Geoffrey Mak
42 min readNov 23, 2019



Why must Cordelia die? I’ve asked a number of people a number of times, except the answer was always wrong because the question is based on a misreading of King Lear. For the longest time, I thought Lear was the one who killed Cordelia before he dragged his daughter’s dead body on stage, meaning Lear wouldn’t technically be a tragedy, in the Aristotelian sense, since Lear’s madness would introduce a random act of violence, rather than as an inevitable, fated outcome. For years, I took this ending of Lear, as I understood it, as a model for morality: there is good and there is evil, and then there’s madness. You can’t stop madness. You can lock yourself up twelve stories high in some corner of New York, but that particular train is still coming. It will plow through the Hudson River, emerge from the pavement on Broadway, right up to your building, pummel up the elevator shaft and straight through your door on the sixteenth floor, and it will run you over. Because madness doesn’t follow the rules. It isn’t afraid of you. Which is why it singes when, in the play’s final scene, the Duke of Kent stands over a bloodbath of the English monarchy, and asks, Is this the promised end? Except I got the part wrong about how it actually ends. Doesn’t matter. Cordelia dies anyway.

Over the years, my habitual misunderstandings would serve as a cautionary tale for weird times and inconvenient revelations, during which I waded through the kaleidoscope of daily life, attempting, but failing, to cull the appropriate narratives out of nonsense, glean the cause and effect, locate the tragic flaw. The period I’m writing about started during the Obama years, and transitioned into the apocalyptic logic of the Trump Presidency. During those years, I worked in New York advertising. On an irregular basis, I wrote art reviews for magazines, talked shit to the appropriate parties, showed face at gallery openings and warehouse parties when my friends were DJ’ing, and I never asked for list. I read everything I could find, opened myself up to the contagion of the world, made note of who had the fewest lines of dialogue in The Great Gatsby (those with the most power and those with the least), and precisely at which point Proust turns on the Duchesse de Guermantes (when she declares, at her salon, that she doesn’t care for contemporary painting). I maintained the ability to, on command, recite the Clinton Administration’s policy in Yugoslavia, or state the reasons why an American intervention in Syria could have prevented ISIS. But when I could not keep up with history, history caught up with me. I’d been reading on my parents’ balcony in California when I got the text from my editor at the magazine I wrote for, alerting me that our login credentials got phished by the pro-Assad Syrian Electronic Army. A week later, when the magazine interviewed the SEA about the data breach, the hacker collective responded curtly, “It was a joke.”

Except nothing was funny — I either got the timing wrong, waited too long for the punch line, or misunderstood the premise so profoundly that I started making life decisions based off of conspiratorial assumptions in my mind that could be confirmed by no one around me.

I traveled frequently. I lived in Istanbul and then in New York, spent time in Hong Kong, Paris, and went through former Yugoslavia. In Northern Iraq, I accidentally took photos inside a Yazidi temple where no photos were allowed, only to read seven years later that the temple had likely been destroyed by ISIS. Another weekend, I flew into New York from Berlin, went to a warehouse party in Brooklyn until ten in the morning, crashed on a friend’s couch, then emerged six hours later to moderate a panel on international queer literature. The first time I got a check in the mail for something I wrote, I went to Dover Street Market, bought a Rick Owens trench coat, rode the elevator down to the ground floor bar and ordered myself a glass of cava (which is to say that sometimes, things were so good I thought my life, like the times, could only get better).

This was during the years I divided between New York and Berlin. That I never really knew where I was living contributed to my recurring cycles of disorientation. I had a habit of starting my life, and then restarting it every few months, as if jumping through unrelated episodes I didn’t always finish before moving onto the next. One month, I rented a studio on Maybachufer across the canal from the luxury residences on Paul-Linke Ufer, and by the next, I was living in a narrow room in Mitte with a single window that opened onto dumpsters in the courtyard from which, some sweaty Monday mornings after coming back from the club, the smell of damp socks and garlic would waft into the room where, passed out from ketamine, I dreamt of becoming famous.

I finished essay after essay in an apartment I had the keys to with a view over Görlitzer Park. I didn’t celebrate, nor did I do very much on my birthdays, as they were private landmarks I’d acknowledge privately. In Berlin, I found I was often alone, and then suddenly surrounded by three thousand at once, at a club or a Biennial exhibition or a street protest in Friedrichshain. Once, I wore Rick Owens sneakers to a housing protest where demonstrators in black balaclavas hurled stun grenades over the crowd and onto a fortress of ballistic shields. Do you see a punch line?

In an apartment by the canal, I read the transcript to the Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage in all fifty states, and on the night that forty-nine were shot dead at the Pulse nightclub in Miami, I was at Berghain. The morning I found out that Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were shot unarmed by racist cops, I was acting on the set for a web series alongside a German philosopher, a male model, two Syrian refugees, and a hedge fund analyst. That the series was titled “DISCREET: An Intelligence Agency for the People” might suggest that I was at least in on the joke, except I was not.

I never was, I kept neglecting to see the bigger picture. As it turned out, I would fail to for a pretty long time before things got weird, before the part in the song where “Sounds make you cry / Some nights you dance with tears in your eyes.” Around the same time, I remember reading DeLillo’s story “The Itch” about the character who “heard what sounded like words as his urine hit the water,” because during the year that story was published, I also heard words when my urine hit the water. Loud noises would begin to disturb me. I would make excuses to stay inside. At the time, I had been house-sitting a friend’s top-floor apartment in Prenzlauer Berg, across from a massive crane that, during summer thunderstorms, I imagined would swing in my direction and crash straight into the sliding glass doors of the balcony.

Those days, all that could hold my attention were reports of Turkey’s “deep state” Ergenekon Trials, and the wisdom of crowds. Outside, I made labyrinthine walks around my neighborhood, taking fast turns from the Turkish food stands and into the discount supermarket, keeping note of who walked into both places after me and didn’t buy a thing. “How old are you? What year is this?” a police officer would one day ask me over the phone, after a botched ayahuasca ceremony in Brandenburg, during which I climbed out of a window on the second floor and jumped, convinced I was being held against my will by a religious cult, only to run out into miles of open grain fields with no cars in sight. Months later, I would find those questions useful to ask myself on a regular basis. I began forgetting what year this was and where I had come from, around the time I found myself at Berghain one early Monday morning, sobbing so uncontrollably on the dance floor that the DJ stopped the music and put on Alice Coltrane’s “Journey in Satchidananda,” suggesting that it might be time for some people to go home.

