holder-owned. In the Eighties, public corporations still accounted for the bulk of big business. This is no longer true, as more and more large companies have gone private and dynastic wealth has surged to the forefront of the American economy. Some of the largest, most successful, and asset-rich companies today are registered as private non-C corporations. This is why the infrastructural basis of today’s far-right resurgence is neither populist nor elitist in any straightforward sense. It is both. The collapse of the public corporation into a thicket of privately contracted commercial relations has weakened the old unionmediated bonds among workers and created real economic intimacies, however fraught, between the small family-owned business and the dynastic enterprise. To prevent the emergence of a more dangerous version of Trump, we need to build an alternative set of economic solidarities.
PEAK PERFORMANCE By Catherine Lacey, from “Man Mountain,” a short story, which was published last month in the inaugural issue of Astra Magazine.
cannot say I fully understood where it came from, but I think we all understood, in a way, where it came from. Not physically—I mean, no one could really explain that—but the mountain’s sudden appearance was at least understandable from a metaphoric, philosophical, and/or emotional perspective, which is to say it made sense astrologically, even if it did not make sense logically. Logic and reason (remember reason?) had long ago fallen out of fashion. The calm among us kept saying there was no need to worry, that history was cyclical and we had simply entered a recurrent era of abject chaos. This was the “Goodnight Mush” part of the century, time for the chrysalis to turn soupy. This was the year a mountain spontaneously materialized in rural Kansas, one kilometer high, composed entirely of semiconscious adult men. When I heard about the Man Mountain, I was, of course, at the gym. Those of us not comforted by the historical view of the contemporary moment—a nagging sense of being prewar— had taken matters into our own hands in the only way we could—that is,
symbolically—and began training for the figurative and literal wars that were both imminent and present. Most of the women I knew kept strict training schedules in Muay Thai, jujitsu, boxing, or semi-acrobatic styles of weight lifting. In idle moments, we imagined perfecting our pull-ups, our push-ups, our jabs and our jump squats, and we pitied the women who still did yoga, except the ones who did
MORE OF A COMMENT THAN A QUESTION From comments sent to public school boards in the United States since last year. You are forcing them to wear masks for no reason in this world other than control. You will pay dearly. If you have that diaper on your face: if he farted, could you smell it? That’s how stupid this is. We’re all playing games here with people’s lives, and I’m sick of it. There’s hell coming. There’s hell coming, and I’m not doing it to threaten anybody. But there’s a lot of good guys out there ready to do bad things. My children will not come to school on Monday with a mask on. All right? That’s not happening. And I will bring every single gun loaded—I’ll see y’all on Monday. Your life is being laid bare on the dark web. I don’t condone what’s gonna be sent to those close to you or the danger they may be in, but you personally do deserve it. You like to inject children with poison without their parental consent. I have a syringe full of anthrax to inject into you. You will shake and you will no longer breathe. Every single one of you needs to step down. Your ideology is failing this country and our children. Get it through your fucking head, people don’t like this shit. You’re gonna create a civil war, and you’re going to fucking lose. Heil Hitler.
© THE ARTIST. COURTESY ADDIS FINE ART, LONDON AND ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA
Collapsing Space IX, a painting by Selome Muleta, whose work was on view last month at Addis Fine Art, in London.
