“I just don’t think of writing as a career,” Lutz says. “If I had chosen that as a career, I would have failed at it, obviously. It’s just: get the degree, get an agent, get the book, get the job, get the tenure. And coast. But me, I’ve always been a dab hand at introducing hardship and difficulty into my life.”
He is, however, easy enough to find on a map. For almost 40 years, Lutz has lived in low orbit around Pittsburgh, specifically in the bland burb of Greensburg, where he currently teaches remedial English at a branch of the University of Pittsburgh. He doesn’t like to travel. He fears flying. The city is his one great solace, the place where he goes to wander among gluts of people without chafing too much against any of it.
IN THE SPRING of 2019 at Loyola University New Orleans, the English department once again offered a particularly difficult course on critical theory. It wasn’t “difficult” in the usual ways: not just because Marx’s formulation of base and superstructure is subtler than it seems at first, or because Freud’s “unconscious” is so frustrating because, well, it’s unconscious. It wasn’t because we’re in a so-called post-theory moment, or because the subject seemed abstruse. Rather, it was the very pertinence of the ensemble that makes up what is called “critical theory.” Together, our class came to an alternative, anxious definition for the term: “crisis thinking.”
The crisis, in this case, related to how it felt to be alive in 2019, in New Orleans — many of the students on the verge of graduating into a precarious (if not outright apocalyptic) future to come. Near the end of the semester, we took a detour and discussed Hua Hsu’s New Yorker article about “affect theory” and the work of Lauren Berlant. The article was also a review of Berlant and Kathleen Stewart’s book The Hundreds, a collaborative text that demonstrates affect theory, in short sections of 100 words, or multiples of hundreds. It’s an experiment in constraint.
An estimated 23 million people in Britain now use electric toothbrushes. Their rise is partly driven by our – somewhat belated – national realisation that oral health is important, and by the fact that we have more disposable income than we did a generation ago.
But it is also a story about the rise of an industry; about a struggle between market pressures and medical requirements; about the blurry line between research and public relations. And, in the end, about whether spending the cost of a weekend away on an ergonomically designed, ultrasonic, matte-black thing which looks like a defunct lightsaber will actually do more good than a £1.50 manual toothbrush from the supermarket. Is the electric toothbrush just a marvel of modern marketing or does it deserve plaudits for achieving what frustrated dentists (and parents) have struggled to do: getting us to spend a little more time brushing our teeth?
As I sat in the bar, I realized why I kept returning. It was the sense of community, which had been missing since I separated. More than I wanted a new partner, I wanted to connect. And because my shared parenting schedule involved five-night stretches without my daughter, I had to find ways to cure the loneliness, even if it was drinking at a comedy bar with a bunch of maladjusted guys young enough to be my sons.
“You are hereby warned,” Ralph Ellison wrote to his friend Albert Murray in 1951, “that I have dropped the shuck.” After years of struggle and doubt, Ellison had finished “Invisible Man,” his epic of midcentury African-American life. The novel would win the National Book Award. His life was about to change.
An essential new book, “The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison,” presents this writer in all his candor, seriousness, outrage and wit. Nearly all of these letters are previously unpublished. What brings them alive is that while they brood on the largest of issues — identity, alienation, the political responsibilities of the artist — they’re earthy and squirming with all the vital things of everyday experience.
What did these women have in common? Not prostitution, as Rubenhold shows (only two of them appear to have been paid for sex). In the end, it comes down to this: they were destitute, largely invisible and, at the time of their deaths, probably asleep. Alan Moore called his graphic novel about the Ripper From Hell. But if these women died in such a place, they had already long lived in it. As Rubenhold writes of Annie’s end: “What her murderer claimed on that night was simply all that remained of what the drink had left behind.” Did the misapprehension of the police over the status of these women pervert the inquiry into their deaths? The answer to this question is almost certainly yes, just as it did a century later when Peter Sutcliffe was murdering women in Yorkshire. Then, as in Victorian times, a prostitute was all too often deemed to be a woman who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.