A while ago, Lili Loofbourow and I curated a collection of essays for PMLA on academia, criticism, and the internet age called “The Semipublic Intellectual.” It features work from a murderer’s row of scholars I admire, including Hua Hsu, Natalia Cecire, Evan Kindley, Michael Berube, Sharon Marcus, and Salamishah Tillet. In honor of Open Access Week, PMLA has graciously posted the whole conversation on MLA Commons. Here’s some of what Lili and I had to say, by way of introduction:
“This is not an unmixed blessing. Scholarly culture is not particularly suited to intense, rapid debate, and this shows in the pace and tone of our professional disagreements. Wary of informal public modes of intellectual engagement, we as academic critics gravitate toward more intimate models, where disagreements either stay politely off the record or are published so long after the text to which they respond that only the determined can follow the conversation. The snail’s pace of this process makes prolonged engagements difficult to conduct and even harder to track. We have been failing to witness our own arguments.”
“The Semipublic Intellectual: Academia, Criticism, and the Internet Age”
Last week, I wrote a short piece about cringeworthy TV and the dazzling return of HBO’s The Leftovers for The New Republic.
“The first episodes of this new season are narratively jarring (the season opener begins in what seems to be pre-historic times, and we don’t see a recognizable face until almost halfway through the episode), they’re shot through with disturbing and surreal images of violence, but, more than that, they play with our anticipation of cringeworthy shocks. A suspicious pie gets passed around multiple kitchen counters like Chekhov’s gun, a man spends an almost unbearable amount of time with his hand down a garbage disposal, our protagonist spends an even longer time with his face pressed up to a malfunctioning gas burner waiting for his cigarette to light or his face to burn off—so far, none of these moments deliver the bloody coup de grace, but we dwell in expectation of it. Traumatized by the first season, we shudder at every perceived threat, real or imaginary.”
“Post-Cringe: The Leftovers and the Rise of Endurance TV”
Book-ending our vacation, I wrote for Dear Television at The LA Review of Books about the other show of the summer: USA’s Mr. Robot. Specifically, I wrote about the concept of the “cinematic” on TV and about why everyone wants to list this show’s influences.
“But, where this [SPOILER REDACTED] could be a huge, devastating problem, I think there’s a way to imagine that this particular debt and Esmail’s management of it are what make Mr. Robot genuinely great. There’s no anxiety to this influence; just preternatural chill. Thrill, even. The show luxuriates in its stolen goods, pays for hot dogs with marked bills, leaves a trail of cryptic clues for the rookie detective. Like the best serial killers, Mr. Robot wants to get caught.”
“Original Programming: On Mr. Robot“
I’m thrilled to be a part of this Antenna forum on Lifetime’s UnReal, organized by Jason Mittell, and featuring Kathleen Battles, Christine Becker, Melissa Lenos, Myles McNutt, Dana Och, and Kristen Warner. We talk about genre, romance, legitimation, and why TV doesn’t need to be “The New Novel” to be worth our time.
I wrote, for Dear Television at The LA Review of Books, about the Lifetime network’s stupendous new show UnREAL, the reality TV world that it depicts, and the idea of being a “creator” in the world of television:
“What does it mean to be a feminist and participate in this kind of catastrophic gender spectacle? Is that even possible? Is this Roxane Gay’s “Bad Feminism,” or is it just bad feminism? As Mark Harris notes, reality TV of this ilk feels wrong, but where do we locate that wrongness? For a show about who’s literally responsible for TV like this, responsibility remains an open question onUnREAL. If this series ends with Quinn firing a pistol at the screen a la The Great Train Robbery, I’ll be delighted, but I don’t know if that’s where we’re going. In Greek mythology, the gods can be reprehensible, but so can their mortal foils. That’s just how things work: the gods sitting on their couch, watching the narratives they set into motion play out.”
“Gods and Bachelors: On Lifetime’s UnREAL“
Sarah Mesle and I are posting weekly conversations about the second season of HBO’s True Detective. Topics covered include: sadness, disappointment, hair braids, the US Women’s National Team, Game of Thrones, Disney’s Robin Hood, Antigone, Chinatown, and how much we miss Top of the Lake. The first three conversations are below:
Season 2, Episode 1: “Happy Father’s Day!”
Season 2, Episode 2: “Midnight Dreary”
Season 2, Episode 3: “Mad Pitz: Fury Road”
So, Mad Men‘s finally over, and so too are my episode reviews. (This is not the last I’ll be writing about this show.) In any case, I closed up shop going point/counterpoint with Lili Loofbourow for Dear TV at The Los Angeles Review of Books:
“So here’s my thing: I can’t talk about this ending yet. I have things to say, lots of them, but I don’t know what they are. This is a television series that I’ve experienced — and re-experienced several times in its entirety — as a fluid, living thing over the past eight years, and all of a sudden it’s ground to a halt, the weight of seven seasons of detail has spilled out all over the place, there’s lawnmowers and chip-and-dips and Mark Rothko paintings everywhere. As the man says, ‘A lot has happened.'”
“The Waste Land”