The truth is that I was a long way from home, and I was on the verge of a psychotic breakdown. Here’s a cut to just a few months later, August 2018:

This is a 30-year-old male admitted to Parkside West on a 5150 hold for danger to self… This patient reports that he attempted to overdose due to severe auditory hallucinations. They are causing him distress. They are causing him to feel hopeless and helpless and causing him to continue to feel suicidal, depressed, and wanting to end his life so he does not have to hear the voices anymore… He was also restless and wanted to be left alone, and minimized his problems. He was given Zyprexa 10mg twice a day… was found to be positive for multiple substances including ketamine and amphetamines. His mood is irritable. His affect is constricted. His speech is with an irritable tone. He admits to suicidal ideation. He denies any homicidal ideations. He admits to severe auditory hallucinations. He has severe paranoia… He continues to feel overwhelmed and hopeless that he will get any better.

This is an excerpt from my psychiatric report, compiled shortly after I boarded a next-day flight from Berlin to Los Angeles, and was committed to the inpatient psychiatric clinic at the Citrus Valley Medical Center less than two weeks after I turned thirty. Only at my most dissociative do I see this as a literary metaphor for the dissolution of the times, but I’m not going to go there. My twenties were already over before I could make good on any possible warnings, but by then, it didn’t matter. The train came for me anyway.


Here is a transcript from C-SPAN that provides a sense of what, around the turn of the 2010s, would have been considered paranoid, yet in 2018 was a paragon of being informed:

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: I said to Senator Cornyn, my friend, when he said he thought consumers were aware that information is gathered on them… I said I’m sure he’s wrong. We have now put a little piece of electric tape over the camera on my laptop.


SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Most people do, now. Because they’re being watched and they might not even know it.

This is from the testimony of then-twenty-eight-year-old whistleblower Christopher Wylie, former Research Director at Cambridge Analytica, before the US Senate Judiciary Committee. Wylie, self-identified as a “gay Canadian vegan,” recounted before the Senate how Cambridge Analytica harvested over fifty million Facebook profiles for the Trump Campaign in the US and the Brexit campaign in the UK. Dubbed by Wylie as a “full-service propaganda machine,” Cambridge Analytica employed personality quizzes that harvested psychographic data to target political ads specializing in “disinformation,” “rumors,” and “Kompromat” — a “military-style operation” that was referred to internally as “Big Daddy.”

I followed this story as it developed in the Guardian and the Times, watched Wylie testify before Parliament on C-SPAN for four hours, and then again before the US Senate for three hours and forty minutes. So preoccupied was I with stories about manufactured consent and disinformation campaigns happening across social platforms that enacted a system of classically conditioned propaganda on a global scale. I learned, for instance, that as early as 2014, Cambridge Analytica began using data from Facebook (whose monthly users make up one third of the world’s population) to test responses to images of people scaling walls, and slogans like “The NSA is watching you” or “Build The Wall” or “Drain The Swamp,” two years before Donald Trump hired the firm and began parroting those same slogans. Wylie describes the work of Cambridge Analytica as designed to trigger “some of the worst characteristics in people, such as neuroticism, paranoia, and racial biases,” traits that might describe the defining cultural characteristics of these years I’m writing about.

When Senator Cory Booker asked why Cambridge Analytica was allegedly focused on “suppressing African American voters,” Wylie responded, “You’ll have to ask Mr. Bannon,” who was then the VP of Cambridge Analytica and executive chairman of the conservative network Breitbart News, all before he became CEO of the Trump campaign. Reportedly, Steve Bannon leveraged “voter disengagement tactics” on Black users by employing divisive content to discourage their support for Hillary Clinton — in one example, reminding them about her 1990s description of black youths as “super predators.” (Coincidentally or not, black voter turnout for a presidential election declined in 2016 for the first time in twenty years.)

Here you see the idea that if you control the narrative, you have the keys to the culture. “Given the influence that story has on our everyday lives, and that popular culture is barraging us with story on a regular basis, we must remain ever vigilant as to the messaging in those stories,” declared one writer in Breitbart. It was an elaboration on what’s known as the Breitbart Doctrine — “Politics is downstream from culture” — of which Bannon was an exemplary follower. Part sales pitch, part American lyric, the line had served as the founding principle of Breitbart News when Andrew Breitbart first launched the site in 2007 in efforts to reroute cultural narratives for a far-right audience.

I had never heard of Breitbart, not really, until the rise of one of its senior editors, Milo Yiannopoulos, an English conservative and self-described “dangerous faggot” who became the emergent poster child of what became known as the alt-right. Curdling around online forums such as Reddit and 4Chan, this cesspool of neoreactionary anti-feminists and white supremacists would become a particular focal point for Bannon when he headed the Trump campaign.

“The alt-right is the new left,” declared white supremacist Richard Spencer, who coined the term, since “we’re the ones thinking the unthinkable,” which now included some of Spencer’s new ideas such as “peaceful ethnic cleansing.” Yiannopoulos would also describe the alt right as “the new punk,” because they were “transgressive, subversive, fun.” Here, you find an adaptation of Pat Buchanan’s self-declared “religious war” over “the soul of America” at the 1992 Republican National Convention, readapted for a digital generation credited with codifying “trolling” as a legitimate political campaign strategy.

In a video from 2017, Yiannopoulos is shown singing “America the Beautiful” to Richard Spencer and giving him a Sieg Heil salute, another “unthinkable” that would be interpreted as ironic because of all that transgressive and subversive fun they were having. Yet it would not be considered ironic when, in another leaked video, Nigel Oakes, founder of Cambridge Analytica’s parent company SCL, stated about Hitler: “He didn’t have a problem with the Jews at all, but people didn’t like the Jews, so he just leveraged an artificial enemy. Well that’s exactly what Trump did, he leveraged the Muslims. That’s what Trump did — he had the balls to say what people wanted to hear.”


Below is a framed poem that once hung above the urinal at the now defunct Café Loup in New York, which served for me both as a nostalgic token — like the restaurant itself, from a bygone era — as well as a warning, ignored, of weird times ahead:


Respect the elders
Teach the young
Cooperate with the pack

Play when you can
Hunt when you must
Rest in between

Share your affections
Voice your feelings
Leave your mark.

