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    The Technology of Bullshit

    Apart from being sent to bed early, the worst part about being the youngest member of my family was that everyone around me could read except me. Even if I wasn’t born into a bookish family, I could intuit the power of the written word. It allowed my mother to remember what she had to…

    Reading and Time

    Regrettably, I must begin with the quantitative — the least Proustian of all categories. The six-volume Modern Library Edition of D.J. Enright’s revision of Terrance Kilmartin’s reworking of Andreas Mayor’s and C.K. Scott Moncrieff’s translation of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu is 4,347 pages long. At an average speed of two hundred…

    Notes on a Dangerous Mistake

    Several groups of rightwing intellectuals hover around the Republican Party, defending a stark conservatism. But there is a very different group, definitely rightwing, that is equally disdainful of Republican conservatives and Democratic progressives — who are all at bottom, its members insist, liberals: classical free-market liberals or egalitarian liberals, it’s all the same. These ideological…

    Saudi Arabia: The Chimera of A Grand Alliance

    Even alliances between countries that share similar cultures and rich, intersecting histories can be acrimonious. France and Israel, for example, provoke vivid and contradictory sentiments for many Americans. Franco-American ties are routinely strained. No one in Washington ever believed that Charles de Gaulle’s nuclear independence, guided by the principles of tous azimuts, shoot in any…

    The Logical One Remembers

    “I’m not irrational. But there’ve been times When I’ve experienced—uncanniness: I think back to those days, when, four or five, I dreaded going to bed, because I thought Sleep really was a ‘dropping off.’ At night Two silver children floated up from somewhere Into the window foiled with dark, a boy And girl. They never…

    The Slug

    Everything you touch you taste. Like moonlight you gloss over garden bricks,   rusty chicken wire, glazing your trail with argent mucilage, wearing   your eyes on slender fingers. I find you grazing in the cat food dish   waving your tender appendages with pleasure,  an alien cow.   Like an army, you  march on…

    The Cloud

    I used to think the Cloud was in the sky, Something invisible, subtle, aloft: We sent things up to it, or pulled things down On silken ribbons, on backwards lightning zaps. Our photographs, our songs, our avatars Floated with rainbows, sunbeams, snowflakes, rain. Thoughts crossed mid-air, and messages, all soft And winking, in the night,…

    Wind Farm

    I still remember the summer we were becalmed: No breezes rose. The dandelion clock Stopped mid-puff. The clouds stood in dry dock. Like butterflies, formaldehyde embalmed,   Spring kites lay spread out on the floor, starched flat. Trees kept their council, grasses stood up straight Like straight pins in a cushion, the wonky gate That…

    The Wise Men

    Matthew, 2.7-12 Summoned to the palace, we obeyed. The king was curious. He had heard tell Of strangers in outlandish garb, who paid In gold, although they had no wares to sell. He dabbled in astrology and dreams: Could we explain the genesis of a star? The parallax of paradox — afar The fragrance of…

    The Anti-Liberal

    Last spring, in The New Statesman, Samuel Moyn reviewed Revolutionary Spring, Christopher Clark’s massive new history of the revolutions of 1848. Like most everything Moyn writes, the review was witty, insightful, and provocative — another illustration of why Moyn has become one of the most important left intellectuals in the United States today. One thing…

    LiteratureGPT

    When you log into ChatGPT, the world’s most famous AI chatbot offers a warning that it “may occasionally generate incorrect information,” particularly about events that have taken place since 2021. The disclaimer is repeated in a legalistic notice under the search bar: “ChatGPT may produce inaccurate information about people, places, or facts.” Indeed, when OpenAI’s…

    Dam Nation

    It was probably OK for the environment? It wasn’t the worst. The kids, then four years old, had the wrought-iron fireplace tools (you question my judgment) and were using them to break up a rotting log at the edge of the forest. In rhythm with the falling of the poker, they chanted “This stump must…

    Money, Justice, and Effective Altruism

    “In all ages of speculation, one of the strongest obstacles to the reception of the doctrine that Utility or Happiness is the criterion of right and wrong, has been drawn from the idea of Justice.” This is from John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism, in 1861, perhaps the most renowned exposition of the ethical theory that stands…

    Albert Memmi and The Problem with Postcolonialism

    The Franco-Tunisian Jewish writer and social philosopher Albert Memmi died in the spring of 2020, having lived a full century, at least a half of which he devoted to developing an arc of thought with great relevance to some of the most vexing questions now facing the societies of the Middle East, the region where…

    Orangerie

    Sometimes I think I must have ground to a halt on this lot for the sake of the orange tree alone. I might have preferred the olive — rolled on a bias — but it requires labor, refinement, salt. Oranges are easy: sweetness sewn       inside a roughly perfect handhold.   Fruit in different stages…

    Chekhov in The Gulf of Mexico

    The resort staff are turning off the light at the poolside bar. The iron gate around the pool clanks shut loud enough to wake the kiddos whose sleep their mothers   toiled to obtain. This Saturday night is uniquely music-less, the usual spate of sounds drowned out — rough and slick alike, proclivities and druthers….

