The images were the sort of pornography that seemed designed for men who hate women

The year before, in that same office, I had repeatedly found pornography on the desktop of the shared computer. Seeing the pop-ups of naked women in various postures, I initially wondered whether they were left there by the other instructor I shared the space with when I was not on campus. Perhaps it was her research, as she was a sociologist, one of the other adjunct faculty who everyone assumes is more permanent than we are. The images were the sort of pornography that seemed designed for men who hate women. I imagined in turn that she was also suspicious, or curious, about me. I wonder if, as a resident of this city—and a partial resident of the city that is the internet—I have become almost numb to absurd or hostile encounters. I did wonder later whether the joke was on me specifically, if this pornography was left there for me, but that would take some awareness of me, or what I had written about. I never figured out if it was a form of targeted or general harassment, or what—masturbatory carelessness?

I finally said something to the woman who worked in the office downstairs, an awkward conversation I tried to laugh my way through. We were asked to lock the office afterward, and the password to the desktop was reset. When the French sociologist (she was French) was told, she apparently just made a face of distaste, I imagine in a very French way, and asked if there were antibacterial wipes we could use to wipe down the computer and the desk, since we both ate our lunches there. Which, upon hearing this, I felt was the right reaction—and wondered why I hadn’t thought of that.

Kate Zambreno, Drifts.

„The Circle”: Communication. Understanding. Clarity

“Mae, now that you’re aboard, I wanted to get across some of the core beliefs here at the company. And chief among them is that just as important as the work we do here—and that work is very important—we want to make sure that you can be a human being here, too. We want this to be a workplace, sure, but it should also be a humanplace. And that means the fostering of community. In fact, it must be a community. That’s one of our slogans, as you probably know: Community First. And you’ve seen the signs that say Humans Work Here—I insist on those. That’s my pet issue. We’re not automatons. This isn’t a sweatshop. We’re a group of the best minds of our generation. Generations. And making sure this is a place where our humanity is respected, where our opinions are dignified, where our voices are heard—this is as important as any revenue, any stock price, any endeavor undertaken here. Does that sound corny?”
“No, no,” Mae rushed to say. “Definitely not. That’s why I’m here. I love the ‘community first’ idea. Annie’s been telling me about it since she started. At my last job, no one really communicated very well. It was basically the opposite of here in every way.”
Dan turned to look into the hills to the east, covered in mohair and patches of green. “I hate hearing that kind of thing. With the technology available, communication should never be in doubt. Understanding should never be out of reach or anything but clear. It’s what we do here. You might say it’s the mission of the company—it’s an obsession of mine, anyway. Communication. Understanding. Clarity.”

Dave Eggers, The Circle, San Francisco 2013.

Trying to be perfectly likable is incompatible with loving relationships

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The simple fact of the matter is that trying to be perfectly likable is incompatible with loving relationships. Sooner or later, for example, you’re going to find yourself in a hideous, screaming fight, and you’ll hear coming out of your mouth things that you yourself don’t like at all, things that shatter your self-image as a fair, kind, cool, attractive, in-control, funny, likable person. Something realer than likability has come out in you, and suddenly you’re having an actual life. Suddenly there’s a real choice to be made, not a fake consumer choice between a BlackBerry and an iPhone, but a question: Do I love this person? And, for the other person: Does this person love me? There is no such thing as a person whose real self you like every particle of. This is why a world of liking is ultimately a lie. But there is such a thing as a person whose real self you love every particle of. And this is why love is such an existential threat to the technoconsumerist order: it exposes the lie.

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Jonathan Franzen on The Encyclopedia of New York, DeLillo:

It worries me a little, therefore, that the city [NYC] has now been paid the additional compliment of a million-and-a-half-word encyclopedia. There’s something decidedly valedictory about The Encyclopedia of New York City, edited by the same Kenneth Jackson who wrote Crab grass Frontier. The Encyclopedia has the heft and ambition of a monument. It’s a grand list for an age in love with lists. As soon as I got the book, I paged to the entry for “Sewers,” a topic of perennial fascination. I found a good historical overview of the subject but no hint of the daily drama of contemporary sewers. Indeed, a numbing sameness afflicts nearly all the longer articles in the Encyclopedia. Each entry begins with vaguely colorful arcana from the city’s earliest history (reading about “Intellectuals,” for example, we learn that “the leading intellectual circle of the late eighteenth century was the Friendly Club”), goes on to pursue the subject doggedly decade by decade, often achieving a full head of steam around 1930 (thus, under “Intellectuals,” The New Republic and Partisan Review are treated at some length), and finally peters out rather sadly in the present (“In the mid 1990s … major magazines of opinion continued to be published in the city but lacked the urgency and influence that they had enjoyed in earlier times”). It’s an odd thing to experience the present, which is, after all, so present, again and again as the dusty terminus of historical spurs. Reviewers of the Encyclopedia have dwelled on what’s missing from it, and their quibbles reinforce the notion of the city as a work completed, rather than a work in progress.

The chief pleasure of the Encyclopedia lies in a kind of Derridean lateral slide of association. I move from “Terrorism” to read about “Anarchism,” across the page to “Amphibians and Reptiles,” on to “Birds,” and (after a side trip to “Birdland” and a courtesy call on “Parker, Charlie”) to “Cockroaches,” which “are known to be attracted to toothpaste,” which brings me to “Colgate-Palmolive” and its founder “Colgate, William,” who fled England in 1795 “to escape public hostility toward his father, who had supported the French Revolution.” It’s like a game of Telephone: “Anarchism” connecting with the sansculottes not by way of history but, rather, via “Cockroaches.”

Yet there’s something empty about this pleasure. A city lives in the eye, ear, and nose of the solitary beholder. You turn to literature to find the interior point of intersection between subject and city, and as a living connection to New York’s history a few lines of Herman Melville or Don DeLillo outweigh whole pages of an encyclopedia. This is Ishmael downtown:

There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward.

This is DeLillo’s Bucky Wunderlick, walking the same streets more than a century later:

It was early afternoon and soon to rain, nondeliverance in the air, a chemical smell from the river. The bridges were cruelly beautiful in this weather, gray ladies nearly dead to all the poetry written in their names.

DeLillo, an essential New York artist, is unmentioned in the Encyclopedia, whose lengthy “Literature” article has little more to say about the post-Norman Mailer scene than this: “Many of the writers who had become well known in the 1960s left the city during the 1970s and 1980s.”

Jonathan Franzen, How To Be Alone