Category Archives: Bluestocking Notebook

Bluestocking Notebook is BLARB’s monthly column that contains the thoughts of Rhian Sasseen on a variety of subjects.

Writing Reptiles: Qiu Miaojin’s Notes of a Crocodile

By Rhian Sasseen

The crocodile of Taiwanese writer Qiu Miaojin’s recently translated first novel Notes of a Crocodile is and is not a metaphor, is and is not a character, is and is not really a crocodile at all. The crocodile — the subject of a half-dozen surreal and witty vignettes sprinkled throughout the novel’s overarching coming-of-age story — exists halfway, appearing here and there in fragments, snippets, prose that functions somewhere between fiction and theory. It’s that halfway feeling that’s so essential to and so refreshing about the book, the ambiguity of sex, gender, queerness, desire, and the question of identity itself, all the more sobering to read in today’s political climate. The crocodile’s favorite treat, the unnamed narrator slyly notes, is cream puffs. Pass the cream puffs, please. Continue reading

The Alt-Right’s Body Image Problem

By Rhian Sasseen

Who exactly is the ideal citizen, and what is the preferred shape of the head-of-state? For centuries in the West, these roles have been mostly limited by the body, and by one specific kind of body: male, white, and guided by a certain sense of ration, moderation, and self-discipline. “You have often heard him compared to Cincinnatus,” wrote the French revolutionary Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville in 1788, after meeting George Washington. “This comparison is doubtless just.” Once established, certain ideas can be hard to shake; the American president, like the Roman senator-general, should portray himself as a virtuous pater familias. Continue reading

Literary Cookbooks: The Power of Culinary Melancholia

By Rhian Sasseen

There came a point this winter at which I realized that I was reading more cookbooks than novels, more cookbooks than poetry collections, certainly more cookbooks than newspapers. When I turned on the radio and tried to listen to the day’s events, I found myself compelled, rather, to turn it off and to flip through a Madhur Jaffrey or Nigel Slater volume instead. I stirred ginger into chickpeas and cream into gratins instead of learning what the oligarch would do next. I made elaborate lists of ingredients and recipes to cook almost compulsively, and in this, I was more diligent than any diary keeping or calendar. Continue reading

What He Believed: Revisiting E.M. Forster’s Defense of Liberalism

By Rhian Sasseen

“I do not believe in Belief.” So goes the first sentence of E.M. Forster’s 1939 essay “What I Believe,” written against a backdrop of ever-increasing global fears. “I have, however, to live in an Age of Faith,” he later goes on to say, “the sort of epoch I used to hear praised when I was a boy. It is extremely unpleasant really. It is bloody in every sense of the word. And I have to keep my end up in it. Where do I start?” Continue reading

HillaryLooks and the Surreal World of Conservative Instagram

By Rhian Sasseen

On and around November 8, 2016, American history changed. The transition was at once immediate — in the days that followed, an uptick in hate crimes were reported across the nation — and subtle — the newspapers still refreshed as usual, though now each front page was emblazoned with the headline that Donald Trump had just been elected president. Now, a few weeks later, it is still early; life has proceeded onwards, though with telltale clues scattered like breadcrumbs. When speaking of the president-elect’s incoming Chief of Staff, a member of the transition team described their role as: “to make sure the trains run on time.” Continue reading