Writings and Letters

A blog oeuvre… a "bloeuvre"

Month: March, 2016

Music and Books (or… “An Unimaginative Title”)

I’m having a bit of trouble coming up with a new post. Partly it is because I have too much I want to write. Mostly because all the neat little stories I want to write require a degree of necessary effort than I am not willing to exert at the moment (read: I’m being lazy this week). But because I’m as equally stubborn as I am sedentary, I feel compelled to post something this week. So you’re stuck reading some lists I’ve composed instead. Great shame really.

But who doesn’t like lists? Well… I suppose it depends on the list, huh? “Top Places to Visit for a Vacation” sounds like fun. Any list compiled by a Nazi: not so much. So upon further reflection we run into a certain relativism when experiencing lists. Hmm…

My lists won’t be that dramatic. Best case scenario: they are slightly enlightening. Worst case: a benign waste of your time. So let’s dig in, shall we?



This first list is a collection of books I hope to get through in 2016 (in no particular order of importance), and I’m feeling so goddamned lazy I’m not even going to put the writers’ names, or links:

Debt: The First 5000 YearsTelex from Cuba; The Relentless Revolution: A History of CapitalismContending Economic Theories; NW; Bleeding Edge; The Wise Man’s Fear; The Recognitions; The Pale King; Americanah; Gender Trouble; Counternarratives; 2666; Adam; Caucasia; The Price of Salt; Leaving the Atocha Station; The Condemnation of Blackness; The New Jim Crow; The History of White People; Caliban and the Witch; Grundrisse; Capital Vol. 1 (with companions); Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right; Capital in the 21st Century; The Limits to Capital; Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism; The Creation of Patriarchy; Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center; the writings of James Baldwin, that new Karen Tei Yamashita novel, Faulkner’s Snopes trilogy, and some works from the Frankfurt School…

…and probably some others if I’m so lucky. But most likely if I can get through half of these this year, I’ll be a happy guy.



And here are all the artists, bands, groups, albums, songs I have been listening to for the past few months. For this category, I’m going to be a little all over the place with artist/album/”or song”…

Kelela/Hallucinogen; FKA twigs/LP1; Sunny Levine/Hush Now; Black Marble/A Different Arrangement; the entire discography of Simon & Garfunkel (but Bridge Over Troubled Water is the best); Kendrick Lamar/untitled unmastered.; David Bowie/Blackstar, Heroes, Low; the album Drool; anything by The Radio Dept. (seriously, this band is my jam) and here are some random artists I’ve been listening to: Wildcat! Wildcat!, Bjork, Cults, OutKast, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Miami Horror, White Denim, Wyclef Jean, NaS, The Horrors, Junior Senior, Lijadu Sisters, Prince Innocence, BORNS, Bob Dylan, Alpine, Fela Kuti, Panda Bear, Iamamiwhoami, Grimes, A Tribe Called Quest, !!!, Xenia Rubinos, Gwenno, Todd Terje, Ruth, Miami Nights 1984, Joe the Worker, Wu-Tang Clan, De Lux, Julia Holter, Bones & Beeker, Deep Cotton, Kate Bush, Charlie Whitten, Molly Parden, Love and Rockets, Shit Robot, Monika, Patti Smith, Falco, Stoffer & Maskinen, Santigold,  and a lot more.

And these songs are sticking to me something hardcore: Christine and the Queens’s “iT” and Kendrick Lamar’s “untitled 03” and Asgeir’s “King and Cross” and Wings’s “Let ‘Em In” and Allie X’s “Bitch” and Freur’s “Doot Doot” and Wham! “Everything She Wants” and Bogen Via’s “Kanye” and Fever Ray “When I Grow Up” and Drake’s (and Lykke Li’s cover of) “Hold On, We’re Going Home”

And this guy, all the way:

Time in the Fog: “The Briefing”


