Berlin, day and night, now,  looks like a De Chirico painting. One very nearly has the trains and buses to oneself. I popped into a supermarket for an emergency supply of one blue can of smoked almonds and could picture myself on the security camera’s abandoned screens,  monitored with timestamped machine boredom from very high and forgotten angles, up and down each empty aisle, stopping here and there to peer more closely, without touching,  at a bottle or a bag, youthful spring in my step and an imperceptible temptation to sing an unselfconscious aria as I eventually reached for the can of almonds. Not quite there yet.

(The Edeka at the train station at Friedrichstrasse converted to weirdly-demoralizing cash-handling machines at the check-outs, instead of humans, late last year [I stopped shopping there as a result]… and a Rewe we frequent installed stations for self-check-out around the same time: foreknowledge? Zeitgeist? Winking clues of The Kafkan Trap?)

Anyone who ventures outside these days has the city to his/her self. How long before I’m pissing up high on the big faces of the bus-shelter adverts at noon? Shouting loony manifestos at the top of my lungs during abandoned rush hours in gusty-blank,  rolling-can intersections, all got up in spandex or plaid, a bucket on my head like old Don? It’s the 1960s,  low-budget Sci Fi Golden Age, Post-Pandemic,  End of the World Fantasy come true. A .0000001%er’s fantasy made real.

I’m thinking of suggesting to Wife that we play a little game:  we spread a blanket on the living room floor, give Daughter a picnic lunch and three DVDs to keep her busy for four hours,  each leave home, on foot,  at slightly different times and arrange to cross paths in front of the fountain at Viktoria Luise Platz, or in front of the church at Zionskirchplatz,  or under the elevated U-Bahn tracks at Kottbusser Tor, right there at the center of the complicated roundabout, and we pretend to be strangers, we pretend to have met by chance,  The Last Man and Last Woman, and we…. share a can of smoked almonds. She may also have a copy of Anne Sexton’s Transformations in her tiny backpack. She can step out of her black leotard in the street; she can gambol and sprint in her bare feet there. You know I’ve never (ever) seen the shadow of my erection on tarmac… ?

Maybe they should do this every spring?




John Steppling demonstrates that we are not only free to think thoughts that are not sanctioned by the “Unofficial Committee for the Strict Control of Discourse Concerning The So-Called Pandemic”… but that we are free to think thoughts above the heads of those who stand to imagine they will profit most from our cattle-like panics and these, our farm-like rules… and thereby exercise the kind of Free Will that makes a mind worth having:

(brought to my attention by Jeff at BLCKDGRD)

“Now, running alongside any of this are the questions of western capital, the plan or opportunistic appropriation of a pandemic, however mild it may actually be, and the reflexive impulse toward punishment. The more the state employs language of care the more certain one feels that a guilty verdict has been issued, and suddenly time itself stretches out before a public that senses extreme hardship is the penalty phase of this inquisition. And that the health of everyone will suffer far greater impairment from anxiety, stress, and the feeling of confinement that is being enforced by decree and threat of force, outside all democratic process. Don’t travel, don’t touch, and with this an entire prefabricated vocabulary — flatten the curve, social distancing, etc.”





(cited from various official sources, with prefatory commentary)

NB: Wash your hands. Ordinary face masks/ scarves provide no protection against viruses, which are orders of magnitude smaller than pollen and are only visible under an electron microscope. Blocking a virus with a scarf is like blocking cigarette smoke with a picket fence.

NB: The constantly-used term “Coronavirus” doesn’t mean much, as “Coronaviruses are actually one of the many types of viruses that can cause the common cold”. Mainstream Media needs to use the term “COVID-19” more rigorously to promote clarity on an already unclear topic (for example: what are the *exclusive* symptoms of a “Covid-19” infection? How are people being tested? Are the tests reliable? Are projected numbers being confused with “real” ones? What constitutes a “pandemic”? Is the term being used in a literary, or scientific, sense?).

NB: Is the widespread (but intermittent) use of Hand-Sanitizers, of varying quality, breeding a parallel strain of sanitizer-resistant bacteria? (Is that the next Plague? Can it be monetized?)

