Your Brain on Beauty: A Neurological Defense of Aestheticism

Cody Delistraty

For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm. There are not many such books. All the rest is either topical trash or what some call the Literature of Ideas, which very often is topical trash coming in huge blocks of plaster that are carefully transmitted from age to age until somebody comes along with a hammer and takes a good crack at Balzac, at Gorki, at Mann.

Vladimir Nabokov, responding to widespread criticisms that Lolita was not only immoral but also void of theme and deeper meaning

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Once Upon a Time

The Oldest Vocation

In 1955, right out of college, I found one of those jobs in publishing so dear to history and English majors who could afford them. We were paid almost nothing, which was considered OK for girls, at least if they had parents who could give them a winter coat for Christmas and bail them out in an emergency. Health insurance wasn’t necessary in those days, when a visit to the doctor or a prescription for an antibiotic cost very little. If you shared space, you could even rent an apartment in Manhattan; with three roommates, I lived near Second Avenue in the80s. We had a duplex two-bedroom apartment in a funky old house with a lot of charm – and a lot of cockroaches, but who cared? Right above the bathtub on the second floor there was a skylight that offered dirty and difficult access to the roof. We…

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On Manliness and Joan Didion

Letters to the Catholic Right

image [Manliness is having a moment right now. So is Joan Didion. Let’s see if we can bring the two together.]

I.

First, a parable for manliness in the 21st Century: My daughter, who is four, came with me to the ranch this week. My wife, who stayed home, sent her off looking cute in boots and cowgirl hat over a pair of pigtail braids. image While I worked, my daughter followed behind me, chopping the ends off of cedar branches with a miniature set of clippers and throwing the pieces onto the brush piles I was building. Then she helped me find firewood, and then we roasted hot dogs and made s’mores and shared stories and jokes until bedtime.

The next morning in the ranch house, as I was helping get her dressed, I started to pull her hair into a ponytail. “No,” she said, “I want a braid.” I started…

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Love’s Oven is Warm: Baking with Emily Dickinson

The Not So Innocents Abroad

“Love’s oven is warm” Emily Dickinson wrote to her friend Sarah Tuckerman, on a note that enclosed a gift of slightly scorched handmade sweets, possibly chocolate caramels. If the words were by any other author, one would be forgiven for reading in them a possible sexual double entendre. But Emily Dickinson is enshrined in our memory as the ultimate virgin, the “Queen Recluse” as her friend, the editor Samuel Bowles, described the poet. Dressed always in white, she rarely left her house for thirty years, spending her days tucked away in an upstairs room, writing nearly two thousand poems that few people knew existed until well after her death.

Of course, scholars and fans have long made a cottage industry of identifying Dickinson’s secret failed love affairs: the broken engagement to her brother Austin’s Amherst classmate George Gould; the impossible love for the married Samuel Bowles; the late-life affair with her father’s friend, Judge Otis Phillips…

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