Monday, May 24, 2021


Here are some mimetic moments and thoughts from the week past and the week ahead:

🎈👀👀 Positive Mimesis

In Naples, Italy, there’s a tradition of buying an extra coffee at a cafe, which then goes into a virtual “bank” and becomes available for anyone who cannot afford one. It’s called a caffè sospeso—literally, “suspended coffee”—and I find it a beautiful example of positive mimesis. Because people want to do this, other people want to do it. The result is a supply of suspended coffees to be drunk all around the city.

I just saw this type of pay-it-forward plan in place on Maybe Baby, Haley Nahman’s substack newsletter: she comps 10 people who can’t pay the $5/monthly fee (no questions asked) for every 100 paid subs she gets. The positive mimesis has gone into effect because I’ve decided to implement the same thing on mine.

🙅🏽 Negative Mimesis

The problem with inflammatory rhetoric is not the rhetoric itself. Hell, if it were just the rhetoric it would be like a tree falling in the forest, and nobody would know or care. The problem is that it inflames—in other words, it’s mimetic. It spreads. It escalates. And that’s because we’re mimetic creatures. At the heart of the human condition lie deep mimetic impulses. We’re interconnected in ways that we don’t fully understand.

I’ve long been fascinated by the mimetic properties of language. Some words are greater triggers than others, some inflame people more quickly, some generate a deep desire to take another person as a model (think of a hypnotist, who is basically a master at making themself into a model of desire that requires total submission). I plan to write an entire newsletter on the topic of mimetic language in the second half of this year. If you have any examples of these words or phrases, though, I would welcome them. Please text them to 202-918-3743.

👂👂 Quote

“We want what other people want because other people want it, and it’s penciled eyebrows all the way down, down to the depths of the nth circle of hell where we all die immediately of a Brazilian butt lift, over and over again.” —Dayna Tortorici, from her essay My Instagram, and featured as one of the two opening epigraphs in Wanting.

(If you share a link to the book on social media this next week and tag me, you’ll be entered into a random giveaway I’m running. At least 10 copies of the book are up for grabs.)

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P.S. Please excuse the dated Trump/Twitter reference. This comes straight out of a piece of art in Wanting, and it went to press before the election and before the ban. It still works for me as an example of hyper-mimesis, though…


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