Paul La Farge

  • Darkness Visible

    Pain is private, and its privacy has long been a subject of interest to philosophers. Wittgenstein famously compared pain to a beetle in a box: “No one can look into anyone else’s box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle.” When we talk about pain, we have to take one another’s word for it—that we are talking about the same thing, or indeed that we have beetles in our boxes at all. But what if there were a way to look into a stranger’s box and actually see his suffering?

    From this intriguing impossibility Kevin Brockmeier constructs his third novel for

  • Utopia & Dystopia

    More than a few years ago now, when I was living in San Francisco, I happened to walk by the office of a dot-com, a competitor in the online-pet-supply business, that had gone bust. It was midnight when I passed its brilliantly lit atrium, void of humans and furniture, except for a single desk where a night watchman sat looking dejectedly at the street. A huge white banner hung over his head, with red letters five feet high, spelling out THIS IS PETOPIA. I don’t mean to be flip or to equate the company’s marketing strategy with any genuine utopian impulse, but it did occur to me that the idea

  • Beach Ploys

    Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon’s seventh novel, follows so quickly on the heels of his sixth, the massive Against the Day (2006), that the teams of specialists who go over the fuselage of every Pynchon text as if it were a spy plane forced down by mechanical difficulties, identifying the probable origin and function of each part, writing up the results in Pynchon Notes or on the Internet, must be gnashing their teeth with weariness. The red telephone again? Aw, sheesh. If only there were some way to persuade them not to worry! Inherent Vice is by far the least puzzling Pynchon book to enter our

  • The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange

    As someone who played Dungeons & Dragons obsessively from age nine through fourteen, I have my share of regrets, but they are as nothing when compared with those of Mark Barrowcliffe, an English novelist and ex-gamer, whose memoir, The Elfish Gene, chronicles a D&D habit the likes of which few people have known, or at least survived.

    The son of a working-class couple in the suburbs of Coventry, Barrowcliffe came to Dungeons & Dragons in 1976, when it was less a fad than a cult. An encounter with older players at his school’s war-gaming club led him to order the rule books from America, which

  • Much Ado About Nothing

    Is Tintin literature? It’s a good question, and one that launches novelist Tom McCarthy’s book-length study of the Belgian artist Hergé’s masterwork, the ad­ventures of the boy reporter with the comma-shaped hairdo. The French have already made up their minds about Tintin’s literary merit: McCarthy’s bibliography lists works by the playwright and academic Jean-Marie Apostolidès and the psychoanalyst Serge Tisseron, as well as the philosopher Michel Serres’s multivolume Hermès, a chapter of which is devoted to Hergé’s 1963 album, The Castafiore Emerald. (One might add to this list Thomas