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Nota Bene

Lost in translation
M.H. Abrams, R.I.P.
Too many books?
Truth or poptimism
Mindfulness
Absurd curationism
Cult of the PhD
Einstein and his pipe
Marxism and Game of Thrones
Faith in economics
College rejection letter
Culture warriors
Secret life of yo-yos
Ballad of a pencil junkie
Art world
Guide to thesis writing
Textspeak
Melody on the menu
Tragedy of Oppenheimer
Politics of crime fiction
Science’s big scandal
Translating Proust
Old and young writers
Secret of Austen industry
Tips for would-be writers
Is Krugman a Keynesian?
Joys of "wrong comma"
Birth of slut
Diner beware
Scientology's lingo
Joy of hating
Broken footnotes

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Articles of Note

The novel is in the doldrums. Sales are down, something called “snackable content” is in demand. The solution? A return to the past: serialization... more»
Teaching political theory in Beijing. Human rights and democracy are fine, but no Marxism. And beware the censors... more»

“If I had the choice, I would do it again,“ said Gloria Steinem about working for the CIA. Other intellectuals were not so candid... more»
Walt Whitmans purpose in life and literature was “to soar, to sing the idea of all.” But his legacy – especially his Civil War writing – remains divisive... more»
Uncomfortable truths are stifled in science, but ideology alone isn’t to blame. It’s money that rules the day in the academy... more»
Dickens was both a critic of industrialization and a creature of capitalism. Indeed, he was the original authorpreneur... more»
Literary fame can depend on advantages other than talent. Would Wordsworth have been known without Lake District tourism, or his surname?... more»
“Mostly the good guys are the good guys and the not-good guys are not the good guys,” says Renata Adler. “Other people are just whatever they are.” Well, of course... more»
Joyce Maynard left Yale after two semesters to be with J.D. Salinger, the man she loved. She never returned, to her deep regret... more»
Alone together. Every new technology generates anxiety – and art – about its isolating effects: Witness Cocteau, Hopper, and now, Ryan Trecartin... more»
Günter Grass – novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, sculptor, printmaker, social critic, member of the Waffen-SS – is dead. He was 87... NY Times... WaPo... AP... LA Times... WSJ... Guardian... Telegraph... Prospect... Irish Times... Spiegel... Haaretz... Salman Rushdie... William Giraldi...
Among artists in Cairo, Beirut, and Istanbul, condemnation of the Charlie Hebdo killings is unequivocal. Everything else is complicated... more»
David Brooks is all too self-aware: “I’m paid to be a narcissistic blowhard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident about them than I really am”... more»
Anyone who wants to be a writer in America will sooner or later confront the question: To M.F.A or not to M.F.A.?... more»
The word “meme” was coined for ideas, songs, and religious ideals. Not LOL cats. Memes have never been more trivial – or more important... more»
Help Susan Sontag with her mail. Feed Bob Silvers dried blueberries. Doctors and lawyers have secretaries; intellectuals have assistants... more»
James Wood was saved by literature. Son of a minister who maintained a strict home, he found novels an invitation to think beyond the Gospels... more»
Half of Americans reject evolution, the second-lowest acceptance rate of 34 developed countries. Just try defending Darwin in Kentucky... more»
Roger Scruton unbound. “If you’re a philosopher who is self-employed, it’s pointless to engage in self-censorship. I just say what is true”... more»
More than a scientific concept, the Anthropocene is an all-encompassing idea fraught with political, ethical, and aesthetic implications... more»
Things that irk Mary Norris: poorly punctuated signs, the wrong sort of pencil, misused apostrophes, complaints about New Yorker style... more»
Romance fiction accounts for half of the mass-market paperbacks sold in America. But the genre gets no love from lit scholars... more»
In 1988, the historian Barbara Taylor arrived at a great Victorian institution: the Colney Hatch mental asylum. She was a patient... more»
Ever lost yourself sublimely in a work of music? Schubert understood this effect two centuries before science caught up...more»
The Quill, the Walkie-Talkie, the Cheesegrater, the Gherkin, the Shard: Skyscrapers attract strange nicknames to go with outlandish analyses...more»
Rube Goldberg. His name is synonymous with the needless complexity of newfangled devices. His ideas, though, tended to be rudimentary... more»
What can be gleaned from a linguistic analysis of World Bank reports? That the language – and reality – of global finance grows ever more opaque... more»
Germaine Greers archive: correspondence with Warren Beatty and Diane Arbus, color-coded annotations, evidence of a woman uneasy with her public image... more»
Saul Bellow liked to provoke people, even providing one critic with a velvet pillow to place beneath the “brick-size chip on his shoulder”... more»
The idea of hell has evolved over millennia. Where did it come from, and why does it endure? A brief history of eternal punishment... more»
Mapmaking mystery. How did a 13th-century cartographer do work so accurate that you could still navigate the Mediterranean with it?… more»
G.K. Chesterton inveighed against pessimism, determinism, pragmatism, even Impressionism. Yes, Impressionism: “It puts what one notices above what one knows”... more»
The self-invention of Herman Melville. In Polynesia, as in the settings of his early books, he made it up as he went along... more»
The problem with conspiracy theorists isn't that they lack information. The problem is that they lack intellectual character... more»
It’s nice to think that humankind is becoming more empathetic and selfless. And less violent. But is it true? John Gray takes aim at optimism... more»
Read Raymond Williams. Only a coterie of Marxists, academics, students, and wonderful oddballs like Geoff Dyer still do. Too bad... more»
A pernicious groupthink has infected certain branches of science, in which identity and politics trump inquiry and evidence. Ask Alice Dreger... more»
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm expected to be remembered long after their deaths – for their masterful philological studies, not their fairy tales... more»
The Sappho wars. For three millennia, the life of the poet has been the center of controversy. But how relevant is her biography to her work?... more»
Tipping: It’s a form of payment, an expression of gratitude, a sign of respect. Or is it a mark of condescension?... more»
A pop songs life on the pop charts is short, even brutish. Maybe that’s why a strain of sadness has long run through the songbook... more»
Life was not going well for Claude Debussy: bad marriage, bad health, debt, writer’s block. Then he escaped Paris for Normandy... more»
Do you know what “sprezzatura” means? How about “starboard out, starboard home”? Secret frames of reference govern writing... more»
Dylan Thomas excelled in the role of doomed poet: Drinking, debt, squalor, petty theft, not-so-petty theft... more»
Robert Clive, an unstable sociopath, plundered India. His was a supreme act of corporate violence, and a harbinger of our own times... more»
Mamoru Samuragochi was hailed as a great classical talent of his generation. His story was amazing – a deaf composer genius. And it was false... more»
Rimbaud in Ethiopia. How did the enfant terrible of the Parisian literary scene end up in the ancient-walled market town of Harar?... more»
Roughly 40,000 years ago, Neanderthals dwindled and then vanished from Eurasia. What caused this die-off? Modern humans and their dogs... more»
When a man loves a pigeon. Nikola Tesla had one true object of affection. She was pure white, with light-gray tips on her wings... more»
Literary history is male-dominated. Literary journalism, too. But rest assured that editors are keenly aware of the problem... more»
In the 1930s, Auden got involved in the Spanish Civil War. It didn’t go well, and he retreated to his poetry. Why? “Poetry makes nothing happen”... more»
Impressionism was saved from obscurity not by Monet, Pissarro, or Renoir, but by a French expat in London named Paul Durand-Ruel... more»
The French waiter. Intimidating, maligned, marvelous: He is all precision and speed, with a big dose of drama... more»
At least since Kant said the “true strength of virtue is a tranquil mind,” anxiety has been something to avoid. Was he wrong?... more»
