Co-Illusion: Dispatches from the End of Communication is David Levi Strauss‘ sort-of meditation on last months of the Obama era and the first year or so following. It’s a little bit of a strange read, perhaps worthwhile and sorta interesting, but a bit maddening too, and I really wish I had an unboxing video of it to share, though not so sad that I made a flip through video or anything…
Co-Illusion reads in two parts: 1) “A Cold Fear,” with Strauss’s thoughts on various campaign events he was able to attend thanks to a long-standing invitation to follow presidential campaigns, attending conventions alongside artist Jon Winet; and 2) “The New Image,” with Strauss writing in the voice of, or homunculus of, or, rather, as the academic left (of whom I am a tangential member*) imagined the little homunculus to be, of the orange idiot who occupied the White House from early 2017 to early 2021. I missed this change in sections when I first read the book and kept wondering why the voice and tone had changed so significantly.
Note to self: Read More Carefully, James!
If the first half seemed reasonable and matched, more or less, my political consciousness, and if the second half made me blanche, get angry, depressed, mourn for the America I grew up in and love, well, the book is titled Co-Illusion for a reason.
I don’t think either the blathering idiocy of what’s called “the Right” these days, or the well-spoken wisdom of the far left, is actually the truth any more. Both are speaking to the choir and neither give a damn about anyone outside their bubble, and this pretty much what Strauss is talking about through the whole book.
We’re both deluded, willing, complicit victims of our addiction to technology and personal arrogance, and while there must be a way out, I don’t (yet) have any answers.
Anyway, and probably the most interesting part of it, Co-Illusion features black & white photographs from Susan Meiselas and Peter van Agtmael on the campaign trail, and they’re revealing and excellent, but we’ve all seen them all before. Well, not really, but it’s the usual see-all-the-angry-people-at-the-rally/see-all-the-sad-people-at-the-rally sort of fare that we all saw so much of in 2016-2020 (and probably most other presidential election cycles). Meiselas and van Agtmael are professional, highly qualified photographers at more or less the top of their game, for sure, and still, it’s candidates at campaign stops. What more do you want?
I think I pulled my copy of Co-Illusion out of a Half Price Books, maybe, and you can find copies all over if you’re interested, though I don’t necessarily recommend it…
I started this post about 2 years ago, and at one point it had swelled to over 10000 words. Big thanks to Andrew Molitar, who recently wrote about another of Levi Strauss’ books, for unknowingly pushing me to go back and edit this for publication. Big thanks also to myself for reading, editing, rewriting, editing, rewriting, rereading, and then deleting. huge swaths of text. Good times.
* I count myself as a member of the wing-nut Left and think both Clinton and Obama were a bit too far to the right (both were to the right of Reagan on very many things, but so much has changed since 1988, so the comparison is useless now).