Around the World in 35 Minutes with my Occasional (and occasionally well-argued) commentary on YouTube threads (edited for length)…

1. How this Transgender…

…. TED speaker, Paula, who started Life as a man,  speaks on the experience of Womanity and is not pilloried as Mansplaining on Steroids (or Estrogen), is beyond my understanding.

My comment:

“She’s sharing her experience of what it’s like to be TREATED as a female.”

I think it’s more that Paula is being treated as Transgender, unless Paula is spending all her time in provincial backwaters where they haven’t heard of such a thing. Paula doesn’t read as “female”. I knew a Transgender (male-to-female) person who read as “female” (unless you knew otherwise; the timbre of her voice was a little deeper than you’d expect for her petite size) and she was hit on, constantly, by straight males (full disclosure: I came this close to sleeping with her). She would have been a better source on what it’s like to be Transgender and treated as a biological female.

Through sheer force of personality, and professional speaking skills, Paula is eliding the difference… but there is a difference, and what she’s describing is, in fact, a relatively new thing in the history of this civilization: average people who are socialized into treating other people as the gender those other people would like to be. Which is an interesting topic of its own.



2. Jordan Peterson

I ignored the phenom as long as I could; then Zizek weighed in with an uncannily toothless and unfocused Hit Piece. So I watched some of Peterson’s video content: this is what the fuss is about? Reminding me of The Human Centipede… casual, glancing, half-heard references to which absolutely horrified me for months until a friend forced me to watch (maybe a fifth of) a copy of the film on his laptop at an U-Bahn station. No one told me it was a comedy.

Also reminding me of that sequence in Python’s Life of Brian in which apocalyptic pseudo-Messiahs of increasing strangeness strut their stuffs along a promenade in paranoid Jerusalem, offering something for every End Times Shopper’s taste: very funny.  But YouTube’s proliferating Gurus, Demagogues and Crack Pot Messiahs are much, much funnier than that.

I watched half a dozen Peterson vids, began to wonder if he was closeted, then commented:

This is a very old con; the “IQ” issue sets Peterson up as a Judge of Intrinsic Human Value… his followers are clamoring to be among the “Chosen”. If he weren’t saying much of what so many of you already think (and want to believe is true), he couldn’t enchant you. But if he’s saying what you all already think, how bright can he be? 

If scandal doesn’t problematize his corny image in the next year or so, he’ll be among the trailblazers of the (“unaffiliated”) New Politicians: swaying Duh Masses in order to facilitate (continued Right-ward) policy changes… without the liabilities inherent in affiliating with one party or another. People like BHO, The Bushes, The Kennedys and The Clintons will fade into the background, interfacing mostly with the powerful, keeping the corruption hidden, while people like Peterson (and the Kardashians) wield control over their chunks of the demographic landscape.

He’ll support the status quo, make good money doing so, acquire power, develop an ever-more distancing contempt for people like you, his Useful Idiots…

… and/or he’ll come out of the closet. His wife has “beard” written all over her.



3. Does any Writer with no Sex Appeal have more content on YouTube than Will Self?

Self’s accusingly-asymmetrical face is being used to sell everything from Kafka to Techno Dystopias to Kafkan Dystopias to Kafka-Ballardian Dystopias and back. In a comment thread appended to a video of Self going jaw-to-forehead with Niall Ferguson (who is not only one of the YouTube Messiah/ Gurus I mention upthread but also winner of my recently-inaugurated William F. Buckley Award for Men Who Actually Practised Sitting in Such A Way As To Be Filmed Only At Certain Angles While They Talk Funny), I observed, about Will, in response to another comment:

“An unfavourable parallel can be drawn with Philip Roth, who managed to derive creative productivity from somewhat similar personal travails…”

Roth wisely sublimated the urge to punditry into the novel-writing… the novels themselves are his opinions. Will is not, I think, a natural novelist. He’s an extremely intelligent crank with enough verbal facility to win 9 out of 10 arguments against the unprepared (and easily flummoxed), but I think he comes off badly against more polished, or astute, pros (he made Zizek look like the long-suffering voice of reason in their last big run-in, despite the fact that Will was, unfairly, the voice of reason in that exchange).