Why was Bob Hope so successful? Mostly for the same reason people no longer find him funny: He wasn't Jewish... more»
A white male writer is a writer. The rest are pigeonholed: female writer, black writer, African writer. But literature is a way to seek universality... more»
Vaccines, climate change, GMOs: Conspiracy-minded skeptics have declared war on scientific expertise. In this debate, facts are futile... more»
Looking for Langston Hughes. He displayed a genial, marketable public persona. Given his times, it was a matter of self-protection... more»
1915 should have been a good year for Virginia Woolf: new novel, new publishing house, new bulldog. Instead she plunged into madness... more»
What the story of one dead man pulled through the snow by another man says about history, historical fiction, and the human imagination... more»
Stanley Milgram’s studies endure not because they clarify our capacity for evil, but because his work doesn’t prove what he claimed it does... more»
Literature, like relationships, involves exploration and self-knowledge. So how much can you learn about marriage by reading fiction?... more»
Writing the Great American Bible. Long ago it seemed that everyone was trying a hand. One effort survived: the Book of Mormon... more»
Psychiatry is the black sheep of the medical family, scorned by physicians and patients alike. The reputation is well-deserved... more»
Think again, Barthes. The author is not dead. He is tweeting, Facebooking, YouTubing. And that’s a problem for critics of contemporary literature... more»
How a wealthy, wild-bearded philosopher-poet and a shy, homeless runaway determined how the mind knows what it knows... more»
Why the continuing obsession with Nazis? For the stark moral drama, to which we can retreat from our far more complex world... more»
0.7 percent of books published in the U.S. every year are translations of fiction and poetry. That’s why you’d never heard of Patrick Modiano... more»
Science used to be polyglot. Now it’s monoglot: English rules. Surely that’s more efficient, right? Probably not... more»
Loving literature. Our relationships with books are emotional. We read certain authors as an act of devotion, even if unrequited... more»
Technicolor turns 100 this year. It was supposed to make films more lifelike. Instead, its over-the-top palette made movies more dreamlike... more»
If in 1150 a few extremists murdered some civilians, the reaction would have been ridicule. Today we are so secure yet feel so threatened... more»
Scholarly journals first appeared in 1665, and from the beginning they didn't pay authors, peer reviewers, or editors. Is the economic model coming undone?... more»
Big Science, Big Data, and now Big History. Is taking the broadest possible view really a panacea, or just another impractical way of relating the past?... more»
Why won’t Mount Holyoke College stage a performance of The Vagina Monologues? Because the play excludes women without vaginas. Political correctness is back... more»
Primo Levi was first a scientist, then an artist. He resented the literary world’s considering him only a witness... more»
From emasculated, irrelevant kitsch to YouTube sensation: The ukulele has its long-overdue moment. Chunk-a-chunk!... more»
How a Swiss sociologist gave rise to the café mortel, where the talk is of good deaths and bad deaths, near deaths and grief... more»
A poem can amuse, disconcert, enlighten, or reassure in moments of crisis. But can a poem be medicine?... more»
We know a lot about the brain, but the mystery of consciousness remains elusive. Is this the boundary of what science can explain?... more»
120 Days, once hidden in a wall of the Bastille, is one of the most valuable manuscripts on earth. And its author, the Marquis de Sade, has become a hero in the country that once scorned him... more»
Michel Houellebecq is not a polemicist but a satirist. And his target is not Islam but spineless French intellectuals... more»
Do we any longer need a single, definitive authority on American English? The answer lies somewhere between Noah Webster and the Internet... more»
“The most dangerous man in America.” Could it be an unstylish, self-deprecating, confrontation-averse law professor?... more»
The cliché hitman. Orin Hargraves stalks the inane, shopworn expressions that litter the English language... more»
Lionized in his own time, Beethoven was nonetheless in a perpetual rage. Thus his fondness for exclamation points... more»
Physics hinges on the idea that the human mind can encompass the universe. What if that’s wishful thinking?... more»
Anxiety of influence. While most Impressionists disavowed the old masters, Cézanne studied their works with painful precision... more»
Like a Victorian social reformer, Alain de Botton wants to lead the masses away from shallow consumerism. And he wants to make a buck... more»
Terry Eagleton used to be “an earnest, high-minded, grim-lipped intellectual.” Then feminism redirected his gaze to low-minded virtues... more»
Time to close the book on Ralph Waldo Emerson. Neither practical nor wise, and hardly original or consistent, he was, at best, an aphorist... more»
Love triangles, tales of incest—Nabokov’s works call out for cinematic adaptation. There is, of course, an exception: Pale Firemore»
The strange case of Rosemary Tonks. A successful poet and novelist, she smashed her possessions, burned her unfinished manuscript, and started anew... more»
Clichés in context. At best they help us understand our commonality; at worst they replace our thoughts entirely... more»
Greece without Greek? Japan with no Japanese? Of the world’s 6,000 languages, by 2115 only 600 will survive. John McWhorter explains... more»
For Gandhi, punctuality was a moral imperative. His watch, which ruled his day, stopped at 5:13 p.m. on January 30, 1948. Gandhi was dead... more»
One night in 1967, concertgoers packed a small venue in New York City. The performer, a cellist, wore a football helmet, jersey, and nothing else... more»
Philip Larkin averaged four poems a year. “Silence is preferable to publishing rubbish,” he said, “and far better for one’s reputation”... more»
In effectively policing science, retraction is both too powerful and too mild. Errors continue to obfuscate facts... more»
For James Patterson – 305 million books in print, 24-book contract – writer’s block is never a problem. “I look at it the way Henry Ford would look at it”... more»
Shakespeare scholars are a fractious bunch, but when it comes to explaining his enduring appeal, the predominant answer has survived centuries of debate... more»
Francis Fukuyama, post-structuralist? As a young man, he sat at the knees of Derrida, Lacan, Barthes before concluding, “This was total bullshit”... more»
Big brain projects – in the U.S., Europe, Japan – are generating loads of data but no solid theories about how neurons give rise to cognition... more»
How innovation works. It’s not lone geniuses with brilliant insights, but collaboration and big ambitions... more»
Pity Santas elves. They work all year for a jolly but demanding boss who pays a pittance – or nothing at all – and hogs all the credit... more»
String theory is a remarkable and beautiful idea. But after 30 years, it’s still unproven. Can it really explain our universe?... more»
“Sea change,” “drop in the bucket,” “give a wide berth” weren’t always clichés. They entered the vocabulary as clever novelties... more»
Paul Berman has read the post-mortems for The New Republic, and he’s annoyed. Yes, it was a political magazine. But it was also a singular journal of the arts... more»
The writing of history has its own history, which was indelibly shaped by the ambitious and flawed New Left historians... more»
When did the humble donkey become the ultimate fighting machine? It all began in 520 BC with King Darius I... more»
Ayn Rand on the Strip. Both Las Vegas and Objectivism offer an escape from reality. How fitting that acolytes of the turgid novelist descended on the city... more»
Wu wei, the art of trying – but not too hard – is central to romance, religion, politics, and business. Those ancient Chinese philosophers were on to something... more»
Collapse of The New Republic. “If we published Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, the only question would be, ‘Did it travel well?’ ‘Yes, Wagner tweeted it’”... more»
Grand critiques of the humanities rely on caricature. When we look closely, we see the value it brings. Consider historians... more»
Bletchley Park: Rarely has so much eccentricity and genius been concentrated in one place. Now it’s home to Alan Turing’s teddy bear... more»
