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Alex Carnevale

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious

This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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In Which We Drank Too Much You Know What We Are Like

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com.


For the first eight months of my relationship with Sandra, everything was perfect. Our first problems emerged then – Sandra complained that I wasn't as attentive to her as I had been in the past. I have tried to rectify this, but I still don't think that a relationship is going to be the same at eight months as it is when you are first discovering each other.

It bothers me that I am being held to what I feel is an impossible, or at least difficult standard. I struggle to communicate this to Sandra. What should I say to her?

Mark S.


If the issue is that Sandra's expectations for you are too much, then the answer is to surely lower her expectations. Casually show her movies where the protagonist's boyfriend is something of a dick. Offer to compensate a close friend and his wife for striking each other in front of Sandra. Soon she will realize she is with the man of her dreams. 

In reality, what Sandra is explaining to you is merely a symptom of a larger disease. You are not making her happy any longer. You should think carefully about what you may have said or done that would give her this impression, because what you are experiencing right now is the canary in the coal mine. When the canary dies, no one even bothers disposing of its corpse. They just leave the mine. 


How much of yourself show you display to the other person on a first date? 

I have been receiving some completely contradictory advice on this topic. One of my friends says I should just be myself, since if he's not interested in that, how will we ever be together down the road? My mom advises me to keep it sparse and create an air of mystery and intrigue. 

Who is right?

Nell R.

Dear Nell,

When a plumber selects a tool to repair the waterworks, he never uses the same one for every job. Actually, maybe he does, and I wish a plumber had an advice column. I would have so many questions for him, like where does sewage go, and does he like Ed Sheeran?

My first point was best. Sometimes you meet a guy and you'll want to be open and honest. Other times it is best to make him work for things. More often you will want to use the latter approach. The problem is that your senses as to when you should employ each method could be very off. 

If you detect your instincts are askew, every so often go against them. Note the results. In either case, you will probably not want to show all of yourself on a first date, which is a very different thing from "being yourself." You should only be completely honest if you are factually a super-attractive person, inside and out. If you watch a lot of Bravo, maybe don't lead with that.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.


In Which Narration Is Such A Crime At Times

photo by Molly Dektar

False Positives


Seeing the men in their dirty little tractors spray-paint the lawn green is how you know the tourists are coming. In college, we called any non-student with a camera a “tourist” though I know, in a vague statistical sense, that there must have been a lot of false-positives. I was born near the Galapagos Islands and went to high school in Times Square; I grew up knowing what it feels like to have to dust off the glitter in order to come to terms with a place. Harvard felt like a perfectly organic extension of Times Square, so it took some effort to not resent people who didn’t know the pristine grasses were painted-on. I sometimes played this game where I would spot them by the lanyards around their necks. (I wasn’t very good at this game.)

There’s a biblical sensibility to this resentment, a rallying against the golden calf. It made me uncomfortable to see buses of Japanese schoolchildren swarm around the John Harvard statue in their starched white shirts and navy blazers, rubbing the bronzed booted foot that my douchier friends drunkenly peed on some nights. They loved Harvard because they did not know it, but they could not love it until they did. Luckily, there’s no shortage of people who want to show them around.

The campus novel has been around since the 1950s and has, since its conception, introduced gentiles to the rituals and totems of the ivory tower. There is a lot of tenure-track malaise in these books, but that’s a niche concern. The genre’s real major draw is the sex — and there’s a lot of it. It makes sense. If you want to get to know place vicariously, what’s more fun than entering it through the bedroom door? Illicit sex is a respite from any monotony that the lifestyle might entail; in Willa Cather’s The Professor, the protagonist has a brush with death after a gas stove leaks in his study. I cannot think of a lonelier way to die.

photo by Molly Dektar

But the genre does more than bring outsiders behind the scenes. It allows insiders to engage in self-fictionalizing. Read solipsistically, “ethical” and “unethical” become null categories replaced by amoral aesthetic designations of beautiful and not-beautiful. If we are all characters in the campus novel, then anything we do can be contextualized, excused, forgiven. Bad behavior, so long as it is written well, is romantically metabolized into a tragic flaw.

