Philosophy of Life and Death: Ryan Ruby’s The Zero and the One

By Austin Adams

Anxiously self-aware teenagers the world over ask themselves why life is worth living, and forthwith tumble into a crisis. Life cannot be lived with purpose or grace, they swear, until the Gordian knot of this dilemma is resolved. Years later, recalling the question and crisis, mortification necrotizes in the gut: how fatuous it all seems now, the urgent, naïve philosophizing of our youth. Continue reading

The Violence of Ageism

By Margaret Morgranroth Gullette

As the entire world now knows, Dr. David Dao is the passenger who was dragged off a United Airlines Flight on April 9th by Chicago police who broke his nose, gave him a concussion and smashed two of his teeth. He may need restorative surgery. Some media have treated this as a horror perpetrated by a single airline that bullies passengers, or by a business model that forces overbooking. It is a mistake to look so narrowly at the sources of harm. A few reports, and many Asian American social media users, have mentioned the possibility of racism. As I write, no mainstream news source or commentary has mentioned ageism.
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In the Last Days of Old Shanghai

By Susan Blumberg-Kason

For well over half-a-century, novelists have been setting tales in 1930s Shanghai, an unusually cosmopolitan city that was divided into foreign-run and Chinese-run districts and known for its bustling port and decadent nightlife. Talented Chinese authors, such as Zhang Ailing (1920-1995) who published in English as Eileen Chang, set stories in the metropolis while the era of the Japanese invasion of China (1932-1945) and eight-year occupation of Shanghai that began in 1937 were underway.  A writer now probably best known in the West for writing the stories that inspired the film “Lust, Caution,” Chang was the author of novels such as Half a Lifelong Romance and The Fall of the Pagoda, both set in Shanghai, as well as the translator of Han Bangqing’s The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai, an older volume that chronicled the city’s red-light district in the late 19th century. Continue reading

Nietzsche’s Horse

By Chris Townsend

On January 3, 1889, in the throes of a manic episode, Friedrich Nietzsche left his lodgings in Turin, walked a short distance across a nearby square, and then halted. Seeing a horse being flogged by its owner, he threw himself towards the animal and embraced it. Breaking into tears, he slumped to the floor. He was almost arrested for disturbing the peace, but was rescued by his landlord and was taken back home and to bed. The remaining 11 years of his life were spent under care, and under the spell of profound madness. Continue reading

Divergent Streams: The Poetry of Roberto Echavarren

By Anthony Seidman

The notion of a singular “Latin American poetry” perturbs the reader who discerns the radiant gathering of traditions, ruptures, and voices among the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking peoples of the Americas. For example, the Poesía Negra of the Puerto Rican Luis Palés Matos (1898-1959) looks simply decorative when compared to the politically charged poetry of the Cuban Nicolás Guillén (1902-1989), another voice from the Negrismo movement. The controlled sonnets of Borges bear little resemblance to the overflowing cadences of Nicaraguan poet Joaquín Pasos. The Whitman who supposedly informs Neruda proves to be a different and more tangible presence in the poetry of the Dominican Pedro Mir (1913-2000). The Mexican José Gorostiza (1901-1973) is “difficult” in a way wholly different from that of the Peruvian César Vallejo (1892-1938). And yet many poets fresh from MFA programs gush about the singular burning coal of “Latin American poetry,” which was pressed against their lips so they could sing. Roberto Echavarren’s The Espresso Between Sleep and Wakefulness may be a disappointment for these readers, who only expect the love lyrics or elemental odes of Neruda. Then again, he may be revelation. Continue reading

The Ego Budget

By Benjamin Reeves

Common wisdom says that the “skinny budget” presented by the president to Congress every year is essentially a political document. It doesn’t define what the budget will actually be since Congress — not the president — is responsible for drafting and passing the budget; rather, its purpose is to provide a guide to the president’s priorities for the country, and traditionally, the president’s party uses it as a baseline when drafting their budget. Given the skinny budget’s role as a primarily political document, it’s not surprising that presidents use its opening statement, in which they address Congress and the American people, as a rhetorical opportunity before getting down to dollars and cents. Continue reading

The Explorer’s History of Korean Fiction in Translation: War and Separation

By Charles Montgomery

The LARB Korea Blog is currently featuring selections from The Explorer’s History of Korean Fiction in Translation, Charles Montgomery’s book-in-progress that attempts to provide a concise history, and understanding, of Korean literature as represented in translation. You can find links to previous selections at the end of the post. Continue reading

Is it Time to Retire the Word “Citizen”?

By Kate Reed Petty

I recently witnessed the participants in a panel discussion collectively agree to avoid the word community. Early in the event, which was about art and society, one person mentioned that community is overused by nonprofits and has been co-opted by corporations, used as a synonym for “consumers.” After briefly debating imperfect alternatives — group? people? — the panelists came to a tacit decision. They would continue to use the word, but apologize for it each time, which forced them to say things like, It was beautiful to see the community (sorry!) come together. Continue reading

Video Evidence, Police Brutality, and the Denial of Black Humanity

By Nathalie Etoke

Stranger Fruit, a new documentary by Jason Pollock, offers an exploration of events that led to former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson fatally shooting 18-year-old Michael Brown. The film includes previously unreleased video that raises new questions about the circumstances surrounding Brown’s death; after the video surfaced, protests in Ferguson erupted once again. Continue reading

The Alt-Right’s Body Image Problem

By Rhian Sasseen

Who exactly is the ideal citizen, and what is the preferred shape of the head-of-state? For centuries in the West, these roles have been mostly limited by the body, and by one specific kind of body: male, white, and guided by a certain sense of ration, moderation, and self-discipline. “You have often heard him compared to Cincinnatus,” wrote the French revolutionary Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville in 1788, after meeting George Washington. “This comparison is doubtless just.” Once established, certain ideas can be hard to shake; the American president, like the Roman senator-general, should portray himself as a virtuous pater familias. Continue reading

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