In the time it took to piss, my eyes would zero in on the words “the pack” — conjuring the image of sex cults, mass suicides, charismatic leaders who lured people into orgies, or Ponzi schemes, with telegenic smiles and promises of belonging. I wondered when, exactly, “community” passes into “groupthink,” when the mere “collective” becomes “mob mentality.” Such was evidently the case during the 2014–15 “Gamergate” episode, when hackers, organized on 4Chan, made death threats and rape threats to several feminist bloggers in what would become a vicious doxxing and harassment campaign. Petra Davis reported finding a website that advertised sex services with her address and images of mutilated women on the front page, under the tagline “Fuck her till she screams, filth whore, rape me all night cut me open.” Revenge porn with Zoe Quinn was sent to her family and employers. A video game of Anita Sarkeesian was created and distributed where users could punch her face until it was blue and swollen. Kathy Sierra received Photoshopped images of her face with a noose next to her head, a shooting target pointed at her face, and her head being gagged in underwear.

Here was an example of the pack gone astray, no longer able to distinguish between hunt and play. Not long after did my worldview corrode so deeply into the paranoid that I assumed, at all times, that somebody, some group or other, was out to get or recruit me. I was never safe. Someone was always watching. More and more, people I knew started posting under fake names on Facebook, or recommending I get on encrypted messaging apps like Signal, and I took their advice. I didn’t know what anyone might want by spying on me, but I assumed it could and would be used against me the day the Feds came knocking.

One afternoon, I was having coffee in the garden of the Standard Hotel in New York when a friend told me he’d been contacted, for a job interview, by someone at the CIA. I joked, “I’ll never know if you get the job, because if you do, you won’t be allowed to tell me.” He said he may not be able to tell me, but if I see him one day wearing an expensive coat, I’ll know why. We laughed, because the sun was bright, and it was still 2014, which is to say early, before the paranoia really set in, and we were able to joke about things that seemed to belong to a remote reality.

A few months later, I saw him walk into a friend’s gallery opening wearing a three-quarter-length leather coat. When he saw me, he came over and whispered in my ear, “I got the coat.”

What was I to make of it? This would be another story whose ending I did not stick around long enough to find out. Maybe he actually was talking about international espionage, or about cultivating energy and signal-boosting soft power from the New York City underground, except I did not get the punch line. After a certain point, it became par for the course during a time defined by concerns about whether a cell phone tower was in fact a cell phone tower, or an “active GSM base station,” operated remotely by the NSA, designed to intercept cell phone data. My preoccupation with these stories was just my idea of “being informed.” Every threat was to be taken seriously: the promise for the wall, or the boogeyman under the bed, or behind the camera, staring back from the top of the computer screen.


In 2015, I attended Art Basel Miami Beach, an annual event held at the Miami Beach Convention Center in December, during which multiple commodities are available for sale or as trade collateral: paintings, new media, cultural capital, thumb drives, smartphone videos of the semi-nude, a critique on the collapse of the social contract, TASCHEN art monographs, and glitter.

This makes Art Basel difficult to criticize because it seldom pretends to be anything other than what it is. Its absence of pretense has made talking about the fair something to be avoided altogether, taboo because it is “degrading for art and artists,” as Artnet described it, or because, as Business Insider stated, it “has become as much about the parties as the art.” You might ask when exactly the “has become” took place, when exactly Art Basel had been “about the art,” as if the Swiss franchise’s decision thirteen years prior to base the fair in a city with a twenty-four-hour party district, proximity to the US cocaine trade, and a 0% tax on sales and income were quirky atmospherics, the local color. Curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, who mentored the fair’s director Noah Horrowitz as an associate at London’s Serpentine Galleries, himself confessed to having “little knowledge of, or interest in, art fairs.”

On parties, Barbara Gladstone of Gladstone Gallery said, “There are too many of them and I don’t think it’s that useful.” Useful to whom? The answer came more directly from Luhring Augustine of the Luhring Augustine Gallery. “There are a lot of people who come for the parties — there are people who don’t even come to the fair,” he said. “But we do business here.”

Business as usual was the main factor in navigating the fairgrounds. Upon entering the convention center, one encountered the so-called Circle of Power: Gagosian, Zwirner, Rosen, Hauser & Wirth, Cooper, et al. The opportunity for discovery, i.e. the 90% of the fair beyond the Kusamas, the Christopher Wools, the Krugers, the Hirsts, should have been an exciting prospect but was, in practice, deflating. Critic and curator Kenny Schachter hyperbolically described the fair as “the end of art history,” a Fukuyama-like prophecy that might explain rather than contradict why the fair has felt the need, since 2014, to introduce the “Survey” section to “present precise art historical projects,” tucked neatly alongside the fair’s main action. The main action was, you could say, the bigger history lesson: the fair was not the end of art history, nor was it at all an anomaly in the history of art, dating back to the festivals of the late Middle Ages during which guild masters and apprentices set up “booths” that exhibited crafts for public evaluation, for public sales. The art history lesson here was the discrepancy between what the artworld progressively mythologizes itself as and what it actually is. Or rather, what it had always been.

Somehow, the fair this year managed to piss everyone off, from its main players, who were hasty to disavow emotional investments in their financial calculations, to regular fairgoers, comparing email invites and Instagram stories #aboutlastnight, who were at the fair to complain about how they wanted to be somewhere else.

The anxiety reached an alarming pitch when twenty-four-year-old Siyuan Zhao of New York stabbed a thirty-three-year-old stranger in the neck with an X-Acto knife, just outside the Freedman Fitzpatrick Gallery booth. When interrogated by the officers about the crime, Zhao, who claimed to have experienced paranoia and auditory hallucinations, stated, “I had to kill her and two more!” and “I had to watch her bleed!”

A photographer from the Miami Herald was on the scene ready to shoot photos that would be introduced online with trigger warnings for “graphic content.” The Gothamist, CNN, FoxNews, and The Huffington Post each picked up the story, leading not with the stabbing itself but that “witnesses thought it was art.”

Assuming for the first initial seconds that the stabbing was “performance art” with “fake blood” would not have been outlandish; just a few weeks earlier, certain concertgoers at the Bataclan Concert Hall during the Paris attacks thought the first gunshots fired were part of the music — part of the art. It seemed reasonable enough after witnessing the stabbing, a traumatic event in its own right, except that was not the story the press was interested in. One witness who stated, “I never would have thought there would be a stabbing at Art Basel” was described by Paper Mag as a character out of an Onion piece. Something ridiculous. A satire. A salacious event at an elite art fair that continues to mine the deepest social insecurities of the international art world on a yearly basis.

The victim was wheeled away by paramedics to Jackson Memorial. Zhao was arrested on an attempted murder charge. The blood was quickly removed. The fair went on as planned. Click. Shoot. Cut. Send.


