Ἔστιν οὖν τραγῳδία μίμησις πράξεως σπουδαίας καὶ τελείας, μέγεθος ἐχούσης, ἡδυσμένῳ λόγῳ χωρὶς ἑκάστῳ τῶν εἰδῶν ἐν τοῖς μορίοις, δρώντων καὶ οὐ δι᾽ ἀπαγγελίας, δι᾽ ἐλέου καὶ φόβου περαίνουσα τὴν τῶν τοιούτων παθημάτων κάθαρσιν. (Aristotle, Poetics 6)   "Master Aristotle, how does one spell 'catharsis'?"   Cheeky child.   "You know perfectly well how to spell it, Alexander."   "I suppose. But I don't … Continue reading Catharsis

Strange Beauty

  Twenty-five feet below Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark in Birmingham, Alabama, I found this tunnel. See for yourself. Rusting metal chutes jutting from the ceiling. Water seeping through the walls and trickling into black puddles on the floor. A blooming pattern of lime-green and ocher. Underfoot, a metal grid forever carrying the ghosts of … Continue reading Strange Beauty


Suzanne Plunkett / AP   “It’s about fear. You know! They’re all throbbing with fear. We all are.”   He drank the tea without cleaning the lipstick off the rim.   “Bits of it floating in the air. It’s like dust. You walk about and don’t see it, don’t notice it, but it’s there and … Continue reading Fear

The “Ode to Man” from Sophocles’ Antigone | Anne Carson (2010)

  Many terribly quiet customers exist but none more terribly quiet than Man: his footsteps pass so perilously soft across the sea in marble winter, up the stiff blue waves and every Tuesday down he grinds the unastonishable earth with horse and shatter.   Shatters too the cheeks of birds and traps them in his … Continue reading The “Ode to Man” from Sophocles’ Antigone | Anne Carson (2010)

An Odyssey (2017) by Daniel Mendelsohn

The title and subtitle of Daniel Mendelsohn's memoir of last year, An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and An Epic (Knopf, 2017), are exactly in keeping with the story Mendelsohn tells and how he tells it. The right word for this lovely book is "restrained," which you must understand to encompass the following:   Perfect command of … Continue reading An Odyssey (2017) by Daniel Mendelsohn

Two Jars

δοιοὶ γάρ τε πίθοι κατακείαται ἐν Διὸς οὔδει δώρων οἷα δίδωσι κακῶν, ἕτερος δὲ ἑάων: ᾧ μέν κ' ἀμμίξας δώῃ Ζεὺς τερπικέραυνος, ἄλλοτε μέν τε κακῷ ὅ γε κύρεται, ἄλλοτε δ' ἐσθλῷ: ᾧ δέ κε τῶν λυγρῶν δώῃ, λωβητὸν ἔθηκε, καί ἑ κακὴ βούβρωστις ἐπὶ χθόνα δῖαν ἐλαύνει, φοιτᾷ δ' οὔτε θεοῖσι τετιμένος οὔτε βροτοῖσιν. … Continue reading Two Jars

The Art of the Memoirish, Lit-Crit, Epistolary Essay

  INTERVIEWER   Let's start with a basic question. How do you write? Perhaps with a fountain pen that Vladimir Nabokov bequeathed to you, in calligraphy on artisan paper lovingly handmade in Jaipur, India? Or chain smoking as you hunch over Paul Auster's Olympia typewriter, which late one night, after one-too-many cocktails at the Peacock Alley … Continue reading The Art of the Memoirish, Lit-Crit, Epistolary Essay


  At a place called Earth Sanctuary on Whidbey Island. It's a privately owned nature reserve and retreat center "dedicated to healing nature and the human spirit." The owner is practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism. Strangely enough — or perhaps not? — this place is weirdly peaceful.