Essays and Reviews







A Rebel Spirit and an Artist’s Eye.” Online at Aeon, an essay on the landscape designer and mystic Russell Page. Looking beyond the debate between “formal” and “informal” design to think about how discipline and spirituality matter to the art of garden-making.

Distracted.” For The Chronicle Review, an essay on the critical humanities in the attention economy. Crisis talk, method wars, and other distractions–with some reflections on how the long history of attention’s disciplines might matter to it all.

Discipline and Abolish,” a conversation between Caleb Smith and Rachel Kushner, on literature, landscapes, and questions of discipline, online at The Yale Review.

The Berlant Opening,” an essay in memory of Lauren Berlant, online at Critical Inquiry. “I am approaching Berlant as a writer, a sentence-maker whose ideas are inextricable from their composition in carefully arranged sequences of words.”

Thoreau in Good Faith,” a review of Thoreau’s Religion, by Alda Balthrop-Lewis, online at Public Books. “Why is it so embarrassing to love Thoreau?”

Unvicarious: Reading with Sam See,” an essay on Sam See’s posthumous volume of criticism, Queer Natures, Queer Mythologies. This essay appears in a Los Angeles Review of Books special series,  organized and introduced by Caleb Smith, devoted to See’s work.

The Demon of Distraction,” by Irina Dumitrescu and Caleb Smith, a short essay on time, attention, and distraction during the covid-19 lockdown, online at Critical Inquiry. “The phenomenology of being off the clock, of slipping out of what E. P. Thompson calls industrial modernity’s “time discipline,” is something other than a feeling of freedom. We are not so anxious about losing time anymore, but we begin to worry that we are getting lost in it.”

American Death Cult: A Love Story,” a review of Sacred Duty, by the Arkansas Senator and Army Veteran Tom Cotton, online at Los Angeles Review of Books. “Sacred Duty is a pretty bad book, thin on research and thick with platitudes, but it does reinforce a truth about the emotional side of politics in the United States of America: our low regard for real, grown-up, civilian life, with all its sins and struggles, can be accompanied, and covered up, by some sweet feelings about innocents and martyrs.”

The Art of Debunking,” a review of Credulity: A Cultural History of US Mesmerism, by Emily Ogden, online at The Immanent Frame. “Could it be that the object of debunking matters less to the secularist than the act itself? Could it be that what secularism really wants is not to banish false prophets but to trot them out, endlessly, so that it can demonstrate its mastery over them?”

Introducing: No Crisis,” a Los Angeles Review of Books special series on the state of critical writing in the twenty-first century. Contributions by Virginia Jackson (on Lauren Berlant), Michael Clune (on Rei Terada), Namwali Serpell (on Rita Felski), and many more. “In No Crisis, we hope to show that the art of criticism is flourishing, rich with intellectual power and sustaining beauty, in hard times.”

Ferguson’s Literary History,”online at Avidly, a Los Angeles Review of Books Channel, with
contributions by Caleb Smith, Anna Mae Duane, Brigitte Fielder, Janet
Neary, Jordan Stein,  Hester Blum, Peter Jaros, Glenn Hendler, Sarah
Blackwood, and Yahdon Israel.

Late Don Draper, or Television at Stage Nine,” an essay on Mad Men and media history, online at Avidly. “Mad Men, in the season before its last one, has discovered stage nine. It’s becoming a show about the beautiful death of television.”

Poe in Hard Times,” an essay on the Morgan Library’s Edgar Allan Poe exhibit, Terror of the Soul, online at Los Angeles Review of Books. “By a perverse trick of fate, Poe’s misery has become a kind of currency.”

See Something Say Something,” a short essay on Chris Burden’s Porsche with Meteorite and the New Museum’s Burden retrospective, online at Paper Monument. “The artist of the body in jeopardy, the performer of stunts so evanescent that they can only be recollected, never preserved—this same Chris Burden has turned to sculpture on a monumental scale.”

A Spectacle in Love,” a contribution to a conversation about Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, online at The Los Angeles Review of Books. “Improbably, Luhrmann’s fantastic carnival of a 3-D movie turns out to be, in part, a story about the typing and correction of a manuscript. In the recollection of violence and loss, a lovely book is made.”

Say Hello to My Little Friend,” an essay about watching gangster movies, online at Avidly. “The Godfather chronicles the end of a line; it is an elegy for an obsolescent era of blood and ritual. It is that paradoxical commodity, a Hollywood movie that pretends to despise our postmodern consumer society. Scarface doesn’t traffic in that brand of nostalgia. It’s not a parody or a satire. It’s a fun-house mirror, turned toward the future that has become our present.”

“Fiction in Review”: new books by David Mitchell (Smith, Mitchell review), Lynne Tillman (Smith, Tillman review), and Ben Marcus (Smith, Marcus review) for The Yale Review.

Sad, but True.” An essay about Metallica, online at Avidly. “A special mixture of abjection and spite, nurtured by every metal fan.”

The Collaborator and the Multitude,” an interview with Michael Hardt for minnesota review (2004). Co-authored with Enrico Minardi. “Collaboration is, in a sense, the perfectly appropriate method for writing about the multitude.”

Interview with Reynolds Price (1933-2011) for BOMB (2002). “Writing as a way to channel pain.”

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