Somewhere between Doyle and Lovecraft, there's Alice and Claude Askew’s Alymer Vance, supernatural detective.



It is not difficult to imagine Sherlock Holmes, that great eschewer of the supernatural, firing his clay pipe into the fireplace at 221B were he made aware of the cottage literary movement birthed by his adventures. People tend to forget that the detective and his dogged, Boswellian biographer Doctor Watson, investigated through the first quarter of the 20th century, existing as surely in the age of Babe Ruth as they had in the Victorian era of Wilkie Collins. There were, of course, hundreds of Holmes knock-offs and pastiches throughout the detective’s run, as there are now, but what some writers, at least, had the good sense to realize was that simply recasting the model of the genius deducer and his very human foil/partner was not going to achieve any more than serve up some Sherlock-lite. A new wrinkle was needed. Enter, then, the ghosts, and the duos who investigate them.

In the summer of 1914, when the wife and husband duo of Alice and Claude Askew published the eight stories that comprise the collected adventures of Aylmer Vance, “ghost-seer” — there’s something for a business card for you — supernatural fiction was going through a crucial change. The ghost story, long dominant in England, from where the Askews hailed, and which made up a goodly chunk of the best literature yet written in the States, had started to morph into the weird tale, the stuff that would dominate the pulps in the 1930s and 1940s, giving rise to those limited edition book runs at places like Arkham House, which recast horror writing much as Hawthorne, Poe, and M.R. James once had. Humans, now, were often the agencies of the macabre, or else elemental forces from the beyond divorced of human form, but borne of human crisis and strain. The dead girl in the glowing white dress, less so.
More… “The Ghost Shift”

If the South seceded, would the North be a racially enlightened progressive paradise today? Probably not.



Would the United States be better off today, if the South had been allowed to secede, as many white Northern progressives wonder, sometimes as a joke, but sometimes in earnest?

Counterfactual history is a game, but it can be an instructive game. In my previous essay for this magazine, I argued that the secession of the South might well have set off a chain reaction of events in global politics, including the Balkanization of North America and an ominously different outcome to continental European power struggles like the world wars and the Cold War. In most of these scenarios, the Rump USA would have been worse off without the South than the actual USA has been since Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

What about domestic politics? At least without Southern reactionaries in Congress, the Rump USA would have been a far more progressive place. Or would it have been?
More… “Without the South, Part II”

If the South successfully seceded, would we be better off? In Part I, exploring the international ramifications.


If the South successfully seceded, would we be better off? In Part I, exploring the international ramifications.

Would the United States be better off without the South? It is a question that is often asked by white progressives and centrists in other parts of the country, now that the Democrats have become a largely-Northern party while the former Confederacy has become the heartland of what was once Lincoln’s party. If the Confederacy had been allowed to secede, would what remained — let us call it the Rump USA — be a socially-liberal, civil libertarian, social-democratic paradise today?

Let us ignore, for a moment, the indifference by the white Americans who muse about this scenario to the fate of black Americans, who disproportionately reside in the South to this day, as well as to their fellow victims and sometime victimizers, the white Southern poor. Had they been permanently stranded outside the United States after 1861, neither group would have benefited from federal abolition of slavery, federal civil rights and voting rights legislation, or federally-subsidized economic development in the South.
More… “Without the South”

The Confederate flag is found in rock music where you'd expect it – but often, where you wouldn't.


Billy Idol with Confederate flag guitar, 1983

I made a kite once for an oversized Australian sound engineer. White paper on crossed dowels, with a painting of a kangaroo and a raccoon dancing under the Big Dipper (Northern hemisphere) and the Southern Cross (Southern hemisphere). Inter-hemispherical friendship and harmony! That was the message of the kite.

I still miss that kite.

The Southern Cross is a very subtle constellation. It’s only 4 stars in a diamond shape. Still, it is beautiful. And for Northern hemisphere dwellers like me, it’s rare and far away, so I treasure the memory of seeing those stars, the Southern Cross, so far away from home.

Except that in the US the Southern Cross also means the Confederate Flag, which to this overeducated Northern Jew whitey race-traitor means KKK and white supremacy, organized or more casual. It’s a stereotype, and it’s also simultaneously a social fact. The Confederate flag has meaning because of how the symbol is used: the social life of an object, if you will.
More… “Southern Cross”

An aphorism is not a truth but a kind of test — a statement you are meant to run up against to decide if you agree.



Etymology has become an overused avenue into semantics. It’s a cliché to begin an essay or meta-essay with a reminder of the original meaning of essay, to try. Still, recently, I wondered after the etymology of aphorism. Since it’s often paraphrased as “truism,” I wondered if the roots involved truth. And was it one root or two? Perhaps the negating prefix a- designated the opposite of phor? I sort of wished this were true; phor means to bear or to carry, which would make an aphorism something that does not carry — more of an untruism. A contronym. I looked it up and learned that the Greek root aphor means to define: The definition of aphorism is “definition.” But I reject the armchair linguist’s inclination to use etymology as argument. In spirit and in use, an aphorism is not a definition, but something more like an essay, an attempt to define. An aphorism is an essay, an essay in its smallest possible form.
More… “Aphorisms Are Essays”



First Tupac, then Michael Jackson, and now… Patsy Cline? Country music gets its first holographic performer. (BBC)

