Nota Bene



Newspapers

Breaking News

Magazines

Book Reviews

Favorites

Feb. 25, 2017

Articles of Note

Andy Warhol, dead 30 years, anticipated our times. He celebrated commercialism, celebrity, and had an opinion of Donald Trump: "I think Trump's sort of cheap"... more »


New Books

Sleuthing word origins has become a game that anyone can play. Now the old founts of linguistic innovation are falling. Poor James Joyce... more »


Essays & Opinions

When Nell Zink left college she was determined to avoid the trap of femininity. Then she read The Golden Notebook and affirmed her womanhood for the first time... more »

Feb. 24, 2017

Articles of Note

Robert Lowell’s herculean strength of character. After each of 16 shame-filled, soul-killing episodes of insanity, he sought to re-establish his life... more »


New Books

Cézanne, who grew up in a mountainous region, was a master of line. Turner, from London, was expert in mist and fog. Does geology dictate art?... more »


Essays & Opinions

Francis Picabia was unpredictable, irreverent, improvisational, and not infrequently, amateurish: “A painter whose very maladroitness can leave you feeling uplifted"... more »

Feb. 23, 2017

Articles of Note

We are “unique, irreplaceable" says the humanist. We contain multitudes, says the scientist — bounded by the narrow confines of our skulls... more »


New Books

Critics are unkind to Anna Komnene, the princess who presumed to write military history. It's been suggested not only that her husband wrote her works, but that she plotted fratricide... more »


Essays & Opinions

Life among the Jargonauts. How do smart academics become insufferable windbags? By failing to ask, “When is my jargon necessary and when am I just being an asshole?”... more »

Feb. 22, 2017

Articles of Note

The idea of intelligence has justified slavery, oppression, eugenics. No wonder the prospect of artificial intelligence fills us with dread... more »


New Books

Somewhere at the uneasy intersection of art and science, Impressionism and empiricism, objectivity and subjectivity, sits the Rorschach test. Behold the blot... more »


Essays & Opinions

When consensus was king. For a generation of historians, liberalism and centrism were taken for granted. Now historians no longer know what to think about America... more »

Feb. 21, 2017

Articles of Note

How to stage a ballet in Soviet Russia. Avoid not only technical kinks but also ideological defects, which Sergei Prokofiev was unable -- or unwilling -- to do... more »


New Books

Ezra Pound's insanity spared him from execution but condemned him to the asylum. His delusions of conspiracy, persecution, and grandeur speak to the politics of our time... more »


Essays & Opinions

Karl Kraus's The Last Days of Mankind, a World War I epic, ran more than 600 pages and comprised 500 characters. A stage production would take 10 nights. Kraus wrote it for a theater on Mars... more »

Feb. 20, 2017

Articles of Note

Veneration of Shakespeare blinds us to the brilliance of other writers, to the other ways a play can and should be. The case against Shakespeare as a lone genius... more »


New Books

Silicon Valley: Live in a group house, work with a "start-up accelerator," feel like king of the world even if you're running a company that does nothing... more »


Essays & Opinions

Jerusalem is many things, a center of learning and a source of discord and derangement. But it's never been a multicultural paradise, whatever the claims of a blockbuster new exhibit... more »

Feb. 18, 2017

Articles of Note

In the mid-60s, Norman Podhoretz gave up on becoming the next Lionel Trilling. Instead he wrote about ambition, alienating almost everyone he knew... more »


New Books

At 15, he was a member of the Hitler Youth. At 24, he attacked Heidegger for sympathizing with Nazism. The complicated moral development of Jürgen Habermas... more »


Essays & Opinions

Voltaire thought Shakespeare "a drunken savage”; Mencken dismissed Gatsby as a "glorified anecdote." Why great critics make terrible judgments... more »

Feb. 17, 2017

Articles of Note

Norman Mailer helped free the convicted murderer Jack Henry Abbott, promising him work as his literary assistant. Shortly after Abbott’s release, he killed again... more »


New Books

The self-righteousness of literary style guides. They offer advice like “avoid fancy words” but often fail to practice what they preach... more »


Essays & Opinions

Juan Luis Vives in Paris, Erasmus in Venice. Does the mobility of 16th-century intellectuals explain Europe’s rise in fortunes?... more »

Feb. 16, 2017

Articles of Note

How to make the color red: Scholars and artists long sought the tools. Arsenic, Asian flora, sulfur, mercury, and ox blood have been involved... more »


New Books

The Holocaust survivor and historian Saul Friedländer has been known as Pavel, Pavlícek, Paul, Shaul, and Saül. His many identities can help us understand our own... more »


Essays & Opinions

Politics, religion, and calendar reform. In Russia, in 1918, the day after January 31 was proclaimed February 14. The new regime wanted to leap forward... more »

Feb. 15, 2017

Articles of Note

Capitalism has no serious rival. Yet its ability to deliver economic growth has been tarnished. It's time for a new, pragmatic capitalism. Paul Collier explains... more »


