you can’t always take the analytical position

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Normal People.  In a scene from Sally Rooney’s Normal People, Connell Waldron finds himself feeling out of place at a book reading he attends. While everyone around him is gushing about it, Connell finds himself displeased with the experience and questioning its purpose. He thinks: “Literature, in the way it appeared at these public readings, had no potential as a form of resistance to anything.” Later, he gets home and reads notes for a story he wants to write and he feels an “old beat of pleasure”. He connects these pleasures to a variety of experiences: watching a perfect goal, hearing a bit of music from a passing car. Rooney writes: “Life offers up these moments of joy despite everything.”

Moments like these are essential to Normal People which, like Rooney’s first novel Conversations with Friends, perfectly captures the tension between the political and the emotional. In this moment, although Connell finds himself incapable of connecting literature to the uneven world in which he lives, he can still recognize beauty and joy in the world. Normal People is full of social and political questions: Rooney’s characters discuss class differences as they talk about their romantic relationships; they question their access to money and the appeal for of it, the way it can be both “corrupt and sexy”; they discuss the Greek financial crisis at parties. However, the novel does not reject feelings for politics. As much as it functions as social critique, it is equally, maybe more, concerned with the ways we express our feelings, the way we shape ourselves to please other people, the moments we stay silent due to uncertainty. These things define our lives primarily, and Rooney is suggesting that they function simultaneously with the social, political and economic events that also shape our lives. It’s Rooney’s capacity to capture the tension within this relationship that makes her novels so appealing to read.

“A History of the Influencer, From Shakespeare to Instagram.” What do you think of when your hear the word ‘influencer’? Do you think about girls with itty bitty waists and big butts hawking fitness teas? Do you imagine Instagram shots of young women in six different outfits with a caption that includes the ambiguous term ‘#ad’? Can an influencer be anyone else? Laurence Scott thinks so. In “A History of the Influencer, from Shakespeare to Instagram” Scott explores the way in which influence works in our modern age. He suggests that “the social-media influencer (re: girl with the fit tea) has an eerie double in the hacker who covertly shapes political discourse” in that they are both “flourish in our increasingly networked world”. Put simply, influencers and their influence are everywhere, and take many forms. Yet many of us, including myself, resist the idea that we are influenced. Scott argues that this resistance stems from a desire to  maintain a sense of self. To accept that we are influenced in a neoliberal society is to admit that “we are neither entirely self-determining nor self-contained.” In modern neoliberal society, our greatest fear is the subsumption the individual (and his interests) to the group. Accepting that as individuals we are influenced feels, for many of us, accepting a loss of self. Discussing Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Scott suggests that “to be influenced is to be dominated--to experience an eclipse of personality.” That sounds terrifying. Yet the insistence that the individual exist their own without the interference or influence of others has failed to contribute to a well-functioning society. Adam Smith’s views on capitalism have not worked out the way he thought they would.

Resisting outside forces leads people to have a limited perspective. Over the past few years, we have seen how harmful existing in an echo chamber of your beliefs can be. It seems imperative that we open ourselves up. Maybe not to fitness teas and fast fashion brands, but to other people. At the conclusion of his article, Scott claims that the challenge we must now undertake requires us to “negotiate the inherent inauthenticity and cynicism of an influence economy” while preserving “our ability to be occupied, and perhaps changed for the better, by the alien ideas of other people.” Recently, I’ve accepted the fact that I’m influenced. I’m influenced by everything I read, watch, or listen to. But I don’t feel like my sense of self has been eliminated. In fact, I’m more aware of who I am and who I want to be. That may just be the potential of influence.

”Lie to Me” - 5 Seconds of Summer ft. Julia Michaels. Listening to 5 Seconds of Summer reminds me of being sixteen and finding joy in the most simple things, like listening to a band’s entire discography 24 hours before going to their concert. When their second album came out last summer, I was excited to regain that feeling again. But, after just one listen I found myself addicted to “Youngblood” and not much else. Recently, after succumbing to the suggestions of Spotify, I put the song “Lie to Me” (featuring Julia Michaels) on a playlist and have been obsessed since. “Lie to Me” is not revolutionary—it’s a breakup song filled with regret—but it has all the elements of the greatest bops, from lyrics that feel relatable to music that makes you want to dance at the bus stop. Add it to your summer playlist and thank me later.

The Days of Abandonment

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I'm not sure when I decided that I had to read an Elena Ferrante novel. I had been clued into the hype for a long time--EVERYBODY recommended her My Brilliant Friend series, but I didn't find myself falling for the hype. It was just another thing people loved to talk about just to talk about, like avocado toast or Snapchat filters. But then, Gabby Noone,nail polish influencer and my idol, mentioned that she had just finished the first book in the MBF series and all of a sudden I was like, all over that shit. I decided to read a book outside of the series, just incase I didn't love it and then I wouldn't feel obligated to finish the series. I grabbed Days of Abandonment when I went to the Strand (!!) which gives it an extra element of specialness.

The book took me longer to finish than expected; it's barely 200 pages but is so intense, the emotion so tangible that I had to take a break from it for a few days. The book is about a woman named Olga, whose husband one day declares that he's leaving her and is gone so quickly, I could barely close my mouth from the shock. The abandonment completely overtakes Olga and she is submerged in a haze of feelings she can't comprehend. She becomes disconnected from her body, her life, her children. and as she seeks to understand her husband's choices and her future without him, she falls deeper and deeper into abandonment. 

One of the most difficult parts of reading the book was that Olga's feelings were so intense, so raw, that the more she descended into abandonment, the more I felt as if I was losing grip with myself. There were moments when I want to grab Olga and shake her and scream at her; I felt like doing the same to myself. Ferrante writes as if she is laying everything bare and it's rare to experience such emotion in words. When I read the last page of Days of Abandonment I felt exhausted--like I'd been caught in some rapids and barely made it. That's how books should make you feel, isn't it?