NB: Berlin’s cavalier attitude toward “COVID-19” safety precautions, combined with its low mortality numbers, might be called “The Miracle of Berlin.” (Should Theologians be consulted?)

Some Facts:

  1. “The 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic was confirmed to have been transmitted to Germany on 27 January 2020, when the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Bavaria.”
  1. “The first deaths, a 89-year-old woman in Essen and a 78-year-old man in Heinsberg, were reported on 9 March.”
  1. “Shortly after 1:00 p.m. (March 18, 2020) the number of infected people in Germany hits 10,000 and skyrockets to 12,000 in the evening.”
  1. “This Friday March 20, 2020 Berlin has also seen its first death from the Coronavirus. The deceased man was 95 years old and suffered from serious underlying illnesses, announced the Senat Department for Health.”
  1. “March 21, 2020:  A second person infected with Coronavirus has died in Berlin, an 81-year-old. The Senat has announced the closure of all restaurants from tomorrow (March 22). Only take away or delivery options will remain. Gatherings of more than 10 people have been banned.”
  1. As of 22 March 2020, Germany has reported 21,890 cases, 92 deaths and 209 recoveries
  1. Population of Germany: 82 million
  1. It is estimated that between two and ten million people are afflicted (by The Flu) in Germany every season. In a severe flu epidemic, as in the 2014/2015 season, more than 21,000 deaths were estimated. However, even moderate influenza outbreaks can claim the lives of several thousand people who die as a result of the infection”
  1. “Angela Merkel tells the Germans this crisis “was the biggest challenge since World War II.'” (Was this remark impromptu?)
  1. “Monday morning brief, March 23 A second Berliner dies of corona: a 70-year-old man” (erratum: they either mean a THIRD Berliner has died or they’re correcting the info on the second death, which was initially reported as being an “81-year-old”).
  • “Senat orders “Ausgangsbeschränkung”, which means everyone is supposed to stay at home until further notice. Exceptions include: food shopping, work, volunteering, seeing a doctor, psychotherapist or physiotherapist, blood donations, seeing spouses and exercising one’s right of contact with one’s children, visiting old and sick people (unless in a home or hospital), accompanying someone needing assistance, terminal care and funerals within the close family circle, leaving and returning to Berlin straight from or to one’s home, sports outside with anyone living in the same household or one other person but no other groups, looking after animals (including dog walks), tending to gardens and farming land, attending events that are still permitted (such as court hearings), exams, urgent meetings at court, at the Amt a lawyer’s or notary’s office, subpoenas, solitary prayer at a church, synagogue or mosque.”

How about exceptions granted for checking for spare change in vending machine coin-return slots? Or for butterfly-hunting? Or visiting one’s gypsy palm-reader in her riverside tent? Or visiting one’s mistress with expensive gifts…?




The Futile Facebook Outburst:


“Unlike Television, which is, for technical reasons, unilateral in its presentation (its “information” only travels one way, from source to target audience, and is not editable by said target), Facebook could be, as a medium of communication and intellectual exchange, almost anything (genuinely useful) that we choose to make it. We could turn Facebook into the world’s largest philosophical discussion if we wanted, or into a repository for fine arts culture with greater reach than any museum in history. It doesn’t need to be an echo chamber for vapid riffs and witless propaganda and unfiltered panics. The point being that the .000001% already have their megaphones (Hollywood, TV, Radio, New York Times, the NYer, et al)… why are we letting them dominate a medium that could just as easily be ours… and which could just as easily be a counter-voice, or corrective, to programmatic content that clearly serves us all worse than poorly?”






One Half of a Correspondence featuring Literary-Critiques expressed across Several Plague Spring Mornings


The Return of the Repressed aka The Function of Negro Grotesque in the Second-Rate Lit of Acceptable Black Scribblers  (especially in the ones YOU champion, Liberals!)


