LARB PRESENTS THE NOVEMBER installment of “Real Life Rock Top 10,” a monthly column by cultural critic Greil Marcus.
Special Election Edition! Written November 12, though when it appears, the country will most likely still be attempting to exhale, or debating what it means that the sitting president fired General Mark Milley as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and replaced him with Michael Flynn.
1. Larry Krasner, Philadelphia District Attorney (October 28). “The Trump Administration’s efforts to suppress votes amid a global pandemic fueled by their disregard for human life will not be tolerated in the birthplace of American democracy. Philadelphians from a diversity of political opinions believe strongly in the rule of law, in fair and free elections, and in a democratic system of government. We will not be cowed or ruled by a lawless, power-hungry despot. Some folks learned that the hard way in the 1700s.”
2. Haim Shweky, “A Hollow Response to a Hallow Threat,” forthcoming in City Journal, passed on by the author (November 1). On the murder of the schoolteacher Samuel Paty on October 16 in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine outside of Paris:
Free speech does not preserve itself, but is prolonged in the exercise thereof. Inevitably, some will think otherwise. For the moral equalizers, an attack on our institutions is a chance to quickly and reflexively point to ourselves as the originators of our troubles, “reaping what we sow,” evil begetting evil. This comes instead of the natural revulsion to militant illiberalism one might expect from privileged civilians of the freest societies. […] The tendency to redirect blame from Islamists to their victims might be explained by a deeper kinship: the fringe left denounces the West as rapacious, materialistic, upheld on the twin pillars of racism and slavery, comprised of a provincial populace and imperialistic government. Islamic terror groups justify their rage based on a kindred version of history, adopting the idea of a sinful West to then assume their role as rectifiers.
Murder as a response to a cartoon tells us something of our enemies; rationalizing it tells us something of ourselves.
“Je Suis Samuel now holds the place once occupied by Je Suis Charlie,” Shweky goes on, but after a few more paragraphs the tone shifts.
So let us continue with the hashtag crusades — as if our enemies quiver from our balloons and candles and hugs — lest we show some true outrage, lest we express ourselves beyond 140 characters, lest we remember tomorrow what was the most important thing in the world today. And besides, a new cause is currently trending and has taken its place. Je Suis desuetude. But of course I still care about the dead of Thursday, but today is Friday. And Je Suis … Everybody! Beheading is the new black.
3. Don DeLillo, The Silence (Scribner). With a few people gathered in New York two years from now to watch the Super Bowl, Seahawks versus Titans (Seattle by 3 — I added that), the digital grid that envelops the globe dissolves. One character starts calling the game to a blank screen, commercials included: “Wireless the way you want it. Soothes and moisturizes. Gives you twice as much for the same low cost. Reduces the risk of heart-and-mind disease.” “All my life I’ve been waiting for this without knowing it,” says another. The vise so tightens that “Ere the sockson locked at the dure,” a line from Finnegans Wake, translates itself.
Reading on November 2, halfway through the 116 pages I realized I was getting very tense: I was associating the no-future of the novel with the world as it might be if the next day, as I expected, Trump won the election. It was the impossibility of thinking even one day ahead.
A first review said this wasn’t really a book, but a couple of warm-up chapters for a book the writer didn’t bother to write. For a novel that crystalizes DeLillo’s work since Cosmopolis in 2003 — his best work, I think — you couldn’t miss the point by more. This book is about a world where there will be no plots, no stories.
4. Eddie Muller, email (November 3). “I am attempting to maintain some level of energy. Sanity went a couple of years ago. Half of our fellow citizenry are OK being governed by Lex Luthor.”
5. “News of the Day,” San Francisco Chronicle (November 4). “Cemetery vandalism: Michigan police are investigating vandalism that left several headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Grand Rapids spray-painted with ‘TRUMP’ and ‘MAGA’ before President Trump held his final campaign rally in the western city.”
6. Gregor Kwiatowski, email (November 7).
finally it happened!
greetings from the free city of Gdansk
to free country
7. Steam, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” (Fontana, 1969/November 7). For one day, on street parades across the country, a new national anthem. “I love that song,” Doug Kroll wrote in on hearing the news, “because it is impossible … even if you hate it … to not sing along.”
8. Joe Biden, victory speech, Wilmington, Delaware (November 7). He came onstage like a combination Gary Cooper in Meet John Doe and James Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, either of whom could have delivered the line in the speech, on the past four years, that will linger: “This grim era.” Given the campaign to nullify the election, it lingers now.
9. Lana Del Rey, “On Eagle’s Wings,” YouTube (November 7). “Folks,” Biden said that night,
In the last days of the campaign, I began thinking about a hymn that means a lot to me and my family, particularly my deceased son, Beau. It captures the faith that sustains me, and which I believe sustains America. And I hope — and I hope it can provide some comfort and solace to the 230,000 Americans who’ve lost a loved one to this terrible virus this year. My heart goes out to each and every one of you. Hopefully, this hymn gives you solace as well. And it goes like this: “And he will raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, and make you sign just like the sun and hold you in the palm of his hand.” And now together, on eagles wings, we embark on the work that God and history have called upon us to do, with full hearts and steady hands, with faith in America and each other, with love of country, a thirst for justice.
“I thought I would just give a little version of that as we took a break in the studio,” Del Rey wrote a few hours or a few minutes later, under a video showing her recording a cappella for half a minute in what looked like a closet. Was it great? No. Rather than someone singing it was really someone listening.
10. Andrew Shaffer, email (November 11). In 2018 and 2019, Shaffer published Hope Never Dies and Hope Rides Again: “An Obama Biden Mystery,” each was slugged. The stories of the out-of-office team could be hard to follow, but not the real story: the attempt of Joe Biden to escape Barack Obama’s shadow, and his struggle to convince himself he was worth it.
Given that Hope Rides Again was set in early 2019, with Biden on the edge of declaring for the presidency but not there yet, I asked Shaffer if he had another one on the way. “I ‘hope’ so … we’re talking about it now,” he said. “Joe sort of threw a wrench into the plot I had for the third book.”
Thanks to Steve Perry