings are like an echo chamber (condos on one side, separated from the backyard of our apartments by a picket fence), they did their jobs in a surreal silence. Conversation was out of the question. I did not want to talk to anybody. I wanted to watch as the EMTs climbed the porch stairs like in a silent film. The police with their notebooks climbed down. The body was carried down. An EMT held up a giant measuring stick to get the height of the tree limb where the guy hung from.

I think the giant stick was the creepiest thing.

Chris Claremont Threatens Fan

October 13, 2008
‘Shape up or I’ll kill your favorite character!’


Sage fans tend to be scary. Online they discuss their latest face tattoos, their favorite techno-death metal and their forthcoming suicide attempts. Her hardcore following has been up in arms over the new pirate costume with the golden bra, her ratty hair, the sudden ability to fly and her new multiple personality disorder. CC even wants to make her a blonde! Since they are the only thing left of CC’s fan base, their recent defection has been sharper than a serpent’s tooth. CC isn’t taking it well.

Dear Luana —

I’m truly sorry you feel this way and I wish I had an appropriate instant solution that might restore Sage to a more appropriate presentation. But from the writer’s perspective, one can only follow one’s own instincts and hold to what is most true (especially in terms of a character like Sage, who hasn’t been bounced around the creative neighborhood as often as, say, Logan) to my vision and conception of her and how I want to challenge it and thereby evolve. Forgive me if I’m restating something you might be well aware of, but my intent here is to confront her with a vision of herself, and her role in things, that she’s studiously dodged her whole life — namely, her emotions. She can’t lock them down any longer; she has to find a way to strike a balance with herself and utilize all her assets to combat the imposition of Roma’s memories. Most of the other characters face external battles (with the exception perhaps of Morph); hers, by contrast, are internal.

All I can really offer is the homily (cliche though it may be) that I’ll keep trying ’til I get it right, whatever “right” turns out to be. The one supremely great advantage held by “Exiles” as opposed to the core Marvel titles is that stories, and characters, can come to an end. Life here has consequence, and finality — even though the hardest part of it may be the writer (or artist, or both) finding themselves forced to say goodbye to a character they may love. Death is part of the story here and when characters come to that end, they don’t come back. Not so hard when they’re comparative strangers; significantly harder when they’re visions of one’s bedrock creations. That’s the challenge, coming up with moments worthy of the characters, and worthy of the audience.

As I said, I’m sorry what’s happening with Sage has taken the character away from one whose life you want to follow. I hope find better fortune with other characters and other books. But please give us a look from time to time; who knows, we might surprise you.

Best wishes,

Chris Claremont

Impressive. He’s basically telling “Luana” to step off before he writes in Sage’s death. He’s done this many times before. When the Nocturne fans turned on him, he gave her a stroke. When the Dazzler fans attacked, he put a hole through her head. In fact, CC went completely ballistic over Dazzler, and resurrected her several times in a few issues just so that he could kill her Over and Over Again. This blogger highly recommends that Sage fans start watching the tone they take with His Majesty, Chris Claremont.

Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Disintegration, or I Broke My Dick Once, Part I

October 9, 2008

I broke my dick once.

It was the swampy summer of 2003 and one morning in August, I woke up already frying in the heat, cringing under the air-conditioner, with a broken dick.

To be more accurate, I woke up one morning and found my penis dislocated. The penis-entity could be found at the usual place on my body, but the organ itself was distorted. Unerect, it was a tiny bulbous mass pulling into body for shelter. Erect… let’s just say that two heads were forming. Peeing was a trial as the pee-hole leading out of my penis was no longer directly connected to the “inner tube” from whence water issued.

As calmly as possible, I assessed the injury and called Michael (we were still together) who was in Michigan working on the hardwood floors for the house or something. I have no idea what he was up to. All I know is that I didn’t want to spend time with his cult-like family and had proffered one of my panoply of ready excuses to avoid the visit. But I needed him with me now. Moving across the apartment with painstaking care, my penis was clasped in my hands gently – as I would carry a bird with a broken wing. It wasn’t a bird that was broken, though. It was me. I needed care. To Michael, I explained that my penis was broken or dislocated. I described what was happening. He laughed. He told me “your penis isn’t broken. It will go away. Cancel your tutoring appointments. Just take it easy for the day.”

