Hazlitt Magazine

Rhythms of Fear

Women instinctively read the danger written upon the city. 


Rhythms of Fear

Women instinctively read the danger written upon the city. 

It is after midnight. I am walking alone. A car full of men drive past and shout something incoherent at me. But I understand. The content is in the rhythm of their voices: booming, violent. I look up. The car is waiting for me at the corner. I’m torn between a desire to refuse to be intimidated and the instinct to turn around and find another way home. I notice a man on the other side of the street. He is dressed in black, the glare from his phone lighting up his face in the dark. For a moment I feel safer knowing he is there, but the feeling disintegrates. I continue walking. The car follows me around the corner; one of the men leans out of the window, says slowly and with a grin, “Can I get out and come and talk to you?”In his essay, “Seen From the Window,” Henri Lefebvre writes that one must attune oneself to the rhythms of the city. He states that the male walker “needs equally attentive eyes and ears, a head, a memory, a heart” to capture them. The male walker’s corporeal and psychological sensitivity to urban rhythm is something that must be activated. For women, this intersection is instinctual. She is alone in a world that is not hers. Its rhythms are designed to push her out and she feels this echoed in the rhythms of her body: the heavy pounding of her heart as she walks; the speeding percussion of feet when faced with danger. She understands rhythms that are invisible to the man on the pavement. On this night, the rhythms of fear cannot be felt by the man walking on the other side of the street.In “Spatial Practices,” De Certeau states that the walker, as he is walking, writes the city. He discusses the city as text, the walker as author.I am not the author De Certeau is describing: as a woman, I am forced to be a reader.[[{"fid":"6694526","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","attributes":{"height":"707","width":"707","class":"media-element file-media-original"}}]]I read the text of this city and exist in a space that will never be my own. I cannot re-write, overwrite or erase. I can only obey its syntax, the structure of the streets designed to induce fear in me, the formulation of patriarchal language of spatial domination, occupation, violence; a linguistics I will never build or share. The rhythm of this street after midnight is slow. It is deadly silent, broken by vibrating engines and the sudden shouts of men from their cars. It is punctuated by men walking down the road, toward me, in large groups, refusing to let me pass. It is a curation of implicit violence.Elizabeth Wilson states that flânerie, the act of leisurely urban wandering, is a masculine freedom and she is right: walking the city after midnight, as these men show me, is no woman’s realm. If I am frightened I should not be outside at this time; if I am hurt I should not have been wearing this dress; I should not have been walking this way alone; I should not have left my friend’s house. The responsibility is on me. I work around men’s rhythms and rules; I must learn them to keep myself safe. I am reader, not writer.*Lefebvre states that the city is a palimpsest of memory, that “the remembrance of other moments and of all the hours is essential” in understanding city rhythms. He assumes a male walker, for whom this remembrance of moments on the streets is a deliberate and conscious effort. It does not come naturally. Lefebvre must remind him. As he walks, he writes himself onwards. He is De Certeau’s author.For woman, this remembrance is inevitable and effortless. Rebecca Solnit writes that access to urban public space is “limited for women by their fear of violence and harassment … the possibility of such violence is implicit in the more insulting and aggressive propositions, comments, leers and intimidations that are part of ordinary life for women in public spaces.” A woman reads an unavoidable history of the streets as a psychogeographical archive of implicit or explicit violence. It is impossible to remove this night from other nights, to isolate this harassment from other attacks. This corner on this street is the site of fear. This is where a female friend was assaulted. This street is unsafe to walk down alone at night. This is where a friend was harassed. You begin to notice the patterns of speech, the demands disguised as questions, the intent disguised as joke.[[{"fid":"6694536","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","attributes":{"height":"707","width":"707","class":"media-element file-media-original"}}]]Lefebvre writes that Paris “carries the imprint of what it hides.” This imprint exists in all cities and remains invisible to the male flâneur, my opposite, across the road. For women, there is an invisible geography of urban space. She sees a blueprint of the city in a way that men cannot: an invisible cartography of fear and violence. The city is constructed in shortcuts I can’t take. I am chased; he is the chaser. I am afraid; he is safe. Walking is a political act for women, an assertion of the right to occupy space.Lefebvre suggests that the city dweller need make use of all his senses while walking around urban space in order to pay attention fully to its rhythms and that the average walker is only aware of his body when necessary, like the potential danger when crossing the street. For the female walker, this danger transgresses the street’s physical function to the potentiality of harassment or violence. Attuning oneself to these hidden rhythms is something women have done, instinctively, for decades. She is the real academic in Lefebvre’s rhythmanalysis. She feels the rhythms of the city with unquantifiable instinct. She watches for that particular look in a man’s eye, the group of men outside a pub, following their gaze to her legs; she listens for the approaching footsteps, the following car engine. We obey the patriarchal times of the city: nightfall, when the atmosphere alters and fear comes, when we are driven out.*I’m watching the man on the opposite side of the street carry on walking as I stand, frozen, by the car.The man asking if he could get out of the car to speak to me wasn’t asking a question—he was exercising power. He understands that the rhythms of the after-midnight city are his. The street is silent as I stand by the car, and broken by my voice. It is harsh and fierce; I am shouting at them to fucking leave me alone.[[{"fid":"6694541","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","attributes":{"height":"707","width":"707","class":"media-element file-media-original"}}]]Is there safety in anger? Is it unanticipated, frightening, off-putting? I don’t know, but I’m walking furiously down the street to my flat. I wait for the car to follow me, but it drives on. Why is every woman getting home safely a relief and a victory?In Sarah Schulman’s People In Trouble, a novel of women navigating city space, her protagonist Molly describes how her bicycle tires are slashed every day, but she keeps replacing them. She says, “I could not accept that my home was a place where a person could not park their bicycle.” A few days later, on the same street, I saw the same car full of men. I kept walking.
Banner for Live Laugh Love Part 3 by Jeremy Sorese for Hazlitt
Live, Laugh, Love Pt. 3

You think you’re so smart.

Crazy Is the Best Threat If You Know How to Use It

On Beyoncé’s “Hold Up.”

