Critical Essays Archive

Qiu Miaojin’s Groundbreaking Notes of a Crocodile

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Qiu was daring enough to be the first to portray queer relationships in Asian literature, and her first novel has become something of a cult classic due to its transgressive nature. Its literary merit does not, however, merely rest on its ground-breaking laurels.

Denise Levertov’s Politics and Poetics

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More often than not, Levertov claimed she was not whichever appellation had come to her doorstep. But her objections have more to do with the consequences of public identity than her actual political orientation, which was a lifelong commitment to poetry as but one form of protest.

America and The River Twice

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Kathleen Graber’s newest collection asks how much her speaker is to blame for what she sees as troubling in American culture, and how identity might be formed in the crucible of condemnation.

Facing the Jackpot with William Gibson

As we move toward an inevitable-seeming apocalypse, Rachael Nevins turns to three of Gibson’s novels, hoping to assuage her fear and sort through her disorientation.

Reading The Paper Menagerie

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Ken Liu’s 2011 collection includes a wide array of stories, ranging in style from speculative to science fiction to magical realism; it’s also a prime example of a work that shifts focus away from genre tropes and allows the reader to see what these stories look like through a

The Mechanization of Violence in Animalia

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Through etymological conversion, our minds have come to separate “flesh” from “meat,” sublimating the violent methods necessary to render bodies into food and making us believe we know with certainty what separates our own bodies from the bodies that we destine to be eaten.

Infatuation and Imaginative Language

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Lovesickness of the kind Cynthia Ozick describes is intimately linked with language. The essay, both in content and form, suggests that the beauty and purpose of infatuation is in its generation of language, a purpose particularly fruitful for a writer.

Home as Metonymy for Country in The Locust and the Bird: My Mother’s Story

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Set in decades past, Hanan al-Shaykh’s novel remains relevant to women’s rights today: she uses her narrator’s struggle to draw upon sociopolitical issues, positioning women’s stories as a means of redefining the political and societal in terms of the personal, and insisting on the importance of reaching beyond presiding

Kawabata Yasunari’s House of the Sleeping Beauties and the Male Gaze

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In his 1961 novella, Kawabata takes the idea of the male gaze and makes it concrete, a laboratory in which to test our preconceptions about masculinity and male privilege.

Fighting Muteness in Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls

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A feminist retelling of the Iliad, Barker’s novel seeks to give voice to the women and girls behind the epic, and in doing so becomes a clear rebuke to centuries of patriarchal silencing.