Critical Essays Archive

Sorrow and Persuasion

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The quiet, steadfast heroine of Jane Austen’s final novel, Anne Elliot, has lived a life of much sorrow. After my mother’s death, the melancholy of her character offered me a safe way to experience the sorrow and loneliness that I otherwise kept at bay.

Forensic Architecture and César Aira’s Ghosts

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In essence, Aira says that architecture is a language, a manifestation of our unconscious into reality; it is a diorama of our humanity, rendered in miniature form, shaped by our dreams. So what should we make of the dreams of architects who create buildings of inequity?

Three Poems of Ordinary Exuberance for Uncertain Times

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Eileen Myles’ “Peanut Butter,” Jane Hirshfield’s “My Species,” and Robert Frost’s “Birches” each use plainspoken vocabulary and domestic imagery to branch outwards towards life’s most urgent questions; each poem locates itself in small, particular moments of bliss and wonder.

The Cozy Horror of the Fairytale Mode in The Pillowman

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The line between fairytale and other narrative modes is one between distance—emotional and temporal—and immediacy. Martin McDonagh’s 2003 work consistently plays across this line, retreating from and then suddenly foregrounding moments of visceral horror.

Rachel Carson’s Toxic Inheritance

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Carson’s invocation of the idea of an American pastoral penetrated by a dangerous, toxic presence is, as Lawrence Buell points out, neither new nor confined to ecological writings—or even American writings. Buell does, however, name the publication of Carson’s most famous book as the effective beginning of “toxic discourse.”

The Toxic Relationship Between Man and Boat in Two Key West Fiction Classics

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Key West is an international port of entry, an island where man and boat collide violently so that the lines between them become hard to distinguish.

Chopin at the Fair

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On the main thoroughfare, known as the Pike, of the 1904 World's Fair, a display entitled "Home on the Old Plantation" featured a recreated slave cabin, complete with black actors playing the slaves. What might Chopin have thought about this?

The Lap as Site of Resistance in Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas

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Layli Long Soldier’s 2017 poetry collection is—beyond its brilliant depiction of colonialism’s legacy—also a book about liminal spaces and stolen time, by which I mean, the dilemma of the mother/maker or mother/artist.

Emily Dickinson and the Compound Witness

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Reckoning with extreme psychic suffering, Dickinson’s poetic speakers repeatedly confront the boundary between unknowable interior experience and intelligible linguistic testimony.

The Disappearance of the Author

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In Alawiya Sobh’s 2002 novel, the writer has disappeared. Through the perplexing enigma of the novel’s authorship, Sobh simultaneously brings to light and challenges the erasure of war and conflict.