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Illustration by Chris Buzelli

The Meaning of Antonin Scalia

The subtlest feat of modern trolling ended in June 2015, when, as so often happens in America, it was taken all the way to the Supreme Court. For enthusiasts, one gratifying form of trolling involves the simple repetition of a deliberate misunderstanding. Think of it as a reverse con, where the mark is all too aware of what’s going on as the pranksters feign a Who, me? naïveté. In this case, the crew of rogues was the federal judiciary, and the livid sucker was the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

The prank was subtle enough that only law professors and beat reporters really had the pleasure. Like any arcane joke, it required a good bit of in-group background to understand. The setup, however, was vaguely familiar to most Americans: the recent but shifting rulings that led to an embrace of same-sex marriage in 2015 as the newest manifestation of American liberty. The key signpost on that road dates back to 2003, when the court held in Lawrence v. Texas that criminalizing homosexual sex was wrong.

Forward into the Past: Reading the New Critics

Criticism never starts over; yet sometimes it suffers a forgetfulness, an ill nature, an ignorance of its soundings. There’s no going back, but there is a going forward that does not fear looking back. The complaint about “theory” is that it treats literature with the dispatch of a meat grinder—if you know the method, long before the poem has been dragged in by the tail you can predict whether the butcher will sell you the sausages of Derrida, or Foucault, or Lacan. It’s disheartening to see a poem raided for evidence of sins long defunct or treated with a forensics kit, as if it were a crime scene.