A List of Things I Wrote This Year

I pitched like crazy this year and for the most part, it turned out well. I got to work with some great editors at some great pubs and I got to publish a wide range of writing on a bunch of subjects and works of art. One thing that particularly stands out to me is that most of the editors I worked with were women. I think that’s really cool.

Here’s a compilation of that writing. This is a not a best-of list, but there’s a reason that some things aren’t listed and some things are, haha.

The Haircut

This is an essay on racism in the economy and seeking employment and how personal relationships (with myself and others) get affected by it.

You Gotta Fight For Your Right to Fuck The Police

This essay was in the works for a while. When I was in grad school, I would occasionally read selections from this book called That’s The Joint, an anthology of scholarship on rap. It’s a very versatile book, but throughout the book there’s a very narrow vision of political rap that just didn’t hold weight for me. So this essay responds to that by giving a more detailed, almost phenomenological definition of political rap.

Of course, I don’t dismiss all rap scholarship or rap writing (not all of the selections in the book are academic articles). From what I gather, it took a while for rap to even be considered a worthy academic subject, and you can feel the fight to show that it’s credible throughout the book. But even with that context, that doesn’t mean that  Common and Public Enemy get to be the only political rappers.

Review of Compton

This album has some nice performances and sharp production, but there’s a strong and cynical corporate aura hanging over it that really disturbs me, especially in lieu of this being the soundtrack to the N.W.A. biopic. I was surprised at how many people praised the album given its origins.

Review of To Pimp a Butterfly

I didn’t and don’t like this album. It’s a very good album in terms of production and affect – it really feels of the moment. 2015’s unique blend of anger, rage, disappointment, and shattered hope pulsate throughout the album. But politically I think it deeply misunderstands “the personal is the political.” Kendrick also has bad politics when it comes to women. (I recommend ignoring the review that is paired with mine. There’s not really an argument there)

The Labor Theory of Exercise

This essay is probably the most Protestant thing I’ll ever write. It’s essentially about how recognizing that exercise is work has helped me continue exercising. It’s also my paean to Dance Dance Revolution. Don’t judge.

Review of But You Caint Use My Phone

This album is barely a month old, but it’s really penetrated my psyche. A lot of folks seem to think that “Phone Down” is the heart of the album, but Erykah Badu isn’t just some luddite. She really digs into our relationship with phones beyond saying we should use them less. I really dig it.

Review of Summertime ’06

Album of the year. And it’s not because Vince Staples is dark and brooding and brutally honest like a lot of writers would have you believe. This is album of the year because Vince Staples has no interest in courting sympathy. He’s a black villain without a neat pathological story that ends with him being an antihero. That was definitely a shot at Kendrick, but seriously Vince Staples works because he doesn’t seek apologies, for himself or from others.

Byzantine Blues/I’m Feeling Lucky

I got a ticket in Virginia earlier this year because my tags were from Georgia. I wrote about the experience of interacting with a cop and how people reacted to me being stopped.

Shakey Dog, an Epic

“Shakey Dog” is a song from Ghostface’s album Fishscale. It’s the most detailed rap song I’ve ever heard, so detailed that it struck me as an opportunity to redeem the idea of epicness. Jeff Weiss helped me craft it into its current form, which I greatly appreciate.

Review of 55 5’s

I love reviewing instrumental albums. The lack of a clear narrative, a voice, really demands that you find those subtle hints of the person who made it and infer what compelled them. I especially like how hard it can be to avoid pure description. Everyone who writes about music should review instrumental albums. They’re always a challenge.

Still Timely: Book Review of Marvel Comics, The Untold Story

I read a lot of comics this year, new and old and mostly Marvel. This book really helped put Marvel Comics into perspective. There’a  lot of excitement about the cinematic universe expanding, but this book really tempers that. I don’t think I was ever fanatic about the happenings in the comic world, but this book absolutely shifted my perspective to unflinching cynicism. Considering Marvel’s history, I definitely think we should be wary of their long-term commitments to fans, characters, and creators.

Mystique Was Right: Review of All New Wolverine # 1 and 2

See previous paragraph.

Review of At.Long.Last.A$AP

This album is trash, but a lot of people said it was good. I’m still a little confused, but I think my argument holds up.

Priced Out: Why I Can No Longer Afford a Career in Writing

I started off this post praising editors because this year I’ve dealt with a lot of editors, in the music world and beyond, that have really blown me off. This essay gets at the violence of being collectively dismissed and the privilege of pubs regularly using writers that they know and who tend to look like them. I also talk about debt, which I have a lot of, and diversity, which I don’t see a lot of in the writing world.


There’s other writing of mine out there, but these were the highlights. Hopefully 2016 brings more opportunities to write and more things to think and write about it.