Michael Lind recently lamented the disappearance of the classics from modern American culture. Now, a fascinating and wide-ranging argument for “classics for the people” – or, more specifically, greater access to ancient Greek studies in British schools:

The Greeks, more even than the Romans, show us how to question received opinion and authority. The earliest myths reveal mankind actively disputing the terms on which the Olympian gods want to rule them, and the philanthropic god Prometheus rebelling against Zeus in order to steal fire – a divine prerogative – and give it to mortal men. Sophocles’ Antigone refuses to accept her tyrannical uncle’s arbitrary edict, draws crucial distinctions between moral decency and contingent legislation, and buries her brother anyway. Aristophanes, in his democratic comedies, subjected politicians who wielded power to satire of eye-watering savagery. Socrates dedicated his life to proving the difference between the truth and received opinion, the unexamined life being, in his view, not worth living. No wonder Hobbes thought that reading Greek and Roman authors should be banned by any self-respecting tyrant, in Leviathan arguing that they foment revolution under the slogan of liberty, instilling in people a habit “of favouring uproars, lawlessly controlling the actions of their sovereigns, and then controlling those controllers”.

More… “Classics, Catholics, and Patsy Cline”

Blushing has been linked to impotence, cannibalism, and shame. But why stigmatize the most human of emotional expressions?


Blushing has been linked to impotence, cannibalism, and shame. But why stigmatize the most human of emotional expressions?

In some cases, the sufferer’s cheeks, ears, or neck grow red. Other people’s entire faces burn, or the heat washes over their head like a wave. A person who blushes feels stripped bare, even when fully clothed. A blush can be triggered by shame, guilt, joy, excitement, or irritation, and can strike when we are alone or in the company of others. But it is never under our control. It can happen when we are praised, criticized, or caught off guard. A blush can be a sign of attraction or of “hot” thoughts. Or a person may blush because she realizes she is unprepared for an important discussion or presentation – or at least feels that way. Sometimes it’s enough to drive you crazy, but blushing also has a positive side.

Blushing is just one possible reaction to feelings of shame, which in turn arise under very different circumstances in different people. Some people never blush in embarrassing situations: instead, they may grin, laugh, or involuntarily alter the timbre of their voices. “Social” blushing is also distinct from hot flashes, stage fright, skin diseases, or the reddening of the skin as a result of physical effort, happiness, or alcohol consumption.
More… “Better Red”



Novelist Joshua Cohen is interviewed at Bomb. In the interview conducted by Dan Duray, Cohen discusses some of the numbers behind Book of Numbers:

So let me just state for the record: There are an even number of paragraphs in every section of the book. There are an even number of sentences in every paragraph. It’s all about the evens. After all, the name of the company is Tetration. Hyper-4 …

Principal’s clauses are formed, and deformed, by Sanskrit prosody—which itself is a basis of binary notation. I counted words, I counted syllables. I drove myself crazy. All to ensure this flatness of affect. Or, more accurately, all to ensure a surface that was perfectly flat until the logic of the system threw a kink into it—until the logic destroyed what it had made—what it had made to be perfect, unimpeachable.

The result according to a New York Times review: “reads as if Philip Roth’s work were fired into David Foster Wallace’s inside the Hadron particle collider.”

Two things often said about James Salter who passed last week at 90 is that he was a writer’s writer and that his work did not sell well. Here is Vulture making More… “Joshua Cohen’s numbers, rest in peace James Salter, and more”

The library horses sounded like a fairytale. But really, they're part of one man's quest to bring libraries, and widespread literacy, to Haiti.



I was disappointed not to go to the town of Limbe with Clement. In Haiti, Clement Benoit II is to books what Paul Farmer is to medicine. He waited for me in the open air lobby of La Plaza Hotel in Port-au-Prince while I tried to make up my mind. This was the second year in a row that I had met with him at La Plaza and he offered to take me to Limbe, his birthplace, and I had to decline. Both times, a State Department alert warned against traveling to Limbe because of riots. I’d seen similar warnings concerning Port-au-Prince and ignored them, but Limbe was three hours away.

An author who has published several poetry books, including Tach Soley, a book of poems written in Creole, Clement works tirelessly to give people access to books. His work involves establishing small libraries and delivering books on horseback to people who live in isolated rural communities. His biblio cheval, library horses, are part of his vision for raising Haiti’s literacy level, which, according to the CIA World Factbook is 52.9 percent, way lower than the rest of the Caribbean.
More… “Biblio Cheval”

The elusiveness of Richard Tuttle's objects can be panic-inducing – until you remember that art doesn't always need a definition.


The elusiveness of Richard Tuttle's "Both/And" can be panic-inducing – until you remember that art doesn't always need a definition.

Hilton Kramer, longtime chief art critic for the New York Times, was never a shy man, at least in print. He thought of art criticism as a battle. There was a war, as Kramer saw it, between good art and bad art or – maybe more crucially – between art and non-art. Kramer saw himself as a warrior on the side of Art and The Good. In this war, it did not pay to be nice.

Reviewing an exhibit at the Whitney Museum by the young artist Richard Tuttle in 1975, Hilton Kramer wrote, “To Mies van der Rohe’s famous dictum that less is more, the art of Richard Tuttle offers definitive refutation. For in Mr. Tuttle’s work, less is unmistakably less.”
More… “Art/Not”