Many of us who were not doing business there spent most of the daytime coked out and sleep deprived, wandering up and down Miami Beach with press pins and stickers, hunting for the VIP lounge in rain boots and Doc Martens.

That weekend, South Beach had flooded. It came late on Thursday night as a sort of Biblical cleanse once the business at the temple of art was done, and the fair was open to the plebeians. That night, those who arrived on delayed flights from New York shuttled among New York parties transplanted and reinvented in Miami: Topical Cream, Mixpack, Bunker, GHE20G0TH1K. Text messages were sent, asking if the nebulous there was better than the permanently uninteresting here. “I think we’re gonna go to NADAWAVE,” said one. “When does Objekt go on?” “Is Perez the same thing as PAMM?” Paris Hilton or Alicia Keys either was or wasn’t playing a party in Wynwood. It either was or wasn’t worth the price of a taxi.

After two parties and sixty dollars worth of taxis up and down Collins Avenue, I ended up at a party to see Juliana Huxtable and Venus X DJ at Kill Your Idol. The bar was packed. Somebody reported seeing artist Jacolby Satterwhite and M.I.A. there, but Jacolby Satterwhite, who was exhibiting a piece and hosting a party, was allegedly not in Miami at all. Singer Dev Hynes, after a performance at PAMM that one attendee had described as “just okay,” was now waiting in line for the gender-neutral bathrooms. I was also in line waiting for a gender-neutral bathroom when a girl leaned over and asked, “Do you know where I can find any coke?”

I did not. Landing in the middle of Miami and finding a coke dealer off the street didn’t seem like the smartest thing. Others got more creative. One friend had stored two grams of coke in a nasal spray bottle and carried it on the plane, while another packed pills and mixed them in with a bottle of Melatonin. Another had stored small bags in a Soylent-powder food pouch packed sideways in his carryon to dodge the X-rays. “The powder blends in with the powder, the plastic blends in with the plastic,” as he described it.

Back on the dance floor, a friend said, “There’s Ryder Ripps behind me looking like a fuckboy.”

“Wait, I don’t know what he looks like,” I said.

“He looks like a fuckboy.”

I wedged my way through the dance floor, wearing a white turtleneck and the straps of my black, nylon backpack crossed over my chest like a harness. Across from me, the girl who asked for coke was now dancing on the couch beside a friend with bleached blonde hair, swinging his shirt over his head like a lasso. It was New York but not — the “but not” being the crucial factor in everyone letting their pants down, the “but not” factor of senior trips and study abroad programs and weekends in Palms Springs.

Even the word “Basel” had become code for cultural excess, an adlib to fill in the “What happens at stays at” dictum, an excuse to use “art” as a badge of “social awareness” and “criticality” that, instead of reining in excess, affirms the 24-hour hedonism of coke and neon. If politics is downstream from culture, then here was the culture: cultish, narcissistic, choosing an obsession with petty optics over coherent ideology, and eternally paranoid about minor distinctions up and down the social caste system. For that week, and that week only, South Beach would become a hall of mirrors for New York galleries, New York DJs, serving as the third wing in the revolving door of the East Coast underground, in and out of Bushwick, in and out of Los Angeles — people I recognized but knew nothing about except that they had enough money to spend a weekend in Miami: the supposedly fun thing we would never do again unless everyone else was also down there with us pretending to look at art.


Credit: George Nebieridze

Another snapshot of the culture in excess: one weekend, in Berlin, I was at a monthly party called Herrensauna at the Bertrams club on Maybachufer. It was started by a former bartender at Berghain who went by Herrenscheide, a German portmanteau for “male cunt.” The party’s target clientele was unofficially described as “gay skinheads,” according to a friend who classified the party to me as “half fashion, half gay sex.” I arrived that morning at six, hiding inside my sock what I thought was a gram of speed, but was actually a gram of meth, bought for seven euro at the last party I was at as “special speed” from a friend I knew who owed me a favor.

The party itself was a fashionable simulacrum with no original. It was designed to reference the fashion label Vetements’ Fall 2015 show, which was staged inside a gay sex club using Shifted’s “Chapter 69” as the soundtrack — a choice that was yet another reference, toward the kind of gay sex that actually was happening at Herrensauna, which had booked Shifted to play the headlining slot that morning of the party and hired, as the bouncer, a model who had just returned from walking the actual Vetements shows in Paris.

Everything was a circle of references, a sign. At the party, we were not so much socializing as we were performing types, which often confounded me. I was never sure which side of the counterculture I was expected to perform: art critic, ad man from New York, technogoth turning looks at the club, or a foot fetishist with a kink for golden showers. I just knew that once I located my role, my “character,” it was important to deviate as little as possible.

On my way in, I ran into a noise rapper who went by Palmtrees and performed under the name VIOLENCE, and we started talking Cormac McCarthy. I saw another friend from New York, a photographer, who was wearing a white lace Craig Green top he got at an employee discount at Opening Ceremony. I saw a sizeable number of “skinheads,” both in person and on Instagram posts from the party, who might be personally anti-fascist, yet were visibly channeling all the hallmarks of skinhead regalia: black Doc Martens with white laces, tattoos of dogs and Greek statues, Fred Perry polos and suspenders, replete with the party’s wrist-stamp showing the letter H inside a laurel crown. This was an archetype — a “character” — I occasionally saw around Berlin, on the U-Bahn, or smoking outside the späti. Multiple times, I saw men with tattoos of the Chanel logo, on the inside of someone’s forearm or behind his neck — a symbol that might appear curious in this context, were it not, as I learned later, an oblique reference to Coco Chanel’s career as a covert intelligence officer for the Nazis during the German occupation.

If I didn’t know any better, I might’ve called this… the new punk? It depended on your understanding of “the new,” what with the party’s use of anti-gay skinhead symbols reappropriated as gay sexual fetish, following a tradition of transgressive artists from Genet to Siouxsie Sioux to Gabber Eleganza. There was no observable compass to be found here — preferable for a generation that adopted a shock-and-confuse strategy toward any attempts by outsider media to make sense of its culture. Here, entire histories in contingent localities got recycled and posted on social media for the shocks and the lulz. Conveniently dropped were the working class values integral to British skinhead culture in the seventies, perhaps its only salvageable detail. Instead, these fashion skinheads deployed “the look” indiscriminately in adjacent circles of streetwear bloggers and fashion week afterparties, effectively obscuring any of its political coordinates by the absence of a moral compass.