On Sun, Mar 22, 2020 at 3:37 AM Steven Augustine wrote:
Dear F_________
I have Ruffin’s book and I read quite a bit of it; I was tipped off to the book’s existence by an interview, early last year, in the Paris Review. Breaking this topic into two components, Style vs Message: I find Ruffin’s Style insufficiently-developed. And re: Message: my own take on the technical issue of addressing Racism with Lit is that the default position (of narrating the perils of Race from the POV of the victims) is a dead end because everyone “knows” that “Racism is Bad” already. It’s like writing an anti-War book from the POV of a lowly soldier exposed to War’s horrors and torments: I can imagine that was effective c. WWI. But now? It’s merely standard.
If I were to write an explicitly anti-War book, I’d play the Devil’s Advocate and write it from the POV of a war-loving general, and present the general’s case in such a way that the reader “understood” and “empathized with” the general’s off-putting POV (and even laughed at our general’s favorite jokes). I think that would elevate the material above the mundane condition of polemic. Maybe the possibility of certain self-recognitions, in the readers of such a book, might be disturbingly useful?
My specialty as a novel-writer is shifting into Free Indirect mode (laugh) to present the POV of fairly likable, mildly Racist and/or Sexist Liberal White Men and Women. Everyone knows “Racism is Bad” but does Everyone know how Racist they are?
When I was a cute young feller in the 1970s and 1980s it was common for my Liberal White friends to compare me to Black Celebrities I looked absolutely nothing like. I thought, time and time again, “Can’t they SEE me? Why are they looking at me and seeing someone else entirely?”
I wasn’t “invisible”. I was a blank screen displaying their favorite projections all day. My Black friends, meanwhile, were busy internalizing such projections and doing reasonably good jobs of making them feel real: a spiritually-deafening feedback loop.
But, even then. Racism is just a side-topic. On the level of Lit-qua-Lit, there are more pressing matters!


On Sun, Mar 22, 2020 at 11:03 AM Steven Augustine wrote:

Dear F_____:
You don’t think the “pleas of ants” part of that sentence is sophomoric and devoid of imagery,  verisimilitude or meaning…   and an unnecessary drag on the aerodynamics of the sentence? I like the sensory-transmission  of the character’s “feel(ing)” of the “pebbles in the macadam” part.  But the majority of the narrative, at that point in the book, reads like the stingy récit of a Teleplay. It’s just very simple storytelling. With a different vocabulary it could be Dan Brown; it’s very YA. I need more than that to keep me busy with a book. A thousand books as good were published that month to zero fanfare (and rightly so). Why this book? Why this writer?
Looming larger than technical quibbles is my issue with the psychology of  Ruffin’s (and Beatty’s) brand of “satire” (and Gay’s brand of “social critique”): all of these books are full of  Negro Grotesques.  Black flunkies, quacks, buffoons, rapists, kapos, idiots, animals, killers, medical oddities and eternal victims: the socio-psychological history of Black Lit. And Ruffin opens the book in question with such Negro Grotesques (shades of Ralph Ellison’s Battle Royal) and his Protag is a Negro Grotesque. Why? What is Ruffin’s actual target? Negro Grotesque books sell. They win awards. They garner Liberal praise. But why? (Rhetorical question).
Not for me!

