Charlotte Shane

  • Einstein on the Beach

    BRIAN WILSON HAS BEEN DEAF IN HIS RIGHT EAR since childhood. He mixed the Beach Boys’ albums, including Pet Sounds, in mono because he couldn’t hear them any other way. “It was sort of like being robbed of something, some pleasure of life,” he said in 1976. “I’m not complaining, but it’s a little bit of a setback.” I think the deafness might explain why the left side of his mouth reaches up when he speaks, like he’s addressing his good ear. (The affect has become more pronounced with age, but it’s visible in footage from the 1960s.) “I got one ear left and your big loud voice is killin’ it,”

  • How Should a Patient Be?

    RACHEL AVIV’S STRANGERS TO OURSELVES: UNSETTLED MINDS AND THE STORIES THAT MAKE US is a book about psychiatry, but it is also a book about the self, “the facets of identity that our theories of the mind fail to capture,” one written with an astonishing amount of attention and care. Since Westerners tend to conflate the self with the mind—or at least locate the former inside the latter—behavioral science is a field that implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) presumes to explain why we are the way we are, which is also to say why we are who we are: our chemistry is imbalanced, we’re holding a

  • Free Fallin’

    THE PRIMARY PROBLEM with freedom is that it’s impossible for everyone to have at the same time. Even circumscribed freedoms intersect, impose, and oppose, as conflicts about speech, masks, and vaccines remind us daily. “If and when we ascertain that our well-being is linked to the behavior of others, the desire to impugn, control, or change them can be as fruitless as it is intense,” writes Maggie Nelson in On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint, her attempt to probe the question of “how to forge a fellowship . . . that does not reflexively pit freedom against obligation.” The book was

  • Stupid Human Tricks

    ACCORDING TO MELANIE CHALLENGER’S How to Be Animal, there are termites that, when infected with fungal spores, vibrate in order to alert others of the contagion. “Termites from the same colony then box the individual in,” she writes, “so that they can’t infect other members.” I read this passage nine months into the United States’ murderous refusal to contain the novel coronavirus, when at least 320,000 people had died, but self-quarantine was still a mere suggestion. The latest outrageous news story was that a man exhibiting textbook COVID-19 symptoms (on account of his COVID-19 infection)

  • Just Watching

    I FIRST SHARED a TikTok video in my Instagram story on April 20, 2020, right around the time I ran out of tolerable TV series to binge and an inability to read anything other than tweets set in. It took me a while to realize I could download it, the video I mean—a Belgian man’s inexplicably menacing take on the “turn around” portion of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”—because I initially found the app’s interface so counterintuitive that I was reluctant to explore. For anyone used to the polished calm of Instagram, TikTok’s chaotic ugliness is disorienting. Each frame is cluttered

  • Still Eating Animals

    WAY BACK IN 2001, when I was a teenager furious at Bush for withdrawing from the Kyoto treaty, I still believed Something Would Happen to mitigate climate change. I knew enough to understand that a Republican-led United States would never participate in the Something, but—child that I was—I imagined Europe would set an example for a later, Democrat-led US to emulate; I imagined the rest of the world would unite behind a plan Americans would eventually adopt. Global warming had the feel of an epic threat that all the planet’s populations would rally to oppose, like an alien invasion or a meteor

  • Eyes Wide Shut

    PEOPLE WITH INSTITUTIONAL POWER ARE PATHETIC. We are not supposed to say it; the official story is that political power, in men at least, is glamorous, alluring, thrilling—the ultimate aphrodisiac. Yet anyone who cares to look will see the truth hanging out as plainly as an unclothed emperor’s . . . belly. When not momentarily appeased by an outrageous amount of luxury and bootlicking, aspiring kings and kingmakers prune in a bath of pettiness and paranoia that leaves them selfish, dishonest, and cruel. It is not inspiring. It is not admirable. But, like many repulsive states, it can, regrettably,

  • Lust Never Sleeps

    We’ve had half a century with The Second Sex, The Dialectic of Sex, Sexual Politics, and all the rest, yet straight men of letters still regard their fossilized sexism and quotidian horniness as windows into existential wisdom. Hard again! the male author marvels while streaming free porn in his book-lined office. What does it all mean? These are the inquiries of those who refuse to read feminists: How would a nerdy man have power over a pretty woman if she’s the one making him want her? How could a man be accused of disrespecting women when he’s so awestruck by their young, sexy bodies? David

  • Little Monsters

    Terrible things happen in Kristen Roupenian’s You Know You Want This, a fact hinted at by the table of contents, which reads like a list of YA vampire novels: “Bad Boy,” “Death Wish,” “Scarred,” “Biter.” “I write horror stories,” the author told the Sunday Times last year. “The pull and push of revulsion and attraction is what the book revolves around.”

