Edward Mendelson is Lionel Trilling Professor in the Humanities at Columbia. His latest book is Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers. (December 2016)

IN THE REVIEW

The Genius and Generosity of Jimmy Merrill

James Merrill, Stonington, Connecticut, June 1973; photograph by Jill Krementz

James Merrill: Life and Art

by Langdon Hammer
James Merrill began his public career as a poet at twenty-five, four years after he graduated from Amherst, with the exquisitely crafted, tautly controlled lyrics in his First Poems (1951). His style gradually relaxed over the next twenty-five years, but he remained committed to his early elegance and virtuosity. Then, …

In the Depths of the Digital Age

Attendees of the Qingdao International Beer Festival taking a selfie with a smartphone, Shandong province, China, August 2015

Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism

by Judy Wajcman

Exposed: Desire and Disobedience in the Digital Age

by Bernard E. Harcourt
Virginia Woolf’s serious joke that “on or about December 1910 human character changed” was a hundred years premature. Human character changed on or about December 2010, when everyone, it seemed, started carrying a smartphone. For the first time, practically anyone could be found and intruded upon, not only at some fixed address at home or at work, but everywhere and at all times. Before this, everyone could expect, in the ordinary course of the day, some time at least in which to be left alone, unobserved, unsustained and unburdened by public or familial roles. That era now came to an end.

A Different T.S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot, 1956; photograph by Cecil Beaton from Mark Holborn’s book Beaton: Photographs, just published by Abrams with an introduction by Annie Leibovitz

Young Eliot: From St. Louis to The Waste Land

by Robert Crawford

The Poems of T.S. Eliot, Volume I: Collected and Uncollected Poems

edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue
Robert Crawford’s Young Eliot, the first volume of a two-part biography, and The Poems of T.S. Eliot, edited and massively annotated by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue, make it possible to see more deeply than before into Eliot’s inner life, to perceive its order and complexity in new ways, and to recognize that his detractors and his defenders were responding to attitudes that Eliot condemned in himself and to beliefs that his poems simultaneously expressed and rebuked.

NYR DAILY

Obama as Literary Critic

Barack Obama at Occidental College, 1981

In a letter to his college girlfriend, Barack Obama writes with strikingly suggestive insight into Eliot’s literary and religious tradition and his special relation to it. Instead of isolating Eliot in some social, ethnic, or sexual category, instead of hearing in him the voice of political or ideological error, Obama finds a deep ambivalence that might be felt by anyone.

Escape from Microsoft Word

When I work in Word, for all its dazzling prowess, I can’t escape a faint sense of having entered a closed, rule-bound society. When I write in WordPerfect, with all its scruffy, low-tech simplicity, the world seems more open, a place where endings can’t be predicted, where freedom might be real.

Pynchon’s Mrs. Dalloway

Reading the first pages of Thomas Pynchon’s new novel, Bleeding Edge, with its story of a shrewd but otherwise unexceptional woman trying to untangle a vast unsolvable mystery, I remembered the excitement I felt when I first read his earlier novel on the same theme, The Crying of Lot 49. As I thought about The Crying of Lot 49, I belatedly realized that it tells a story very much like the one told by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. In tone, setting, character, and incident, Mrs. Dalloway is a world away from The Crying of Lot 49, but both books have the same overall shape and both describe a lonely and reluctant quest for meanings that can never be obvious. There are greater books, but none that move me in the same way.

Faith and Works at Apple

Apple CEO Steve Jobs during a speech, San Francisco, California, June 28, 2004

As everyone knows, the world-religion of the educated and prosperous in the twenty-first century is Apple, with its Vatican in Cupertino and its cathedrals in the light-filled Apple Stores that draw pilgrims gripping iPhones and iPads like rosaries. Apple’s flock is secured against heresy by censors who rule the online App Store; only applications with Apple’s imprimatur are allowed on an iPhone. Programmers risk excommunication—with all their works condemned to being listed in an Index of Prohibited Software—if they violate canon law by bypassing Apple’s banking system or ignoring its infallible doctrine. Rebellious heretics can “jailbreak” an iPhone and induce it to accept software anathematized by Apple, but a heretic’s phone is refused communion when presented for repair at the Apple Store.