Elaine Blair is a regular contributor to The New York Review. (February 2019)

IN THE REVIEW

Men’s Lib

On Henry Miller: Or, How to Be an Anarchist

by John Burnside
Henry Miller believed in amorality when it came to sex. For him, “sexual morality” could only mean the prudery and hypocrisy and zealous oversight of his elders, which he hated. Nothing could be more foreign to Miller’s narrator than to have regret or misgivings about a sexual encounter based on a woman’s response or her circumstances. He did not see the subordination of women as one of his society’s many cruelties and stupidities.

Fathers & Daughters

Louis C.K. as Louie and Ursula Parker and Hadley Delany as his daughters Jane and Lilly in season 5 of Louie, 2015

Louie

a television series created by Louis C.K.

2017

a stand-up comedy special created by Louis C.K. for Netflix
When he started releasing hour-long comedy specials ten years ago, Louis C.K.’s material was long on kids, marriage, men and women, and getting older and fatter. These subjects are still a big part of his acts, especially in Louie, but he’s gotten even more traction with observations about our national mood disorder: the irritable, selfish public behavior and private melancholy of Americans in the smartphone age (or sometimes, more specifically, affluent white Americans). He’s most effective when he uses himself as representative American jerk and melancholic.

Robert B. Silvers (1929–2017)

Robert B. Silvers in his office at The New York Review of Books, early 1980s
From its first issue in 1963, Robert Silvers was either co-editor with Barbara Epstein or, after her death in 2006, editor of The New York Review. Bob worked almost to the very end of his life, which would be no surprise to those who knew him well, including those who have written these brief memoirs.

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Love Objects

Rooney Mara as Catherine in Spike Jonze's film Her

Spike Jonze’s film Her is a story about machines and humans and human-like machines. Skin is important. The unnatural appearance of Catherine, the soon-to-be ex-wife of the hero, makes her seem something other than a flesh-bound fellow human with Theodore.

Single Women and the Sitcom

Mindy Kaling, right, creator and star of The Mindy Project

Because of the conditions of their production, sitcoms tend to have something in common with life itself: no one knows in advance when they’re going to end. The full arc of a TV series is not usually mapped out in advance, the show is subject to abrupt cancellation, and there is no artistic consensus on how to handle its conclusion even when writers know that the end is coming; a television series might have an elaborate finale or simply finish out a given season without fanfare. All this gives most sitcoms a certain sense of indeterminacy—we’re bound for no obvious destination—that also applies to the characters’ relationships. As long as each episode has its own tidy, reassuring little ending, audiences tolerate a great deal of open-endedness when it comes to the hero or heroine’s romantic life.

Great American Losers

The man who feels himself unloved and unlovable—this is a character that we know well from the latest generation or two of American novels. His trials are often played for sympathetic laughs. His loserdom is total: it extends to his stunted career, his squalid living quarters, his deep unease in the world. The loser’s worst—that is to say, most important—problems are with women. His relationships are either unrequited or, at best, doomed. He is the opposite of entitled: he approaches women cringingly, bracing for a slap.

Post-Soviet Pastoral

St. Petersburg, 2008

You often hear the Putin era described as one of exhaustion and resignation on the part of the Russian electorate. Robin Hessman’s documentary My Perestroika, about the fall of the Soviet Empire as recalled by three men and two women now in their forties, fairly pulses with depressed resignation—pulses weakly, of course, resignation not being much of a stimulant. The film, which follows the five Muscovites as they go to work, feed their children, watch TV, and mull over their memories of the late eighties and early nineties, culminates on the day of a presidential election: it is May 2008 and Dmitri Medvedev, Putin’s handpicked successor, is about to be elected president. None of the interviewees is in suspense about who will win, none of them believes it is a fair election, none of them, as far as we can tell, votes for Medvedev, and at least two of them don’t vote at all.

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