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After teaching writing
Letter from Saul Bellow
Questions for Camille Paglia
Uneducated nose
René Magritte, comedian
Misplaced art
Authorpreneurship
This is Russia
Don't write full time
I, romance novelist
Chomsky speaks
New Golden Age?
Copyright and scholarship

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Articles of Note

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»
Here’s the thing about feminist novels: If the feminist ambition overrides the narrative ambition, it isn’t a novel. Roxane Gay explains... more»
In 1913, Ambrose Bierce rode a horse into Mexico and disappeared. There were clues – too many to follow. Indeed, Bierce died over and over again... more»
Politicians talk about evil as if it could be eradicated. But the only effective strategy begins with accepting that evil will never go away... more»
Sex and scandal in 18th-century Dublin. Laetitia Pilkington’s path to literary fame ran through debtor’s prison and a minefield of vicious gossip... more»
The cult of speed. The faster we go, it seems, the less time we have. And you’ll never be fast enough. Eventually speed kills.. more»
Beethovens reputation is oversized, crushingly sublime, debilitating to all in his wake. Was he too great for the good of his art?... more»
Rachmaninoff spent two years working on his first symphony. It had its premiere one night in 1897. The conductor was drunk. Cue the disaster... more»
Meek assertions, copious footnotes, weasel words like “perhaps”: Behold the intellectual cowardice of academics... more»
The 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature was a crown without a king. Sartre’s refusal was not personal. It was metaphysical... more»
Beginning in 1940, the Rockefeller Foundation rescued six Nobel winners and six future laureates. Deciding whom to save meant deciding whom not to... more»
Sex has always been fraught with ambivalence and shame. Now an army of politicians and bureaucrats adjudicates it on campus. That's awkward... more»
The Berlin Wall created misery, but also an extensive laboratory for studying politics, economics, and human nature... more»
Paul Ekman is known for recognizing a lie just by the look on the speaker’s face. But has the psychologist stretched the truth?... more»
Shakespeare and the brain. Wordplay, poetics, figurative language: the Bard can teach cognitive scientists about meaning and the mind... more»
Stanley Milgrams experiments were not so much about proving a hypothesis as about performing a play. Poor science, but great art... more»
In the digital age, we read strategically. We target, we search, we skim. We don’t dig; we sift. The result: information, not knowledgemore»
It’s genius season, when the MacArthur Foundation celebrates the already famous and rewards the much rewarded. All in the name of advancing creativity... more»
Marilynne Robinson thinks humans are brilliant creatures. And generally incomprehensible to one another... more»
“Why do you have so many Jewish friends?” the interrogator asked. Chomsky, Berlin, Steiner: How to explain? Surviving an Iranian prison... more»
“At the moment,” says Clive James, “I am in the slightly embarrassing position where I write poems saying I am about to die and I don’t”... more»
We treat procrastination as pathology, but why? Idleness, loitering, dawdling – these are often the keys to creativity… more»
The rags-to-riches narrative permeates the American psyche. From Franklin to Carnegie to his own father, John Swansburg ponders why... more»
Histories of philosophy are difficult to write. Bertrand Russell excelled. Then there’s Peter Adamson’s new, pun-laden work… more»
Behind the animatronic Adams and sexpot Eves that attract visitors to the Creation Museum is a humorless Australian named Ken Ham... more»
Karl Miller, founding editor of the London Review of Books, master of the aperçu and the clever one-liner, is dead at 83... more»
So we give up the pleasures of entertainment for the seriousness of art? Not even Henry James would agree... more»
Even the most egalitarian white people are guilty of bias, and one bias in particular: They assume the worst about black people... more»
In theory, all languages are equal. In practice, chauvinism reigns. Enter the radical linguists... more»
Donald Antrim, chronically underrated, had a year of recognition, which he calls “a very unexpected occurrence.” He didn’t expect to still be alive... more»
John Brockman, literary über agent and intellectual arbiter, wrote a trilogy of experimental, divisive books. Then, at age 32, he retired from writing... more»
That tenacious stock character, the depressed writer. Hemingway, Woolf, Wallace: We divine a link between creativity and madness. But is it a fiction?... more»
Americans are a people obsessed with living longer, a misguided and destructive obsession, says Ezekiel Emanuel. He wants to die at 75... more»