Wikipedia: Where an entrenched, stubborn, sometimes racist and misogynistic old guard bends the truth to its will... more»
Jenny Diskis father was a professional con man, her mother an addict. Diski tried suicide – a few times. Then, age 15, she was sheltered by Doris Lessing... more»
Margins are for scribbling, pages for folding, spines for breaking. We have a responsibility to read with a pen in hand. Tim Parks explains.. more»
For 35 years, Denis Dutton edited Philosophy and Literature. His commitment was to language that is simple, clear, and elegant... more»
Alcohol, death, and the devil. In the 17th century, booze was rumored to turn men into swine, to expose their bodies to Satan’s touch... more»
When the sociologist Saskia Sassen was a girl in Argentina, her family had a frequent visitor: Adolf Eichmann... more»
There are many Orwells: Literary Orwell, militant Orwell, rural Orwell, paternal Orwell. Sixty-five years after his death, they're all in demand... more»
To understand the economics of space exploration, look to Zheng He, leader of an elite band of eunuch adventurers in 15th-century China... more»
Hans Ulrich Obrist – super-curator, data gatherer, gadfly of the European art circuit – is afflicted with wanderlust and logorrhea... more»
The comedy of Kafka biography: It’s silly to read about the man when you could be reading his books... more»
France is abuzz about pundit-provocateur Eric Zemmour’s diagnosis of what ails the country... more»
The rise of cubism. What happened in Paris in 1910 can be thanked or blamed for almost everything in art that came later that century... more»
Beyond Lucky Jim. Campus novels have evolved since Kingsley Amis. The genre has moved beyond jaded satire... more»
From Hugh Hefner to Gloria Steinem, Reinhold Niebuhr to Groucho Marx: These 100 people defined the 20th century – at least according to The New Republic... more»
Few relics of the traditional book business remain. Then there’s Fred Bass, 86. Four days a week, he mans the book-buying desk at The Strand... more»
“I am not a saint who lives in a loincloth and eats goat’s cheese and doesn’t have sex and says ‘I’m poor,’” declares Arundhati Roy. “It’s crap”... more»
Decline of the avant-garde. “They got authority by damaging the earlier establishment,” says David Hockney. “But they damaged all authority”... more»
Our passwords, ourselves. More than an annoyance, they are suffused with pathos, mischief, sometimes even poetry. They are totems of our inner lives... more»
The fragment is the size of a credit card, with eight lines of text. It will change the way we understand Christianity. Or it’s a hoax... more»
An entity rules the world. Maybe you can influence it, warns Jaron Lanier, but you’d better be in terrified awe of its power. Divinity? Or technology?... more»
The case for Van Goghs suicide is tarnished by bad history, bad psychology, and bad forensics. So if he didn’t shoot himself, who did?... more»
Whether tapered, snout-like, or hooked, the Jewish nose displays a remarkably diverse history in Christian art... more»
Anonymous is a hacker collective of young geeks in funny masks writing faux-revolutionary manifestoes. It’s hardly a serious political movement... more»
William McPherson has a Pulitzer Prize and no money. He isn’t wretched-of-the-earth poor, but he’s poor. Here’s how he reached that status... more»
At Kyoto Imperial University in the 1940s, the search for a philosophy of absolute nothingness pointed in one direction: kamikaze pilots... more»
In the early 50s, German-Jewish philosophers began returning to Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin, Heidelberg. Jürgen Habermas was a young man at the time. He remembers it well... more»
Flirting in Morse code. 19th-century telegraph operators were a surprisingly literary bunch, with a knack for the romance novel... more»
Once the subject of intellectual scorn, the gothic is back. What’s the allure of leylines, Freemasons, and ghosts?... more»
In praise of gossip. Behind-the-back chitchat and the exchange of juicy tidbits are what makes society possible... more»
At Lab126 in Silicon Valley, people in light-blue lab coats are inventing the future of reading – a future owned by Amazon... more»
“One writes a repellent book not to be repellent but to represent the repellent, to expose it, to reveal how it looks.” Roth rereads Portnoy's Complaint... more»
What an 18th-century hellfire preacher taught Marilynne Robinson about metaphysics, aesthetics, transcendence, and the complexity of things... more»
Our bladders, our destinies. William James called free will “the whole sting and excitement” of life. Can something so central hinge on having to pee?... more»
Dan Kahan, one of America’s most prominent obscure academics, wants to erase the gap between what scientists know and what the public believes... more»
Bertolt Brechts bad breath. Poor dress, poor hygiene, poor manners: It was his way of showing solidarity with the proletariat... more»
As an art critic, William Hazlitt racked up enemies. He was unsparing. But what ruined his reputation was an affair with a woman half his age... more»
Chapters: They organize our books and provide a metaphor for our lives. Where did they come from? A befuddled 15th-century scholar... more»
James Burnham, a socialist, CIA agent, philosopher, and Cold Warrior, was a master analyst of oligarchy, in his day and ours... more»
The crime: Stealing a 299-year-old Stradivarius. The suspect: A hard-luck building manager who fancied himself a high-end art thief... more»
On Susan Sontags hard drive: lists of the best dry white wines, an article on the “low carb craze,” music by Edith Piaf, and a folder labeled “Word Hoard”... more»
Are Jared Diamond’s sweeping answers to big questions – why some civilizations prosper – oversimplified and morally odious?... more»

New Books

Eugene ONeill was grim and unsmiling. O’Neill didn’t deny it: “I’ll write about happiness if I ever happen to meet up with that luxury”... more»
Blinkered and dangerous. Westerners tend to write about war as if success and failure depended only on them, not enemies or locals... more»
The Enlightenments baleful legacy has made us insular, distracted, selfish, says Matthew Crawford. Too bad he doesn’t understand the Enlightenment... more»
We know about his science, his politics, his philosophy – what else is there to know about Albert Einstein? Not least: his sense of humor... more»
We read about the Holocaust to see who we really are. If we had been there, we suspect, we would have failed any moral test... more»

Saul Bellow disdained literary criticism. Thus his cheery greeting to Lionel Trilling at a party: “Still peddling the same old horseshit?”... more»
John Searle has a bone to pick with Bacon, Descartes, Locke, and Kant. He blames them for the basic mistake of modern epistemology... more»
A shy boy with big ears, T.S. Eliot got mediocre grades and nearly flunked out of college. Then he discovered the French poet Jules Laforgue... more»
Those who don’t praise Ulysses, wrote Ezra Pound, earn themselves a place “in the lower intellectual orders.” But to praise it, shouldn’t we understand it?... more»
Neuroscience is booming, but much of it is trivial or even wrong. When it comes to the brain, we still don’t know much... more»
The study of literature has to change. But the embrace of big data must be tempered by critical reflexes that come only from reading, reading, reading... more»
The history of madness is full of maddening assumptions. Most curious that a set of American diagnostic manuals is considered authoritative... more»
A critics education. At Columbia, Morris Dickstein got the real thing: Trilling, Morgenbesser, Dupee. It was not to be encountered again... more»
Did August Strindberg, the alchemist and paranoid, cross into insanity when writing The Defense of a Madman? He himself had no idea... more»
Feeling distracted, as if advertisers, Facebook, and Apple had colonized your mental space? Is silence ever harder to find? Blame Kant... more»
Philip Glass was born with the “I-don’t-care-what-you-think gene.” It’s been a gift, a license to experiment. It’s also led him astray... more»
Few journalists have gone as far as Joseph Mitchell in bending reality to his artistic will. This is not because they are more virtuous; it is because they are less gifted... more»
When feminism took on motherhood, it revealed a big gap between theory and practice. Social change requires more than ideological declarations... more»
In March 1966, Michael Wood went to lunch at the Sirloin and Saddle and discovered how the CIA was duping college students... more»
