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”