The first time I read “Elective Affinities” was in college, when it appeared on the syllabus of a class that I swiftly dropped. The teacher pronounced “Goethe” with enthusiastic violence, making it sound like a noise someone would make when using the toilet. I read the book on my own time and strip-mined it for insights on marriage, fashion and virtue. (“Human beings reveal their character most clearly by what they find ridiculous.”)
It wasn’t until revisiting the book five years later that I saw what I had missed — and, contrarily, probably missed a lot of what I’d understood the first time. The novel is about an aristocratic married couple, Charlotte and Eduard, who fall in love with other people. They work through their rift by exchanging stiff philosophical dialogues about fate, domesticity, nature, freedom, transgression — you know, all the fun stuff. Aphorisms everywhere.
There’s a piece in The American Scholar in which Alberto Manguel describes Goethe as never merely narrating, but always injecting theories into his prose, with those theories permeating each section “like the smell of fried onions.” It remains the only novel I’ve read that feels like the work of a scientist (author) guiding lab rats (characters) through a maze (plot). It was published in 1809 to widespread bafflement.
Wind, Of Course, Goethe and Shame Our critic recommends old and new books.
You also host the podcast in your own home. Does that help people feel more comfortable?
The weird coziness creates a very different environment. I can tell when someone’s in an “I’m in public” mind-set, and it’s a little easier to get them off that when we’re sitting in my garage.
Then why do you do it?
The one thing that I never expected from doing the podcast — as a sort of self-centered person — was how much of an impact it would have on other people’s lives, and I honor that. We’re all designed to carry the burdens of others fairly easily, and it’s something we all avoid at all costs, and it’s really kind of tragic.
Marc Maron Is Coming Around to Being Famous
Ana Marie Cox
The two got drive-through tests at Austin Emergency Center in Austin. …
The emergency room charged Mr. Harvey $199 in cash. Ms. LeBlanc, who paid with insurance, was charged $6,408.
“I assumed, like an idiot, it would be cheaper to use my insurance than pay cash right there,” Ms. LeBlanc said. “This is 32 times the cost of what my friend paid for the exact same thing.”
Ms. LeBlanc’s health insurer negotiated the total bill down to $1,128. The plan said she was responsible for $928 of that.
Two Friends in Texas Were Tested for Coronavirus. One Bill Was $199. The Other? $6,408.
It’s an example of the unpredictable way health prices can vary for patients who receive identical care.
In the 1970s, the cultural critic Lionel Trilling encouraged us to take seriously the distinction between sincerity and authenticity. Sincerity, he said, requires us to act and really be the way that we present ourselves to others. Authenticity involves finding and expressing the true inner self and judging all relationships in terms of it.
Authenticity now dominates our way of viewing ourselves and our relationships, with baleful consequences. Within sensitive individuals it breeds doubt; between people it promotes distrust; within groups it enhances group-think in the endless quest to be one with the group’s true soul; and between groups it is the inner source of identity politics.
It also undermines good government. James Nolan, in his book “The Therapeutic State,” has shown how the emphasis on the primacy of the self has penetrated major areas of government: emotivist arguments trump reasoned discourse in Congressional hearings and criminal justice; and in public education, self-esteem vies with basic literacy in evaluating students. The cult of authenticity partly accounts for our poor choice of leaders. We prefer leaders who feel our pain, or born-again frat boys who claim that they can stare into the empty eyes of an ex-K.G.B. agent and see inside his soul.
Our Overrated Inner Self
Orlando Patterson, Dec. 26, 2006
Claire Manship belted songs out the window. Ketaki Chowkhani began barking at a stray puppy. Blake Mitchell performed in drag.
As millions of people grapple with isolation in a pandemic, those who live alone face a particular kind of solitude.
More people live alone now than at any other time in history, a seismic shift from even a half-century ago, and one fueled largely by women’s economic rise.
Being alone and being lonely are not the same thing, of course, and many people who live by themselves spend little time alone.
Until, perhaps, a pandemic hits.
Weeks or months into the stay-at-home orders worldwide, we wanted to know how solo dwellers were faring. What were they doing to keep themselves occupied? What did they most long for? What did they feel liberated to live without?
More than 2,000 readers shared their stories and their photos. Here are some of them.
Jessica Bennett, Daniel Jones and Anya Strzemien
It’s a relief or a nightmare, irritating and liberating, and already, for many, interminable. This is living alone in a pandemic.
Bibliophiles do not approach bookshelves lightly. A stranger’s collection is to us a window to their soul. We peruse with judgment, sometimes admiration and occasionally repulsion (Ayn Rand?!). With celebrities now frequently speaking on television in front of their home libraries, a voyeuristic pleasure presents itself: Are they actually really like us?
Gal Beckerman, NYTIMES
From the comments:
My brother-in-law once found a complete set of the works of Anthony Trollope in excellent condition.
The price seemed a little high, so he declined. The next day, he changed his mind and returned, only to find that the collection had been purchased by a lady who needed “Three yards of red books.”
“One of the keys to becoming more resilient is to practice compassion both toward ourselves as well as toward others,” Ms. Marston said. “One of the keys to doing so is to interrupt recurring cycles of negative inner dialogue.”
When we find ourselves cycling through negative thoughts that don’t go anywhere, it’s important to take a step back to disrupt the cycle of anxiety, Ms. Marston said. “This can include stopping and focusing on our breath rather than on our thoughts, changing our physical environment to help create distance from our initial mental space, or having a conversation with someone we trust to get a fresh perspective.
Dr. Sarah Kate McGowan, an assistant clinical professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, suggested coming up with coping statements to help you get through dark moments. This might be something like, “I can take this one day at a time” or “This is frightening, and I can handle it.” You can even write these statements on index cards to refer to when you find yourself back in the negativity loop, she said.”
Kristin Wong, NY TIMES
How to Stay Optimistic When Everything Seems Wrong
In L. A. Unified, over 80% of our students live in poverty. We serve three meals a day and provide health care in our clinics and wellness centers. We offer a safe and welcoming space for nearly 20,000 students experiencing homelessness.
Mr. Newsom campaigned on a promise to usher in reforms that would lead to the construction of 3.5 million housing units by 2025. That output would be more than quadruple the current rate, and the governor has started referring to it as a “stretch goal.”
California is not only well behind that pace, but the number of housing permits has actually turned downward — hovering around 100,000 units in 2019 — despite a strong economy and a median home value, $556,000, that is more than twice the national figure.
It is hard to overstate the threat posed to the state’s economy and prosperity. Housing costs are the primary reason that California’s poverty rate, 18.2 percent, is the highest of any state when adjusted for its cost of living, despite a thriving economy that has led to strong income growth and record-low unemployment.
California, Mired in a Housing Crisis, Rejects an Effort to Ease It
A lawmaker’s push for denser development near transit, overriding local zoning, was thwarted by a diverse group of legislative foes.
Conor Dougherty, NYTIMES
An old monk on Mount Athos in Greece once told me that people rejoice in the thought of hell to the precise degree that they harbor hell within themselves. By which he meant, I believe, that heaven and hell alike are both within us all, in varying degrees, and that, for some, the idea of hell is the treasury of their most secret, most cherished hopes — the hope of being proved right when so many were wrong, of being admired when so many are despised, of being envied when so many have been scorned.
And as Jesus said (Matthew 6:21), “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
David Bentley Hart, NY Times