Once, in college, a former professor unsuccessfully tried to hit on me by referencing an excerpt from a novel in which the protagonist, a humanities professor (and it is always, or almost always, humanities professors: the genre’s authors rarely place their men in the cold-shower carnal biome of hard science) close-reads what he calls “the podium effect,” a phenomenon whereby the “ugliest and most squalid, horrible, tyrannical, and despicable among [professors] arouse spurious and delusional passions… I’ve seen dazzling women barely out of their teens swooning and melting over some foul-smelling homunculus with a piece of chalk in his hand, and innocent boys degrading themselves (circumstantially) for a scrawny, furrowed bosom stooped over a desk.” 

The writer — Javier Marías — is being satirical here, but that’s the thing about satire, isn’t it? Some people don’t get the joke. Still, there is some nuance to Marías. (And an attempt to pretend there are loads of classic academic novels about boys “degrading themselves” for older women in power. There aren’t.) Other novels don’t even invite misinterpretation. Here are titles of the books in Philip Roth’s David Kepesh trilogy: The Professor of Desire, The Breast. You needn’t have read these books to guess what they’re about.

The third book, The Dying Animal, is my favorite. The novel’s protagonist, a literature professor, patronizingly describes a young Cuban-American student’s thinking (he’s already described her “gorgeous breasts”) in this way: “She thinks, I’m telling him who I am. He’s interested in who I am. That is true, but I am curious about who she is because I want to fuck her. I don’t need all of this great interest in Kafka and Velazquez. Having this conversation with her, I am thinking, How much more am I going to have to go through? Three hours? Four? Will I go as far as eight hours?”

Consuela has no interiority. Kepesh fetishizes her because he infantilizes her, and we spend the next couple hundred pages learning to find redemption in his character, because he has found her beautiful, the ultimate pronouncement. He is a professional aesthete and he's chosen her. She, and I, and you, should feel anointed. 

In n+1’s review of Elegythe movie adaptation of The Dying Animal, Molly Young writes, “I do not speak for all women when I say this, but in reading the book it is possible to feel vicariously worshipped for nothing more than sheer femaleness." This is true. Roth’s descriptions of Consuela’s long, black hair made me feel an almost erotic appreciation of my own. This is the power of Roth’s writing (and maybe my vanity, a little bit). But in reading the book — in reading most of these books, The Dying Animal and Herzog and Disgrace and The Gold Bug Variations, it is impossible to not feel infantilized and essentialized and caricatured. It is impossible, in some way, to not feel completely devastated.

photo by Molly Dektar

F. Scott Fitzgerald once described falling in love as the dipping of all things into an obscuring dye. It consumes. His words have always seemed to me a more accurate description of depression, and I thought about those words often in the days after Javier Marías was used against me. That's how I remember the episode. The devil had cited Scripture for his purpose, and I was sad as hell.

It was made un-sad by one of my mentors at Harvard, a female professor who's read her share of academic novels and doesn't hide behind language to skew reality. She told me about a lot of hard things in the days following Marías' betrayal, about gender and power and bureaucracy and ethics and responsibility and foolishness and sexism and ego. She also told me some things about narration. She told me this: do not let men in power narrate you to you.

There were moving trucks outside the window when I started writing this essay. Student-led tour groups walk across campus, pausing before important-looking buildings so people can take pictures. My ID swipes me into majestic buildings that tourists cannot access, but on sunny days like this, I like to do my work outside, on the wide, grassy lawn. It is open to the public. It is almost winter now, and the green has faded. 

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

photo by Molly Dektar


In Which Bulletproof Is The Only Word You Need Remember



Luke Cage
creator Cheo Hodari Coker

There is a scene near the end of Netflix series Luke Cage where an African-American cop beats up a twelve year old boy in an interrogation room. We cannot be sure that such a hideous act never occurred in Harlem, but as something that could happen, now, today?

Luke Cage creator Cheo Hodari Coker is just getting started. The evil villains of Luke Cage are an arms dealer named Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes (Mahershala Ali) and his cousin, a city-councilwoman named Mariah (Alfred Woodard). Here is their devious plan: they plan to take money they've made selling guns to other gangs and repurpose it for the good of the community. Luke Cage (a horrendous Mike Colter, oh my god is he the worst actor in a long time) has an idea to foil this plan: he takes the money and gives it to the police. What do they use for? I can tell you candidly it will not be invested in Harlem.

