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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 page. See here for all my pieces in Commonweal.


Essays & Book Reviews

Movie Reviews

When I described using the new Apple Vision Pro virtual-reality headset to my mother, she said, “Maybe they come out with all these gadgets so that old people won’t feel so bad about having to die.” 

Centrist defenses of liberalism tend, implicitly or explicitly, to equate liberalism with technocracy, or rule by expertise. In the end, they suggest that we must settle for an undemocratic, technocratic form of liberalism that leaves power in the hands of the few in order to forestall the most illiberal outcomes. This line of argument threatens to exacerbate the crisis of liberalism, widen the fissures in our society, and provoke the very outcomes it seeks to prevent.

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.

Review of You and Your Profile: Identity After Authenticity by Hans-Georg Mueller and Paul J. D'Ambrosio.

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.

We spend our youth trying to figure out who we are; our later years trying to stay true to ourselves; and the time in-between in crisis about whether we are who we thought we were.

A significant chunk of our lives involves gaping at screens, finger hovering over the send button, weighing our options, strategizing, obsessing over what will happen next. 

We have ceased to pursue convenience for what it does for us and now pursue it for its own sake. 

The virtue of analogies for Wittgenstein consists in “changing our way of seeing.”

The key to Trump's success is an ability to import into politics a concept of authenticity that comes straight from reality TV and new media.

Language not only captures experience, it conditions it. It sets expectations for experience and gives shape to it as it happens.

Everywhere are unmistakable signs of suffering from a lack of communal ethical structure: not just rising rates of loneliness, anxiety, depression, addiction, and suicide, but also conspiratorial delusion, political extremism, and even religious fundamentalism. The inability to commit to something outside oneself is often punctuated by spasms of fanatical commitment.

GPT may be not so much a revolutionary leap forward as another step down a long, well-trodden path. Insofar as it is used for cultural production and commentary, it will streamline already well-established tendencies toward imitation, repetition, and pastiche. 

Review of Politics and Expertise by Zeynep Pamuk.

“Even true things shouted from loudspeakers start to sound like lies.” So reads a loose translation of a line from Italian novelist Leonardo Sciascia. The pandemic has made it easy to see what he meant.

What we’ve witnessed of late is a tightening of this union between the bureaucratic logic of institutions and the pseudo-liberatory logic of affluent students and young people. 

“Something once expressed, however absurd, fortuitous or wrong it may be, because it has been once said, so tyrannizes the sayer as his property that he can never have done with it.” 

Human beings are brazen animals. We have lifted ourselves out of the world – or we think we have – and now gaze back upon it detached, like researchers examining a focus group through one-way glass. 

In a little-watched 1947 comedy, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, directed by Preston Sturges, the title character, an accountant, takes shelter against the bureaucratic drudgery of his existence with a literal wall of clichés. 

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.

Perhaps it should not strike us as a surprise that, as we take technology-aided excursions from our medium-sized home into the worlds of the tiny and the distant, we become perplexed.

We are surveilled by the platforms on which we conduct much of our lives; we are recorded by family, friends, and strangers; we are over-scrutinized and we self-censor, fearful that we may someday be haunted by a forgotten misstep; we feel compelled to make out of the scattered ephemera of our lives an appealing presentation to a judgmental public. Who we really are is swamped by abstract data skimmed off our surfaces. Paradoxically, Anatomy of a Fall manages to make an author of autofiction into a hero of privacy.

Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki was once asked why there is so little camera movement in his films. “That’s a nuisance when you have a hangover,” he responded. His joke captures three elements of the prolific director’s latest feature, Fallen Leaves: wry humor, a spare style stripped of any distraction or nuisance (not to say nuance), and alcoholic depression.

Unrest—a film based on Russian political philosopher Pyotr Kropotkin’s 1870s travels among the anarchist watchmakers of the Swiss Jura Mountains—mixes together anarchistic opposition to coercive social organization with a refusal of the dictates of time.

Critics have faulted "eat-the-rich" films for a number of reasons: for pandering to middle-class audiences and caricaturing the wealthy, for engaging in a nihilistic, “apathetic irony,” and for indulging in covetous depictions of wealth... These complaints all circle around a more general point: these eat-the-rich movies and TV shows tend to fall short as critique because they lack the moral grounding to actually oppose wealth and luxury.

Baumbach is aware that White Noise is different from the kind of story he usually tells; it exists, as he put it in an interview with the New York Times, in its own “elevated reality.” DeLillo’s novel derives its power from the fact that its characters are somewhat abstract—and abstracted. They are more observant, detached, and reflective than real people, more like novelists themselves than conventional characters. 

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