I wondered when and where this mattered and when and where it didn’t. Down in the basement, the dance floor was filled with shirtless muscle queens and a drug dealer I knew, fully-clothed, working the floor. When the photographer and I needed a light, we tried to strike a lighter, but the flame wouldn’t catch, because there wasn’t enough oxygen in the air.

Legitimately, this party was operable as a men’s sauna: heat, fog, gay sex. Lines of speed started clumping up once you tapped it out onto your smartphone, though people were mostly taking milliliters of GBL, rationed off in the privacy of the dark rooms furnished with ripped up couches and a leather sling. I was off on the floor dancing like an overheating robot because I was on speed that was actually meth, and I was trying to find a place to park myself until I could ride out my assigned role for the night: the dumb American who took too much.

We were all too much. In the words of trend forecasting agencies, our role was to be “influencers,” which implied an elusive “audience” we all knew didn’t include each other, exactly, but unseen someones out there watching, on Facebook or the livestream, followers in the reality TV show that was our youth culture in real time. Here was a generation depicted on social as eternally in leisure — an essentially groundless fantasy enacted entirely on EasyJet miles and corporate-sponsored afterparties. That our theater of excess might be alienating to “someone out there” was not a question on anyone’s mind, because no one ever asked who it was we were supposed to be “influencing,” who those people might be; because it would be poor taste to wonder what they might want from us as they scrolled through our social feeds, and whether or not their feelings towards us might be less than purely aspirational.


Credit: Heji Shin

If politics is downstream from culture, it’s because the culture makes no fucking sense. For instance, take this story I heard, which I often told people in certain media circles, about someone who worked for Kanye West on a video shoot. Before Kanye arrives on set, one of his representatives comes out to meet with the agency. She tells them, “There’s something really important about Kanye that I need you to know. This might sound crazy to some of you, but Kanye does believe he’s a prophet. Don’t question it, and don’t bring it up in front of him. This is very important. Don’t tell him what to do. Do not look at him in the eye when talking. Do not ask him any direct questions.” So when Kanye arrives, nobody looks him in the eye and nobody asks any questions. If the team wants to say something to Kanye, they have to print it out and frame it in one of the bulk IKEA frames that the team bought for this express purpose. Here, the personality disorders of the prophet merge with those of a dictator: moral indignation, claims of direct access to the divine, consolidation of an “inner circle,” a positive perception of self paired with a negative perception of the future. Everything Kanye touches here, every comment, every idea he expresses out loud turns to gold. Whenever he says something, or so much as stares at the mood board for longer than seconds, the team quarantines it off as “interesting.” Valuable. This goes on for a while, because everything Kanye finds interesting, they produce. Should Kanye not like what they produce, the team starts over. Should one of Kanye’s trusted advisors comment that what they produce “looks weird,” the team starts over. This happens several times, with two full-length videos scrapped. On the third shoot, Kanye walks past one of the interns on a couch watching a YouTube video on an iPad. Kanye is stunned. “What are you watching?” Kanye asks. “What do you think of it? Are you into it? Why?” After a few more lines of dialogue, he turns to the rest of the team and tells them he has an announcement: everyone must stop what they’re doing and listen to this intern.

If I had ever known which video it was, I forgot, because the story itself had already become for me a contemporary parable about a culture industry based entirely upon a model of psychosis. In fact, almost a decade after I first heard the story about Kanye, I saw the same friend who told it to me, and I asked her to tell the story again. As it turned out, I had misremembered some of the details, but the version in my mind had already taken on a life of its own. Anyway, by then, it didn’t really matter. Are you starting to see a pattern?


Certain images, certain icons, became for me indicative of those years — images that don’t mean anything in most contexts, but are resonant in my mind. Here’s one: the image of a clenched fist. I saw it first, during the 2009 University of California fee hike protests, and I saw it again, on TV, at the barricades in Gezi, or the squares in Kyiv. Incidentally, it had also been the symbol used in the Otpor! protests in Serbia “as the brand of a bloodless revolution,” recalls Srđa Popović, one of the leaders of the student-led movement that deposed Slobodan Milošević from autocratic rule in 2000.

This is from an interview featured in the 2017 art exhibition Seductive Exacting Realism at Documenta 14 by artist Irena Haiduk. In it, the artist elaborates on the work of the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), a political NGO Popović founded that (as Wikileaks revealed) collaborates with US intelligence firms and think tanks to provide political consulting to pro-democracy protest movements worldwide. Since its conception in 2004, CANVAS has trained groups in over fifty countries, often covertly, years before any of the movements start making global headlines. Note that when protesters in Tunisia deposed president Ben Ali from power in 2011, igniting the Arab Spring, CANVAS had been training grassroots organizations in the country since 2007. Because CANVAS’s involvement is discreet, it is impossible for outside observers to discern whether or not they have been active in any given protest movement. In the centerpiece of the exhibition, Haiduk interviews the CANVAS founder:

HAIDUK: I can never tell when I am watching the news whether if you are involved or not.

POPOVIĆ: That’s good. It keeps us safe. Most of the time, you will never know. If and when we do sign our work, it is after the fact. It’s too dangerous in the process.

I, too, would not be able to tell. In my memory and in the news, I began looking for the telltale signs — I hoped the details would light up, betray the hand of their makers, like secret hand signs or an implicatively timed cough. I had a habit of drawing connections that could not be proven valid, but not exactly be disproven, lying somewhere in between the “may or may not.”

I found similarities across disparate movements that might trace back to similar sources. For instance, I discovered that in training manuals distributed to activists, CANVAS compiled an extensive list of common nonviolent strategies. The guidelines include:

· Organize blockades of highways in order to debilitate the economy and show the regime the people’s power.

· Occupy key public buildings and occasional nonviolent invasions of said buildings.

· Move bulldozers in line with police barricades.

I thought of the Çarşı bulldozer in the barricades at Istanbul. Waste trucks dumping manure in the streets of Paris. The highway shutdown in Atlanta after the shooting of Philando Castile. I didn’t know, in each particular instance, which came first, the action observed or the covertly-made prescription. What was real and what was simulated? Maybe it didn’t matter whether what feels organic actually is organic, or if it was orchestrated upstream by some pretty big players in the game. The difference between a staged revolution and a real one is that there is no difference. The result is the same: the regime comes down.

“Assad, Chavez, Erdoğan, and Putin fear us,” states Popović about CANVAS. “In Saudi Arabia, we’re branded as terrorists. And when Chinese TV blames us for Hong Kong riots, it feels good. When you’re banned, you attract a certain type of people. It’s like a call.”

