The agreeable eye

an eudæmonistarchives


…it’s a mistake to argue with a book that contains no arguments.

—Becca Rothfeld (‘Nellie Bowles thinks you should outgrow progressivism’)

It took me longer than I like to admit to realize that the diversity of topics in most modern essay collections was driven not by the author’s personal interest, but by the crass casualty of editorial need. Excellent collections – excellent critics – can overcome this characteristic, but most critics are not excellent (indeed, it would impossible for them to be so, as the excellent few must have a larger company to excel). The disappointment I felt in reading Becca Rothfeld’s All Things Are Too Small was that of realizing the error of my own judgement: it is a perfectly decent collection of perfectly normal criticism.

I had enjoyed reading many of Rothfeld’s essays online. They seemed incisive, nuanced, and thoughtful. Somewhere in the transition from screen to page, from editorial hand to editorial hand, the essays seem to have lost their focus – or perhaps I lost my willingness to focus on them.1 Certainly it did not help that I was not at all interested, in any real sense, in the materials they discussed; the greater problem for other readers may be that Rothfeld did not seem to be particularly interested, either, except in a transitory sort of way.2 For a collection supposedly in praise of excess, the vision of the world presented was unaccountably small3 – a glimpse of a running argument with some unstated opponent (probably simply ‘the Man’) that has the limited appeal of someone talking too loudly on a train in an attempt to demonstrate their own worth rather than edify (or persuade or entertain) their audience.

  1. E.g., the unsprightly essay ‘Only Mercy: Sex After Consent’ seemed the bloated decomposition of the more concentrated ‘Pleasure and Justice’. []
  2. E.g., Perhaps the juxtaposition of Sally Rooney’s novels with Twilight is meant to be entertainingly shocking, and certainly there is something interesting that could be said about the popularity of such rather platitudinous wish fulfillment narratives – but Rothfeld doesn’t say it. []
  3. This is the limit of promiscuity (of reading or watching movies or what have you) – it reduces the details of excess to a somewhat dreary sameness. Perhaps it is because I am not generally interested in authorial woundedness as such; blood, sweat, and tears (and other bodily fluids) are generally not called for, not least because they involve more housekeeping than I care to do. []


(last revised: 2 May 2024)

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