Old Glory was caught in the wind of a coming storm. The day, to an inside observer, was deceiving. The sun cast down its light on the verdurous landscape around Langley, unchallenged by a single cloud in the sky. The trees swayed in a sinuous fashion that lent an almost whimsical quality to the view. And the flag waved, outstretched and impressively, its edges were neatly sewn, not a single tatter to be witnessed; its colors more vibrant in the spring setting, stars popping out of the deep blue, red and white side-by-side in a festive pageantry. People made their way along the sidewalk underneath it, completely ignoring the pride on full display. On the inside it was a perfect day, but on the outside matters were much different. The humidity had picked up since the morning making the early afternoon thick with its moisture. Clouds were on fast approach from the west and the wind was picking up with each passing minute. Off in the distance, out by the horizon, thunder was heard. Something severe was coming this way. And only if one was paying close enough attention on the inside, could the observer see these signs, too.

Agent Robins sat in the office of the Supervisor to Special Activities. She watched the flag waving as she waited. She observed her colleagues moving along the walkway, some with purpose, others not. Then she turned her attention to the title on the desk: Supervisor Jack Haggins. A thought came to mind that made a small crack of her lips. She turned her attention back to the flag outside as the smile faded.


She stood from the chair to meet Haggins. His round, red face was only partially covered by his greying mustache. Last time she saw him he was thinner, more clean-shaven, and had a gold band around his left finger. His body still perspired in the same way she remembered, as were his hands thick and warm. “Supervisor Haggins.”

“Christ, Myra, we’re not in a council meeting, you can cut the formality,” he said with a smile as he moved around to his chair. He was holding a folder with the typical confidential notifications labeled on the outside: strictly for high personnel, and those deemed fit. The name on the front read: Operation ONYX.

“Fair enough. Supervisor Jack, then?”

He feigned amusement poorly. “Good one. Please, sit back down. Sorry it took so long, you know how these things go. Gigantic wastes of time. What I wouldn’t give to have been doing this fifty years ago.”

“No air conditioning back then,” she said, still standing.

He huffed into his chair, tossing the file down. “I suppose. No women, either. Pluses and minuses, huh?” He smiled and motioned to her chair. “Sit, please.” She complied. “How are things in Analytics?”

“They’re going well enough.”

“Good. Good. You know I talked with Hank about you the other day. You’re a real asset to them. He’s lucky to have you—his words. Can’t say I’m not surprised, of course. You always had a keen eye for detail—for the most part. How would you say your time spent over there has gone?”

Myra hesitated to answer, trying to read his face. Before she even got up this morning she managed to come up with at least four plausible scenarios as to why this meeting would be held. After a few minutes she had already narrowed it down to two. “I think we both know my thoughts on the position I currently hold.”

He smiled. “I believe we do. You’re over-qualified for that position. Hank knows it. You know it. Everyone.” He looked at the file on his desk. “You’re wondering what you’re doing back in the DO, no?”

“Something like that.”

He turned and looked out over the yard. The flag caught his eyes perhaps, perhaps not. “What a beautiful day. Shame to be cooped up inside.”

Silence formed around his last words and smothered them. The two remained mute for no more than seconds, but it gave Myra enough time to see where this was going. A penchant for theatrics, she tried to shortcut Haggins’s routine: “Jack, what’s going on?”

He turned back to her with the slightest hints of pride and pleasure in his physiognomy, which to the untrained eye would confuse for concern. “Does the name Martin Conrad mean anything to you?”

She couldn’t help but shake her head. It was what she had thought all along, though slightly modified. “What the hell is this, Jack?”

“Is that a yes?”

“Yes. You know it is. What is this about?”