The Close Read is a careful look at a component part of a thing we love—a single song, a chapter, a scene, an ingredient—often with some helpful commentary from the creators themselves. On the cover of one of DC’s Supergirl comics, we see the heroine, Kara Zor-El, in a familiar pop-art position—the supremely gifted woman who is unable to find, trap, and keep a boyfriend. “What’s the point of being Supergirl and helping everyone if I can’t even get a date?” she cries to herself as a small, white cat licks her hand. A small, white cat licks Kara’s small, white hand as she does her best Roy Lichtenstein girl-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown-because-of-love impersonation11Lichtenstein’s main reference for his series of Crying Girls were romance comics. Coincidentally, all of Lichtenstein’s inspirations were from DC Comics, the same place that publishes Supergirl. on the cover of her own damn comic book.Unlike the Lichtenstein images, the Supergirl cover is surprisingly free of the particular cynicism that seems to hang around anything that once felt greenly earnest and naive, but is now placed on a pedestal that gains its legitimacy from feeling like it’s older and woker than any capitalist hoop dream, or market researched spectacle. Rather than bathing in the irony of it all, or setting your phasers to deconstruct, you feel really bad for the beautiful, powerful girl who is not of this world; the lonely blonde22Fortunately, not all lonely blonde girls are white. See: Etta James, Daul Kim for a minute, as well as our woman of the hour—if the rumours are true. who can save us all. If you were one of Kara’s friends, dear reader, you would probably sit her ass down and tell her to listen to some Beyoncé and get over it already.That same look of elegant distress—you know the one, the tears, the graceful pose of the hand—that expresses itself on the faces of Kara, and Lichtenstein’s Crying Girls, finds its way onto Beyoncé in her 2008 music video for “Why Don’t You Love Me.” Beyoncé’s alter-ego, Sasha Fierce, crams herself into the increasingly uncomfortable mold of suburban kitsch. The song itself serves as a very reasonable reminder of all of Beyoncé’s credentials. When she sings “I got beauty, I got class/I got style, and I got ass,” as well as “I got beauty, I got heart/keep them head in them books, I’m sharp,” she’s not being narcissistic, she’s merely stating a fact. She points out her mastery of money and sex, the only two things that really matter in a capitalist economy. In its way, this song is the obvious analogue to “Hold Up,” from Lemonade, the surprise release that dropped late last month. It’s worth revisiting as perhaps one of the easiest ways to slip into the visual signatures that develop in Beyoncé’s work post-Sasha Fierce. “Why Don’t You Love Me” sees Beyoncé-as-Sasha, the mogul, the self-sufficient one, and the sexiest woman on the street, stuffed uncomfortably into the role of B.B. Homemaker in a way that feels like we’re beginning to finally hit a raw nerve. Parodying home movies, Beyoncé appears on camera with the duty-bound inscrutiability of a political wife who pays for power with toleration, choosing to create Camelot rather than chaos.On “Hold Up,” Beyoncé sets aside the funhouse mirror of Beyoncé-as-Sasha-Fierce, the propriety engendered by an above-it-all sense of victory or conformity, as well as the idea of merit as a coping mechanism. She does this in favour of presenting a sturdier, quieter honesty. While her voice does not stray from its competent, majestic timbre—the conviction that she’s developed, and that we’ve come to expect—she lets the rasp in. Confidence, it seems, can manifest as a bold, externalized provocation, or finally letting you in on a little secret. This is what Beyoncé feels like sharing on Lemonade: she’s not broken, just tired—and if you listen closely enough, you can hear it. It’s the husk of a voice that’s about to give out after too many sleepless nights. She keeps her range down low, occasionally playfully leaping into the high notes—a send-up of her queen of the world persona. “Hold Up” is one of the few times Beyoncé permits us to hear the ugliness. Wounding relationships can often become the deepest part of you—your reaction to them becomes you. The fantastical specter of Beyoncé is such that it eclipses the woman who exists outside of the image she made for herself. As for Beyoncé Knowles? That’s the woman who seems to let herself have a guest spot on “Hold Up”—flitting between Supergirl and Sojourner Truth, but looking for a sense of clarity regarding a shitty romantic relationship by disappearing into the chorus of a Yeah Yeah Yeahs song.Beyoncé is unnerved by sharing her vulnerabilities with others, even if that other is herself. And why wouldn’t she be—in a world in which your weaknesses will be exploited just as ruthlessly as your strengths, no shit she’d err towards a cold, clean, calculated image. Actively loving something is a quality we tend to disparage in women for its alleged stupidity. Love is not to be counted on, unlike money—and it’s a cheap sentiment for all the expensive sadness33"Cheap and Cheerful," The Kills. it leaves behind once it goes. Yet, we constantly tell women that without love, they are nothing. For Black women, a lack of love makes one a double nothing, allegedly, if you wish to continue to give credence to the centripital force of our immensely stupid social apparatus. Stuck between jealous or crazy, Beyoncé chooses the one that can’t be so easily dismissed. Crazy gets shit done. Crazy can destabilize. Crazy is the best threat if you know how to use it. Beyoncé will protect what’s hers—which is namely herself, her marriage, her love—with a baseball bat if necessary. After years of putting in time as the good soldier, she’s deciding to fight for herself, but, always behind the cover of her work, the only self she seems remotely comfortable with entrusting to the world.The general rule for women, if you still believe in such things as general rules, is that you find a man, and you settle down. Maybe have a kid or two. If you’re accomplished, or have a career, that is a plus—but you will never amount to much if you can’t keep the love of a good, bad, or indifferent man.Due to some grievous error on life’s part (you can call that history, I guess), the general rules for Black women are much more fraught. Work is expected, yet difficult to come by, beauty is often gauged relative to one’s proximity to the pale, narrow glow of some imaginary golden girl, and there are simply way too many travel restrictions. This may seem like the life that most everyone else leads, but when intergenerational trauma, callous disrespect, and the social miseducation of the world at large remain stones in the dress, you start to see why so many people are drowning rather than swimming.Malcolm X’s assertion, so deftly sampled on Lemonade, is the argument that “there is no one more disrespected than the Black woman.”44See: Lil' Kim admitting the source of her physical insecurities on record. Rochelle’s hair being compared to pubic hair in The Craft, Sarah Baartman, etc. Or, if we like to hear from people in their own words, here are Sojourner Truth’s in her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech given a century before Malcolm’s:That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?That is more than we could ever reasonably expect any person to bear. Truth’s experiences, along with the long inheritance of history, are why efforts on the part of Black women are called herculean. The hero that gives this descriptor its name was, coincidentally, the demi-god Herakles. After going insane, and irreparably fucking some shit up, Herakles performs his labours for some middling, asshole king so that he can be redeemed. Sojourner Truth performed her labours because she was forced to, and after all that, she got herself to a Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, got up on stage, and said something meaningful, despite having endured an experience that, were it not classed under the economic order of things, would be seen as a war crime. Herakles’ story follows a fairly typical arc, like so many hero stories before and after it: the gifted man who must atone for an excess of action, a misuse of power. Truth’s arc, and the arc of women who can trace themselves back to her, is a little different, in part because it reveals the unbearable paradox of Black being as created/inherited/perpetuated by people who do not have to live as Black beings unless the current fashion permits: one must atone for the embarassing inability of one’s ancestors to either win a war, make a treaty, or run away fast enough. Only losers get enslaved. Winners get to build Versailles. Got it?Like any artist with a fondness for puzzles, codes, games, and aphorisms, she drops clues to test the astuteness of her audience.To win the glory of full humanity, it seems, one must exert the same level of effort as a mythical Greek hero. No person on earth can claim divine parentage like Herakles, or call themselves a superhero without considerable skepticism. Yet, this level of effort is still generally expected of Black women as the baseline for living your own life. If "herculean" is the adjective that best describes the kind of strength required to exist in such an institutionally adversarial world, then it would be good to be reminded that the word refers back to the required work of a contrite hero who seeks redemption. Also, something to point out: the labours of Herakles entailed killing monsters that until the point of their deaths were deemed unkillable, as well as quite literally holding up the entire world in exchange for a few golden apples … and all of this done for a king who, on his best day, could only really be called aggressively mediocre. This is what it means to come to know yourself through your labour. What happens when you start to poke a way out of that headspace that doesn’t require physically dying? The only alternative to any manner of death (whether it’s an ontic transformation of sorts, or permanently stopping the heart), is quite frankly a fate worse than death: a life where you are continually acted upon, where force is not yours to wield.In “Why Don’t You Love Me,” Beyoncé channel surfs through the moving images of America’s idealized feminine with the all the professionalism and intensity we’ve come to expect from the Beyoncé show. She plays her pale cards well, yet it’s clear these clothes are costumes. As she inhabits the Carrie Bradshaw fashion plate who can’t quite master an oven or the wholesome notoriousness of the OG bondage pin-up girl, Bettie Page55How many white-girl archetypes do you need me to reference here to convince you that if she feels like it, Beyoncé can be the Orlan of pop stars that our crappy, podunk time deserves?, the camera will cut to her, dressed as a Lichtenstein crying girl, then shift to her dressed as if she were a lingeried Maria Callas. Rosie the Riveter, the naughty librarian. She does her best white girl drag, nailing the doll-eyed, oblivious-on-purpose-yet-still-oh-so-blind insouciance that calls to mind Vivien Leigh’s performance as Scarlett O’Hara. (And Sasha Fierce-era Beyoncé’d get away with it too—were it not for that darn, pesky skin colour! Beyoncé points out that to get mainstream success, she has to play the best white girl you have ever seen, and on “Why Don’t You Love Me,” we see her frustration with that.)For a woman like Beyoncé, the closest thing the world has to a Herakles, or Kara Zor-El based on mythos alone, her version of slaying monsters might just be winning at capitalism. Insofar as capitalism continues to remain a thing (my kingdom for the day that it’s not, because I can’t work under these conditions!), the only way out of the cage is money. She reminds Jay of it, when she flatly tells him that if he hadn’t “mastered wealth,” none of these women would even look twice at him. The key to understanding Beyoncé’s relationship to Black suffering and oppression then becomes, vis-à-vis her own success, the “Formation” lyric: “the best revenge is your paper.”Sex can sell anything, even if it forces the idea to hide in plain sight. And in "Why Don't You Love Me," Beyoncé hides the emotion behind that idea: under the clothes, the production, the talent, the groove—look a little closer. See that she furrows her brow, she burns the chicken, and smacks her gum the way that someone would if they were giving you a well-deserved snarl, her eyes defiant, never deferent, even as she showgirl smiles her way through the horror comedy of American homemaking, and the loneliness of love. Yet, underneath all that bravado is a sadness borne of confusion, betrayal, and the desire for recognition—the tell is in her mascara tears.The proud, jarring, insecure soul of “Why Don’t You Love Me” gets to the place where certain tracks/visuals on Lemonade comfortably reside. It is the portrait of a megastar who can’t quite perform her way into the perfection of life that her audience has come to expect, and she certainly can’t perform her way into a happy marriage, or even into real respect—god knows she tried. To admit that her shit’s fucked up anywhere other than her music would detract from Beyoncé’s mission, which is to keep working.Beyoncé has always been able to belt out a my-man-done-me-wrong standard with the ease at which some people blink. Yet, a sort of detachment lingers in her voice, even if the immaculateness of technique suggests the contrary. Underneath her showman’s ease, there is an understanding that this is all just business—the point of being an entertainer is to hit all the right notes. If you yearn for something beyond the vocal pyrotechnics and good-feeling, that elusive thing called soul—if you’re searching for the place where her voice breaks and your gut really feels it, that’s harder to locate. But there is nothing vacuous about her restraint. Like any artist with a fondness for puzzles, codes, games, and aphorisms, she drops clues to test the astuteness of her audience. If you look and listen carefully, you will be rewarded. If the song leaves you a little emotionally cold, all you need to do is look in her eyes while she performs for you, and it all comes together. Beyoncé’s strength has always been in her ability to offer you the total package. She is Janet Jackson’s heir apparent, and the executor of Jackson’s aesthetic vengeance.She lets you hear a little more of herself, if you were still skeptical about her ability to emotionally connect to a song, on “Hold Up.” When she sings here, it is hard to figure out to whom she is singing—Jay? The world? White America?—or whether she is simply rehearsing the things that she can never say out loud, instead preferring the deep cover of art. “Too perfect to feel this worthless,” she says, hinting she’s at the point in her life where keeping the peace, or merely winning the game, is different than finding the just balance. Throughout “Hold Up,” she brings herself back down to the level of human, preferring not to hide behind her credentials, or even her superpowers unless she’s using them to prove a point. Yet, even as she’s getting real with the listener, she reminds you, subtly and skillfully, that she is a pro. When the beat swerves into the syncopated rhythm that is among the more memorable of Beyoncé’s signatures, her voice snaps into that persona. When she sings, “I always keep the top tier, 5 star/Backseat lovin' in the car/Like make that wood, like make that wood/Holly like a boulevard,” with the shift from the beleaguered contemplation of her tone to the tight swagger of some of her greatest bangers and then back again, she’s showing you that above all things, she’s a professional. She does something similar again towards the end where she breaks into her best angelic soprano, only to drop down when she sings “I look in the mirror and say what’s up?” Still pointing out that singing is her work, she gets at something more personal—that even she needs to give herself a pep-talk in the mirror sometimes. Not only is Beyoncé singing about being a woman having to deal with infidelity in her own life, she’s also singing about being trapped in a loveless political marriage wherein she is expected to perform the duties of both superwoman and superstar, while never being allowed to fully transcend into her own realm.Punctuated by air horns, the soundscape of “Hold Up” is the “save your marriage beach vacation”—the place where frolicking in the blue ocean water feels like a latchkey for love. The imitation of strings (or are they harps?) being plucked feels like she’s walking the tightrope between two emotional extremes—only held together by her desire for clarity. She spins in all directions. Hold up—let’s be rational about this; back up, is this really happening to me? Step down—let’s get off the ledge now: oh down, I don’t think I can stop this from happening. Torn between the desire to entertain, the need to please, and a thirst for retribution, you notice that all of these things have a common source—yearning to be loved for what you are and what you can be, as opposed to merely being tolerated because you fulfill a role, or are socially expedient.The hollow lushness of “Hold Up”’s sound suggests that the experience of listening to something so island-tinged should fill you to the brim with lazy, loving sunshine, but it all falls apart somehow. There are moments where a rolling percussive starts low and ominous, but trails off. “Something don’t feel right,” she sings, paranoia creeping in, knocking you off balance. If you can’t even enjoy a beach vacation without feeling like somebody’s out to get you, what can you enjoy?“Hold Up” forces the listener to ask the question that perhaps no listener of Beyoncé, casual and obsessive alike, has ever really bothered to ask: who does Beyoncé Knowles, the woman responsible for bringing Beyoncé into the world, listen to when her entire world is crashing down? The short answer: Karen O. Like anyone who has ever turned a song into a set of marching orders for life, Beyoncé twists Karen O’s pleading resignation into a warning shot.
Kyrell Grant Returns
Lemonade and intergenerational trauma (1:41), building a life in Drake’s jacket (14:04), and the saddest Reddit relationship post (22:36)
Hazlitt Nominated for Fifteen National Magazine Awards