“We seek out what might be a motivating factor for people — above all, young people,” Popović goes on. In years since, I only knew more and more young people who felt the need to get out of bed and shut down a freeway. I, too, wanted to know what motivated them. These were people active in Oakland, Zucotti Park, Gezi, Berlin. There was a time when all I heard was talk about eating the rich, shutting down prisons, doxxing the police — vigilante acts of justice that saw bombing the data-warehousing systems at Google as today’s only acceptable equivalent to storming the Winter Palace. If politics is downstream from culture, then here was a culture that wanted to topple regimes.

Five years after the fee-hike protests, I remember I exited the building where I worked in New York and opened the door onto a procession of thousands who came to mourn the death of Eric Garner. People held signs that read “I Can’t Breathe” and “Don’t Shoot” and “Black Lives Matter.” That night, the largest funeral in the city’s recent memory was happening on the streets, from Madison Square Park, through the fountains of Washington Square, to the churches past Houston Street, past the outdoor fish markets of Chinatown and westward to the river. I cried that night, and at Zucotti Park, and when I scrolled through Twitter images of the TOMA vehicles at Occupy Gezi in the neighborhoods I used to live in. I cried when Trump was elected, but not during the Women’s March, I was emotionally depleted by then as we marched past the storefront window at Valentino, where all the mannequins were outfitted in camouflage. I would parrot the call and response of “Tell Me What Democracy Looks Like,” and simultaneously, I would wonder: after the protests are over, what happens to all this? What happens to all the anger, the stunted desire, the gathering thunderclouds of a generation’s discontents, our grievances and our nursed alienations? Where does all of that energy go? I never found the answer, but I can tell you at least one thing: it doesn’t go nowhere.


During this time, I sat on literary panels, gave speeches at weddings, made orange chicken for holiday potlucks. I signed up for Apple Music the week Frank Ocean dropped Boys Don’t Cry as an exclusive. We didn’t think the Obama years would ever end, until of course, they did, and it became inconceivable to believe how we’d ever thought they could last.

When exactly did the Obama years end?

Somewhere between Gamergate and the shooting of Michael Brown.

When I think about the Obama years, I think about a giant party that didn’t want to end. But at some point, the party always ends, never on a high note, but at some bleary point in the morning, when the dance floor thins out, the lights fade on, and you look around to see that nobody’s in the same mood as they were in when the party began. Sometimes, all I could ever be certain about was the mood. During the lead-up to the election, all I knew was that the “aura” was changing. A sinistral energy clouded over New York. I remember arriving at a furniture sale in Brooklyn hosted by two friends of mine who were decamping to Finland. We opened the windows and cleansed the place with palo santo and talked about how the mood in the US was souring — it didn’t “feel safe.” People were getting restless. I remember getting my Tarot card reading done by a practicing Wiccan I knew, and being told that bad fortune would come if I stayed in New York, that I should leave for Berlin “sooner than later.” Around this time, I could not get my mind off the blood moon prophecies from the Book of Joel, about four lunar eclipses: red moons that would fall consecutively over the next two years, triggering the Second Coming of Christ. In the past, I might have dismissed this as pure lunacy, but by then, I no longer did.

When the time came for the unspeakable, people claimed it was inevitable. People pointed fingers. (The media! Identity politics!) Lambs got sacrificed. Demons exorcised. Then after the flagellation came the narratives. The Russia investigations. The Wylie hearings. Collectively, we appealed to the prophets to tell us what went wrong. What were the warning signs? How did this happen? And at some point or other, we privately asked ourselves: Were we surprised?


In 2014, Christopher Wylie was twenty-four, the year he came up with the idea to mine millions of Facebook profiles for private and personal information that could create psychographic political profiles in what he termed, in the Guardian, Cambridge Analytica’s “psychological warfare mindfuck tool.”

I first read about Wylie in 2018, when I saw him in a photo shoot for the Guardian, with pink hair and a nose ring, wearing a camouflage jacket. It’s possible his outfit is the whole reason he caught my attention; so influential were those details on my thinking, my language, that I texted a hair stylist I knew to ask if he could dye my hair “Wylie pink.”

Wylie became, for me, an aspirational figure for the culture, a generational hero: the whistleblower. Before Cambridge Analytica, Wylie worked in Canadian Parliament for the opposition party, and as a data analyst for Obama’s national director. Then, Wylie was approached by Alexander Nix, the head of Cambridge Analytica, who told him “We’ll give you total freedom. Experiment. Come and test out all your crazy ideas,” which bred the kind of analytics that revealed, for instance: “people who liked ‘I hate Israel’ on Facebook also tended to like Nike shoes and KitKats.”

I never ended up dying my hair, forgot I ever wanted to, but was then reminded when I happened on this detail, which stopped me in my tracks: At the time when Alexander Nix discovered him, Wylie was enrolled at the London School of Economics for a “PhD in fashion forecasting.”

“Politics is like fashion,” said Wylie in an early meeting with Steve Bannon. “Trump is like a pair of Uggs, or Crocs, basically,” he said. “So how do you get from people thinking ‘Ugh. Totally ugly’ to the moment when everyone is wearing them?” After meeting Bannon, Wylie was soon introduced to Robert Mercer, Cambridge Analytica’s billionaire investor, and his daughter Rebekah Mercer.

When he met them in Rebekah Mercer’s Manhattan apartment, she stated, “Oh we need more of your type on our side!” by which, Wylie clarified, she meant, “the gays.”

Bannon also saw “the gays,” said Wylie, as “early adopters,” believing that once the gays were on board, “everyone else will follow.” This explained why Bannon was “so into the whole Milo thing.”

I imagined that this level of detail, plumbed deep enough, might unlock for me the madness that could work as an organizing principle of the era. Madness was the only operational logic behind things like Yiannopoulos’ “Gays For Trump” party at the 2016 Republican National Convention, for which he created promotional posters of shirtless twinks wearing Make America Great Again hats. When asked why he surrounds himself with white supremacists and 4Chan trolls, he explained, “Because they’re interesting.” Here influencers served as energy for energy’s sake, the libidinal compass at the heart of the Breitbart Doctrine, which sees no functional difference between fascist leader and hip hop celebrity. “Radical” denoted anything that hit the lowest common denominator for shocking or offensive to excite the new punks on the right and trigger the libs. Transgression for transgression’s sake.

