Ethnographers of the Everyday

The new issue of n1br has launched with my essay on Stephen Schryer’s new book Fantasies of the New Class—a study of how the post-war American novel dealt with the professionalization of intellectual culture.
The humanities have been looking a little haggard lately. The UK recently saw government-mandated cuts to university programs; American universities [...]

Blood, Guts, and Literature: Maggie Nelson’s Art of Cruelty

The Art of Cruelty, I had to assure many people as I was toting it around, is not a handbook; the “art” of the title is literal.  Maggie Nelson’s interest is in aesthetic cruelty, specifically how art forces us to confront and negotiate the indignities, violent and otherwise, that people inflict on one another, and [...]

The Novel Didn’t Come from Monkeys: Aleksandar Hemon’s “Aquarium”

I have finally recovered enough from Aleksandar Hemon’s essay “The Aquarium”—about losing his nine-month-old daughter to a brain tumor—from the New Yorker’s summer fiction issue to commit my thoughts to writing.  For all the piece faults the friends who claimed, as Hemon and his wife struggled to navigate their child’s rapidly deteriorating condition, that “words [...] real gambling systems

Lazarus in Print: Notes on The Late American Novel

There are two narratives about the “future of fiction” that refuse, not without reason, to die.  The first is practical: how will the novel survive in a media landscape increasingly hostile to long-form reading, also known as “the book”?  Of these there is no shortage, though by now we’ve moved from articles about the death [...]

Wrestling with Geoff Dyer

Geoff Dyer’s new collection of essays and criticism is suddenly everywhere, but I have only just finished Out of Sheer Rage, which he published in 1997.  That I am behind schedule on Geoff Dyer feels appropriate, however, given that Out of Sheer Rage is, in essence, a volume about procrastination.  “Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence” is [...]

Criticism and the Anxiety of Authority

There are only so many reasons to be optimistic in American letters, but seeing the New York Times Book Review devote an issue—and a heady one at that—to the question of “Why Criticism Matters” is as heartening a start to the new year as I could hope for.  The mattering, or not mattering, of criticism [...]

Virginia Woolf, Book Reviewer

I’m a little late to the conversation on this one, but a few weeks ago, Harper’s announced that Zadie Smith would be taking over book reviewing duties from Benjamin Moser, which left some of the blogosphere puzzled.  Why would one of the most prominent novelists of the past few years want to busy herself with [...] popular gambling games

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In Defense of Javier Marías

Javier Marías, whose latest novel has been crowned as a masterpiece and whose name is perennially tossed around as a candidate for the Nobel, is not an author in desperate need of defending, not least by me.  But he’s one of my favorite authors, and thus I feel compelled to say a few words on [...]

Tom McCarthy Saves the Novel, Maybe

When Tom McCarthy’s Remainder was first published in 2007, I remember giving a couple reviews a diligent skim and dismissing it as weird.  (Weird is not my thing.)  I’ve now since torn through it, and am surprised to find its weirdness almost entirely warranted by the breadth of McCarthy’s ambition. Contrary to my suspicions, it [...]

Marilynne Robinson and the Case for Fiction

You wouldn’t know it from the unmatched empathy of her fiction, but Marilynne Robinson has a sharp tongue.  In her non-fiction writing, she has consistently turned an acerbic eye upon the poverties of our contemporary life of the mind.  In her latest, Absence of Mind, Robinson issues her most direct attack yet.  Originally as part [...]

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