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Where, in addition to vomiting my various musings on journalism, political philosophy, literature, and film, I try to occasionally write 

Deconstructing the Deconstructor: Foucault, Ricoeur, and the Violence of History

The aim of my critique is two-fold: firstly, to demonstrate the possibility of—and the theoretical need for—genuine freedom in history in the form of suspending violence; secondly, to show that Foucault’s practice of history, for all that it seeks to expose the violence inherent to various discourses within and about history, is itself a form of violence. The second critique follows from the first: Foucault’s theory of history is violent because it unjustifiably denies (as revealed by a comparison with Ricoeur) the possibility of non-violence.

Isolationist Intentions

In 1984, historian Ronald Toby published State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan, a text that aimed to upend Japanese historiography as we knew it. His thesis was as simple as it was significant: sakoku (isolation) had never existed in early Tokugawa Japan. Deriding the term as ignorantly eurocentric, Toby argued that the shogunate had in fact maintained healthy international relations within East Asia, establishing a coherent set of foreign policies that sought to replace the long-standing Sinocentric diplomatic order with a Japan-centric one. Only a few years later, Reinier Hesselink published Prisoners from Nambu, in which he sought to restore the historiographical orthodoxy that Toby had overturned. Toby, Hesselink argued, had gone too far in revising Japan’s isolationist history.

We Meant Well (But Still Screwed Up)

"We Meant Well" provides van Buren's first-hand account of the American military's attempt to reconstruct Iraqi society in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq War. His narrative, like the events it documents, quickly devolves into surrealist absurdism. I would say it'd be funny if it weren't so sad, but in reality it is funny: funny and sad. Van Buren is not a political scientist or even an academic, a reality reflected in the informality of his prose. This casual style of writing actually amplifies the book's power, because it enables the uninhibited transmission of van Buren's frustration, despair, and maddened disbelief. You feel all these things, and you can only laugh. That's clearly how van Buren coped with the bureaucratic insanity he faced, and his writing deliberately maximizes the comedic potential inherent to the American military's fantastical attempts to plant the seeds of Iraqi democracy.

The Forgotten Lessons of Khan

What we find then, is that the mainstream news media’s overarching narrative of the Khan feud as a moral violation threatening to implode the Trump candidacy was largely a fiction. Reporters narrated a drama largely confined to the political establishment itself, and then proceeded to graft the dynamics of that drama onto the broader American electorate. This move failed to account for a basic reality: the Republican congressmen’s condemnation of Trump did not translate to voter condemnation of Trump. The news media and the political class it covered had a mutual understanding of what constituted politically unacceptable terrain, but this was an understanding that neither Trump nor his supporters, in the media and otherwise, shared. As such, the very vocabulary with which the mainstream news media framed the feud, as one which desecrated universal notions of human decency, fell out-of-sync with Trump’s own view of the conflict as yet another battle with yet another political opponent.

We're All Stories in the End: On the Moral Pitfalls of Narrative Journalism

The writer, in translating a blood-and-flesh human being into sentences and periods, reduces his subject to a mere character and thereby dehumanizes him. In treating my subjects as characters and their lives as stories, I risked trivializing them. The moment writers presume to impose a narrative structure on a fellow human being’s life—converting their ugly impulses to “character flaws,” their psychological struggles to “character arcs,” their agonized perseverance to “character development,” their emotional wounds to “drama,” their worldviews to “themes”—the moment they do all of that, they risk obscuring the humanity they’re trying to illuminate, risk burying their subject by trying to unearth them. Forcing a person into a classical narrative model is like forcing a sheet of glass into a too-narrow frame: you might make it fit, but the resulting cracks preempt an even remotely recognizable reflection. What then is the point?

What Writing Is

Think of that one line from the poem Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley: “Tell that its sculptor well those passions read.” Even accounting for the differences between modern English and that of 1811, it’s a strange phrase. Yet in rhythm and meaning, it is utterly delightful. Change the order of any two words, and you’ve disturbed the delicate equilibrium of the whole house of cards. Mesmerizing, yet fragile. When you’re dealing with a unit as small and yet as essential as the sentence, it must be.
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