Category Archives: Essays

The Problem with Invoking Down Syndrome in Support of the American Health Care Act

By George Estreich

From the moment the American Health Care Act won passage in the House of Representatives, a child with Down syndrome was going to be marshaled in its favor: supporters of the bill needed a sentimental distraction from the AHCA’s likely impact on people with disabilities.

What I didn’t expect was that the first example would come from a parent who voted for the bill. Continue reading

Dis-Content: Learning to Write in the Age of the Digital

By Chris Townsend

Anyone attempting to make a living for him- or herself through the written word in the modern digital day will be all-too familiar with the ubiquitous term “content.” The daily, desperate perusal of job listings is streamlined by the fact that nearly all roles related whatsoever to writing, editing, or proofreading now contain this ever-present buzzword. Content writer, content editor, content producer, content manager. Content strategist even, content creator, content developer, content marketing executive, content communicator, content buyer. Junior content delivery operative. Head of content. “Content,” in the marketing sense, is not by any stretch a brand-new concept, but it is one that has gained an uncommonly tenacious purchase in our modern or postmodern times. Content of this ilk exists to bridge the ever-increasing gap between print and screen cultures, as a one-size-fits-all category for both the old world of writing and the new paradigm of images. Content is a solution to the brave new world of the digital. Continue reading

What Did He Write and When Did He Write It?: Mozart’s Requiem

By Glen Roven

In anticipation of the National Chorale’s performance of Mozart’s Requiem, his monumental final work, thoughts of Wolfgang were swirling in my head. I thought of that scene in Amadeus, where Mozart, dying from some unknown disease, is coerced by his frenemy Salieri into dictating his Requiem note by note, so that the sure-to-be-forgotten Salieri can pass it off as his own, thereby securing a place in history as the author of at least one masterpiece. Continue reading

America The Beautiful: The Disconnect Between Conservatism and Conservation

By Henry Godinez

“Words, words, words,” says the young prince in Hamlet, arguably the greatest play ever written in any language. Perhaps part of why it has remained influential for 400 years is that it can be a kind of blueprint for us, or at least a mirror. As a mirror turned to our society today, it reflects our political turmoil, our corruption, and frankly, our hypocrisy. Continue reading

The Misogyny of FX’s Feud: Bette and Joan

By Melissa Bradshaw

With the long-awaited adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale finally streaming on Hulu, viewers are immersing themselves in the terrors of a dystopian future where religious extremists control what is left of the United States, imprisoning fertile women and forcing them to bear children for their wealthy masters. There is something cathartic about watching Atwood’s unflinchingly feminist nightmare unfold, because even as the parallels to our own current political landscape are discomfortingly strong, we’re not there yet. Watching, we can measure the freedoms we haven’t lost yet, the degree of autonomy we exercise over our bodies and our sexuality. For now. Continue reading

Stop Comparing Marine Le Pen to Donald Trump

By Russell Porter-Follows

On May 7, voters will head to the polls to elect the next President of France. France’s avidly anti-immigrant and Eurocentric National Front party, led by Marine Le Pen, has ascended from the fringes of French politics to the mainstream by riding a wave of toxic nationalism. After receiving 21.4% of the popular vote, Le Pen advanced to the runoff election in late April against centrist candidate, political novice, and former investment banker Emmanuel Macron. Continue reading

The Day the Lights Went Out

By Joanna Chen

Nothing much happens in the quiet village where I live in the Ella Valley of Israel. In many ways, it’s like a modern shtetel — houses clustered together in a valley dotted with corn and melon fields in season, perched on the edge of a forest ripe with secrets waiting to be discovered. It’s named Sarigim, the Hebrew word for “tendrils,” in reference to the nearby vine groves that burst with purple sweetness in the summer, their wispy limbs curling around wooden trellises. There’s a single supermarket where people buy milk and eggs and stand around gossiping, and on Fridays they buy fresh-baked pastries and braided challah bread that fill the air with the scent of home. Continue reading

Was S-Town’s John B. McLemore a Poetic Genius?

By Rachel Kraus

In the last lines of the seemingly open-ended podcast S-Town, produced by the makers of This American Life and Serial, narrator Brian Reed actually puts forth a conclusive assertion. While Mary Grace McLemore was pregnant with her son, the podcast’s subject John B. McLemore, she rubbed her belly and wished for a genius. The listener understands that in her son John B., that wish came true. Continue reading

Xue Generis: Can Xue and the Dangers of Literary Exceptionalism

By Amanda DeMarco

“Can Xue’s works are truly exceptional,” Can Xue assures us. China’s most prominent author of experimental fiction is known, among other things, for talking about herself in the third person using her pseudonym, which means “dirty snow.” Her works inhabit a space of connected disjointedness somewhere between Diane Williams and Nadirs-era Herta Müller. Think Mikhail Shishkin’s Maidenhair politically unmoored. Hers is generally not a strangeness of voice or syntax — this is neither Woolf of The Waves, nor McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing. Rather its strangeness resides in the world, or at least in what the speaker notices about it. Her works are usually related in a simple style that ranges from elegantly plainspoken to abrupt. There are halting arcs of narrative, rumor, causation; clues as well as red herrings. It has all of the bones of storytelling, but often lacks the connective tissue, leaving the deductive work to the reader, along with a much harder sort of work: the struggle to accept and comprehend things that don’t make sense. Continue reading