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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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<p><i>If All the World and Love Were Young</i>. By Stephen Sexton. Penguin Books UK, 2019. 125pp. PB, £9.99.

Lived Experience

Walt Whitman read of his brother George’s injury at the Battle of Fredericksburg in the New York Herald on December 16, 1862. Fredericksburg was but one battle among many, though it lasted five days, and nearly ten thousand Union army soldiers were injured there. Each day, another long list. Whitman left New York hurriedly to find his brother, knowing that many of his readers scanned the same paper each day for the same worrisome reason. Many scanned every paper, everywhere in the country. To be alive in that moment—not just to be a person named Walt Whitman, but to be a person at all—was to know the public, social, and emotional burden of war.

<i>Real Life</i>. By Brandon Taylor. Riverhead, 2020. 336pp. HB, $26.

Kiss and Tell

There is a strain of Black campus novel that is obsessed with “realness.” I can trace its origins to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, in which the narrator leads his college’s white trustee on a darkly comic and ill-fated tour of the Black homes, brothel, and mental hospital full of Black patients that lie just outside his historically Black college’s campus. Ellison does not necessarily posit these grotesqueries as any “realer” than the Black university professor who expels the narrator and undermines his trip to New York; but, rather, the tension rests on the danger of the white trustee assuming that the degradation he saw is Black people’s true nature—untouched by white oppression and unredeemable by education.

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 [...]