that torturous heated variety with their tongues sticking out, contorted and menacing and psychospiritually weaponized. We felt they had not yet realized that inner peace was a patricapitalist fantasy, and the only reasonable thing a woman could do now was amass an anti-estrogenic cluster of meat around her controversial guts and train for battle. So when the news broke about the Man Mountain, I just thought, uh, what? Then, like so many unbelievable things, it became completely believable, and all there was left to do was to climb it. I spent a lot of time at my local climbing gym, then went rogue and started climbing buildings, trees, gates, traffic lights, anything. Maybe I didn’t have time to eat solid food anymore, and maybe I wasn’t being an effective employee, and perhaps I didn’t have actual human-on-human relationships in my day-to-day, but none of that mattered anymore because I was no longer exactly human, but something closer to a spider. So I drove straight to Kansas and, uh, whoa. The pictures and videos and three-dimensional animated renderings of the Man Mountain had not really conveyed the thingness of this thing. 18
HARPER’S MAGAZINE / MAY 2022
It was a real stumper. It was, I don’t know, a feat? But whose feat? A feat of what? Several news trucks were there, but none of the reporters could look away for long enough to read their teleprompters. Policemen and national guardsmen and SWAT teams idled in dark hordes, but there seemed to be no agreement on how to proceed—which way to point the guns, whether it was a crime scene or not, whether it needed protection from the people or the other way around. The Man Mountain was not contingent or theoretical. It was not a think piece. It was here and large and undeniable. It was the only event for many years that lacked an obvious political narrative or conspiracy or apocrypha. The base was exceptionally easy to scale, almost as if it had been designed that way. Holds were plentiful and well spaced. I grabbed a foot, an elbow. Thighs and buttocks gave gently beneath my feet. Up close, none of the men seemed to be asleep, exactly, yet none were quite awake. Most of their eyes were shut or fluttering, and all of them held slight grins. They seemed to understand and accept the strange enormity of their predicament. Every
limb I held as I scaled seemed to teem with itself, forcefully occupying its place in the pile. There was no passivity here, no victimization. The Man Mountain was, I inferred, a wonder of sheer will. About thirty feet up, I came across Justin. Justin? What are you doing here? Whoa! Justin! His eyes shocked open like a corpse in a horror film, which would have startled me if I hadn’t been engaged in military-grade stress training for several years. Justin began to move his mouth, the muscles as loose and uncontrolled as an infant’s. Hey. Yeah, I said. Hey. A broad man sandwiched sideways in the mountain created a ledge I rested on to talk to Justin. It’s been a while, I said. Yeah, he said. Are you all right? Do you want me to, uh, help get you out of here or . . . ? Nah. Cool. Okay. Well. Maybe I’ll see you around? Justin didn’t reply, so I kept moving upward, but what did I even mean? Maybe I’ll see you around? Around what? Around when? And when, exactly, had I even met Justin? I was pretty sure we’d met at a party hosted in a town house owned and renovated by a tech startup. A large fiberglass horse took up much of one living room. It seemed several young men lived there, and several maids would appear and start cleaning whenever one of those young men summoned them through one of the apps that had been developed by the startup they’d started. Justin had been playing with a vintage pinball machine under a black crystal chandelier while explaining some complex opinion to another man, or maybe Justin was the one listening instead of speaking, or maybe Justin and I observed these two men by the pinball machine, or perhaps Justin was someone else entirely. In fact, I am less sure how I first came across Justin, and now that I think of it, I am less sure about his name being Justin. It is likely that half or more of the men in that town house were named Justin. At the time I thought an important part of being a human was appearing before other humans and demonstrating the facts of your humanity—your name, age, origin, collegiate affiliations, career, ambitions, social standing, and whether you slept in a bed with another person, and if so, what sort of genitalia that person had. But then I joined a gym and realized it is totally possible to commit to a life lived primarily within one’s legal, corporeal limits, and of pushing one’s living corpse to the outskirts of its abilities. There was nothing, it
sometimes seemed, that I couldn’t lift and set down again, nothing I couldn’t climb, nothing I couldn’t put below me. Anyway, I soon realized my ascent of the Man Mountain was going a little too easily—it just
AN IDIOM ABROAD From a series of lists compiled in Euphemisms That Get on My You-Know-Whats, by Adam Sharp, which was published in November by Andrews McMeel Publishing. raining cats and dogs Raining old ladies and sticks (Wales) Raining chair legs (Greece) Raining wheelbarrows (Czech Republic) wishes of ill fortune May a goose kick you (Poland) May your VCR catch fire (Greece) May your mother-in-law’s curry get burnt (India) pot calling the kettle black Owl calling the sparrow big-headed (Hungary) Hospital mocking charity (France) Mucus laughing at nose dirt (Japan) when pigs fly When tractors fall (Slovakia) When cats grow horns (Indonesia) When 7-Eleven closes (Thailand) a fish out of water A Dane on skis (Norway) A cockroach at a chicken dance (Venezuela) An octopus in a garage (Spain) i don’t care It bothers me like a cardboard duck (Denmark) I don’t give a cabbage (Italy) It’s sausage to me (Germany) mind your own business Deal with your own onions (France) Not your pigs, not your beans (Lithuania) Who gave you a candle for this vigil? (Spain) dying Putting your clogs aside (Denmark) Throwing out your best skates (Russia) Going to the land of no hats (Haiti)
