Book Bits: Private Citizens

This book was so goddamn good. I don’t even know how to say anything about it, so here are some of my favorite bits:

On nonprofits:

[Taren, the founder of a nonprofit who dies and leaves the nonprofit to one of our heroines, Cory, had] formulated the relationship between pragmatism, profit, and pride: put two in conflict and forget the third. Nonprofits, he learned, supplicated the idle rich, ate young hearts, and defrauded the middle class.

Mis-morality:

[Cory:] “Well, air is important too. Should we spend hours every day working on breathing?”
[Roopa:] “Doy. Ever heard of yoga? I’m only sort of kidding.”
Cory wouldn’t win. Roopa was rigid, the way free spirits often were, about the romance of naturopathy and well-being as morality. Photographing meals, food blogging, recreational fasting — all that time committed to sweeping the steps of her temple. It was at least as disordered as what Cory had. There was this spin, this indulgent spin to Roopa’s charity: when she did relief in Chile, she returned with a copper-goddess tan; if she volunteered at a bake sale, it was because she enjoyed baking. Her diet was another slick win-win rationalization of glut. Good intentions not withstanding, that was the lemon-meringue heart of her frankly dips hit worldview: that merely observing selective austerities — abstaining from work, from money — was activism, when really is was shallow passivism…

[pg 29]

Principles VS Pragmatism

[Cory] felt mute and illiterate in the language of power, which was money. She knew that corporate oligarchs used it to subvert democracy. But she was hazy on macro and micro; how US trade agreements affected sweatshop conditions in Indonesia; what the Fed did, exactly. Her efforts to research the housing market crisis ended in page-crumpling fury — credit default swaps? Mortgage-backed securities? Collateralized debt obligations? How could people be moral when morality obliged you to knoweverything? It was her fault for not studying econ in college, but she’d had so much contempt for the future bankers that it had seemed principled not to.

Using disabled people as motivation

[Cory] felt mute and illiterate in the language of power, which was money. She knew that corporate oligarchs used it to subvert democracy. But she was hazy on macro and micro; how US trade agreements affected sweatshop conditions in Indonesia; what the Fed did, exactly. Her efforts to research the housing market crisis ended in page-crumpling fury — credit default swaps? Mortgage-backed securities? Collateralized debt obligations? How could people be moral when morality obliged you to knoweverything? It was her fault for not studying econ in college, but she’d had so much contempt for the future bankers that it had seemed principled not to.
[pg 43]

Academia

[While Henrik is losing funding for his PhD.]

Henrik didn’t think that was the issue. Funding was more a mix of feudal patronage, Soviet bureaucracy, and star-system capitalism. Between Henrik and his money were the interests of eleven committees, public and private, prospecting for wonder pills and killer apps. Every joule of work had to be directed toward saving or justifying money, though money needed neither. Besides, what story could you craft around the infinite shrewdness and nauseating inelegance of matter?

Trojans

Linda had been superstitious about birth control and made Henrik use Trojans even when he pointed out that the Trojan horse was the singular metaphor for treacherous penetration and destruction from within.
[pg 104]

Sex

He was losing it — losing sex. Linda once said how odd it was that you had sex, not did sex, but you did do “it,” “it” being sex, not love; you neither had nor did, you made love. But sex was something you had or didn’t have, and thus could lose. And just like having sex, you could lose sex over and over again, if it was going to be that kind of night. Over the embarrassment and pity and feeble carburetor of lust, he mainly felt annoyed — at the ingratitude of wanting sex right up until he was having it, and the futility of coaxing his ungrateful cantilever, since effort itself made it impossible, the not wanting to not want to want.
He felt less like he was having sex with her than intubating her. Four, five minutes of this brought a searing perpendicularity of the neck, and all the midsection strains that bus usually masked by lust. In his head he kept repeating the word mucilage.
[pg 105]

…after a week of porn

He’d actually killed a week and didn’t know what to do with its corpse. How to overwrite the feelings and ideas, the necropolis of streaming teens and throbbing integers and data rubbing against data. The silent tyrannized horde of his memory.

A portrait of mania

The summer before his sophomore year, Henrik became a textbook case, though the textbooks were divided on calling it agitated depression, dysphoric mania, mixed episode, or mixed state. A state contradicting itself, where high met low, or as Linda put it later, where unstoppable farce met immovable abject.
In lectures with his legs V6-ing under his desk, he filled his composition notebooks, ignoring the calc professor’s horseshoe while taking unpunctuated notes on theory-of-everything from the charismatic counter lecturer in his head. He wrote arguments for and against life; he began to think the slowest and most painful form of suicide was living, running the whole decathlon suffering, no breathers or bottled water. Fear of dying was irrational. Death was utilitarian. Decrease in net resource consumption and planetary suffering. Increase in net comedy. There was no afterlife but there was a right-before-death, and medical research said it was loopy and nice, all white lights and gentle voices. With booze it wasn’t even scary. Some people with terrible lives didn’t kill themselves, but that didn’t mean they shouldn’t. Most people weren’t alive and didn’t mind. You couldn’t regret it.
pg 186

Depression & Meds

[Lucretia’s] generosity made Henrik want to cry, but for months now the Depakote and Topamax had been making him feel like his feelings were happening to someone else.

Bob Dylan Reference :)

Corporations argued money was free speech because it talked — actually it was expensive speech, and it screamed.

Self-awareness all over

[In a letter from Linda to Henrik, they used to date and then Linda was a real jerk.]

I’ll play no part, no merit awarded by pity, no weakness forgiven by trauma. Predictability is suicide. Death before determination! Murder before membership! Execution before explanation! More than anything I refuse to make my past mean anything, to have the imposed cliché of mistreatment-by-shitty-dudes matter in any way. I eat my way around the universal. If style is fate and character is destiny, I’ll reject both. I want impossible self-authorship: to be sui generis, valuable in myself and flawed by my own hand. I’ll become the archangel of wry suffering, producing only ephemera, marginalia, juvenilia — a print so fine it doesn’t exist. Being unwritten, unread, hiding out in an apartment, in subtext, unnatural, unnurtured, refusing to be emplotted like a good little subject, that’s my whole deal now. One by one the positive ethics go out the window: first optimism, then eudaemonism, contentment, redemption, acceptance, coherence, finally existence.
Sorry for the comp lit paper. Here’s my point. For months I’ve been looking for somewhere to stay, then somewhere to go. Obeying the mandates of desire and transcendence, I’ve avoided the past, kept plowing ahead like the worst kind of reader, impatient for an ending. But I haven’t even begun.

An amazing “conversation”:

[This is really long but really worth it.]

Ways pretentious people protect:

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