 

Mutants, Meillassoux and Contingency*

Over the past year, I have read hundreds of X-Men comics. It has been a strange journey and even now I’m neither sure why I began this journey nor why I continued it, but it happened, and the weird adventures of Marvel’s mutants are permanently etched into my mind.

There is a great deal of fluff in this extensive archive, even during the much-celebrated Claremont era, and especially during the 90s, which had comics that I can’t even look at because the drawing disgusts me (If you like that artwork, it’s fine, but the artwork coincided with a narrative departure from the civic issues, identity issues and overall science fiction coolness that make X-men interesting to me, so it is hard for me to parse the two). But despite the fluff, there are many rich moments, in terms of storytelling and character building, and in terms of concepts.

One concept that has really stuck with me is the idea of contingency. Contingency is at the heart of genetic mutation and arguably at the heart of the series: the central motif of X-Men is how do people live with abilities that they have no previous understanding of or that can change without notice even when they do understand them (due to secondary mutation, stress, experimentation, fear, the government etc.).  I think that the best iteration of this theme came during the Avengers vs X-Men crossover series of 2012.

In that limited series, members of the X-Men and members of the Avengers take sides on the issue of the coming of Phoenix. The Phoenix is a cosmic force that perennially crosses the universe, doing whatever it wants, usually destroying planets and civilizations. The series starts when the two teams learn that it is coming to Earth. The X-Men anticipate the return of the Phoenix because they think it will save mutants, which are on the brink of extinction; the Avengers dread the return of the Phoenix because they think it will destroy the planet.

When the Phoenix arrives, the Avengers intervene and instead of taking one red-headed host, as it usually does, it takes five hosts, all members of the X-Men (and notably all without red hair!). Wielding this newly-acquired omnipotent power, the Phoenix Five do good deeds across the world. But after being persistently opposed by the Avengers, they decide to hunt for the Avengers and other perceived threats.

One of these threats is Mr. Sinister. Mr. Sinister is a mutant, geneticist and longtime enemy of the X-Men. Sinister has a history of horrific experiments on mutants and horrific actions against them, and when the Phoenix Five arrive, he lures them into giving him control of the Phoenix. Things look bleak until the Phoenix simply decides that it itself doesn’t want to be controlled by him, electing to return to the Phoenix Five.

Avengers vs X-Men Marvel Phoenix Mr. Sinister

Up until this point in the series and in X-Men history, the Phoenix has just been a plot device. It comes, it shakes things up, somebody dies (usually someone with red hair) and then the world is saved. In all of those previous instances, the Phoenix had a determined function, in the narrative and as an entity. In this story, the Phoenix is completely indeterminate, in form, in function and in potential. It is contingency incarnate.

In his book After Finitude, Quentin Meillassoux has a chapter where he distinguishes between contingency and probability. Probability is the potential for change under constant, established conditions, like a dice roll. Contingency is is the potential for both the variables and the conditions to change, like a dice roll in which the the dice grow another face and become seven-sided and then explode into butterflies. In regular practice we do not expect dice to do such unexpected things because the world seems to work according to fixed, predictable rules, allowing us to make decisions based on what will probably happen. In a contingent world, there are no fixed rules. Anything can happen at anytime. Dice can turn into butterflies and grown men can eject metal claws from their knuckles.

Mr. Sinister Uncanny X-Men Avengers

The ultimate point of that chapter of the book is that though we cannot fathom raw contingency because our world is relatively stable, contingency itself is contingent, so we actually do experience this raw contingency, but only because contingently, contingency holds the world together. In other words, the seemingly absurd world in which butterflies are born from dice and men have metal claws is actually the world we live in. We just don’t see these things because the potential for these things is also contingent.

A lot of science fiction, including the X-Men, makes a few things contingent and then watches how these strategic tweaks play out, but my point here is that none of this was fully realized contingency. As anticlimactic as it is in terms of narrative, the Phoenix’s decision to simply not be controlled despite Mr. Sinister winning his battle with the X-Men is an example of raw contingency. Mr. Sinister didn’t plan for it because he couldn’t. There’s no such thing as a contingency plan when you are dealing with actual contingency. That is horrifying.

Unfortunately, the Phoenix does not make any more radically contingent decisions as the Avengers vs X-Men goes on, so this is just a brief glimpse into what radical contingency can look like. Marvel’s What If series toys with this kind of contingency all the time, but none of it is canonical, so the horror of raw contingency is dialed back because it is purely speculative. Still, it happened once and if the right mind makes the effort, perhaps an entire story about the horror of raw contingency could happen someday.

*I wasn’t very thorough with citations in this post, but Uncanny X-Men Volume 2 #15-17 are the comics I summarized and took the screenshots from. The chapter in After Finitude is chapter 4.