Editor's Note — February 12, 2018, 11:15 am

Inside the March Issue

Rebecca Solnit, Katie Roiphe, Sallie Tisdale, and more

In “The Other Whisper Network,” Katie Roiphe argues that #MeToo, whose goals she heartily endorses, has created its own variety of conformist backlash. In her view, women who stray from the movement’s heated rhetoric—from the take-no-prisoners tone so common on Twitter—are shunned, silenced, and shamed. The author draws from her own experience and from that of the twenty-odd women who form a Greek chorus of the “deeply anonymous.” She assails the note of moral purity that so often creeps into the discussion: “As a culture, we seem to be in the midst of dividing ourselves into the flawless and the fallen, the morally correct and the damned.” Human beings are more typically moral hybrids, the author suggests, and should be assessed on that basis. “If we are going through a true reckoning,” Roiphe writes, “there should be space for more authentically diverging points of view, a full range of feelings, space to hash through what is and is not sexual misconduct, which is an important and genuinely confusing question about which reasonable people can and will disagree.”

Rebecca Solnit takes a somewhat different position in this month’s Easy Chair column. “Nobody Knows” is not explicitly about #MeToo but about the casual uses and abuses of power—and the ways in which such power can blind the person possessing it. The high and mighty, she points out, “swathe themselves in obliviousness in order to avoid the pain of others and their own relationship to that pain.” But not surprisingly, her argument circles back to men and women—to the asymmetrical combat of America’s gender wars, which have taken their toll on Solnit and on so many others. There is the middle-aged cook who delighted in groping the young author when she worked in a diner; there is the Colorado DJ who stuck his hand up Taylor Swift’s skirt in 2013 (and was at least fired for his Trumpish initiative); there Harvey Weinstein and there is the low-level harasser who showered his unwanted favors on a young friend of Solnit’s. Her conclusion is not that men are wicked or irredeemable but that self-knowledge of any kind dictates a thorough immersion in the lives of others.

Elsewhere in the magazine, Sallie Tisdale explores the mixed blessings of dementia in “Out of Time.” To suggest that there are any blessings at all associated with Alzheimer’s disease will strike some readers as blasphemous. But the author, a registered nurse who has worked extensively with dementia patients, sees something “far more nuanced than the commentary surrounding it: there is grace here, rare intimacy, moments of startling clarity—and, yes, happiness.” Alan Lightman commits a different sort of blasphemy in “The Infinity of the Small,” suggesting that eternity is to be found not in the vast reaches of the universe but in the tiniest subdivisions of the physical world. Once we thought atoms were the smallest units of matter, the indivisible end of the road. Instead we have chopped those same atoms into ever more minuscule fragments, fetching up—for the moment, anyway—at the Planck length, where time flows backwards and “space has been blown thin by an ancient glassblower, so thin that it dissolves into nothingness.”

Ian MacDougall investigates the seamy world of SLAPPs (“strategic lawsuits against public participation”) in “Empty Suits,” exposing corporate America’s latest tactic to quash activist dissent. Maddy Crowell journeys to Kashmir, where the Indian government is attempting to quell the province’s irredentist itch by building a lavish railroad, complete with the world’s loftiest railway bridge—assuming it’s ever completed. And in “If These Walls Could Talk,” Lauren Markham addresses the current rage for barrier-building. It’s not just the United States that hears incessant talk about the Really Big Wall on the horizon. Even Norway has gotten into the game, erecting a pipsqueak fence on its northern boundary with Russia that stretches a mere 600 feet. “Walls offer the promise of absolute protection,” Markham muses, “but they almost always fail to deliver. Still, we build them again and again.”

We have a wild metafictional ride from Catherine Lacey in “Violations,” and strong critical pieces by Joanna Biggs (on Alan Hollinghurst’s new, tradition-bending novel) and Amia Srinivasan (on The Incest Diary, meaning yet another take on the issue of sexual consent). In Readings, Barbara Ehrenreich inveighs against physical fitness, Terry Southern recalls the glory days of the West Village, and Brenda Hillman contributes a brief poem from a work in progress. We also get a look at the editorial notes delivered to Milo Yiannopoulos, which caution him against laziness, humorous boasting, and literally scatological rhetoric: “Let’s leave ‘fecal waste’ analogies out of this chapter.”

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More from James Marcus:

Editor's Note April 12, 2018, 5:58 pm

Inside the May Issue

Rebecca Solnit, Rick Moody, Rachel Cusk, Jonathan Dee, and more

Editor's Note March 19, 2018, 12:18 pm

Inside the April Issue

Thomas Frank, Elaine Blair, Andrew Cockburn, Lidija Haas, Corey Robin, and more…

Editor's Note December 22, 2017, 1:26 pm

Inside the January Issue

Fenton Johnson, Andrew Cockburn, Mansi Choksi, Rebecca Solnit, Yasmine Seale, and more…

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October 2019


Secrets and Lies·

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In 1973, when Barry Singer was a fifteen-year-old student at New York’s Yeshiva University High School for Boys, the vice principal, Rabbi George Finkelstein, stopped him in a stairwell. Claiming he wanted to check his tzitzit—the strings attached to Singer’s prayer shawl—Finkelstein, Singer says, pushed the boy over the third-floor banister, in full view of his classmates, and reached down his pants. “If he’s not wearing tzitzit,” Finkelstein told the surrounding children, “he’s going over the stairs!”

“He played it as a joke, but I was completely at his mercy,” Singer recalled. For the rest of his time at Yeshiva, Singer would often wear his tzitzit on the outside of his shirt—though this was regarded as rebellious—for fear that Finkelstein might find an excuse to assault him again.

Seeking Asylum·

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Out of sight on Leros, the island of the damned

Poem for Harm·

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Reflections on harm in language and the trouble with Whitman

Good Bad Bad Good·

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About fifteen years ago, my roommate and I developed a classification system for TV and movies. Each title was slotted into one of four categories: Good-Good; Bad-Good; Good-Bad; Bad-Bad. The first qualifier was qualitative, while the second represented a high-low binary, the title’s aspiration toward capital-A Art or lack thereof.

Some taxonomies were inarguable. The O.C., a Fox series about California rich kids and their beautiful swimming pools, was delightfully Good-Bad. Paul Haggis’s heavy-handed morality play, Crash, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, was gallingly Bad-Good. The films of Francois Truffaut, Good-Good; the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, Bad-Bad.

Life after Life·

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For time ylost, this know ye,
By no way may recovered be.

I spent thirty-eight years in prison and have been a free man for just under two. After killing a man named Thomas Allen Fellowes in a drunken, drugged-up fistfight in 1980, when I was nineteen years old, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Former California governor Jerry Brown commuted my sentence and I was released in 2017, five days before Christmas. The law in California, like in most states, grants the governor the right to alter sentences. After many years of advocating for the reformation of the prison system into one that encourages rehabilitation, I had my life restored to me.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:


A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

A solid-gold toilet named “America” was stolen from Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, in Oxfordshire, England.

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun


“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

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