“Well. You know it’s all entirely classified, but for old times sake, let’s say we had some operations in Nigeria.” He slid the file over to her without making eye contact. Myra received it, but did not open it. She waited for him to continue. “Let’s say US interest in the region has… elevated with the rise of Boko Haram and its new affiliations with ISIL. And we have received orders specifically from what might very well be considered the most important seat in the free world to… increase our attention and counterterrorism focus in Africa—more precisely in states like Nigeria, rich with economic, political, social strife, infested with these Boko-type terrorist sects. Let’s say all that. Then throw into this mix an additional potential terrorist group with, at the time of investigation, unknown affiliations whose motives seem undefined and leader politically… manipulable… yes, and heroin is a strong financial motivator for this group—we’ll go ahead and call them: Hada Yaki—so, for the sake of the good ole days, and friendship, let’s also say it is very possible we sent one of our more senior agents to Nigeria to make contact with Hada Yaki. A typical support and reconnaissance operation. We sent along the agent and a few other junior field agents to assist him in bringing this group into the light to then infiltrate, and help us (and the Nigerians, Nigeriens, Cameroons, you get the idea) fight Boko Haram, end further ISIL expansion in the African continent, further reduce the threat of terrorism, blah, blah, blah, you know what I mean.” Haggins leans forward in his chair, propping himself up on his elbows, hands collapsed together. “So. Let’s say this all happens, and everything is going well. Reports come back each week and everything is hunky dory. Until, one day, about six months into the operation, your senior agent sends you a report that one of the junior field agents has gone rogue, defected to the Hada Yaki and helped them wage a series of successful, bloody campaigns against the government, innocent civilians, and even some of the black sites where we don’t exist, but do. That this has been going on for nearly two months and you are just learning of it as soon as… ten days ago.” He let out a sigh.

“And this hypothetic field agent is named: Martin Conrad?”

“Codename Deepshit. And he has done quite an outstanding job so far as new leader of Hada Yaki. They’ve assassinated politicians, police chiefs, massacred towns, made successful raids of military bases, destroyed important pipe lines for the refinery industry, raped girls, have virtually stolen the heroin trade right from underneath us. Their attack on one of our sites killed several contractors, Nigerian civilians, and at least two agents, plus we lost valuable intel and property.” Haggins loosened his tie. “That’s not even all of it. There’s more, I just don’t feel like expounding at the moment.”

The two paused in order for the information to sink in and questions arise.


“Why? Why?” he leaned back in his chair and swung side to side. “Christ, who gives two shits about why, and focus instead at the real matter at hand: what are the necessary steps that need to be taken next in order to mitigate the already clusterfuck this has become… especially before anyone above the Deputy Executive Director finds out, OK?

“So this is why you’ve called me into your office. You want me to advise you?”

He faced eased and some color was returning to his cheeks. “Something like that, yes.”

“You shouldn’t have gone to Nigeria.” She placed the file back on his desk, and stood up.

“Oh fuck off, Myra. Quit crushing my balls and sit down.” He point to the chair. “Do you want to help or no?”

She remained standing.

“Sit…” though he didn’t say it, he face said it for him: “Please.”

She sat back down.

“That’s more like it. OK. Yes, your advisement is part of this new objective. What I had in mind was connecting you with some of the juniors there now, and having you work with them to find Conrad and—”

“You don’t know where he is?”

“Why the hell would you be sitting here if I did? No. Of course we don’t.”

“Not even regionally?”

“We’re working on it. It’s a big country and they’re a small guerrilla outfit.”

“Jesus, Jack.”

“Spare me. I know. But if you were to work with our guys there, that would tremendously… hasten matters.”

“You want me back out there?”

“For this particular mission? Yes.”

“You think I’m ready?”

“We’ll get you back to field-ready. In fact, you can start today.”

“What about Hank?”

“I’ve got you on loan, we’ll say. He and I already talked about it, he’s on board. He doesn’t know what’s going on, but knows its something serious. Mostly no one knows—and we want to precisely keep it that way. You help us get him. No one can track and find quite like you, Myra. That’s no bullshit. That’s always been the case. Plus you have a better understanding of Deepshit than anybody else. He learned from you, trained with you… it only makes sense for you to locate him for us and—“

“Is this a nullification mission?”