It’s telling that bigfooted Will’s sesquipedalia is restricted to his novel-writing, largely; when he’s being a Pundit, he’s actually trying to be understood. I tossed his novel “The Butt” into the fish tank (or was it into the fireplace? Or out the rickshaw?) when I caught him describing dust as “ocherous”. Putting such a high price on a throwaway description of dust is the kind of thing he’ll wince over, one day, if he ever develops a technique finer than the brute force fracking of his Thesaurus. He could probably take Martin Amis to court over that, but formerly-clever Amis has had so many problems of his own, since Bellow (his mojo) died, that it wouldn’t be worth it…

Will’s niche, I think, is being one of the few male voices of the PC worldview who is willing to risk giving offence, which makes for good TV. Which is far from being any kind of Radical.

Again: so much of this could be sorted out if he got himself a 30-year-old girlfriend and took to wearing Kamikaze bandannas … and, yes, it’s that trivial. Life is (beautifully) trivial. Being a decent person doesn’t have to mean pretending that that isn’t so.


PS Great as-yet-unused title for a future book of Will’s (collected occasional pieces of an autobiographical nature): SELF HATRED

PPS Will looking very much like the bookishly little-known Third Kray




And then Will and John Banville team up with a Robert Hughes lookalike to subject Joyce’s Dubliner’s to a trainspotter’s meticulous waterboarding (“Joyce is fantastic on lighting…”). Occasional cross-cuts to the audience indicates that they were all well stocked-up on their Fancy Culture Vitamins by the end of the vid. To which I added my impish distaste:

“Animated”? The bizarre convention that a worthy discussion of Lit must be rusty, musty, constipa-pompous and as narcolepsy-inducing as a very old nobody’s wake. The only things missing from this breezy chat are spray-on cobwebs and Leavis on the pipe organ. Not exactly fitting to the work of a Writer who made tea from his common law wife’s skid-marked knickers. Why no bawdy songs, dirty ditties, limericks of the (ahem) period…? You’ve turned JJ the man into the Hypocritically Respectable (Doxy-smuggling) Prelate he abhorred in life. Which is, in itself, as much flat-out comedy as we’re going to get with Dour B. O’Banville and Sneer E. O’Self flanking us… (though Will is very, very good at snorting richly for emphasis)…


4. Christ, not THIS again:


I posted the following disclaimer, In Loco Nabokovis, on a vid called NABOKOV: MY MOST DIFFICULT BOOK…


“Some of my characters are, no doubt, pretty beastly, but I really don’t care, they are outside my inner self like the mournful monsters of a cathedral facade—demons placed there merely to show that they have been booted out.”—Vladimir Nabokov, Strong Opinions
To which “Edmund” responded: 
And to which ELP responded:
And to which escarlit4 responded:
… which means they (monsters) were once inside and required booting …
To which I responded:
“which means they (monsters) were once inside and required booting”
And how would you know exactly which demons they were, in any case? By reading the conveniently-provided labels on the dark spots of the Nabokov Consciousness-X-Ray? Do you understand the distorting/ transformative lens of the literary imagination at all? Do you think Bram Stoker had a literal taste for human blood ? Do you think Dr. Seuss had a thing for rotten eggs?
Perhaps Nabokov was obsessed with power relations… the ambiguity of “weak” and “strong” in a relationship in which the “weak” can control the “strong”. Was he resentful about or obsessed with the Artist/ Critic dynamic? Was “Humbert” the middlebrow critic, Quilty the Artist and Lolita Art itself? Who knows? What compelling evidence is there, in the man’s life, on which you base your apparent conclusions?
Do you really think an intelligence as complicated as Nabokov’s could be analyzed (or prosecuted) in so facile a way? Because that’s what I find exasperating… if not repulsive… about the “debate”. So few really careful or interesting remarks, so many dumb one-liners and easy judgments… as though it’s all coming from the mouth-breathing, nose-picking audience of the Oprah Show.
Very very few people have read the book, Lolita, all the way through, fewer still with any understanding; even fewer have read, as well, both volumes of the Brian Boyd biography and Speak, Memory… and so forth… so…
…where are all these strong opinions coming from…? If you told me they were randomly generated I would believe you.
And shame on you, Mart Amis, for indulging in a fancy version of the same fallacy (from an interview in this month’s NYer):
But Nabokov presents a peculiar moral difficulty. In 1987, writing about “The Enchanter,” Amis described “the nympholepsy theme” as being “no more persistent than Nabokov’s interest in doubles, mirrors, chess, paranoia.” By 2009, he is still using the term, but one can feel him struggling toward the concession he makes two years later, when it becomes “the pedophilia theme,” the “only significant embarrassment in the Nabokov corpus,” present as it is in six of the nineteen works of fiction. There is nothing horrified or rejectionist in the critic’s evolution, but there is a distinct and tentative adjustment of the awed appraisal.
Getting Daughters, later in Life, Mart, is no excuse. When I read VN and watch his twinkle-spattered, avuncular interviews and page through those vintage photo montages of his knee-shorted butterfly excursions with secret weapon, Vera, I don’t see any species of pedo (nor much Sex of any kind); I see a man, from a very different century, who doesn’t have a superstitious fear against writing into that particular subject. I wouldn’t know, about VN, with certainty, either way, but I believe the civilized thing to do is to give the dead Writer the benefit of the doubt.
Do we do the civilized versions of anything, any more?



