Diane Johnson, Simone Weil, and screaming about Kant in bars
Long time no Stack. Nonetheless, this overdue missive is going to be disappointingly short, for two reasons. The first is that, now that it’s possible for me to embrace/lick/breath on real, sweaty human beings, I want to get the fuck off the internet. During the pandemic, I was under the completely erroneous impression that I was doing fine and remaining sane, relative to many people I know who seemed to me to be doing less than fine and becoming more and more insane. In a limited way, I was right. I didn’t shave my head, have public meltdown, or even file any pieces more than a few weeks late. But now that I’m vaccinated and able to spend lots of time in the company of human bodies—HUMAN BODIES, EXHALING LITTLE PHLEGMY PARTICLES—I realize that I was in fact completely insane, paranoid, and miserable in quarantine. I’m sure that I would’ve felt bad and sad about how people reacted to (and dare I suggest, misread) my piece about sanctimony literature at any time, but I felt MUCH worse about it, and became almost delusionally convinced of the career-endingness of it all, because my entire quarantined life was so extremely, exclusively online. To put a Wittgensteinian twist on it, the limits of my timeline were the limits of my world. It completely warped me: to this day, I still whimperingly apologize for the cancelability of such outrageous takes as “I like Rawls, actually.” Basically, I am in want of dramatic, offline re-socialization, and I intend to seek one.
The second reason I don’t have the mental energy to write an interesting proto-essay here is that I recently moved from Boston to DC, and my life is a total mess. I don’t have any chairs, or a bed, or wifi in my apartment. You may wonder: Why did I move to DC, when I can write my book anywhere? Why didn’t I move to NEW YORK, the best—the only???—city in the world?!!! There is a certain kind of New Yorker for whom it is inconceivable that anyone with the choice to live in the city (as in, the only city in the universe) would opt to go elsewhere. I probably can’t muster an answer that will satisfy this kind of New Yorker. The best I can do is: two of my best friends are in DC, and I needed to live near them after the Year from Hell. I also find living in New York stressful and outrageously expensive, and I don’t especially want to do it. I’m already more pickled in the inescapable hivemind of New York media than I would like, so I would like to avoid physical absorption into that same hivemind if possible. Also—sue me—I like trees. Before the New York evangelists become enraged, let me point out that I like New York, and I understand why many people would want to live there. I just don’t want to live there myself, if I can help it.
With all that said, I have 2.5 new pieces out! I hope you enjoy them!
The .5 is a contribution to a forum in The Chronicle Review on how the pandemic changed academic life: https://www.chronicle.com/article/how-the-pandemic-changed-us
I also wrote about Simone Weil, and attempts to make her palatable for a mainstream analytic philosophical audience, for the Hedgehog Review: https://hedgehogreview.com/issues/distinctions-that-define-and-divide/articles/principled-to-a-fault
Finally, I wrote about Diane Johnson’s new novel for The Nation: https://www.thenation.com/article/culture/diane-johnson-lorna-mott/
I hope you enjoy—but if you don’t, and you take to Twitter to complain about it, I do not even care because I can go hang out with my IRL FRIENDS! WAHHHOOOOOO
So sorry to hear that the internet has you down, bc I only internet know you!! So excited to read your piece on Weil, was just teaching her in DC (sorry I missed you, but it sound like you've been occupied). Also, fuck NYC. The idea that its the only place to live is parochial.
Awesome! Phil Klay shared your piece on Weil today and I like it a lot. On it, did you read Simone Petrement’s biography of Weil for your piece? Also, reading George Steiner now and he has an essay on Weil, too. He opens it be alluding to her as “Socrates gone mad.” Which I think gets at the tension you talk about in your piece. Again, happy summer!