We are pleased. 

We are excited to announce that Hazlitt is up for fifteen nods at this year's National Magazine Awards. Congratulations to our amazing writers, and all the nominees! Here's a reading list for you: Nominated in the Arts & Entertainment category: "The Last Days of Kathy Acker" by Jason McBrideThe notorious punk novelist was as uncompromising in death as she was in life."Abuse of Power Comes As No Surprise" by Chris RandleOn Dennis Hopper’s disavowed art-crime failure Backtrack, a film combining the work of Jenny Holzer, Jodie Foster as a glam-rock Patty Hearst, and Bob Dylan in a hardhat."Alanis in Chains" by Soraya RobertsThe pressured pop career that led to Jagged Little Pill, which turns 20 years old today."This Portentous Competition: Swan Lake's Place in Soviet Politics" by Amelia Schonbek How the classic ballet has changed—and been changed by—the history of Russia. Nominated for Best Short Feature:"The Year in Talking Sex With My Mom" by Erica LentiA gay daughter inviting her conservative mother to a porn convention has to be a conversation starter, right?Nominated in the Columns category: "Studies Show" by Nick Hune-BrownNominated in the Essays category: "Our Brownness Does Not Belong Here" by Adnan KhanHow Brown should a Brown person be?Nominated in the Humour category: "The Girls on Shit Duty" by Anna MaxymiwA weeklong trip filled with deep-fried shore meals does funny things to a man’s insides. When you have to clean up the grisly aftermath, all you can do is laugh.Nominated in the Personal Journalism category: "Dreams are Boring" by Sasha ChapinWe attribute divine inspiration to madness, but escaping the cycle of mania for the comfort of a calmer mind doesn’t mean abandoning artistic greatness."Swole Without a Goal" by Anshuman IddamsettyWhen I started gaining weight, I didn’t just want to get big: I wanted to occupy as much as space as possible."The Girls on Shit Duty" by Anna MaxymiwNominated in the Poetry category: "Winter" by Gary BarwinNominated in the Society category: "'Why Can't You Behave': Revisiting the Case of Alice Crimmins" by Sarah WeinmanFifty years ago, Alice Crimmins’s children died, and she was the prime suspect. The trials that followed ensured we’d never know who murdered them—only that a woman’s life could be used against her.Nominated in the Sports & Recreation category: "The Journeywoman" by Amelia SchonbekNo one ever said being a professional boxer would be easy, but for the sport’s women, it seems almost impossible—and rarely worth it.Nominated in the One of a Kind category:"Tickle Me Dead" by Suzannah ShowlerA mirthful reaction masks an experience that’s much closer to facing your own mortality. 
A Gift From Another World

Prince Rogers Nelson was the blueprint for a certain kind of Black femmeness. In the interstitial spaces of my life, he has kept me company. 

He was a freaky something else, a gift from another world. Prince Rogers Nelson was the blueprint for shady Black femmeness: a master of weaponized side-eye for any occasion, quick with the seeming compliment that morphs into a slow-detonating insult. He taught me these things.It’s easy to take the liberty of assuming that he—“not a woman, not a man”—was deeply queer, and not just in the way his public persona was deployed. In truth, there wasn’t much distinction between Prince’s “public” and “private” selves. That’s radical. His experiences became the fuel driving his music. For us, it was the reverse: our experiences were driven by his music and his creative genius. It feels as though everything anyone could say about Prince has already been said. In the wake of his death, the world has revealed—via a critical mass of thinkpieces—just how much love we had for him.In the interstitial spaces of my life, Prince has kept me company. In the volatile moment, full of change—in the moment that would give me pause in my sureness and sense of self—he was there as if to say, “Relax, baby you got it.” In the time between middle and high school, my great girlhood becoming, Prince was there.*What was it about the way he fingered the guitar? His sexy-as-fuck stage presence indicated that he enjoyed a virtuoso status beyond music. To be clear: he really, really, seemed like he was good at sex.A virtuoso must possess a certain flexibility of both body and mind. The degree of facility—maybe intimacy is a better word—with different instruments and musical genres that Prince attained in his lifetime required finesse. Just think how well he knew the contours of not only his own sound, but the sound of artists like The Bangles, Sinead O’Connor, Madonna, Kate Bush all of whom he crafted definitive hits for. So many of our beloved female pop stars from the 1980s touched up against Prince’s sound. There’s something so sexy about the range of conceptual movement that marks a career of prolific collaboration.Born a black boy from Minnesota, Prince understood that for some of us, a certain flexibility in the face of rigid structures is necessary to survive. But he had a fire inside of him too, something that burned too hot to be contained by industry executives or aesthetic stasis. He was a perfectionist, an anxious control freak in only the way a virtuoso can be (the way someone is when they actually are better at every aspect of creating music than everyone around them).*When I came out and had to then figure out who I was trying to be, Prince helped me make a self, something else he was very good at. He made and remade himself. He gave birth to himself; he was his own mother. When I think of the question lingering in the pop culture imaginary when it comes to Prince, I think of his notorious name change. Here, a transformation from a name that could be uttered to an unspeakable symbol. Why did Prince try to escape his name, the one signification of self that is cursorily recognized? Was it an attempt to buck categories and definition altogether? His attempt to push his own artistry beyond the confines of an established brand? A PR stunt? Was he fed up with his slave name and the history behind it? Was it an attempt to escape legibility altogether? As if to say: “You think you know me, but you don’t?”People watched him, and they thought they knew him because they loved to watch him. He was always aware of the cameras, making dramatic eye contact and inviting the lens seductively into the party. Tiny, elegant, adorned, and too full of feeling and genius not to let it come gushing out, he was, as my friend and poet Jasmine Gibson says, “a femme root” and a way to ground ourselves in a world of constant upheaval as queer black people. He let us know that though we were not virtuosos, we too could finesse our way to where we needed to be.
The Newspaper Didn’t Love Me Back

