Affect Theory and the New Age of Anxiety

In October, 2011, the literary scholar and cultural theorist Lauren Berlant published “Cruel Optimism,” a meditation on our attachment to dreams that we know are destined to be dashed. Berlant had taught in the English Department at the University of Chicago since 1984. She had established herself as a skilled interpreter of film and literature, …

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John Williams and the Canon That Might Have Been

In 1973, the judges of the National Book Award for fiction, finding themselves deadlocked, resolved to split the prize. Media coverage presented the verdict as reflective of a broader schism in American writing between the experimental and the traditional. John Barth, awarded for “Chimera”—a trilogy of novellas that zanily recast ancient narratives—was the leading exponent …

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The Hallucinatory Realism of Rachel Ingalls

A lonely woman romances a large aquatic creature who’s fleeing her town’s sadistic scientists. It’s the kind of story—a collision of fairy tale, pulp, and the dredgings of the unconscious—that produces an eerie familiarity. Those who flung (unsubstantiated) allegations of plagiarism at Guillermo del Toro’s 2017 film, “The Shape of Water,” included the maker of …

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