For men in ancient Greece, the gymnasium was a place to pursue physical and intellectual excellence. Also sex. Homosexuality shaped gym culture... more»
Freedom from all constraints is no freedom at all. True liberty lies in responsibility. We are defined by the commitments we keep... more»
When Friedrich Hayek became obsessed with John Stuart Mill, it wasn’t Mill’s intellect that captivated Hayek. It was his love life... more»
Humans are changing the planet, maybe changing evolution as well. That notion is fascinating, far-reaching, and almost certainly nonsense... more»
Lewis Carroll, obsessed by young girls, photographed them dressed as princesses, or beggars, or naked. How to discern between playful and predatory?... more»
Alfred Russel Wallace and his notebook traveled some 14,000 miles, accumulating evidence of natural selection. Does Darwin get too much credit?... more»
Pity technology critics. Their arguments are empty and vain. What's needed is less technology criticism and more political and social criticism... more»... more»
The black power movements reputation has been burnished by a rising tide of revisionism. But are these works of exacting scholarship?... more»
A tale of two philosophers. One upbeat, the other gloomy; one a torchbearer for progress, the other a skeptic. But both quite fond of the limelight... more»
Fail until you fail completely. Mow grass that does not need mowing. Dig holes. The free advice and deadpan humor of Samuel Beckett... more»
Mark Twain, 31, got a newspaper to pay for a luxury cruise to Europe. The problem? Almost everyone on the ship was also a journalist... more»
We live in an injury culture. That’s not cynicism, it’s fact. Pain is a fount of creative inspiration. And self-indulgence.. more»
Wilde in America. Clad in green-velvet knee breeches and patent-leather shoes, he crossed the continent in search of attention... more»
Have you heard the story of the Duchess of Argyll’s sex scandal? Gore Vidal’s salacious, sardonic tales were well rehearsed... more»
Brecht in America. His reception was grudging at best, obtuse and reactionary at worst. The problem? He fell victim to the professoriate... more»
F.R. Leavis maintained the highest of high brows. His idea of intellectual slumming was listening to Schubert and reading a neglected classic... more»
Among the Amazons. Did a tattooed tribe of horseback riders smoke cannabis, drink fermented mare’s milk, and fight alongside men?... more»
For writers, who thrive on isolation, fame is an odd goal. Elusive, too, because the world no longer cares about literature. Our Keats is Steve Jobs... more»
Wars psychic aftermath: trauma, chaos, depression, dissociation, fear and resilience. Making sense of the postwar persona... more»
To grasp Keynes, you must understand that he was more than an economist. He was a don, speculator, farmer, statesman, theatrical manager... more»
James Laughlin had exceptional taste and a knack for turning personal problems into aesthetic ones. In the end, he was undone by his insecurities... more»
From the Harlem Renaissance through the Black Arts Movement, among the most influential readers of black writers were the men of the FBI... more»
A good metaphor allows you to see the world in new ways. But there aren’t many good metaphors. Most annoy and distract rather than illuminate... more»
Hopped up on coffee and amphetamines, Sartre filled notebook upon notebooks with prose both windy and impenetrable... more»
No second-rate apparatchik, young Stalin could be shy or gregarious, vindictive or solicitous, ideological or pragmatic: Whatever the situation required... more»
Bumbelling. Dooking. Jabblin. Puddling. Skite. Squashle: Robert Macfarlane has retrieved a lost vocabulary to describe the natural world... more»
The Monty Pythonesque slapstick of … Jane Austen? Her juvenilia – not intended for the public--was full of crude practical jokes... more»
Eleanor Marx – gadfly of literary London, gender theorist, translator of Flaubert and Ibsen – never strayed from the family religion: socialism... more»
When it came to self-destruction, Edgar Allan Poe was without peer. Liar, plagiarist, drunk, he died in a gutter wearing another man’s clothes... more»
The biographer: glutton for anecdote, scavenger of detail, prisoner to tired conventions of chronology and storytelling… more»
From Gilgamesh on, the afterlife has taken many guises. Our view is an incoherent projection of needs and impulses, irreconcilably at odds... more»
Fame is the basic demand of our age. Attention must be paid to tweets, posts, pictures. Literary fame is a different beast, though no less grubby... more»
The physicist Bruno Pontecorvo was repeatedly accused of spying. But was the real problem our idea of secrecy?... more»
The last theatrical song to hit big, Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns,” was written in 1973. Behold the parlous state of the American musical... more»
“Love shook my senses, / Like wind crashing on the mountain oaks.” Taylor Swift? No, Sappho. The love song is a timeless form... more»
The twee sensibility – think ukuleles and Wes Anderson – claims to celebrate beauty and goodness. Don't be fooled... more»
Few things are less funny than a book about humor. A joke explained is a joke failed. Especially if the explainer is Slavoj Žižek... more»
The campus novel has much to draw on: comedy, sex, self-importance. For David Lodge, academe is a target for satire but also a source of social mobility... more»
When “New Atheism” becomes “nice atheism.” Philip Kitcher’s soft secular humanism enters the God debate... more»
Academic historians condemn the past to somehow reform the present. The tendency isn’t new, says Gordon Wood. But it’s getting worse... more»
The alphabet is an arrangement of convenience – maybe a temporary one. Letters are born, grow, fight, change, or die... more»
Most animals that possess hair depend on it. Only humans seek to remove it, using increasingly strange and impressive methods... more»
Art and the Third Reich. Why did artists cooperate with the regime? Their motivation came down to – what else? – self-interest and ego... more»
Max Weber never founded a school of thought or capitalized on his academic fame. But his intellectual rigor set an example for today... more»
Did Western liberalism grow out of Christianity? It’s a popular idea on the right and the left. But proving it poses problems... more»
Aquinas, Machiavelli, Montaigne, Hobbes, Diderot, Rousseau: Esotericism – disguising real meaning through surface contradiction – was an art that is all but lost... more»
Thomas Cromwell was complex, cultivated, and craven. How else to navigate the paranoid infighting and cruel realities of Tudor politics?... more»
Schubert was chubby, syphilitic, and dead at 31. No wonder he created that most bleakly melancholic song cycle, Winterreise... more»
Yeats called Poes poetry “vulgar and commonplace”; Henry James called it “decidedly primitive.” Poe was simply too far ahead of his time... more»
Looking for “a mild affair,” T.S. Eliot married Vivien Haigh-Wood. It was a union of two damaged people. The marriage failed. But Eliot’s poetry took off... more»
Vladimir Mayakovsky was two poets: an idiosyncratic, avant-garde visionary, and a lackey who put his rhymes to use for Lenin... more»
Edmund Burke tells us more about how to think than what to think. So how did he think? He cherished certain abstract ideals unconditionally... more»
The head-neck problem. Humans are easy to decapitate: the price we pay for standing upright. Beheadings are horrifying – and fascinating... more»
Romantics after Romanticism. Did the aesthetic movement have a political afterlife? Consider the French Revolution, National Socialism, and 1960s student rebels... more»
Democracies lurch from crisis to crisis without ever addressing root causes – but also without collapsing. The result: complacency and drift... more»
Eugene O'Neill embraced torment as a pathway to inspiration. He gave pain a voice, at the cost of personal mayhem and catastrophe... more»
“This is a book about the female body and why it has turned out to be the strangest thing in existence.” Strange? To whom?... more»
Tony Judt made his name exposing the mendacious follies of public intellectuals. Then he became one... more»
Eliot in love. The poet’s first wife called him “Wonkypenky”: not a term of endearment. Sexual difficulties weren’t the worst of it... more»
The music critic Virgil Thomson once saw himself as the world’s most famous living composer. If only for a season... more»