We start our embryonic lives as females, so how different can the sexes really be? Very, says Lewis Wolpert. Not least in how we think, play, and write... more»
Martin Amis’s “bracingly weird” new novel, a satire set in a concentration camp, has received strong reviews. But German publishers aren’t interested... more»
Evolutionary psychology was once the butt of academic jokes. Now it’s everywhere – especially our sex lives. But are its insights bunkum?... more»
What is college for? To learn about history, science, culture. If students want to build a self, says Steven Pinker, they can do it on their own... more»
For more than 100,000 years, humanity has survived every natural disaster. Now the existential risk comes from our own creation: supersmart machines... more»
The idea that the Industrial Revolution made us happier, wealthier, more productive is deeply ingrained. What if it actually made things worse?... more»
What would Adorno or Horkheimer say about TV recaps and celebrity obsession? Probably that their greatest fears have been realized... more»
“Hold is the true purgatory of modern existence,” says Tom Vanderbilt, “a place of temporary damnation, filled not with cleansing fire but a gentle wash of music”... more»
Here’s a starkly misogynous artifact: the mid-20th-century marriage-advice column.The husband is always right (even when he’s very wrong)... more»
College at 15, marriage at 17, a mother at 19: What do those facts suggest about Susan Sontag? “Eagerness to grow up. I hated being a child”... more»
With millennia of inventions and discoveries at our back, humans have never been more powerful. But were we happier in the Stone Age?... more»
Metaphor used to be a poetic ornament. Then neuroscientists got involved, and a nascent theory of consciousness emerged... more»

New Books

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»
From public intellectual to public personality. Cornel West seems more interested in name-dropping and ego-stroking than in original thought... more»
Mondrian called green a “useless color.” Kandinsky compared it to “a fat cow.” Nonetheless, we live in green’s triumphant age... more»
Working in different languages at nearly the same time, Shakespeare and Montaigne invented the stylistic means for reflecting on the human condition... more»
O, the joys of stage direction. To read a play is to act in your head. The experience is one of pleasure, beauty, and low-level panic... more»
Babylonians, shamans, monks, farmers, patriots, industrialists: Brewers are an ancient and odd bunch. Every beer tells a story... more»
Who was Margherita Grassini Sarfatti? Art collector, editor, malicious gossip, Fascist propagandist. And Mussolinis Jewess... more»
Must the champions of innovation, those who purport to tell us how creativity works, insist on speaking in koan-like platitudes?... more»
The immortal dinner of 1817. Around the table: Keats, Wordsworth, Benjamin Robert Haydon, and Charles Lamb. This meal wasn’t about the food ... more»
Machines can defeat chess masters, but can they create literature? The age of the computer as author, the “computhor,” is nigh... more»
Poetry has long been enlisted as a witness in dark times, a tonic for forgetfulness. But what happens when it’s as much evidence as art?... more»
Big Data was supposed to eliminate bias, make theories obsolete, and usher in a new Enlightenment. Still waiting... more»
John Gray doesn’t believe in beliefs. He strives to hold as few convictions as possible, a stance bizarre, perverse, and impossible to maintain... more»
Lemon juice, orange juice, onion juice; saliva, urine, blood, vinegar, aspirin, and a laxative: How to mix your own invisible ink... more»
“I do not like publication of letters,” wrote Samuel Beckett. Reading his letters, we see why he wanted to keep his private life private... more»
Childhood innocence: Its uses are economic as well as emotional. Consider the appeal of Shirley Templemore»
Stoic, earthquake expert, humorist, dramatist: Was Seneca knowledgeable about death? Or a complete novice on the topic?… more»
August. 9, 1942: day 335 of the siege of Leningrad, where a makeshift orchestra of emaciated musicians performed Shostakovich... more»
Looking to blame someone for Kim Kardashian? Look no more. Oscar Wilde's your man: the first to become famous for being famous... more»
Picture a future of ever-smarter machines. Increased automation will make life easier. It will also erode skills, debase intelligence, and devalue work... more»
“The prospects for democracy globally remain good,” says Francis Fukuyama. The prospects for democracy in America, however, are grim... more»
In his letters, Samuel Beckett was painstaking about his finances, his language, and his aching mouth. But give him this: He was never boring... more»
