Critical Essays Archive

The Boat’s Interrogation of “Ethnic Literature”

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Questions about "ethnic literature," its place, and its limits permeate Nam Le’s 2008 short story collection. As he interrogates the term as a sweeping generalization for many kinds of writing, he also explores the conflict around what it means to be Vietnamese and a writer but not necessarily a

Carefully Chosen Words: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Vladimir Nabokov

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One of my favorite little known facts about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is that she was a student in Vladimir Nabokov’s European Literature class at Cornell when she was an undergraduate in the 1950s. Nabokov’s influence is seen in many of Ginsburg’s writings.

The Myth of the Perfect Translation

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David Karashima’s new book lays bare the invisible structures that support the international career of someone like Murakami: the multiple translators, editors, and publicists that take his work and create it into the product that Western readers then consume.

Who Speaks For the Trees?

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Poets, novelists, and artists of the Anthropocene are using their art to reveal the ties that bind us to that hazy concept of “nature,” and they often start with its most potent symbol, the tree—the embodiment of extreme strength and extreme vulnerability.

Music, Violence, and Joy in They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us

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Hanif Abdurraqib’s 2017 essay collection explores a conflict he sees in his own project, perhaps in any endeavor toward joy: how can one write about music, let alone listen to it or make it, when people are dying?

The Dreamlike Language of Apocalypse

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By reading worlds of relentless darkness, repeatedly made new through the language of dreams and fables, we can maybe more deeply access empathy and hope for the world we’re living in.

The Overlooked Mistranslations in Blood and Guts in High School

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Kathy Acker’s infamous novel includes a section titled “The Persian Poems,” which pairs words written in Farsi alongside their translations in English. What has largely gone unrecognized is that Acker has deliberately mistranslated specific words, bringing an entirely new meaning to this passage, Acker’s craft, and the reader’s internalization

Zaina Alsous’s De-Extinction

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Alsous’s poetics is politically radical not just nominally, or because of its allegiances or her biography. The poems in her prizewinning debut collection are at work chronicling and postulating a reordering of things, or a world dreamed into decolonial being, an abolition in language on the level of affect

In Through the Out Door

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Jason Diamond’s cataloging of suburban cultural touchstones is a crucial first step towards having a healthy conversation about the suburbs today because, without this consideration, there can be no reconsideration.

Reading World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments

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Through her celebration of nature—and herself—Aimee Nezhukumatathil explores how it connects her to family and has played a role in building her own. Ultimately, she urges, we should wonder while we can, and do better to protect that which we can wonder at before we lose it completely.