All posts filed under: Features

High Theory and Low Seriousness

Sixty years ago today, just as Henderson the Rain King was going to print, Saul Bellow penned an article for the New York Times in which he warned against the perils of deep reading. Paying too close attention to hidden meanings and obscure symbols takes all the fun from reading, he wrote. The serious reader spends an inordinate amount of energy trying to find profound representations in the most trivial of details. “A travel folder signifies Death. Coal holes represent the Underworld. Soda crackers are the Host. Three bottles of beer are—it’s obvious.” Moreover, deep reading is such an imprecise game that numerous dull and contradictory interpretations arise from the same passage. “Are you a Marxist? Then Herman Melville’s Pequod in Moby Dick can be a factory, Ahab the manager, the crew the working class. Is your point of view religious? The Pequod sailed on Christmas morning, a floating cathedral headed south. Do you follow Freud or Jung? Then your interpretations may be rich and multitudinous.” One man, Bellow wrote, had volunteered an explanation of Moby Dick as Ahab’s mad quest to overcome …

Poetic Injustice and Performative Outrage

On February 13, after almost a two month delay due to the U.S. government shutdown, the National Endowment for the Arts finally announced its recipients for the 2019 Creative Writing Fellowship in poetry. For most of the winners, this was an occasion to celebrate on social media. But for Rachel Custer, the elation of finally being able to announce the prestigious grant (one of 35 out of nearly 1700 applicants) came with the dreadful anticipation of the outrage that would (and did) predictably follow. This was nothing new for her. Last summer, when Anders Carlson-Wee proudly announced the publication of his new poem, “How-To,” on Facebook, Custer was at home in rural Northern Indiana, watching as controversy erupted online. “I felt that sick feeling in my stomach,” she says, as the initial joy of Carlson-Wee’s post got quickly sucked out with each hateful comment he received. “I knew so well from the many times I read similar threads about myself. And I just felt immensely bad for him, and so disdainful of anybody who would say …

How Social Justice Ideologues Hijacked a Legal Regulator

I have been a Toronto-based litigation lawyer for 30 years. My politics are progressive and strongly egalitarian. About two decades ago, I started my own law firm, specifically so that I could serve disadvantaged individuals and communities. I have sued governments and large corporations, often on a pro bono basis. I have acted for Indigenous clients—including the family of Dudley George, an Ojibway man who was shot and killed by police in 1995 at Ipperwash Provincial Park in Ontario. I have represented a regional Cree First Nations tribal council on the James Bay coast for more than 25 years, and for eight years a group of indigenous Mayan women in an ongoing claim against a Canadian international mining company for alleged rape and murder at its facility in Guatemala. I act in a class-action for almost a thousand people who claim to have been wrongfully mass-arrested by Toronto Police at the 2010 G20 Summit. I am a recipient of the Diane Martin Medal For Social Justice Through Law, the Human Rights Award from the Ontario …

The Confessions of a Male, Feminist Sex Addict

I had the privilege of growing up with wonderful females in my life—including my brilliant mother, who remains my hero, and my sister, who earned a PhD. My father has a penetrating kindness for the planet and all its inhabitants, including women, about whom he advised me: “Be their friend. Never cheat them. Love them.” My desire for female companionship started young. As early as sixth grade, I was drawn to intelligent, confident girls. As I grew older, I was fortunate enough to often have these attractions requited. In my teen years, I did not experience the stereotypically male desire for attractive, submissive playthings. I wanted smart, full-spectrum romantic partners who enjoyed sex but were not shy to assert their own needs, thoughts and feelings. My joy was my partner’s joy, and vice-versa. Later in adulthood, I would learn that sex, at its best, is the ultimate expression of intimacy. But I would also learn—at a much earlier stage in life—that sex, at its worst, is toxic, traumatizing, violent and dehumanizing. *     *    …

Public Education’s Dirty Secret

Bad teaching is a common explanation given for the disastrously inadequate public education received by America’s most vulnerable populations. This is a myth. Aside from a few lemons who were notable for their rarity, the majority of teachers I worked with for nine years in New York City’s public school system were dedicated, talented professionals. Before joining the system I was mystified by the schools’ abysmal results. I too assumed there must be something wrong with the teaching. This could not have been farther from the truth. Teaching French and Italian in NYC high schools I finally figured out why this was, although it took some time, because the real reason was so antithetical to the prevailing mindset. I worked at three very different high schools over the years, spanning a fairly representative sample. That was a while ago now, but the system has not improved since, as the fundamental problem has not been acknowledged, let alone addressed. It would not be hard, or expensive, to fix. Washington Irving High School, 2001–2004 My NYC teaching career began …