Let's talk about why some minority communities turned to crime to begin with: hint, it wasn't because they were evil. It was because the easiest access to wealth that some Italians, Jews, blacks, Irish, and later on other groups had was illicit. Racism and bigotry prevented other opportunities. But now Mr. Hodari Parker has come up with another reason, only I am not quite sure what makes Cottonmouth so bad. Presumably Mr. Coker realizes that the United States government sells guns as well?

It is painful but also amusing to watch Luke Cage's idea of what makes someone a bad person. It would seem that during his extensive stay in jail for a crime he did not commit, Cage would have learned not to judge a book by its cover. The naivete of Luke Cage's titular hero threatens to turn this show into a kiddie version of the same.

Besides being bulletproof, Cage can also bend guns in half, destroying them. He does this to cops and criminals alike, since they both open fire on him frequently. Someone tries to kill Luke Cage by opening an entire magazine of bullets on him in every episode; by the finale it is the most boring gag imaginable. Between the scenes where Cage mauls gun-toting adversaries like a stuttering bear, there is another more entertaining show that actually takes the time to pay tribute to Harlem as a cultural touchstone in black America.

Luke Cage does not actively hate cops, but he never tries to help them accumulate evidence on the people he has recklessly determined are bad for his community. Cage has sex exactly once during his own show, and the subject of his affections is a police detective named Missy Knight (Simone Missick). After a few hours together he catches feelings even though he has been floating negs to her all evening. You would think super strength would complicate the idea of sex immeasurably, and true to form, Missy gets a call and never comes back to Cage's dingy apartment above a barber shop.

Luke Cage takes time to establish the lengthy backstory of Cornell Stokes, who is given very little to do as a "villain" other than laugh and play the piano. (Once he punches a guy in the face and cackles. Who among us is not guilty of that?) Stokes loves music because his early ambitions were to create it himself. At his fantastic club, Harlem's Paradise, Mr. Coker presents a series of musical acts intended to reflect the extensive diversity of African-American music. Outside of one time, we never see the club packed and joyous, perhaps because of Luke Cage's budgetary restrictions. These financial limits also make Cage the least action-heavy of all the Marvel shows.

Cage is so clearly not a role model. His ex-girlfriend Misty Knight is a lot closer to one. She never faces any racism or sexism in her job as a police detective, and all of her superior officers are also black women around the same age. I guess since Luke Cage's sister series Jessica Jones was so focused on the particulars of women's suffering from violence and sexism, Luke Cage is so reluctant to touch on any of those things.

Women in Luke Cage are never powerless. Alfre Woodard's magnificent performance as Mariah here generally keeps the entire show from falling apart. Coker has the most fun writing for her character when she is telling the truth and has something useful to say; at other times, she is too much of a garden variety hypocrite. In flashbacks that go back to Mariah's life as a teen, he does a fantastic job giving us an idea of how blacks viewed their white neighbors, and related to each other as members of the same clan. When Claire (Rosario Dawson) comes on the scene as Cage's sidekick, she feels weirdly outside of events because she cannot understand them in the same way.

Luke Cage has various new things to say about what it means to be black in America, and the vivid world that surrounds Cage is infinitely more intriguing than its centerpiece. The show's most tedious episode explains Cage's origins. The years he served in prison were not particularly difficult; he escapes a fire and busts out of the walls of the penitentiary. Free at last, he works as a dishwasher and sweeps up hair in his friend's barbershop. Unfortunately for us, he quits both of these jobs in short order and never works another day. It is unclear how he supports himself after that, although he steals $80,000 from a heavily protected safe to purchase his friend's barbershop.

The fact that Luke Cage used to be a police officer should give him some context for how he relates to men and women in blue. Instead, the fact that he is identified as black completely dominates his previous identity. He struggles to form relationships with anyone who does not have a similar background. Even being a former cop gives him no advantages or disadvantages in prison: he is always seen as who he is in the moment – a dangerous, powerful/powerless black man. This subtle indictment is never focused on or identified, which perhaps makes it all the more deft.

Policing urban communities is the kind of thing people are always saying, "Let's have a frank, open conversation about this." But like, later. Next week? After the election. Maybe we should be happy that the subject is being mentioned at all in a genre that is usually considered mindless entertainment. I blame Mr. Coker, who displays his characters reading and reflecting on fine literature, for giving me hope. In different moments, Cage brandishes paperbacks of Walter Mosley and Ralph Ellison. Then, as he becomes more and more concerned with his survival, he finds that he no longer has time to read.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.