and, finally

To: F ______
Mon, Mar 23 at 9:32 AM
Dear F_______
We’ll have to take our bows and salute each other and agree to disagree on the question of Literary Value, but the Social Issues angle is thornier.  A writer who creates yet more Negro Grotesques, in an effort to address the issue of Colorism,  is like a fire brigade dealing with a fire in the parlor by spraying the whole mansion with DDT.
Where are the Jewish Grotesques in Philip Roth’s, or Saul Bellow’s, or Norman Mailer’s books? A mere fool is not a Grotesque and neither is the earthy or vulgar character.   The flawed-but-admirable is not Grotesque. The sympathetically-tragic is not Grotesque. Ruffin’s protagonist is a Grotesque. As is Bigger Thomas. As are Roxane Gay’s Black rapist-characters (ironically, it was a white who raped Roxane in real life). Just as Toni Morrison’s Beloved fetishizes a Black Grotesque. I’d say a Black Lit that wasn’t toxic with internalized Inferiority would, should, if anything, feature White Grotesques to the point of cliché. This is the opposite of what happens.
The Ins and Outs of the Race Business are tricky to navigate, because Race is a Racist Taxonomy (it only exists, as it exists, to police a hierarchy). The Creoles are not a dilute/decadent version of “Authentic (very black) Blacks,”  for one thing, and the Colorism behind the practice of Authenticity graded according to skin-darkness (inverting the equally-absurd system for grading Beauty) is just as bad as all the other Colorisms. The generally-approved way of framing/discussing “Blackness,” in America,  is a kinder, gentler Racist Essentialism that really is just another leg, on a many-legged thing, supporting America’s centuries-encoded superstitions regarding Physical Appearance.
Everything in America, after all this time, is still in its “proper” place. More than ever, even. What’s new? The rise of the (Black) Kapo Class.  How does an aspirant get admitted to the order? Cooning.
I think Ruffin has internalized too much of the rotgut America won’t stop baptizing him in. I think that specific problem shows up, symptomatically, in his book. I think the “white” Americans in charge (of who gets signed/published) promote that pathology for obvious reasons, and they’ve been remarkably consistent for a century. They love, they embrace, they reward and spotlight damaged second-raters: the psychology of the Gate-Keepers will sculpt, directly, the range of what gets through the Gate.
Prince’s beloved breakthrough persona (a bisexual pimp) is a Pop version of the problem, just as much as Tyler Perry’s, and Paul Beatty’s: it’s all just “delicious” Cooning. It supports the everything-in-its-place hierarchy, it puts a mitigating fence of perpetual condescension around Blacks, it presents Blacks as “soulful” but fundamentally incapable of higher-order (Beckett-like, Rothko-like, Kubrick-like) stuff. America is the world’s premier Nigger Factory and production is up because business is booming.

Follow-Up Reading (embarrassing flagship examples):

The Color Purple-Alice Walker (summary)

“Celie, the protagonist and narrator of The Color Purple, is a poor, uneducated, fourteen-year-old black girl living in rural Georgia. Celie starts writing letters to God because her father, Alphonso, beats and rapes her. Alphonso has already impregnated Celie once. Celie gave birth to a girl, whom her father stole and presumably killed in the woods. Celie has a second child, a boy, whom her father also steals. Celie’s mother becomes seriously ill and dies. Alphonso brings home a new wife but continues to abuse Celie.”


The Bluest Eye-Toni Morrison (summary)

“Cholly returns home one day and finds (his daughter) Pecola washing dishes. With mixed motives of tenderness and hatred that are fueled by guilt, he rapes her. When Pecola’s mother finds her unconscious on the floor, she disbelieves Pecola’s story and beats her. Pecola goes to Soaphead Church, a sham mystic, and asks him for blue eyes. Instead of helping her, he uses her to kill a dog he dislikes.

Claudia and Frieda find out that Pecola has been impregnated by her father, and unlike the rest of the neighborhood, they want the baby to live. They sacrifice the money they have been saving for a bicycle and plant marigold seeds. They believe that if the flowers live, so will Pecola’s baby. The flowers refuse to bloom, and Pecola’s baby dies when it is born prematurely. Cholly, who rapes Pecola a second time and then runs away, dies in a workhouse. Pecola goes mad, believing that her cherished wish has been fulfilled and that she has the bluest eyes.”

With Negro-Grotesque-reliant Literary Champions of Color like these, who needed dyed-in-the-wool (but talented) racists like Flannery O’Connor or  Allen Tate? The Acceptable Black Writer affects to aim Her/His Literary Weapon at Hegemony, pulls the trigger and sustains debilitating injury after debilitating injury, for Blacks, instead.  While I’m sure there are those for whom this is entertaining stuff…

… may we please have different Gate Keepers…?


Just because it’s a PLAGUE SPRING doesn’t mean my Literary Standards have slipped.