Gore Vidal was brilliant and insufferable. He seemed without insecurity, shame, guilt, or doubt. He was imperturbable. And miserable... more»
Human cognition in the age of digital automation: “What if the cost of machines that think is people who don’t?”... more»
Here’s the thing about lying: We all do it – three times in every 10 minutes of conversation – while finding it the most blameworthy of acts... more»
A conservative at odds with conservatives, Francis Fukuyama says America’s problem is not that government is too powerful, but that it’s too weak... more»
What was Chaucer like? Hapless, by all accounts. For more than a decade, he scraped by in the stench of a dingy London bachelor pad... more»
Cowardice and courage no longer carry the moral resonance they once did. They now tend to be used as goads to violence... more»
American Orwell. Irving Howe was a tender polemicist, a socialist with conservative cultural tastes and a deep commitment to heterodoxy... more»
Long considered calisthenics for the brain, memorizing poetry was once an educational mainstay. What did that mean for poetry?... more»
“He looked like a down-and-out panhandler who had sneaked in off Duval Street to swipe a drink and a fistful of peanuts.” Gore Vidal at 83... more»
People who want to make a living in arts and letters are screwed. It’s a sad fact worthy of attention. It’s also not at all surprising... more»
“You don’t retire doing this,” David Hockney says about the artistic circus that is his life. “You just do it till you fall over”... more»
Intellectuals have spoken in the language of difference since the 1960s. Mark Greif recalls a time when commonality was in the air... more»
Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, thinks nations are defined by their books. For America, Huckleberry Finn is where to start… more»
The soul-sucking joylessness of the English department. Academics have annihilated the pleasures of reading literature, not to mention their writing... more»
Voltaire's garden was an ethical statement; Emily Dickinson’s was a place for private retreat. What--if anything--can we learn from an author's garden?... more»
He was a dandified outsider with outsize ambitions. She was 10 years older and married – well, but not happily. Notes on a strange romance... more»
Willa Cather was against teaching college students how to write creatively, instead of how to write “clear and correct English”... more»
Penelope Fitzgerald, born into a remarkable family, was remarkable herself, not least for her persistence. She published her first book just shy of 60... more»
Step aside, love. Jealousy, an emotion so nuanced that we need other words to capture its twists, makes the world go round... more»
Libertarian paternalism. An oxymoron? Maybe. Desirable? Possibly. Inevitable? Definitely, at least according to Cass Sunstein... more»
Why Homer matters. Readers join a chain of inspiration that spans the history of Western culture. At the start was the poet’s Muse herself ... more»
Christian in his moral vernacular, Catholic in his sensibility, Marxist in his political intelligence: Terry Eagleton is one odd intellectual... more»
In fairy tales, family members are murderers while animals are saviors. These doses of amorality and anarchy are desperately needed... more»
Witty, handsome, James “J” Laughlin was hard to resist. But the publisher, poet, and anthologist, founder of New Directions, was deeply flawed... more»
What makes Leo Strauss so compelling? His detractors, mostly, and their eagerness to discover the sinister roots of conservative ideas... more»
Seamus Heaney disdained the righteous, the politically certain, the morally overbearing. He was committed to complication... more»
Le Corbusier, the original starchitect, is blamed for modernism’s ills. Much of the vitriol, if not all of it, is deserved... more»
Dickens and his dogs. Timber, Turk, and Sultan were “the terror of the neighbourhood,” the author boasted. Then he shot Sultan... more»
The French are prickly about criticism – who isn’t, really? But when it comes to French-bashing, no one does it better than the French... more»
“I can’t teach someone to write,” says John Casey, “but I can sometimes teach someone to rewrite.” What he can teach them is craft... more»
For Robert Burns (haggis), Virginia Woolf (sausage, haddock), and Emily Dickinson (Black Cake), appetite was important to art... more»
When it comes to Orwell, we risk beatifying the man. Best to state what’s simple and true: He was always interesting, even when he was wrong... more»
Death by a thousand apps. Self-reliance has given way to learned helplessness. Automation makes our lives safer and easier. But the costs are dear... more»
Art in an age of relentless acceleration. The novel used to be a speedy way of delivering ideas and experiences. Now it’s unbearably slow ... more»
Smiles are fleeting, says Mary Beard, and hard to pin down. The perfect smile is a modern obsession. Blame the dental-industrial complex... more»
“I never say what I believe and I never believe what I say,” declared Machiavelli. “If I sometimes say the truth, I conceal it among lies”... more»
Norman Mailer planned to write his autobiography but never got around to it. Instead we have his letters – 45,000 of them... more»
Graffiti varies from place to place. In New York, it’s gallery-approved. In the Arab world, it’s political. In Pompeii, it was erotic and funny... more»
Beer, whiskey, wine, grain, tobacco, molasses, cement, fish, coins: The barrel is far from a simple idea... more»
Ian Buruma's interests – Anne Frank, Clint Eastwood, kamikazes – are linked by a single question: Why do humans behave so atrociously?... more»
Behold a new volume of T.S. Eliots letters, all 800 unbearably banal pages. His wife’s car was prone to skidding. He had many lunch appointments... more»
A magazine should plant its flag at the bloody crossroads where impertinence and rigor meet. How do TNR, Baffler, Believer, and n+1 stack up?... more»
Say what you will about Foucault – his self-indulgence or his preening radicalism – the man had a knack for sniffing out obscure information... more»
The poet Vladimir Mayakovsky revered Lenin, but the feeling was not mutual: “rubbish, stupid, beyond belief, and pretentious”... more»
Privilege and the penis. Fatherhood, infidelity, alcoholism, baseball, chivalry, porn, freedom: Laura Kipnis on what it means to be a man... more»
Philip Larkin enjoyed washing dishes and doing laundry. How to reconcile that Larkin with his interest in schoolgirls, obscene letters, and trysts?... more»
It’s said that fairy tales at are the roots of fiction. Probably so. But scholars can’t even agree on what constitutes a fairy tale... more»
For Leonard Bernstein, showbiz success was never enough. According to Stephen Sondheim, Bernstein suffered from a “bad case of important-itis”... more»
“As useless as a fat child in a flood.” The worldly incompetence of Dylan Thomas was key to his boyish charm... more»
How did Leo Tolstoy, a writer of such psychological sophistication, succumb to the charms of a third-rate con man like Vladimir Chertkov?... more»
In the years before World War II, there was at least one thing intellectuals could agree on: Stefan Zweig wasn’t a very good writer... more»
Bertolt Brecht: A Marxist who wore long underwear, looked like Gertrude Stein, and wrote surprisingly good erotic poetry... more»
Magnificently grotesque, vicious, or perhaps comic, the troll is a resilient character. Why we need trolls... more»
The Clive James voice: intensely serious yet self-mocking, grave but never solemn, highbrow but never snobby. And always gorgeously inventive... more»
Talk about a lack of science funding: Pavlov had to sell canine gastric juices and grow vegetables to eat. Some colleagues starved to death... more»
How does aesthetics affect history? In spurts that look forward as well as backward. Take rock 'n' roll... more»
East German censors saw their role as enabling literature, not suppressing it. That's not to say, of course, that texts weren't rejected as “late bourgeois”... more»
It’s OK to say, “I’m working on a novel”; it’s inadvisable to say, “I’m working on my novel.” The distinction interesting, but is it an art project?... more»
E.O. Wilson has tried to explain everything: racism, overpopulation, cooperation, religion. Now he’s taking on the meaning of life.. more»
The narrowing of history. Ever more scholars shed light on an ever more obscure past. When did historiography become an esoteric art?... more»
Whatever the reason – Twitter trolls, libel laws, political correctness – the literary feud is in decline. And the culture is worse off for that... more»
