Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Old Possum Ain't Dead

From the January 2023 Print Edition

When T. S. Eliot gave a lecture on “The Frontiers of Criticism” on April 30, 1956, in the Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota—the largest basketball arena in America at the time—­nearly fourteen thousand people showed up. A front-page column for the Minneapolis . . . . Continue Reading »

Why Read Literature?

From Web Exclusives

In this week’s New Yorker, Adam Gopnik attempts to answer the question: “Why Teach English?” The fate of the English major is, as Gopnik notes, all the rage, but defenses of it are surprisingly unconvincing. He rightly points out that the two most common ones”that English majors make for better people and better societies”are patently false. Nor is studying literary texts, I might add, always the most effective means of improving reading or writing skills (though it certainly helps). “So why have English majors?” Gopnik asks … Continue Reading »

Both an Original and a Man of His Time

From Web Exclusives

American poet and critic John Hollander died this weekend. He was 83. Beginning with A Crackling of Thorns, which won the Yale Younger Poets Series in 1958, Hollander published over twenty volumes of verse and several works of criticism and anthology. He was both an original and a man of his time, which is perhaps true not just of all writers but of all people. Yet it is nevertheless particularly true of him… . Continue Reading »

An Odd Report on the Humanities

From Web Exclusives

On Wednesday, the Academy of Arts and Sciences published its report on the state and value of the humanities and social sciences. The “Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences,” as it is called, was formed two years ago in response to Congress’s request to know how “to maintain national excellence in humanities and social scientific scholarship and education … Continue Reading »

Holy Words of a Secular Culture

From First Thoughts

In short piece for The American Scholar , William Deresiewicz reflects on the holy words of a (supposedly) secular culture . These are words, Deresiewicz suggests, that are “possessed of something like magical powers, a kind of ideological open sesame .” He lists freedom , equality , and . . . . Continue Reading »

Negative Reviews

From First Thoughts

Following his piece on the policy at the  Los Angeles Review of Books   not to review first books negatively, D.G. Myers, Mark Athitakis, Joyce Carol Oates, Chris Bea, and Rohan Maitzen discussed negative reviews on Twitter yesterday—whether or not critics should write them and why. . . . . Continue Reading »