I felt, at once, embarrassed to be laid off, sad about the ending of something great in my life, bitter about what was happening, and completely bewildered as to what I was supposed to do next.

I had started to tout my own invincibility, which was probably a mistake. It was early January, and I had been dealing with various personal stresses for four months, dating back to a chaotic thirteen-night trip to Mexico City in September to cover the FIBA Americas, a tournament in which the Canadian men’s basketball team would try to qualify for the Rio Olympics. They failed, dramatically, which would become a personal theme for the next little while: On a number of fronts, my life had more or less stunk since then, and I did not feel like I was handling the setbacks particularly well. Despite my wayward emotional state, I was astounded by my own vitality: I had been a poor high-school science student, and even I knew stress was supposed to weaken the immune system, but there had been barely a blip. My throat would start to tickle, only for all signs of a burgeoning cold to disappear. It seemed like everybody around me was carrying one virus or another, and yet I was unaffected.Inevitability remains undefeated, however, and so my streak of good health ended in the middle of the month. After playing in my weekly basketball game, I noticed another instance of a strange sensation in my throat. Twenty-four hours later, I had dinner with friends from university, and my energy levels were so abysmal I had to prop myself up against the wall just to try to maintain eye contact. When I returned home, I discovered I had a fever, one that would come and go for the next five days. I was prescribed an antibiotic, which would promptly result in rather ugly patches of hives. It is possible that this was the start of a bout of mononucleosis that would not peak until March. It was dreadful. The fever meant I would miss the Toronto Raptors’ game against Brooklyn on Monday, January 18, a rarity: For the last eight years, as the Raptors beat writer for the National Post in Toronto, I’d attended all but a handful of the team’s forty-one home games every regular season.And then the next day, I lost my job, one of a reported 90 editorial cuts in the newsrooms of the Post’s parent company Postmedia, across the country. I was, as it turned out, thoroughly vincible.*I joined the Post in April 2006 as … well, I’m not sure I had a job title. It might seem crazy now, but at the time, the Post was actually expanding the sports section in its print edition. For a brief period, the newspaper decided to eschew its subscriptions to the Canadian Press and Associated Press, an arrangement that was particularly tough on the sports section, since so many key events happen just before the nightly print deadline. The Post needed writers to create content in the evening to fill the section, and I was one of the young writers—twenty years old!—the section’s editor, Jim Bray, hired. I would go on to complete a pair of internships, then freelance at the paper in the autumn of 2007, before taking over the Raptors beat in January 2008. (I missed covering the team’s training camp in Italy by a few months. I got Ottawa the next two years. I’m over it now. It’s fine.)It was a place to develop my own voice, hopefully falling somewhere in between the equally noxious poles of the inverted-pyramid news story and the in-love-with-my-own-thoughts editorial.When things die—and, with apologies to the very talented people still working there, the Post’s sports section as it existed for more than 17 years, lacking even one dedicated reporter, is effectively dead—there is a tendency to glamourize their lives. I do not want to say that the National Post sports section was a snowflake, too beautiful for this world. It was more of a weird outlier whose sensibilities stood outside the paper-of-record aspirations of the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail or the pulpy tabloid stylings of the Toronto Sun. Sometimes, it was tough to say what those sensibilities were. In fact, the section’s occasional lack of cohesive identity is probably why so many writers have gone on to great careers, from Chris Jones to Roy MacGregor to Cam Cole to Bruce Arthur to the reigning Sports Media Canada sportswriter of the year, Sean Fitz-Gerald (and more, obviously). I’m not sure there is a stylistic through-line there, and those are just a fraction of the success stories.For me, it was a place to develop my own voice, hopefully falling somewhere in between the equally noxious poles of the inverted-pyramid news story and the in-love-with-my-own-thoughts editorial. Not many outlets would have entertained equal enthusiasm for a profile of Raptors star point guard Kyle Lowry and a profile of Raptors afterthought Quincy Acy. I cannot speak for the section’s eight years before I got there, but during my time, the credit surely went to my two bosses, Bray and Guy Spurrier, both of whom pushed the same essential point: We were to follow the best story or the best angle, and we were to do so in a way that was uniquely in line with our own instincts. The only limit, really, was our own minds, which was in a way responsible for a solid seventy-five percent of the self-imposed professional crises I ever had. Too often, it felt like my creativity was not up to the standard the editors were setting and my colleagues were meeting. Working there was daunting, in the best way possible—the kind of place where you were free to spend a week digging into the Raptors’ inept history drafting in the second round (before taking cult hero Norman Powell last June), ignoring the flashier stars at the top of the draft. It was a joy.*Of those let go from the Post sports section that day: James Madge was an editor and a Day-One National Post employee; Kaitlyn McGrath was a writer and web editor; and David Alter and I were the last two full-time beat reporters, primarily covering the Leafs and Raptors, respectively. And then there was John Lott, on contract but working full-time hours (and then some) covering the Blue Jays, who lost his spot despite being quite possibly the best beat reporter in the country. Like, on any beat. It was mystifying, for a moment at least: You do not get rid of Lott, a gifted writer and photographer, just months following the most captivating Blue Jays season in two decades if your priority is producing original content. You do not stop covering the Leafs, even when they are purposely dreadful (instead of accidentally dreadful). The same could probably be said about canning me three weeks in advance of Toronto hosting the NBA All-Star Game, and with the Raptors in the midst of their best regular season in franchise history. Postmedia, of course, had every right to make those decisions, and the ones that will follow, and it surely owns enough properties across Canada to fill the Post’s modest number of sports pages. In the meantime, it probably saved some money to put toward paying down its almost $650 million worth of debt. I never studied business and I’m not in charge of making those decisions, so I really cannot judge them.Those who have ever been laid off in the media industry will no doubt understand what it was like for me, and presumably, my colleagues. An exhausting number of people reached out, either: a) saying they appreciated my work; b) screaming about the injustice of it all; or c) offering me freelance gigs. (By the way: a) thanks; b) so it goes; and c) thanks, thanks, thanks.) It was overwhelming. I felt, at once, embarrassed to be laid off, sad about the ending of something great in my life, bitter about what was happening, and completely bewildered as to what I was supposed to do next. I knew the first thing was to call my friend Holly MacKenzie, with whom I was scheduled to record our NBA podcast for the Post that afternoon. Beyond that, all I could figure to do was bury my head in a few pillows and try to figure out what had just happened.The handwringing about The State Of Journalism In The Country was the weird part. On one side, those bemoaning Postmedia’s apparent strategy of slashing editorial resources (valid!); on another, those still employed by Postmedia, insisting vital work can and will still be done (valid!); and then there were those stating they could see this all coming the moment an American hedge fund bought Postmedia, and especially when Postmedia bought former competitor Sun Media’s English-language assets, ensuring the company owned multiple properties in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Toronto (valid, but kind of annoying at the time!).How does one even access the right words to come to terms with all of these viewpoints in real time? Even with more time in the rearview, I’m still not sure how to properly express how the absurdities of modern capitalism and the failing newspaper industry conspired to eliminate my job, and the jobs of 89 others from wonderful, capable, talented people.I got to see the continent, from Cleveland (many, many, many times) to Miami to San Francisco to Mexico City, all because somebody thought it would be a good idea to pay me to write about basketball, my favourite sport. I got benefits, too. That was swell. I’ll miss those.I’m left with two main thoughts: Most pressingly, can I create a sustainable life from the opportunities that have arisen since that day, or other related ones that might come up, while still fulfilling many of my non-professional aspirations? Secondly: Are those opportunities worth a damn if that original, on-the-ground reporting—a big part of so many of those 90 jobs Postmedia eliminated—is worth less and less by the day?*Back in January, I finished watching the great sitcom Party Down in its entirety for the third or fourth time. The show is set in Hollywood, and features a group of caterers, most of whom have outsized dreams beyond the low-level jobs they are currently filling, working different events in every episode. The show does not take the characters’ dreams seriously, with two exceptions: Casey, a comedienne whose second-season arc focuses on her going out for a small role in a Judd Apatow movie, and Henry, a failed actor best known for repeatedly spouting off a catchphrase in a beer commercial. When we meet Henry in the first episode, he has given up on that talent, and his dream.In the fifth episode of the second season—perhaps the best of the 20 half-hours the show produced—the gang caters a party at ‘80’s A-lister Steve Guttenberg’s house. Henry’s actual talent, previously acknowledged but never displayed, is revealed in this episode. Most notably, he owns a live reading of science-fiction writer Roman’s incoherent screenplay, bringing to life a scene in the mess of a story. We also see Casey watching a film starring Henry, which she took from Guttenberg’s collection. We need only to see her awed reaction to Henry’s performance to understand his reserve of skills. After the performance, Guttenberg is thoroughly impressed by Henry. He wants him to keep plugging away. “It’s been my experience that if you have talent, then nine times out of 10 you break through,” Guttenberg advises. Henry’s already been beaten down: “Yeah, but what if you’re that one guy?” Guttenberg, of course, has no response, because there is no response.(Party Down is the best. Find it and watch it, now. It isn’t always that depressing, although it usually is.)This isn’t to suggest I’m the most talented writer out there. Like almost everybody else, there are elements of the craft that I’m good at and others that I have never come close to mastering. There are pieces I’ve written that I hope stay with me as long as I am writing, and pieces I was embarrassed to publicize with a tweet because I thought I had missed the mark so badly. And there are writers—hugely talented writers—who never got the consistent opportunity I received. I was lucky to have a full-time job in this industry. Even after losing the gig, I still feel that is true.Nonetheless, since being laid off, it has felt like the world has been closing in on me. I imagine that is a fairly normal reaction to losing your job, no matter the industry. Newspapers are closing, major media companies are slashing budgets and positions, and the remaining jobs often lack in security and/or compensation. How can you come to terms with your place in the world with that reality?For me, it comes down to this: I got to cover basketball in Canada on a full-time basis for almost a decade, at a time when there were about a half-dozen jobs in this country, give or take, that met that description. That I would be able to get one of those jobs, at twenty-two, is ridiculous. I got to see the continent, from Cleveland (many, many, many times) to Miami to San Francisco to Mexico City, all because somebody thought it would be a good idea to pay me to write about basketball, my favourite sport. I got benefits, too. That was swell. I’ll miss those.I have no idea what I’ll be doing at this point in next year: if I’ll have a new full-time gig, if I’ll be able to make it freelancing, if I’ll be back in school studying something completely new. Gather enough experiences like the one I just finished, though, and regardless of what is ahead, you start to feel, well, like you cannot be touched.See also: A Newspaper Can't Love You Back.
‘In Between the City and Your Body’: An Interview with Liene Bosquê

