The Bluestocking, vol 190

Finish brand deliverables before inviting guests.

Happy Friday!

I’m back from my summer holiday, which accidentally turned into a Mitfordfest.

First up, a Lucian Freud painting of Debo at Chatsworth:

Second, the churchyard in Swinbrook, Oxfordshire, which is the final resting place of (left to right) Nancy—who wanted a mole on her gravestone instead of a cross; Unity; Diana; and Diana’s grandson Alexander. I presume the new incumbent is Max Mosley, who died a few weeks ago, although there is no headstone yet.

And before you ask, no, I haven’t seen the BBC’s Pursuit of Love yet. I am girding my loins. On my break I did however find time to watch Mare of Easttown (gripping, well-acted, but the pacing of the final episode was infuriating); and to read Kate Atkinson’s Transcription (also gripping, but the reveal was disappointing) and Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Beginning of Spring (a beautiful jewel of a book, an absolute masterpiece which you should definitely read). I’ve started David Peace’s Red Riding quartet but honestly I’m not sure if I can take the grimness.


The Anxiety of Influencers (Harper’s)

For the past twenty-four hours, I’ve been dwelling among the influencers at Clubhouse FTB, enduring bouts of dick jokes and long glugs of White Claw, the sort of chaffing male camaraderie you’re apt to find in frat houses or hunting lodges. Among the various House Rules, which are enumerated on a whiteboard in the dining room of this mansion, are boldfaced injunctions to wake up by 10 am, to refrain from drinking Sunday through Thursday, to hold house meetings every morning at 11:30, and to “finish brand deliverables before inviting guests.”

An intriguing glimpse into TikTok’s viral content gulags.

The Journalist and The Murderer Revisited (NYRB)

On the other side, meanwhile, the same orgy of self-justification is taking place. The libel defendant, after an initial anxious moment (we all feel guilty of something, and being sued stirs the feeling up), comes to see, through the ministrations of his lawyer-therapist, that he is completely in the right and has nothing to fear. Of pleasurable reading experiences there may be none greater than that afforded by a legal document written on one’s behalf. A lawyer will argue for you as you could never argue for yourself, and, with his lawyer’s rhetoric, give you a feeling of certitude that you could never obtain for yourself from the language of everyday discourse. People who have never sued anyone or been sued have missed a narcissistic pleasure that is not quite like any other.

One of the great consolations of being writer is that no awful experience you go through isn’t also interesting. It’s probably not a healthy way to deal with trauma, but there you go. RIP Janet Malcolm, one of the greats.

It Is Obscene: A True Reflection in Three Parts

In certain young people today like these two from my writing workshop, I notice what I find increasingly troubling: a cold-blooded grasping, a hunger to take and take and take, but never give; a massive sense of entitlement; an inability to show gratitude; an ease with dishonesty and pretension and selfishness that is couched in the language of self-care; an expectation always to be helped and rewarded no matter whether deserving or not; language that is slick and sleek but with little emotional intelligence; an astonishing level of self-absorption; an unrealistic expectation of puritanism from others; an over-inflated sense of ability, or of talent where there is any at all; an inability to apologize, truly and fully, without justifications; a passionate performance of virtue that is well executed in the public space of Twitter but not in the intimate space of friendship.

I find it obscene.

I read Half A Yellow Sun earlier this year, and loved it so much that I made a mental note to go back and hoover up any other Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie writing I haven’t read yet. So this reflection on fame, purity politics and social media felt like a gift. Like anyone with even the smallest measure of public profile, I’ve experienced the phenomenon where someone you’ve previously helped turns on you because that’s now the expedient thing to do. It’s so weird, apart from anything else; I always wonder if people somehow assume you’ll never see their weaselly turncoat jeering . . . or do they not (and never did) think of you as a real person, with flaws and feelings?

In My Day, Lad, We Had Proper Music with Synths and Male Voice Choirs

(The B-side to this was also a banger, FYI.)

Quick Links

  1. “This is what his show is: The totally correct opinions [Aaron Sorkin] would have had about various things, back in 2010, spoken aloud by some of America's finest working actors, grafted onto a workplace rom-com about incredibly unpleasant men.” (Salon’s Alex Pareene on The Newsroom, 2012)

  2. “The block was abandoned. It sat there, on its side, getting rained on, hailed on, fouled by birds, for more than 30 years. After a while, it became a fixed part of the landscape of Florence. People and buildings changed all around it, regimes rose and fell, but the monumental block never moved. Residents began to call it, with some mixture of respect and mockery, ‘the Giant.’” A 2016 NYT piece about how weak ankles endangered the future of Michelangelo’s David.

  3. Want to understand how World Rugby came to its decision on players who have a testosterone advantage? This podcast with sport. scientist Ross Tucker is a great tour through the evidence, from someone who changed their position 180 degrees as they worked through the science. Stay to the end where he therapeutically explains that sporting bodies haven’t looked into the issue properly until now because they are run by men, who aren’t affected personally.

  4. Beautiful interactive dissection of a painting by the only female Impressionist, Berthe Morisot (New York Times).

  5. “Many outsiders wondered why the Islamic State started its reign of terror by reviving the Islamic practice of sex slavery, rather than focusing first on much more attractive Islamic practices such as charity and kindness, then easing into the nasty stuff. I believe this is the answer: ISIS wanted true believers, but not just any true believers; they wanted the most disagreeable and transgressive ones first.” Graeme Wood on why converts are over-represented among jihadis. (The Atlantic)

  6. Hadley Freeman on Ethel Rosenberg (Guardian).

  7. There is something so pure about Tom Hiddleston, so unselfconscious. Here he is murdering Man in the Mirror. Here is his weird Chinese vitamin commercial. Here he is doing a Robert de Niro impression in front of Robert de Niro.

The Spark is back on Radio 4 later this month. In the meantime, you can listen to all previous episodes on Audible.