Bar none, it was the most shattering moment of my life. I was not going to “take it easy.” My mind ran through the possibilities at the speed of paranoia. Thomas Laquer had written about cases in the eighteenth century where clitorises “descended,” dropping out into full-grown penis and testes. Was the opposite happening? Making matters worse, I’d recently been reading about eighteenth century medical debates about “spermism” and preformation, giving my mind material to introject the moral into my medical concerns. I’d read about people who were born hermaphrodites and whose doctors had sewn up the vagina or snipped off nascent penises. Not knowing much about female anatomy, I wondered if perhaps I was one of those cases. Had a doctor (my own father, the Obstetrician who delivered me) stitched up my vagina, and was it now opening up causing my penis to cave in? I cursed him. In my panicked, paranoid rage, I cursed my dead father. Better he had drowned me in a tub after I was born, then risk a life of hermaphroditism for his own “son.”

Or maybe an erection had come upon me at night, and in an effort to avoid sleeping on our cat, (and to hide the shameful erection from her), had I rolled over onto the erection and broken the shaft of my penis? Was the bulbous entity pulsing on the shattered remains of my groin now filling with pus and blood?

Three months before I would begin to find myself in total therapy meltdown, I was already exhibiting symptoms of several kinds of madness. Some of my eccentricity had always been part of my cultivation of personality, but I look back at my cover story and know it wasn’t all act. Was this the tipping point? That period of time moved so quickly; I’m grateful that it remains a blur. I know that my life would soon completely change. Veering from one scenario to another, one thing was certain: the Cronenbergesque mass on my groin was no hallucination.

Coincidentally, this development occurred just as campus graduate students were furiously debating the issue of health insurance — the university provided it to some incoming students, but not universally. The thought that someone would not only go into debt for graduate education (understandable if you are talking about a technical school such as law, medicine or social work), appalled me. That anyone would accept a funding package without tuition coverage or even mere health care included convinced me that there truly were people who would sell their souls to a faculty and administration of Caligula-level sadists for a chance to frolic for a few more years in, what Jerome McGann once called, America’s “retirement homes for the young.”

Remember that it wasn’t simply the desperation of students to get into graduate school at work in the mind-set of my colleagues that led to a “debate” about the advisability of pressuring the university to provide basic health care for all its working teachers (at a university that was famed for driving students insane), the debate was also riven by the cronyism of graduate students who would never EVER stand up to the administration for fear of being black-listed.

Given the events of the years prior, fear of the academic black-list was not baseless. Following the strikes of their teaching assistants, Yale University actually compiled a list. Everyone in the field knew whose names were on the list — they were the applicants whose letters of recommendation were unusually cruel, even for Yale. Tenure was infamously denied to professors who openly encouraged the graduate student union’s strikes. At my university, I sat through a job talk from one of the strike organizers — a sensitive, intelligent, man who worked on 20th Century working-class literature and who had fascinating ideas about how the genres of the picaresque and picturesque worked. He was one of the few job candidates with whom I’d ever had as candid a conversation about my work and his – he seemed genuinely engaged in what other people had to say. At the time, I knew nothing about the politics of his job-talk but I did notice that some of the more advanced students in my program treated him with an unremitting smugness. I wondered if there was a “class” thing going on since this guy was clearly from a blue-collar background. Was Sam, one of my nemeses, smirking at the heavy arm hair emerging from this guy’s shirt sleeve? At his job talk, two of the most senior professors in the department sat in the back loudly gossiping while the the applicant lectured without notes. An assistant professor curried favor with her seniors by attacking his thesis like a rabid dog. You could probably still find her dental records by referring to the bite marks on his leg.

Like Yale, my university was deeply hostile to student organizing. The journal where I worked was directly across the hall from the Romance Languages department. Their department had posted on their bulletin board a photocopy of a story that ran in the undergraduate paper about the proposed Graduate Student Union. It explained that the main organizers behind such a union had taken their degrees and gone on to the job market. Administration officials forecast no imminent organizing on the horizon. Someone had ominously underlined, prior to the photocopying, a chilling quote from a dean mentioning that the university “discourages” any new graduate students to follow the lead of their predecessors. The Department of Romance Languages would not brook a repeat of the Revolutions of 1848!

