Critical Essays Archive

The Cocoon and the Vista: Rebecca Solnit and Czeslaw Milosz on Vastness

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Both Solnit and Milosz transform picturesque vistas into fully alive places on the page. Their methods are instructive not only for writing about place, but as tools for toggling between any set of Big Questions and the particulars of moving as a body through streets.

Writing Trauma and Tarfia Faizullah’s Registers of Illuminated Villages

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Two adjacent poems in Tarfia Faizullah’s new collection reckon with the ways in which others—readers, peers, and perhaps mentors—respond to and even challenge the traumatic subjects about which a poet writes.

The Sheltering Sky and the Traveling American

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The tourists, travelers, and colonial police of The Sheltering Sky are mostly disaffected and unmoored Westerners who see their time in Algeria as temporary. The protagonist defines a tourist as someone who “generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months.”

Leonora Carrington’s Surrealist Revolution

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Carrington’s novel seeks to upend retrograde Surrealist tropes about women. But rather than portraying a more typical feminist utopia in which women reign supreme, the novel aims to create a gender-neutral world that embodies a very different Surrealist ideal: pneuma.

Quiet Resistance in Yiyun Li’s “A Flawless Silence”

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In Yiyun Li’s short story “A Flawless Silence” from The New Yorker, the main character Min is in a relationship where she does not feel completely safe standing up to her husband. But, as the reader sees, Min often uses silence to her advantage.

“A Wilderness of Being”: Maternity in the Apocalypse

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Future Home of the Living God has been hailed as the heir to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, mostly because it talks about women forced to carry out pregnancies and dystopian political repression. Those two ideas together, however, are nothing new.

Loss of Meaning

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One very early morning, during an especially harrowing walk through icy winds and freezing puddles on the road from Auschwitz to a work site, prisoner Viktor Frankl lost himself in thoughts of his wife.

Alexandra Kleeman and the Poetics of Weather

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There’s much more to fictional weatherscapes than the tonal work that lies on the surface. Weather presents a fundamental aspect of narrative that, by definition, lies outside of the realm of agency.

Elena Ferrante & the Condition of a Woman’s Body

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In corporeal and metaphysical terms, Ferrante’s girls and women are made porous and penetrable, pervious and vulnerable, in ways that raise questions regarding the contemporary status of a woman’s body, and the modes of resistance we might fashion in changing its position.

Living in Multiple Worlds: Immigration in Lucky Boy and The House of Broken Angels

When you immigrate, you bring an entire world along with you, a fifth limb impossible to detach, though internal and external forces demand its removal. Immigrants enter into a state of constant negotiation, deliberating what stays and what goes within their sociopolitical space.