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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 »

Frequencies of Thought

Stephen Meredith argues a thesis that seems to me correct, important, and widely overlooked—the triple crown in the Interesting Assertions sweepstakes. It is that the scientific attitude must respect the nonscientific grounds of its actions, or else it shall slide into a dehumanizing instrument . . . . Continue Reading »

Who Were the Inklings?

The name they chose for their group was, J. R. R. Tolkien self-effacingly recalls, “a pleasantly ingenious pun . . . suggesting people with vague or half-formed intimations and ideas plus those who dabble in ink.” The description conjures a picture of “donnish dreaminess,” a rag-tag band of tweed-clad writers who met for a pint from time to time. Continue Reading »

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