As I was nursing my broken penis with tender strokes, emails from the graduate student list-serve were flashing across my computer screen, debating a meeting that had been scheduled where we were to consider approaching the university about providing the “basic” insurance plan to all its graduate student employees. That we were asked to live on a pittance of $4,000 to $12,000 depending on the grade of one’s fellowship – plus $1,500 a course for every quarter’s teaching ($1,500 over two and a half months of work, facing the impudence of entitled little undergraduates who constantly liked to remind us that their parents were generously paying our salaries) – was not up for discussion. Rather, we were far more abject: we simply wanted the university to pay for part of our anti-depressant prescriptions. Dissent came from a contingent that opposed any body that would organize such a demand on their behalf.

I remember one particularly noxious character who I’ll call “Matt.” Matt entered the program a year before I did with his future girlfriend, “Scarlet.” Quickly they began to date. Soon they were engaged. Even sooner, Scarlet would take all her classroom queues from Matt. If she was about to make a point, not only would she need a nod from the professor to speak, she’d also look for one from Matt. He completely dominated her. A once beautiful young woman turned into a crony of a crony. Matt cronied himself to the Modern poetry professor. A man with a Germanic name who had added a “Von” to his name in order to feel more legitimate teaching about the importance of Rilke. “Von” was a strange guy on his own; his second wife was a young black Classics Professor a quarter of his age. When teaching Othello to freshman, he would stop at Iago’s inflammatory line, ‘An old black ram is tupping your white ewe,’ and not ask the students to meditate on race relations; instead he asked them consider Iago’s disdain for inter-generational relationships. “Von” is a consummate name-dropper. One of my fellow students reports to me on the condition of anonymity, “The best part of his class was the literary gossip he would gift us with, always being sure to lay out each of the degrees of separation that tied him to some woman who had the dorm room across the hall from Elizabeth Bishop.”

But I digress. Matt was one of those douche-bags with an electric socket tattooed on his ankle. His favorite band was probably Everclear; no, the Foo Fighters. We all hoped that Scarlet tied him to the bed at home and whipped him every night to compensate for his obnoxious extroversion and her invisibility in his company. In a seminar, I once debated a question about the Protestant Reformation with one of his professors when Matt was not even present, and based on hearsay he sent me an email about the importance of knowing “one’s place” in the university system.

Matt was opposed to our attempts to “socialize” health care. When I weighed in on the list-serve about the matter, he referred to my thoughts as “spam” and rattled on about “rocking the boat.” A few nights prior to the broken penis, Matt had personally called me out on the issue even though I wasn’t one of the organizers of the meeting and wasn’t very invested in the issue. I think my stance boiled down to “of course all of us should get health insurance.” Lately, he had taken to sending me messages directly from a non-university account, arguing with me on a one-on-one basis. I asked him several times who his pseudonym stood for (“You seem to know me. Do you want to tell me who I’m conversing with?”), but he steadfastly refused to name himself not realizing that I already had him pegged from a signature on a previous mass-email exchange. I respected his need to imagine up some privacy in order to have a discussion. It fit his profile of someone trying to climb out of his social rank through a Ph.D. program.

Matt’s emails consisted of impassioned bullet-points that spilled out over several lines. I’ve never understood people who write paragraphs in a bullet-point form. Either make your point quickly and get out, or write an essay. The bullet-point disorder probably has a similar aetiology to whatever disease causes people to write long, manic, emails without ever using single a paragraph break. He wanted me to “see reason.” Me, personally. Not everyone else. I had taken on meme-like status for him. I represented the idea of the impudent student, the malcontent. His emails impicitly proselytized the Virtues of Cronyism as a way of life. Matt believed that graduate education was a benefaction upon us, not a full-time job. He discussed Marcel Mauss’s essay,”The Gift,” claiming education as a gift given with the expectation of reciprocity. Was Matt’s cocksucker’s position his counter-gift to the university? I found all this funny as I’d seen him walk Von’s wife’s dog on campus as part of his editorial duties at Von’s poetry magazine. Had he never read Derrida’s response to Mauss?

darknessatnoon@redacted.edu to “Matt”psp2@hotmail.com
Subject: RE – The Gift

Dear Interoluctor,

A true gift is given without the demand for reciprocity. Derrida says: “For there to be a gift, il faut that the donee not give back, amortize, reimburse, acquit himself, enter into a contract, and that he never have contracted a debt.”

Don’t give anything back during these apprenticeship years other than labor, time, sanity and intelligence, of course. Those are merely “symbolic equivalences” for him. Not the real thing. So of course, those things don’t matter.

