"Paying attention is the only thing that guarantees insight. It is the only real weapon we have against power, too." Michelle Dean on why paying attention is a moral obligation... more »

A libertine, but so much more. Casanova was an actor, an outcast, a priest, a gambler, and a common man passing as (and sleeping with) the aristocracy... more »

Deconstruction: a detective story. A new play about Paul de Man shows how something monstrous can begin as a cavalier disregard for truth ... more »

Where do novelists go when reality overtakes their absurdist visions? They escape into the past, into mythology. But the past can't adequately account for the present... more »

When Barthes’s mother died, he fixated on a photo of her as a young girl. Why are mundane objects — a photo, a grocery list — so often central to grief?... more »

Unlike some name-brand atheists, Nietzsche didn’t waste time on easy targets like miracles or relics. He laughed at God. And nothing restores a sense of proportion like a sense of humor... more »

Hypocrisy is a limited measure of moral failing. It doesn't test for goodness, badness, efficacy, or intention. If the goal is less to be consistent than to be better, we need a more exacting metric... more »

A democracy with an exceptionalist heritage is unprepared to respond wisely when arrogance takes over. That's the lesson of Athens and Plato: Greatness has to be earned again and again... more »

Survival of the buzziest. In our clickbait culture, critics are dying off. But popularity is not a substitute for value, or so we keep telling ourselves... more »

Two cultures, then and now. When C.P. Snow lamented the gulf between the literati and scientists, in 1959, he posed a problem that can never be fully solved. But it could be better understood ... more »

To be cultured is to know how much you want to know, and what you don't want to know. Think Jacques Barzun: formidable without being stuffy, he was an authority on French prosody, baseball, and detective fiction... more »

In his lifetime, Georg Lukács was attacked from both right and left. He was too philosophical, “bourgeois,” a “deviationist.” His political troubles hardly ended when he died... more »

Of ice and art. From Burke’s sublime to Freud’s unconscious to Hemingway’s theory of artistic ingenuity, the iceberg has come to represent the creative process. Why?... more »

Professions colonize our imaginations. So thought Ivan Illich, who was against schools, medicine, transportation, law, psychotherapy, and the media... more »

Selective private colleges have become religious schools. Adherents believe they possess the moral truth. This is dogma, not scholarship... more »

In praise of “useless” knowledge. The best scientific minds — Einstein, Faraday, Planck — have been driven by curiosity and intellectual challenge, not practical applications ... more »

There is excitement in the air. Writers are anxious but not unhappy. Political upheaval has given them a fresh sense of militancy and purpose. How galvanizing — and disturbing... more »

Daniel Dennett thinks consciousness is an illusion. This, says Thomas Nagel, is the sort of sad contortion that materialists make to follow the narrow rules of physics... more »

Claude Monet became synonymous with money. What sparked the 19th-century love affair between American wealth and innovative French art?... more »

When John Berger died this year, obituaries depicted him as a Marxist rabble-rouser. And he was. But that was only one of his modes... more »

In times of historical turmoil, we gravitate to dead writers. The stories they tell — or we tell ourselves — tend to be comforting. But that doesn't mean they're convincing... more »

Inside David Gelernter's eclectic mind. The computer scientist on the recursive structure of architecture, why Schubert is the greatest composer, and the ideological narrowness of commercial magazines ... more »

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 »

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

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 »

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