Love’s Labor, Lost and Found: Academia, “Quit Lit,” and the Great Resignation
Christopher Caterine’s Leaving Academia: A Practical Guide dispenses advice on how to pivot, transition, and retool. The book’s stepwise program means to disarm the academic reader of their studied self-sabotage techniques in favor of new habits of self-promotion: “Assume you can do anything,” goes Caterine’s refrain.
About the author: Lukas Moe is writing a book about American poets and their ambivalent radicalism.
Buddhism as Self-Help: On Jay L. Garfield’s “Losing Ourselves: Learning to Live without a Self”
“I will not argue that we do not exist,” writes the philosopher Jay L. Garfield in Losing Ourselves: Learning to Live without a Self. “That would be madness. But I will argue that we do not exist as selves, but as persons.” Our existence is “nominal” or “conventional,” Garfield claims; it’s superficial, not deep. Learning this is meant to kill our self-conceit, which rests on an inflated sense of our own reality. We do exist, but we are humble persons, not narcissistic selves. When we absorb this fact, we’ll be released from the egoism that torments us — into love, impartiality, and joy.
About the author: Kieran Setiya is professor of philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the author of Reasons without Rationalism (Princeton University Press, 2007), Knowing Right from Wrong (Oxford University Press, 2012), and Midlife: A Philosophical Guide (Princeton University Press, 2017). His new book, Life is Hard, comes out in October 2022.
Immunity Against Oblivion: On Avrom Sutzkever’s “From the Vilna Ghetto to Nuremberg: Memoir and Testimony”
This book is a must-read for any student and scholar of the Holocaust. It is a captivating documentation of life in the Vilna Ghetto, with valuable additional material about the poet’s Nuremberg testimony and encounters with Soviet Yiddish writers. Cammy and Novershtern’s stellar editing and translation make the book an indispensable tool for delineating the complex historical and political contexts of Sutzkever’s poetry during and after the war.
About the author: Jan Schwarz is associate professor of Yiddish Studies at Lund University in Sweden. He is the author of Imagining Lives: Autobiographical Fiction of Yiddish Writers (Wisconsin University Press, 2005) and Survivors and Exiles: Yiddish Culture after the Holocaust (Wayne State University Press, 2015; paperback, 2021), and articles and edited volumes about Yiddish, Jewish American, and Scandinavian literatures, Jewish responses to the Holocaust, world literature, and translation studies. He has translated the work of Abraham Sutzkever and Scholem-Aleichem into Danish, and his edited volume of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s early writings is forthcoming in 2023.
The Inhumanity of Work: On Olga Ravn’s “The Employees”
The Employees: A Workplace Novel of the 22nd Century, Olga Ravn stages a decidedly different dynamic. Although the characters in her novel are split along a human/computer divide, the “robot uprising” that Ravn depicts does not categorically target the human world. Unlike HAL’s attempted sabotage of the American space travel enterprise, and unlike the Terminator’s mission to effectively exterminate humanity, the humanoids in The Employees seek to overthrow the reign of work, rather than the reign of humans.
About the author: Lauren Nelson is a PhD candidate in English at the University of Texas at Austin. She writes about extraction, humanism, disaster, and ontology.
“A Story Is Always a Question”: On Ali Smith’s “Companion Piece”
In a word, Smith is a wordsmith. At a time when “curfew” reminds us of government mandates to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Smith excavates the word’s original meaning: couvre-feu, “cover fire.” Whether the girl in “Curfew” is the girl in Sand’s house, or the voice who speaks to Martina, or the maker of the Boothby Lock, Smith delights in making a word that has become hateful mean something else. She revels in the slippage of consonants between “curfew” and “curlew,” in the mutability of human and animal language, of art and nature. She trains our attention on the curlew, who “will point its beak, its fishing rod, its trident, tool of its trade, narrow as a finely beaten curved and tapering line of iron and maybe as strong.” The curlew shows us, as he shows the smith, that “[t]he life in human words can be taken and beaten by careless working into badly made shapes averse to the life that’s in them.” With “curlew” and “curfew,” Smith lays out the more hopeful alternatives from which Companion Piece invites us to choose. As Sand says, “A story is never an answer. A story is always a question.”