The sculptor searches through old notebooks and observes the cyclical nature of ideas. 

I met the Brazilian sculptor Liene Bosquê in her Long Island City studio a few days after she moved in. She was still unpacking and commented on the difficulty sculptors in New York City face finding spaces large enough in which to work. “When you make sculpture, it starts to become a problem,” she said. “You try to compact things.” She moved a box off a chair to sit down on it and invited me to sit on another across from her, next to a stack of her notebooks. The newest had cork covers and toothy paper—she explained she was craving more natural materials when she selected it, like the ones she’s often drawn to in her pieces. Her studio is smallish and full of tall racks holding Bosquê’s finished sculptures, and some unfinished attempts, as well as a large, assembled drafting table under a window framing an enviable view of the Queensboro Bridge and the Manhattan skyline. “I have to sketch more,” she joked, gesturing toward the city. “It’s something that I really miss, drawing.”The view is perfect for Bosquê, whose work explores themes of urban preservation and history. But her drawings now are mostly plans for three-dimensional sculptures, molds, and installations. I first saw her work in the MoMA PS1 show Greater New York, where she was showing a piece called “Recollection”, comprised of dozens of hand-sized souvenirs from her travels, laid out on a plain, wooden table in a grid pattern resembling Manhattan’s. Though the souvenirs are found objects, she also uses them to make molds for other small sculptures in clay or plastic. With a background in architecture and an interest in history’s relationship to memory, Bosquê gives equal consideration to mathematical precision and sensory stimulation in her pieces—she has a rule that all of the souvenirs she uses in her work must be hand-sized, small enough to carry in her pocket as she picked them up on her travels over fifteen years. “Something that’s close to you,” she explains, as if keeping the memories of her travels close to her, too.[[{"fid":"6694686","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","attributes":{"height":"998","width":"1500","class":"media-element file-media-original"}}]]Bosquê is interested in the intersection of individual memory and collective memory—souvenirs are widely recognizable symbols of places even for people who have never visited them, and stand as fixed representations of those places even as the places themselves may be changing. Souvenirs also represent much more intimate and tactile memories for people who have been to those places, and whose memories are “fixed” in their personal histories. I asked Bosquê how she felt about taking souvenirs out of her private collection and placing them in public, in “Recollection”. She laughed. “In the beginning I was like, I’d never sell this! These are mine! Later, I decided I would have to have an agreement where I can say, It’s yours but you’ll need to lend them to me to do molds and other things.”I asked her if she feels like her notebooks are souvenirs of a sort, as well. “They become this archive of ideas,” she said. She had been flipping through them earlier that day, in preparation for my visit, and opened one up from 2011 to show me a page. At that time, she had just moved to New York but was doing exhibitions in Chicago and Sao Paolo, where she’s from. It was her first time working with the souvenirs, and in her sketches, she’s attempting to figure out the best way of transporting them, and whether she’d rather present them on a solid table or sawhorses. She turned to another page. “I was thinking I should go back and see which ideas came through, ideas that I didn’t realize then, that I couldn’t make happen,” she said. She noticed ideas that appeared earlier in her work coming back later on. “I don’t know if it’s progress, but at least it’s like I’m building something,” she said.[[{"fid":"6694676","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","attributes":{"height":"2448","width":"3264","class":"media-element file-media-original"}}]]She showed her work often in 2014 and 2015, so many of her entries from those years were plans for installations, some of them site-specific, like her first U.S. solo show Suspended Memories at Point of Contact gallery, in Syracuse. She spent time in the archives of the City of Syracuse in preparation for the show, developing pieces that explored its unique history and architecture. One such piece is “Amez Church”, comprised of three person-sized latex impressions of the brick walls of the city’s oldest standing African American church, suspended from wooden dowels. Though taken from the same structure, each impression is vastly different, emphasizing the variety in the story of a single building, as if the structure itself were alive. The latex is painted over, highlighting its texture and dimension. It’s not unusual for gallery-goers to try to touch the pieces in “Amez Church”.Bosquê deliberately arouses multiple senses in her work, invoking materiality as a way of better imprinting it on viewers’ memories. In City Souvenirs, a collaboration with the artist Nicole Seisler, Bosquê and Seisler led tours around New York and Chicago and had participants take impressions of the surfaces of the cities with bricks of wet porcelain. She picked up an example from the shelf behind her and handed it to me. One side of the brick bore an imprint of the presser’s hand, the other an impression of the pentagonal valve of a fire hydrant. “The clay becomes this in-between, the city and your body,” she explained. “It’s kind of filling the empty space.” It also encourages participants to see the city in a different way, looking closely at its details, its dimensions that typically go unnoticed.[[{"fid":"6694681","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","attributes":{"height":"1037","width":"1486","class":"media-element file-media-original"}}]]While living in Chicago, Bosquê began researching the architect Louis Sullivan and became interested in his idea of the ornament not as a superficial feature of architecture, but as something central to its function. “Most of the time you have this structure and then the ornament is the last thing, another layer,” she said. She found a way to combine the structure and the ornament in her piece Stockade, taking silicone impressions of tin ceiling tiles in a Syracuse building and using them to make molds for plaster bricks, with the ornamentation embossed on one side. After reading about the indigenous people of the area, she decided to assemble the bricks in a waist-high hexagonal structure evoking the stockade built by the Onondaga tribe to protect their village. The embossed sides face inward, each pattern slightly different from the one next to it but hidden from the outside. “It was kind of a way of looking to different times in history and trying to combine them,” Bosquê said.She showed me a plan she’s working on in her current notebook, of a roughly nine-inch-wide replica of the Mỹ Sơn temple in Vietnam, set in the center of a two-foot table. She’s drawn it many times, from multiple angles. The length of each side of the bases of the temple and table are labeled, and on another page, there appears a Fibonacci spiral, also labeled with measurements. Above the spiral is written Bosquê’s name and the name of a collaborator. Beneath it, the words “spiritual polarities” and “polarity of forces” appear beside a column of words in binary relationship to one another. “The notebook just helps me organize my thoughts,” she said.
Dying or Winning in Nepal

In the face of violent opposition, an ethnic minority fights for equality. But has the government found a way to profit from their protest?