    Ringstrasse

    I lost my grandmother’s opera glasses … an empire in thrall to innovations offered electric shocks in the Prater for a small charge. In wedding dresses, fräuleins dove from moving trains. Scions, following the Great Somnambulator,   walked out of windows (into Blush Noisette!) or stepped off bridges in uniform. Thunderclouds amassed as if looking…

    Antigone in Hong Kong 

    Hong Kong has its own Antigone and her name is Chow Hang-Tung. I had never heard of her until June 4, 2021.  Every year from 1989 until the start of the pandemic, Hong Kong has commemorated the Tiananmen Massacre with a candlelight vigil at Victoria Park on June 4. Though attendance had been dwindling through…

    Concept Creep: A Progressive’s Lament

    For Jim Longenbach On or about November 9, 2016, human nature changed. All human speech shifted, and when human speech shifts there is at the same time a shift in religion, conduct, politics, and literature. The word equality — so long associated with liberalism — left the left; they erected the house of complicity in…

    In The Counterlife of Autism

    “Tomorrow’s Child,” a story by Ray Bradbury, opens with Peter and Polly Horn traveling to a hospital for the birth of their first child. In their technological utopia, a helicopter conveys them across a sky spangled with rocket ships. An advanced birthing machine awaits, promising to eliminate Polly’s labor. At the moment of truth, however,…

    Can Poetry Be Abstract?

    No Coward Soul Is Mine   No coward soul is mine No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere I see Heaven’s glories shine And Faith shines equal arming me from Fear   O God within my breast Almighty ever-present Deity Life, that in me hast rest As I Undying Life, have power in thee  …

    After Rape: A Guide for the Tormented

      The worst thing that was ever done to a person I know was committed by a man who claimed he loved his victim. “That was not rape,” he told her afterwards. He was in this regard highly unoriginal. Every rape survivor who has shared her story with me was also told by her rapist…

    Savagery and Solidarity

    I There are facets of my being of which I am ashamed, but the love of my people is not one of them. (Reader, hear me out.) The bond is primordial, though I am under no illusion that its primordiality exempts it from thoughtful consideration and the question of justification. It has nothing to do…

    Statehood and the Jews

    The State of Israel recently celebrated its seventy-fifth year of existence. If someone had told us way back in 1948 that the country would count nearly ten million people as its citizens, eight million of them Jews; that it would lead the world in technological innovation; that it would be a regional superpower — we…

    Another Country

    On June 8, 2022, when the world finally recognized the atrocities of Russian troops on the occupied territories of Ukraine, I proposed an intellectual exercise to my Facebook friends: “Imagine that a couple of years have passed. Russian war crimes are discussed less and less. Perhaps some war criminals have even been jailed. Those who…

    In Dreams Begin Responsibilities: A Memoir

    We knew we were already too late. Too late to be modernists, too late to be reds, too late to turn against Stalin, too late to fight the Nazis, too late to be red-baited, too late to join the anti-communist left, too late to take money from the CIA for our magazines. We were too…

    The Clarifying Obscurity of Robert Bresson

    What a film demands from a viewer varies a great deal. Often not much is demanded. Keeping the characters straight, remembering what has happened, and following the plot are usually enough for much commercial cinema to “work,” to make sense and entertain. We easily accept the illusion that we are watching a fictional cinematic world…

    Four Poems for Marie Colvin, 1956-2012

    Night Sail I dreamt of sailing Spray, grandfather Herrick’s  pilot cutter, from its berth in an old black-and-white on the kitchen wall, past the docks, the cranes and derricks,   not to some sluggish oil-rainbowed bight with pier and prom, in the lee of Gosport or Goring, not to the wild side of the Isle…

    Memory’s Cellar

    You enter the cave of horrors in the basement of an Ottoman-era house that is now a small yeshiva just outside the medieval walls of the Old City. On the one hand, there could be no better encapsulation of Jerusalem than this: disjointed histories piled one atop the other like dishes in the sink, all…

    Living by the Roundabout

    “This is Jane calling from central Kenya. Sasa, so, I am in a lesbian relationship, and we are hoping to get married, and I would like to pay bridewealth to my partner’s father, but we don’t know how to bring this issue up with him because he thinks we are just friends.” The voice spills…

    The Supreme Court Wars: America and Israel

    One of the many extraordinary powers that the progressive Israeli Supreme Court has given itself is the authority to invalidate a government action based on the Justices’ conclusion that the government did not weigh, or properly weigh, all relevant public interest considerations before acting. This “reasonableness” doctrine is an open-ended judicial check to ensure that…

    The Good European

    On the evening of June 7, 1914, police officers were dispatched to break up a crowd of over a thousand people assembled outside the Comedy Theatre on West 41st Street in Manhattan. Hoping for a last-minute ticket, they had been turned away at the doors and were now blocking traffic on Sixth Avenue. Inside the…

    God Has Not Shown Me

    God has not shown me in nightdreams and no sorcerer has divined where my last day will overtake me and how my end will look, that I may know. Whether in my tent, on my couch, I will die with all my cherished close to me, every one of them camped mutely around me, sentries…