We insist on prying into the lives of writers who seek privacy, like Harper Lee and J.D. Salinger. What is it we’re after?… more»
Can we learn moral heroism from books? The diary of Jean Guéhenno, mid-20th-century French intellectual, suggests so… more»
Tennessee Williams was always writing, at least in part, about his homosexuality. But the relationship between his plots and his private life is fuzzy... more»
Pirate, hobo, prisoner, prospector, Jack London preferred life to literature. “Every time I sit down to write, it is with great disgust”... more»
The making of Blaise Cendrars. The master of French modernism was a depressed, heavy-drinking ex-boxer, repeatedly unlucky in love... more»
Enter any research library and you’ll find introverted academics with disheveled hair. The modern archetype for genius is Einsteinian... more»
Religion poisons everything, encouraging wars, terrorism, and other forms of madness. This view is plausible, widespread, and wrong... more»
Defending the defenders of the humanities. Apologist arguments do them and their cause little good. But it’s not their fault... more»
If you think there is only one thing to know about censorship – that it is always bad – you’d be wrong. Censorship can be surprisingly benign... more»
Francis Fukuyama believes that liberal democracy is the destination of humankind. His case is undermined in a new book by Francis Fukuyama... more»
How can one shade evoke sickness, hope, hazard, the supernatural? Colors are uncertain things, green not least among them... more»
Coy letters, misleading testimony: Isaiah Berlin traded in secrets at the heart of the Zhivago affair. He would have had us believe otherwise... more»
When he wasn’t with Johnson, Boswell could be found at public executions. Watching other men die was preparation for his own demise... more»
The new chasm is not between science and art but between those who speak the language of money and those who don’t. John Lanchester explains... more»
Rock & roll appeals to those with little sense of history. Greil Marcus’s criticism is a brilliant rebuke... more»
For D.H. Lawrence, it was Bavarian gentians; for Jane Austen, syringa. What is it about flowers that summons the literary muse?... more»
Vladimir and Vera Nabokov were rarely apart. When they were, he wrote – about animals, other writers, other women, Jews, gay people... more»
Charles Ives only fitfully found an audience. His was a life of rejection, struggle, redemption. His big break: being weaponized in the Cold War... more»
Whether writing on porn, punk, politics, psychoanalysis, or patriarchy, Ellen Willis snarled and illuminated. She was always agitating... more»
Once broad and expansive, the humanities are now reserved for narrow academic purists. Just look what happened to philology... more»
When we know too much. Jorge Luis Borges, a grand literary ambassador, has been transformed into “Georgie,” the impotent, mama’s boy... more»
Eichmann was anything but banal and mindless, “a small cog in Adolf Hitler’s extermination machine.” The murder of Jews was his sacred duty... more»

Essays and Opinion

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»
In America, left and right alike suffer from a surfeit of nostalgia. Both sides want to salvage an old vision of the future. The result: pessimism and uneasiness... more»
The end of genius. The label, which once conveyed the supposed superiority of white European males, has outlived its usefulness... more»
“Utopianism,” said Irving Howe, “is a necessity of the moral imagination.” He remained as committed to socialism in the 1980s as he'd been in the '30s, and to literature as much as politics... more»
It's been said – Alfred North Whitehead said it – that the history of philosophy is a “series of footnotes to Plato.” Funny. And completely wrong... more»
T.H. Huxley – Darwins bulldog” – was an eminent scientist, an ardent believer in evolution, and a fierce critic of scientific triumphalism... more»
One second per second is the speed of time, right? Not necessarily. It depends where (and when) you are. Unpacking a cosmic riddle... more»
Severed heads on tables, severed heads below headless bodies, severed heads of accomplices grouped together: Photographing the guillotine... more»
Do we have free will? Neuroscientists think they know; philosophers are unconvinced. But look closely at who is bankrolling these views... more»
Ideas like development and progress have swept the world and left ruin in their wake, taking with them the West’s moral authority... more»
What would you do with an extra 90 minutes each day? Read? Write? Sleep? Watch TV? All you have to do is stop spending time on food... more»
Cocteau, Wilde, Baldwin, Mann: It wasn’t an established canon of gay literature. It was what young Philip Kennicott could find... more»
If Terry Eagleton ruled the world: No sports, prisons, cellphones, or pomo cant. And Martin Amis would be compelled to issue calls to prayer at his local mosque... more»
