Annie Ernaux And The Superstore

Adrienne Raphel at The Paris Review:

The first and only time I went to the Walmart in Iowa City was surreal. When I was in high school, my parents’ business-oriented small press had published a book called The Case Against Walmart that called for a national consumer boycott of the company; the author denounced everything from the superstore’s destruction of environmentally protected lands to its sweatshop labor to its knockoff merchandise. So by the time I made a pilgrimage out to the superstore at age twenty-one, I hadn’t stepped in a Walmart for nearly a decade, and it had acquired this transgressive power—the very act of crossing the threshold was as shameful as it was thrilling. Immediately, I sensed the store’s anonymizing power: outside, I was nearby the Iowa Municipal Airport, en route to the Hy-Vee grocery store; inside, I was anywhere. I didn’t know what I expected, but it was wonderful, and terrible, and weird, and empty, but also full of stuff. In the real world, I was allergic to animals, but I found myself hypnotized in the pet aisle: snake food, dry cat food, wet cat food, Iams, I am what I am. Each shade of paint chip in the Benjamin Moore display bouquet was more erotic than the one before. Primrose Petals, I Love You Pink, Pretty Pink, Hot Lips. Everything was too bright, oversaturated, illuminated in fluorescent Super Soaker–level high beams. I wasn’t high; I didn’t need to be. I barely saw another human, but the accumulation of things constituted many lifetimes of living. I was in a mass graveyard—a place defined by, as Annie Ernaux puts it, “the dead silence of goods as far as the eye could see.”

more here.