I am an editor at Commonweal magazine. My writing has appeared in the Hedgehog Review, Aeon, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. You can find links to a selection of essays and reviews below. My book on Walter Benjamin and Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Fall of Language, was published by Harvard University Press in 2019. For more about my academic work, see my academia.edu page. And see here for my pieces in Commonweal.
There is an affinity between cleverness and the outsider. The clever individual is often aloof, whether by choice or by circumstance, and uses this alienation to advantage. The diffusion of cleverness in modernity is, therefore, closely connected to the diffusion of alienation, as well as to the emergence of a number of alienated character types found in both fiction and reality: the private detective, the comedian, the flâneur, and, most recently, the social media poster.
Walter Benjamin viewed fascism as an attempt to mobilize the public in such a way that it could express a desire for a different kind of society, with “changed property relations,” while leaving those relations intact. When you want expression without effect, you get aesthetics.
The feuilleton section became a battleground over the meaning of modernity. The controversy it generated prefigured present-day concerns about the deterioration of attention and the media’s role in shaping—or, as Walter Benjamin suggested, generating—public opinion.