All posts filed under: Literature

The Argument for Equality and Fairness

A recurrent criticism of the political Left is that it is elitist and remote from those it professes to care about. Conservative outlets like the National Review have run numerous articles on the topic of progressive elitism and disdain for everyday people. Progressive politicians like Bernie Sanders have been routinely derided as champagne socialists, who talk a lot about the struggles of the working class, even though they are themselves millionaires. And intellectuals like Jordan Peterson have often nodded approvingly to the claim that the Left doesn’t really care about the poor, it simply hates the rich: Some of these arguments can be readily dismissed as little more than partisan potshots. Whether or not Bernie Sanders happens to be wealthy is largely irrelevant to the merit of his arguments and demands. But here I want to examine the more foundational question of whether or not the Left is actually driven by compassion for the poor and marginalized or resentment of the rich and powerful. The Left and Resentment The argument that progressives are primarily motivated …

Against Literalism—’The Satanic Verses’ Fatwa at 30

I have written elsewhere about the fatwa issued 30 years ago by a sinister religious cleric commanding the world’s Muslims to murder the writer and everyone involved in the publication of The Satanic Verses. But the best way to repudiate the authoritarian, constricted, literal mindset is by celebrating its opposite. And so, with as little mention as possible of the events the publication of The Satanic Verses engendered, what follows is simply an appreciative analysis of that extraordinarily epic, satirical, ironic, and multifaceted novel. Salman Rushdie is one of the finest writers of recent times, whose work celebrates hybridity and intermingling of culture over narrow-minded puritanism. This theme is at the heart of The Satanic Verses, as suggested by the questions posed near the beginning of the novel: “How does newness come into the world? Of what fusions, translations, conjoinings is it made?” These questions are asked as the two protagonists, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, fall from the sky above the English Channel after the hijacked plane they were travelling in is torn apart …

“Unsex Me Here’ and Other Bad Ideas

“Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here.” This, one of Lady Macbeth’s most famous lines, is cited by Elizabeth Winkler in her recent Atlantic essay, “Was Shakespeare a Woman?,” as a thrilling instance of a woman’s resistance to femininity. Winkler then goes on to compare Lady Macbeth’s anger to women’s #MeToo “fury.” “This woman,” Winkler says of Lady Macbeth, woke her out of her “adolescent stupor” by “rebelling magnificently and malevolently against her submissive status.” Of course, what Lady Macbeth is actually about to do is help her husband murder an innocent man, the king, in cold blood while he sleeps under her own roof. Unless one aligns female empowerment with sociopathic behavior, this isn’t really a triumphant moment for women’s liberation. Nor would any reading of the text other than a willfully perverse one count her as one of Shakespeare’s admirable characters. When she celebrates Lady Macbeth as one of Shakespeare’s heroines simply because Lady M has the desire to do something horrific, there is indeed something adolescent about …

Headline Rhymes

If US immigration facilities Are like concentration camps What other American things Must we brand with the same stamp? Surely general admission seating At a Backstreet Boys show Is like millions of innocent people Killed in unspeakable rows And that maddening line at the airport Where I’m forced to remove my shoes Must be in the same ballpark As killing six million Jews Or maybe a pop show is just a pop show And we should be clever enough to know That politicians are sowing division With hyperbole and revision And as they dump from the stump They’re no better than Trump Views on the news, delivered so smooth. 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.

Pop Fiction’s Rich History of #MeToo Drama

Lately, the very serious people who write about TV and film and books for publications such as the New Yorker and the New York Times have been tripping over themselves to heap praise on highbrow novelists, filmmakers, and screenwriters who have used their platforms to tackle issues such as rape and sexual harassment in the workplace in the wake of the #MeToo movement. To hear these writers rhapsodize about Susan Choi’s novel Trust Exercise or Lisa Hanawalt’s TV series Tuca and Bertie, one might conclude that these are the first creative endeavors that ask Americans to examine how unfair the contemporary workplace can be to women, how serious the threats of date rape and acquaintance rape are, and the many ways that powerful men such as Harvey Weinstein and Les Moonves can use their power to destroy the careers of subordinates who refuse their sexual advances. Writing in the New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum calls Tuca and Bertie “the latest in a deluge of TV series that feel like a direct response to the #MeToo movement, …

