The annotated table of contents below offers a sneak peek at what’s in issue 21. To get the issue delivered straight to your door, subscribe now.
Letter from the Editors
On the Hatred of Literature
The hatred of literature, though it remains almost unheard of among the general reading public, has become the default mode in the upper reaches of our literary culture. As was the case in my college survey course, the highest honors go to the most eloquent haters.
“When Proust wrote of her he exercised imaginatively those psychological mechanisms which in life he did not use and hoydens do. This feat of empathy he performs over and over again.”
Let Them Misunderstand
Seeing Shakespeare with Ninagawa
Watching Ninagawa in college, I had a single wish: that someone would clap and it would all suddenly be clear to me: the characters I transform into, what I transform from, who I am performing for. There were moments of inanity in everyday American life when I wanted to pull a Ninagawa and make things giant and absurd—drop a life-size horse on someone’s head—so that I didn’t feel obliged to be a cordial translator for “my” culture.
Literary criticism and the existential turn
In the very act of presenting us with intensely alive, intensely real characters, the new existential novels invite us to move past the ubiquitous skepticism generated by the fakery of the contemporary world. These writers invite us to make an effort to follow the direction of their gaze, trusting that they are giving us the world as they see it.
Artur and Isabella
My name is Isabella, says Isabella, and then she smiles so that he, Artur, can see her full set of teeth. Artur notices at once that she has her own teeth, and therefore doesn’t have dentures, he thinks, running his tongue across his small left dental bridge starting from the back. Isabella smiles, she smiles, he sees that she, Isabella, has her own teeth. How come? Artur wonders. My teeth are nicer than his, thinks Isabella, because they’re real. My hair is nicer too. I’m nicer all over. And so, without many words, they stroll along.
The closest I’ve come to attending a college is NYU, when I went there with a crew to torch apart the ductwork system (big enough to walk through) in the nether regions of the building. The college was in session at the time, and I’d walk through the campus in my work clothes, looking at the kids who went there like they were creatures from another planet. They were looking at me the same way.
Dave Hickey in Santa Fe
Much of what Dave taught me had to do with the sympathy and intelligence he applied to varieties of experience that that were alien to me, and that I might otherwise have dismissed as too low to take seriously: the flatland of Las Vegas low rollers, the Austin and Nashville of outlaw country singers, the Catholic baroque of Los Angeles lowrider detailers. Just as powerful, though, were the ways in which he turned a skeptical sociological eye on some of the worlds I knew quite well: academia, the Northeast corridor, the moral-aesthetic universe of the educated cultural elite.
The real problem with “trauma feminism” is not that it makes women fragile—I’m not sure that it does—but that it offers a foreshortened view of violence. Rape traumatizes, yes, but it does other things too.
The Irish novelist Sally Rooney is a normal person. Or so she is always insisting, often with a trace of defensive desperation.
Man in the Crowd
Sen plunged headlong into the chaos. He would travel with his cameraman to rallies, or to scenes of potential unrest. The intention, one suspects, was not just to record the events on reel: Sen was returning to the crowd.
Friends Like These
While Gopnik’s liberal commitment to openness may enjoin him to give the criticisms of liberalism a fair hearing, what never seems to occur to him is what Trilling felt viscerally: that the criticisms of liberalism could be true.