Laura Kipnis

  • The Journalist and the Editor

    WE LIVE IN CONFESSIONAL TIMES and the self-exposure bug eventually comes for us all, the steeliest of non-disclosers, no less. We age and turn inward, we become garrulous and spill. Even I, who once fled the first-person singular like a bad smell, now talk about myself endlessly in print, opening every essay or review with some “revealing” anecdote or slightly abashed confession, striving for the perfect degree of manicured self-deprecation and helpless charm. Needless to say, the more forthcoming you appear, the more calculated the agenda, not always consciously. 

    Which brings me to Janet

  • Ballad of a Wounded Man

    I’d long had it in the back of my mind to write something about Clancy Sigal, which according to my notes I’d provisionally titled “The Man Who Fascinated Women (Writers).” Whatever it is in me that’s drawn to wounded men—and Clancy was a great one of the species—I suspect the fact that Doris Lessing got to this one first, branding him as her property, was no small part of the allure. Clancy and I spoke once on the phone, mostly about his thing with Lessing, but I never followed through. I guess he gave up waiting, since he went ahead and died in July, at age ninety. I don’t think he’d mind

  • The Liars’ Club

    “Are you a one or a zero?” demands Mr. Robot in the eponymous TV series. “That’s the question you have to ask yourself.” My answer: neither, goddamnit—my hopes and dreams aren’t regulated by a motherboard, not quite yet. Or am I deluding myself, and identity is so shaped by the technologies we use that effectively they’re using us? Some version of this query lurks at the edges of Andrew O’Hagan’s The Secret Life: Three True Stories of the Digital Age, a book dominated by secretive and truth-challenged men, among them WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous

  • Thrall of Mirrors

    Since we live in an era of compulsory self-disclosure, there’s no way I can avoid confessing that I read Kristin Dombek’s short book, The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism, in a frenzy of narcissistic injury. The reason is that for the past several years I myself have been working fitfully on a short book about contemporary narcissism (maybe I should say had been working on), except that I kept writing myself into corners and putting it aside. Still, in my own mind I owned the subject, or at least I owned the book-length essay on the subject, meaning I read Dombek’s

  • Critical Condition

    In Wilfrid Sheed’s caustically hilarious 1970 novel, Max Jamison, the titular hero—the “dean of American critics,” as someone introduces him, and also a bit of a bastard—can’t shut down his brilliant critical instincts even when off the clock. When is a brilliant critic ever off the clock? He pans his wife (“God, he hated stupidity”), and lying awake at night, he pans his life (“The Max Jamison Story failed to grip this viewer. Frankly, I found the point eluding me again and again. The central character is miscast”). He disparages his looks (“Thinning hair might be all right but not for Christsake

  • Resentments of Things Past

    What’s the use of getting over things? Wrongs have been perpetrated: assaults on your dignity, your self-image, your fragile well-being. And they’ve gotten away with it—they’re reveling (no doubt prospering), smug in their galling impunity, probably laughing at you even now. Bullies, critics, snobs, the so-called friend who slept with your one true love in college and has now tried to friend you on Facebook as though it never happened. Shitty parents, lecherous mentors, crappy former spouses: It’s a world of assholes out there. Fuck them all.

    Consider the festering wound. Especially if you’re

  • Personae of Interest

    Near the beginning of Pico Iyer’s The Man Within My Head, an account of Graham Greene’s imprint on his inner life, the peripatetic Iyer, on a bus in Bolivia, notices a woman stealing glances at him.

    She was in her late thirties, I guessed, with many of her youthful dreams exhausted, but she hadn’t given up on her earliest hopes entirely. She had applied some lipstick and blusher this morning and put on a cross that silvered her throat; she seemed to be trying to work out who I was as I sat in my row alone.

    She turns out to be the guide he’d hired,

  • Crazy in Love

    Rushdie had the Ayatollah, Job had God, and James Lasdun has Nasreen—at least that’s what he calls her in Give Me Everything You Have (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25)—the former creative-writing student who harassed him for five years and is apparently still at it. As Lasdun remarks mordantly, she made stalking into something of an art form.

    Now most of us who’ve taught for any length of time have had the occasional unhinged student, with various forms of unpleasantness ensuing. Impeccably behaved though we may be, we’re still the ones subject to the demeaning behavior codes, herded to the

  • culture August 14, 2012

    Sincerity by R. Jay Magill Jr.

    Things weren’t going well for sincerity even before Hallmark strip-mined it down to muck. Lionel Trilling pronounced it dead some 40 years ago. Snark and irony have long had more cultural cachet. Among its many pitfalls is that the more you seek or proclaim it, the less sincere you seem. (Only politicians have yet to get the message.) Another small problem: if people truly did say what was in their hearts on a regular basis, marriages would rupture, friendships would founder and no one would ever sit through a faculty meeting again.

  • Papa Paparazzo

    “A curious grunting sound”: This was the noise emitted by celebrity stalker-photographer Ron Galella whenever he consummated a shot of—perhaps more precisely, at—his preferred subject, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, or so she testified during one of their numerous courtroom encounters. You can imagine her delicately wrinkling her nose while saying it. Everything you need to know about Galella is that he was the one who instigated the lawsuit, rather than Jackie: Not content to merely hound her, he also sued her for $1.3 million, claiming that Secret Service agents (assigned to protect the Kennedy

  • Death by Self-Parody

    As befits a well-practiced and much-lauded controversialist, Michel Houellebecq’s novel The Map and the Territory first incited a mini-hubbub over plagiarism upon its publication last year in France, then went on to win the Prix Goncourt. The lifted sections (as Houellebecq readily acknowledged) were from Wikipedia: long swaths of unremarkable factoids about things you’re probably not interested in reading about, like houseflies. If you find the whole pomo-pastiche thing a little tedious, there are other pleasures to be had, since a depressed, dyspeptic, and controversial writer named Michel

  • Amazing Disgrace

    Among the many sources of humiliation I either learned about or was forced to relive while reading Wayne Koestenbaum’s Humiliation (Picador, $14): having a tiny penis or any form of smallness, soiling oneself or virtually any other physical process, writing or being written about, being jealous, being cheated on, being Googled, being mistaken for the wrong gender, being Michael Jackson, electroshock therapy, impotence, hair loss, inadvertent erections in awkward circumstances, smelling like liverwurst, vomiting onstage before a musical performance, voyeuristic curiosity about death, failing to


    For those who object to the rise of pornography studies as an academic subfield or balk at paying astronomical tuition so their kids can watch people boink on-screen for course credit, Linda Williams is the one to blame. Her landmark 1989 study Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible” was the first book to take porn seriously as a film genre, treating the subject with scholarly and theoretical sophistication while deftly evading the tedious pro-porn versus anti-porn arguments of the day. Now the canonical text in the field it initiated, Hard Core propelled a generation of