“Hell no. Or at least we hope it doesn’t come to that. No. This is strictly retrieval. Another reason it makes sense to have you go. You know him. He knows you. You can bring him back. The intelligence alone he might provide is worth not… wasting that opportunity. If Hada Yaki is tied into Boko, then he will be instrumental to us. By the time you find and capture him, who knows how much activity he will have made with them. That could be very—”

“Why not get Tanner to do this?” she asked, staring at the flag outside. It flailed wildly in the wind as it fell between the gusts, its colors saturated and wet. The rain torrented in undulations.

“Tanner, that Impetuous Fuck-twad Worthy of My Foot Up His Ass, is the hypothetical senior agent who fucked things up enough. He let the leash get too long and didn’t pay close enough attention. No. No. Scruples. That’s what we need right now. Attention to detail. That’s what you have. Unparalleled expertise in the field. Plus your history with Agent Conrad and Western Africa.”

“What about other senior agents?”

Haggins paused, not for thought but surprise. “They’re all either too deep in other matters, don’t have enough familiarity with the region, subject, or wouldn’t be able to execute the mission in the fashion or with the speed we need it carried out.” He leaned forward coming as close as he could, adding: “Honestly, Myra, I would have thought you’d be behind this all the way. You’ve been dying to get back out there. Now’s your chance.”

“There won’t be another I’m guessing.”

He fell back, exhaled. “I don’t really need this bullshit. I’m giving you a second opportunity here. Try to, at least, pretend for a moment that you’re grateful. This is your one and only chance to right your RAINCOAT fuck-up.” He shook his head. “You know Tanner would be jumping at this right now, don’t you? He’d already be on a plane. Not sitting here.”

“He’s careless. You want scruples.”

Silence took the room once more. The wind died down outside. The flag lay limp, wrapped against the pole. Two people came out in a hurry to take it down from further exposure to the storm. “Yes or no. Are you in or are you out?”

She paused to watch the two men fold the cold, drenched flag and take it inside. A thought came, then went. She turned back to Haggins: “Yes.”

On Parenting, and History

So we’re all sitting here in the backyard while the kids play around. Little Olivia is shouting at Arie to “get out of the tree!” Arie has, in fact, managed to get himself up in the tree, wedged between some of the Dalmatianesque limbs of the birch sprouting out of the earth. He’s all smiles as he dodges his head from side to side behind one of the limbs, teasing the poor girl. The protestation continues and brings on our full attention, but Arie’s lack of ascent (only a few inches off the ground) renders Olivia’s concerns absurd. Her father calls out: “Honey O, cool it with the screaming. Let’im play.” He’s got all kinds of neat appellations for his girl: Honey O, Little O, Baby O, O, and my personal favorite: Cheeri-O. “Arie,” (which is his nickname, phonetically based off the initials of his first name: Reginald-Ernst) his mother says, “you don’t go any higher than that, understood? And no teasing.” Arie seems not to listen, but he also isn’t climbing any higher, leaving me to infer he either got the message, or is already wise enough to know he can’t possibly climb any further without risk of injury.

Sick of Arie’s shit, Baby O picks up the toy lawnmower and walks off saying something to the effect of: “Fine, but you can’t mow the lawn then.” I’m not certain as she still mumbles a great deal of her words, much like her mother, and her knowledge of English syntax is still lacking, but that’s the gist. Arie watches her from the safety of the birch, clinging to the smooth trunk. The game is afoot, though it is still clear neither child is quite sure what the rules are. Olivia starts humming a nonsensical tune as she continues to pretend-cut the grass. This reminds me I have to pay my gas bill for some reason when Arie decides to dart for the toy. Little O spins to avoid his slow advance, his chubby legs and flat feet let him down in the chase, his sprint some form of unrefined motor skills. She makes an about-face and takes the offensive. The first rule becomes realized: whoever has the plastic mower has the power, and quickly the second: the tree is the only salvation. They chase, back and forth, expanding and creating new rules, evolving along the way.  