No YouTube comments this time. Just: poor Benchley.


Robert’s older brother, Edmund, was rushed to the Spanish–American War days after graduation from West Point (1898), and was killed almost immediately. The Benchley family were attending a public Fourth of July picnic when a bicycle messenger brought the notification telegram. In unthinking, stunned reaction, Maria Benchley cried out “Why couldn’t it have been Robert?!”, while the latter, who was nine years old, was standing by her side.


  1. Your desire to exonerate “an intelligence” like Nabokov* of every imaginable moral crime because he looked cute in his lepidopterist shorts would be embarrassing in a person who knew when to use a comma.

    Your opinions about transwomen are repulsive.**

    « what she’s describing is, in fact, a relatively new thing in the history of this civilization: average people who are socialized into treating other people as the gender those other people would like to be »

    Is this clumsy, pedestrian satire? You write so badly I can’t tell. Everyone is socialized to treat other people as if the identity they project is legitimate. Can you imagine subjecting cis people to these standards? It’s another form of the “you’re too ugly to be raped” argument, or “you’re too pretty to be a lesbian.” Many stupid, angry cis people resist letting transpeople through the gate into the garden of common human politeness, for some peculiar reason. Can’t think why.

    P.S. — A person who shares Donald Trump’s childlike fondness for ellipses shouldn’t get to vet others for “cogency and style.” The world is full of injustice tonight.

    *[ed.’s note: Looks like Elley misread this sentence: “Do you really think an intelligence as complicated as Nabokov’s could be analyzed (or prosecuted) in so facile a way?” She seems to have missed the apostrophe. Never read, then comment, angry.]

    **[ed.’s note: this seems to be the bit that sent Elley into a mind-blanking rage: I wrote that Transgender Paula, who gave a TED TALK about how it is to be treated as a woman, probably couldn’t be relating accurate impressions, since most of the people Paula interacts with probably don’t read her as a Woman but as Trans. I think that’s a reasonable assumption, given Paula’s lingeringly masculine appearance. Not a syllable of the rhetoric you may choose to throw at the issue will change that simple fact. It doesn’t mean that the subjectively ‘attractive’ Trans people, of the people who are shifting away from male, are more female than the subjectively ‘less attractive’ ones; it means that society’s perceptions have an awful lot to do with appearance. We, who live in the Post-Truth Simulocracy, sometimes forget that physical Reality remains a durably rhetoric-resistant material. Which may be where some of Elley’s rage is coming from. I’m part Irish, but if I put any effort into describing myself as Irish, the effort will be treated as comedy, or a pathetic delusion, because I’m brown; even if I were born in Dublin, my Irish identity would be treated as a cutely amusing gimmick, especially to Americans. My advice to brown Irish(wo)men is to avoid letting that get you down. ]


    1. “The world is full of injustice tonight.”

      Don’t forget to mention self-righteous ignorance…

      Oh, and re: “of every imaginable moral crime”… care to list these?

      Also: “It’s another form of the “you’re too ugly to be raped” argument, or “you’re too pretty to be a lesbian.”

      Can you walk me through your logic there…?


      “Can you imagine subjecting cis people to these standards?”

      Certainly. The next time my upper-middle class white German male right-handed friend declares himself proudly “Uighur” I’ll say, “Come now, Ralf. Don’t be foolish.”

      “A person who shares Donald Trump’s childlike fondness for ellipses shouldn’t get to vet others for “cogency and style.”

      Trump, Walter Winchell, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, T. Pynchon and I: guilty… as… charged. I’ve heard that Bela Lugosi was into periods and Oscar Wilde had a fondness for colons… there is definitely a psychopolitical component to punctuation.


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