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Um and uh
Academic journal racket
Poker players' language
Anti-theists
Mourning attire
TNR at 100
Pig tongues
Speaking Emoji
Reflections on Arendt
Historical biography
The ultimate tyranny
Margaret Atwood on ageing
"Orwellian"
Facebook and behavior
Nighthawks
Origins of office-speak
It's not you
Literature by the numbers
Borges and God

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Articles of Note

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»
Architects against Koolhaas. The starchitect and postmodernist issued clear commands for the Venice Biennale. A rebellion ensued... more»
“Analyzing humor,” E.B. White wrote, “is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies.” Yet the study of funny expands... more»
According to Aristotle, to understand something we must grasp what it is not. We must come to terms with nothingness. But how?... more»
The scientific mood has soured. The emphasis is on taking down other scholars and falsifying results, not generating constructive ideas... more»
What to do with church bells in post-Reformation England? Run linguistic experiments and let boozy young men ring them for exercise... more»
In an early poem, John Updike described trash as a “wonderland of discard.” Now we know the wonders contained in his trash... more»
At 85, E.O. Wilson is still thinking big. He wants to prevent a mass-extinction crisis. How? By handing over half the planet to other species... more»
Who Is Elena Ferrante? The writer has never been interviewed in person, perhaps never even photographed. For her, celebrity is a choice, not an obligation... more»
Mary Beard made her name in part by studying how Romans relieved themselves (“togas up, chatting as they went”). Now she has a new role: feminist heroine... more»
Why are inequality and social immobility more enduring and extreme in the former Confederacy? Blame the lingering effects of slavery... more»
Society, politics, economics, culture; foreign and domestic; corporate and not-for-profit: The old categories are becoming obsolete... more»
The words we use to describe pain describe something about us, too. The rationalizations, the religious-speak, the martial metaphors... more»
Underline, transcribe, highlight: David Foster Wallace put his anxieties – writer’s block, self-loathing, mental breakdowns – in his marginalia... more»
Roomba rising. When we think of robots as humans, we open ourselves up to a gantlet of philosophical concerns... more»
Owen, Sassoon, Remarque: We know how World War I affected writers. Less understood is its cataclysmic impact on the musical world... more»
Nuclear annihilation, Stalin’s terror, the Holocaust: Martin Amis has positioned himself as a serious writer about serious topics. But is he?... more»
Despite the invective, Mary Beard does not feel bad about her neck or hair or teeth. “I’m a classicist, not an autocue girl.”... more»
Exposed teeth, bunched cheeks, crinkled eyes: A smile is a peculiar thing, not least because of the spooky similarity between laughter and crying... more»
Object lessons. A rusty, pockmarked milk can, a sculpture of two hands, an ivory figurine: Things loom large as other gods seem to fail... more»
Reading as addiction: Is Fifty Shades of Grey a gateway drug for literary fiction? Probably not. Yet we cling to the idea... more»
After E.M. Forster began A Passage to India, he was blocked for nine years. Who can say why? He was so timid and repressed... more»
Tony Judts story is also the story of the left: the imagination of the universal through the preservation of the provincial... more»
Teju Cole tweets a (very short) story. “The sentences are isolated, they’re naked, and so there is that much more scrutiny on how they work”... more»
Samuel Beckett, spy. In Nazi-occupied Paris, he went to work for British intelligence. “You simply couldn’t stand by with your arms folded”... more»
Frank Gehry had the Wiggle; Norman Foster the 20-06 Stacker; Zaha Hadid the Z. You haven’t made it as an architect until you design a chair... more»
In the 1990s, young artists feared selling out. Money and art, they thought, were best kept separate. Now young artists fear that no one is buying... more»
For the last 20 years of his life, James Baldwin lived in a hilltop village above Nice. His house is now derelict and vacant, full of flaking plaster and a piece of ancient baguette... more»
Who is Bob Dylan? An aging musician who likes privacy and sleeping with pet mastiffs. A better question might be: Why is Bob Dylan?... more»
“The only time I’ve ever been in a seminar where I have been the leading authority on the subject.” Geoff Dyer attends the Geoff Dyer conference... more»
