Critical Essays Archive

The Narrative Messiness of Chronic Illness

Memoirs from Paul Kalanithi, Lucy Grealy, Jean-Dominique Bauby, and Porochista Khakpour teach us about turning the story of an ailing body into a work of art.

Andy Capp and the Survival of the Neediest

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Often our ugliest and most tired characters are casually granted new pathways to reinvent and rebrand themselves, allowed safe distance from darker histories their creators would prefer we forget.

Michel Houellebecq’s Submission and the Liberal Man

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Michel Houellebecq has always been a provocative writer and in fact considers himself to be a real provocateur, someone who “says things he doesn’t think, just to shock,” and who leans into that shock when he has a sense that people will hate it.

The Importance of the Difficult

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What is the role of difficult poetry? What does it do that more accessible poetry cannot do? And might it not have a political import?

Anger and Feminism in Virginie Despentes’ Work

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Despentes is blunt, upfront, and unapologetic about upending normative rules of decorum regarding what can be discussed and how it must be discussed.

The Immigrant, The Worker, and The Zealot in Ling Ma’s Severance

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Ling Ma brings post-apocalyptic zombie fiction, the Asian-American immigrant narrative, and anti-capitalist office satire together in her debut novel in which capitalism is—literally—a disease.

Eudora Welty and Place in Storytelling

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In her essay “Place in Fiction,” originally delivered as a lecture at Duke in 1955, Eudora Welty almost immediately positions place as an antidote to broad generalizations about human experience.

Decolonizing Poetic Form

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There’s no such thing as a singular “poetic tradition.” To suggest otherwise is horrendously erasive of the myriad poetic traditions, many of them oral, belonging to the world’s diverse cultures.

T-Shirts, Deportation, and the Epiphanies of Clemens Meyer in Mexico City

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What is new and what is vestigial? What trauma is passed down and what trauma can be left behind? While some might consider Texas a kind of photo negative of the former East Germany, I think of those two states as simulacrum in many ways.

Women Grieving Women

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Recent works by Sarah Perry, Michelle Zauner, and Sara Nović demonstrate how, with time, they were able to take their pain and paralysis and forge something beautiful.