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Week 8/2/21

PUBLISHED: August 9, 2021

In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do. 


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“I’m really trying to make people’s minds move, you know, which is not something they’re naturally inclined to do…We have a kind of inertia, sitting and listening. But it’s really important to get somehow into the mind and make it move somewhere it has never moved before. That happens partly because the material is mysterious or unknown but mostly because of the way you push the material around from word to word in a sentence. And it’s that that I’m more interested in doing, generally, than mystifying by having unexpected content or bizarre forms. It’s more like: Given whatever material we’re going to talk about, and we all know what it is, how can we move within it in a way we’ve never moved before, mentally? That seems like the most exciting thing to do with your head. I think it’s a weakness to fall back into merely mystifying the audience, which anybody can do.”

Editorial Intern Riley Halpern
“The Inscrutable Brilliance of Anne Carson” by Sam Anderson, with Anne Carson, in the New York Times Magazine



An Afghan I’ll call “Mohammed” saved my life, when he drove me in Afghanistan as Kabul was falling in 2001, after the September 11th attacks. He spirited me through a Taliban checkpoint between Jalalabad and the capital where just an hour or so later, a car full of journalists was brutally killed.

Mohammed found me, then a CBS News reporter, a safe place to stay in chaotic, post-Taliban Kabul. That’s what a “fixer” does for a foreign correspondent: part translator; part driver and part Mr. Fixit/MacGyver. Every time I returned to the country, I would check on him and his family. And if I asked, he would drive me to hell, and back.

In 2015, three men beat and stabbed Mohammed’s 18-year-old son, telling him between blows that he was being punished because his father “had worked for the Americans.” I was the only American Mohammed had ever worked for. He rushed his son to the hospital, then secreted his whole family to another part of the sprawling capital, leaving behind his home, and always fearing the tap on the shoulder that meant he’d been found.

He started applying for U.S. visas then, and was baffled to find he wasn’t eligible because he’d worked for and protected a U.S. citizen—but not a soldier. In his view, if that difference didn’t matter to the Taliban, why should it matter to the U.S. government?

Business Manager Diane John
“The Afghan Who Saved My Life May Make It Out. What About Everyone Else?” by Kimberly Dozier, in TIME



Scholars like Kwame Anthony Appiah, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Paul Gilroy have in different ways brought genetic science into their work to support their own, preexisting understanding of race; that it is not a genetic reality. You might ask, what’s wrong with that? I’m not disputing the finding of the HGP or saying that it is wrong, but what I find interesting in their usage of science, is that it marks a departure from how these scholars talk about science in the past.

When these scholars discuss the historical construction of race in the 18th and 19th centuries, they acknowledge that it was an interdisciplinary idea — a construct created from many discourses including science, philosophy, and literature. In these analyses, science is understood as a product of its time, and the colonial context in particular. There’s an understanding that science was influenced by everything that was going on politically and socially at the time. However, when you turn to literary analyses of 21st-century science, you can see there’s a tendency to revert to a different stance toward science, treating it as an objective, neutral authority on race, and not as complicated or imbricated in culture as it was historically.

Assistant Editor Heidi Siegrist
“Race and Antiracism in Science and the Humanities,” by Michell Chresfield and Josie Gill, in the Los Angeles Review of Books


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