About the author: Bailey Sincox is a PhD candidate in English at Harvard. Her writing has appeared in The Drift, The Rambling, Harvard Review, and various academic journals.
A Big Tech Breakup?: On Ro Khanna’s “Dignity in a Digital Age: Making Tech Work for All of Us”
In Dignity in a Digital Age, Khanna sadly can’t imagine policy action that meaningfully transcends laissez-faire economics. Attempting to bridge the social democratic politics of Bernie Sanders with the Clintonian neoliberalism of Larry Summers, Khanna plays coy about the divide in power and capital. It just doesn’t compute.
About the author: Karthik Purushothaman is a poet and writer from Chennai, India, who lives in New Jersey. He has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prizes and once for Best New Poets and received a special mention in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2019. Karthik’s poems have appeared in Boulevard, Hyperallergic, Rattle, Subtropics, and The Margins, among others. He has also had interviews and commentary in Poetry Foundation, American Poetry Review, The New Republic, The Baffler, Jacobin, The Wire, and elsewhere.
The Literatures of Irish America: On Joe Cleary’s World-Systems Scholarship
Modernism, Empire, World Literature provides us with an essential account of how and why we have arrived where we are. The next step for Irish studies will be to take up Cleary’s project and answer what comes next. Doing so will entail not only cataloging the emerging forms of Irish fiction, but also taking up Cleary’s call to examine the structural relations that shape this novel.
About the author: Matthew Eatough is associate professor of English and Affiliate Faculty of Black and Latino Studies at Baruch College, City University of New York. He has published widely on contemporary Irish literature, Africanfuturism, and the history of modernism. His latest research focuses on the translation practices of Anglo-American small presses.
Silicon Values: The Future of Free Speech Under Surveillance Capitalism, provides a chronicle of her years of work with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the digital rights organization based in San Francisco. It presents a general audience with an accessible introduction to content moderation in the context of free expression — and a fascinating look at the historical evolution of what we now call commercial content moderation (to use the scholar Sarah Roberts’s term for the policies and practices that constitute social media content administration at scale).
About the author: Robert Gorwa is a researcher interested in the transnational policy challenges posed by digitized capitalism. He's a postdoctoral research fellow at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center, and a fellow at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). His writing on technology and politics has appeared in Foreign Affairs, Wired, The Washington Post, and other popular outlets.
Remedial Humanities: On Roosevelt Montás’s “Rescuing Socrates”
We can begin imagining and building a structure that empowers students to access the books that would be meaningful to them without fetishizing Western culture as the mechanism to do it. Beyond my quarrels with some of its assumptions and claims, Rescuing Socrates can be the beginning of a wider conversation between teachers. I am very grateful to Roosevelt Montás for a book that places the educational values of the liberal arts at the center of an ongoing debate.
About the author: Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado is the Jarvis Thurston and Mona van Duyn Professor in the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis. His research centers on the relationship between aesthetics, ideology, and cultural infrastructures in Mexico and Latin America, with a particular focus on literature, cinema and gastronomy.
In the Tongue a Knife, in the Knife a Tongue: On Fernanda Melchor’s “Paradais”
There is no catharsis at the end of Paradais, no purgation of bad feeling. Just the opposite: a sense of being mired in the aftermath. The world of Paradais — which, let’s not fool ourselves, is ours too — is a world of perpetual aftermath, where inescapable violence has rendered words like before and after meaningless and catharsis an escapist ploy of sentimentality. Polo knows he will open the gate for the police when they come. The reader knows this sort of thing goes on.
About the author: Lowry Pressly is a writer of essays, fiction, and cultural criticism. He is a PhD candidate at Harvard University.
Embracing Damnation: On Caio Fernando Abreu’s “Moldy Strawberries”
The redemption, so to speak, is in embracing the damnation. There is at the very least — for Elis Regina, for Abreu, and for the characters in Moldy Strawberries — some dignity in existing as you are, even if it will kill you.
