Juliana Spahr, Du Bois’s Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment

Du Bois's Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment by Juliana Spahr The first thing to be said about this book is that it is brave. Poet and critic Juliana Spahr does not make her startling argument in general, nor does she make it in unreadably dense jargon that could only be followed by academic insiders.… Continue reading Juliana Spahr, Du Bois’s Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment

Wesley Yang, The Souls of Yellow Folk

The Souls of Yellow Folk by Wesley Yang My rating: 4 of 5 stars It was once a pop-socio-psychological commonplace of American foreign-policy commentary that terrorism on behalf of political Islam was motivated less by ideology and more by an intractable reality of gender: young men with no prospects in their societies will inevitably become… Continue reading Wesley Yang, The Souls of Yellow Folk

Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag My rating: 3 of 5 stars Susan Sontag's oeuvre is a long palinode. Identified for years with the positions she took, or at least appeared to take, in the 1960s, she seemed to spend the rest of her life strategically retracting or at least clarifying and qualifying… Continue reading Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

Q, Conspiracy, and the Novel; or, Why Portraits and Ashes Should Be Your Summer Read

Readers who perceive an esoteric subtext to my writing and who therefore keep a paranoiac tally of my cryptic allusions will recall that I have mentioned the "Q" or "Qanon" conspiracy theory twice. Both references occurred in the context of paranoiac fictions: Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 and Grant Morrison's The Invisibles. But… Continue reading Q, Conspiracy, and the Novel; or, Why Portraits and Ashes Should Be Your Summer Read

Gore Vidal, The City and the Pillar

The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal My rating: 3 of 5 stars A little over a decade and a half ago, Gore Vidal was one of the most urgent voices on the American left: challenging empire in the era of neoconservatism, challenging religion at the height of evangelical power, he seemed to speak… Continue reading Gore Vidal, The City and the Pillar

Tom Wolfe, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers

Radical Chic & Mau Mauing The Flak Catchers by Tom Wolfe My rating: 3 of 5 stars It's a tiny bit arrogant of people to go around worrying about those less fortunate. —Whit Stillman, Metropolitan Stop me if you've heard this one before: it is a year or two into a conservative presidential administration—one that… Continue reading Tom Wolfe, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers

Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country

Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America by Richard M. Rorty My rating: 2 of 5 stars Richard Rorty is a Pragmatist philosopher: he believes that ideas and actions should be judged on their effects rather than their metaphysical or ontological status. Don't ask whether it's true, whatever "it" may be, ask only if… Continue reading Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country

My Year in Books, 2017

But let's start with movies. Ten years ago, the Scottish musician and critic Momus observed that one of the most acclaimed films of 2007, Guillermo del Toro's Spanish-Civil-War fantasy Pan's Labyrinth, was morally and politically simplistic and (or because) artistically complacent. He gave ten objections to the film; I will quote the first two: 1. The… Continue reading My Year in Books, 2017

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates My rating: 4 of 5 stars It is a poor period indeed which must assess its men of letters in terms of their opposition to their society. Opposition to life’s essential conditions perhaps, or to death’s implacable tyranny, is something else again, and universal; but novels, no… Continue reading Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson My rating: 3 of 5 stars I found Marilynne Robinson's second novel, Gilead (2004), to be literally stunning. That is, every time I picked it up to read a few pages I would become dazed with boredom or would even fall asleep, knocked out by the novel's descriptive vagueness and tonal… Continue reading Marilynne Robinson, Gilead