Love Is Barefoot Philosophy

Plato’s Bedroom succeeds by starting outside of religion, by unsettling all of us, showing us why our erotic lives are so important and problematic, so beautiful and at the same time potentially destructive, why love and death are never far from one another. Continue Reading »

Everyday Barbara Pym

In 1943, mourning the end of a short-lived love affair that would leave her (even months later) sitting “desolately by the fire shivering uncontrollably with an aching head and longing to be cherished,” Barbara Pym recorded walking by a pre-Raphaelite tomb and brooding a little. At this point . . . . Continue Reading »

The Dream-Child's Progress

“He’s dreaming now,” said Tweedledee: “and what do you think he’s dreaming about?”Alice said, “Nobody can guess that.”“Why, about you!” Tweedledee exclaimed, clapping his hands triumphantly. “And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you’d be?”“Where I . . . . Continue Reading »

Deliver Us From Innocence

God preserve us from all innocence,” Querry tells Mother Agnes in Graham Greene’s 1960 novel A Burnt-Out Case. It’s a jarring assertion. Moral purity isn’t usually cast as dangerous, and people don’t ask God for protection from it. But Querry means it. He has another kind of innocence in . . . . Continue Reading »

The Half-Empty Auditorium

The following essay is adapted from Chapter 3 of “The Fortunes of Poetry in an Age of Unmaking.” Those who love literature, or at any rate have a vested interest in making sure great works of literature are taught at universities and that radical politics are not, could only find the conquest . . . . Continue Reading »

Spiritual Literature for Atheists

To say, as people do from time to time, that science is the only source of meaning available to human beings is to consign large swaths of everyday experience to insignificance. (And to offer an open goal to any quick-footed apologist for religion who may be passing.) The implication of the maximal . . . . Continue Reading »

Keep It Shakespeare, Stupid

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is launching a three-year project to commission 36 pairs of playwrights and dramaturges to translate the works of Shakespeare into English. Yes, English. John McWhorter in the Wall Street Journal expresses support for this plan, saying, “Much of Shakespeare goes . . . . Continue Reading »

Close Reading in the Classroom

Too often, the teaching of English literature lacks the developmental sense that other disciplines have. As you go from a basic English course to an advanced one, it isn’t clear how one step builds on the other. Each math course, for instance, presumes knowledge developed in previous courses, and other humanities fields have a graduated curriculum.

Flannery O'Connor: Stamped but not Cancelled

On June 5, 2015, the U.S. Postal Service published a commemorative stamp in honor of Flannery O’Connor. O’Connor is an anomalous candidate for such acclaim, since her work stands at a critical distance from the American project, both in its older and more recent iterations. Precisely in her . . . . Continue Reading »

Ulysses and the God of Irony

Allow me to summarize the plot of a 644-page Modernist masterpiece, James Joyce’s Ulysses: Two guys meet one day. The day in question is June 16, 1904 (Happy 111st anniversary!). The guys in question are Stephen Dedalus, twenty-two, poet; and Leopold Bloom, thirty-eight, ad canvasser. Stephen . . . . Continue Reading »