• print • Summer 2020

    What’s Happening?

    IN 1974 DORIS LESSING PUBLISHED MEMOIRS OF A SURVIVOR, a postapocalyptic novel narrated by an unnamed woman, almost entirely from inside her ground-floor apartment in an English suburb. In a state of suspended disbelief and detachment, the woman describes the events happening outside her window as society slowly collapses, intermittently dissociating from reality and lapsing into dream states. At first, the basic utilities begin to cut out, then the food supply runs short. Suddenly, rats are everywhere. Roving groups from neighboring areas pass through the yard, ostensibly escaping even worse

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Purity of the Heart Is to Follow One Thing

    SØREN KIERKEGAARD WAS AN EARNEST, brilliant, difficult, vituperative, sensitive, sickly emo brat whose statue in the Valhalla of Sad Young Literary Men is surely the size of a Bamiyan Buddha. He was a Christian whose devoutness was so idiosyncratic as to be functionally indistinct from heresy; who lived large on family money until the money ran out and then died so promptly that you’d almost think he planned the photo finish; who tried and failed to save Christianity from itself, but succeeded (without really trying) in founding “a new philosophical style, rooted in the inward drama of being

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Meditations in an Emergency

    DURING THE FIRST WEEKS of quarantine, I would become exasperated when I’d hear some expression of gratitude for the platforms and technologies keeping us socially connected, as though connection is only virtuous, or would be balm enough. It seemed apparent that the value of disconnection was an equally pressing lesson, a condition put before us to wrestle with, to practice, to sit with, and, perhaps, to learn from. Perhaps disconnection would even be essential to defining how and in what altered state we might arrive at the other side of this horrific, if expected, shakedown. Wanting role models

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Women on the Verge

    For many of its participants, the women’s liberation movement represented a saving break with an unremittingly bleak past. A switch flipped at the end of the 1960s, and the culture flooded with light. Where once there had been only darkness—Ladies’ Home Journal, back-alley abortions, MRS degrees—now there was feminism: Kate Millett made the cover of Time, Shirley Chisholm made the ballot, and young women picketed bridal fairs and beauty pageants that they might have attended a year before. In 1971, fiction writer Tillie Olsen remarked with awe that “this movement in three years has accumulated

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Pass the Alt

    “In Athens, Georgia, in the 1980s, if you were young and willing to live without much money, anything seemed possible,” Grace Elizabeth Hale opens her new book Cool Town, about how the B-52s, R.E.M., Vic Chesnutt, and scads of lesser-known alternative-rock artists sprang out of one small southern college town four decades ago. My first impulse was to substitute the line Tolstoy might have written if Tolstoy had been really into rock bands: All local music scenes are the same, but every music scene is local in its own way. Young people coalesce around a few emerging performers or spaces or

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  • print • Summer 2020

    The Painting on the Wall

    In Murals of New York City, all of the Big Apple’s bygone eras seem to blend together. On the walls of Neoclassical courthouses and Art Deco airports, hallowed hotel bars and brick borough halls, we see the Rockefellers and Roosevelts still running things, and the Astaires, the Barrymores, and the Fitzgeralds forever flitting around. People smoked in restaurants, and artists—apparently—had studios in the attic of Grand Central Terminal. Graffiti didn’t yet have a name. The New School was still new, as was the New Deal. The Works Progress Administration paid for everything. It’s the Gilded Age,

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  • review • May 21, 2020

    Words of Light

    “A disappointed woman should try to construct happiness out of a set of materials within her reach,” William Godwin counseled Mary Wollstonecraft after she tried to kill herself by jumping from a bridge. Virginia Woolf liked to read “with pen & notebook,” a generative relationship to the page. Roland Barthes had a hierarchical system with Latinate designations: “notula was the single word or two quickly recorded in a slim notebook; nota, the later and fuller transcription of this thought onto an index card.” Walter Benjamin urged the keeping of a notebook “as strictly as the authorities keep

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  • excerpt • April 30, 2020

    The Opposite of Nostalgia

    What’s the opposite of nostalgia? I ask that question because the stories in this book take me back to a time & place I thought I’d forgotten—but I really wouldn’t want to go back there.

    I used to sleep a lot. I’m still fond of a good kip & will grab a snooze at the drop of a hat if the opportunity ever presents itself but back in the early 80s I really used to sleep a hell of a lot. Back then sleeping was my favoured method of escaping Thatcher’s Britain.

    I left school in 1982 & went straight on the dole. I left home & moved into a flat above an old factory. My friend was the caretaker. The

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  • excerpt • April 28, 2020

    Metaphorical Distance

    The cultural critic Susan Sontag’s classic Illness as Metaphor emerged from her rage at seeing, after her own cancer diagnosis, “how much the very reputation of this illness added to the suffering of those who have it.” In 1978, Sontag contended with cancer’s reputation as scourge, invader, predator, demonic pregnancy, demonic enemy, barbarian within. Cancer’s roots were then imagined, at least in part, as psychological, resulting from repressed emotion. These metaphoric conceptions of cancer saddled its sufferers with shame and prevented many from seeking proper treatment or even knowing their

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  • booklist • April 16, 2020

    Some classes to take while you’re quarantined

    Social distancing may have brought us farther from our friends, but we have never been in more constant contact with our bookshelves and word processors. Many of us are dusting off unread classics, or attempting to write the book we’ve always meant to. Though they aren’t physically open, universities, literary institutions, and bookstores are providing online classes and community events on literature and composition. Grab your Milton and open “Novel.doc”—the experts are (virtually) in.

    For readers:

    If you’re looking for a quick introduction to major works, Harvard University is offering

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  • booklist • April 09, 2020

    Literary Devices

    Reading at home can’t replace the sense of community and connection offered at your local bookstore, but virtual book clubs, talks, and classes may help fill the void. Independent booksellers and publishers across the US are moving their scheduled spring programming online and some are launching entirely new web series for your quarantine-viewing pleasure. Attending these won’t be the same as meeting in person, but it’ll come close.

    And don’t forget to support indie booksellers by making a direct purchase of books, gift cards, or merchandise, contributing to a fundraising campaign, or donating

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    The Moore the Merrier

    Please don’t bury me

    Down in that cold, cold ground

    No, I’d rather have ’em cut me up

    And pass me all around

    John Prine, “Please Don't Bury Me”

    Fearful indeed the suspicion—but more fearful the doom! It may be asserted, without hesitation, that no event is so terribly well adapted to inspire the supremeness of bodily and of mental distress, as is burial before death.

    Edgar Allan Poe, “The Premature Burial”

    There could be unexpected chiming or clanging.

    —Lorrie Moore, “Author’s Note” to Collected Stories


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