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Letter sent on Nov 21, 2016

John Jeremiah Sullivan, Unidentified Records & October in Latin America

The October 2016 Letter

— the bedlam in macondo —

around this part of the world in October, 2016

In Ecuador, a music producer is mining through an unidentified collection of music and reflects on the internet’s impact on culture in developing countries. “Mr. Lofredo Rota believes that, rather than being ‘a Noah’s ark of information,’ the internet ‘bulldozes’ less developed countries, because they tend to consume content heavily while producing relatively little,” writes the New York Times.

After a string of accusations that the Vatican helped Argentina’s government cover up a military junta’s dirty war against the left, the Church is spilling their secrets. Archives showing correspondence between government and Vatican officials during 1976–1983 could help explain the disappearance of some 30,000 people.

Colombia’s peace effort with Marxist revolutionary group FARC was thrown into a tail spin when voters rejected president Juan Manuel Santos’ deal on October 2nd. Apathy was the real victor, with a turnout of just 37%. Colombia has a history of high abstention rates partly because of deep-rooted distrust toward politicians. Following the referendum, members of the YES and NO campaigns united in a Grand National Dialog to tweak the original deal and look for a way forward.

— long reads —

‘Crazy Bitch’: The Go-To Insult for Men by T Cooper for Esquire

The Lost Promise of Nostalgia by Amy Kenyon for Salon

A Profile of America’s Most Dangerous Political Operative by Joshua Green for Businessweek

Pablo Torrecilla

— reactions —

Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan

“Sizing up Pop Culture’s Geniuses and Freaks” reads the title of a 2011 review of John Jeremiah Sullivan’s collection of essays titled Pulphead, a collection where Sullivan edges toward what Dwight Garner calls a “memoirlike whole.” So how do you transform literary nonfiction into something that flirts with memoir? Sullivan laces his razor sharp impressions into spiraling analyses of his subject — whether it’s a Christian Rock festival or seeking out Bunny Wailer — and he often keeps it personal, not simply for staking credibility, establishing scene or showing color, but to advance the meaning. Like his take on the last Southern Agrarian Andrew Lytle, when he says, “I found him exotic; it may be accurate to say that I found him beautiful. The manner in which I related to him was essentially anthropological. Taking offense, for instance, to his more or less daily outbursts of racism, chauvinism, anti-Semitism, class snobbery, and what I can only describe as medieval nostalgia, seemed as absurd as debating these things with a caveman.” You want to conclude that Sullivan is too involved, that he’s taking the stage himself. But I don’t think he is. He’s not just revealing that his subject is racist, but saying that a racist can also be exotic and absurd. Answering to a reader’s thirst for understanding the contradictions inherent in the human condition? This is hard. But one of the ways Sullivan manages to do it is by shooting the comic arrow so it lands back on himself. In his essay about the Christian Rock festival Creation, Sullivan takes you along in his RV to a place where it could be easy to get swept up in derogatory and sarcastic interpretations of the fanbase he falls in with. Instead, he turns himself into the clown, the grotesque outsider looking into a world he used to be a part of. The conclusions in his essays swerve away from right and wrong, good and bad. By “sizing up” his subjects, Sullivan inches toward the question of what it means to be.

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