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Criticism

Recent Issue

Children of Doubt

Pascal’s wager—that saw of Christian apologetics—is conventionally understood to demonstrate that human beings deny the Christian God’s existence at the risk of perdition. The seventeenth-century French polymath Blaise Pascal weighed the infinite torment awaiting unbelievers under God’s Providence against the finite pleasures of living as an atheist in a godless universe. He concluded, regardless of the deity’s actual existence, that the only rational choice is to adopt cautious belief.


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<i>Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA</i>. By Amaryllis Fox. Knopf, 2020.240. HB, $26.95.

A Most Wanted Woman [private]

Early in Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon’s Watergate-era psychedelic detective novel, there’s a moment where the protagonist, Doc Sportello, laments the rise of the law-and-order cop TV show like Dragnet and The Mod Squad, inveighing against them as “pro-cop fucking mind control.” Later, in a tirade redolent with pot smoke, Sportello adds that “the tube is saturated with fuckin cop shows, just being regular guys, only tryin to do their job, folks, no more threat to nobody’s freedom than some dad in a sitcom. Right. Get the viewer population so cop-happy they’re beggin to be run in.” Despite President Trump’s fatuous protests about the “Deep State,” we seem to be in a similar place with respect to entertainment relating to the intelligence community, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in particular. To wit: The breakout hit for Amazon’s streaming service for 2018 was Jack Ryan with nearly 40 percent of all Amazon Prime customers streaming the show. 

Working It Out

A later episode of the debut Showtime series Couples Therapy features a wedding montage. Harvested from personal archives, the footage depicts real-life couples in their respective matrimonial costumes. They smile and preen for the camera, appearing as they should in their tuxedos and lovely white dresses: euphoric, beguiled, never more full of love and promise.


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VQR Online

Making Sausages: Images of Governance

March 14, 2014

During recent snowbound days, I indulged in a bout of binging the second season of House of Cards, the celebrated political drama starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and a brilliantly cast supporting ensemble. Actually, I did the same binge with the [...]

A Gun and a Girl: The Case for Hard Case Crime

October 4, 2013

Any scan of the bestseller lists shows a national book culture awash in pulp. But all those hungry zombies, vengeful angels, vampire lovers, scrappy postapocalyptic teens, and fairy princess-warriors with wicked blades and toned physiques bear litt [...]

An Open Letter to Jonathan Franzen

September 20, 2013

  Jonathan Franzen at the 2011 Time 100 gala / by David Shankbone   Hi, Jonathan, I read your essay in the Guardian, and, I have to say, I’m worried about your professional legacy. I agree with some of what you had to say, disagre [...]