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.
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 You and Your Profile: Identity After Authenticity by Hans-Georg Mueller and Paul J. D'Ambrosio.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
The virtue of analogies for Wittgenstein consists in “changing our way of seeing.”
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.
Review of Politics and Expertise by Zeynep Pamuk.
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.
“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.”
We have ceased to pursue convenience for what it does for us and now pursue it for its own sake.
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.
Language not only captures experience, it conditions it. It sets expectations for experience and gives shape to it as it happens.