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. See here for all my pieces in Commonweal.
Essays & Book Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.