Are you now, or have you ever been, a deconstructionist? I am not a commodity fundamentalist, but my political affiliations are Marxist.

Sincerely yours,
darknessatnoon

A Vizier of bullshit, Matt had a list of words such as “hegemony” and “episteme” he’d kept since before I’d known him that he felt needed to be used in his dissertation. I speak of Matt with contempt because he is a contemptible person who bullied his students, his girlfriend and his peers, but I really did feel sadly towards him. I had come to realize that replying to his emails constituted a form of medical relief for the overbearing egomania and tension that built up in him daily. I once asked him, “How shall I bill you for our sessions? I take it you’re not covered, so will I send the invoice directly to your home? What is your address?”

As I said earlier, I couldn’t just sit around taking it easy. I was not going to spend this day waiting to see if my penis would put itself back together while I discussed trade unionism with Matt who violently opposed me with his jargon. The only course of action would be to somehow get to the hospital. I couldn’t ride my bike there, could I? …

Coming Soon in I Broke my Dick Once!

darknessatnoon worries about penis theft! He confronts Judge Schreber and a doctor with long fingernails asks to stick her fingers up his ass! All this and more in the finale to I Broke My Dick Once!

Tessie-Jo

October 6, 2008
horresco referens

As regular readers, you all know that Sage is my favorite comic book character. Created in 1980 as Tessa, assistant to one of the X-Men’s greatest enemies, Sebastian Shaw, the Black King of the Hellfire Club (rich, mutant, industrialists, devoted to control of the world through ruthless economic domination and manipulation), Tessa was later retconned into having been one of Charles Xavier’s first students. Due to her computer brain and complete control over her own body, Tessa made the ideal spy for Xavier. Reportedly, Chris Claremont planned for Tessa’s role to be revealed in Uncanny X-Men #300. Having written the comic for fourteen straight years, my Tub of Love, CC, felt comfortable snoozing along with plots planned 6 years in advance. Unfortunately, CC became a little too uppity and was forced off the X-Men books 1991. When he returned with inflated fanfare in 2000, the revelation that Tessa had always been an X-Man — while making sense if one revisited her earlier appearances — seemed forced and contrived with Tessa’s off-panel defection from the Hellfire Club back to her home team.

One of Sage’s powers is to type 200 wpm without a keyboard, as well as to spin around on wooden chairs.

I’ve always been interested in the way writers flash their influences around. With CC, you can practically see his Netflix queue with every issue he releases. When he redesigned Sage in 2002, he was obviously a late-comer to the Matrix and a loyal viewer of Alias, as one of the thousands of people who masturbated at Jennifer Garner on a weekly basis. Most writers refuse to touch Sage, leaving the retcon wholly in CC’s hands. Professor Carey, even when visiting Xavier’s past every month, leaves Sage out of the mix. Jeff Parker, writer of X-Men: First Class – a whimsical, all-ages, story about the original five X-Men as teens – refuses to include Sage in any of their adventures. The only author brave enough to touch Sage’s past history with the X-Men was Grant Morrison, who in the above panel alluded to a dark past between Sage and Jean Grey, as they pass one another on campus, giving each other full-on bitch face.

While purists who read the X-Men and cowardly writers treat Sage as if her convoluted history would give them the plague, many people agree with me that Sage’s past with the X-Men deserves to be respected. My friend, Novaya, who mocks Sage incessantly (he considers her a ludicrous and comedic counter-point to the “more important” Dazzler), also agrees that Sage belongs in First Class. To some degree, Sage is ludicrous. Every time CC writes her, she comes off as some sort of sexual succubus. There are superheroines who can fight in high heels, and though Sage tries to use them as a weapon, she is constantly being defeated, tripped, knocked around, mind-raped, or thrown against a wall with a knife to her throat. A couple of years ago CC had her go undercover with one of her team’s enemies, and she went so deep-cover that she forgot that she was actually hero. She “accidentally” decapitated one of her allies. Lately, CC has been watching Pirates of the Caribbean on Netflix and now CC dresses her in a gold bra and a Johnny Depp style pirate outfit. In fact, Sage is deeply ludicrous, yet compelling to me. Probably, she represents one of Claremont’s ex-wives. As you can see in the image below, which Novaya has shown to Jeff Parker, he envisions Tessa as Tessie-Jo, a Goth teenager who yanks around a large 1960s style computer and is mocked by the rest of the cast of First Class. Obviously, most of the original members don’t remember that Sage was with them during their early X-Men adventures because that bastard, Professor Xavier, mind-wiped them (with the exception of Jean Grey, who held a high enough security clearance to remember Tessa).

