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July 28, 2017

Articles of Note

Richard Rorty thought of himself as an American philosopher. American philosophers saw him as a European intellectual, and his philosophy as a betrayal. It wasn't... more »


New Books

The magic mongoose? Gef, a contemporary of Nessie, was believed to speak a range of foreign languages, sing, whistle, cough, swear, dance, and attend political meetings... more »


Essays & Opinions

Nazism and the supernatural. Of all the Third Reich’s bizarre experiments with the occult, none was embraced as effusively as World Ice Theory. Hitler thought it would replace Christianity... more »


July 27, 2017

Articles of Note

Disturbed by the state of the world, W.S. Merwin turned to environmentalism. He cultivated a garden composted with manuscripts that other poets had sent him... more »


New Books

If these are the end times of civilization — ecological collapse, social and political unraveling — it's worth asking: What sort of art comes out of such a dire reckoning?... more »


Essays & Opinions

It happened gradually. The surges, surprising transitions, turns of phrases came less often. Then hardly at all. For Sven Birkerts, writing became a lot more difficult... more »


July 26, 2017

Articles of Note

The tradition of Kant, Hegel, and Habermas has given way to slick performers. Is German philosophy exchanging profundity for popularity?... more »


New Books

Oskar Milosz was a respected writer who, after a near-death experience, was transformed from decadent flâneur to full-blown mystic and mentor to his distant cousin, Czeslaw... more »


Essays & Opinions

The life and death of John Keats. His talent drew attention, as did his penchant for fighting. When death neared, he longed for it with frightening urgency... more »


July 25, 2017

Articles of Note

After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern humiliated Tom Stoppard, the play took off. Asked what it was really about, he said, “It’s about to make me very rich”... more »


New Books

Left-wing melancholy runs long and deep and cannot be confined to one time or place. It is our affliction as well... more »


Essays & Opinions

What do we get from poems and songs? The effects are probably as much a product of what you bring as what you take... more »


Essays & Opinions

What do we get from poems and songs? The effects are probably as much a product of what you bring as what you take... more »


July 24, 2017

Articles of Note

Le Monde diplo v. Bernard-Henri Lévy. The monthly releases a "dossier" portraying him as a mafia-type oligarch. BHL responds... more »


New Books

The essay thrives on paradox: confession and concealment, disorder and progression, concision and profusion. The best essays are never about what they claim to be about... more »


Essays & Opinions

How Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the supremely rational Sherlock Holmes, came to proselytize for spiritualism, participate in séances, and believe we can speak to the dead... more »


July 22, 2017

Articles of Note

Leonardo and Michelangelo were driven and difficult, which is central to their modern appeal. The less mercurial Raphael is more admired than loved... more »


New Books

The history of modern cool is one of strange convergences — among French intellectuals, black musicians, and white Hollywood heroes... more »


Essays & Opinions

In 1967, Timothy Leary told Allen Ginsberg to drop out. "What can I drop out of?" Ginsberg asked. "Your teaching at Cal," Leary said. Ginsberg chuckled. "But I need the money"... more »


July 21, 2017

Articles of Note

A new history of the right is red meat for the left. Critics have tried to dismantle the book, footnote by footnote. Has anyone actually read it?... more »


New Books

The only thing worse than newspaper humor is newspaper humor written in dialect. So why does the rube-journalist shtick of Ring Lardner hold up?... more »


Essays & Opinions

The Cold War lasted until 1991, but Cold War philosophy is still with us. Consider the strange and enduring career of rational choice theory... more »


July 20, 2017

Articles of Note

Gene editing threatens to homogenize society, says Atul Gawande. Aberrant yet valuable characteristics are under threat. Think of George Church's narcolepsy... more »


New Books

Fiery or meek, bombastic or shy, licentious or pious, revolutionary or reactionary, cunning or naïve: Martin Luther cut a contradictory swath across history... more »


Essays & Opinions

Biology and its discontents. Techno-optimists come in all stripes — scientists, seekers, grifters, con artists. They share a zeal for augmenting their bodies... more »


July 19, 2017

Articles of Note

Rather than “Which side are you on?,” Samuel Huntington wrote, the question in the post-Cold War world would be “Who are you?” What a prescient insight... more »


New Books

For Stuart Hall, culture is what defines common sense and builds our identities. But how to understand the role of culture we never experience?... more »


Essays & Opinions

Alcohol dissolves the barrier between aspiration and judgment. Come morning, the barrier is rebuilt. You mourn for the feeling you had last night. Metaphysics of the hangover... more »


July 18, 2017

Articles of Note

Darwin and women. Publicly dismissive of the female intellect, in private he was completely dependent on it... more »


New Books

“I have a natural horror of letting people see how my mind works,” wrote John Ashbery at 23. Why is he now engaged in a project of self-exposure?... more »