Hearsay at the roots of history: In his time, Herodotus was known as a storytelling tourist. But the attacks on his reputation didn't let up... more»
From Bartleby to Joshua Ferris, the atmosphere of the office novel is one of disaffection. Recent stories tend to begin with layoffs... more»
The Our Bodies, Ourselves generation now have bodies that sag. Self-love has given way to self-loathing. Martha Nussbaum is having none of it... more»
The essay, as form, is part evidentiary proof, part amateurish sally. It’s always been that way, explains John Jeremiah Sullivan… more»
To be an aesthete in an idea-driven age is to risk being dismissed as irrelevant. Ask Terry Teachout. But dont call him an intellectualmore»
Paeans to the printed word – scent, feel, heft – change nothing. Face facts: The book is in retreat, and so is literary culture as we know it... more»
Transfixed by his own mind, Richard Dawkins misses much that is important about human beings. John Gray on a monument to unthinking certitude... more»
Jenny Diski called Doris Lessing many things: “the woman I live with,” “benefactor,” “foster mother,” “friend,” “fairy godmother,” “Auntie Doris.” None of them seemed right... more»
Diana Athill didn’t set out to think about death. But she did, regularly, every day. Now she’s 96 and unafraid... more»
World War I was the supreme disillusionment. But the culture we connect with that – Picasso, the Futurists, Stravinsky – emerged before a shot was fired... more»
Oliver Wendell Holmes’s mollusk, Emily Dickinson’s snake, Melville’s Maldive shark: What about animals makes them such attractive poetic subjects? Their inscrutability, for one… more»
Think of a compelling idea for a film. Whatever you come up with has more cinematic sizzle than a documentary about the 50-year arc of a literary journal... more»
Academics devote their lives to the world of ideas. So why are they so inept at conveying them? Steven Pinker has answers... more»
Ever since Duchamp’s “readymades,” things have invaded the realm of art. But does presence alone signify aesthetic merit? Consider U2s new album... more»
Adolf Eichmann was self-righteous, defensive, paranoid, incapable of thinking beyond clichés, and a fanatical anti-Semite. In short, he was banal... more»
“Be prepared to see something that you will not like,” Freud told his doctor. He opened his mouth. It was cancer. Freud started to plan how to die... more»
Behavioral economics has taught us to be wary of our own cognitive biases. But placing too much faith in our own irrationality is itself irrational... more»
Grasses, leaves, bark, clay, and dirt were once staples of a famine diet. Now they’re served at the world’s most exclusive restaurants... more»
Are generations real? Social scientists routinely make claims about millennials and boomers, but that may be little more than poll-sifted conjecture... more»
The music, the beards, the lack of talent: Are you fed up with hipster culture? Fine. But you have only yourself to blame for its ubiquity... more»
Would Scottish independence be the end of Britishness? “If it survives at all, it will become narrow, eccentric, strident and romantic,” says Ian Jack... more»
In place of belles-lettres, we have the bibliomemoir. Its mode is nostalgic, its ambition minor; it just might put you to sleep... more»
A philosophy of body art. A tattoo can be many things – testimonial, adornment, poignant reminder – but they all share a subtext: “Look at me”... more»
George Orwell was an “old-fashioned authoritarian” about the English language, imposing his rules and stifling the creativity of others, says Will Self... more»
The end of endnotes? Noel Coward would be pleased. “Having to read footnotes resembles having to go downstairs to answer the door while in the midst of making love”... more»
Male cultural supremacy is a thing of the past. Now women are the dominant voices. And nobody grows up anymore. Who killed adulthood?... more»
As time runs out. Rarely does a writer knowingly record his last words. And yet writing does tend to focus the mind on posterity... more»
When did “issues” – which conveys both judgment and understanding – become the perfect word for our postmodern times?... more»
Coded into economics and technology is an ideology of efficiency. Why not have everything we want – immediately? Ours is the Impulse Society... more»
How did creativity – a contemporary obsession – change from a way of being to a way of doing, from a sense of liveliness to a compulsion to make things?... more»
The office is like God: It’s everywhere, including, of course, in your pocket. Is that a worse fate than a lonely cubicle? Leah Price wonders... more»
The return of Luddism. Awash in techno-giddiness and gadget infatuation, skepticism is useful, essential, and in short supply... more»