In response to Novaya’s stunning piece of computer artwork, Gene F has created some gorgeous images, detailing the hidden history of Sage and the rest of the Original Six members of the X-Men. I have asked him for permission to post his work on my blog for greater exposure and Gene has kindly agreed. Since Gene is an Arab (I think. Either way, he’s swarthy) we can add this material to the growing archive of great Arab-American art and its critical reception. The following is Gene’s art as well as his explanation of the images.

The 05’s were real assholes towards Sage. That’s the real reason why she has not yet been included in First Class.

Observe:While the 05s were busting the Brotherhood’s chops, Xavier had special ‘individual study’ classes prepared for young Sage.

Observe:
Though they don’t particularly remember it, Beast and Iceman were almost as harsh on Tessa as Xavier was.

Observe:
Sage’s introductory Danger Room sessions with Cyclops and Marvel Girl.

Observe:More Sage and the 06 photo evidence has been declassified.

Sage was one of the first victim’s of Jean Grey’s irrational temper, and quickly found out how much Jean loves to see girls cry.

Young Sage was one of the first to preview the wrath that would one day become Dark Phoenix.

Observe:
Even Sage’s personal space was violated in the house of X. Cyclops and Jean found it humorous to upset Sage’s reserved emotional status by being blatant with theirs.

Observe:
Angel’s tiny brain was often baffled by Sage’s higher thought processes. In retaliation, he would often take his childish frustrations out on her delicate technology.

Observe:
With his twisted love for Jean fully blossomed, Xavier threatens Sage with “deep cover” work if she doesn’t stay out of Grey’s way.

Sage is aghast at the thought of wearing fishnets and a corset. She is saddened at the thought of being used like this.

Observe:
Sage was eventually excluded from team sports after Beast kept lovingly squeezing the life out of her whenever she got within a five-foot radius.

…much to the horror of Sage and the chagrin of Angel (who hated her for her superior intellect)….

Observe:

Keep an eye on this post for further updates of Sage: First Class!

Once I Really Listened, the Noise Just Went Away

September 25, 2008

I’ve been hearing this song in my head for a week now. Perhaps it’s because I gave up coffee and sleeping pills, my mind is reaching out for something else to comfort me. I realized when thinking about the lyrics that the moments in my life when I’ve always felt the most anticipation are when I’m in a plane that’s landing and the earth looks like it was lit from within. That feeling quickly gets shoved aside in the rush to position oneself for a smooth exit out to the baggage claim (or to waiting areas where friends and family used to be allowed to wait), but for a few moments you can just feel potentiality breaking out all over the place. I’d love to actually be able to play this song when I’m landing somewhere, but that’s always when the stewardess comes by to make me put my music away. Luckily, my brain has apparently adapted to play music without a crutch.

Intolerable Cruelty

September 24, 2008
Review of Uncanny X-Men #502 by Gilles Deleuze, citations taken from Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty & Venus in Furs.

Auteur: Matt Fraction
Artiste: Greg Land

Masochism is a story that relates how the superego was destroyed and by whom, and what was the sequel to this destruction.
The first is the hetaeric or Aphroditic era, born in the lustful chaos of primeval swamps: woman’s relations with man were many and fickle, the feminine principle was dominant and the father was “Nobody.” The second, or Demetrian era, dawned among the Amazons and established a strict gynocratic and agricultural order; the swamps were drained; the father or husband now acquired a certain status but he still remained under the domination of the woman. Finally the patriarchal or Apollinian system established itself, matriarchy surviving in degenerate Amazonian or even Dionysian forms.

How does the Greek ideal become transformed in the masochistic ideal? … Obviously through the catastrophe of the glacial epoch, which accounts for both the repression of sensuality and the triumphant rise of severity.
“Venus must hide herself in a vast fur lest she catch cold in our abstract northern clime, in the icy realm of Christianity.” Everything is suggestive of coldness: marble body, women of stone, Venus of Ice are favorite expressions of Masoch; his characters often serve their amorous apprenticeship with a cold statue, by the light of the moon.

