Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Crisis for Mr. Biswas

If Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh was the great book of my -- and everyone else's -- 25th year, then V.S. Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas is just the book to read three years afterward. If the happy ending of the first sees our hero Ernest safely ensconced in a state of delicious autonomy, having attained self-sufficiency away from his family of origin -- the goal of the student stage of life -- then the second tells us what comes immediately after -- the difficulties and angst of the householder stage (and, as if by design, I noticed that the IKEA in Massachusetts -- a place where every person who is transitioning from one phase of life to another will likely find themselves -- is using copies of the Swedish translation of the book as shelf decoration in its model showrooms). It reveals that the quest for autonomy is not in fact the final struggle. Rather, once obtained, it contains the seeds of its own crises and self-doubts.

If The Way of All Flesh is the great epic of young adulthood, then, Biswas is a tale for those experiencing the first intimations of middle age.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Reading Poetry

As a teenager and college student, fear of cultural inadequacy was a powerful motivator for me, and I suspect it was a major factor in my initial adoption of certain intellectual habits that have since become constant features of my life. One of these is reading poetry, which I first began to do self-consciously, and maniacally, some time in late high school.

As with many of the obsessions we decide upon at that age, I at first -- and for a long time -- derived no intrinsic joy from it. A vast portion of the poetry I consumed meant nothing at all to me. Nor could I figure out why exactly it seemed to mean something to other people -- I just knew that it did, and that it would be a shameful sign of inferiority if I confessed that I did not have the same reactions. The advice of the critics, who claimed to find mysterious resonances in sounds and meters, rather than what was actually being said, was of no use. I never could hear whatever it was they were talking about -- and for the most part I still can't.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Three Poems

Second fig

I was burning pretty brightly there
Like a year would last a night
What I fear, before it guttered,
Is that no one saw the light

Saturday, May 26, 2018


As previously mentioned, my sister is a fanatical devotee of the K-pop group "BTS." (Apparently the rest of the world is too, unbeknownst to me, since I learned today that there is a store in the middle of Times Square -- the most coveted retail space on planet Earth -- that is devoted solely to selling -- wait for it -- not even BTS merchandise, but merchandise about a group of fictional stuffed critters who are indirectly associated with BTS.)

As a result, these seven Korean men have become a part of all of our lives, at least in my family. Not an album is "dropped" that I will not eventually become acquainted with its contents.

Saturday, April 21, 2018


After spending four years of college at an institution that teasingly encouraged me in my belief that life is a purely theoretical matter, I have been confronted at every turn since by the alternative dogma -- the cult of personal experience.

As soon as I came to divinity school, I was told that I actually would be learning nothing important in the classroom (a shame, since this was the only part I was looking forward to) -- and that the only real lessons would come from the aspects of ministerial training I most dreaded -- the ones that were "hands on." When I first started writing sermons, likewise, the first feedback I received was that they would be more interesting "if they came less from things you read and more from your life experience."

Sunday, April 8, 2018


I will not be the first to point out the eery similarities between the militarization of the U.S. southern border and that of Israel's various boundaries -- notably Trump himself made a similar point, though he of course intended something very different by it. However, in a week that began with Israeli troops firing live rounds on demonstrators in Gaza and killing fourteen people (who were either wholly defenseless or armed at the very most with rocks and implements that posed no serious threat to the heavily equipped IDF) --and which concluded with Trump ordering the National Guard to patrol the nation's boundary with Mexico-- the parallels are particularly hard to miss.

Saturday, March 31, 2018


After Robert Motherwell's Elegies for the Spanish Republic
So... I should explain -- how the above work of aesthetic genius, that is, came to be on my living room floor.

Due to a recent change of residence, as you know, I have had to spend an unusual percentage of my time the last few months on tasks that I find intrinsically boring. Like cleaning. Like moving. And like decorating.

In order to feel that my life still had meaning and volition, I decided that -- to the extent I could not absolutely avoid any of these activities -- I would at least insist upon doing them in a way that fed my core underlying obsessions.

When it came to unpacking or swiffering the floor, this was relatively easy to do -- one only had to put on a podcast or audiobook to feel that one was at least not squandering the youthful plasticity of one's brain by failing to spend a few waking hours dribbling new pieces of information into it.