A deference to “interesting” as a blanket aesthetic, erasing any discernable political coordinates, had been the logic behind then-editor Tina Brown’s decision to put Donald Trump on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1994. It was the kind of “authentic bullshit,” she recounted after Trump was elected, which “epitomized the brassy craziness of the times.”

By the 2016 election, brassy craziness had crossed irretrievably into the absurd. Around that time, Breitbart began accompanying its articles about Yiannopoulos with an itemized list of the clothing he wore in photo shoots, including jackets from Balmain and suits from Gieves and Hawkes, outfitting Yiannopoulos as a socialite in his own right. Fashion was politics, politics was fashion. After a while, such absurdity became the animating force behind a culture industry led by a handful of influencers, political or cultural, who were systemically incentivized to parrot back to the nation its neuroticism, paranoia, and racial biases, except reformatted this time as entertainment.


Facebook, a monopolist marketing platform that socially conditions a third of the world’s population under an ethos of “connecting people” at neocolonial proportions, is the most powerful arm of what artist Dena Yago describes as “the content industrial complex.” The phrase refers to the system of corporate-sponsored media designed with compulsively clickable headlines and images that compel users to share said media on social platforms, gluing users to their screens for longer amounts of time, allowing those social platforms to sell the extracted attention back to corporations who are often also the ad sponsors for the media originally being circulated. In this system, users aren’t the customers so much as the livestock being sold, too dependent on the gamified apparatus of renewable bite-size stimulation to break away. “As a term,” Yago writes, “‘user’ resonates unambiguously with the language of addiction.”

Credit: K-HOLE

Yago was a member of K-HOLE, the artist collective and mock trend-forecasting agency that analyzed the way certain trends emerge from content circulated online. In 2013, K-HOLE released a report titled “Youth Mode: A Report on Freedom,” commissioned by the Serpentine Galleries in London. “It used to be possible to be special,” the report begins, before identifying a post-MTV marketing strategy that effectively neuters what used to be “special” — the idiosyncratic, the indie — by recycling and monetizing emergent local trends into a mass-market aesthetics, made equally accessible to mall rats in Kentucky or radical queers in Manila. This tactic is known in advertising as “coolhunting.” In an era when any emergent style trend can be poached by corporations, and marketed out to mass culture, K-HOLE asks how it might be possible to avoid detection, avoid commodification, avoid getting coolhunted.

The solution is invisibility. Here, K-HOLE proposes a ubiquitous “youth mode,” a quasi-fashion style that almost seemed adapted from artist Hito Steyerl’s “withdrawal from representation,” identified by a normie aesthetic that was so undetectable, so camouflaged as to be boring, so bland that it could never be taken for “special” or “cool.” We’re talking Nike trainers, cargo shorts, and Gap pullovers. It was the “anti-cool,” demonstrating a chameleonic ability to blend with the surroundings on the ground, thriving below the radar of trend forecasting agencies in an era of big data algorithms and universal surveillance.

Thus: normcore. It was a fashion trend defined as “situational,” “adaptable,” and “post-aspirational.” With the nonchalance of a heather-gray Champion hoodie, normcore finds its identity in the incognito, in its ability to relate to any number of groups on any side of the culture. The aesthetic was spoofed in an episode of Model Files, a web series produced by the fashion retailer VFILES, where fictional (and real life) casting director Preston Chaunsumlit is shown outfitting underground style icons in Old Navy, with its blanket mass-market aesthetics. The joke had reached its apex by the time writer Fiona Duncan wrote, in New York magazine, about normcore, a style that captured “self-aware, stylized blandness” with an accompanying slideshow of models wearing “Uniqlo khakis with New Balance sneakers or Crocs.” Here, the simulacrum merges perfectly with the real. In streetwear photos around SoHo, Chaunsumlit is photographed wearing “white nurse clogs” i.e. Crocs, a sort of de-facto icon for normcore, until four years later Demna Gvasalia, the creative director of Vetements and Balenciaga, designed platform Crocs with pointed rhinestones and sent them down the Balenciaga runway in Paris. This is the story of how “totally ugly” led to “fashion,” how “fashion” led to “politics.” Track the movement, gather the early-adopters. Dupe the public.


Here’s another story: I first met Elizabeth Spiers in 2013 at an online publication called Flavorwire, where she was hired to revamp the digital strategy, which consisted of selling ad impressions and partnering with advertisers to produce custom events and email giveaways. Two years earlier, Spiers was a writer for Forbes around the same time I was also at Forbes writing book reviews. For the October 2011 issue, Spiers profiled Arianna Huffington, who was featured on the cover as one of the world’s “100 Most Powerful Women.”

Here, Spiers was the first to break, in detail, the revenue strategy on which Huffington had built her digital empire. By 2010 site had grown to a total of 6,000 unpaid bloggers and 186 paid staffers. The structure entailed a bottom-up content assembly line distributed across twenty special-interest verticals ranging from US News and Business to Relationships and Wellness, built off a similar model as Gawker, which Spiers had cofounded in 2002.

Two years after Huffington Post moved from analog to digital, Andrew Breitbart, one of its co-founders and partners, decided to create his own version for conservatives, who he saw as ignored by mainstream media. He launched Breitbart News. From its inception, it was funded by right-wing political donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who also funded Cambridge Analytica. Breitbart would become responsible for publishing and promoting right-wing political content in conjunction with, on the one hand, Cambridge Analytica, and on the other, conservative pollster Pat Caddell, who said he worked on the Trump campaign because he was looking for someone with the name recognition and the resources that could connect with voter bases disillusioned by the establishment. In a reference to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Caddell stated in the New Yorker, “He clearly wasn’t the best Smith, but he was the only Smith.”

Before Flavorwire, Elizabeth Spiers had been fired from her role as editor in chief of the New York Observer by Jared Kushner, owner of Observer Media Group and future senior advisor to his father-in-law, President Trump. In an official statement, Kushner lauded Spiers for having launched “a slew of new verticals and web properties, and invigorated the newsroom.” By the time Spiers was hired to launch verticals and invigorate the newsroom at Flavorwire, I had been editing an author interview series for which I asked questions like “What was the last good book you read?“ and “Where do you think American fiction is headed,” before I was fired by Spiers after just three interviews, because I failed to make any newsbreak to sufficiently trigger the social media cycle.