The catastrophe of the Ice Age having engulfed the world of the Greeks and with it the type of the Grecian woman, both sexes found themselves impoverished. Man became coarse and sought a new dignity in the development of consciousness and thought; as a reaction to man’s heightened consciousness woman developed sentimentality, and toward his coarseness, severity. The glacial cold was wholly responsible for the transformation: sentimentality became the object of man’s thought, and cruelty the punishment for his coarseness. In the coldhearted alliance between man and woman, it is this cruelty and sentimentality in woman that compel man to thought and properly constitute the masochistic ideal.
The masochism of the sadistic hero makes its appearance at the outcome of his sadistic exercises; it is their climax, the crowning sanction of their glorious infamy. The libertine is not afraid of being treated in the way he treats others. The pain he suffers is an ultimate pleasure, not because it satisfies a need to expiate or a feeling of guilt, but because it confirms him in his inalienable power and gives him a supreme certitude. Through insults and humiliations, in the throes of pain, the libertine is not expiating, but in Sade’s words, “he rejoices in his inner heart that he has gone far enough to deserve such treatment.”
He ensures that he will be beaten; we have seen that what is beaten, humiliated and ridiculed in him is the image and the likeness of the father, and the possibility of the father’s aggressive return. It is not a child but a father that is being beaten.
Nature herself is cold, maternal and severe. The trinity of the masochistic dream is summed up in these words: cold – maternal – severe, icy – sentimental – cruel. These qualities point to the difference between the woman torturer and her “counterparts,” the hetaera and the sadist; their sensuality is replaced by her supersensuous sentimentality, their warmth and their fire by her icy coldness, their confusion by her rigorous order.

The torturess escapes from her own masochism by assuming the active role in the masochistic situation. It is a mistake to think that she is sadistic or even pretending to be so. We must not imagine that it is a matter of the masochist encountering a sadist by a stroke of luck. Each subject in the perversion only needs the “element” of the same perversion and not a subject of the other perversion.
Waiting and suspense are essential characteristics of the masochistic experience. The masochist is morose: but his moroseness should be related to the experience of waiting and delay. Formally speaking, masochism is a state of waiting; the masochist experiences waiting in its pure form.

I’ve Always Been The Easy Kill

September 23, 2008

When I Was Five I Killed Myself

by Howard Buten

After dinner we practised a little economy. Instead of drinking the coffee which remained from breakfast, we kept it for our tea with the cream and cakes which they brought with them; and, to keep up our appetites, we went into the orchard to finish our dessert with cherries. I climbed up the tree, and threw down branches of fruit, while they threw the stones back at me through the branches. Once Mademoiselle Galley, holding out her apron, and throwing back her head, presented herself as a mark so prettily, and I took such accurate aim, that I threw a bunch right into her bosom. How we laughed! I said to myself, if my lips were only cherries, how readily would I throw them into the same place!

— Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions

The French middle class is to blame, especially Jean Jacques Rousseau, for the thousands of books released each year reflecting on the lives of children. It takes huge imaginative leaps to make children interesting. In Rousseau’s little piece of erotica, The Confessions, the idea of economy is to dream of violating Mme. Galley while allowing her to somehow keep her cherry. Tonguing Galley is the ideal means of keeping the hymen intact while extracting what young Jean-Jacques needs to go with his creams and cakes. Only a teen at this point in the time-line, Rousseau knows only to seek small sexual profits. Due to his influence, every modern literary novel descends into the nostalgic passages of autobiographical tween sexual longing. Some people credit Rousseau with normalizing childhood sexuality, making it less monstrous — something I find ironic given that Rousseau himself was consistently a monster from birth onwards.

Howard Buten is big in France. This reputed bigness comes up consistently every time When I Was Five I Killed Myself is discussed. In fact, the mystery of Buten’s appeal to the French literati is bigger than the mystery in the novel itself. I blame Rousseau. The title itself is a winner, but what about the structure and style of the book?

We start with eight-year old Burt Rembrandt being forcibly strapped down in an institution for autistic and disturbed children. Burt has done something horrible. Chapters flashback to the chronology of events that led him to institutionalization while they lead into his present-day treatment. SPOILERS: After much suspense, we learn that his horrific crime was to be caught in bed with a grieving girl (Jessica) whose father has just died. She’s riding him. I wasn’t getting erections at eight and I can’t imagine many boys were, so I presume that Jessica’s mother caught Burt with his thumb up Jessica’s ass. This part isn’t spelled out in the novel, but is the only possible interpretation available to readers possessed of deductive reasoning.

