Author: James Livingston

Thinking About Corporate Activism

Conservative columnists are deeply concerned because some big corporations have distanced themselves from the NRA in the aftermath of the latest massacre by means of an AR-15. How can these joint-stock companies serve political causes, they ask, blinking innocently, as if corporations hadn’t been legal persons since 1886, with plenty of electoral weight—and as if Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision of 2010, hadn’t given them new standing as individuals with First Amendment protections? I’m here to explain their concerns and turn them to left-wing purposes. But you might as well know going in that, in these times—in my...

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Narrating Hayden White

Hayden White has died, and it feels personal. I didn’t know him—I met him just once at a conference—but he had, and has, a huge effect on my thinking about history, about method, about writing as such. Last semester I taught both the big book, Metahistory (1973), and the essay collection, The Content of the Form (1987), in a course called—wait for it—Historiography, the History of History. I matched White up against Karl Lowith, the Heidegger student who, like Erich Auerbach, wrote a great book while on the run from the Nazis.Meaning in History (1949), it’s called, and in it Lowith insists that our...

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Fuck Football

It’s Super Bowl Sunday. This year, for the first time in my life, I didn’t know which teams won their conference championships—who was going to the Big Game—because I hadn’t watched any football on TV, and hadn’t read about it, either. It’s not that I didn’t care, I just didn’t want to observe the slaughter. I wanted to abstain because knew I’d be drawn into my memories of self-slaughter, Augustinian-style, in the confessional mode. But I watched the whole thing, eating chips and guacamole, drinking beer, hoping the Patriots would lose, laughing at the commercials, howling about the missed calls...

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On Translation

I’m reading Daniel Mendelsohn’s poignant memoir, An Odyssey: A Father, a Son and an Epic (2017), treating it as a kind of coda to Emily Wilson’s new translation of Homer. Now Mendelsohn is a classical philologist, just like Wilson, so of course he did his own translations for the book. They read nothing like Wilson’s. The framing story of the memoir is how the father, Jay, a hard-headed mathematician not ordinarily drawn to literary texts, asked his son if he could take the course on The Odyssey that Daniel was scheduled to teach at Bard College. Father and son...

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A Tale of Too Many Cities: The Trial of Black Nationalism in the Debate between Coates and West

How often does something you read change your mind, or unsettle your beliefs? It happens to me every six months or so, when I venture into a field—ancient history, say—where I have no skills, only curiosity and anger, and I find myself in the midst of strangers who dazzle me with their confidence and erudition. This is different. I have been defending Ta-Nehesi Coates against his critics on the grounds I thought were afforded by Harold Cruse, in The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (1967)—a book that was renovating the tradition of black nationalism on grounds, Cruse believed, afforded...

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