Formidably erudite, faintly manic, and impossible to shut up, Slavoj Žižek is a cult figure. At least he’s self-aware enough to send-up that status... more»
Bob Hope: Cocky, brash, bumptious, inveterate skirt-chaser, self-confident wise guy. But was he funny? For a time... more»
In Lasch’s time, narcissism was a potent diagnosis of a dangerous national character. In our time, it’s a mere U-turn on the American road to self-love... more»
Poor Hans Kafka. Everything he wrote, including a story about a beetle and a man, was overshadowed by the work of his neighbor Franz... more»
New York culture at midcentury: Dylan, Trilling, Pollock, de Kooning. Want to read a book that captures that moment? Stay away from this one... more»
Smart watches, refrigerators, doorbells: As the “Internet of Things” takes over, our privacy recedes. Is privacy just a bourgeois affectation?... more»
Stalins sadism. What to make of a photo snapped while he stared into his first wife’s coffin: He displays what looks like remorse... more»
Here’s the story we know: Scientific skepticism eroded religious faith. But the line between religion and science was not so bright... more»
Leo Strauss believed in a theory of deliberate obscurity. If he was right, much of modern scholarship will have to be revised... more»
Human character changed on or around June 1995. Who can help us make sense of the barrage of texts, tweets, newsfeeds, and emails? Rebecca Solnit... more»
Washington has long been a chummy and vainglorious town. At its epicenter is Georgetown, a court society and literary commune... more»
On June 16, 1816, Byron told a group of friends, “We will each write a ghost story." John Polidori wrote “The Vampyre.” Byron took credit... more»
Not salacious, as we’d think, they describe the mundane: trees, trousers, puddles. The surprisingly pretty love letters of Vladimir Nabokov... more»
The Victorian age abounded in amateur tinkerers. Let us praise the inventions – collapsible hats, revolving heels – that didn’t change the world... more»
Tight-lipped or open-mouthed, smirk or simper, a smile can excite sympathy or incur wrath. In 18th-century France, it conveyed the essence of character. more»
Wonder Woman, introduced in 1941, wore a bustier, hot pants, and kinky boots, but make no mistake: She fought fascism with feminism... more»

Essays and Opinion

Driver’s License, Drone, Remote Control, Blanket, Phone Booth: Academic studies of everyday things aren’t new. And the new ones aren’t good... more»
Words that used to mean something – ideals, character, self, soul – now mean nothing. The very idea of an inner life is passé at institutions of higher learning... more»

In the late 19th century, August Bebel called anti-Semitism the socialism of fools. Today it is the anti-Zionism of fools, and nowhere more so than in France... more»
Extinction is not a helpful way to think about conservation. It’s alarmist, simplistic, and inaccurate. Nature is as robust as it ever was – maybe more so, says Stewart Brand... more»
He’s stopped writing new work, been betrayed by Obama, alienated his friends. What’s become of Cornel West? asks Michael Eric Dyson… more»
The anti-aphorism, a seemingly wise but ultimately meaning-resistant turn of phrase, is a literary staple. It is also the stuff of great poetry... more»
The slow death of the university proceeds steadily and not always visibly, writes Terry Eagleton. He blames bean counters, bureaucrats, and barbarians…. more»
Studying with Stanley Fish and Richard Rorty in the 80s, Crispin Sartwell couldn’t help detecting a sense of finality. It was an end for philosophy... more»
Those who claim Mencken was incapable of writing a boring sentence haven’t read the 1,200 pages of post-publication notes he appended to his memoirs... more»
Reading racist literature. Old books promote old social values. But historical insults can be transformed into artistic strength... more»
“Couldn’t we say that a tie is really a symbolic displacement of the penis, only an intellectualized penis dangling not from one’s crotch but from one’s head”?... more»
Max Weber considered rationalism a distinguishing features of modernity. Yet the spirit has always been in revolt against the intellect... more»
In Victorian London, intellectuals looked for love in the British Museum’s reading room. One of the most disastrous unions: Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling... more»
Tolstoy was in his time known as a nyetovshcik, a contrarian. His views – on love, family, intellectuals – are even more out of sync today. But they are no less urgent... more»
Literary translation is low-paying, painstaking labor. Why bother? It’s the best way to understand how language works... more»
The consolations of poetry are not benign illusion or false hope. Poetry is equipment for living, an education in reconciling ourselves to our fates... more»
The story of invisibility. Thoughts, feelings, personalities, psyches, morals, minds, souls: The world is held together by what we cannot see... more»
Nella Larsens writing life was short, acclaimed, and marked by a curious incident of plagiarism. Then she vanished, living like a woman who would rather be forgotten... more»
Bellow the novelist is an enthusiast, a comic, a lover of the sentence. Bellow the essayist is a humorless pontificator, a man looking to impress... more»
We don’t look to poems for factual truths. Poetry is truest when it attends to something beyond facts: the education of our emotions... more»
The Naipaul Question. How does a writer become so protean – sympathetic and vile, attractive and repulsive, wounder and wounded?... more»
When, in 1967, Noam Chomsky said the responsibility of intellectuals was to “expose the lies of governments,” it was a minority view. Now it’s de rigueur... more»
Orwell was 35 when he suffered his first bout; Camus was 17. Tuberculosis was one thing to discuss had they met in Paris, as planned, in February 1945... more»
“I am ashamed of being in a university,” said Lionel Trilling. “I have one of the great reputations in the academic world. This thought makes me retch”... more»
Since 1976, Philip Glass has composed 10 symphonies and six string quartets – all excruciatingly boring. But no one should doubt his historical significance... more»
Hannah Arendts guide to thinking: Ignore disciplinary and methodological boundaries; discard the insidious notion that insight is quantifiable.... more»
Eric Hobsbawms MI5 file contains 1,000 or so pages, collated chronologically in folders that run from 1942 to 1963. He was classified as a “Category A” Communist... more»
Clive James no longer has the energy to write long pieces. Poetry is his main event now, and he makes it seem like the most exciting thing in the world... more»
We expect certain academics, like English professors, to love what they teach. Do we also expect them to sacrifice a good living for the pleasure?... more»
How to succeed as an Indian writer: Write about India, but in English and for the West. “It is a shameful experience; it produces feelings of irrelevance and inauthenticity”... more»
The bard of Madison Ave. L.E. Sissman – poet, critic, advertising executive – had an “amiable, attentive intelligence,” according to John Updike. Sissman’s muse: the office... more»
Žižek ad nauseam. Same jokes, same provocations, an endless loop of “new” books: He is a philosophic iPod shuffle... more»
Frustration and desperation are the lot of most writers. Even the lucky ones endure lean years. But few things are so compromising as success... more»
When did difficulty become suspect in American culture? The ideal of seriousness was never widely shared, but it used to be seen as worth striving for... more»
Dear pedantic grammarians: Your rules are just stylistic conventions. We’ll split an infinitive or end a sentence with a preposition anytime we want to… more»
“For the most part, M.F.A. students who choose to write memoirs are narcissists using the genre as therapy.” But candor is no excuse for incompetence... more»
Todd Gitlin to trigger-warning advocates: Universities are not fallout shelters. You’re at college to be disturbed. Deal with it... more»
How did the man who invented the comedic monologue – who defined celebrity in the age of celebrity – disappear so effectively from American consciousness?... more»
If belief in God means nothing to you, why proselytize one way or another? John Gray on the strange nature of evangelical atheism... more»
Attention is a finite resource. Everywhere it is harvested by advertisers. Searching for silence amid the cacophony of commerce? Good luck with that... more»
