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Marylaine Block

Marylaine Block
One of the things that makes me despair of the Democratic party is that its leaders don't understand why their own issues are always discussed on terms set by Republicans. They simply do not grasp the power of naming: those who name a problem define it, decide which field the game will be played on, and set the rules of play. It's because Republicans have been very good at naming issues that they had to vote on the "death tax" rather than the estate tax.


Christopher Lord

Christopher Lord
Some years ago, the English novelist Martin Amis produced the notorious bon mot that "literature is not democratic." What he meant by this was that merely writing a novel (his example) is not enough: it has to be a good novel, and talent for writing good novels is not distributed according to egalitarian principles. Only those who can, in other words, do. This is a comforting doctrine for those at the top of the tree, particularly, as in Mr Amis's case, when it might be mentioned that Daddy's connections might have had something to do with his earlier successes. However, it expresses a thought that most littérateurs, famous or not, would probably agree with in some form: the thought, that is, that there is some special talent that provides a piece of writing with that extra sparkle that makes it worth reading in the first place. Fiction, essays, criticism, even journalism: if it is vivified by this magical force, this élan, it will be transfigured and become, yes, literature. The highbrow publishing industry, the literary weeklies, and the English departments of universities could hardly stay in business without such a premise to justify their activities.


Tina Bennett-Kastor

Tina Bennett-Kastor
At least a decade or two before the sound bite became such a popular tool in American political conversation, ordinary citizens began an equally condensed dialogue on the backs of their cars. Like graffiti, short and pithy, bumper stickers are a literary genre ideally suited to hurried Americans who may nevertheless feel morally obligated to express opinions. If we don't have an opinion, at least we can display our affiliation or our sense of humor or a few words of folksy advice during the fleeting seconds that others have to size us up before the light turns green. Because they make reference to various extended public discourses, bumper bites are intertextual in nature. They allow us to state the thesis without the supporting paragraphs, or to run up our flag even when we don't have time to defend the ground.


Tim Buck

Tim Buck
I speak, therefore I am, even when my words echo silently in the cavern of consciousness. But when you speak, do I grant you the equal measure of existence? Our relations to one another are necessarily strung on the filament of language. I wonder: do we realize how fragile this thread of communal existence is? How a lack of conscious maintenance causes that cord to continually fray? This essay is about our speaking and about our listening. It is about the art of conversation.



The November issue of The Vocabula Review is due online November 19.


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