Keats is regarded as the ur-aesthete – fragile, distant, unable to cope. Not so. He was immersed in radical politics and had a passion for science... more»
The gravity of Edward Hirsch’s expression suggests that something terrible has happened. Now the poet has turned grief into a masterpiece... more»
To survive as the wife or girlfriend of a rock star, a woman must cultivate a strange combination of poise, glamour, and willful self-obliteration... more»
Sex workers, snipers, silver-gelatin photos: The creepy, fascinating, and remarkably prolific life of William T. Vollmann... more»
In this age of fat fingers on tiny touchscreens, autocorrect is a necessity. Whom can we thank for this innovation? A man identified as Bill Vaginal... more»
Joe Queenan, who has attended roughly 1,000 classical-music concerts, offers a warning: Beware the savage, conscienceless, blue-haired ladies... more»
Harper Lee – 88, in a wheelchair, forgetful, largely deaf and blind – remains where she’s been for decades: trapped by the Mockingbird industrial complex... more»
These are hard times for the study of literature. Technology is ascendant, the humanities in retreat. But the activity of writing continues to redeem itself... more»
Work and its discontents. What followed the ascendance of tech culture? Surveillance, data mining, inequality, canned pep talks, disillusionment... more»
Bertrand Russell – dapper don, clever thinker, champion of moral conviction – got much right. About war and peace, however, he was consistently wrong... more»
“Tavern-botherer, whoremaster, and libertine.” Debauched from his Oxford days, the Earl of Rochester found a form that suited him: satirical poetry... more»
Derek Parfit is committed to philosophy, white shirts, yogurt, and Janet Radcliffe-Richards. This is the world’s most cerebral romance... more»
Has science forsaken philosophy? Moving beyond data and certainty, ancient scientists like Anaximander built a vision of the world... more»
The mystery of laughter. It has confounded philosophers, neurologists, and historians. Mary Beard is on the case... more»
What has become of Hitler studies? It’s complicated. Ron Rosenbaum meditates on “What we talk about when we talk about evil”... more»
Boston or Borneo, London or Lahore: The rise of global literature doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter where a book comes from. It does... more»
In the 1870s, Isaac Newtons private papers were turned over to a committee of Cambridge professors. The result? Chaos... more»
The birth of cool. What began as a word evolved into an attitude and then a way of life. Yet a question endures: What makes cool cool?... more»
Is contemporary philosophy too dry and technical for your taste? The ancient Greeks felt the same way. Anthony Gottlieb explains... more»
Leonardo was the first to sketch it, Van Gogh immortalized it, Heisenberg was stumped by it, you’ve experienced it: What is turbulence?... more»
Art history: Is the discipline the result of a childhood swap between two brothers? The strange saga of the banker and the bibliomaniac... more»
Heil hipster. Step aside, skinheads. German fascism has a friendlier, web-savvier, bearded face. These are strange times to be a neo-Nazi... more»
Locavore, gourmet, artisanal Top Chef, MasterChef: We live in an era of crazed oral gratification. Why? We’re homesick. Ron Rosenbaum explains.. more»
Jeff Koons has clout, money, fame, family, 128 employees, a customized Koonsmobile. What else does he need? To exercise naked, apparently... more»
Orwell at the ends of the earth. To finish Nineteen Eighty-Four, the writer moved to a desolate Scottish island. He slept with a gun under his bed... more»
Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius is among the most extraordinary books in the history of scientific publishing – and among the most intricately forged... more»
Anti-Semitism, caustic sex jokes, class-based put-downs galore. The friendship of T.S. Eliot and Groucho Marx was anything but friendly... more»
In the late 19th century, painting was at a crossroads. It was a good time for radical ideas, for Cézanne to astonish Paris with an apple... more»
In animated movies for kids, the dead-mother plot dominates alongside the fantasy of the fabulous single father. Beware the exceptions... more»
Bernard-Henri Lévy – philosophe, dandy, freelance statesman – is 65 and peripatetic as ever. The secret of his vitality: “Don’t spend time with boring people”... more»
More than a machine, the elevator introduced codes of conduct, even ideas. It moved not only people and goods but also information... more»
It’s the new two-cultures divide: paper vs. ebook. Whether you’re a skimmer, skipper, or completist, the schism is about what it means to read... more»
