From LV’s Notebooks (September 2016)

September 3

Rousseau: “The mind has its needs, just as the body does.”

And with each passing year the mind’s imperatives become increasingly important.


September 4

I’m considering buying my nephew a copy of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason for his birthday. What do you give a child who has everything? A book neither of you will read.


September 6

Testing misanthropic generics with the following: Men who listen to Radio 4. Men who spend their summers in the south of France. Men who play correspondence chess. Men who have relatives in Dakar and Cairo. Men who have written letters to the Times. Men who build garden sheds.

Procedure: Replace “Men” in each generic with M and not-M.

Men are pigs —>

Men who listen to Radio 4 are pigs + Men who do not listen to Radio 4 are pigs

Men who have relatives in Dakar and Cairo are pigs + Men who do not have relatives in Dakar and Cairo are pigs

Men who play correspondence chess are pigs + Men who do not play correspondence chess are pigs

Women are irrational —>

Women with postgraduate degrees are irrational + Women without postgraduate degrees are irrational

Women who live in Kent are irrational + Women who do not live in Kent are irrational

Women who have published papers in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology are irrational + Women who have not published papers in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology are irrational


September 8

Scrawled in an old notebook: Music is a portal through which subrational munitions may be smuggled. The victim awakens to discover himself surrounded by invaders, tiny soldiers who crept into position while his guards slept.

Beneath this, barely legible, a list: Poliça, Chvrches, Metric, MS MR.


September 9

Commercial pop music, at its most representative, never feels individually expressive. One rarely wonders what the songwriters intend to say. One asks instead how the track or album functions as a cultural object. How viral is the pathogen? To what extent is it reflective of broader trends? What ecological niche does it occupy?

There are exceptions. But even those pop stars who write about their lives do so almost exclusively in clichés, in prewritten phrases repurposed for their latest breakup or romance. Pop ultimately is product: focus-grouped, beta-tested, and acutely sensitive to customer feedback.

Book title. Pop, Ultimately, an essay collection in which a group of music critics attempt to vindicate music aimed at mass audiences.

Self-proving thesis. While it may be a marvel of musical engineering, a pop song is unlikely to be formally inventive or an authentic expression of individual (as opposed to collective) emotion. If it is inventive and expressive, it probably isn’t pop.

Pop as a diagnosis of exclusion. PINO: Pop In Name Only


September 11

Barthes: “In taking these notes, I’m trusting myself to the banality that is in me.”


September 12

Stranger Things. Writing partnerships. The Duffer brothers. The Wachowskis. The Coens. Nerdiness as marginality.


September 13

Cyril Connolly: “He who would write a book that would last for ever must learn to use invisible ink.”


September 15

Old selves are rarely disposed of completely. Remember the roomful of corpses in The Prestige and Dennis Bagley’s suppressed mole. The twin consumed in utero becomes one’s fellow traveller, a shadow who sticks closer than a brother.


September 16

On transexuals.

Has a post-surgical transexual joined an essentially unchanged cultural category (of “men” or “women”) or has he or she redefined the category’s boundaries?

Does (s)he have the right genitalia? How will (s)he be treated by the relevant institutions – political, religious, legal? Has (s)he benefitted from or been harmed by gender-specific privilege? What role is (s)he likely to play in courtship rituals? What may we assume about personal history, preferences and prospects?

Can a twelve-year-old boy with no direct access to female interiority know how it feels to be a girl? How is the subjective experience of being female distinct from that of merely living in a female body?

Shriver the Much-Maligned: “I do not mean to be perverse here, but I have no idea what it ‘feels like’ to be a woman—and I am one.”

Provenance matters. What an object was is part of what it is.


September 18

Michael Chabon on the past: “The delusion is not really that I believe or trust that I will be returning one day to the planet of childhood; it’s that the world I left behind so long ago is still there, somewhere, to be returned to; that it continues to exist, sideburns, Evel Knievel, Spiro T. Agnew, and all, like some alternate-time-line Krypton that never exploded.”


September 19

When it comes to selecting sexual partners, we all ought to be granted an infinite number of peremptory challenges. No one should have to explain. They’re too fat. Or too thin. They mispronounce Nietzsche. They tattooed the wrong smurf on their collarbone. They read novels by Jodi Picoult. They’re the wrong race. All perfectly valid reasons to swipe left. Seriously.

Disentangle sexual desirability and value.  Selective pressure on skin colour was functional rather than aesthetic, resulting in bodies optimised for specific environments. It would be remarkable indeed if these bodies turned out to be equally desirable to global audiences.


September 21

Been reading The Second Sex. Even in classic feminist texts one finds the stereotypical feminine Other, women who aren’t one’s mother, sister or daughter. They appear as subjects of the generics “Women are X” and “Women want Y,” where X is a trait that compels us to watch its bearers with sober vigilance and Y is a state of affairs incompatible with human happiness.

Mothers, sisters and daughters are to be protected from the stereotypical male Other, men who aren’t one’s father, brother or son.

Residual (fe)male stereotypes. What you have left when you forget what individual (wo)men are like.


September 23

A friend reveals she has two children, aged twelve and fifteen. I’m taken aback: she’s so young. But perhaps young is the wrong word. She’s my age, and no one my age should have teenage children.

Friend. I use the term loosely. She’s an acquaintance with whom I am on speaking terms. One who is not, as far as I know, plotting my downfall.

@toluogunlesi: “I think it’s only Nigerians that use ‘my friend’ in a manner that’s neither friendly nor intended for friends. My friend will you shut up?”


September 24

Populations of the same species separated for long enough eventually diverge and lose the ability to interbreed. Something similar happens in human society when ideological gulfs widen. Distinct moral species emerge. Between non-Islamic Westerners and Boko Haram militants, for instance, there is little common ground. A secular humanist, if she is so inclined, may attempt to make a jihadist aware of his actions’ consequences, but she is unlikely to convince him of their immorality unless she bases her arguments on Islamic tradition.

More trivially, there is the speciation that occurs when cultural interests either don’t overlap–a rarity in this era of eclectic unibrows– or are mutually incompatible.

Sartre: “When people’s opinions are so different, how can they even go to a film together?”


September 26

Amis fils: “Oh mother, my mouth is full of stars . . .”*

Beckett: “The cylinders of his mind abode serene.”

Eagleton: “Infants are innocent (literally, harmless) in the way that tortoises are, not in the way that adults who refuse to turn a machine gun on civilians are. Their innocence does them no particular credit.”


September 27

Nietzsche: “Lo! I am weary of my wisdom, like the bee that hath gathered too much honey. I need hands outstretched to take it.”


September 29

Markson: “Tolstoy, asked if he had read a recent play by Maurice Maeterlinck: Why should I? Have I committed a crime?”

[* From “Song of the Dying Gunner A.A.1” by Charles Causley. Quoted in Martin Amis’s novel The Pregnant Widow.]