Television show: ‘House of Cards’
This summer, just like every other one of the underpaid, overworked D.C. interns sweating on each other in the Metro and eyeing one another’s Senate badges, I binge-watched Season One of “House of Cards” with that perfect combination of desperation and satisfaction which I haven’t felt since receiving all four seasons of “The O.C.” on DVD for my fourteenth birthday. Congressman and high-functioning sociopath Frank Underwood’s delicious Southern drawl (delivered with relish by Kevin Spacey), Rooney Mara’s much hotter little sister, Kate, as a fiery journalist, Robin Wright’s terrifying inaccessibility and chiseled biceps, the Shakespearean backstabbing and intrigue (as critics have pointed out, Spacey undoubtedly draws on his performance as the equally slick, psychotic Richard III to fill these shoes) … There are too many amazing elements of this show to write about here, and they all come together perfectly, overlaid with shots of Washington’s monuments in a rich, oily color palette. Season Two premiered on Valentine’s Day, with Spacey returned to all his rib-licking, back-stabbing glory. While the show’s dialogue can be melodramatic and Underwood’s political machinations lag at times (though Swarthmore political science students gobble this up), “House of Cards” is, for the most part, just as thrilling and trenchant as ever. Like the serious but still sexy older brother to ABC’s trashier, splashier “Scandal,” it cuts to the heart of Washington’s political drama, pushing D.C.’s Congressional characters to their logical extremes. The show at once mocks our fascination with these antics and embraces it, and is only a slightly guilty pleasure. I’ll hand over my Netflix login to anyone willing to watch.
-Anna Gonzales, Editor in Chief
Short story: ‘The Nose’ by Nikolai Gogol
Imagine! A Collegiate Assessor losing his nose! It just doesn’t happen! But that’s exactly what happens in this story by Russia’s finest humorist. The absurd tale follows a nose as it travels from a barber’s morning loaf of bread into the river Neva, and then suddenly through the echelons of the government service until it outranks its original owner. Major Kovalyov, the owner, goes to great lengths to track his fleshy appendage down, simply because its indecorous for a man to go around without a nose when he is accepted into the houses of ladies of good position. The narrator finds these events just as absurd as the reader does, and provides nothing in the way of explanation of the events.
This story, nearly 200 years old now, is masterfully written, deeply satirical, and sidesplitting throughout. A Russian classic, it has sadly escaped America’s consciousness because it doesn’t have the names ‘Tolstoy’ or ‘Dostoevsky’ attached to it. I guarantee, however, that “The Nose” will be the most enjoyable story about a disembodied facial feature you’ll read this year.
–Philip Queen, Editor in Chief
Non-fiction: ‘Out of Sheer Rage: In the Shadow of D. H. Lawrence’ by Geoff Dyer
“Out of Sheer Rage” began as a sober biography of D.H. Lawrence. It quickly became a book about putting off the writing of a sober biography of D.H. Lawrence. The result of Dyer’s acrobatic procrastination is an international gonzo tour of Lawrencian landmarks interspersed with biographical tangents that come at Lawrence in incisively oblique ways. Whether he’s writing about jazz, World War I, or Tarkovsky, Dyer has a tendency to appropriate his material in order to write about his favorite subject: himself. However, those aspects that occasionally hamper his writing—his recursive indecision and his simultaneously self-deprecating and egotistic immaturity—here so satisfyingly parallel D.H. Lawrence’s own neuroses that what results is holographic: tip it one way and it’s about Dyer, the other and it’s about Lawrence. It should be said as well that Dyer is no intellectual lightweight. His populist tone is the rhetorical Trojan horse with which he smuggles in his poignant meditations on the nature of place and what it means to “belong,” while casually referencing Marx and Rilke. At the very least, it’s the only biography of Lawrence wherein the author takes LSD and engages in public indecency on an Italian nude beach.
-Philip Harris, Books Editor
American classic: ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison
There have been plenty of great books written by real-life revolutionaries, but I’ve never read one as pure and convincing as this fictional account of a community organizer in Depression-era Harlem. Rather than writing to glorify a political agenda, Ralph Ellison describes the inefficiency, hypocrisy and greed which eventually unravel his narrator’s work. In this sense, the story is more of a tragedy than a call to arms. The narrator chronicles his own failings and doubts with an uncomfortable sort of sincerity. However, that’s the freedom of the genre—Ellison, never setting out to build a cult of personality, has created a Man. For this reason, his struggles really resonate. The book is its own kind of political statement.
More than 60 years after its publication, “Invisible Man” remains depressingly relevant to understanding race relations in America. It is a powerful reminder of how far we still have to go, but it also reminded me that fiction can be the straightest path to truth.
-Liliana Frankel, Personal Essays Editor
Album: ‘San Fermin’ by San Fermin
Spain, fireworks and the Running of the Bulls—that’s what I think when I hear the name San Fermin. Mostly, I think “Festival!”—which makes San Fermin’s debut eponymous album all the more intriguing, because it’s a composition distinctly lacking in festivity. Written/composed by Ellis Ludwig-Leone, who studied at Yale, “San Fermin” is Baroque Pop taken to new heights of sobriety and bizarreness. Consider: half of the album is instrumental tracks. Consider: there’s only one song faster than 120 BPM (one singularly, deliriously catchy song about realizing that you don’t love him but maybe you will eventually). Consider: the album has a preoccupation with waking up and not falling asleep. Consider: the male singer has a voice that makes me want to melt into my bedsheets and never get up again. Why is it so good? Why does the title fit? What’s so compelling about this emotional self-indulgent wallowing? I don’t know. I don’t know times three. My best guess is that, at this point in my sophomore career, I desperately need this. “Oh, darling, I’ve been so miserable,” sings the female singer, “I can’t describe.” Buy this album; listen to it make incomprehensible sense.
-Z.L. Zhou, Poetry Editor