All over post-earthquake Kathmandu, buildings lie like brick puddles on the ground. The raw siding of apartments hang like open wounds over garbage-strewn lots. It almost makes you wonder what happened to the 4.1 billion dollars Nepal has received in international aid money for earthquake relief since 2015. Maybe it strikes you as a little suspicious that all the money was squirrelled away in a private government fund.What do you think about when you think about Nepal? Perhaps you think of snow-capped mountains like so many white-roofed mansions. Immediately, probably, you recall the earthquakes, which broke big parts of the country in pieces last year. These are things I'm aware of, too, but after visiting Nepal's southern border town of Janakpur, where in September 2015 a child was shot in the face by police while hiding in the bushes during a protest, all I can think about is a corrupt government waging a slow-motion campaign of oppression against the farmers who make their beautiful, dysfunctional country possible.I write to you to explain the footage I have here on a USB drive, of police shooting at protestors with what was, reportedly, live ammunition. Perhaps I could introduce you to the people being shot at, who gave me that footage. These are the Madhesi, an ethnic minority group pursuing a campaign against the Nepali government. A campaign that, due to some pretty remarkable official perversity, has apparently made the politicians they're fighting even richer.*When I was in Kathmandu in January, I felt a little lonely, so I struck up a lot of conversations in cafes, which all immediately swung so suddenly towards anti-government sentiment that, by the end of my trip, I started using the question, "So do you like the government?" as an icebreaker, with great success.The government is so unstable, so rapidly collapsing, that it seems impossible to pick out the wreckage left by any other prime minister from the blunders of the current one. Nepal has enjoyed eight PMs in the last eight years—a swirling mess of constantly splintering parties fighting amongst themselves. So, though it may seem a little simplistic to write “the government,” Nepal’s power structure seems most easily captured by a nondescript noun.An Internet game show called Integrity Idol rewards Nepal's least corrupt officials with pretty trophies. The current prime minister is a high-school dropout who makes Donald Trump look like Winston Churchill.*Madhesi is a term somewhat like a famously nasty two-syllable American slur for black people, which serves to lump together a bunch of darker-skinned ethnic groups. The thing about being Madhesi is you’re considered Indian, not Nepali. The Nepalese have a paranoid attitude towards India—the man who conquered the kingdoms that comprised Nepal called his creation “a yam between two boulders,” the boulders being China and India. The Madhesi intermarry with Indians, and many have darker skin, and some of them speak Indian languages—in a caste-based society, this means being branded as Those Other People Over There, the human tentacles of India’s influence, the ones slowly destroying Nepali culture.Many Madhesi—who now take pride in this moniker—live on the Terai, also known simply as the Madhesh, a low, flat wetland where cows trot through a clingy damp air. The earthquake didn't touch the cities of the Madhesh, but it kind of looks like it did: Janakpur, the border city I visited, is impoverished, filled with crumbling, cracked multi-story buildings or small hovels, stretching in crooked lines away from a big white temple.I travelled to the Madhesh with Patrick Ward, who is also a Western journalist, and Praveen Kumar Yadav, a Madhesi reporter who was totally invaluable to this project—he found sources, he translated, he got us chicken. Banita Khanal, a writer from the high caste—the "hill Brahmins," as they're called—accompanied us as well. Khanal was becoming increasingly concerned that the racist rhetoric her friends espoused wasn't at all true. We took a fast tiny bus through severe hills, a trip described beautifully by Yadav as "much sick-making." After the sick was made, the country abruptly flattened out, revealing a sea of sugarcane fields—this is where the Madhesi farm much of their country's food, for their oppressors, among others.Two Madhesi children were killed by police; at least two protestors were shot when they pelted police cars with stones.From a bus depot we took a shaky rickshaw ride past troughs of gravel left by recent monsoons. Over the displeased-sounding putter of the engine, Yadav told me that if you’re growing up Madhesi, you usually get ridiculed for your dark skin or Southern food. Khanal reported sadly that she might as well have been one of his bullies. In light of this information, Yadav cheerfully waged small-scale psychological warfare against her for the duration of the trip; since the Northern diet is all about rice, Yadav kept saying, “We’re looking for rice for Banita, maybe there’s rice over here,” no matter how unrelated to food our current activities were. She appeared somewhat amused by this.As an adult, Yadav faces less naked discrimination day-to-day, but, working in media, he’s aware of how rare it is for his peoples’ voices to be heard. He’s one of two Madhesi in a 47-person newsroom in Kathmandu.Nepali law doesn’t discriminate against Madhesi people directly, but it’s seemingly gently rigged to limit Madhesi influence. Take Nepali citizenship laws. The Nepali constitution makes a distinction between two kinds of citizenship: citizen by Nepali descent, and naturalized citizenship. Those possessing the former are able to run for high office, while those with the latter are not. This often applies to the Madhesi because the constitution specifies that children born of Nepali mothers and foreign fathers are only eligible for naturalized citizenship, which, given frequent Nepali-Indian intermarriage in Madhesi communities, means that a lot of Madhesi kids won’t have much of a future in politics.Moreover, according to Dipendra Jha, a Madhesi advocate who works with the Nepali Supreme Court, there’s also a lot of unofficial discrimination in how citizenship is rewarded. Ultimately, he says, the chief district officer of a given region has the unilateral power to approve or reject a citizenship application—and many Madhesi citizenship applications are simply denied. He attributes this to the fact that a lot of these officials are high-caste people who regard dark skin as inherently Indian. “That is the thing they have been brought up with; that kind of traditional notion.”The Madhesi allege, also, that Nepal’s electoral districts are organized in ways that deliberately limit Madhesi influence in parliament. According to some of Jha’s recent research, electoral districts in the Madhesh have been sliced up so that many contain a majority population of hill Brahmins, despite Madhesi people being, obviously, the majority population in the overall region. *The protests became violent in Janakpur on July 20, 2015. Madhesi discontents filled the streets. They had been summoned to a public meeting, where they were promised their opinions about the new constitution would be heard. According to VICE, when they arrived at the meeting-place, they found the doors guarded by rows of police. I have encountered no explanation of why the Madhesi were invited to this meeting then denied access, leaving a street full of angry people staring down a bunch of cops. Accounts differ over whether the police or the Madhesi threw the first punch. After that, more protests came in waves. The most dramatic, in September, was suppressed when police fired on demonstrating crowds with metal bullets. I met a man whose hand no longer works well after being shot through the wrist. A few Madhesi dragged a policeman from his ambulance, beat him to death, then burned the ambulance. Two Madhesi children were killed by police; at least two protestors were shot when they pelted police cars with stones.Despite this, demonstrations continued—many of them organized by a group named MASS, members of which met us in a restaurant, where we enjoyed a delicious meal, besieged by flies, hearing harrowing accounts of violence. The MASS leaders struck me as kind, and kind of badass. Saroj Mishra, the group's leader, handed me a ball of fried paneer while telling me about being beaten unconscious with batons. Mohammad Riyaj Safi, a young figure in the movement, appeared amused at being intimidated by police on Facebook. He took me for a rip on his motorcycle, pointing out the places where his childhood friends faced down rows of riot shields.When nothing came of the initial demonstrations, the Madhesi decided to play some real hardball. Nepal is totally dependent on Indian exports, so the Madhesi activists put the country under siege by blockading the border, starting in September 2015. They set up tent settlements along key shipping checkpoints and halted the flow of goods from India. This should have been incredibly effective: without Indian fuel, nothing happens. Without Indian medication, routine infections linger. But, reportedly, the government figured out how to turn this blockade to their advantage.*I arrived in Nepal not knowing much about the Madhesi revolution—however, I had heard of a blockade preventing fuel from entering the country. So, in rookie reporter fashion, I expected to see obvious distress upon leaving the airport. I did not.As a tourist, you can still have a great time in Kathmandu, if you're prepared to ignore a slight hum of the amiss. It's a pretty city, dense with everything. Tight alleyways clustered with stalls open out on crumbled squares crowded with vendors selling mountains of cauliflower. Sherpa chess hustlers wiped me off the board in three games played in the shadow of a stupa. Nobody stands around on their phones in the markets, because traffic overwhelms all available space. Traffic is absolutely insane everywhere.Oh yeah, about that traffic. For a country undergoing a fuel crisis, there was actually a lot of fuel in Nepal through the winter. Following the blockade's beginning, a thriving black market sprung up, providing fuel or anything else—at wildly inflated prices—given the greasing of the right wheels.What shouldn't surprise you, if you've read this far, is that the government had a pretty shady relationship with the black market. Even while police make a show of arresting certain smugglers, I heard multiple reports of police facilitating black market trade: a cabbie told me he had to pay off police to get fuel. Puja Singh, a Nepali friend of mine in Bangkok, told me she could get me fuel in Nepal “tomorrow, yes, definitely—I would call a few friends and they would know a few friends, who owned petrol pumps or who were related to the army or the police.” In January 2016, the Minister of Foreign Affairs expressed gratitude for the smugglers' help. There was a general suspicion, among the people I interviewed, that the government had somehow skimmed black market profits; this doesn’t sound implausible, given the overall picture. A local who would prefer to remain anonymous told me that “UML”—Unified Marxist-Leninist, a leading party—“has goons that actually are getting very rich with this black market—so there’s no motivation to end this.”Obviously, we can’t now meaningfully deduce what the government’s exact role in the smuggling was. But it appeared as if the government neither rigorously suppressedthe black market trade (which would have necessitated an immediate resolution to Madhesi affairs) nor broke up the blockade completely. They dragged out the so-called fuel crisis as long as they could, while their people struggled to buy suddenly expensive staples. They blamed the high prices bankrupting the lower classes on the Madhesi. For the rich, meanwhile, there functionally was no blockade—they rolled through town in luxury cars, the markups on smuggled goods representing only a slight dent in their deep budgets.*Three more Madhesi were shot on January 21. They were demonstrating over an insultingly weak new constitutional amendment—a mild appeasement. There’s talk of secession now, a growing movement to make the Madhesh its own country, with full possession of its precious farmland.The blockade ended on February 5, when a coalition of local officials and businessmen burned the activists’ tents and ripped down their barriers. Following this, the United Democratic Madhesi Front declared the blockade officially suspended. Madhesi reactions varied. Apparently, many had become frustrated at how black market trade had limited the blockade’s effectiveness. Meanwhile, the less moderate feared that the blockade’s end would be taken as a sign of weakness. Now, the question is whether this revolution will end up being merely one of Nepal’s many stillborn political movements. The members of MASS I spoke to have absolutely zero faith in the government changing, yet none of them considered giving up for even a moment. Over dinner, they smiled as they told me they're either dying or winning. Either one, I suppose, will eventually answer the main question, which is whether it's their home they're living in.Research Editor: Daniel Viola
‘Freedom Is An Easily Abused Word’: An Interview with Sarah Bakewell

