Harper's Magazine October 2021

HARPER’S MAGAZINE, the oldest general interest monthly in America, explores the issues that drive our national conversation through such celebrated features as Readings, Annotation, and Findings, as well as the iconic Harper’s Index.

United States
Harper's Magazine Foundation
R 121,70
R 609,10
12 Issues

in this issue

4 min

Mindsweeper The roster of failed suicide-prediction tests that Will Stephenson explores in his essay [“The Undiscovered Country,” Miscellany, August] reminded me of a time in the mid-Fifties when an eager nursing student suggested I take an attitude test. I was a teenager who didn’t believe in the order of things and who tended to hold negative opinions—conditions that prompted psychological evaluation. The test was straightforward: draw a stick figure family of three. I drew the stick figure child between the two parents. Each parent held the child by the hand. The psychologist who analyzed my drawing was astonished. What I produced wasn’t what she had expected. And even then I knew what she expected from me: an image of alienation, perhaps even child abandonment; some evidence of trauma that could have explained my…

11 min
easy chair

Decades ago, my father implored me to get acquainted with James Baldwin. As is often the case with such parental injunctions, I ignored him for a long time, but once I’d acted on the suggestion, I wished I’d done it sooner. When I thought, when I wrote, Baldwin’s work was a constant inspiration. When I moved from New York to Paris in 2011, it was his path I followed. And when I visited his abandoned home in the foothills of the Alps a few years later, I was so stirred that I campaigned, in vain, to save the property from a real estate developer. But until this summer, I had never made a pilgrimage to Leukerbad, the postcard Alpine village of ski slopes and thermal baths to which Baldwin retreated…

6 min
the mourning after

Time and time again, users testify in drug literature to a sense that substances are imbued with things we might call agency, liberty, or desire. As the writer and artist Henri Michaux put it: “Mescaline wanted my full consent.” To convey this sense, writers frequently make recourse to personification: the Mazatec curandera María Sabina refers to psilocybin mushrooms as the “saint children”; Billie Holiday laments the loss of her “lover man,” which some have taken to mean heroin. The frequency with which drugs come alive in drug writing invites us to consider whether drugs are alive, or something other than inert matter—perhaps related to what the ecological theorist Timothy Morton calls “nonhuman people.” In his memoir White Out, Michael Clune obsesses over the talismanic properties of heroin and its signifiers,…

1 min
winner fakes all

Whiskey Ten burgers and two steaks from Mexico Uncastrated wild boar meat Deer musk glands applied as a treatment for being struck by lightning Medical waste splashed by heavy rainfall Testosterone cream applied by a resentful massage therapist Medication taken to get rid of a double chin Cocaine ingested by kissing a woman in a nightclub Sinus medication ingested by kissing one’s girlfriend Menstruation medication ingested by drinking from the same glass as one’s wife Residual foreign blood from a vanishing twin absorbed by the body before birth Ghosts…

4 min
end rhymes

I set out here to construct an argument about “nature poetry,” in order eventually to suggest that the composition of poems about nature constitutes, in the present moment, a political act. I had a tidy thesis all set to be defended with the usual feints and thrusts. But reading over what I’ve written, I realize that I don’t believe it. When I was young, Thoreau’s journals made intuitive sense to me: Consider the turtle … Perchance you have worried yourself, despaired of the world, meditated the end of life, and all things seemed rushing to destruction; but nature has steadily and serenely advanced with a turtle’s pace. Now this passage sounds like science fiction. Nature at the end of the world is not a turtle but a grizzly bear. We’re adding carbon to…

2 min
heaven or st. louis

Full disclosure: I initially purchased this album for gay reasons. There’s a sort of hot Pre-Raphaelite ghost clutching herself on the cover, and I, a fourteen-year-old girl in suburban St. Louis whose main cultural outlet was the local mall, found myself unable to resist her. Another disclosure: I did not, at the height of my musical listening career, listen to albums in a normal way. My usual practice was to lie down on the floor like a huge fetus, place my ear against the speaker, and pretend I was in a warm aural womb where God was growing me through an umbilicus that could only be described as my own tenuous grip on reality. You might expect this attitude to prepare me to hear Liz Fraser’s voice for the first…