The Meaning of the Self-Destructive Strike at WSU

On January 22, a portion of the unionized faculty at Wright State University (WSU) in Dayton, Ohio went on strike. WSU is a regional state university with a medical school, several units that award PhDs, and many that grant master’s degrees. It has many nontraditional students and pockets of true excellence; it is a national leader in educating veterans and the disabled, for example. It is also where I have taught economics for almost a quarter-century. I applied for and received sabbatical for this year some time ago and so, as the strike has dragged on, I have watched this drama unfold at both a physical and emotional distance. The strike has been the culmination of years of bitterness between the faculty union (not, note, the faculty) and the administration. It is widely believed that the root cause of the strike was stark differences between the union and the administration over how to overcome a severe financial crisis earlier in the decade that was unquestionably the fault of previous administrators, yet has impacted the entire …

Headline Rhymes

The Oscars without any host? That’s like avocado without any toast Or an eWoke with no one to roast Or a VIP with no dick pic to post Views on the news, delivered so smooth. Click for last week’s edition. And for more Headline Rhymes, follow along on Twitter @grahamverdon Do you have a Headline Rhyme? Take a stab in the Comments Section below.  Sentiments are not necessarily shared by everyone at Quillette.

Are Anti-BDS Laws an Assault on Free Speech?

Last month, Senator Marco Rubio introduced the “Combating BDS Act”—“S.1,” for short—which, if passed, would enshrine the right of state and local governments to boycott companies that boycott Israel. “The purpose of this law is to say…that we, Congress, are giving the states permission to do this,” David Bernstein told Vox, clarifying that under S.1 a state could forbid government contracting with such companies and not risk legal trouble because of it. (Since federal law supersedes state law, and Congress controls foreign policy, courts could theoretically argue local antiboycott laws violate the constitution because Congress has not officially sanctioned them. S.1 would change that.) The act came hot on the heels of a report by The Intercept that a Texas speech pathologist had lost her job after she refused to sign a pro-Israel “loyalty oath”—allegedly a condition of employment in 26 states, with similar laws pending in another 13. This, of course, was somewhat exaggerated. Though several states do restrict contractors, including sole proprietorships, from boycotting Israel, nowhere is support for BDS criminalized, much less …

Understanding Modern African Horrors by Way of the Indian Ocean Slave Trade

On January 15, and well into the morning of the next day, terrorists affiliated with the Somali Jihadi group Al Shabab forced their way into an upscale Nairobi hotel and business centre, killing 21 innocent civilians. Kenyan authorities, with some help from Western allies, killed some of the terrorists and captured the rest. Al Shabab justified the attack by denouncing the Kenyan government’s participation with African Union forces in Somalia, which has been in a state of civil warfare since the early 1990s. I had driven by the targeted complex a couple of days before the attack, and once lived in this neighbourhood back when Kenya was my permanent home. On this visit to the country, I’ve noticed that—notwithstanding January’s terrible tragedy—tourism is booming, agriculture is bountiful and the Kenyan elite are benefiting from the massive Chinese investments that have transformed the landscape. The overall degree of improvement depends on which expert you believe. But the plethora of expensive cars that now jam the streets of Nairobi, and the building boom on display in many …

Liberal Orthodoxy and the New Heresy

I teach college in a small city in Arkansas, deep in the American Bible Belt. I am a historian of Africa and in my department that means that I also teach a world history survey. I always start with the expansion of modern humans out of Africa and their encounter with other types of humans: Neanderthals, Homo erectus, Denesovians and what seems like an ever-growing list of newly discovered human-like creatures. It’s less the case now, but when I started twenty years ago this part of the course was initially met with polite but firm resistance, which gradually gave way to a sort of furtive curiosity. I eventually realized that even my cleverest students knew very little about human evolution except that it was false and that they were supposed to reject it. They came to the university having been taught that evolution was part of a larger attack on their faith and values, but they had never really been exposed to anything but a sort of parody version of it. A small number of …