Lines of inheritance and anxiety of influence at the Existentialist Café. 

There’s something embarrassing about capital-e Existentialism, perhaps because of the number of us who were drawn to it as disaffected teens, browsing the ideological Lazy Susan while bumming smokes off of the big kids. And yet that youthful appeal was what brought historical biographer Sarah Bakewell back to the philosophy that she had so loved during her moody adolescence.Existentialism was and is an identity as much as a philosophy, and Bakewell’s recent ensemble biography, At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, & Apricot Cocktails, tracks the genesis of both the philosophy and the characters who made it ubiquitous. As the title implies, Bakewell is interested in the cross-pollination that occurred within the metaphorical garden of existentialism: who said what to whom, which of them were lovers, and briefly—why did Koestler punch Camus?The follow-up to 2011’s How to Live, a biography of Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, At the Existentialist Café offers an astute historical primer for those looking to deepen their knowledge of phenomenology and existentialism, as well as the juicy details of what went on after all the apricot cocktails were quaffed.Naomi Skwarna: You wrote that existentialism was dear to you as a teenager, that it in fact led you to drop out of high school to pursue your own path. What led you back to the existentialists?Sarah Bakewell: It was a return to an early love. I studied philosophy at university and started a PhD on Heidegger, which I didn't finish because I kind of fell out of love—or I lost the sense of "why am I doing this." I abandoned it to do completely different things. [I ended up] writing historical non-fiction—biographies, basically. And from there into the Montaigne book. But that took me back in the direction of philosophy, specifically Maurice Merleau-Ponty on Montaigne, which claims him as the first phenomenologist. Because of the way that he writes about experience, his own changing self and his take on the world throughout his life.What was different on the return?The first time, I was very young, completely swept off my feet by the sheer excitement of the ideas. Now I'm returning to it old and cynical and with a more critical perspective.Much of the book is rooted in the relationships between the philosophers, which makes for a tangled web, at times.What really fascinates me is how they all related to each other, how in their thinking they were always responding to something that someone else had said or written about. They were reading each other, disagreeing with each other, getting into fights—sometimes physical ones! Even if they never met, there was a line of inheritance. Everybody was reacting to what had been written before. There was this anxiety of influence: everyone trying to stake out their very different take on subjects, distinguishing themselves from what other people had said before.Not unlike the present culture of hot takes.What was unusual was that personal quality—the inhabiting of ideas, a whole philosophy, and living it out in a personal way. That's part of the existentialism itself— concrete existence, and what you actually choose to do and how you respond to other people. It's a living philosophy. It's more intimately linked to what they do in their personal lives. For example, the fact that Sartre and Beauvoir had their open relationship, which wasn't just a random personal choice, it was closely linked to their philosophy of freedom.You located a lot of the philosophy in the character and relationships of key thinkers, like Sartre and Beauvoir. Could you be an existentialist purely in action? Or did you have to be a philosopher and think, and talk, and write about it?In a way, you could be at the time when it was fashionable, you could say, "I'm an existentialist" just because you went to the cafés and bars; if you danced and wore the right clothes, which in the early days was the plaid shirt and a raincoat. Looking back on that period, that seems more like a fashion than a philosophy. Philosophy, at some point, has to be written down, has to be preserved in a way that makes some kind of sense to later generations. Existentialism is a philosophy with a recognizable heritage—Kierkegaard, on the one hand, is clear precursor in the 19th century; little bits of Nietzsche, little bits of Dostoevsky, and then the phenomenologists [like Merleau-Ponty]. Everybody wrestles with a bit of existential anxiety. That's just a part of being human. Phenomenology provided a philosophical method, and the older existentialist tradition provided the anxiety. You put those two together and you've got a real set of ideas.Existential thought seemed to thrive in conflict. Was that level of drama necessary for the philosophy to develop?I don't think it's so much that it thrived in that atmosphere, it's just that existentialism arose in a time when there were huge questions to be asked after the end of the Second World War. What was the political future of the world, on the most fundamental level, after Hiroshima? How were we going to ensure that the human race didn’t wipe itself out? Both Sartre and Camus made very memorable statements, basically: from now on, the human race has to decide that it wants to live, every day. It's an existential decision because it's up to us. The human race is free to decide whether we're going to wipe ourselves out. It's a powerful but scary thought.Could you project existentialism onto the political choices that carried from there?Well, the decisions that were being made, at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis for instance, were totally existential. Are we going to stand on our pride and insist on a confrontation? Are we going to do some deal, and if so how? These decisions were all about: what are we going to do before a huge chunk of the human race is destroyed? It arose out of devastation after the Second World War and the loss of moral authority. All of the traditional sources of certainty didn't work out. They needed to find some way of taking control of human and political relationships. Existentialism picked up on that desire for newness and, like Communism, also seemed to offer an opportunity for humanity.Do you see echoes of existential inquiry in current protests?In a sense, I see a lot of the same things happening now—or it should be. There's this new movement going on in France at the moment, people staying out all night and objecting to pretty much everything. It's called Nuit debout and it's a lot like the Occupy Movement. It's partly in response to everything that's happened in France recently with the terrorist attacks, and the crackdown that followed and the crises that have been going on with the treatment of refugees. They're even doing this very French Revolutionary thing where they've sort of reinvented their own calendar where they’re up to now, something like the [54th] of March. It's refreshing that things like that are still occurring.Speaking of pervading principles of existentialism, do we take authenticity to mean the same thing as Sartre?At it's worst, [our current version of] authenticity can become more like a fashion statement, and of course there's a lot of money in it—authenticity can be bought and sold. That's not what the existentialists were talking about. They were talking about taking ownership of your own personal choices, of what you do and how you engage yourself with the world of others. Of course, it's not really possible to live authentically all the time—not to have any bad faith or self-deception. We need a little bit of that.If you accept any Freudian idea of an unconscious, there are so many things we don't even know about ourselves.That's an interesting one, because Sartre was very uneasy about Freud. He kind of rejected the whole notion of the unconscious, because he had to. It didn't fit with his philosophy.You do such a wonderful job of mapping out these figures and their connections to one another. Sartre seems both magnetic and totally insufferable.Yes, I think he'd be someone to spend an evening with before he starts to grate on you; his incessant energy for a start, although some of that energy was fuelled by his amphetamine habit. He was tireless, both in his writing and conversation.Did you feel a particular affinity for any one of the people you wrote about?I very much like the character and the work of Merleau-Ponty, who was not really an existentialist. He was a phenomenologist, but he moved in the same circles. He didn't write very much about anxiety. He'd had a happy childhood, always felt loved, he was basically happy. Beauvoir, when she was young thought, "I couldn't possibly be with someone who is that comfortable with himself." He was quite happy as well to be from a bourgeois family. He was like "that's fine! I love my family."And it was Merleau-Ponty's writing that brought you back to the existentialists?Yes. The Phenomenology of Perception is his masterwork, and I reread that with great interest. But in his final, unfinished book, The Visible and the Invisible, he was trying to write about how the mind and the world intersect. The traditional philosophical idea is that the mind is one insubstantial thing, or the soul is one insubstantial thing, not in the physical world. And then there's the body and the world and everything in it. The puzzle is: how are they linked? Sartre portrays a dualist world—there's the mind, which is literally a nothingness, and then the physical world, the body and the rest of it, which is something. But Merleau-Ponty says the two can't be divided. Consciousness and the world are woven into each other in such a way, he talks about the figure of the chiasm— this 'x' shape—and everything is closely knit. Consciousness, he describes as being like a little fold in the world, a little pocket. All of that was part of his lifelong job of trying to describe what human experience is. We're embodied, and having a body is part of our experience. You can't divide that out from being a person.How can we benefit from existential insight right now?We can't cut and paste ideas from existentialism, but we can try to understand them in their own time, which is what I do. But having done that, I also found myself quite often thinking: oh yeah, that's something that's very much on our minds now, the whole question of freedom. Personal liberation, women's liberation, civil rights, LGBTQ rights. All of those movements—the freedom to offend, freedom of speech, and freedom from surveillance. What about privacy? How do we balance freedom and security? We're always being told we need to give up our civil rights in return for "more" safety. How do we balance those things?And how it changes so much based on what's threatening those freedoms.Yes, it does. Freedom is an easily abused word; it can be used to serve all sorts of political ends that have got nothing whatsoever to do with freedom. Existentialist ideas of freedom don't sort out those problems, but they do highlight how difficult and important the question is. It didn't start or end with the existentialists. It's just a part of what it is to be human.
Banner for The ClairFree System by Jillian Tamaki for Hazlitt
Early Stories Pt. 5: The ClairFree System