The field of Yiddish linguistics is very small but very fractious. At issue: Is Yiddish an essentially Jewish language? Or another dialect of German?... more»
Before 1914, wars were typically presumed to be justified. Now they're suspect; everybody knows “the old lie.” A lesson learned too well?... more»
At 80, Gordon Lish hides from the sun and corrects the record. For instance, he wants you to know that he slept with only one student... more»
What can we learn from the odes of Pindar and Pelé? Sport isn’t about the athleticism of youth. It’s about mortality... more»
The mystery of human desire. Our Paleolithic libidos leave us in thrall to every unruly urge. How did we become such a downright kinky species?... more»
San Francisco is America’s incubator of utopias. And each one – hippie, techno-futurist – has produced a cuisine all its own. Glazed snails, anyone?.. more»
Consultants, conferences, seminars: Everyone is disrupting or being disrupted. The theory is hugely influential. And almost certainly wrong... more»
Jean Rhys, Elizabeth Bishop, Marguerite Duras: How is it that these women, so very bad at living, were so very good at writing about it?... more»
Shakespeare was 16 when Montaigne published his first essays. The line of influence isn't easy to discern, but it’s there... more»
Sir Walter Scott popularized the clan tartan; Madonna the kaffiyeh. When is it OK to steal from other cultures?... more»
The Goldfinch phenomenon. Donna Tartt’s novel is a masterpiece – or a cliché-ridden load of junk. Critics can't see beyond their preconceptions... more»... more»
Robert Silvers, renowned as a ruthlessly highbrow editor, starring in a Martin Scorsese film? It’s true... more»
In praise of bean counters. Accounting once occupied the attention of thinkers in religion, art, and philosophy. Yes, accounting... more»
Paul Auster doesn’t worry about how he’s received in India. Why do Indian writers think it’s so important to get published in the West?... more»
Every reviewer, at some point, becomes disgusted by the inconsequence of most books. Katherine Mansfield felt it early and deeply... more»
Charles Ives vs. classical music. The insurance tycoon-turned-composer was accused of amateurism and eclecticism. His work prevailed... more»
Before he shone as a novelist, Oscar Wilde was a book critic – a gifted, feisty, self-promoting book critic, who skewered his subjects... more»
The singular course of Stephen Greenblatt. At 21, on a bridge in Istanbul, he tore up his acceptance to Yale Law School. His life was literature... more»
“In pictures I can only go back over the same ground,” Matisse said in 1945. “Paintings seem to be finished for me.” He turned to decoration... more»
The identity of Little Albert, the baby terrified by psychologists in a filmed experiment, has been unknown for a century. Until now, perhaps... more»
Conveyors belts, literary sommeliers, in-house printing presses, "book wizards": Is this the future of the brick-and-mortar bookshop?... more»
Nazi art? There was no master aesthetic. Culture was ad hoc, improvised. Standards were dictated by whatever Hitler felt at any given moment... more»

New Books

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»
Inventiveness was the hallmark of Harry Potter. So how to explain J.K. Rowling’s pedestrian, formulaic, and grotesque adult novels?... more»
Walter Benjamin, godfather to left-leaning cultural theorists, had a vexed relationship with academe. Tenure eluded him, perhaps by his own design... more»
We think of feminism as having unfolded in “waves” – first, second, and so on. Now it unfolds in hashtags, more identity than politics... more»
Winemaking has been revolutionized. Most everything being bottled is clean, fruity, smooth, easy to drink, and completely boring... more»
Horses and riders, youths and elders, men and women, animals being led to sacrifice: What is the Parthenons frieze telling us?... more»
Weimar: Where Goethe and Schiller found a home, Liszt blossomed into a musical genius; Bauhaus became possible, and Nazism took hold... more»
Long disregarded – from a “sixth-rate talent,” “the Pepsi of Austrian writing” – Stefan Zweig’s work deserves the attention it’s now receiving... more»
Yes, Eric Hobsbawm was a persistent and unabashed communist. But he was also profoundly bourgeois, of a distinctly Jewish sort... more»
T.S. Eliot attributed his inspiration to it; Philip Larkin described it as “the best remedy for a day’s work.” Gin has deep roots in beery Britain... more»
Long before Cuvier, Darwin, and Mendel, Aristotle was deciphering the mysteries of the cuttlefish's abdominal tract, the ambiguities of hyena genitals... more»
