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Laughing Against the Dark

Keeping a straight face, I’m going to argue that American popular comedy has lost the virtue of hope, which was retained in the past by even the most severe satire. Hollywood has produced popular comedy in all its forms, including radio, TV, and stand-up. Discussing the most universal and lasting . . . . Continue Reading »

Bodily Curiosities

I am not altogether incurious, but one entity about which I have over the years felt little curiosity is my own body. Until recently, I could not have told you the function of my, or anyone else’s, pancreas, spleen, or gallbladder. I’d just as soon not have known that I have kidneys, and was . . . . Continue Reading »

How to Lose a Cold War
(and Why)

North by Northwest’s style is so impeccable, its tone so effervescent, that many viewers fail to grasp the film’s seriousness. Ernest ­Lehman, the screenwriter, did not help when he described the film as an insubstantial caper in the vein of James Bond, “something that has wit, . . . . Continue Reading »

Atwood's False Testament

“Novels are not slogans,” Margaret Atwood said in 1986 of The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). “If I wanted to say just one thing I would hire a billboard.” In the thirty-three years since, she seems to have changed her mind. Handmaid contained few maxims, but its newly . . . . Continue Reading »

Rooted Cosmopolitan

In 2011, I reviewed what was then Adam Zagajewski’s recent collection, Unseen Hand. In it, the poet, then in his mid-sixties, turned toward themes of life and death, loss and preservation. My review was laudatory. After its publication, a friend passed it along to Zagajewski, who on his . . . . Continue Reading »

America’s Fat Knight

Harold Bloom, who died in October at age eighty-nine, was The Last Great American Literary Critic. The Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale, he wrote best sellers, appeared on talk shows, and collected honorary doctorates like lint. Bloom championed the Western Canon against its critics, . . . . Continue Reading »

Mid-Century Manhood

No man celebrating his eighty-sixth birthday can avoid thinking about whether he has measured up to the standards he held when he was first starting out. I am not speaking here of the mundane problems that plague all men: how good a living he made, the professional success he achieved, or where he . . . . Continue Reading »

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