Seeing Ideas as Operative: Talking to Melissa Lane

By Andy Fitch

This interview, conducted in December 2016, transcribed by Phoebe Kaufman, and all the more pertinent in our ecologically precarious present, focuses on Melissa Lane’s book Eco-Republic: What the Ancients Can Teach Us about Ethics, Virtue, and Sustainable Living. Lane is the Class of 1943 Professor of Politics at Princeton University, where she is also Director of the University Center for Human Values. Over the past two decades, Lane’s inventive scholarly projects have tracked the political imaginations of pivotal historical epochs, and her poised critical interventions have sought to clarify the political imagination of our own present. Eco-Republic epitomizes such concerns, particularly since it opens onto broader Platonic questions concerning how topographical, climatological, cultural, linguistic, textual ecologies shape the human agents operating within them, as well as how these agents reciprocally might shape their environment. At the same time, Eco-Republic exemplifies Lane’s dexterous ability not only to assimilate a wide range of classical and contemporaneous discourses, but to speak directly (she does so through public engagements as well as published texts) to leading figures in the fields of science, government, business. Lane’s books include: The Birth of Politics (Princeton University Press, 2015); Plato’s Progeny (Duckworth, 2001); and Method and Politics in Plato’s Statesman (Cambridge University Press, 1998). And eco-coproduction, as Lane defines, deploys, and embodies this term, can’t help but make for high-quality conversation. Lane will deliver the Carlyle Lectures in 2018 at Oxford University. Continue reading

Asking for a Friend: Is My Boyfriend Just a Boor?

Dear Olive,

I get embarrassed by my boyfriend in public — he seems to lack tact, but also seems to enjoy getting under other people’s skin. While he is not conservative, he will always play “devil’s advocate” on issues of race and immigration around others, questioning things like DACA or the merits of allowing immigrants into the country at all. (I’m a minority woman and this always bothers me, but he tells me not to make an “academic discussions” so personal). He recently made a joke about his father “f***ing his mother too hard” in public out at a bar among my friends.

To him, this is who he is. I am perplexed that someone who can sometimes be kind and sweet can be so insensitive at times. Is it social anxiety, or is it actually about making others uncomfortable? What should I do if he’s not willing to take constructive criticism in this department? Continue reading

Talking with Playwright Dan O’Brien About His Haunting Collection

By Tim Cummings

In his review of the 2017 World Premiere production of Dan O’Brien’s The House in Scarsdale: A Memoir for the Stage (The Theatre @ Boston Court), which LARB also reviewed, critic Jonas Schwartz stated:

Dan O’Brien has written an American gothic tale on a par with Pulitzer Prize winner Sam Shepard’s best works. Like many of the characters in Shepard’s plays, the protagonist seeks the truth, but the answers will not assuage his guilt or pain. Continue reading

Why “Disaster Porn” Storm Reporting is So Tantalizing — And Destructive

By Rachel Kraus

When Hurricane Irma tussled the West coast of Florida instead of decimating the state entirely, those of us following closely, but from afar, unwittingly felt…disappointed. Nowhere was that anticlimax more evident than in the overblown and ubiquitous fixture of the fall: the live television special news storm report. Continue reading

Radiant Regeneration: Vanessa Angélica Villarreal’s Beast Meridian

By Cassandra Cleghorn

My first encounter with Vanessa Angélica Villarreal’s stunning new book from Noemi Press, Beast Meridian, was framed by the natural and geopolitical disasters of late summer 2017. As Hurricane Harvey devastated coastal Texas, Villarreal’s book seared me with its portraits of Houston in storm season, the ocean “slicktongued and thick with oil and ants.” Only days after Trump crowed over the end of DACA and then feebly tweeted, “No Action” (attempting to reassure those who feared deportation during the program’s six-month phase out), nine Dreamers were detained for hours at Falfurrias Checkpoint. That very day I read and reread Villarreal’s wildly inventive prose poem “dedicated to the immigrants buried in mass graves in and near Falfurrias, Texas,” in which the poet walks the sacred ground where “agitation pulls even at hanging planets”: “I swallow a bee for each ill deed done. I am a hive walking. I strain to hear you over the regret.” Continue reading

Normal Girls: On SZA, Nella Larsen, and the Varieties of Black Feminism

By Marina Magloire

I am not Beyoncé. Never did I feel this more strongly than when I sat high above her, watching her tiny figure strut across the stage at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. Screens several stories high projecting her image hung like banners for some erstwhile fascist leader. It was in many ways not the ideal concert — it was outdoors, and a thunderstorm sparked a temporary evacuation of the stadium (“Please remain calm, Beyoncé is not leaving” someone said over an intercom). But what struck me as least ideal was the staged-ness of every word and gesture, everything scripted from the high kicks, to the thank yous to her loyal and dedicated fans, to the rote delivery of the songs meant to be uplifting and to get us “in formation.” Did she know the tears I had shed in the dark over “Sandcastles,” the reckless careworn times in my car when I drove on the highway just to turn up “Sorry” loud enough to drown out my pounding heart? Did she not know the emotional catharsis I wanted to share with her at that concert? Apparently not. Continue reading

In Korea, All You Need Is Love (Or a Love Motel, at Least)

By Stefano Young

Stefano Young didn’t know the difference between Korea, China, and Japan until he was 23 — but then he met a Korean woman, learned to say “사랑해요,” and has studied Korean language and culture ever since. In this occasional series, the Los Angeles Review of Books Korea Blog presents his essays on his ever-deepening experiences with Korean life, culture, and family. Links to previous installments appear at the bottom of the post. Continue reading

Shadi Yousefian: A Retrospective

By Christopher Ian Lutz

Know thyself. You would have read these two words as you entered the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, if you lived in Greece 2000 years ago. More recently you might have read or watched Alice in Wonderland, in which the Caterpillar asks Alice: “Who are you?” This question has been known to initiate young people on a lifelong journey of self-realization. It is the underlying factor of self-expression, teenage angst, and mid-life crises. This question, this pursuit of identity, is what perpetuates the institutions of religion, other spiritual practices, and all the methods individuals use to connect with an identity beyond temporary designations. In a similar systematic approach, Shadi Yousefian has undergone a journey of self-realization through the ritual of art by dismantling such designations in order to construct a truer form of identity. Continue reading

So Insistently Focused on the Daily: Talking to Andrew Epstein

By Andy Fitch

This conversation  focuses on Andrew Epstein’s Attention Equals Life. Attention Equals Life provides an innovative, eloquent account of how 20th- and 21st-century poets’ conceptions (and/or representations, and/or performative embodiments) of attention have overlapped with a philosophically inflected form of everyday-life theory as developed by figures like Michel de Certeau and Henri Lefebvre. Epstein’s expansive scope stretches from the psychological formulations of William James, to the cinematic essays of Jean-Luc Godard and Agnès Varda, to contemporary everyday-life poetic experiments by Brenda Coultas, Claudia Rankine, and Harryette Mullen. Perhaps most importantly, Attention Equals Life offers the galvanizing example of an omnivorous yet meticulous scholarly study that poses direct questions to readers about how best to live out one’s own everyday. Epstein is a Professor of English at Florida State University, and the author of Beautiful Enemies: Friendship and Postwar American Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2006). He blogs about the New York School of poets at Locus Solus, and his critical work has recently appeared in Contemporary Literature, The Wallace Stevens JournalComparative Literature Studies, American Literary History, Journal of Modern Literature, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Continue reading