Queer Theorem, Shambolic Health Care Zombies, and Cecil B DeMille’s Riding Crop


from Cecil B DeMille’s Male and Female, featuring Gloria Swanson

I spend much of my waking time reading. Unfortunately, during the school year, a considerable amount of that reading time is spent correcting the inexact writing of adolescents or revisiting worn out texts that I now find tedious, like To Kill a Mockingbird.  However, this spring break I managed not to bring work home with me, so for the last seven days, I’ve been binging on recreational reading.

A shallow person who prefers style to substance, I’m always on the lookout for cool turns-of-phrase or apt imagistic analogies, so rather than sharing any profound truths I ran across this week, I thought share a few stylistic winners.

Early in the week, I read an essay by Samantha Hunt called “Queer Theorem” appearing in the spring 2017 edition of Lapham’s Quarterly. In researching her novel on Nikola Tesla, Hunt discovered  that her subject was quite eccentric. For example, he housed “a large population of New York City’s pigeons in his hotel rooms” despite suffering from “a terrible germ phobia.” In addition, Tesla had fears of “pearl earrings and human hair.” These irrationalities of the scientist who “invented radio” and “our modern AC electrical system” lead Hunt to wonder about the possibility of the existence of “Queer Science.”

Here’s my favorite sentence, one that ends with a delicious inversion of clichés:[1]

Queer physics, queer healing, queer chemistry, and all of it conducted by starving scientists and mad artists.


[1] All of the italics are mine and used to highlight the phrases that send me.

Andrew Sullivan, whom I was hooked on for years, had disappeared into silence for too long but recently has resurfaced with a weekly column in New York Magazine. Here’s his description of the debut of the Republican replacement for Obamacare:

In Washington this week, as this shambolic health-care plan staggered, zombielike, into the House, there was a palpable sense that political gravity may, for the first time, be operational around Trump. If he somehow muscles this legislation through, he will be stuck with an avalanche of angry.

What a killer image. How apt.

illustration by WLM3

Staying on politics, perhaps my favorite prose stylist is James Wolcott who in his February Vanity Fair column offers a piece called Trump: The Movie, Coming Soon to a Theater Near You (if Theaters Still Exist).” Here he suggests various directors who might be able to do the subject justice. Here he is harkening back to the beginning of film:

To do Trumpzilla justice, the film should be blustery, spectacular, gold-garish, and neo-pagan, a Circus Maximus Cecil B. DeMille might have whipped up with his riding crop after a fever dream.

Wolcott’s got rhythm, music, and imagination, mixes high and low with aplomb.

Illustration by WLM3

Interestingly enough, Wolcott’s name came up rather unflatteringly in Dennis Perrin’s Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O’ Donoghue, a biography I finished Tuesday. O’Donoghue was perhaps the most influential member of the original National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live. Perrin calls Wolcott “squeamish” when he describes O’Donoghue as “a master of hip how-do-you-make-a-dead-baby float humor,” which sounds less squeamish to me than matter-of-fact.

Anyway, I thought I’d offer this O’Donoghue bit of bad taste that network censors axed from Weekend Update:

And in Detroit, a handicapped eight-year-old schoolgirl was attacked by a supposedly tame lion while television cameras rolled. The child, a deaf mute, suffered only minor scratches from the lion but, according to doctors, she did break three fingers screaming for help.”

[cue cymbal  crash]

O’Donoghue in center between Aykroyd and Belushi

My last entry comes from Haruki Murakami’s Infinite-Jest-jumbo-sized novel IQ84, which, of course, has been translated from Japanese, and I inherently distrust translations as far as style goes. Nevertheless, this description of a character’s first memory did arrest me for a moment:

The vivid ten-second scene was seared into the wall of his consciousness, his earliest memory in life. Nothing before or after it. It stood out alone, like the steeple of a town visited by a flood, thrusting up above the muddy water.

Okay, enough. The Screaming J’s are playing down at Chico Feo, and the non-literary life is calling me.


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