Not sure how, but the conversation I return to involves what my friends are reading their respective toddlers. More precisely, the two are talking about their astonishment over just how horrifying older versions of the beloved children’s characters are.

“I was reading O one of the original stories of Bugs Bunny the other night. My mother dumped off a huge stack of my childhood books. I couldn’t believe it.”

“What’s that?”

“Bugs Bunny.”

“Oh I know—“

“Bugs Bunny is a real asshole.”

“Yeah, total bully.”

“They really altered his image when it came to the cartoons. But when I was sitting there reading that stuff to O, I was like: ‘Goddamn. What a fucking asshole.’ Without saying that of course. But the way he instigates and taunts Elmer Fudd and Porky Pig, I’m like: ‘Christ, someone please pistol whip this guy already. What a dick.'”

“And it doesn’t just stop there, you have all those horrible, racist cartoons through the 40s and 50s.”

“‘All This and Rabbit Stew'”

“Sure. Is that one?”

“Well, Bugs always seemed inspired by Br’er Rabbit to me. Which makes the appropriation of him into racist cartoons like that extra painful when you think about it… at least to me.”

“Yeah, all these children’s books are so troubling. I’m reading her these Disney works.”

“Oh don’t get me started on that.”

“I know, I know. But I’m reading her Snow White, right? The young, pretty chick gets slipped a rohypnol apple by the jealous older witch lady, who later turns into a fucking dragon, and has to be saved by the prince. She literally does nothing the whole story except run for her life and get knocked out, then everything turns out OK.”

“No. You missed her most important contribution to life: she stays home and cooks and cleans for the seven dwarfs. That makes her a compelling character, apart from also white and pretty. At least Cinderella was a sweatshop worker.”

“Little Mermaid. My girl loves that story. It’s a story about a girl who changes her body image in order to get a guy. What the fuck?”

“That’s why I can’t stand Disney. I mean that and the shameless marketing to children. “

“Yes, let’s not forget the shameless marketing.”

“It’s not like any of those other children’s stories out there are that much different.”

“I know. I’m reading Arie the story about Little Red Riding Hood. What I remember about the original story was the wolf eats Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother, and The Woodsman has to chop The Wolf to pieces before the two can be saved. Luckily, this book I’ve got for him tones that all down. The Woodsman ‘scolds’ The Wolf to spitting the two out. And then there’s Goldilocks and how she ‘forgets her manners’ when she is breaking and entering the Bears’ house.”

“It’s nice that they tone them down. All these ones I have from when I was a kid are terrible. What’s the name of that collection?”

“You had Disney princess books as a little boy?”

“Oh I don’t know. I’ll find out and text you.”

The conversation turns as my friends start to converse over the silly idiosyncrasies of their kids—at which point I tune them out and start thinking about an article I read not too long ago. The report concerned a series of psychological studies that used false images of Bugs Bunny mascots in Disneyland. The psychologists showed these doctored photos to test patients (them with the rabbit), who upon seeing the photos, claimed they remembered meeting the costumed Bugs in the land of the Mouse—which never happened. This idea of false memories was particularly intriguing to me when placed in the context of these fairy tales. Was this revisionist approach to these children’s tales in a sense providing a cultural false memory for the next generation, and was that a good thing? What would their kids’ futures look like if they never learned their beloved Bugs Bunny, or Mickey Mouse, or other earlier cartoon hero was once a proxy for an entire group of people who were trying to indoctrinate their younglings into a vast racist narrative of superiority and minority debasement? Would it be better? Or, in another case, is it possible that Little O and Arie’s generation will thrive in a community that never grew up listening to the time-honored tales of little children being massacred, or doing the butchering, that they never had to learn these were all narratives told at their outset by a much larger, impalpable hegemonic force we commonly refer to as CULTURE to help ease them into their quotidian existence with relative ease and acceptance. How best to teach them all this? I imagine Cheeri-O’s dad might say: “They’re just too young to learn that. They’re three for Chrissake. Now’s not the time.” Fair enough. No need to expose them to all these matters we adults regularly avoid with boldfaced ignorance verging on beast-like stupidity, let alone actually comprehending what any of this bullshit means. But I can’t help but wonder what implications lurk behind these signs of progression. Do my friends’ children no longer become educable to these pasts, or just as bad: do these histories become a novelty, something reduced to a trivial level? What happens to our futures when we occlude the understanding of our lineage?