Life in Montmartre for Picasso and Matisse was deep blues, green skies, and chaos--all scented with musk and patchouli... more»
Ethan Zuckerman wants to combat provincialism in the digital age. How? Perhaps the rise of the e-flâneur is in order... more»
Philip Larkin was callous toward people – mother and lovers included. But he gushed in the presence of hedgehogs, squirrels, bunnies, and bears... more»
C.K. Scott Moncrieff – poet, soldier, spy, translator of Proust and Stendhal – died at 40 of esophageal cancer. About the cause... more»
The mystery of Murakami: No great writer has written as many bad sentences. Does his ugly prose serve a purpose?... more»
Generally full of boast and bluster, Hemingways letters do ring true on at least one subject: his anger at his parents... more»
Stricken with a litany of ailments, Bertolt Brecht was perseverance personified. “If the 20th century had had an Enlightenment, he would have been it”... more»
Proto-literary deconstructionist, media theorist, fiery communist, hash-smoking Jewish mystic: Readers find the Walter Benjamin they deserve... more»
James Bond had much in common with his creator, Ian Fleming: Sex, drinking, smoking, cruelty, vanity, and a fondness for Jamaica... more»
Irascible and defiant Beethoven is a cliché, yet it is true that he understood people little and liked them less. Music was his only joy... more»
Translating Tolstoy. His prose was so prolix, unpolished, and Russian that, for a time, few wanted to take it on. Then came Constance Garnett... more»
Boris Pasternak’s poems were perhaps his greatest achievement. But he was unimpressed. “Poems are unimportant. I don’t understand why people busy themselves with my verses”... more»
A satirical epistolary novel skewers the innards of American academe. Fun. But can it be satire if it barely registers as hyperbole?... more»
The sorrow and survival of François-René de Chateaubriand. “If I had killed myself, nothing would have been known of my catastrophe”... more»
Malcolm Cowley preferred journalism and literary hackwork to academe: “The real trouble with ivory towers is that people go cockoo in them”... more»
No one thinks of Dylan Thomas as a well-adjusted man who could hold his drink. He wasn’t and he couldn’t. But look beyond the mythology... more»
Does metaphor exist to connect us to the world, or to teach the limited nature of that connection, wonders Denis Donoghue... more»
The love of ones self is a virtue, one that takes time and thought to cultivate. Vanity, however, is a vice. Clancy Martin parses the distinction... more»
Frankenstein and the feminists. For the critic Barbara Johnson, Mary Shelley was born to be a widow. “She looked good in black”... more»
Hume, Locke, and Mill have been relegated to academe. Why does Burke alone, among Britain’s great political thinkers, engage practicing politicians?... more»
Readers are dupes. That’s the paranoid logic of censorship. Literature incites, implores, proselytizes, disrespects – just as it should... more»
Elizabethans joked about venereal disease. Romans laughed at bald men. The history of humor is wildly inconsistent about what’s funny... more»
Introduced in 1833, the term "scientist" had grubby connotations. Natural philosophers thought deeply and wrote elegantly, scientists were data crunchers... more»
He mingled with Emerson and Thoreau, enjoyed wine and cigars with Trollope, Wilde, and Twain. Julian Hawthorne was the Zelig of his time... more»
Post-it notes, push pins, staples, pencils, pens, rubber bands: Jenny Diski on the many pleasures of the office stationery closet... more»
Humanity is diverse, and it’s appealing to think that each language provides its own lens on the world. Not so, but the myth persists... more»
Poor Joseph Epstein. Talent, wit, and style, but nothing to say. He makes the same arguments ad nauseam, with diminishing returns... more»
Machine intelligence is expected to reach a human level by 2075. This is likely to be either very good or very bad for humanity... more»
Artists once sought institutional acceptance. Now they just want to go viral. Is technology destroying the culture industry?... more»
“I think him specious and possessed of some quality which causes nausea,” Isaiah Berlin said of Isaac Deutscher. Ah, the catty groves of academe... more»
Marketing device, self-criticism, or something else entirely? What does it mean to stamp a book “Great American Novel”?... more»
The sorrows of young Beckett. Unemployed, broke, sickly, and ambitious, he channeled his inner Joyce – to poor effect... more»
The tedium of “evangelical atheism.” Do the New Atheists even know what religion is? They should reread their Nietzsche... more»
