I started a newsletter. A week after saying on Twitter that I would never do this. (Sorry.) First issue: peeing in snow, seven centuries of music history.


I seem to be writing a newsletter. No idea what I’m doing here.

Until yesterday, when they melted, there were these enormous shunting-togethers of discarded snow in the park—large coagulations smeared with mud, studded with decayed leaves, and riddled with holes where dogs had peed into them. Our dog, of course, was fascinated; he could not get enough of sniffing them and peeing into them himself. Stuck waiting for his attention to weaken, I found myself thinking of the new philosophical concept of “the hyperobject”: a thing so distendedly significant that it exceeds any perceptual category through which one tries to apprehend it. Climate change, for example: too big for meteorology, too big for history, too big for political science. One can do nothing but loiter—mesmerized, compelled—and contribute to the aggregation.

“A man I know who should be well informed about this tells me that when the angels play music before God they play Bach, but when they play by themselves for their own amusement they play Mozart.” —Iris Murdoch to Brigid Brophy, 31 March 1964, Living on Paper. The internet seems to believe that the originator of this witticism was the theologian Karl Barth; I’m guessing he wasn’t Iris Murdoch’s well informed man.

Our friend Peter Mendelsund (author of the new novel Same Same) recently tipped us off to the new album c. 1300–c. 2000, in which pianist Jeremy Denk plays his way through seven centuries. It’s kind of like reading through all five volumes of Richard Taruskin’s Oxford History of Western Music but in under two hours and you’re just listening. Or rather, I imagine it would be like reading all of Taruskin, since I haven’t actually read Taruskin. Since pianos didn’t exist in the 14th century, Denk has made his own arrangements of early chansons and madrigals, which is of course musicologically impure but has the effect of abstracting away the early-period-instrumentness of those compositions as one usually hears them and one has the impression of listening instead to the evolution of mere music.

Tween boy, talking to peers, overheard on the sidewalk last week: “It’s true. They rub their cloacas together. That’s how they do it. A cloaca is literally a birdhole.”

New: Last week, on Steamboats Are Ruining Everything, I wrote an accordionable line-by-line commentary about “The Palinode,” a double-sonnet from 1600 about the transience of pleasure, beauty, soap bubbles, and praise. (I did this kind of commentary once before, years ago, with Thomas Wyatt.) I also wrote a post suggesting that brick-and-mortar bookstores might thrive if publishers were to set books’ retail prices. In theory yes, the economist Mathieu Perona wrote in to tell me, but in practice, it doesn’t necessarily work out that way. When Perona wrote his doctorate on the policy of fixed book prices in France and elsewhere, he discovered that in the real world, fixed book prices don’t always correlate with the flourishing of bookstores; he found that in France, that’s partly because French publishers have used their price-setting power to deny sufficient profit margins to French retailers.

The future: My novel Overthrow will be published by Viking in August. If you buy a copy now, ahead of time—either from your local independent bookstore, or from Barnes & Noble or Amazon—it will give the book a boost. Cover art and description here.