Paul Beatty’s Literature From Los Angeles Class

OV: You teach an MFA class at Columbia called Literature from Los Angeles. Why didyou decide to do that?

PB: Why? I guess my reason is twofold. I stole the idea from a friend of mine who actually taught a class like that. She’s always complaining, “These kids never have any setting!” So I wanted to talk about setting and what setting means, not just in terms of place but what the notions of setting are. So it’s partly that. And partly a way of getting the students to read stuff they haven’t read before. So we read Chester Himes, we read Michael Jaime-Becerra; we read Wanda Coleman, we read Karen Tei Yamashita; we readBret Easton Ellis, we read Bukowski. We read a ton of stuff.

I’d like to take the class Paul Beatty lays out in this LitHub interview.  Sent me to learn about Chester Himes.

Mike Davis in City of Quartz: Excavating the Future of Los Angeles, describing the prevalence of racism in Hollywood in the 1940s and ’50s, cites Himes’ brief career as a screenwriter for Warner Brothers, terminated when Jack L. Warner heard about him and said: “I don’t want no niggers on this lot.”[4] Himes later wrote in his autobiography:

Up to the age of thirty-one I had been hurt emotionally, spiritually and physically as much as thirty-one years can bear. I had lived in the South, I had fallen down an elevator shaft, I had been kicked out of college, I had served seven and one half years in prison, I had survived the humiliating last five years of Depression in Cleveland; and still I was entire, complete, functional; my mind was sharp, my reflexes were good, and I was not bitter. But under the mental corrosion of race prejudice in Los Angeles I became bitter and saturated with hate.

 


Should we boycott The Beverly Hills Hotel?

George Clooney says yes.  The reason why is because this hotel, along with nine other fancy hotels, the Bel-Air here and some in London and France, are owned by the Sultan of Brunei.  Clooney:

At the head of it all is the Sultan of Brunei who is one of the richest men in the world. The Big Kahuna. He owns the Brunei Investment Agency and they in turn own some pretty spectacular hotels.

A couple of years ago two of those hotels in Los Angeles, The Bel-Air and The Beverly Hills Hotel were boycotted by many of us for Brunei’s treatment of the gay community. It was effective to a point. We cancelled a big fundraiser for the Motion Picture Retirement Home that we’d hosted at the Beverly Hills Hotel for years. Lots of individuals and companies did the same. But like all good intentions when the white heat of outrage moves on to the hundred other reasons to be outraged, the focus dies down and slowly these hotels get back to the business of business.

But now there’s a new law going into place in Brunei.  Says Clooney:

The date April 3rd has held a unique place in our history over the years. Theologians and astronomers will tell you that Christ was crucified on that date.

(what?)

On April 3rd Harry Truman signed the Marshall Plan, arguably the greatest postwar intervention in the history of man. The first portable cellphone call was made on April 3rd. Marlon Brando was born on that day.

But this April 3rd will hold its own place in history. On this particular April 3rd the nation of Brunei will begin stoning and whipping to death any of its citizens that are proved to be gay. Let that sink in. In the onslaught of news where we see the world backsliding into authoritarianism this stands alone.

Here’s the thing though.  The last execution of any kind in Brunei was in 1957.

It’s not like they’re stoning people all the time.  The 1957 execution actually happened while Brunei was a UK protectorate.

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, four years ago:

In 2014, a 24-year-old Saudi Arabian man was sentenced to three years detention and 450 lashes after a Medina court found him guilty of “promoting the vice and practice of homosexuality”, after he was caught using Twitter to arrange dates with other men.[18]

A year ago, in Hollywood:

On Wednesday night, M.B.S. was welcomed to a Hollywood dinner hosted by producer Brian Grazer and his wife Veronica, alongside William Morris Endeavor boss Ari Emanuel, who is finalizing a deal with M.B.S. for a $400 million stake in Emanuel’s talent agency. The guest list was saturated with executives, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Disney’s Bob Iger, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel, as well as tech entrepreneur Kobe Bryant, whom the prince reportedly made a special request to meet. Having traded his traditional ceremonial garb for a suit, M.B.S. kibitzed with former Trump aide Dina Powell and Vice co-founder Shane Smith; discussed the exploding use of Snapchat in Saudi Arabia; and asked Kobe how he got his Oscar. Topics that were deemed off-limits included the 32-year-old’s bombing campaign in Yemen, which has killed thousands of civilians; his abduction of Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, in November; and the decidedly un-Hollywood-like repression of independent media and journalists, one of whom was recently imprisoned for five years for “insulting” the royal court.