The advantage of writing in the voice of a child is the writing challenge of not being able to resort to overly sociological terminology. The difficulty of it is to avoid the precocious voice of the ‘wise child.’ Wise children are a bane in popular culture. The wise black child destroyed Magnolia for me as well as countless other cultural productions. Buten ably avoids this some of the time by having the child mention where he got a term and, often, misusing it. The successful claustrophobic effect this yields reminds the reader of the terror of early learning. While he ducks the ‘wise child’ hurdle, he trips and falls when it comes to subjecting readers to the random musings of the moronic child.

At breakfast everything is very silence because it is early in the morning. I can hear the clock in the living room. It says tick tock. My mom always has a cup of coffee. She stares at the wall. She zups it. Then she holds it in her mouth for an hour. I wait. Everything is quiet. Tick tock. I wait. Then she swallows it. It sounds like a tidal wave. Then she gives me my lunch to take. It is in a bag which is brown. It is a new bag. I have a new bag every day. She folds it over three times and staples it. Some of the other children, like from the Home, bring bags that are all wrinkly. Some other children have lunch boxes with cartoons on them which I feel are for sissies.

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There are some areas of achievement in the novel, though I’m unclear on Buten’s tone in them. One of the contrasts he draws is between the more traditional Dr. Nevele who treats Burt, and the Jungian psychologist, Rudyard Walton, who takes a liking to Burt. Nevele’s notes (which Burt steals) paint Dr. Nevele as a close-minded square who is ready to report on and persecute a hated rival from a heretical theoretical school.

Interest in this case is now being shown by Rudyard Walton, first-year intern, working in the Upper South Program here, dealing primarily with autistic and mentally retarded children.

Walton’s work, much praised thus far by his department, is supposedly of the “wounded healer” type, dealing with the patient one-to-one, and actually assimilating that patient’s symptoms himself, thus, I suppose, establishing an empathetic relationship.

The novel appears to sympathize with Walton who, in turn, sympathizes with Burt, telling him terrifying stories to demonstrate their similarities, such as their common fear of the dentist or their shared desire to defecate in the swimming pool. Walton eventually loses his job due to the “ignorance” of Dr. Nevele, after he makes the impassioned claim that what Burt did (which we later learned was simply thumbing Jessica) was neither a crime nor an act of violence. The “wounded healer” is painted as a dissident in the medical system.

I don’t really know a lot about training of Clinical Psychologists. From what I’ve seen there’s a huge emphasis on the scientific nature of case work. “Transference” is thrown around as a category where the psychiatric profession blankly muses on the possibility of its own lack of objectivity. I remember a similar sort of thing appearing a lot in 80s and 90s ethnographies, where Anthropologists would spend a portion of their articles considering their “place in history,” probing their guilt about the newly realized colonial guilt of their profession. Whereas transference seems to be a huge problem in the theory of psychoanalysis, my sense of it in American Social Psychology is that it’s brought up mainly as an injunction against having sex with patients. Buten’s book has an anti-Psychiatric edge to it inasmuch as he embraces the Jungian principle of identification and transference as the engine driving a productive therapeutic relationship. The novel’s “tragedy” is that Burt is left in the hands of parochial clinical psychologists who are practically ready to lobotomize the poor kid.

My sense is that the impractical embrace of anti-Psychiatry in the Parisian literary world has made Buten out to be a hero while they lament that positivists Americans simply don’t “get” the values embraced in his work. Possibly this is due to translation issues wherein the childlike voice Buten attempts to approximate in American slang simply rubs readers in the states the wrong way. Narrating therapeutic persecution through the romantic focalization of a kid’s voice looks a lot like talking down to readers. Readers resent failed illusions. Take the example of Opal Whitley whose “mystical diary” was celebrated in the 1920s and became a best-seller until critics claimed that it was an adult-written hoax. The hoax-revelation effect turned the public against the book, disgracing the diary. It’s now believed that Opal’s book is a genuine child’s production, but to me the incident shows the angry ressentiment that can come when readers feel like their being manipulated or taken for chumps.

I suppose that resolves the mystery of Rousseau’s appeal: he avoids the chump-effect by never pretending his reader is anything more than a chump.