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Jeff McMahon

Review: A Self Made of Words

A Self Made of Words by Carl H. Klaus Iowa, 2013 Recently a Buddhist acquaintance suggested I read Simone Weil because of her work on attention. She writes, for example, that “Absolute undivided attention is prayer,” which lends a Buddhist flavor to her Judeo-Christian theology. Attention can be aimed at anything, after all, not necessarily [...]

Why Roger Ebert was the greatest movie reviewer

Since Roger Ebert died I’ve been watching the tribute writers struggle to express his contribution. At The Atlantic, Christopher Orr rightly describes Ebert as a movie enthusiast, but here’s the analysis that follows: “The movies he loved, he truly loved. And the movies he hated, he truly hated.” That’s so truly true Orr can reuse it for [...]

Ray Bradbury and Mr. Electrico’s Magic Sword

It wasn’t the great science fiction novels, “Fahrenheit 451” or “The Martian Chronicles,” that most reflected Ray Bradbury’s life, but a play he wrote—”Something Wicked This Way Comes”— “It’s a metaphor for all of life,” Bradbury said of his play, which you may know better as a 1983 movie starring Jonathan Pryce, Jason Robards and [...]

Readers rescue us

[capti on id=”attachment_2694″ align=”alignright” width=”300″ caption=”By fox_kiyo via flickr”][/caption] When we published the summer issue of Contrary two days ago, we had less than $2 in the bank. We’ve been scraping by since the recession hit, but this marked the first time we had published an issue without knowing how we’d pay for it. Scary, [...]

Media, Sensationalism and Media Sensationalism

Lauren Berlant speaking on media sensationalism? I couldn’ t miss that. So I found my way to the University of Chicago’s Gleacher Center to have a listen. Only to find out I’d overlooked the comma between media and sensationalism. Lauren Berlant is an English professor at the University of Chicago, but that title can’t contain [...]

Juliana Baggott wrote a smart and calm defense of the Osama bin Laden death celebration for NPR last week. Americans should be free to release their fear, she contends: their cheering shows they are paying attention, are emotionally invested, and are participating in an act of unity. She didn’t convince me, but she helped me [...]

For a lifetime Mary Oliver has gently secluded herself, walked the woods, sent bottles out on the tide bearing simple messages that reconnect humanity to a beauty beyond us. Now we know why. In an interview with Maria Shriver Mary Oliver reveals she was sexually abused when very young, that with eroded trust she withdrew [...]

Journalism, exquisite torment

I left the daily life of journalism at the turn of the Century, just before the daily life of journalism collapsed. That left me feeling a bit like Charlie Chaplin, who sold all his stocks in 1928. Since then I’ve maintained journalism as a practice more cyclically, and less cynically, focusing more on reporting and [...]

James Fallows: Old dog learns new media

The genius of James Fallows’ new piece in The Atlantic is that he takes some of the best values of traditional journalism—skepticism, research, fairness, eagerness to question authority and topple conventional wisdom—and he applies them to traditional journalism. He disputes the tediously common view that old journalism is better than new. Unless they are different from [...]

How the internet saved reading

Last week when my friend David Alm published his lament of digital publishing in these pages, I happened to be writing an introduction for a visiting writer. I recognized in my draft a soft rebuttal to David’s post, but I decided it had to complete its original mission before I could post it. This introduction [...]

Artists of facebook: Mateo Galvano

Facebook has become a social net-cessity, like the telephone, like politeness, like brushing the crumbs from your beard, but it has not yet become an invisible necessity. We’re conscious of it: we’re not sure whether we’re using it correctly, whether it’s a benefit or a cost, whether it’s a fad, like the CB radio was [...]

Does the ‘library of the future’ need books?

Every day I cross Ellis Avenue to avoid the construction zone of the University of Chicago’s emerging Mansueto Library, whose elliptical crystal dome caps four underground floors where 3.5 million books will be kept in compact storage. When library users at ground level request books (via the library website) they will be retrieved from the [...]

Simone on the stockyards

I posted this originally as a test of our blogging software. Now that it has served its purpose, I can’t seem to take it down. Simone de Beauvoir is known for many things, but generally not as a Chicago writer. And yet her writing on Chicago is as eloquent and poignant as the best work [...]