‘Against Everything’ by Mark Greif

9781101871157Karl Whitney at The Guardian:

The unflinching intelligence of his writing can be exhilarating, but intimidating. Yet there are many moments of levity: a doctor is described as “a mechanic who wears the white robe of an angel and is as arrogant as a boss”. Of the hipster movement he writes: “It did not yield a great literature, but made good use of fonts”.

As the book progresses, the style becomes looser and more expansive. The cool, stern tone of the earlier essays gives way to a more playful approach, typified by the essay “Learning to Rap”, in which, yes, Greif decides to teach himself how to rap along to hip-hop records. His rationale is that, as a music fan in the early 90s, he chose to devote himself to American post-punk, such as Sonic Youth and Fugazi, rather than hip-hop. This was a mistake, he now thinks, as hip-hop was the birth of a “new world-historical form” while rock “had been basically exhausted by 1972”.

It’s quite the essay. By wrestling with the specifics of learning to rap, Grief plays on the white liberal’s guilt at cultural appropriation while demonstrating the complexity, difficulty and brilliance of the form. He discusses the practical challenges: trying to decipher the lyrics of Nas, Snoop Dogg and the Notorious BIG; rapping along in a low voice with the music on his headphones as he waits for the next subway.

more here.