MR Notes

Welcome to the Mass Review Blog, please feel free to read, comment, and share the content posted here. You can Contact Us if you have any questions. Enjoy!

Rethinking the Future of the University Quarterly

Date: 02/25/2015
Blogger:
Emily Wojcik

Last week, Inside Higher Ed published an essay on “The Future of the University Quarterly.” In it, Joanne Diaz and Ian Morris (both editors themselves at university literary magazines), pointed to the perilous future that such journals face, and fretted that their demise in an age of university “cost-benefit analyses” seems near-certain. A penchant for “staid formats and ossified editorial philosophies” is made worse by the “moral hazard embedded in the university-supported model,” wherein there’s no incentive to pursue the “less glamorous business of chasing subscriptions and single copy sales.” As a result, claim these authors, university quarterlies are operating on an endangered paradigm of subsidization that guarantees their obsolescence, particularly compared to alternative models embraced by leading independent magazines like ...

God as an Idea (Part Four)

Date: 02/07/2015
Blogger:
Ilan Stavans and Justin David

A Teacher and a Rabbi in Conversation

(Link to Part One)
(Link to Part Two)
(Link to Part Three)

Ilan Stavans: I became a teacher by default, Justin. I wanted to be next to books. What better way to spend one’s life is there? Almost three decades after that decision, I believe it was teaching that chose me and not the other way around. I can’t think of myself being—e.g., doing—anything better. What made you become a rabbi?

Rabbi Justin David: For the exact same reason. I’m being facetious, but not...

A Hero Returns to Belgrade

Date: 02/05/2015
Blogger:
Pedja Jurišić

In Joshua Oppenheimer’s masterful film, The Act of Killing, perpetrators are invited to re-imagine their role in Indonesian anti-communist massacres in the mid-1960s. The killers, having fashioned themselves after gangsters from American films, are eager to relive the glory years. Speaking freely about their crimes, they reenact the killings before the cameras, acting out their roles as executioners and writing scenes in which victims thank the killers for sending them to heaven. This is no reckoning with the difficult past, but the celebration of a bloody triumph.   

The force and horror of such a project is, of course, only possible within a broader moral framework, a national ideology and culture of impunity, which fails to condemn some five hundred thousand murders that took place and instead exalts those responsible. Anwar Congo and the other...

God as an Idea (Part Three)

Date: 02/03/2015
Blogger:
Ilan Stavans and Justin David

A Teacher and a Rabbi in Conversation

(Link to Part One)
(Link to Part Two)
(Link to Part Four)

Ilan Stavans: You read the biblical stories, it seems to me, to prove a higher morality; I, instead, see them as just stories. They are like Greek mythology: a constellation of characters doing human things in order to entertain us. God is part of that constellation, both in the Bible and in Greek mythology. He is a character with human characteristics: compassionate at times, irascible in others, and always verging on the inscrutable, like the rest...

God as an Idea (Part Two)

Date: 01/29/2015
Blogger:
Ilan Stavans and Justin David

A Teacher and a Rabbi in Conversation

(Link to Part One)
(Link to Part Three)

Ilan Stavans: I’ve often been asked if I believe in God. You know, Justin, I confess to keep changing my mind, not because I don’t believe in God—do I, really?—but because I like counting the various options my mind is able to come up with.

Rabbi Justin David: I don’t like the English construction “believing in God”; I find it either infantile or contradictory. If you say “I don’t believe in God,” you’re already acknowledging God as an idea worth thinking about. In Judaism, that constitutes the first step, so even professed “non-believers” believe. But the real reason I dislike the phrase is that it turns the spiritual life into a game of make believe, as if “...

The Freedom to Dissent

Date: 01/28/2015
Blogger:
Erri De Luca

Editor’s Note: Three weeks after the recent events in Paris, as an article in yesterday’s Guardian points out, it’s hard not to make comparisons. Tana de Zulueta, a former member of parliament in Italy and a board member of Articolo 21, an Italian NGO supporting press freedoms, comments, “After the massacre at Charlie Hebdo and the march in Paris which was supposed to display international solidarity over the right of free expression, a court in Turin is about to test the limits of free speech in Italy.”

In Turin this morning a trial began, with one of Italy’s best-known writers, Erri De Luca, in the...

God as an Idea (Part One)

Date: 01/27/2015
Blogger:
Ilan Stavans and Justin David

A Teacher and a Rabbi in Conversation

(Link to Part Two)

Rabbi Justin David: In Paradise Lost (1667), John Milton says that “the mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, and a hell from heaven.” I want to talk to you about a number of perhaps disparate themes: God’s place in the human mind, about living a dignified life, about how religion is perceived in the secular world, about finding meaning in what we do. Perhaps Milton’s quote is a fitting place to start, a kind of home.

In college, Paradise Lost was the first text I really sweated over, waking up early to read it, reading it over multiple times in the process of studying it, and figuring out how to write about it. It was my introduction to what may be called a midrashic way of thinking. The quote is itself a window onto the enterprise of divining meaning through...

from The Crime of a Soldier

Date: 01/26/2015
Blogger:
Erri De Luca

Editor's note: Tuesday, January 27, 2015 marks seventy years since the liberation of Auschwitz. In a recent novel, the Italian writer Erri De Luca reflects on his visit to the camp during the '90s.
 

My Yiddish came from obstinacy. I first wanted to learn it after returning from the ceremonies marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Warsaw uprising: April 1943, April 1993. At age forty-three I took some vacation time from my job at a construction site and went to Warsaw.

Reading I’d done as a boy had left some sort of map imprinted under my skin. I knew the layout of the ghetto, where the Germans piled together more than four hundred thousand lives. Wohnung bezirk, or “housing district”—that’s what they called the stockyard for bodies awaiting the shredder. The dispatch of armored trains to extermination camps they called an Aussiedlung, a “transfer.” Passing off fake vocabulary for cover. It’s...

Tous Charlie? Pas Tout à Fait

Date: 01/15/2015
Blogger:
Jim Hicks

Yesterday morning Charlie Hebdo hit the newstands in France and sold out within minutes. The cover of this “survival issue”—the newspaper’s first since two armed gunmen slaughtered eight of its journalists, killing four others as well at its Paris offices—appeared with the title, “All is pardoned,” and featured a caricature of Muhammed wearing an “I am Charlie” sign. The image, drawn by Renald Luzier (“Luz”), a staff cartoonist who simply happened to be late to work on Thursday, was true to form in its decision to violate Islamic strictures against representing the prophet.

   (Luz at the march in Paris, 10 January 2015)

Their editorial...

Not Their Hands

Date: 01/08/2015
Blogger:
Erri De Luca

To die with a pencil in your hand, a box of colors, as you sketch a pratfall for some tyrant or other, using the unrivaled instrument of the smile. From the page before them they must have raised their eyes toward the hooded assassins—the ones who didn’t dare show their faces. They raised their eyes, not their hands. Today once again we learn with fierce precision that irony is the greatest enemy of fanaticism. I come from the land of raspberries, so I hold back wrath and tears, put tongue and lips together, and trumpet forth a sound fit for anyone who believes irony can be killed.

Slaughter doesn’t limit itself to threatening the freedom of critics. Its aim is to injure freedom itself, taken as immoral by the assassins. Europe was born against fascisms, out of tyrannies and their wars of conquest. For the Parisian assassins, the citizens of Europe will be the toughest nut to crack. 

Erri De Luca is an Italian novelist,...