    The Quality to be Tragic

    Elizabeth Hardwick is having a moment — and why not? The last two years have brought The Uncollected Essays, an addendum to The Collected Essays of 2017; Cathy Curtis’ biography, A Splendid Intelligence; and Come Back in September, Darryl Pinckney’s memoir of his writerly apprenticeship at Hardwick’s feet. Like Joan Didion, a very different sort…

    The World as an Institute

    In August 1990, the recently retired Dutch ethnologist Johannes Jacobus Voskuil had a dream: he lay in his coffin and was carried to his grave while a song he had heard hundreds of times — Sidney Bechet’s rendition of “Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out” — played in the background. He heard the crunch…

    Forever Taking Leave

    Roland Barthes asked if we are “condemned to the adjective” when speaking of music, when attempting to put into words music’s special way of pulling heartstrings and twisting guts; and in the case of Gustav Mahler one feels especially so condemned. It is difficult not to rhapsodize about Mahler. The descriptors accumulate on the tip…

    Testimony of Sleep

    Past the fences of beds we are movie sheds of sleep.   We can’t stamp or clap.   At best we shriek in monkey speech, our old dialect, about the latest things.   And then we  truly live through our own civilization.    Translated by Clara Cavanagh and Michal Rusinek

    Nights of Inseparation

            Night.       The bridge’s scent.       The fence lets in roots.       Water shines for the earth.       A listening stone.       A hair sings.       Night.       Road.       Your own knees lost in suppositions.       There is no separate green.         A different epoch of the…

    Self-Verified

    A chair stands: article of truth sculpture of itself tied into one knot          reality’s abstraction   It broke. That’s a form too          yes — candelabra          yes — bull’s face.   A chair’s abstract calling now summons whole crowds of reality ties them in one knot inside the stockroom of truth          reality’s…

    My Jacobs of Weariness

    To Artur Sandauer   Higher                reveilles of shape                                habitations of touch               all weathers of the senses . . .    Lowest — I          the staircase of reality          rises from my breasts.   And I feel nothing. Nothing succulent. Nothing colorful.          I’m not only not          a testament hero I’m worse…

    This apartment can be inspired

    the window’s wing I’m in my nook my ears hum weeds carried on Noah’s line in the painting, it’s incomplete, old brown greens fluttering for three hundred years and an angel’s bent elbow ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___  what is this art when centuries fly interplanetarily us knocking at our own doors all…

    Gray Eminences of Rapture

    Oh how I rejoice          that you are sky and kaleidoscope           that you have so many artificial stars       that you glow in a monstrance of brightness,                      when I place your perforated                      half-globe                      over my eyes                      under the air.          How unstrained in…

    Artless Art

    The Lamb         Little Lamb, who made thee?         Dost thou know who made thee?  Gave thee life, and bid thee feed  By the stream & o’er the mead, Gave thee clothing of delight, Softest clothing, wooly, bright, Gave thee such a tender voice, Making all the vales rejoice?         Little Lamb, who made thee?…

    The Shape of a Question

    A fragile creature that cannot be broken is confounding, and this juxtaposition of delicacy and strength renders it freakishly powerful. Isabelle Huppert is so constituted. This is evident from almost every one of the dizzying number of films in which she has appeared. Her aura is incongruously encased in an exceedingly slim frame. Animated by…

    The Rise of Narrative and The Fall of Persuasion

    I “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” This must be the most overly admired sentence by the most overly admired writer of our time. It is the renowned opening of Joan Didion’s essay “The White Album,” a canonical document of high-end alienation, and it long ago achieved fortune-cookie status. Didion was making the…

    Scholarship and the Future of Society

    Historians like to say that correlation is not the same as causation. But evidence of correlation is often the starting point for an inquiry into causation. Here is one such inquiry: How might the loss of humanistic thinking generally, and historical thinking specifically, be connected to the current dysfunction of American politics and to the…

    Experiments of Living Constitutionalism: A Manifesto

    In constitutional law, there are a lot of isms.  Textualism claims that the Constitution’s text is binding. The central idea is that judges are bound by the written words of the founding document. (Reasonable textualists acknowledge that the text is often ambiguous. What, for example, is meant by “the freedom of speech”? That is far…

    The Tranquil Gaze of Benito Pérez Galdós

    I consider Javier Cercas one of the best writers in the Spanish language, and I believe that, after oblivion has buried his contemporaries, at least three of his extraordinary books — Soldiers of Salamis, The Anatomy of a Moment, and The Imposter — will still have readers who turn to them to learn what our…

    Good People: The New Discipline

    “But Mark, you don’t seem to understand, these are good people. These are all good people.”  My interlocutor was a long-time administrator at my university, and an accomplished scholar. In his genial way he was trying to set my straight on some important facts. I had just learned that there would be a new aspect…

    Large Empty Bowl

    sitting in the bower  after lunch with  my sadness    like unto Magdalene our defectiveness known all around the town    (a passion for extravagant apology) (flimsy promise to do better from now on)   I knew the crowd had stones  heating the hollows of their hands   (the teacher has always shown me the…