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Criticism

What China Threat?

Within about fifteen years, China’s economy will surpass America’s and become the largest in the world. As this moment approaches, meanwhile, a consensus has formed in Washington that China poses…

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Comforting Myths

Before he died, my father reminded me that when I was four and he asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to be…

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Hostile Work Environments

The newspapers these days are full of sex scenes. Tales of exhibitionists, frottage specialists, voyeurs. I would normally be heartened to read about so much perversion, in the respectable press…

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Framing The Shadows

It is not beyond reason that it is also the psychotic in men that drives them to greatness.  — W. Eugene Smith Near the end of 1954, at thirty-five, the…

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Flesh and Blood

A formative experience of my life occurred the day — I was then twenty years old and a student at the City College of New York — that an English…

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Who’s Laughing Now?

In so many ways they were made for each other, as if a casting director considered Donald Trump and Saturday Night Live side by side and said, Yes, I can…

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American Expansion

Archie Randolph Ammons, one of the great American poets of the twentieth century, never became as widely known as his contemporaries. He avoided reading his poems in public (“I get…

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Killing Bill O’Reilly

Because I live in Europe and travel around the United States with Fox blinders on, I was largely spared the Bill O’Reilly revolution on cable television and syndicated radio, not…

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The Watchmen

As I write these words, American pundits and political junkies are struggling to come to terms with some curious, even alarming, developments. Donald Trump has claimed the Republican presidential nomination…

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Abandon All Hope

A naked man grabs me by the lapels and bares his teeth in frustration. I say naked, when I mean clad in a skintight nude suit that delineates his six-pack…

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Something Big

I saw the Watts Towers — or a picture of them, at any rate — before I’d heard about them, before I knew what they were. They’re in the background…

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There are Other Forces at Work

1. On August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon became the first American president to resign from office. I was playing in the street in San Luis Obispo when I heard. I had…

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Slender Mercies

For me, the epiphany came during Episode 404, broadcast on June 24 of last year. Here’s the setup. Bruce Pitcher, somewhere north of 350 pounds at the commencement of the…

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Rethinking Extinction

A little more than a hundred years ago, a bird named Martha, the last surviving passenger pigeon, died in the Cincinnati Zoo. Her death was remarkable in the annals of…

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A Goose in a Dress

Per Se (“Through Itself”) lives on the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center, a shopping mall at Columbus Circle, close to Central Park. It is by reputation — which…

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Counter Culture

A new kind of disenchantment has come over literature. It has to do with what you might call the working myth of the life of literature — the half-conscious way…

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Legends of the Lost

In the old days, when a new movie arrived at the theater, it was a collection of heavy, cumbersome cans containing the reels of 35-millimeter film. That physicality has nearly…

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The Tale of the Tape

This is an essay about an autobiography (Laurie Pepper’s ART: Why I Stuck With a Junkie Jazz Man) that is in large part about the creation of another autobiography (Art…

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America’s Ancestry Craze

My father always stressed the importance of blood — being worthy of it, showing loyalty to it, protecting what he called the purity of it. He was, as people sometimes…

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Destroy Your Safe and Happy Lives

In the beginning, William Blake writes a gonzo mythopoeia called Milton: All that can be annihilated must be annihilatedThat the Children of Jerusalem may be saved from slaveryThere is a…

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What Is Literature?

There’s a new definition of literature in town. It has been slouching toward us for some time now but may have arrived officially in 2009, with the publication of Greil…

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The Lost Yearling

One night last April, I walked from my house in Gainesville, Florida, to the Matheson Museum, a shy brick building hidden by a thicket of palmettos and so small that…

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Damage Control

Much of the story of twentieth-century art can be told as a series of acts of vandalism. Cubist collage attacked the expectation that a painting should look like something in…

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The Shining Path

In Barcelona I have a car waiting to take me to Sitges, a half-hour drive down the Catalan coast. I’m two days ahead of my cousin Tim, who arranged for…

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Our Town

Not long after moving to Oskaloosa, a town of 725 people in the hills of northeastern Kansas, Roger Barker, the new chair of the psychology department at the University of…

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October 2019