Author: Matthew Stahlman

‘The Apartment,’ Authority, and Consent

This essay contains spoilers. What can a film made in 1960 tell us about the sexual mores of the present? I found myself pondering this question as I rewatched Billy Wilder’s award-winning drama The Apartment recently. The year of its release is important: as The Guardian’s Andrew Pulver notes in a recent appreciation, the story unfolds during a peculiar cultural moment “on the cusp of the permissive era”; prevailing norms were being questioned rather than taken for granted, and the uncertainty casts the characters adrift in a confusion that almost kills them. But this uncertainty, and the consequent effort with which the characters must navigate shifting standards, offers a complex portrait of human sexual relations and courtship. This is a topic of particular pertinence to our own cultural moment and it makes The Apartment a fascinating artefact worth revisiting. The Apartment‘s intellectual value and emotional urgency are generated, in large part, by the contrast between the film’s two main characters and their surroundings. The traits that make Shirley MacLaine’s Fran Kubelik lovable are those that leave her alienated …

Rethinking Romance with Stendhal’s ‘On Love’

Insomnia has its hazy, surreal benefits. “If you’ve never read Stendhal’s On Love, well, you should,” my professor informed me, in a rapid-fire email exchange that took place, improbably, at 3:31 AM. (Somehow, we were both awake.) At the end of the trading of messages, I groaned at the prospect of adding something else to my reading list, set the laptop down, rolled over, and went back to sleep. But my trust in the suggestions of an authority figure was rewarded, as it often is: the next week I found myself not only reading On Love but enjoying it, while formulating questions, thoughts, and ideas in response. The text, a courtship manual of sorts from 1822, is sophisticated and lively. The key term Stendhal introduces, which is central to his vision of romance, is (to use the Americanized spelling) “crystallization”; the term refers to a twig thrown into a salt mine which, when “taken out two or three months later … is covered with brilliant crystals.” Beautiful patterns form around something that wasn’t necessarily beautiful …

Read Houellebecq To Free Your Mind

Let’s say that you, like many Quillette readers, are part of the broad coalition that aims to promote greater engagement with dangerous ideas and fight political correctness – call it cultural libertarianism if you wish, but in reality the coalition includes many social conservatives and others who don’t really fit that label. What should you read? Who should your intellectual heroes be? An obvious answer is John Stuart Mill; approving references to Mill’s wonderful On Liberty have become something of a ritual for those of us with such concerns. But there’s room for more heroes besides Mill, and room for disagreement and debate about who those figures should be. In this essay, I’d like to suggest that the contemporary French novelist Michel Houellebecq may be such a figure. Though Houellebecq has a large international audience and many Quillette readers are surely familiar with his work, I find that his name isn’t invoked that often in the discussions of cultural issues with which we are concerned. But it should be. Houellebecq has something to offer to …