Roberto Calasso, Literature and the Gods

Literature and the Gods by Roberto Calasso My rating: 5 of 5 stars Literature and the Gods is a short, dense essay rather than the more literary-historical or conspective account the title might lead one to expect. In fact, Calasso has a refined Continental theorists’s contempt for mere literary history, which he seems to regard … Continue reading Roberto Calasso, Literature and the Gods

Jeanette Winterson, Art Objects

Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery by Jeanette Winterson My rating: 4 of 5 stars I read this collection of essays concurrently with Winterson's novel, Art and Lies, and I suspect they were written concurrently, as there is much overlap in both books' arguments about art and society—and the didacticism of Winterson's fiction and … Continue reading Jeanette Winterson, Art Objects

George Steiner, The Poetry of Thought

The Poetry of Thought: From Hellenism to Celan by George Steiner My rating: 4 of 5 stars Why have I become addicted to reading George Steiner? Oblique answers below. This is an essay—and Steiner stresses that it is indeed an “essay,” in the Montaignean sense of “trial”—about the failure of philosophy. Philosophers have longed to … Continue reading George Steiner, The Poetry of Thought

Wittgensteinian Investigations

David Auerbach on why you should take a Wittgenstein class: Wittgenstein’s philosophy also accounts for the disastrous state of Internet discourse today. The shift to online communication, textual interactions separated from accompanying physical practices, has had a persistent and egregious warping effect on language, and one that most people don’t even understand. It has made … Continue reading Wittgensteinian Investigations

Sigrid Nunez, Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag

Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag by Sigrid Nunez My rating: 4 of 5 stars I'll admit to a prurient interest in Sontagiana. I've always liked Sontag—well, always is a Sontag-like exaggeration, but I do believe I bought a '60s paperback of Against Interpretation, with her face in close-up on the cover, when I … Continue reading Sigrid Nunez, Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows

In Praise of Shadows by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is Japanese novelist Tanizaki's important essay on aesthetics, one of the great twentieth-century manifestos, though that term suggests a brawling and list-making modernity that Tanizaki is at pains to eschew. In fact, In Praise of Shadows belongs, roughly, to the anti-modern … Continue reading Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin My rating: 4 of 5 stars The two essays collected in this book—both structured as letters, one to Baldwin's nephew and one "from a Region in [His] Mind"—assess the racial situation in America at midcentury. The second is the more historically interesting, as it is built around Baldwin's … Continue reading James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Cynthia Ozick, The Din in the Head

The Din in the Head by Cynthia Ozick My rating: 3 of 5 stars This 2006 essay collection begins with an appreciation of Susan Sontag, who had died in 2004. Ozick retells Sontag's intellectual biography, from avant-garde champion of the counterculture in the 1960s to defender of traditional high culture in the 1990s. And while … Continue reading Cynthia Ozick, The Din in the Head

In Defense of Emerson: Reading for the Lustres

Before I read Micah Mattix's Weekly Standard essay in dispraise of Emerson, "Where's Waldo?" I was curious to see what line of attack would be pursued. Critics on the left commonly assail Emerson for his individualism, for those features of his rhetoric we might call Reaganesque ("Are they my poor?"). But Emerson was a metaphysical radical, … Continue reading In Defense of Emerson: Reading for the Lustres