The word “leap” shows up repeatedly in sayings and clichés: leaps and bounds, leap of faith, leap for joy, leap at the opportunity, look before you leap. It has even been used to describe momentous historical moments (“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”). Leaping can also serve as a figure of […]

Boris Johnson is a Fictional Character

“Who does he think he is?” I heard a commuter grumble, as she stared, aghast, at yet another headline about Boris Johnson. An understandable response, but not the right question. The issue isn’t who Johnson thinks he is, but what he is. Boris Johnson is a fictional character. Johnson is a character sketch: a dramatic […]

Pamela Weaponized

The final scene in Martin Crimp’s When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other: Twelve Variations on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela turns on the question of what the journalist Gemma Hartley’s recent book calls emotional labor. “Women Aren’t Nags—We’re Just Fed Up” reads the headline atop the excerpt published in Harper’s Bazaar, and after describing the cascade of […]

Nationalism and the Limits of Inquiry

Perhaps George Orwell was right when he wrote in Notes on Nationalism (1945)—one imagines his eyelids lowered and his nostrils tightened in disgust—that “all nationalist controversy is at the debating-society level.” Certainly, much of the discourse surrounding nationalism today is bound up in an immature bellicosity. At worst, our conversations about nationalism return repeatedly to […]

Front Porch

Once I—with someone else (because you need someone else for such a thing)—once I transformed my front porch into a boat. This worked because a porch is made of wood, and a boat can be made of wood. And together we sat on my porch, each of us in our chairs, and it was like […]

Brightly Starred

Some say that Mary Shelley chose her only surviving child’s wife for him—a woman like herself a young widow in whose home she hoped she might have a peaceful place to die, and she did, and she did. And some say that this wife, Lady Jane Shelley, née Gibson, and formerly St. John, used automatic […]

The Novel in Two Parts

In her influential 2008 essay, “Two Paths for the Novel,” Zadie Smith aimed to steer novels away from lyrical realism—with its mantra of the self as a bottomless pool—and towards a skepticism of the self as continuous and continuously available to narration. The use of poetic prose for epiphanies, on the one hand, and the […]

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