Then Obama briefly energized the nation by addressing the public like adults and race hatred flared and white people reverse-engineered themselves as a threatened ethnicity as Hussein Obama who wasn’t even born in this country advanced his Islamofascist socialist agenda and was elected as the bubble burst despite the warnings of the hockey mom and avid hunter who spoke in slow non sequitur. It is a stubborn slowness that appeals to so many “spread” Americans, particularly white ones, for whom everything seems to be happening too rapidly: suddenly gays are getting married and there’s a black president with his hands on my Medicare and all these people speaking Spanish and a perpetual news-crawler’s worth of other outrages committed against the greatness of God and country. The violence I witnessed tended to arise not from conflicts over traditional American forms of difference or from conventional gendered rites of passage but from an identity vacuum so total that even its vocabulary of brutality had to be borrowed, however awkwardly: I remember watching the son of a prominent businessman working his fingers into an array of gang signs before he hit a rival with a bat—or was it some sort of pipe?—in the driveway of his family’s McMansion. Within the space of a chapter, Adam’s alertness to fraud will come to seem a corollary of his own prodigious fraudulence. I remember one gathering in a basement that had a pool table in its center; nobody was playing. As in freestyling, the scariest and yet most potentially exhilarating aspect of Extemp was how much of your content you had to discover in the act of speaking, so that when you did catch the right rhythm, it felt like channeling. It all seemed to happen so fast. I could never be one of the fighters, and not just because I’ve always been a physical coward but also because I was my parents’ son: I grew up in a home full of books and music; I had been at every moment of my life supported and loved; I was always going to leave Topeka for college and did not feel trapped there. . When you purchase an independently reviewed book through our site, we earn an affiliate commission. Loosed on the resonating field of fiction, however, it ripens into something richer: a mystery. . Lerner has unearthed here an ingenious metaphor for the effects of winner-take-all late capitalism — not just on debate and hip-hop, but on race and sexuality and language itself. That’s what the young American poet Adam Gordon appears to be chasing at the start of Ben Lerner’s first novel, “Leaving the Atocha Station,” published in 2011, when Lerner was himself a young American poet, presumably chasing the same thing. Locked out of your account? The activity in debate and forensics that most closely corresponded to freestyling was Extemporaneous Speaking, not Policy Debate. We might pause, though, over Lerner’s decision to place his skepticism about art inside a work of it, where truth-claims tend to behave in interesting ways. The bullying. Topics might be frighteningly particular (“Will the Ukrainian Parliament ratify the new constitution next month?”) or frighteningly general (“What is the future of Mexico”?). Those are significant exceptions, but I’d also note that corporate persons use a version of the spread all the time: think of the spoken warnings at the end of television commercials for prescription drugs, when risk information is disclosed at a speed designed to make it difficult to comprehend. Their failure to see him as fully human will have disastrous results, leaving both Darren and Adam deeply damaged. The result was the formation of a new, one-on-one debating activity, Lincoln–Douglas Debate, which emphasized values, its format intended to prioritize oratorical persuasion. Obama himself is such a measured if eloquent public speaker that some on the far right have asserted that his “unnaturally slow” pace is designed to induce mass hypnosis. I can still see a sophomore vomiting into his file folders soon after learning he’d be facing the defending state champions in a semifinal round.