Letters

If you feel like social media isn’t giving you what you need, this post is an invitation.

In my work as a historian, I spend hours immersed in the letters people wrote in the past. Often these documents are about as boring and prosaic as you might imagine, but sometimes they are so beautiful it hurts. Lately, for a project I just call “The Florida Book,” I’ve been reading an edited collection of the letters of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Yearling and other works about the wilds of Cracker Florida. For an example of achingly beautiful epistolary prose, listen to the rich descriptive language from this letter Rawlings wrote to her editor at Scribner’s. Writing in the week after Christmas in 1937, she relates the story of a fire she set with some workmen in the orange grove behind her house in Hawthorne to prevent the trees dying from frost:

“I fired my young grove two nights in succession. It was very beautiful. There was a fat-wood bonfire in the center of each square, that is, one fire to each four trees. The light from the fat pine is a rich orange, and the grove seemed to be full of bivouac fires, as regular as a geometric design. They illuminated the sky to a Prussian blue, with the palm tops against it. Facing away from the fires, the light gave my low rambling house, the orange trees and palms around it, a flat silver-gold wash, most theatrical. The cold sky was absolutely sequined with stars.”

I have not received a letter like this in many years, and this makes me sad. People have lamented the lost art of letter writing for as long as they’ve been writing letters, of course, but it feels as though all our tools for communication emphasize brevity, efficiency, visual communication, and broadcasting, rather than the type of personal, intelligent, revealing, and meaningful writing our grandparents and their grandparents practiced. The archives are biased toward the literate, but even those with the most basic reading and writing seem to have churned out letters and postcards by the dozens every week. Perhaps they would have preferred to post a video instead of writing a letter, but what did they gain by writing and, more importantly for us, what have we lost?

If you’d like to share real ideas, in long- or short-form, rather than like and share posts from pages you don’t remember following, send me an email. If you’d like to get actual mail, mention that and we’ll figure it out. Want to share magazine clippings, bits of poetry, photographs, whatever? I’m open.   

The Vibe Shift

You’ve probably heard of the vibe shift.

The vibe shift is whatever you want it to be.

The vibe shift is the death of the unitary internet.

The vibe shift is the re-emergence of local, regional, national constellations of power and culture separate from the astroturfed greenery of the web.

The vibe shift is a return to ‘zines, books, movies, maybe even magazines and newspapers, because the web was once an escape from work and all the responsibilities of “real life” and now it has come to replace them.

Lately I have been leaving my phone in the car when I go places. These insidious toys entered our lives with a simple question: “what if I need it?” I cannot recall a single situation in the past decade when I truly needed a mobile phone. Instead I have begun to ask myself, “what if I don’t need it?” What if a mobile surveillance and distraction device is actually the last thing I need to carry with me?

Video Game Spaces: Ace Attorney Courtroom

This is part of a series of posts exploring video games as spaces players inhabit. If you’re wondering what this is all about, I tried to explain myself here.

The Ace Attorney courtroom is a platonic ideal.

The Supreme Court of Judicature

Perhaps it is the image of justice. The room is an arena of truth. At its center there is a playing field, a boxing ring, maybe a battlefield upon which ideas are contested. At the top of the pitch there is a judge, impartial, a personification of the scales on the wall behind his head. On opposing sides of the pitch there are offense and defense, home and away, prosecution and defense. Opposite the judge, the witness–the panoptical eye of blind justice–sets the contest in motion. Justice is a game.

Perhaps it is the image of power. The room is a terrible mountain. At the summit there is the judge, a bearded demigod of the Upperworld here to enact the edicts of fate. At the mountain’s base, the adjudicated parties are encamped. The prosecution and defense camps struggle to climb, sweating and gloating in proportion to their standing with the inscrutable demigod. The witness camp, summoned against its will, struggles to avoid climbing. The witness is furthest from the steaming volcano, nearest the exit and consequently nearer to freedom. Power is a game.

Like any human architecture, the inhabitants subvert this platonic space. The judge is a fool, a branch leaning constantly with the prevailing wind. He is often powerless, his repeated gaveling as inconsequential as thunder without lightning. The opposing camps battle over context rather than content, surface rather than substance. Race, gender, colonialism, and every category of absurdity shape the proceedings. The witnesses are never impartial, always intertwined with the opposing camps. Justice is neither rehabilitative nor retributive.

The Ace Attorney courtroom is a postmodern ideal.

Sunset of the Twenty-Tens

Night comes fast this time of year. One moment you’ll be looking down in sunlit splendor, reading an email, maybe, or scrolling through a feed; the next moment you will look up and find the sky streaked with pastel and Venus peering at you from the purple firmament. What happened? you ask, wasn’t it just lunch? Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

Earlier this evening I realized that the last five years years have passed like a winter sunset. Watching old Viceland programming tonight on the zombie internet cable that came bundled with my Samsung TV was strangely tragic. Shows like Weediquette and F*ck That’s Delicious are like the last documents of the pre-COVID decade, an era we aren’t likely to miss but can never get back anyway. I watched Krishna Andavolu and an old hippie weed capitalist in Mendocino, California shuffle and sniff big Mason jars full of neon green cannabis buds like epicurean sommeliers and felt, just for a moment, a dull pang of regret. Our concerns in that summer of 2016 spanned the breadth and depth of a cannabis high. Overhead the sun was descending, however. Slow but gaining, it illuminated our salad afternoons until, in some instant historians will spend years debating, it dipped below the horizon.

I changed the channel.