Arts & Letters Daily
- October 2001
Featured piece: The Artistic Animal: Is creativity in our genes? The self-made scholar Ellen Dissanayake thinks so. But it has taken her a lifetime of experience outside the academy to find out why.
by Caleb Crain
- September 2001
Featured piece: The Know-It-All Machine: Water is wet. Birds have two eyes. Dead people stay dead. For years, Doug Lenat has been teaching a computer millions of these common facts. Will it get him uncommon results?
by Clive Thompson
- July/August 2001
Featured piece: The Mystery of the Millionaire Metaphysician: A highly secretive author has paid scholars more than a hundred thousand dollars to review a treatise on the purpose of existence. Who is behind this, and why? A philosophical investigation.
by James Ryerson
- May/June 2001
Featured piece: Marxist Literary Critics Are Following Me!: Science fiction guru Philip K. Dick became a hero to radical literary theorists. But he thought those theorists were communist conspirators. So he contacted the FBI.
by Jeet Heer
- April 2001
Featured piece: It Takes a Village Healer
Medical anthropologists suggest an unlikely remedy for Africa's staggering AIDS crisis. Can herbalists and diviner-mediums succeed where Western doctors have failed?
by Matthew Steinglass
- March 2001
Featured piece: Clothes Encounters
The campus anti-sweatshop movement has become a force to reckon with. But a group of high-profile economists questions the students' logic. Do the free traders have a monopoly on economic thought?
by Liza Featherstone and Doug Henwood
- February 2001
Featured piece: The Ex-Cons
During the Cold War, they cavorted with
Thatcher and Reagan. Today they inveigh
against the ravages of the free market. John
Gray and Edward Luttwak defect to the left.
by Corey Robin
- December 2000/January 2001
Featured piece: Pet Theory
If schizophrenia is not the product of faulty genes or faulty parents, what is it? E. Fuller Torrey smells a cat.
by Stephen Mihm
- November 2000
Featured piece: Can Marriage Be Saved?
Linda Waite believes marriage is good for you. And she's got numbers to prove it. Can an unsentimental sociologist succeed where a thousand moralists have failed?
by Elise Harris
- October 2000
Featured piece: Bio Hazard
If you write a biography of Gore Vidal, you get to know him well. You learn to appreciate, for example, his talent for a literary spat. With you.
by Fred Kaplan
- September 2000
Featured piece: Don't Talk to the Humans
Institutional Review Boards are getting tough on the social sciences. If you want to talk about it, you'd better have permission. And you'd better have cleared your questions in advance...
by Christopher Shea
- July/August 2000
Featured piece: Shattered
The senior Baudelairean disliked her. So she
tape-recorded the department chair and hired a
lawyer. The story of a young nouveau roman
scholar's fractured career
by Johanna Berkman
Also: Death of an Altruist
George Price came up with the math to explain the evolution of altruism. But living for others was not just an intellectual puzzle. It was
the central challenge of his life
by James Schwartz
- May 2000
Featured piece: The Outrageous Pragmatism of Judge Richard Posner
The most omnivorous and unpredictable legal thinker in America is a judge. Richard Posner rules for nude dancing, in favor of wealth, and against moral philosophy.
by James Ryerson
- April 2000
Featured piece: Monkeys Who Think
They can definitely count to three. They seem to know who's in the mirror. But can they empathize? Marc Hauser reads the primate mind.
by Jennifer Schuessler
- March 2000
Featured piece: Inside the Love Lab
From fifteen minutes of videotape, John Gottman can predict whether you and your spouse will still be married six years from now. Would you like to buy his advice?
by Emily Nussbaum
- February 2000
Featured piece: Showdown!
Legal scholars -- even liberal ones -- are increasingly convinced that gun ownership is an individual right, and judges are starting to agree. Is gun control doomed? Or will a last salvo by historians change everything?
by Chris Mooney
- December 1999/January 2000
Featured piece: Is Bad Writing Necessary?
Fifty years ago, two icons of the independent left came to radically different conclusions on the relationship between politics and writing. Today's heated debates over academic prose only seem new. In fact, they repeat the powerful arguments George Orwell and Theodor Adorno once set forth.
by James Miller
- November 1999
Featured piece: Oh My Darwin!
Cambridge, Massachusetts is home to some of the country's most prominent evolutionary scientists. But that doesn't make them friends or allies. Far from it. Harvard entomologist E.O. Wilson and MIT psychologist Steven Pinker believe we owe even language and morality to gene-based natural selection. They are adamantly opposed by Harvard biologists Stephen J. Gould and Richard Lewontin, who believe that the mysteries of evolution cannot be reduced to DNA. Is Cambridge big enough for both points of view?
by James Schwartz
- October 1999
Featured piece: Faith No More
As the number of religious students swells on American campuses, college atheists say they are increasingly under siege. Three years ago, secular humanist philosopher Paul Kurtz decided to do something about it. Now his Campus Freethought Alliance (CFA) has a growing membership at dozens of schools, a group house in upstate New York, and a calendar of festivities celebrating everything from Darwin's birthday to the decline of superstition. Is the CFA a genuine alternative to faith? Or just another form of groupthink?