When Bernard Williams saw that a philosopher had stopped doing serious work and was merely pontificating, he didn’t hesitate to bring down the hammer. ... more»
Universities have become businesses, and businesses now generate knowledge and culture. In such a world, what’s the role of the writer?... more»
Postal utopia. Early in the 20th century, three thinkers – Twain, Lenin, Weber – shared a model of paradise: the German post office... more»
Theologically, the most interesting place today is Silicon Valley, says Yuval Noah Hariri. Its religion, not the ones coming out of Syria and Iraq, will take over the world... more»
The theological disclosures of Augustine and the earnestness of De Quincey have given way to a petty, low-stakes literature. Confession has been commodified... more»
Philology: How did this dry but wonderfully eccentric redoubt of intellectual curiosity acquire a reputation for being largely pointless?... more»
Deception and divinity. For a thousand years, God’s power was linked with a powerful, humanlike trait – the ability to tell a lie... more»
To understand the decline of classical music, you need to understand what once made it great: nationalism and Christianity... more»
Sex is leaky and anxiety-ridden, says Laura Kipnis, and no college policy or prohibition is going to change that. What rules will do is make students more vulnerable… more»
Self-criticism is integral to our sense of self. What does this unrelenting, unforgiving, internal nag want? Adam Philips hazards an answer... more»
The history of literature is not tidy, and the path of the modern novel is particularly long and improbable. Can its origins be traced to Protestantism?... more»
What is the preferred musical accompaniment to virtual killing? Beethoven, of course. Ted Gioia on the rise of “first-person-shooter Romanticism”... more»
Lost in the wave of protest and commentary that followed the massacre at Charlie Hebdo is an adequate understanding of the social function – indeed, necessity – of satire... more»
Darwin didn’t argue with politicians. But politicians tangle with him. Indeed, evolution is a litmus test: Do you stand with reason even if it costs votes?... more»
Birth of American ballet. Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream opened up new possibilities. His motto: “Dont think, just dance”... more»
Oliver Sacks has months to live. There is no longer time for anything inessential – just himself, his work, his friends. And some silliness.... more»
A person of average intelligence today would have been exceptionally intelligent a century ago. We're getting smarter. Are we getting more moral?... more»
Favoritism in physics. The “Many Worlds Interpretation” is popular despite its incoherence. We simply want it to be true... more»
The natural world is not easily shoehorned into a mathematical formula. Thus the long, strange history of efforts to reimagine the calendar... more»
When the times are brutal and the news is all lies, great poets experience our loneliness for us. Andrew O’Hagan explains... more»
Whats wrong with public intellectuals? Their underestimation of the public, which is, in fact, no less smart or striving than they are... more»
From Dickens to Dave Eggers, novelists have resisted familiar literary tropes as they reach for authenticity. Well and good, but it can make for a slippery read... more»
Every Sunday morning at 10, Keats sought spiritual communion. How? Reading Shakespeare, of course. It was his scripture... more»
The practice of ridiculing – even killing – cowards has a long history. But sometimes they are not craven but courageous. Cowardice keeps the peacemore»
Tolstoy, by 1889 a sex-hating crank, published The Kreutzer Sonata, a novella about a wife-murderer. Now Tolstoys wife gets to have her say... more»
No one can doubt the power of William Blakes visual imagination and the brilliance of his engravings. So why are his images overshadowed by his words?... more»
Even for hard-core secular rationalists, luck is a deity deserving some level of credence. Fortune may be fickle, but it ain’t dumb... more»
When everyone is an artist and no one buys art, artists starve. So it goes in America, where the professional dancer’s annual salary can be $15,000... more»
“Whatever the music means, it is not the story,” said Leonard Bernstein. Except that his music is fundamentally story time... more»
Tyranny of the smart take. On the Internet, book critics feel pressure to stand apart and perform. They should merely inform... more»
If free speech is contingent on hurting no one’s feelings, then it isn’t free speech. It’s paternalism, and it’s insidious – especially in a university... more»
Elite undergrads want to do many things – save the world, build an app, make it on Wall Street. What they dont want to be are professors... more»
Biography in the age of psychoanalysis. Some lives – Freud’s, for example – resist neat explanation. Enter the “bio-riff”... more»
Montaigne thought that animals could speak but that man was too arrogant to hear them. So if your dog spoke up, what would she say?... more»
Seneca, ancient hypocrite without peer, never let philosophical commitments interfere with his devotion to conspicuous consumption... more»
Shock is no longer chic. We’re right to be weary, but we’ve become too weary. Is offensive art still possible?... more»
Michael Walzer detects much anxiety on the left, where fear of being called Islamophobic seems greater than fear of Islamist zealotry... more»
Poetry and the short story have slipped from minor arts to crafts, of interest primarily to other poets and short-story writers... more»
Isaac Bashevis Singer and his women. The Yiddish writer bragged about "his harem" of translators. They were his muses. And maybe his lovers... more»
Facts are standard fare for historians, but intellectual fashions are what entices them: nationalism, Marxism, postmodernism, globalization... more»
Science once had moral authority. But today, with scientism resurgent, skepticism reigns. The cost is paid by all of us... more»
Vincent van Gogh, drama queen. Rejected in love, he threatened to burn his hand. When broke, he cajoled and guilt-tripped his brother for money... more»
John Brockman’s Edge question for 2015 asks 182 intellectuals: What do you think about machines that think?... more»
On the origins of evolutionary innovation. “Natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest”... more»
Does great expertise make for great criticism? Not always. Knowing everything about a topic forecloses on original and unexpected takes... more»
Edgar Allan Poe: popular writer, successful editor, and always meagerly paid. Nearly everything he wrote, he wrote for money... more»
Intense gaze, bare chest, bull-like physique: The camera was crucial to Picassos image as both genius and lover... more»
In Wagner, we encounter a truth: Anti-Semitism is a metaphysical condition that can express itself in unexpected forms, even abstract sound and opera... more»... more»
Packaged pleasures. The “tubularization” of society – cigarettes, tin cans, soda bottles, lipstick – marked a radical shift in human experience... more»
“Approaching forty, sense of total failure.” And so Cyril Connolly quit journalism to write a masterpiece. The key, he believed, was to have an interest in but contempt for humanity... more»
The world of high criticism is endangered. Not by academic mandarins, but rather by Silicon Valley philistines. Sean Wilentz explains... more»
Taken in by Doris Lessing, young Jenny Diski was silent for weeks. Then she asked a question that Lessing refused to answer... more»
Amid the rise of technologism and scientism, the replacement of wisdom by quantification, and the recasting of life as data, what's become of humanism?... more»
Yes, the canon is subjective and flawed. But the idea of maintaining one is not. It’s crucial to distinguish between the great and the good... more»
Goyas etchings of war exemplify one aspect of his talent, but it showed up in many guises. The irreducible breadth of an artist’s vision... more»
Wit can be charming or mean, whimsical or incisive. Done well, it mocks pretension, false self-esteem, snobbery. Wit is vital – and in decline... more»
Serious, intellectual writing is overwhelmingly male. Why? Ask the serious, intellectual gatekeepers of serious, intellectual magazines... more»
Silicon Valley is run by some of the most privileged people in the world. Yet they are convinced that they are among the least. Thus, nerd entitlement... more»
Mass-market paperbacks transformed the culture of reading, largely for the better. If no pulps, then no Philip Roth and Erica Jong... more»