Muriel Spark’s was a puritanically nurtured soul. Joy, spiritual and otherwise, came with great struggle. This was not necessarily a bad thing... more»
Michael Oakeshott didn’t care about the opinion of other philosophers. A good thing, too, since other philosophers didn’t care for Michael Oakeshott... more»
Confronted by an extraordinary experience, Barbara Enhrenreich, atheist, has embraced an explanation that sounds an awful lot like religion... more»
From the Polish border to the Pacific, from the Arctic Circle to the Afghan frontier, authoritarian regimes are aglow with arrogant confidence... more»
Psychoanalysis has always involved the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. It was from the beginning a Jewish literary enterprise... more»
What would Kant do? His maxims, applied to ethical quandaries, seem contradictory, incoherent, a mess. But there’s another way... more»
Filmmaker, novelist, polemicist: Everything Pier Paolo Pasolini did, he did as a poet – a strange and brilliantly melancholic poet... more»
John Carey would rather read Shakespeare than see it performed. He prefers to experience life through literature... more»
Theories of the novel – whether all-encompassing or specific – struggle under scrutiny. Does the novel defeat the fox/hedgehog divide?... more»
In the 19th century, space was reorganized, time was synchronized, the world became modern. We are the heirs of that change. Why have historians stopped caring?... more»
More than 6,000 languages are spoken today – a vast polyglot universe of idiolects and jargons. Some tongues travel, some won't translate... more»
Life at the Chelsea Hotel is suffused with a misty nostalgia: Eccentrics! Drugs! Cheap rent! Arthur Miller called it the “fog of exhausted inquiry”... more»
Can faith and spirituality be explained by science? Is transcendence a matter of brain chemistry? Strap on the ”God helmet“ and see... more»
Famous by the age of 23, dead before 30, Stephen Crane put his name to hackwork and masterwork, but left behind no diary and few letters... more»
Consider your essential self. Whether physical, psychological, or illusory – an ego trick? – a sense of essential me-ness emerges by age 2. Why?... more»
The discredited notion that language determines thought refuses to die. John McWhorter wants to settle the matter once and for all... more»
Jeff Bezos: prescient, ruthlessly competitive, hard to peg, he has more influence than anyone else over the future of reading. What does he want?.... more»
A literary man in political guise, Malcolm Cowley, discerning in arts and letters, was anything but when it came to communism... more»
A Freud for every era: scientist, clinician, provocateur, kook, critic, translator. We see the man we need to see... more»
People ask Carl Wilson: Isn’t life too short to waste time thinking about artists you dislike, such as Celine Dion? The way he sees it, life is too short not to... more»
Reason, nature, culture, the sublime, science, humanity, being, society: The quest to find a secular alternative to God is long, arduous, and continuing... more»
Dull, pressing, throbbing: From Donne to Sontag, we’ve struggled to describe pain. Would doing so enable a more creative world?... more»
Cold War geopolitics were, in no small part, a philosophical struggle. Intellectual sensitivities were on edge. A novel could make a superpower tremble... more»
Euripides, Schiller, Umberto Eco, and ... Dan Brown? In the literature of the arcane, now as then, conspiracy is key... more»
Affluent Austrian, wandering Jew, prolific author, Pan-European humanist, cheap populist, dandy, depressive, unblinking stoic: Who was Stefan Zweig?... more»
Tastes in physiques change over time. William the Conqueror's girth was mocked, but in 14th-century Paris, women strove for “beautiful loins and big bottoms”... more»
Hated by Coleridge, Byron, and Carlyle: Thomas Malthus, that “mischievous reptile,” was expert at making enemies of the Romantic poets… more»
The American short story has long been dominated by small, minimalist tales of disaffection, longing, and boredom. Blame John Updike... more»
America is obsessed with choice: myriad TV channels, the tens of thousands of items in the supermarket. At what cost to the national psyche?... more»
A new science of the mind that links evolutionary theory and neurology will transform everything. The intellectual landscape today? No, the 1890s... more»
Stop the presses! Karl Kraus, error-obsessed editor, would scrap a print run “because the milligram scales of my stylistic sense rejected a word”... more»
France in the 1920s and 30s was one of those places where scoundrels – unstable, even criminal – somehow achieved positions of prominence.... more»