How the ‘Underground Grammarian’ Taught Me to Tell Reason from Rubbish

Thought control, like birth control, is best undertaken as long as possible before the fact. Many grown-ups will obstinately persist, if only now and then, in composing small strings of sentences in their heads and achieving at least a momentary logic. This probably cannot be prevented, but we have learned how to minimize its consequences by arranging that such grown-ups will be unable to pursue that logic very far. ~Richard Mitchell, Less Than Words Can Say In January of 1977, New Jersey’s Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) saw the publication of a new campus journal. Sporting handset type and quaint nineteenth century line-drawn imagery, it was called the Underground Grammarian. On the front page of the first edition of the four page newsletter, the anonymous editor printed its “Editorial Policies”: The Underground Grammarian is an unauthorised journal devoted to the protection of the Mother Tongue at Glassboro State College. Our language can be written and even spoken correctly, even beautifully. We do not demand beauty, but bad English cannot be excused or tolerated in …

Headline Rhymes

Silicon Valley has gone all-in On purging ideas deemed bad It’s like mouths washed out with soap By the nuns who taught my dad The important distinction being: That was in 1955 Those with soap on their hands today Were decades from being alive We’re going backward In the name of progress Building fences And letting them flog us Why? Views on the news, delivered so smooth. This week’s inspired by: PewDiePie’s Battle for the Soul of the Internet Against Big Tech Viewpoint Discrimination 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.

On Its 70th Anniversary, Nineteen Eighty-Four Still Feels Important and Inspiring

Nineteen Eighty-Four is divided into three parts, the second of which is structured around Winston Smith’s love affair with Julia, a co-worker at the Ministry of Truth. Their romance begins with Smith offering Julia the sort of smooth talk that would send any woman’s heart aflutter: “I’m thirty-nine years old. I’ve got a wife that I can’t get rid of. I’ve got varicose veins. I’ve got five false teeth.” Moments later, he seals the deal by telling Julia that she’d always been in his thoughts. “I hated the first sight of you,” he tells her. “I wanted to rape you and then murder you afterwards. Two weeks ago, I thought seriously of smashing your head in with a cobblestone.” Naturally, Julia is seduced. Several pages later, Winston “pressed her down upon the grass, among the fallen bluebells.” It is a symptom of George Orwell’s genius that, taken in context, this sequence makes perfect sense. In his life, Orwell seems to have been somewhat mortified by the sex act. And one can almost see him squirming …

Bukowski: Recommended Reading for the Damned

There is enough treachery, hatred, violence, Absurdity in the average human being To supply any given army on any given day. So begins one of Charles Bukowski’s most iconic poems, “The Genius of the Crowd.” Even though it was first published in 1966, it seems particularly poignant in our era of outrage. BEWARE THE PREACHERS Beware The Knowers. […] BEWARE Those Quick To Censure: They Are Afraid Of What They Do Not Know Bukowski, born in 1920 in Andernach, Germany to a German-American father and German mother, moved to Los Angeles when he was two years old and would live there for the rest of his life. Although his novel Ham on Rye, an autobiographical account of his abusive childhood, is an American masterpiece, and his short story, “The Most Beautiful Woman in Town,” a sad tale about a woman who gashes her face to make herself less beautiful, is comparable to anything Hemingway or Cheever wrote, it was in poetry where Bukowski’s strength really lay. Bukowski died 25 years ago. Were he still alive, …

Tolkien—A Review

Alas, poor Tolkien the movie. The adjective “tepid” most accurately describes the critical response to this biopic, reverently directed by Dome Karukoski, which explores the early years of the author of The Hobbit (1937), the Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954–1955), and countless other works of medievalist fantasy. The idea behind Tolkien is that nearly every key theme in these novels had its origins in some episode of the young John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s life, first at the prestigious King Edward’s boys’ school in Birmingham (where, as the gifted son of a cultivated but impoverished widow, he had a scholarship), then at Oxford University (another scholarship), and above all, in the trenches of the Somme, where he was posted as a second lieutenant in 1916 and had ample opportunity to experience all the horrors of World War I before succumbing to trench fever carried by the lice that infested the cramped and filthy bunkers. Thus, Tolkien, presented as a series of flashbacks playing inside the brain of the fever-stricken junior officer, trades heavily in one-on-one …