About the author: Jane Pritchard is a graduate of the MFA program in Fiction at NYU.
Black Love Adrift in a Sea of Whiteness: On Asali Solomon’s “The Days of Afrekete”
Solomon offers no sweeping sound bite, just a detailed snapshot of the way money twists and turns around race in a single city. Nor does she offer readers a handy take on interracial marriage, on what happens when Black worlds collide with — and threaten to be engulfed by — white worlds. Instead of the explosive conflict of Such a Fun Age, or the tragic abuses and misunderstandings (and corresponding olive branches) offered by We Are Not Like Them, Solomon simply draws a picture of two Black women, and the ways in which whiteness simultaneously offers them shiny gifts and squeezes the air out of their lives. “At times,” Solomon writes, “Liselle remembered being waited on by tuxedoed white servers at Le Bec-Fin at her first wedding anniversary, the heavy gleaming silver dessert cart. She thought about how the ability to select and eat a confection from that cart made her part of something not larger, but smaller.”
About the author: Miranda Featherstone is a writer and social worker. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Yale Review, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. She lives in Rhode Island.
What Justice Needs Now
Pratt is ready to get off the current criminal justice treadmill. She uses common sense, humor, wisdom, and compassion to accomplish her goals. I hope that many other judges will be willing to do so as well. This book should be the bible for every judicial orientation and training. Judges, you can do this!
About the author: While in law school, Laurie Levenson was chief articles editor of the UCLA Law Review. After graduation, she served as law clerk to the Honorable James Hunter III of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. In 1981, she was appointed assistant United States Attorney, Criminal Section, in Los Angeles, where she was a trial and appellate lawyer for eight years and attained the position of senior trial attorney and assistant division chief. Levenson was a member of the adjunct faculty of Southwestern University Law School from 1982–’89. She joined the Loyola faculty in 1989 and served as Loyola’s associate dean for academic affairs from 1996–’99. She has been a visiting professor at UCLA School of Law and a D&L Straus distinguished visiting professor at Pepperdine University School of Law. Professor Levenson currently leads the following programs at Loyola Law School: Capital Habeas Litigation Clinic, The Fidler Institute annual symposium, and the Project for the Innocent.
ModPo Communities: On “The Difference Is Spreading”
Nonetheless, the essays of The Difference Is Spreading are fun to read and highly teachable. Many of them are written by poet-scholars, who often bring a theoretical or historical weight to their essays without ever getting caught in the scholarly muck that can exclude readers. If you like poems, and like reading smart people writing about poems in bite-sized essays, then The Difference Is Spreading is the kind of book you might like to leave on your nightstand and dip into here and there. It is, as Gertrude Stein might tell us, both “a spectacle and nothing strange” to encounter all of these wonderful poems through the eyes of our contemporary poets.
About the author: Jacquelyn Ardam is the author of Avidly Reads Poetry (NYU Press, 2022) and the assistant director of the Undergraduate Research Center for the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at UCLA. Her writing on literature, art, and culture has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Bookforum, LitHub, Hyperallergic, Public Books, and The Toast, as well as in academic journals.
A Method for Virtue
I close with the final sentence of the book: “This drive to find a goal proportionate to life, and to seek to know this goal with others, is, for virtue ethicists, what the good life is all about.” “Find[ing] a goal proportionate to life” (to life, not to our essential nature) is the animating project of the Good Life Method. Inviting and guiding the reader through a set of reflections — even spiritual exercises — aimed at that discovery is a very Good Thing.
About the author: Professor Pamela Hieronymi teaches philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research sits at the intersection of many different subfields: ethics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, and the lively discussion of moral responsibility and free will. Professor Hieronymi’s recent work has focused on the agency we exercise over our own attitudes, in particular, over our beliefs and intentions. She is interested in the source and nature of the motives worth having, their justification, and our responsibility for them. Professor Hieronymi is currently working on a manuscript bringing her recent work to bear on the problems of free will and moral responsibility.