    Roupenian is fascinated by the way power—in her stories, often bestowed by sex or magic—seesaws between people, temporarily elevating the lowly only to drop them back in the dirt where they belong. Her victims can sometimes gain enough leverage

  • A House Divided

    IN HER 2007 MEMOIR, Flying Close to the Sun, radical leftist Cathy Wilkerson describes feeling perplexed by women’s liberationists in the late 1960s. Wilkerson, who lived on oatmeal in a group home, had renounced her family’s wealth to devote herself to student organizing. Though she agreed with the feminists’ analysis, she couldn’t relate to their unwillingness to make similar sacrifices:

    Many of the concerns of women in the group seemed self-indulgent. I found it confusing to be in discussions about the ways in which business used women, manipulating ideas of beauty, [because] these

  • syllabi November 14, 2018

    Outrageous Clarity: The Fictions of Amélie Nothomb

    With Amélie Nothomb’s latest, Strike Your Heart, the Francophone author of twenty-five books seems to have finally found some of the American attention she deserves. (I’m basing this assessment in part on the displays of almost every New York City bookstore’s front table.) Europeans have long been wild about Nothomb: The king of Belgium named her a baroness, she’s won several of the continent’s most respected literary prizes, and articles from overseas claim that fellow Parisians treat her like a celebrity whenever she ventures out in public. She is prolific, with a precise and distinctive

  • In My Feelings

    NO WORKING WRITER believes in the shattering power of an encounter—with another person, with a new sensation, with possibility—more than Amélie Nothomb, the prolific Paris-based Belgian who’s published a novel a year since 1992’s Hygiène de l’assassin (rendered in English as Hygiene and the Assassin, though a more accurate title would be The Assassin’s Purity). Her first book offered an impressive blueprint of what would define her subsequent work: arrogant, infuriating personalities; vicious character clashes; childhood love so obsessive that it bleeds out over an adult’s entire history; and

  • Breaking the Waves

    IN JANUARY, I received a package containing one twenty-dollar bill and one postcard with “thanks for being a part of the Wild Iris!” handwritten on the back, punctuated by a heart. The Wild Iris was a feminist bookstore—“Florida’s only feminist bookstore,” according to its website—and it was newly out of business. The twenty dollars was the full retail price of my self-published book; they’d sold it for me on consignment and should have kept half the cost. Giving me their ten dollars may have been a mistake, but I doubt it. Gratuitous generosity seemed to be the staff’s only mode. So few stores

  • Power Trip

    TAO LIN’S EIGHTH BOOK, Trip, is his best yet, and it’s all thanks to drugs. Well, perhaps not entirely thanks to drugs. With exercise comes mastery, or at least competence, and Lin has been practicing his idiosyncratic craft for over a decade. His first book was published in 2006, when he was twenty-three; improvement during the intervening years may have been inevitable. But Lin—whose authorial voice, notoriously, is so assiduously literal that it sometimes seems transcribed from a robot failing a Turing test—has never been more creative, precise, or inspired than when he details psychedelics-begotten

  • Nowhere Fast

    No one chases death like the young. Goth teens, sure, and kids on social media who ask the Pope to murder them with sex, and anyone for whom a death wish is mainly a style or a meme. But non-elderly Americans are killing themselves at a staggering rate, and it’s increasingly difficult to tell what’s accidental and what’s intentional. The November overdose of twenty-one-year-old rapper Lil Peep was exemplary in its ambiguity: His Instagram posts just before he died swung between resignation and struggle, between “fucc it” and “one day maybe I won’t die young.” His death was self-inflicted but

  • The Body Politic

    Anesthesia has been around for over 170 years, and in spite of its inherent drama it’s impressively nonlethal. Current estimates place the death toll at about one in two hundred thousand or even one in three hundred thousand, which means—according to the earnest nonprofit the National Safety Council—that you or I are more likely to die from insect stings, “excessive natural heat,” or “contact with sharp objects” than either of us is from being put under. Properly supervised anesthesia is not only exceedingly safe but also ubiquitous, and necessary for a slew of lifesaving and life-improving

  • Cheater’s Poker

    “We never know our partner as well as we think we do,” the psychotherapist Esther Perel writes in Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic (2006), a guide for couples weathering periods of sexual disconnection. Even after many years, she points out, your partner can be inscrutable, as hard as you try to convince yourself you know them—or, worse, that there’s nothing much to know. “The grand illusion of committed love is that we think our partners are ours,” Perel continues, whereas “in truth, their separateness is unassailable.”

    Her new book, The State of Affairs: Rethinking

  • Saying It for Themselves

    WHORES AND OTHER FEMINISTS turns twenty this year, and it’s still the best academic anthology about sex work available—though academic is perhaps an odd term to use for a collection that includes such personal pieces as “Confessions of a Fat Sex Worker” and “500 Words on Acculturation.” (The latter opens, “She fucked me from behind with a nine-inch black rubber dick, pounding my pussy like driving a stake.”) “I didn’t want to go with a mainstream house because I didn’t want them to exploit the subject matter,” said the volume’s editor, Jill Nagle, in a 1997 interview, explaining how the anthology

  • Title Bouts

    Melissa Goldbach accused her child's father of having sexually assaulted her during their custody handoff in a Wisconsin parking lot in 2011. When confronted with security footage of events different from those she described, she conceded that the sex had been consensual. In late 2013, North Carolinian Joanie Faircloth began to make numerous internet comments and social-media posts claiming that indie musician Conor Oberst had raped her when she was sixteen. After about six months, in a notarized recantation, she wrote: "I made up those lies." "That part's not true," Carolyn Bryant Donham

  • Street Life

    WHEN POPULAR FEMINIST writer Jessica Valenti was a prefeminist eighth grader in New York City, she left a crowded subway train one afternoon and realized that one of the back pockets of her jeans was wet. There was enough fluid that she worried someone would think she had "peed" herself, so she rushed home to take a scalding hot bath and hide the stain from her mom. Though she hadn't noticed anything during the ride, she's certain of what happened that day: A stranger ejaculated on her.

    This bleak incident is one of many in Valenti's latest book and first memoir, Sex Object, a work intended