I’m not sure. But, being both black and a Jew, I can’t stop myself from thinking about American slavery, and the Holocaust while my friends continue some impassioned conversation of whether or not Tupperware is still a valuable appliance for housing leftovers. I think about the totems to white supremacy. The ones that have vanished, and the ones that remain. I think of the celebration of “Dixie” at high school and collegiate sporting events, etchings on the side of Stone Mountain, the doubly offensive statue of Nathan Bedford Forest overlooking I-65, and the statues and engravings and names that behave as emblems to this country’s known, yet mute identity. Then I think of the only remnants left throughout Germany, Poland, Austria, and other formerly-occupied territories are the ashes. Grim sepulchers that set inside the bucolic countryside, left to help bridge the gap between what was and is. No horrid tokens of the apparatus that conceived, implemented, and executed such doom. Instead, back home, we’ve buried the ashes and obfuscated why the relics remain. Heroes everywhere, and God on everyone’s side. No wrong. No shame. Nothing.

I remember reading about some American taking a selfie at Auschwitz, her face beaming with joy as she stood on the path to the gas chambers. About a year later, people are raising holy hell, crying about “Heritage. Heritage!” as Confederate flags are removed from state grounds.

The meanings behind these symbols have become so recondite they have lost their focus, allowing new narratives to claim authority. I think of this type of revisionism; I think of the Southern apologists, and how few shits Lynne Cheney gave about this type of storytelling influencing the American mind, what the impact this kind of inculcation might wreak on the social fabric.

So why even keep these tombs if we don’t care to acknowledge what lies within?

Then Arie and Little O call out to their parents: “Come play, play!” And Little O’s dad gets up out of his chair and starts to pretend he is a big bull chasing after them, and Arie’s mom tells them to: “Run, run!” The two children dart off with the 40 year old man-bull charging after them. They keep twisting their bulbous heads back to see which one of them he is chasing as their untoned legs move with all the gaucheries of young speed. And I start to get it—I see the danger implicit within its wordless rhetoric, but I understand its necessity. It’s the same that propels me and mine from a separate view.

All these ghosts, arms out-stretched, dying to be remembered, and we in turn look back while lunging forward, wondering if we too have some connection with the intangible, something other than ourselves to tell us to go on, to tell us we are good, and we belong, and are worthy of not being forgotten.

Getting Burned: A Review of ‘The Flamethrowers’ by Rachel Kushner

Because it takes me forever to do most things, I’m finally getting around to writing down my thoughts on Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers. Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. That’s it. G’night, folks!




For the uninitiated, The Flamethrowers came out three years ago and was quickly praised by critics (culminating in a second National Book Award nomination for Kushner—the only author to ever be a finalist for the award with their first two novels), and shared a run of success on the New York Times bestseller list, and is being sold around the world (I saw its German-translated hardcover while spending some time in Frankfurt last summer.)