Forbes, The Huffington Post, Gawker, Breitbart, Flavorwire, and The New York Observer were all publications belonging to the same spawn of digital media in the 2000s that specialized in sub-800-word viral content abounding in listicles, affective slideshows, op-eds, and identitarian politics, all designed for the explicit purpose of being shared widely on social media. The content I wrote for Flavorwire didn’t drive up page views. Instead, it was understood as “legacy content” that lost money but would boost the overall reputation of the site, which I failed to do.

Here, the publication’s political platform was only as strong as its most frequently shared content on social — an ad-backed profit model sustained by corporations as part of a revenue system that itself precipitated the collapse of an American news culture already in decline. How the inauguration of the content industrial complex paved the way for Trump to troll his way to the White House, one social share at a time, might be an example of a “bigger picture” story, but I’m a little late here, having failed to grasp even the general idea at the time, possibly the times, or something.


At the end of the summer of 2018, I flew back to California from Berlin and got checked into the emergency room where I was given two red pills that plunged me into lead-heavy sleep as I was wheeled into the psychiatric ward on a stretcher. In the hospital, I was no longer the art critic, nor the ad man from New York, nor the technogoth turning looks at the club. I was someone who heard a chorus of voices, different genders and accents, several times a minute. I had gone mad, or madness had come for me.

In the ward, I led what I would call a benevolently surveilled existence. I woke in what looked like a motel room with no carpet, no locks, no door to the bathroom, no handles on the faucet, and no foldable toilet seat. At designated hours, each day, I was to walk to a counter for medications, but at times when I was too sedated to get out of bed, one of the orderlies would come into my bedroom and shove into my mouth two pills, which dissolved immediately.

In the afternoons, patients paced the courtyard in disposable blue slippers, waiting for the smoke break, when an orderly passed out Pall Malls to patients — “only for real smokers” — who congregated around the ash tray like wildlife at a zoo’s watering hole. I tried to speak with a largess of courtesy to the nurses and social workers to demonstrate that I was sane enough to leave. Not all of us were. One breakfast, a woman refused her food, and started screaming in the middle of the courtyard, “Somebody help me please!” A man with white whiskers shouted, “Shut up” and “Give it a rest,” while another patient quietly sang to herself, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Another morning, I watched the staff restrain a patient and lock him up in a room at the end of the hall in solitary confinement. All afternoon, I heard him shouting, “Open the door!” while slamming the flat of his palm against the window in the door. What instigated this, I never knew. Those were the parts of the story I never got, and I did not stick around to see the ending.

In fact, I was never getting the full story. My curse in life was having the pattern recognition to know when there was a bigger picture, but I would never know what the bigger picture was. On my fourth night at the hospital, I woke up from one of my druggy sleeping spells, still jetlagged, and went out into the courtyard for air. The August night was humid. The palms swayed. One of the nurses came around, which surprised me, because it was the middle of the night. I smiled as she made small talk, asked what I was reading. I tried to look sane as she took notes on my ultimately convincing performance that I was ready to leave. But by the fourth day, the voices had subsided to a low murmur, only a few times a day. I kept up my side of the conversation until, abruptly, she stopped, her eyes fixed on something in the night.

“Did you see that?” she asked.

I did. It was a shooting star.


Now that I am outside the ward, my paranoid disposition can sometimes lead me to think that I still live a benevolently surveilled existence. Except the Feds never came knocking. What arrived instead was a profound passivity to life’s allotments, whether as a consequence of action or purely out of random. Because my auditory hallucinations persisted during a period of sobriety for longer than six months after my hospitalization, I had to accept that it was likely I would hear these hallucinations for the rest of my life. My blanket diagnosis was “unspecified psychosis,” because it was unclear if my psychosis was organic, or triggered by drugs, or — as only I was convinced at the time — if there were in fact remote supercomputers beaming messages directly into my skull. Like a bomb threat, a simulated psychosis is indistinguishable from a real psychosis: at the end of the day, they both cause havoc. The truth may be out there, but it isn’t mine to know. In some cases in life, it is possible for me to trace back the steps, find the story, and then there are incidents where I will never have the story, which I have to be okay with not knowing. After a certain point, the only thing to do, which is also the most difficult, is to move on.


Credit: Webb Allen

Somehow, I cannot. As a writer, I thought I had to open myself up, like a compact mirror, to the generation, and when my generation became intolerable, so did I. Now where did that get me? I still struggle to understand that not everything is meaningful, not every coincidence is interesting or would, eventually, with enough hindsight bias, become “the story.” What was left behind from this decade was a heap of broken images that, if viewed in quick succession, might appear as a comprehensible stop-motion for the times. I might see massacres at the borders, riots in Paris, Twitter bot armies posing as civilians and civilians posing as prophets armed with AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, and still not know what it is I’m looking at. Here’s what I do know: that I have difficulties trusting people, don’t like crowds, keep searching inside my brain for my one proverbial “voice” while finding nothing but an index of the chaos already known.

In the months after discharge, I spent a lot of time swimming in my parents’ pool in California, staring into the space between two palm trees where there used to be a third, which had to be cut down because of termites. At my father’s suggestion, I sometimes tied a swimming belt around my waist, attached to a column beneath the balcony, and practiced swimming in place. Flailing my limbs in a circle while making no progress is where I found myself most days. Instead, I worked on flushing out my bad juju with higher-frequency energy and thoughts that serve me. I sat in the sunshine, meditated. On the phone, I would listen as my friend told me about how time is a linear concept for “occupying the material plane,” and by negotiating with past lives, I might find a path to “ascension.”

I still wonder about the people I used to know — whatever came of the conversation at The Standard, whether any of those poets at the barricades ended up behind bars, or about the curly-haired office assistant I knew at Flavorwire who one day, in New York, sold all her possessions and moved to Texas to sell 3D-printed rifles through Defense Distributed. She eventually became the organization’s director, and CEO of a company called Ghost Gunner. In a press release about her new role, she is also described as “organizing several independent spoken word nights and artist showcases.”

Mostly I try not to think about these things. Most of the people I used to know carried on less controversial lives. They published novels, exhibited at Basel, joined housing co-ops, started their own record label, or quit their jobs at ailing publications and rebranded themselves by learning how to code. If I followed suit, I would also move on and live a functional life, and eventually I will. I’ll let go of my questions upon questions, releasing them into this deluge of aborted narratives. Because there is nowhere left to put them. Where else would they go? Where do they all end up? I haven’t found the answer yet, but I can tell you this: they don’t go nowhere.

This piece was originally published in Hotel #6.




Geoffrey Mak

Author of MEAN BOYS, an essay collection forthcoming from Bloomsbury. Words in The Guardian, Artforum, and Highsnobiety.