Hi, I'm Becca. I'm an essayist and literary critic, a contributing editor at The Point, and a PhD candidate (albeit one on hiatus) in philosophy at Harvard. At the moment, I am at work on an essay collection, tentatively titled All Things Are Too Small, to be published by Metropolitan Books. To keep up with my writing/rantings, subscribe to my substack here.
I hold a first-class MPhil in the history and philosophy of science from the University of Cambridge and a B.A., summa cum laude with high honors, from Dartmouth College, where I studied philosophy & German (and cultivated an enduring distaste for fraternities). These days I live in Cambridge, MA, with this person, whom I love.
As a writer:
I contribute essays, book reviews, and the occasional art review to publications like The New York Review of Books, The TLS, The Nation, The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Bookforum, Art in America, The Baffler, and more. I am the winner of the first annual Robert B. Silvers Prize for Literary Criticism (see more here).
I'm also a two-time finalist for The National Book Critics Circle's book reviewing prize (2016 and 2018), and in 2017, I was a finalist for a National Magazine Award in the essays/criticism category (my nominated essay, "Ladies in Waiting," was subsequently collected in the 2017 Best American Magazine Writing anthology, available here). In 2018, my essay "Rhapsody in Blue" was included on the Notable Essays and Literary Non-Fiction list published in the 2019 Best American Essays anthology. When I write criticism, I write mostly about "world literature," especially Eastern European or German language literature with a Jewish bent, but I also review contemporary fiction sometimes. A few authors I especially love are Joseph Roth, Italo Svevo, Henry James, Henry Green, Heinrich von Kleist, Marie de France, Simone Weil, Antal Szerb, and Norman Rush. You can read my interview with the National Book Critics Circle here and my interview with Lit Hub for their Secrets of the Book Critics series here. My wonderful agent is Anna Sproul-Latimer of Neon Literary. (You can stalk her and her agency here.)
As a philosopher:
I am primarily interested in aesthetics (especially aesthetic value and its relationship to other types of value), the philosophy of love and sex, and the history of German philosophy, especially Martin Heidegger, although I have increasingly consuming secondary interests in political philosophy. In my second-year paper, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," forthcoming in the British Journal of Aesthetics, I defend aestheticism, the view that aesthetic value is sometimes a partial grounds of moral value. (A draft is available upon request.) If I ever get around to writing it, my dissertation will be about some combination of the following: what it is to be a beautiful person, why evolutionary psychologists are wrong about human beauty, the ethics of exclusionary romantic/sexual/aesthetic preferences, and what role the state should play in ameliorating inequitable distributions of intimate "goods."
I receive many emails asking for advice about graduate school applications. I have answered some frequently asked questions on this page. As I note there, I do not consider myself an expert in how to write a successful graduate school application, and I urge all prospective grad students to consult resources online, as well as supervisors who have served on admissions committees, rather than me!
Before the pandemic, I followed Hegel in regarding nature as geistlos, but now, like any good Heideggerian, I am a big fan of hiking. Here I am in the Berkshires, which I love
To read the Jewish-Romanian poet and Holocaust survivor Paul Celan is also to read commentators, commentators on commentators, and so on and on, until finally the clatter of exposition overwhelms the oracular verse. Pierre Joris, the latest translator intrepid enough to tackle the foremost German-language poet of the postwar period, estimates that there are “a hundred plus books” about Celan and “several thousand—six thousand? seven thousand? it is nearly impossible to keep track worldwide—articles and essays that have appeared and keep appearing at a dizzying rate.” Celan is the subject of monographs or papers by thinkers as prominent as Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Charles Taylor, and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. There are now more than 15 English translations of his most celebrated poem, “Deathfuge.” The academic cottage industry devoted to his work is predictably formidable. Read more here.
“The moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an amusing craftsman”, wrote Oscar Wilde in “The Soul of Man Under Socialism” (1891). In No-Signal Area, a newly translated novel of 2014 by the Croatian author Robert Perišić, there are many dull craftsmen – and a number of unlikely artists.
Perišić’s mordant romp takes place in the town of N, a forlorn outpost on the margins of an unnamed nation in what was once Yugoslavia. It is no accident that the author declines to specify the town’s exact location. Forgotten by policymakers and overlooked by tourists, N might stand for “nowhere”. Its inhabitants are traumatized by memories of the recent ethno-nationalist conflict, and most of them have been out of work since the local turbine factory shut down. Sobotka, once the factory’s engineer, has been estranged from his wife and daughters since they fled to escape the war. Even mobile phone coverage in N is unreliable. Forsaken by the forces of neoliberalism and forgotten by the more fortunate denizens of the new world order, it has become a dreaded no-signal area. Read more here.