Essays & Opinions

Charles Fourier thought men would grow tails. John Humphrey Noyes had a penchant for awkward sexual metaphors. Meet the founders of America’s utopian experiments... more »


July 17, 2017

Articles of Note

Among most economists, globalization has been seen as both inevitable and salutary. Now the cracks in that consensus have split wide open... more »


New Books

Mocking Thoreau is a pastime that dates back to his time. He was tagged as a hypocrite, a fraud — and a lazy one at that — even before Walden was published... more »


Essays & Opinions

A Chinese writer sets a novel during the Holocaust? A Jewish boy writes about a black man in 1810? It’s the result that matters, not the creator... more »


July 15, 2017

Articles of Note

Questions of policy and of social science run on different tracks. Mixing them gets complicated. Consider Brown v. Board of Education... more »


New Books

A.E. Housman thought poetry's power wasn’t intellectual but emotional. For many young men — especially gay young men — his A Shropshire Lad was a secret Bible... more »


Essays & Opinions

Artistic fashion comes and goes. What remains is the experience of culture — its beauty, its reach, its strangeness, its ability to transform an ordinary life... more »


July 14, 2017

Articles of Note

Information existed before Claude Shannon, but there was little sense of it as an idea, an object of hard science. His insight made our world possible... more »


New Books

Ulysses and the law. In 1899, Joyce attended a murder trial in Dublin. The case helped form the fabric of a novel that landed him in court... more »


Essays & Opinions

Truman Capote's excesses would, in his final years, seal his fate as an outcast of the "in" crowd. Now that Capote the personality has faded, it's easier to assess Capote the artist... more »


July 13, 2017

Articles of Note

20th-century American conservatism was a combination of inherited reflexes and political opportunism that never made any sense. Now it's come undone... more »


New Books

Black pudding, chipped beef on toast, jellied bouillon salad, protein powder stirred into diet orange soda: “Every life has a food story, and every food story is unique”... more »


Essays & Opinions

The emphasis on smarts, combined with black people’s grievous history in America, suggests an approach to the issue of race and IQ: Stop talking about it. John McWhorter explains... more »


July 12, 2017

Articles of Note

Digital text alone is impoverished and, on occasion, emotionally arid. It lacks the nonverbal cues — body language — of spoken communication. That's why we need emoji... more »


Essays & Opinions

Flaubert, who sometimes took days to compose a single sentence and then tossed it out, has been called a martyr of literary style. Now critics are chipping away at his reputation... more »


July 11, 2017

Articles of Note

Philip Larkin's things include a Hitler figurine, empty spines of the diaries that he wished shredded after his death, and ample evidence of his own self-loathing... more »


New Books

A melding of design and utility, a marvel of compression and precision, one of history’s most versatile and durable technologies. In praise of the card catalog... more »


Essays & Opinions

What was prog rock? Proof that artistically ambitious and intellectually sophisticated modern music that embraces artistic tradition can have a large — if fleeting — popular following... more »


July 10, 2017

Articles of Note

At 23, Charlotte Brontë became a governess. The experience would inform her later fiction: What better way to learn subordination, exploitation, and humiliation?... more »


New Books

Confessional memoir purports to liberate its author from the past. But does self-exposure really set you free? Consider the poet Patricia Lockwood... more »


Essays & Opinions

Is Western democracy Orwellian? Neoreactionary “Dark Enlightenment” theorists think so, making their case via cybernetics, The Matrix, and H.P. Lovecraft... more »


July 8, 2017

Articles of Note

The history of the closet. It made itself useful in 15th-century Italy, where studioli housed secret poems and experimental philosophy... more »


New Books

“Can I come home with you?” Diane Arbus would follow a couple home or pick up odd-looking men on the street, all in search of authentic experience... more »


Essays & Opinions

Mary McCarthy reserved the right to be “difficult.” What this meant in practice was that she was lacerating, supremely clever, and above all opportunistic... more »


July 7, 2017

Articles of Note

Félix Nadar's guestbook reveals what preoccupied the cultural elite of the Second Empire: morality, boredom, politics, inside jokes, and above all else, artistic ego... more »


New Books

Three hundred pages of egomaniacal longhairs: A book of album covers from the ‘60s and ‘70s reveals the centrality of Magritte, American kitsch, and bad hair... more »


Essays & Opinions

Is it a form of cultural appropriation to take another’s sorrow as the source of your art? Zadie Smith ponders the question... more »


July 6, 2017

Articles of Note

Isaiah Berlin called Toscanini “the most morally dignified and inspiring hero of our time.” Now he’s seen as the false messiah of middlebrow music appreciation. What gives?... more »


New Books

What can we learn from memoirs of the terminally ill? Universal truths, if they exist at all, are elusive. We die the way we live: idiosyncratically.... more »


Essays & Opinions

Thoreau’s philosophy was based on rivers as well as on Walden. What, then, to make of his siding with industrialists over local farmers when it came to water levels?... more »