And guess what?  The Four Seasons

is 45% owned by the Kingdom Holding Company of Saudi Arabia!

For whatever reason, Brunei likes to fantasize, pretend, and profess to having Sharia law. Hollywood likes to judge them for that, while obviously not being serious about caring about human rights in countries where it’s more important to do business and whose hotels it would be more inconvenient to boycott.

One of the easiest things in the world is to point out hypocrisy.  I think George Clooney is cool.  But why are we always picking on poor Brunei?  Because it’s easy?

What we’re pretending to be mad about, what we’re pretending to do about it, what Brunei is pretending their punishments are: it’s all make-believe.

I will boycott the Beverly Hills Hotel I guess.  But I’ll be sad about it because I think it’s a beautiful, cool landmark.  I especially like the Fountain Coffee Room.

I predict in a few years we will once again forget about our mission to improve things in Brunei.


The truth is the truth, all around the world

Tuned in to see Tracy light up Jussie but really found the advice around 2:20-2:50 to be succinct and profound.


Visualization

Vernon smiles and then, as motivation is one of her key themes, she continues. “Looking back, I didn’t motivate myself in a good way for that race. I motivated myself by imagining the Chinese flag going up the Olympic flagpole. They were our main rivals and that was how I pushed myself. Then I’m standing on the podium in Beijing. The Chinese flag is in the middle and I’m living my nightmare. Since I’ve retired I see things differently – but a part of me will always think: ‘That was your chance, and you blew it.’”

Fascinated by this Guardian piece on Annie Vernon and her book, Mind Games: Determination, Doubt and Lucky Socks: An Insider’s Guide to the Psychology of Elite Athletes.  Pumping yourself up by visualizing your worst nightmare does sound kind of depleting.

We had one meeting several months later where we analysed our splits and established that the Chinese had a phenomenal last 500m. Did we ever confront exactly what went on the year before? No. This week was the first time Fran and I spoke in detail about it. I asked Fran: ‘How do you feel about Beijing? How do you explain to yourself what happened?’ My take was that we were so desperate to win we arrived there terrified we might mess up. That tension affected us.”

Vernon is at peace now and able to see a fresh outcome. “In lots of ways Beijing led me to Mind Games because I wanted to do something in elite sport that left me feeling positive. I didn’t want that to be the defining feature of my career or my life. Maybe one day, rather than the woman who stood on the podium in Beijing wishing she was anywhere but there, I’ll be known more as the author of Mind Games.”

 

 


Shrimp

New Orleans heaved a collective sigh of relief when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that Gulf seafood was safe to eat.  The sigh was premature.  The FDA made its assessment using the model of a 176-pound adult who ate, for example, just four shrimp per week.  Yes 75% of women in the United States weigh less than this, as do nearly all children.  Gulf residents also generally consume a far larger and more diverse seafood diet than the one considered by the FDA…

from this incredible atlas of New Orleans.


Suttree

Moving stuff around in my house I found the handwritten list of words I had to look up from Suttree, by Cormac McCarthy, and their definitions.

Trull: a prostitute or a trollop.

Tellurian: an inhabitant of Earth.

Feels like I used to have a lot more spare time.

Suttree is set along the river in Knoxville, TN.

If you think Suttree might be for you, try the first sentence:

Dear friend now in the dusty clockless hours of the town when the streets lie black and steaming in the wake of the watertrucks and now when the drunk and the homeless have washed up in the lee of walls in alleys or abandoned lots and cats go forth highshouldered and lean in the grim perimeters about, now in these sootblacked brick or cobbled corridors where lightwire shadows make a gothic harp of cellar doors no soul shall walk save you.


Highlights for Children

On the suggestion of Neomarxisme I got a copy of this book, which he said was a pretty readable roundup of the big theories in anthropology and a history of the field.  I love that kinda book.  I bought a used copy, which the seller noted was somewhat highlighted.  I enjoy books that are a little marked up, feels fun and human.  But the previous reader really went nuts!

TAUGHT