New Books

The Ancient Mariner strangely prophesied the life Coleridge would live. But is it a tale of Christian hope or a drug-fueled nightmare?... more »


Essays & Opinions

When a novelist like Arundhati Roy turns to nonfiction,it raises a few questions: Does literature still qualify as dissent? What writing do we need in times of social crisis?... more »

Feb. 14, 2017

Articles of Note

From Ms. magazine to Audre Lorde. Feminism, never a consensus, is an embrace of conflict, an intellectual series of fights, breaks, and ruptures... more »


New Books

Genetic evolution is not enough to explain the skills, power, and versatility of the human mind, says Daniel Dennett. Our minds became modern thanks to cultural memes... more »


Essays & Opinions

"If you are a tenured faculty member, you are both the instrument and the direct beneficiary of exploitation." The economic conditions ravaging the humanities ravage as well the work produced by humanists... more »

Feb. 13, 2017

Articles of Note

Craving, exhilaration, intoxication, obsessiveness, withdrawal, helplessness: Love is like cocaine. Helen Fisher explains... more »


New Books

Poetry and death. Why are doomed poets -- melancholy, drunken, lascivious, suicidal -- the ones we celebrate?... more »


Essays & Opinions

"Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history." Darwin dealt with human evolution in only 12 words. But that was enough... more »

Feb. 11, 2017

Articles of Note

Moralists like Zola and Camus have given way to propagandists like Zemmour and Houellebecq. The French intellectual is dead. Long live the French intellectual... more »


New Books

Step aside, beauty and truth. You were central artistic signifiers for millennia, but no more. The new alpha and omega: identity.... more »


Essays & Opinions

Writers like Sarah Manguso, have brought the aphorism back in vogue. But the form, which started with Hippocrates, means something new in the time of Twitter... more »

Feb. 10, 2017

Articles of Note

Money is hardly a measure of literary value. But literary work is deeply connected to its author's financial circumstances... more »


New Books

Alexander von Humboldt climbed volcanoes, braved an anthrax epidemic, and negotiated with Napoleon. He wanted to measure everything... more »


Essays & Opinions

"His name will endure through the ages, and so also will his work.” Thus spoke Engels at Marx's funeral, to the 10 people present... more »

Feb. 9, 2017

Articles of Note

Albert Murray's Omni-American Blues. The contrarian culture critic pursued an argument about what it means to be black ... more »


New Books

Nabokov and Edmund Wilson’s falling out — over translating Pushkin — is often considered silly. But at stake was a serious question: Who owns language?... more »


Essays & Opinions

"Orwell didn’t foresee Trump. But if Trump were ever to find out about Orwell, he would probably tweet. ‘Really dumb @AnimalFarm. A total loser – no clue!’"... more »

Feb. 8, 2017

Articles of Note

The Searle-Derrida dispute. How a narrow question about language led to accusations of ignorance and the split between analytic and continental philosophy... more »


New Books

Depression: Heidegger called it anxiety. Sylvia Plath likened it to being covered with a bell jar. Daphne Merkin experienced “a yawning inner lack." How do you write about a lack?... more »


Essays & Opinions

What was it like to live before and during the invention of modern sexuality? Consider Edward and Minnie Benson and their five children... more »

Feb. 7, 2017

Articles of Note

"Tell me what you like,” said John Ruskin, “and I’ll tell you what you are.” Such was the spell he cast, people of culture didn't know what to think until he told them... more »


New Books

Over four years, Hemingway evolved from an obscure experimental writer into a literary lion. His letters, pugilistic and patronizing, explain his transformation... more »


Essays & Opinions

“When I play with my cat,” Montaigne wrote, “how do I know she is not playing with me?” We can learn a lot from cats — contentment, for instance... more »

Feb. 6, 2017

Articles of Note

Jane Jacobs was a writer of caustic, lucid, vigorous prose, and an activist with a slippery political orientation... more »


New Books

Self-confident rogue with a gold hoop in his ear? Disoriented schlub with a vacant stare? What did Shakespeare look like?... more »


Essays & Opinions

H.L. Mencken, America's foremost "village atheist," was unmoved by Christianity, but he could not help being intrigued by it... more »

Feb. 4, 2017

Articles of Note

Can polyamorous relationships be made boring and respectable? Carrie Jenkins makes a philosophical case for multiple loves... more »


New Books

Freud and Bacon. Matisse and Picasso. Degas and Manet. Pollock and de Kooning. Friendship between artists is marked by the longing to be close and the need to stand apart... more »


Essays & Opinions

The aquatic Kafka. His journal entry for August 2, 1914 reads: “Germany has declared war on Russia — went swimming in the afternoon.” Was this merely self-absorption?... more »

Feb. 3, 2017

Articles of Note

Think tanks are modern, but they can be traced to the humanist academies of the 17th century. They've always been caught between political interests and the common good... more »


New Books

In the small universe of academics who theorize about the true nature of conservatism, the ranks are split by two historiographical enemies: Mark Lilla and Corey Robin ... more »


Essays & Opinions

From pulp writer to religious messiah. L. Ron Hubbard despised science fiction but wrote four million words of it in his lifetime. Why? Because it sold... more »

