Critical Essays Archive

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning’s Exploration of Solidarity

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Though published in 2020 before the advent of the pandemic and the racial unrest that marked the year, Cathy Park Hong’s collection of essays explores the complexities of Asian American identity in ways that speak to the conversations around racial identity and solidarity that continue into 2021.

Beauty and Crystal Boys

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Pai Hsien-Yung’s 1983 novel is a story of exile: the narrative centers itself on the transience of home, and the chaos of the birth-family, in order to argue that home does not come from location, but from aesthetics—from beauty.

On Master Suffering

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CM Burroughs’s poems invite intersubjective understanding, even “so much empathy,” while also insisting on the speaker’s self-ownership, the space between self and other. They interrogate mastery and also resist it; the collection is rife with rich ambiguities.

Swamplandia!’s Grief

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Reflective on themes of environmental degradation and indigenous erasure, Karen Russel’s 2011 novel serves as a memorial to Florida’s past, and as a reminder of the constant fortitude we must maintain to protect this place.

The Discomfort and Difficulty of Attention

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To pay attention has an actual cost. It requires us to trace the brittle edges of our connections to other people. To witness their pain and have them witness ours; to wait and gather ourselves together to hear what’s coming next.

Robots Like a Greek Chorus

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Poets are grappling with their anxieties over the future of artificial intelligence; with their awe at technological innovation; with their fumbling through the knowledge that, in pockets and backpacks, one carries with them a computer’s long-term memory—infallible and encyclopedic, unlike ours.

Reading Rilke in Lockdown

I’ve found myself turning to Rainer Maria Rilke’s poems again and again over the last year, his words giving me space to release myself from the prison of my own feelings, and offer an alternative, even curative, way to live in the world.

Reading William Trevor’s “A Day” and Jamel Brinkley’s “Comfort”

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Brinkley’s story, written in response to Trevor’s, echoes the latter’s plot, characters, and structure, but in capturing its tone—a gentleness and a very light touch—the story transcends the original, its ending resonating with meaning.

The Power of Documenting Your Own Story

Patricia Engel’s new novel demonstrates the importance of taking back your narrative, of learning and documenting your own story for no one but yourself.

The Act of Making a Home in Severance

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Ling Ma’s 2018 novel is a story about what it means to make a life when one has been removed—whether willingly or by force—from one’s familiar surroundings, and the faith and perseverance required in order to call a new place home.