The Seventies, once known for its lack of significance, is now a source of mournful nostalgia, for a time when we lost what we had become... more»
Careers in art are being shaped by two trends: The death of the artist as solitary genius, and the rise of the artist as entrepreneur... more»
“Culture” is a confusing word, fraught with divergent definitions. The way we use it today – think “rape culture” – has grown darker, sharper, more skeptical... more»
“The force behind the idea of nonviolence was given its most powerful run in the civil-rights era,” says Taylor Branch. “But it became passé pretty quickly.” Too quickly... more»
The world is always “more dangerous than it has ever been” – except it isn’t. By most measures – war, homicide, genocide – it’s more peaceful than ever... more»
To read with sensitivity for nuance, meaning, and atmosphere is a tricky business. Tim Parks has a few thoughts on how to do it better... more»
Listen closely to two decades of The New York Times’s nonfiction best-seller list and you will hear a shrill cry for help from the American people... more»
The folly of fame. Why do we think being remembered will make us immortal? Blame a cognitive blip, part of our evolutionary constitution... more»
Intoxication is an allure best managed, not escaped. This insight – simple and profound – stretches back to Euripides, at a time when drunkenness was new... more»
Russia is a cultivator of theories and doctrines, with an overwhelming temptation to find the secret forces – imagined or not – intent on destroying the nation... more»
An American essay today without a sudden and revelatory personal aside is hardly an American essay at all. For that tic we can thank Joan Didion... more»
Cherish foreignness. Enjoying the convenience of modern travel, we underestimate the differences of other lands. That’s a mistake... more»
Modernist art repudiated kitsch, a vague substitute for real emotion. So how did we end up with Jeff Koons’s balloon dogs and meta-kitsch?... more»
The less we know about the deep past – and we don’t know much – the more climate looks like an all-purpose explanation of economic and political change... more»
Why are free-market ideas so durable? Maybe because they are right. Or maybe they are wrong but intuitive, tapping into our very sense of self... more»
Slavery and capitalism. The relationship between the two is key to understanding the origins of the modern world... more»
Historian, poet, legal theorist, cryptographer, philosopher: Gottfried Leibniz had many roles, but too often he’s remembered for just one thing: Voltaires ridicule... more»
Inventing the future. The Victorians told a particular story about culture, technology, and optimism. It still shapes our vision of things to come... more»
The argumentative Jew. Disagreements are not only real, they are ideal, says Leon Wieseltier. “A universe of controversy is a universe of tolerance”... more»
For a 1970s feminist like Vivian Gornick, there is cause for dismay today. Women’s liberation is in the doldrums, not likely to recover in her lifetime... more»
After 33 years and 3,000 reviews, Jonathan Yardley, self-described “old-fashioned man in a new-fashioned world,” hangs it up as a book critic... more»
Norman Mailer was a writer for his time, not all time. He lived less as a novelist than as an all-purpose gadfly, taking on every issue of the day... more»
How humanity learned to speak. A language organ? No. A language instinct? No. Our need to cooperate was what paved the way... more»
For an apostle of alienation, Herbert Marcuse sure was a media star. To think his unsettling blend of Hegel, Marx, and Freud ended up in Playboy... more»
Irving Kristol: neo-Marxist, neo-Trotskyite, neo-socialist, neo-liberal, neo-conservative, and, sort of neo-religious. His wife explains... more»
Poetry and privilege. Poets inhabit a culture of exclusivity, driven by MFA programs and the AWP conference. What is it doing to art?... more»
If atheism grew out of Judeo-Christian tradition, what does atheism mean in a Muslim, or Hindu, or Buddhist context?... more»... more»
Hell has changed a lot over the years, from a place of stillness to one of fiery torment to gaudy satire. It all depends on what sells... more»
The woman who shot Andy Warhol. A foul-mouthed lesbian who hated men, Valerie Solanas had a talent for self-destruction... more»
Noah Berlatsky spent the past two years working on a book about William Marston, creator of Wonder Woman. Now a soul-crushing reality check: Jill Lepore beat him to it... more»
One billion Facebook users, 400 million tweets per day. The ethos of our time: I want not to be alone. Are social media making people less interested in God?... more»
“No bad big idea achieves its full cultural potential without first being sacralized by Wired magazine,” writes Jacob Silverman. Crowdsourcing is one such idea... more»
Matthew Arnolds culture war--and ours. The mutton-chopped prophet of high culture lost his battle with the forces of anarchy. It’s our loss, too... more»
We have shifted our focus from the meaning of ideas to the means by which they’re produced, says Arthur Krystal. Science envy is ruining the humanities... more»
The invention of clumsiness. With the advent of photography, artists grew to differ in their depictions of the ungainliness of the human form... more»
Rigid morality, hypersensitivity, no taste for bad taste: The art world is now among the more self-policing areas of contemporary culture... more»
Are we ourselves, or are we our souls? From Locke onward, philosophers have debated whether memory or morality shapes our identities... more»
Few things are as melancholy, as bittersweet, as freighted with mortality as an inscription in an old book no longer owned by the dedicatee... more»
Any biographer of Philip Larkin faces a hard fact: He had a quiet life. Childhood, school, women, work as a librarian. What’s left is the poetry... more»
Menacing figures stalk the halls of academe. Stooped, selfish, greedy: The septuagenarian professor is hurting higher education... more»
The Romantics feared the cold rationality of scientists – what would become of wonder? Their fears were misplaced... more»
Why is reason important? Leon Wieseltier explains: “We need not be a nation of intellectuals, but we must not be a nation of idiots”... more»
Why read new novels? Because they arrive unencumbered by received opinions. And because a special pleasure is derived from adjusting ourselves to what's new... more»
Hearing criticisms of your own beliefs is essential to form a considered opinion. The right to be offended is a vital right – and it’s under threat... more»
Mostly young, mostly Americanist, and mostly at Harvard: Historians of capitalism provide a case study in how to shift an intellectual debate... more»
When a book changes your mind, it doesn’t just inspire or influence your thinking. It alters the way you see yourself and your place in the world... more»
Scorsese on 50 years of the NYRB. We could have had Smartfellas. Instead we got a breathless documentary smothered in unrelenting piety... more»
Mantras and codes, supplicatory rituals, rites and sacrifices: What does it take to fend off writer’s block? For Sven Birkerts, merely an afternoon on a bench in Central Park... more»
Derided by scholars, biographers, critics of all stripes, if J.D. Salinger was such a bad writer, why does his work leap off the page?... more»
Combine a disgruntled, gambling-happy professor, a student who doesn’t like to read, and Wittgenstein. The result: a revelation... more»
How to build a taxonomy of slang: Create categories for “drink or drugs,” “sex and related body parts,” and “insults denoting misfits” and you’re on your way... more»
“Bad taste and bad art” is how Edmund Wilson dismissed H.P. Lovecrafts novels. He wasn’t literary, which is what gave him such power as a writer... more»
The Death of Klinghoffer is the kind of opera that incites outrage. But it is hardly agitprop. It is moving and intelligent. It is a work of art... more»
The 20th century comprised 100 years of horrors. The fault was not fear, greed, jealousy, or love of power. Ideas were to blame. Isaiah Berlin explains... more»
The maker of many mistakes in life, Borges didn’t give reality much credence. When things went wrong, “this is just an illusion”... more»
Great collections are idiosyncratic. Take the Wellcome: Jeremy Bentham’s skin, Napoleons toothbrush, Florence Nightingale’s moccasins... more»
How do we measure our days? By faucet drips, bird sounds, the embrace of language. Sven Birkerts on convalescence and what it means to wait... more»