So good for her. No, really. I’m glad to see this kind of literature being well-received and appreciated—at least relatively. There have been some people who have quibbles with its passive main character, and more aimless-at-times plot (there was a podcast of this argument on Slate: starting around 7 minutes or so: interesting to note that the two men didn’t enjoy the novel as much as Hanna Rosin—not writing any meta-narrative, just interesting), but I don’t really give a shit about that. Plot is great and all, but as many wonderful novelists have taught us over the years, a novel doesn’t always need to lean on a solid plot. So fuck plot. And the idea that a character (in this case the main character) is rather passive and allows things to happen to her/him somehow makes the book less appealing seems to rely heavily on personal taste—which is fine, but generally unhelpful when considering the larger merits of a work.

No, plot or character aren’t what I want to talk about at all. What spoke loudest to me, and it is not a revolutionary observation (many other critics have picked up on this, too, in one fashion or another), are the notions of exploitation, and the inflammatory quality of a globalized world dominated by capital. To me, that is where part of the brilliance of The Flamethrowers lies.

First, let’s look at this notion of exploitation, for it is perhaps the most prevalent (and therefore easiest) motif in the novel. The nameless main character (I will be referring to her as “Reno” for convenience) recounts her experiences from the art scene of 1970s New York, and a brief window of time in Italy during the violent, frightening epoch of the Years of Lead. The nameless main character allows for a universal quality, inviting the reader to implant her/himself into the character’s shoes. There is also a quality to this namelessness that allows the novel to focus on the events and other characters happening at this period, rather than about “Reno.” For the novel really does have larger ambitions than to tell the story of some 21 year old’s experiences during the 70s. This ubiquitous quality to the naming convention (or nameless convention) reminded me of Ellison’s Invisible Man—also another character who allows a great deal to be forced upon him and allows the world and characters surrounding “Invisible” to speak just as loudly (if not louder) than the main character/narrator.

In her long journey, vacillating between New York and Italy during this provocative period, “Reno” experiences the constant fetishism of her male counterparts. Whether it is former lovers, current boyfriends, or random strangers, “Reno” is never without a man who is “using” her for his personal gain. This certain “utilization” of her, over and over, is reflected in the other habits of exploitation occurring throughout the novel. The reader first witnesses it as “Reno” and other women are treated poorly in the “boys’ club” of the New York art scene, then it morphs into the form of violent suppression of workers and students by the Italian state (its important to note that some of those workers and students during the Years of Lead were murderous terrorists—a point Kushner does not ignore), and lastly mentioned in a story about how the natives of Brazil were duped into labor during WWII to extract rubber for the Brazilian state to be sold to the United States’s war effort, only to never be paid and furthermore never be told the war was over until thirty years later (no really, this shit happened; fuckers kept working the poor bastards letting them believe there was a fat check waiting for them in the end). As “Reno” continues on through the story, either flitting from New York to Italy and back again, the reader becomes aware of how the story, too, flits from one example of exploitation to the next.

Sticking with this idea of “flitting” draws to mind how capital flits from one location to the next in its constant search for new means of accumulation (often through appropriation). In the novel, the reader learns of “The Flamethrowers” in the Italian army who constantly charged their enemies flames a-throwin’, and had their lives ruled by these violent bursts. Stay with me now, because if we think of capital accumulation in this way, we can begin to see more connections being made throughout the book, and we can begin to see how the novel chronicles the ways in which capital bounces from location to location, generating new piles of wealth—often through exploitation—before hopping off to some newer untouched area, leaving a path of destruction behind it in its constant charge forward. [Going back to “Reno” and her passivity for a second, it begins to make more sense as a creative choice when the main character is understood as a universal stand-in for people who continue to be subjected to the “flamethrowing experience” that is capitalism.]

This, to me, is what stood out most in Kushner’s work. This idea: Violence is inherent (and key) to capital’s success: is present in almost each page of the book. From enslaving indigenous people in the jungles of Brazil, to violently suppressing workers and unionists in the streets of Italy, to objectifying and exploiting women in the “open-minded” circles of the New York art scene, all these translate one into the other. So we must bear this in mind, not only as we read this wonderful novel, but as we live our lives: in a land of flamethrowers, we can’t help but keep getting burned.