Feb. 2, 2017

Articles of Note

Descent of a discipline. Once philosophers appeared on TV and guided heads of state. Now they write journal articles for one another... more »


New Books

A corporeal poet, Catullus was privileged, outrageous, and sexually prolific. Appalled to learn that Romans watered down their wine, he wrote a poem about it... more »


Essays & Opinions

Henry Green was a writer for radio's golden age, a master of sound, dialogue, slang. When he started to go deaf, he made a joke of it — at first... more »

Feb. 1, 2017

Articles of Note

Herbert Hoover and his wife translated a 16th-century text on the “nature of subterranean things.” Inside a strange saga of politics and philosophy... more »


New Books

A sense of modesty was central to Elizabeth Bishop's art. She published only about 100 poems during her life. "I’ve written poetry more by not writing it than writing it” ... more »


Essays & Opinions

“The joys of motoring are more or less fictional,” wrote Zelda Fitzgerald. So why, despite Kerouac and Nabokov, do we expect road trips to inspire great writing?... more »

Jan. 31, 2017

Articles of Note

Daniel Kahneman likened his relationship with Amos Tversky to a marriage. It was among the most successful marriage of minds in academic history. Here's how it broke up ... more »


New Books

Vinyl-record sales are up and creative types cling to their Moleskines. What if the benefits of digitizing everything turn out to be drawbacks?... more »


Essays & Opinions

What Victorians looked like. Darwin had a beard and eczema, Tennyson a strange set of false teeth, George Eliot a right hand much larger than her left... more »

Jan. 30, 2017

Articles of Note

Poets write honestly about everything. Everything except money -- and their lack of it. What explains the taboo?... more »


New Books

Jane Austen's juvenilia. She was bawdy at 14, indulging in lewd intimations and poor taste, and hinting at the sharp irony to come... more »


Essays & Opinions

In defense of jargon. Words like "performativity," "problematize," and "normative" are alienating, but now is not the time to mock. It's time to double down on them... more »

Jan. 28, 2017

Articles of Note

Camus and Sartre smoked together, womanized together, talked shop. Newspapers covered their every move. They were inseparable. Then Sartre read The Rebel... more »


New Books

The penny post, the telegram, email -- all were predicted to be the death of letter writing. Elizabeth Bishop and Philip Larkin shared this anxiety, but their correspondence debunks it... more »


Essays & Opinions

"Narcissism is the new herpes," says Laura Kipnis. You didn't get it on purpose, but you got it. "Now everyone's pointing fingers and trying to pretend they don't have it, too"... more »

Jan. 27, 2017

Articles of Note

Book collecting is many things: evidence of cultural refinement, humblebrag about one’s intellectual ambition, symptom of hoarding. But sexiness?... more »


New Books

Life as the daughter of Kenneth Tynan was never normal. Turning 21 was marked by lines of coke and a screening of Deep Throat arranged by Sammy Davis Jr.... more »


Essays & Opinions

Francis Bacon imagined New Atlantis; Gulliver traveled to the Land of the Houyhnhnms. Why are literary utopias so far away? Because the distance defines them... more »

Jan. 26, 2017

Articles of Note

Three pipes in the morning, four in the afternoon, three more in the evening. After the death of a friend, Jean Cocteau turned to opium... more »


New Books

Step aside, Charlotte. Out of the way, Emily. Time for Anne Brontë, the youngest sister, who left behind two novels and five letters, to get her due... more »


Essays & Opinions

Thomas Friedman — oracular New York Times columnist, bard of the C-suite, irrepressible fount of thought leadership — has a new mantra: “Naïveté is the new realism”... more »

Jan. 25, 2017

Articles of Note

America has always been in love with Shakespeare. But it’s a complicated affair. He's a figure of unusual reverence, but also vexation... more »


New Books

"The baton and jackboot." The transformation of German and Austrian orchestras into instruments of Nazi power actually began before Hitler... more »


Essays & Opinions

Renaissance artists looked to classical Greek and Roman works; we fetishize the aesthetics of the 1980s and '90s. The nostalgia gap seems to be shrinking.... more »

Jan. 24, 2017

Articles of Note

Freud’s founding circle had 13 members. Only one was gentile. Almost all of their patients were Jewish as well. How to explain the Jewish predilection for psychoanalysis?... more »


New Books

For Victorians, their literature reflected the triumph of the British Empire. For African-Americans, Victorian literature was an unlikely source of inspiration... more »


Essays & Opinions

What is humanity’s greatest idea? It may be atomic theory — that all things are made of atoms. A tragedy, then, that the works of its originator, Democritus, were lost... more »

Jan. 23, 2017

Articles of Note

“I am ill & cannot help. Forgive. So go ahead without me.” With that, Samuel Beckett, committed to correspondence yet overwhelmed by his epistolary duties, signed off... more »


New Books

Pankaj Mishra has taken on an enormous task: explaining the modern world. But in trying to write about everything, he ends up writing about nothing... more »