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History and criticism

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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To Laugh That We May Not Weep

Art Young would have turned 150 years old this month, and the finest gift we could have given him is Bernie Sanders’s campaign to welcome socialism back into America’s parlor…

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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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The Torment and the Engine

From an interview in the Spring 2015 issue of The Paris Review. Elena Ferrante is the pseudonym of an Italian novelist whose books include The Days of Abandonment, My Brilliant…

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Ways of Being Silent

from the archive 50 years ago in Harper’s Magazine Literary history and the present are dark with silences: the years-long silences of acknowledged greats; the ceasing to publish after one…

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The Sharp Edge of Life

By Saul Bellow, from a previously unpublished essay written in 1951 and included in There Is Simply Too Much to Think About: Collected Nonfiction, edited by Benjamin Taylor and out…

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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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American Scolder

From annotations written by John Stuart Mill on his personal copies of the first editions of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays, which were published in two volumes, in 1841 and 1844.…

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December 2013