The Pines – The Skies Are Not Cloudy – Turning – Catching the Westbound – Pure Land, a story, Part One of Two – with more on the catastrophe (The following is a work of satire. The people and events depicted, including those based on real people and events, are all entirely fictional.)


If it seems a bit awkward, I have never written a story like Pure Land before, though I have thought about it for a long time, and plan to write others. Unfortunately, the writing in this month’s selection of Notes seems very clumsy to me as well. Both should have gotten more attention as far as editing; I have been distracted, to say the least. (I can say that the ninth installment of the latter, coming in March, will be a turning point, both in the narrative and in my telling of it. Also, while I would much rather leave it to the reader to figure out—since it would have been made clear in the next issue anyway—it seems the responsible thing is to point out that the Nationalists mentioned above are supposed to be the fascist belligerents of the Spanish Civil War.)

*Chief among distractions has been my own anger: I have personally always found it more crippling than energizing. Recently, however, as with virtually every major crisis of my adult life, I have found some peace in consulting the Tao. Ursula K. Le Guin offers some additional thoughts on it and our current situation.

*Liel Liebovitz takes a lesson from his grandfather’s experience of Nazism in pre-war Austria.

*James Baldwin writes to Angela Davis in a California jail, 1971.

*After Brexit, I had linked to this article by Mary Beard on democracy as practice in classical Athens—I find myself thinking about it a lot.

*And I find the advice of Brian Beutler rather appealing, as I imagine any visitor here might.

*Perhaps it is a weakness, but for me it’s always been necessary to have some approximate vision of the future to work towards (speaking in the broadest societal sense). I like to think in terms of economic democracy, and have long admired the co-op model explored by Astra Taylor here. But this piece by Thomas Piketty, and particularly this one by Mark Rowney on the need for a global network of interdependent cities, helped to clarify some of the vague if intriguing notions I’ve gathered while reading Hannah Arendt (it’s not entirely certain how she would have applied her own ideas about the polis or Jefferson’s “laboratories of democracy” to modern politics). They have even helped toward a slightly more optimistic interpretation of a passage that struck me just a few days before the election:

Antisemitism (not merely hatred of Jews), imperialism (not merely conquest), totalitarianism (not merely dictatorship)—one after the other, one more brutally than the other, have demonstrated that human dignity needs a new guarantee which can only be found in a new political principle, in a new law on earth, whose validity this time must comprehend the whole of humanity while its power must remain strictly limited, rooted and controlled by newly defined territorial entities.

We can no longer afford to take that which was good in the past and simply call it our heritage, to discard the bad and simply think of it as a dead load which by itself time will bury in oblivion. The subterranean stream of Western history has finally come to the surface and usurped the dignity of our tradition. This is the reality in which we live. And this is why all efforts to escape from the grimness of the present into nostalgia for a still intact past, or into the anticipated oblivion of a better future are vain.

from the original preface to The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1950

*In the wake of that disaster, there was a lot of talk about the Frankfurt School, whose members, such as they were, predicted it. Alex Ross provides an introduction here—it may also, along with the Benjamin-influenced work of the late John Berger, give you some further idea what I’m after in writing fiction.

Next issue: February 7th