by Emily Nussbaum
Also: The Radosh File
Fifteen years ago, Ronald Radosh co-authored a classic account of the Rosenberg case, concluding that Julius Rosenberg was guilty of atomic espionage. The onetime radical historian was promptly excommunicated by many of his colleagues. But today he is preparing a book that promises to ignite just as much controversy: a daringly revisionist account of the Spanish civil war.
by Scott Sherman
- September 1999
Featured piece: Testaments Betrayed
In the 1960s, a circle of Yugoslavian philosophers captured the fancy of academics all over the world. Dissidents under Tito, the Praxis group fought authoritarianism, championed free speech, and denounced nationalism. But when Yugoslavia descended into civil war, Praxis also shattered--and its leading members ended up embracing the very politics they had once opposed. The untold story of how some of Yugoslavia's most admired intellectuals contributed to their country's demise.
by Laura Secor
Also: The Heirs of Ayn Rand
When Ayn Rand died in 1982, she left devotees squabbling for control of her intellectual empire. Today, the Objectivist movement is threatened not just by its internal schisms but also by its surprising new popularity in the academy. Can the Objectivists save their guru from the professors they despise?
by Scott McLemee
- July-August 1999
Featured piece: New Word Order
This fall, a computer will be handing out grades in at least one university classroom. Its inventors say it evaluates student essays as accurately as a professor would simply by calculating the frequency and distribution of words. Nonsense, say linguists. Is the meaning of language simply a function of statistics? How intelligent is the Intelligent Essay Assessor?
by Clive Thompson
Also: Behind the Veil
John Rawls's A Theory of Justice is among this century's most famous works. Since its publication in 1971, the hefty blueprint for a liberal society has sold 200,000 copies and inspired more than five thousand essays and books. But Rawls himself has remained a mystery. A close look at what the theory owes to the man.
By Ben Rogers
- May-June 1999
Featured piece: Lost Tribes
For Native American tribes, recognition from the federal government means political sovereignty, subsidized health care, and, possibly, windfall casino profits. As anthropologists at the Bureau of Indian Affairs try to decide how to allocate these benefits, critics in the academy, Congress, and in the Indian community charge them with using outdated categories and racially suspect assumptions. But is there a better way?
by Peter Beinart
- April 1999
Featured piece: When Words Fail: The Struggle to Decipher the World's Most Difficult Book
In 1912, the rare-book dealer Wilfrid Voynich purchased a medieval manuscript in Italy and brought it back to America. Filled with odd botanical illustrations and images of naked women, the manuscript was written in a code that looked simple to decipher. But decades later,Voynich's book remains an enigma. Locked in a room at Yale's Beinecke Library, it keeps its secrets from even the most determined scholars.
by Lev Grossman
- March 1999
Featured piece: A Secret History of the Sexual Revolution: The Repression of Wilhelm Reich
Psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich's unorthodox ideas -- about character armor, fascism, and the importance of the orgasm -- inspired American writers from Saul Bellow to William Burroughs and gave unbridled eroticism its most fervent defense. Reich believed he had unlocked the mysteries of the universe. But today his name is all but forgotten. A reexamination of the life and legacy of a self-declared prophet.
by Hal Cohen
Also: The Passion of Roberto Unger
For decades, Harvard law professor Roberto Unger burned the midnight oil, composing dense volumes of political theory. Now, he has abandoned the classroom to take his vision of social transformation -- a fusion of Christian romanticism, Max Weber, and the Marquis de Sade -- to the slums of his native Brazil. Can Unger's idiosyncratic ideas save the country from neoliberal orthodoxy -- and economic collapse?
- February 1999
Featured piece: The Department That Fell to Earth
For much of the last decade, the Duke English department has been a model for academic entrepreneurs and the object of widespread envy. Now the department is in tatters: Its star faculty has fled, and its curriculum is virtually nonexistent. But was the Duke model ever what it was cracked up to be?
by David Yaffe
- December 1998
Featured piece: Brainwashed
Everyone knows that religious cults brainwash their members, right? In fact, most scholars scoff at the idea. But now a Rutgers sociologist is arguing that brainwashing may well exist -- despite concerted attempts by cult-sponsored experts to make us believe otherwise.
by Charlotte Allen
- November 1998
Featured piece: The Case for Bardolatry
Harold Bloom's bold, idiosyncratic new book challenges the assumptions of today's Shakespeare scholars. With characteristic extravagance, the author of The Western Canon declares that the best critical approach to the bard is rapture. Should we bury Bloom, or praise him?
by William W. Kerrigan
- October 1998
Featured piece: Behind the Crimson Curtain
Four out of five junior professors at Harvard don't get tenure. Most move on. But after Peter Berkowitz lost his bid, he found some powerful allies -- including a high-powered law professor and one of the nation's leading private eyes -- to help him fight back. This dream team has yet to establish that any administrative misconduct took place. But it has raised questions about how an extra-rigorous tenure process may encourage behind-the-scenes shenanigans.
by David Greenberg
Also: Enjoy Your Zizek!
