What I've been reading, featuring the elements of time-keeping and a TERF war

  • Michelle Zauner (better known by her stage name Japanese Breakfast) writes in The New Yorker about the pain of losing touch with your roots. She says on Instagram that the article is the first chapter in a book in progress.

When I go to H Mart, I’m not just on the hunt for cuttlefish and three bunches of scallions for a buck; I’m searching for their memory. I’m collecting the evidence that the Korean half of my identity didn’t die when they did.

The United States sometimes seems to be committed to amnesia, to forgetting its great national sin of chattel slavery and the violence, repression, endless injustices and humiliations that have sustained racial hierarchies since emancipation. Stevenson has said that, visiting Germany, he was struck by the number of memorials to the victims of the Holocaust: the Stolpersteine, or ‘stumbling stones’, set in the ground in their thousands to mark the names of the murdered in the places where they once lived; the Holocaust Memorial near the Brandenburg Gate and its subterranean museum; the thousands of other reminders all over the country of the evils done in the name of Germany – maps, monuments, plaques, preserved concentration camps. Similarly, the Apartheid Museum in South Africa bears witness to the racist system that dominated that country’s history; monuments and plaques outside the constitutional court in Johannesburg recognise those who suffered. There is no remotely comparable memorial culture in the United States to the legacy of slavery.

  • NYU PhD student Andrea Long Chu’s famous n+1 article taking on “trans-exclusionary radical feminism”:

It must be underscored how unpopular it is on the left today to countenance the notion that transition expresses not the truth of an identity but the force of a desire… I doubt that any of us transition simply because we want to “be” women, in some abstract, academic way. I certainly didn’t. I transitioned for gossip and compliments, lipstick and mascara, for crying at the movies, for being someone’s girlfriend, for letting her pay the check or carry my bags, for the benevolent chauvinism of bank tellers and cable guys, for the telephonic intimacy of long-distance female friendship, for fixing my makeup in the bathroom flanked like Christ by a sinner on each side, for sex toys, for feeling hot, for getting hit on by butches, for that secret knowledge of which dykes to watch out for, for Daisy Dukes, bikini tops, and all the dresses, and, my god, for the breasts.

‘Political theorists envision the public sphere as a place of the free exchange of reasons as if that free exchange of reasons is supposed to be conducive to general knowledge, political and moral knowledge. That just seems wrong to me if you and I don’t even acknowledge the same considerations as reasons.’

The project, then, is to work towards a better model, most centrally one which would stop people from losing knowledge in the face of bedrock disagreement. The model that emerges, it is already clear, will be in conflict with another liberal program, J S Mill’s. ‘Mill believed in the living truth’, Srinivasan explains. ‘He thought that even when you know something, you’re better off defending your argument against sceptics because that will heighten the justification for your belief. I actually think the opposite can happen. It can particularly happen in cases… where there’s deep practical disagreement coupled with power differentials.’ As an example, she gives the case of a black person in a society like the US, who has knowledge that the cops in his town are racist in virtue of his repeated interactions with them but, when pushed by a sceptic, is unable to counter every argument with which he is presented. Srinivasan thinks that such a person is ‘at risk of losing his knowledge’, not because his evidence is defeated or he loses his justification, but because he might feel psychologically that he needs to give up his view.

As a side note, it was announced Srinavasan has a book deal to extend her excellent LRB article “Does anyone have the right to sex?”