Aristotle was a big walker – thus we call his philosophical school Peripatetic – but is there really a connection between moving feet and moving minds?... more»
The paradoxical politics of William Burroughs. An enemy of the left, he dreamt of public-works projects. Thus his nickname: Sultan of Sewers... more»
What is higher education for? We hear more and more about economic gain – for students, for society. Here’s another view, embattled but wiser... more»
Fear of missing out. It is the anxiety of our age. Just think of all that you’re missing because an algorithm hasn’t yet recommended it.... more»
For Rebecca West, “there was nothing as sad and lonely as the lot of a woman who did not have a man.” She had many men, most of them dastardly... more»
What happens when a talented thinker composes too many 800-word op-eds and 20-second sound bites? The shrinking of Charles Krauthammer... more»
In our child-centric age, nothing is more suspicious than a parent who doesn’t admit to an occasional urge to flee the home... more»

Essays and Opinion

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»
When writers get cancer, they write about it. But is there anything new to say? Jenny Diski, newly diagnosed, forswears the clichés of the genre... more»
Twenty-five years ago, Francis Fukuyama declared the end of history and the triumph of liberal democracy. Today it’s an ideal in tatters... more»
Jeff Koons is an entrepreneur, not an artist. A Wall Street guy who forever changed the art world. His formula for success: size + garishness = big money... more»
Dear intellectuals: You have a responsibility to speak truth and expose lies. You are failing. You are docile, cowed, and impotent. Best, Fred Inglis... more»
In the combative “two cultures” debate, a case of epistemological humility shows up. The physicist Marcelo Gleiser on the intellectual arrogance of his field... more»
Against Transparency, Against Interpretation, Against Love: Has the popular posture of cranky provocation lost its edge?... more»
What distinguishes a celebrated yet largely unread classic from an enduringly popular classic? The answer hinges on a fraught term: universality... more»
Empathy is a force against selfishness and indifference. It requires no justification; it is an unalloyed good. So who could be against it? Paul Bloom... more»
David Mitchells novels span the globe. But don’t call him global. He is geologic. That the world is everywhere connected is a matter of metaphysical conviction... more»
The more we know about Hitler, the harder he is to explain. Another response to evil is to not ask why, to reject any search for answers. Martin Amis takes a third approach... more»
The perils of time-travel fiction. To draw a moral from the past can be pompous; to visit the future to warn about the present can be patronizing... more»
In the face of fatalism and pessimism, Roger Scruton is Sisyphus. His rock is still rolling, his search for transcendence goes on... more»
In an age of constant status updates, what becomes of art forms – like literary memoir – that thrive on concealment?... more»
In the writing world, editors rule and writers are second-class citizens. The problem: Editors go about editing whether it is necessary or not... more»
Geoff Dyer has described the hallmark of academic criticism as the fact that it kills everything it touches. Now that he’s the subject, he’s not so sure... more»
The curious case of David Bromwich. A professor of 19th-century British poetry turns to politics. Blame Edmund Burke... more»
What color, exactly, is Anna Karenina’s hair? How tall is Melville’s Ishmael? We “see” literature in our minds, but what does it mean?... more»
Time is a place and nostalgia a pleasure, says Willard Spiegelman, even if all paradises are lost – or never existed. Those over 50 know the feeling... more»
Literary critic as young hellion. Joseph Epstein was seduced by the “lush air of corruption” that surrounded women like Leona, a heroin-addicted prostitute... more»
On the page and in life, we are primed for beginnings. Endings are problematic, last impressions being so much more fraught than first... more»
If the Ivy League turns out so many soulless graduates, maybe imperfect professors are to blame. But they have little incentive to care... more»
Art is a value in and of itself, not a vessel through which political or social or religious beliefs are conveyed. Why do some liberals think otherwise?... more»
The cult of happiness – the very idea that happiness is actually attainable – has more and more of us depressed. What we need is a decent philosophy of failure... more»
