Better Angels: On Rilke in Translation

If Rilke’s poetry has any relevance to twenty-first century Americans, it’s because we worry, now more than ever, that we are losing unmediated experience. We’re busy, we’re sleepless, we’re medicated, and we’re marooned in the everyday.

The Life and Death of American Slang, Part I: Shade and Twerk

When does slang die? Is it when your mom sends you a link to a definition of “bae”? When “shade” becomes a Jeopardy question? When “selfie” beats “twerk” for word of the year? These words have become so removed from their original contexts that the begin to lose their meaning, or at least some of their value. After all, isn’t one of the primary functions of slang to identify the speaker as a member of the community? I don’t care how many episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race your cool mom has seen, she does not throw shade in quite the way the queens of Paris is Burning do.

Imagined Conversations (7.30.14)

D: We are giving people larger derrières.
Dr. C: They want more ethnicity.
D: If Martha Stewart can do it, anyone can do it.
A and B overhearing.
A. Can you believe that guy! I will seize my own day. Carpe penis!

Spaced Out: The Lower Depths

There is a strange word that appears in Ancient Greek literature, a verb that describes a mental process: bussodomeuō. We could translate it as “to inhabit the base” or, more succinctly, as “depth-dwelling.” Such a gloss might be the best we can do.

The Uses of Art: Little Beasts

Even when you’re in the right place and time, participatory art fails because art fails: too often nothing actually happens between a work and its viewer. We are so many strangers walking the streets of the city, hardly glancing at one another.

The Geography of Melancholy

To walk in the country is to walk in and among life. That which is growing is growing of its own accord; there is a dynamic force—what the Romantic poets called Nature naturans—that suffuses the natural existence. A single blade of grass may be impermanent; a field of grass is not. But to walk in a city is to walk among ghosts, the narratives of onetime denizens building up like layers of clay shards…