Tag: Virginia Woolf

Covid Reading

I’m in the midst of recovering from covid—my family and I were hit with it two weeks ago—and doing a fair amount of reading. Just prior to getting sick, I had completed a long piece on oligarchy and the Constitution, which is actually the fourth in a series of pieces I’ve completed over the last few months that I expect to appear in print this summer. (The other three are on Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, and the idea of late capitalism.) The combination of being sick, and finishing those pieces, left me with time and energy for little more than resting in bed and reading. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Here is what I’ve been reading or re-reading: […]

What’s the connection between Lytton Strachey and Monica Lewinsky?

Here’s a pop quiz for you: What’s the connection between Lytton Strachey and Monica Lewinsky? No googling! Answer: There’s a Bloomsbury tale, immortalized by Virginia Woolf in her essay “Old Bloomsbury,” about how she, her sister Vanessa, and her brother-in-law Clive were sitting in the drawing room at 46 Gordon Square one evening in spring, when “suddenly,” as Woolf tells it, “the door opened and the long and sinister figure of Mr Lytton Strachey stood on the threshold. He pointed his finger at a stain on Vanessa’s dress. ‘Semen?’ he said.” For Woolf, this incident seemed to inaugurate or announce a new era in human affairs, a revolution in manners and mores, the kind of sexual candor and frankness she may […]

The Language of Pain, from Virginia Woolf to William Stanley Jevons

Virginia Woolf, On Being Ill: English, which can express the thoughts of Hamlet and the tragedy of Lear, has no words for the shiver and the headache…The merest schoolgirl, when she falls in love, has Shakespeare or Keats to speak her mind for her; but let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to a doctor and language at once runs dry. There is nothing ready made for him. He is forced to coin words himself… William Stanley Jevons, The Theory of Political Economy: In this work I have attempted to treat Economy as a Calculus of Pleasure and Pain… I hesitate to say that men will ever have the means of measuring directly the feelings of the […]

From the Talmud to Judith Butler: Audiences as Co-Creators with—and of—the Public Intellectual

The Talmud tells a story: the reason God covenanted with the Jews was that they were the only ones who were willing to take the deal. According to a commentary on Deuteronomy, “When God revealed Himself to give the Torah to Israel, He revealed Himself not only to Israel but to all the nations.” First God goes to the children of Esau, asking them if they will accept the Torah. They ask him what it contains, God says, “Though shalt not murder,” they say, no thanks. God goes to the Ammonites and Moabites. Same response, only for them the prohibition against adultery is the deal-breaker. He goes to the Ishmaelites, to all the peoples of the earth. Each time, they turn him down. They can’t accept some portion of the Torah’s instructions […]

True confession: Sometimes I feel bad for Hillary Clinton

Went to Russ & Daughters early this morning to pick up some smoked fish. Riding back on the F train, I got engrossed in this piece in the LRB about, among other things, the relationship between Margot Asquith—about whom the only thing I had previously known was that she supposedly once said to Jean Harlow, after Harlow kept incorrectly pronouncing the “t” in Margot, “No, no, Jean. The ‘t’ is silent, as in Harlow.”—and Virginia Woolf. After Woolf killed herself, Asquith wrote: When I last wrote to her I felt lonely and depressed. I told her that at one time I was arrogant enough to think that I was the hostess at the festival of life, but that now I was not even a […]

What the F*ck is Katie Roiphe Talking About?

Claire Messud has written a novel that apparently features a character named Nora. Publisher’s Weekly posed the following question to Messud: “I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim.” Messud responded: For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep […]