Wyatt Mason is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and a Writer in Residence at Bard, where he is a Senior Fellow of the Hannah Arendt Center. 

(July 2018)


Imagining the Real

Jacques Derrida (center) and Bernard-Henri Lévi at the Sorbonne, 1979

The Seventh Function of Language

by Laurent Binet, translated from the French by Sam Taylor

La vie professionelle de Laurent B.

by Laurent Binet
The idea that certain words in a certain order can alter the balance of political power is central to the French writer Laurent Binet’s most recent novel, The Seventh Function of Language. Its title refers to a document by that name whose instructions, when read and comprehended and internalized, grant its reader the power to persuade anyone of anything. For a politician whose work as a candidate is vested in the production of language that would convince voters of its speaker’s integrity—language that, history teaches, routinely describes a person who does not exist in life and will not serve in office—such a capacity would be worth killing to obtain.

Violence and Creativity

Pierre Michon in the village of Châtelus-le-Marcheix, central France, 2009

Small Lives

by Pierre Michon, translated from the French by Jody Gladding and Elizabeth Deshays

Rimbaud the Son

by Pierre Michon, translated from the French by Jody Gladding and Elizabeth Deshays
“So,” Michon began, “you’re an acceptable translator. Actually, no. You’re fine. But Vies minuscules is an exceptional text. It needs an exceptional translator. Understand?” His face was gray, grim. I made a few sounds that attempted to communicate that I didn’t understand; that we had worked together for years; that I wasn’t clear what had changed; that I’d done the same work I’d done in the past and arrived with, I thought, the same kinds of questions but— “But you haven’t even deciphered the text,” Michon said, loudly, pounding the table now with the fist that held the knife. The voices of the lunchtime crowd dimmed as the restaurant registered the disturbance. “You haven’t even deciphered it.”

The Big Beat

Maylis de Kerangal, Marseille, October 2010

The Heart

by Maylis de Kerangal, translated from the French by Sam Taylor
Since the appearance of the first volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s autobiographical narrative My Struggle, the subject of authenticity in literary enterprise has once again lurched out of its crypt to spook us to attention. This critical discussion—which bears on Maylis de Kerangal’s new novel The Heart—dates to Plato and …

To Be a Muslim in the West

Laila Lalami at Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico, July 2010, during research for her novel The Moor’s Account

The Moor’s Account

by Laila Lalami
Shortly after the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, an essay by the Moroccan-born writer Laila Lalami appeared in The New York Times Magazine. In “My Life as a Muslim in the West’s ‘Gray Zone,’” Lalami, whose Ph.D. is in linguistics and who regularly produces opinion pieces, criticism, …

Make This Not True

George Saunders, Oneonta, New York, November 2012

Tenth of December

by George Saunders
Late in Jonathan Franzen’s recent, fourth novel, Freedom, Patty Berglund, six years estranged from her husband Walter after her affair with Walter’s best friend, takes an unusual path to reconciliation. On a wintry October night, Patty arrives unannounced from her home in Brooklyn at Walter’s distant, frozen, monastic, northern Minnesota …

Smarter than You Think

David Foster Wallace, Syracuse, New York, 1995

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace

by David Lipsky
More than any writer in his generation, David Foster Wallace dedicated himself to the question of how to make what he called “morally passionate, passionately moral fiction” that was also “ingenious and radiantly human.” That dedication may be seen in the boldness of his answers, the dozens of daring formal solutions that sought new and—for those with the patience to take them on their terms—revelatory ways of reframing the question with which fiction is always preoccupied: how to be in the world.

Uncovering Céline

Louis-Ferdinand Céline with his dogs, Meudon, France, circa 1955

Bagatelles pour un massacre [Trifles for a Massacre]

by Louis-Ferdinand Céline

L'École des cadavres [The School of Corpses]

by Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Louis-Ferdinand Destouches met Cillie Pam in Paris, at the Café de la Paix, in September 1932. Destouches was a physician who worked at a public clinic in Clichy treating poor and working-class patients; Pam was a twenty-seven-year-old Viennese gymnastics instructor eleven years his junior on a visit to the city.


Groping in the Digital Dark

A young Jean-Yves in Michel Gondry’s Thorn of the Heart

In early September of 1909, while on vacation in northern Italy, Franz Kafka attended an airshow in Brescia. It was the first time he had seen airplanes in flight. In an essay, “The Aeroplanes at Brescia,” he calls them “the machines.” When Louis Blériot—who had just become the first human to fly across the English Channel—takes his machine up into the Italian air, Kafka reports that, “Everyone gazes up at him enraptured, in no one’s heart is there room for anyone else.” Because this is, after all, Kafka, let’s call this the “Parable of the Machine”: as it enraptures, technology leaves us more alone.

I have been thinking of this parable in relation to the pace at which the film industry is loosing 3-D movies upon us.