The Moral Foulness of the Age, and Other News


On the Shelf


A 1799 cartoon by Gillray: an obese, gouty man drinking punch with two companions.

  • Our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, writes with Bernard Haykel on jihadi poetry: “Analysts have generally ignored these texts, as if poetry were a colorful but ultimately distracting by-product of jihad. But … it is impossible to understand jihadism—its objectives, its appeal for new recruits, and its durability—without examining its culture. This culture finds expression in a number of forms, including anthems and documentary videos, but poetry is its heart. And, unlike the videos of beheadings and burnings, which are made primarily for foreign consumption, poetry provides a window onto the movement talking to itself. It is in verse that militants most clearly articulate the fantasy life of jihad.”
  • And Garth Greenwell—whose story “Gospodar” appeared in our Summer 2014 issue—on Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life as the definitive gay novel of our times: “Just as Yanagihara’s characters challenge conventional categories of gay identity, so A Little Life avoids the familiar narratives of gay fiction. Yanagihara approaches the collective traumas that have so deeply shaped modern gay identity—sickness and discrimination—obliquely, avoiding the conventions of the coming-out narrative or the AIDS novel … But queer suffering is at the heart of A Little Life.”
  • Writing on the Internet is full of hostility, melodrama, and blind ego-mongering, but there’s an easy way to fix that: by adopting the voice of a Jane Austen character. “You can make your contribution to a better, more Austenesque world in every email, letter, tweet, update, blog post that you write.”
  • Copulation, excretion, fungus growing from a dunghill: you’ll find all these and more in the work of the eighteenth-century caricaturist James Gillray, whose work was so prickly that “a history of caricature published in 1904 suggested his pictures came from an unclean and unbalanced mind and symbolized ‘the moral foulness of the age.’ ”
  • In 1945, before Chester Himes found fame for his detective novels, he published If He Hollers Let Him Go, which in its “sheer dark rage” is an exemplar of a genre that hadn’t really been invented yet: “Even by the conventions of noir literature, it is Himes’s debut novel that was, inadvertently, truest to the form.”