  1. 1)with regard to “Ausgangsbeschränkung” – here in maryland our governor has not told us to stay inside, but he has told non-essential businesses to close – when i heard this i wondered if i would be getting my printed newspaper delivered the next day – although such an act could be “essential” as part of the “information” sector, or the “transportation” sector, the explicit descriptions of each in the department of homeland security document i was referred to do not specifically include newspapers and their delivery

    now i can say – i got the news printed on paper today, oh boy

    and i say so with a sincere attitude of gratitude

    the newspaper missus charley and i receive has as its motto ‘without fear or favor’ – the editor, roula khalaf, says today that their headquarters, bracken house in the heart of the city of london, is all but deserted – people are working from “makeshift offices” at home

    they have printed several letters i have sent them over the past decade or so – most recently my defense of bernie sanders from the charge that he was attempting a hostile takeover of the democratic party – i said the hostile takeover was decades ago – he was trying to take it back

    2)with regard to the ‘negro grotesque’ in literature – because of my advanced age my passage through the school system included neither of the novels you summarize – i probably will never read them – who knows if it’s good or bad?

    2a)i am not sure i will ever read a novel again, but if the novel-reading mood hits me i have on hand copies of tristam shandy, frankenstein, don quixote, gulliver’s travels [which i did read once, when i was eleven, but thought i would like to read again – i bought an annotated edition], fathers and crows [sent to me by my close personal cyberfriend j__ p______], the magic kingdom [likewise], and personal recollections of joan of arc – to name a few that come to mind without examining the bookshelves

    novelist and poet robert louis stevenson – and quite frankly, i am not sure if i read any of his novels or not – noted a “happy thought’ in “a child’s garden of verses”

    The world is so full
    of a number of things
    I’m sure we should all
    Be as happy as kings.


    1. MC!

      Daughter and I just got back from a trip “downtown” to shop in one of our favorite grocery stores and as we stepped off the #12 tram, we saw, across the street, at the defiant little skater-park hangout where people (mostly kids) had been gathering despite The Plague, lots of blue cop lights flashing and something like half-a-dozen cops breaking up the party in the polite way cops break up parties in the middle class parts of Berlin. Though what’s the point when people are freely riding the public transpo? Not that I’m complaining at the mild absurdity: I’m grateful that the Germans are still self-conscious about jackbootsesque public policy enactments.

      Re: novel-reading: I never do it to “escape” or to pretend a given narrative is true… I’m too old for that… but I do it to spend time in the ornate paper mind of a chosen genius; I do it for the winks and asides and the companionable nudges in my ribs. I can NOT abide the dead language of pro-forma, market-tested, cliché-reeking commercial “story telling”. Novels of the Higher Order type are life-enriching in that they are, at the very least, generous notes from another human who either lived and died or who is dying, and was/is perplexed about it all as we are, and what can all parties do but shrug at the Cosmic Joke and relish the Intensities on either side of the novel’s garden wall? As far as I can tell we all belong to the rarest club (the Sentience Club) in the known universe, and membership is fleeting, and a novel is High Point we can return to as many times as we choose… like being able to replay the first kiss, the first bee sting, the first meal we ever cooked for ourselves… at will! I mean, sure, we can do that with records, too, but the dependency on hardware (and electricity) in that case diminishes the magic, just a wee bit, for me. Listen: read the “Manx Martin” passages of (DeLillo’s) Underworld and see if that doesn’t turn your socks to argyle…

      Re: The Negro Grotesque in North American Lit: the situation, and its causes, are so blatant, and so blatantly an artifact of post-Plantation life, that I won’t read a scholarly article, on the problem, I’m sure, until I’m 200 years old. As in: imagine how “The Jewish Novel” would have developed, in Nzi Grmny, if things hadn’t gone *quite* so far as WWII, and the Camps; if the antisemitism, in other words, had remained at a scalding simmer rather than boiling over: imagine how those Jewish Novels, published by Aryan publishers, would have read; imagine the subject matter; the characters. All these novels would be full of Jewish Grotesques because all the writers who would be offered publishing contracts would be of a certain type. And everyone in this Alternate Nzi Grmny Universe would have thought everything was just fucking peachy…

      Re: Robert Louis Stevenson: Beloved Wife was close to a (very young) direct descendant of RLS and we tried to look him up when we were in Vienna! There is a Teutonic branch of that family, you know. I wish I could say more but…


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