Since publishing The Sublime Object of Ideology in 1989, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek has become one of academia's most charismatic figures. His work is a smorgasbord of Lacanian psychoanalysis, popular culture, and politics. And his conversation is a dazzling blend of boisterous rhetoric and willful self-contradiction. Is he the Hegel of the Balkans, or simply all over the map?
by Robert S. Boynton
- September 1998
Featured piece: Who's Afraid of Elaine Showalter
Besieged by disapproving feminists, anxious graduate students, and irate chronic fatigue sufferers, the MLA president is no stranger to controversy. But how did an established literary scholar with decades of professional service behind her come to incite such strong feelings? A feminist morality tale of pathbreaking scholarship, academic hostility, and compulsive shopping.
by Emily Eakin
- July/August 1998
Featured piece: The Bard's Fingerprints
Donald Foster uses high-powered computer tests to search for Shakespeare's hidden hand. His critics challenge him on every move.
by Caleb Crain
- June 1998
Featured piece: Getting Their Hands Dirty
The looting of Maya antiquities has turned into a booming and bloody business. Should museums exhibit stolen goods? And should archaeologists study--or even look--at them?
by John Dorfman
- April 1998
Featured piece: International Man of Mystery
In the West, Mikhail Bakhtin is celebrated for his pathbreaking notions of "carnival" and "dialogism." But key questions about the revered literary theorist remain unanswered. Did he secretly author the definitive Marxist study of language? A transatlantic dispute over authorship and ideology.
by Matt Steinglass
- March 1998
Featured piece: A Pirate's Progress
The pirate has long been the stuff of nightmares. Now, an increasing number of scholars argue that the bloodthirsty bootleggers were, in fact, racially tolerant, gay-positive promoters of democracy. But have some of these scholars gone overboard?
by Lawrence Osborne
- February 1998
Featured piece: The Man Who Knew Too Much
As a professor of sociology at Colby College, Adam Weisberger asked his students to write candidly about their experiences with power and authority. But after a group of female students accused him of probing too deeply into their lives, he saw his own authority under fire and his bid for tenure derailed. Now, the angry professor seeks vindication and he's using the law to get it.
by Ruth Shalit
- December 1997
Featured piece: The Women Warriors
The recent discovery of the graves of female fighters on the Eurasian steppes has renewed the often-dubious quest for a matriarchal civilization in ancient times. Was there life before patriarchy? And if so, what happened to it?
by Lawrence Osbourne
- November 1997
Featured piece: Spies Like Us
In recent years, a number of sociologists have fessed up to the use of deception in their fieldwork. Some are repentant--others defiantly not. Is it all right to study people without telling them? Or to shade your own opinions to match those of your subjects? Tales from the world of undercover research.
by Charlotte Allen
- October 1997
Featured piece: Pleasure Principles
Leaving the academy, queer theorists have taken to the streets to defend bathhouses, promiscuity, and anonymous sex from moralizing social forces. But can their Foucault-inspired notions of uncontrolled desire survive outside the classroom -- in the face of community crackdowns, AIDS, and attacks from angry gay journalists?
by Caleb Crain
- September 1997
Featured piece: The American Earthquake
In 1990 Mike Davis published City of Quartz--a searing indictment of contemporary Los Angeles that combined street-smart reporting with apocalyptic bravado. But now, the man who took us down L.A.'s mean streets and blasted suburban escapism has turned his attention to the furies of nature. Will the fire next time come from the skies?
by Adam Shatz
- August 1997
Featured piece: Uprooting the Past
Israel's New Historians have shaken up their country by probing the historical foundations of the Zionist enterprise--and finding a record that bears little resemblance to the stirring patriotic narratives of their youth. Their work has been subjected to harsh criticism by traditional Zionists and Palestinian scholars alike.
by Jonathan Mahler
- June/July 1997
Featured piece: The Long Goodbye
Two years after an epoch-making vote to abolish affirmative action, the University of California has been thrown into turmoil. A story of aggressive politicians, anguished administrators, and divided professors.
by Pamela Burdman
- April/May 1997
Featured piece: Pornutopia
Long before Hollywood adopted Larry Flynt, a group of academic feminists began embracing pornography. And to the dismay of MacKinnonites everywhere, their numbers are growing. But is it possible to defend porn both for its subversive edge and for it's All-American spirit?
by M.G. Lord
- March 1997
Featured piece: Policing the Gene Machine
The Human Genome Project is the largest and most important scientific undertaking around, the Manhattan Project of our time. But unlike previous scientific enterprises, it also has a watchdog on the premises¬a committee of social scientists combating the myths of genetic reductionism and the dangers of DNA-based gimmickry. Is anyone listening to their pleas?
by Arthur Allen
- July/August 1996
Featured piece: Sinister Designs,In which Pat Conroy, a man called Batman, and a band of indignant students take on their local art college and set the city of Savannah on its ear.
by Warren St. John