July 5, 2017

Articles of Note

The glory of the Hollywood memoir. Idiosyncratic, biased, boastful, unctuous, and vain, it nevertheless gives us a revealing glimpse into the past... more »


New Books

Kafka abandoned on a balcony; Kafka at an air show. We're intrigued by anecdotes about his life, but what do they tell us?... more »


Essays & Opinions

What laughter means. In medieval times it was a great leveler, inclusive and communal. For modern satirists it is a way of standing apart... more »


July 4, 2017

Articles of Note

Hemingway vs. Eastman. The literary “battle of the ages” involved evaluations of chest hair, a blow to the face (with a book, of course), slaps, and wrestling moves... more »


New Books

Just a contemplative philosopher? Montaigne’s life was full of misadventure: He fled mobs, was kidnapped by bandits, was exiled from the city where he was mayor... more »


Essays & Opinions

Catching up with the Beats. Kerouac and Ginsberg are gone, but their writerly friends carry the torch. In their 80s and 90s, they haven’t exactly mellowed with age... more »


July 3, 2017

Articles of Note

E.M. Forster called him a “mixture of insolence and nervousness.” Hemingway said he had “the eyes of an unsuccessful rapist.” What made Wyndham Lewis so unlikable?... more »


New Books

He fell into a vat of boiling water for scalding pigs; then he contracted polio. Does Harry Crews’s childhood explain his affinity for the grotesque?... more »


Essays & Opinions

Is it possible to convey one’s moral vision to another generation? Henry Adams, who wrote a 500-page autobiography without mentioning his wife’s suicide, was skeptical... more »


July 1, 2017

Articles of Note

How was scientific publishing transformed from profit-shunning to for-profit oligopoly? It was all thanks to a man named Robert Maxwell... more »


New Books

Susan Sontag’s greatest work of criticism was the one she applied to herself. Her journals were not just a record of her life; they were an alternative to it... more »


Essays & Opinions

Yes, power corrupts. It also makes us stupid by undermining the same capacities we need to gain it in the first place... more »


June 30, 2017

Articles of Note

Feed the cats, water the plants, mail the lesbian literary magazine to subscribers named Starflower, Athena, Kali: What it was like to be Adrienne Rich’s assistant... more »


New Books

Just because you're a man who reads Julia Kristeva doesn’t mean you're not sexist. In the arts, sexism is more often a failure of empathy than of understanding... more »


Essays & Opinions

Hemingway in his day exemplified American macho. Now scholars are giving him a gender-fluid remake: A little less Papa, a little more Mama  ... more »


June 29, 2017

Articles of Note

The Brontë brother, Branwell, was known for vices — opiates, alcohol, married women, setting his bed on fire — but he had literary virtues as well... more »


New Books

Asked about his transformation from Oxford don to thought leader, Niall Ferguson was blunt: “I did it all for the money.” He's not alone... more »


Essays & Opinions

Is free speech under threat in the United States? Not exactly, or at least not in the ways you might think. A Commentary symposium... more »


June 28, 2017

Articles of Note

Golden age of the short story: the 1890s? 1980s? 2010s? We’ve been celebrating the “revival” of the form since Chekhov. Some perspective, please ... more »


New Books

Cockroaches, crummy days, and lousy lakes. For Grace Paley, every part of life was worthy of literary attention. There was beauty in banality... more »


Essays & Opinions

The life of a ghostwriter. Don't argue with clients, however repulsive. And remember, you'll probably receive no recognition — which may be a good thing... more »


June 27, 2017

Articles of Note

Is a tome three feet wide by two feet high a book? What about one with an embedded digital clock? Or a suitcase filled with lithographs?... more »


New Books

The essay, that most elegant and slippery of forms, resists being pinned down. Its strength derives from a “combination of exactitude and evasion”... more »


Essays & Opinions

The search for ecstasy. In 1960 an estimated 20 percent of Americans said they'd had a mystical experience. Now it's 50 percent... more »


June 26, 2017

Articles of Note

Bernard-Henri Lévy can barely read Hebrew and hasn't devoted much time or energy to studying Judaism. That hasn't stopped him from writing a book of pronouncements on the topic... more »


New Books

The brief rise of "prince poo." How the Enlightenment's sensory awakening reached its apex (or nadir) during a French craze for garments the color of baby poop... more »


Essays & Opinions

If economists aren't questioning the effectiveness of economic theory, they should be. Simply put: Their claim to scientific expertise is no longer tenable... more »


June 24, 2017

Articles of Note

A passion for the mundane. A scuffed old bread knife, a glass vase, a coffee table — ordinary objects delighted, inspired, and confounded Matisse... more »


New Books

Even Bach, musical savant and master of counterpoint, did not escape critique. For one journalist, his work contained “too much art”... more »