wasn’t the challenge I’d been hoping for as I wasted all those hours driving to Kansas. In boredom, I stopped on another man situated horizontally in the pile, and in fact this man looked so much like that last man that it might have been the same man. And turning to my right I found, again, Justin’s face, his eyes just as wide as before. Hey, Justin 2 said, but I could not bring myself to reply. Had I somehow climbed in a circle? I had, I thought, been climbing straight up. I leaned back
against the chest of a man in a pale-green polo. Hey, Justin 2 said again, but I didn’t have any desire to speak to Justin 2 for the first or second time. Something was not right. Something, maybe, was very wrong. But here on this heap of men, everything seemed closer than ever to ending, and all at once I was engulfed by a great arbitrary vortex that goes by the name of God. All those heights I had climbed, all my strength, all my effort and torn muscle rebuilt and rebuilt: not even God could see them, and I knew that then, or I felt that I knew it, or maybe I just felt a breeze and knew it to be the cool and apathetic gaze of God. I [Poem] was in a race against my own potential weakness and I was winning and I was losing. Hey! Justin 2 said again. No, I thought, that’s quite By Osip Mandelstam. The poem, which is dated March 3, 1937, enough. I simply cannot tolerate appears in Issue 51 of Talisman: A Journal of Contemporary being so social anymore, not today, Poetry and Politics. Mandelstam (1891–1938) was a Russian not in this crisis. Then, as if this poet who was arrested for anti-Soviet sentiment in his work and sent into exile, where he composed this poem. He later died while world had spontaneously begun to in transit to a labor camp. Translated from the Russian by John understand my trouble, a rope ladHigh and Matvei Yankelevich. der dropped from a helicopter. I leaped to and ascended it, and how strange it was to realize that As for your pity and your mercy, France, climbing something as unusual as I plead for your chèvrefeuille, beg your earth, a pile of men could be so boring while climbing something as unreFor the truth of your doves and the lies of diminutive markable as a rope could be so Vintners fenced in by their cheesecloth nets. thrilling. The wind whipped up by the blades rushed through my four Your closely cropped air in an easy December actual and my four invisible limbs, Freezing to frost—moneyed, offended . . . and for a few moments everything I’d ever done seemed worth the hassle. But even a violet in prison: losing its mind in boundlessness! God could take me or leave me. A song whistling like a little girl reckless and teasing. In the helicopter, several reporters were huddled, and one of them Where, washing kings away with it, held a large microphone to my July’s crooked street surged and seethed, mouth as she shouted questions over the deafening whir: What But now in Paris, Arles, and Chartres, were the Men of the Man MounCharlie Chaplin governs, big-hearted— tain like and what were they doing there in a pile like that and what Exact, disheveled in his oceanic bowler, did I think it meant and did I think Puppet-like, he sashays with the flower girl . . . the federal government should intervene or should they leave it up Where the shawl of the spider’s web with a rose on its breast to the state of Kansas and what Turns to stone in a two-towered fever-sweat, would I like to tell the American A shame, this merry-go-round turning about People and did any of the Men in In airy gratitude as it breathes in the city— the Mountain say anything to me and did I say anything to them and Bow and bare your neck, godless woman did I suspect foul play or divinity With those golden, nanny-goat eyes, and yes, most importantly, did I Tease the thickets of miserly roses think the Man Mountain was an With your wry, throaty shears. Act of God? I wanted to answer the reporter, but I didn’t want to answer her
HARPER’S MAGAZINE / MAY 2022
© THE ARTIST. COURTESY FRIESEN+LANTZ FINE ART, KETCHUM, IDAHO
The Erving Goffman Memorial Lookout Post, a mixed-media artwork by David Hytone, whose work was on view in April at Friesen+Lantz Fine Art, in Ketchum, Idaho.
questions. I shook my head, so she re-shouted her questions, all of them the same, just louder, meaner. How could she have known that I, a human spider, can hear very precisely through both my ears and the extremely tiny and biologically complex hairs that cover my body and limbs? She couldn’t have known. The truth is that spiders and humans know very little about each other, and human spiders know even less about
themselves. I tried to answer her questions, but my ears were bleeding. I’m simply too sensitive. I just want to climb on everything, keep climbing on everything, up and always up, to reach the top or die trying. I tried to speak; I may have spoken. Perhaps I should have kept quiet. Below us everyone kept struggling and failing to understand how the world had come to this, and above us no one even bothered to ask the question. n READINGS