The Brothers Karamazov is among those works of literature that transcend literature. It explains Russia’s history and presence in the world. It explains Putin... more»
First restaurants, now museums. Yelp has introduced a new vernacular of aesthetic judgment. One star is “eek!” Two is “meh.” Three is “A-OK!” Four is “Yay!” Five is... more»
Alexander Cockburn didn’t offer readers ideas, which from him were few and meager. He offered literary flair mixed with antipathy toward gays and Jews... more»
The midcentury middlebrow was an object of scorn to snobs like Dwight Macdonald. Much of middlebrow culture, however, was glorious... more»
The allure of Mount Athos. A magnet for travel writers like Patrick Leigh Fermor and Bruce Chatwin, the holy mountain maintains its mystery... more»
Universities used to be committed to the preservation of cultural memory. Now it’s standardized tests, cost-benefit readouts, and human-resources questionnaires... more»
Highbrow, lowbrow, middlebrow. The distinctions have largely disappeared, along with nuanced, considered judgments. The brow we need is the furrowed one... more»
Opposable thumbs, upright posture, big brains, sophisticated language: What most effectively sets humans apart from other species? Our addiction to stories... more»
The God conversation. Intellectuals overemphasize lofty theological impulses, while slighting the day-to-day comforts that keep religion relevant... more»
The swatting of a fly – so common, so insignificant – demonstrates that we don’t know what to think about death, whether a fly's or our own... more»
What do we want when confronting great art? Solitude, contemplation, silence – all of which are inhibited, even prohibited, in most museums... more»
The Tolkien problem. Hobbits and dragons dominate the popular imagination. The result: We've lost sight of actual medieval history?... more»
An artist’s memory is a dangerous, necessary thing. To turn experience into art, to make something out of remembering, is like “watching ghosts in sunlight”... more»
Bill Deresiewicz hears from a lot of young people. They want advice on how to avoid becoming anxious, depressed, and aimless. He tells them to avoid the Ivy League... more»
“Revanchism” and “irredentism” are ugly, awkward words, and their significance is hard to analyze. Doing so reveals that the map of the world is a holy mess... more»
Governance without disagreement or conflict; “evidence-based” laws grounded in data; algorithms, not ideology: Is this the end of politics?... more»
What did Keats think of Milton? Shakespeare of Ovid? The imperfect, rewarding, highly conjectural art of reading as someone else... more»
Schubert failed at it; Mendelssohn and Brahms didn't even try; Stravinsky wrote only one. Writing an opera is supremely demanding. Roger Scruton thought he'd risk the effort... more»
Think slow, not fast. Society has become a cult of spontaneity – one that, with forethought, must be resisted... more»
What do polysyllabic, hyper-articulate English professors and rock musicians on Vespas have in common? More than you might think... more»
What was privacy to Virginia Woolf? Not just being alone, but understanding the limits of our efforts to share... more»
Jules Verne was a master, but of what? His books are not high art, his prose rarely more than serviceable. What he does offer is ancient wisdom and modern know-how... more»
Whether Wagner encoded anti-Jewish tropes in his compositions matters little. That he stamped modern classical music with a racial ideology matters a lot... more»
The conservative mind is unbalanced, says Adam Bellow. The best and brightest on the right go into politics. Literature has been abandoned to the left... more»... more»
No one likes to be wrong, including intellectuals. A big thinker is hardly about to disavow his own theory. But being wrong has its benefits... more»
Birth of bad taste. It happened in Italy in the early 16th century. The details are sketchy, but the culprits are clear: two Tuscan painters, Rosso and Pontormo... more»
Stow the brimstone. In theology, denying hell is almost as old as hell itself. Consider the surprisingly modern argument of Origen of Alexandria... more»
The historiography of World War I is voluminous, contradictory, contentious. Better look to historians, not those who merely write about the past... more»
Some people see things others can’t and we call them geniuses. Some people see things others can’t and we call them ill. Is madness the essence of creativity?... more»
Pay attention! Turn off the television, close the Twitter feed, ignore the text messages. Get absorbed in something – a drawing, a book, an essay on distraction... more»
