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 all my pieces in Commonweal.
Essays & Book Reviews
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.
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.
Given their similar spellings, a young student might be forgiven for confusing the words “anarchism” and “anachronism.” The concepts named by each term, on the other hand, are relatively easy to distinguish. But 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 (even as the personalities of the rich are condemned, the camera lingers longingly over the fancy clothes, toys, houses, and vacations). 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.