Robert Pogue Harrison is Rosina Pierotti Professor in ­Italian Literature at Stanford. His most recent book is Juvenescence: A Cultural History of Our Age.
 (October 2015)

The Ultimate Reader

Alberto Manguel in his library near Châtellerault, in southwest France, 2007
When he was sixteen Alberto Manguel met the nearly blind Jorge Luis Borges in the Pygmalion Anglo-German bookshop in Buenos Aires and, from 1964 to 1968, read aloud to him on a weekly basis. The encounter now seems to have been destined, for if there’s anyone alive today who is …

Dante on Trial

Dante recognizing his former teacher Brunetto Latini among the damned; engraving by Gustave Doré for Canto 15 of Dante’s Inferno
When the Black Guelfs seized power in Florence in November 1301 through a coup d’état backed by Pope Boniface VIII, their first order of business was to liquidate their political enemies among the White Guelfs.1 Dante Alighieri, who was away on a diplomatic mission at the time, was one …

Our Animal Hell

Francisco de Zurbarán: Agnus Dei, 1635-1640

We like to think of ourselves as the stewards or even saviors of nature, yet the fact of the matter is that, for the animal world at large, the human race represents nothing less than a natural disaster. This applies to all creatures, from those that we allow to roam “wild” in designated nature preserves to those we cram together on our chicken farms.

The Children of Silicon Valley

A scene from Mike Judge's HBO series Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley does not change the world as much as it changes my way of being in it, or better, of not being in it. It changes the way I think, the way I emote, and the way I interact with others. It corrodes the worldly core of my humanity, leaving me increasingly worldless. Thoreau wrote: “Be it life or death, we crave only reality.” If only that were unconditionally true.

Dante: The Most Vivid Version

Domenico di Michelino: Dante Reading from the ‘Divine Comedy,’ 1465
The mystery of Dante’s Divine Comedy has little to do with the encoded games of hide-and-seek that Dan Brown plays with readers in his best-selling mystery thriller. It has to do instead with the poem’s staying power. How is it possible—after so many centuries of manhandling by commentators, translators, and imitators, after so much use and abuse, selling and soliciting—that the Comedy still has not finished saying what it has to say, giving what it has to give, or withholding what it has to withhold? What is the source of its boundless generosity?

A New Kind of Woman

In a letter to James Freeman Clarke in 1833 Margaret Fuller declared, “All biographies…make me sick at heart and make it hard to realize that there is a Heaven.” Our age shows no such distaste. We clamor for biographies, believing that the lives of our thinkers, statesmen, artists, and scientists …

America: The Struggle to Be Reborn

View of the New Mexico desert through the aperture of Charles Ross’s earthwork Star Axis; from the monograph Charles Ross: The Substance of Light, which covers four decades of his work. It includes essays by Thomas McEvilley and Klaus Ottmann, as well as an interview with Ross by Loïc Malle, and has just been published by Radius Books.
The title of Mark Fiege’s book, The Republic of Nature, seems puzzling. Republics are a form of government in which sovereignty lies with citizens who come together in the public sphere to engage in self-governance through their exercise of free speech and political action. Like virtually every other form of …

The Book From Which Our Literature Springs

Engraving of Adam and Eve from the King James Bible, 1611; the illustration appears in Helen Moore and Julian Reid’s Manifold Greatness: The Making of the King James Bible
Although it left in its wake a number of excellent books, the fourth centennial of the publication of the King James Bible, or KJB, came and went without any of the high-profile public readings and fanfare that marked the three-hundredth anniversary in 1911. A substantial majority of Americans may still …

The Faith of Harold Bloom

Harold Bloom, New York City, 1994
In a recent lecture, Harold Bloom declared to a group of freshmen that he and Lear were the same age. Lear is indeed eighty years “and upward,” and when one pictures Bloom lecturing on King Lear to undergraduates it is hard not to think of the last lines of that …

Saved by the Vision of Beatrice

Agnolo Bronzino: Allegorical Portrait of Dante Alighieri, 1532–1533; from the Palazzo Strozzi’s recent exhibition ‘Bronzino: Artist and Poet at the Court of the Medici,’ reviewed by Ingrid D. Rowland on pages 8–10 of this issue
Around 1293, nine years before he was exiled from Florence by one of the city’s warring factions, and some fourteen years before he embarked on his Divine Comedy, Dante collected a number of his early love poems together and told a story—in prose—of how they came into being. Most of …

The Magic of Leopardi

Giacomo Leopardi; drawing by Tullio Pericoli
Giacomo Leopardi (1798–1837) suffered from many ailments during his unhappy life—asthma, scoliosis, ophthalmia, constipation, dropsy, and spleen, to mention a few—yet insomnia is the one most closely associated with his genius. While everyone else in his provincial hometown of Recanati slept, Leopardi stayed awake reading, writing, translating, or moon-dreaming. As …

Emerson: The Good Hours

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson sought “to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he,” hence it is unlikely that he frets in his grave over the fact that academic philosophers still do not know what to make of him. Philosophy obsesses …

A Great Conservationist, by Jingo

Theodore Roosevelt at Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, 1903
If there is any merit to Giambattista Vico’s claim in The New Science (1744) that human societies naturally pass through an age of gods, an age of heroes, and an age of men, then it’s safe to say that today we are in the third of those ages. One of …

The Ecstasy of John Muir

John Muir at the Merced River, with the Royal Arches and the Washington Column in the background, Yosemite National Park, California, circa 1909
In the West we conceive of tragedy as involving catastrophic downfall. That is one reason why Al Gore has had such astonishing success in drawing our attention to global warming, a development that, if some of his scenarios come true, will provoke a cataclysmic series of events that our civilization …