John Cotter’s past is set to music: Bach on a snowy afternoon, blues on a long night’s drive, Velvet Underground when he lost his virginity. Doctors say his future will be silent... more»
Life at 60. Some thoughts on lights and mirrors (avoid them), health (“looms like a threatening monsoon”), and the stupidity of “60 is the new 40”... more»
Ethical creed, political philosophy, capitalist rationale, passing historical phase, timeless body of universal ideals: What is liberalism?... more»
It’s been said (and said and said) that poetry’s influence is on the wane. Nonsense. Americans are mad for poetry. They call it rap... more»
At first under the pseudonym Septimus, then often while hung over, the young journalist Gabriel García Márquez showed a flair for narrative and a taste for the bizarre... more»
1989 really did mark the end of ideology. Students can no longer comprehend fascism or fathom the allure of communism. This is a mixed blessing... more»
Powerful forces are actively hostile to the college ideal. They deny the need for an educated citizenry. Higher education, they insist, is not a human right... more»
Sentimental Education or sentimental evasion? Flaubert’s novel is a “negative bildungsroman,” a tale of unlearning. Michael Wood explains... more»
Believers and secularists talk about each other all the time, but not to one another. On both sides, there is a lack of insight and an abundance of knowing smirks... more»
Alain de Botton (446,000 followers) suggests a Twitter sabbath. “We need, on occasion, to be able to go to a quieter place.” Leon Wieseltier (0 followers) is not convinced... more»
Harvey Mansfield doubts that there is a campus rape crisis. Still, he blames feminism for insisting on a culture of sexual adventure that never results in misadventure... more»
The publication of Ulysses was a victory for linguistic freedom and sexual candor. Now anything goes, and not much matters. Literature lacks urgency... more»
The perils of translating Proust. The best English version of À la recherche du temps perdu is from 1930. But it’s a mess today... more»
Heidegger’s justification of Nazism, far from an isolated lapse, emerged seamlessly from his innermost philosophical thoughts... more»
The canon has been bloodied by a decades-long assault of politicized professors and theory-happy revisionists. But the idea of the canon endures... more»
In life and love, Patrick Leigh Fermor liked to meander. His charm was considerable, but not foolproof. To Somerset Maugham, he was a “middle-class gigolo for upper-class women”... more»
Philosophers tend to be terrified of bodies, so having sex can be a problem. John Kaag managed. But then he faced the question of fatherhood... more»
When what qualifies as iron will is not checking your email for an hour, there is little hope of finding the focus to read a long and complex book... more»
The goalkeeper is a man for any season – crazy person, intellectual, scapegoat, literary hero. No other position attracts such odd and iconoclastic characters... more»
Is the unexamined biographer’s life worth living? Not for David Levering Lewis, who has some thoughts on why biographers have become less discreet... more»
Step aside, Strunk and White. To combat the scourge of bad writing, we need a science of crafting stylish prose. Cue Steven Pinker... more»
Has Francis Fukuyama’s end-of-history hypothesis been proved wrong? Not according to him. The power of liberal democracy remains immense... more»
For Simon Critchley – lifelong Liverpool fan – football is war by other means. Also a working-class ballet and an aesthetic break from routine... more»
Death is a topic about which much has been said, little of it reassuring. For Montaigne, who thought about it constantly, life meant preparing to die... more»
Jerks! They’re everywhere, with their scornful cynicism and callousness. What we need is a theory of jerks, not least to determine if we fit the description... more»
Suspicion of government may be justified, but let’s not ignore a self-evident truth: Government is natural to the human condition. Roger Scruton explains... more»
Schlock is extravagant, pretentious, sentimental. It has no shame. With its timeworn tropes and overwrought gestures, schlock is bad taste at its finest... more»
Here’s a challenge: Scan the faculty roster of humanities and social-science departments at public universities. Can you spot a conservative or two? It matters... more»
Hersey on Hiroshima, Orwell on the Spanish Civil War: Sometimes writers find their topic. Geoff Dyer on Mailer and the moon landing, 45 years later... more»
When Evelyn Waugh’s scandalous Black Mischief was published, in 1933, everybody read it, including Ernest Oldmeadow. Commence the literary feud... more»