Sunday, November 5, 2017

Ray Madoff's "Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American Dead" (2010): A Halloween Special

The eighteenth century Enlightenment -- along with its descendent ideology of liberalism -- is often conceived as taking one side over the other in a series of binary oppositions -- bourgeois vs. aristocrat, disadvantage vs. privilege, talent vs. birth, youth vs. age, and so on. All of which is probably true enough, but we tend to leave out one of the more intriguing of the oppositions: the contest between the living and the dead. In cases where the vital interests -- er, at least, interests -- of these two subsets of the body politic conflict, liberalism tends to plump for the former, conservatism for the latter. And I take it that part of the deeper story underlying Ray Madoff's brief, entrancing book, Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American Dead (quite possibly the best, most ensnaring title for any work ever published on the topic of tax policy and estate planning) is as follows: Just as mid-twentieth century American liberalism has taken a beating across so many fronts in the last few decades, it has lost ground in this one too. Right now, the dead are winning.

Sunday, October 29, 2017


Written upon discovering that the majority of one's fellow online poll-takers in a particular Florida Congressional district answered "Yes, he should get the harshest sentence possible" to the question "Does Bergdahl deserve life in prison after pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy?"

Isn’t it amazing –
This feast of Bergdahl hating?
Isn’t it astounding
This compensatory hounding
From those brave from impregnable safety
Of ten thousand thousand feet

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Doing Nothing

It's funny how as soon as one has bested any of one's inner demons, another arrives to take its place, as if they were taking turns in a relay. These days, having conquered more or less my adolescent need for identity and selfhood, i.e. having become a bog that is perfectly contoured to the sink of earth it inhabits, I have found a new demon to follow it. "Beyond the crisis of identity there are other crises," says Erik Erikson, or something like it, someplace in Young Man Luther (and probably in many other places too).

The hag that is currently astride me is the abject terror of wasting time. It's bad enough to have to eat and sleep. (Nabokov writes of the agony of having to abandon precious hours of consciousness every night -- a feeling shared by his insomniac creation Van-- and, to a somewhat less involved extent, by me.) One then also needs to deal with the problem of transporting oneself from place to place, none of which actively contributes to satisfying the inner obsessions.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Sunday, October 1, 2017


"My life's work... requires autonomy like oxygen." (Anzaldúa) One finds similar ideas, as we will see later in this post, in D.H. Lawrence, in Sylvia Townsend Warner, in Samuel Butler, in Marina Tsvetaeva, in lord knows how many others. The desperate quest for solitude and autonomy runs as a persistent enough theme through all known literature (-- or, perhaps, it is just consistent enough in my own life that it always lifts itself off the page, unsolicited, of whatever I am reading) that one might be tempted to credit it with being the fundamental human struggle -- the meaning of life.

I've always been a little skeptical, however. Perhaps autonomy has been granted an outsized significance in the written word, since that written word, in order to get written, must have been created by people who fought for and won sufficient autonomy and solitude to be able to write it -- people who have, that is, spent a good bulk of their waking hours slashing like machete-wielders at the foliage of human companionship and solicitude, which I know from experience is forever threatening to encroach upon the precious few free days and nights one has in which to wring words, stories -- hence meaning -- out of the struggle.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Buzz's Axiom

I was texting with a friend shortly after the news broke that North Korea was proposing that it just might test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific. This, of course, came shortly after our own President's suggestion that he might "totally destroy" another society. Both of us, my friend and I, were wrestling with much the same question. Wait a minute -- we thought -- could something like a nuclear war actually happen? I mean, really? For all the bombastic world-weary pessimism I affect on this blog, my answer of course was no. Beneath it all, my doubts about the future are paper-thin. I may obsessively fear the worst. I may plan for it. But I don't really expect it. Perhaps I believe that by maintaining my intensity of fear I am actively preventing it. Every time I'm in the vicinity of Yellowstone, say, at least ten percent of my mind is trained on the seething caldera under my feet, and wondering when it will go off. But I'd be as surprised as anyone if it actually did.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Five poems written this summer


Once you are grown and have left school
  you start to think
That some once-feared activities now are safe
Don’t be a fool