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Eula Biss: There’s a paradox here—I feel uncharacteristically invulnerable when I write, but my writerly persona is full of vulnerability. This is not incidental. Yes, a certain unstaved vulnerability is characteristic of who I am as a person, but in my writing I consider vulnerability a tool. A vulnerable persona can be instrumental in an essay, particularly an essay that is working to avoid the pitfalls of righteousness. –“To Know is not Enough,” Carrie Oeding interviews Eula Biss, Gulf Coast
The mix of registers here is typical of Wallace: intensifiers and qualifiers that ordinarily suggest sloppy writing and thinking (“unbelievably”; “really” used three times in the space of a dozen words; “something like that”) coexisting with the correct use of the subjunctive mood (“as though the driver were”). The precision of the subjunctive—which literate people bother with less and less, the simple past tense increasingly and diminishingly employed in its place—is never arbitrary, and its presence suggests that if attention is being paid to a matter of higher-order usage, similar intention lurks behind the clutter of qualifiers. For although one could edit them out of the passage above to the end of producing leaner prose, the edit removes more than “flab”: it discards the furniture of real speech, which includes the routine repetitions and qualifications that cushion conversation. Wallace was seeking to write prose that had all the features of common speech. –“Smarter than You Think,” Wyatt Mason, The New York Review of Books
A familiar pattern has begun to emerge in public discussions of the social impact of technology, one in which two bipolar exaggerations accompany the arrival of major new developments: the party of techno-optimism heralds the arrival of a revolutionary new device or service that will unlock heretofore unknown heights of human potential; the party of techno-pessimism begins with mockery (“This is for teenagers!”), proceeds to assertions of insignificance (“This fad will never last!”) and finally resigns itself to mournful laments for what’s been lost (“Nobody reads books now!”). Twitter is only the latest of these, and the latest to achieve the appearance of a kind of permanence: a significant new means for broadcasting and consuming information that has, at least for me, become a new “front page” for the rest of the internet. –“The importance of Tweet cred,” Jonathan Shainin, The National
More from Rafe Bartholomew:
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”