Faith. Magic. Something that would let me feel normal. Make me feel worthy of love.

Banner for PassOVOver by Cameron Nicholson for Hazlitt

Take a seat and join us as we eat, drink, and share the untold story of how the Prince of Toronto became the 6 God.

The First Time I Heard ‘When Doves Cry’

When Prince died, I found myself instantly transported back to that day in 1984 when I realized just how big music could be, how much it could contain.

What did I hear when I listened to pop at age seven? I was obsessed with Casey Kasem and Rick Dees’s weekend countdown shows, and at least sharp enough to know that I was getting educated about the world as much I was some discreet art form. My fresh ears may have been low on references points or perspective, and I often had no fucking idea what artists were singing about, but it seemed, though, that I could more or less keep pace.When Prince died, though, I found myself instantly transported back to that day in 1984 when I heard “When Doves Cry” for the first time. That was when I realized I was truly beyond my depth. It was when I realized just how big music could be, how much it could contain. It knocked me on my ass, both sonically and emotionally. In a way, it unlocked a well of meaning that haunts me to this day. “When Doves Cry” might be the single most formative song in my life.“When Doves Cry” is arguably Prince’s biggest hit, and about as far as you can get from a deep cut. We’ve all heard it so many times that it’s become seamless, a sacred text we know forward and backward. It’s the distillation of both the Purple One’s idiosyncrasies and the ultimate mark of his unlikely absorption by the mainstream. Taken bit by bit, though, it remains a startling, even oblique, piece of music. It opens with a heavily distorted, nearly atonal guitar solo that before giving way to wordless chanting, processed (presciently, of course) in a way that sounds like a yowling Jew’s harp. The song’s minor key has a distinctly Middle Eastern tinge to it and is downright incantatory—that is, until the bright, jaunty keyboards kick in, cementing the groove. And that’s just the first thirty seconds.All this probably sounded like vaguely threatening noise to me at the time. But when the melody kicked in, my mind was decidedly blown. Like much Prince, the melody of “When Doves Cry” is deceptively simple—catchy as hell while anchoring something far more ambitious—and thus assumed an added gravity. It’s at once grandiose and piercing, lilting and morose. I may not have gotten the specifics, but the overall effect was undeniable. “When Doves Cry” was like nothing I’d ever heard (or felt) before, and it exploded everything I’d thought music was supposed to do. Nothing on the radio had prepared me for the ominous breadth of “When Doves Cry.”“When Doves Cry” is a cry for help, but it’s also an exercise in affirming that we all need help, sometimes, or else we just aren’t doing things right. You have to die a thousand times to really be alive.“When Doves Cry” is a song about love, but its story, while airtight, is knotty and demanding in ways I wouldn’t be able to relate to until decades later when my life caught up with my listening habits. Romance gives way to frank passion; abandonment and rage intermingle with a deep, deep sadness that goes well beyond one relationship and gets into psychosexual family-of-origin issues. “When Doves Cry” is a cry for help, but it’s also an exercise in affirming that we all need help, sometimes, or else we just aren’t doing things right. You have to die a thousand times to really be alive.It wasn’t just the multiple dissonances of “When Doves Cry” that threw me for such a loop. Tonally and thematically, the song refused to provide any obvious cues. By the time it closes with some classically inspired keyboard flourishes—virtuosity that functions also as metaphor for the number this song does on the listener—it’s clear Prince has absolutely no interest in solving this puzzle for you or piecing the world back together in an orderly fashion. He’s not an authority—he’s capturing a specific set of emotional circumstances that defy easy resolution or idealization and daring us to sit with them. This was ambivalence in the truest sense of the word, an ability to not only encompass a range of feeling but leave the listener grasping at seemingly contradictory fragments. “When Doves Cry” came as an utter revelation to me because it was the first time I realized music could make me feel more than one thing at the same time. My immediate reaction? I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t stand “When Doves Cry.”If pop’s facility often serves as a vehicle for oversimplifying emotions, “When Doves Cry” was the opposite. There was nothing comforting, much less instructive, about it. The song didn’t tell me where to go or what to avoid. Instead, it left me stranded and exposed, exactly the opposite of whatever comfort, reassurance, and certainty we look for in music at that young an age. The state it put me in was so unfamiliar and challenging that “When Doves Cry” didn’t just scare me—I found it repulsive yet alluring. I waited to hear it every weekend not to feel stirred, but because for me, it was like staring at an open wound and I couldn’t look away. There was something grotesque not about the song itself but the way I handled (or rather, couldn’t even begin to handle) it that I resented like crazy, but wanted to experience again and again.In many ways, I’ve always kept Prince at arm’s length, as if that initial encounter was so jarring that, on some level, I didn’t ever want to revisit it. That’s not to say I didn’t learn from it; again, I can’t think of a single piece of music that opened my mind as instantaneously as “When Doves Cry.” But the associations with him were almost too powerful; their premised on a vulnerability I rarely let myself feel. The irony is, that’s exactly what Prince wanted. That’s exactly the mood he so frequently broadcast—and championed—in his music. Now Prince is dead. I owe it to his legacy to go back and explore what he left us. But most of all, I owe it to myself.