Mentions | Spring 2022 ​


A Children’s Bible |


Lydia Millet’s latest novel begins with twelve privileged children and their parents summering in a mansion, and ends with an apocalypse. It’s strangely cheering, in the genre of climate change dystopia, to have a much smaller horror to relate to: who hasn’t peered at their receding hairline and worried about becoming their father? These artsy, educated parents give plenty of cause for concern: they start drinking at breakfast, for instance, and speak with the composed, self-congratulatory air that comes from correcting small but not large problems. When a storm destroys the château, one father explains that the children cannot leave; this would breach the lease agreement. Rather than repair the building, the parents have an ecstasy-fueled orgy. Readers worried how the next generation will judge them may find this book reassuring: look how low the bar has been set.


The Nurse Antigone |


A staged reading of Sophocles’s masterpiece, featuring Margaret Atwood as the blind prophet Tiresias, asks: how many celebrities can we cram onto one Zoom play before it gets too weird? This attempt pushes the far limit, with performances from Taylor Schilling of Orange Is the New Black, Bill Camp of The Queen’s Gambit, Tracie Thoms of Rent, and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. The reading, produced by New York-based company Theater of War, explores what a society owes to its dead — and what a society’s dead art forms can offer to its living audiences. The answer: yet another opportunity for millionaires to pay tribute to “front-line workers,” represented here by a trio of real-life nurses playing the chorus. 


Anecdotes |


​​When the daily Berliner Abendblätter debuted in October of 1810, the paper’s editor, playwright and essayist Heinrich von Kleist, hid pieces of anonymous short fiction and miscellany among the important news items of the day. Last year, Sublunary Editions published this collection of von Kleist’s terse little tales translated by Matthew Spencer from an incident of trial by combat in Heligoland to Ivan the Terrible’s favored ambassador to the Bishop of Dijon’s prophesied ascent to a horse shitting onstage in Russia. Kleist’s notable end a murder-suicide alongside his cancer-stricken soulmate at Kleiner Wannsee lake the following year may seem at odds with the frequently scatological humor featured here. But the text captures how neatly despair pairs with filthy absurdity, like a condemned soldier begging to be shot “in the asshole, so as not to tear him a new one.” Even lethally depressed Germans love a dirty joke.


“Very Bad Wizards” |


A psychologist and a philosopher ponder human morality in a bar. That sounds like a bad joke; rest assured, it is a podcast. In this series, Cornell University psychology professor David Pizarro and University of Houston philosophy professor Tamler Sommers analyze everything from Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious to “pretty privilege” to low likability in the workplace. The resulting bull sessions make for unpretentious listening, blurring the lines between grad school seminar and stoned confab. The real wizardry lies in how quickly they can oscillate from dissecting Hume’s standard of taste to laughing about Jeffrey Toobin’s lack thereof. 


The Special Relationship |


Heartwarming 2010 entry into the august category of films about “the friendship between two guys,” by Peter Morgan (The Crown, The Queen). The two guys are Bill Clinton (Dennis Quaid) and Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). The rising action is that one of the guys has an affair with Monica Lewinsky. The resolution is that the U.S. and U.K. decide to bomb Kosovo.


@SebaldUte |


Speak, Silence, Carole Angier’s recent 640-page biography of W.G. Sebald, is doggedly, almost perversely thorough. But entirely missing — emblematically, perhaps — is the best authority on Sebald’s personal life: Ute Sebald, the writer’s wife from 1967 until his death in 2001. To be fair, Ute does not speak to any press, though she does maintain a dormant but public Twitter feed. She has tweeted just five times — all marooned family snaps, one featuring the late writer himself — and shared a sixth photo in her avatar: a picture of herself erging at what appears to be a CrossFit gym, in a TEAM USA jersey, grinning with an un-Sebaldian sweetness. The account follows 119 others, including Barack Obama, LeBron James, Jimmy Fallon, Justin Bieber, and something called “Heritage Chauffeurs” — a car service in Wisbech, England, which offers, per one 2015 tweet, “Anti terrorist chauffeurs for hire.”

M.N. |


Amethyst rings, purple hair spray, and a mug with “never question my purpleness” are all on offer, but so is the opportunity to become a purple lobbyist — according to its website’s About page, The Purple Store gives customers “the buying power and clout to get manufacturers to make items in purple, make things just in purple, and package them so you don’t need to buy seven pens you don’t want to get the purple one.” Those who wish to throw an all-purple wedding now know where to invest their extra political energy.


Zoo |


A mysterious pandemic has triggered a rash of animal attacks, sending zoologist Jackson Oz and a ragtag team of archetypes on a 39-episode quest to defeat electric ants, seismic sloths, invisible anacondas, mass human infertility, and the idea that sensible storylines and realistic CGI are a sine qua non for good television. “What were the secrets of the animal’s likeness with, and unlikeness from man?” John Berger once wondered. Who cares, the show answers back. 


"The Football Ramble" |


The war in Ukraine has had many victims, the least important of which may be the vitality of this British soccer show. Conceived on the precipice of the financial crisis as a group of lads chatting about the weekend’s games, its comedy content evolved to include pleas for listeners to send in “mystery meat” and admiration for the apparently limitless sexual appetite of a geriatric Swede who once managed England’s national team. Now hosts discuss “the terrible, terrible situation in Ukraine,” in the tone of 1960s newsreaders. “It’s very difficult to know how all this is going to pan out,” comedian Jim Campbell mused recently. English soccer clubs, it turns out, are owned by sanctioned Russian oligarchs and human-rights-violating Gulf states, not to mention U.S. hedge funds. The experience of watching the show is now one of “cognitive fucking dissonance,” according to Pete Donaldson, the primary mystery meat consumer. This was also largely what the show was, momentarily, helping us avoid. 


"Fundie Fridays" |


This YouTube channel is obsessed with Christian fundamentalism, but proselytizing is not its M.O. Its host, a woman identified only as “Jen,” notes on her About page: “I’m Jen and on my channel I talk about different aspects of Christian fundamentalism while (usually) doing my makeup. Please do not email me!!!!!!!” She and her partner dedicate weekly episodes to unpacking the influence of Big Religion on nearly every sector of American life — from the prolific scandals of the Duggar family (the former TLC darlings with twenty kids); to the social media musings of Ben Shapiro’s sister, Classically Abby; to the ideological underpinnings and shocking profits of VeggieTales — all while applying eyeshadow. Jen may be a left-leaning atheist, but she has inspired a certain zealotry; her acolytes call themselves Jennonites. 


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