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. Starting in the fall of 2022, I'll also be a contributing editor at The Boston Review. 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, Liberties, 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
The German novelist Jenny Erpenbeck is used to living in pieces. Born in East Berlin in 1967, she came of age in a bifurcated city. But even after German reunification, in 1990, the country she inhabited struck her as clumsily cobbled together. When she meditated on reunification years later, she eschewed talk of repair and opted instead for the counter-intuitive imagery of breakage. ‘What was I doing the night the wall fell?’ she asks in her new book, Not a Novel: A Memoir in Pieces. ‘I slept. I literally slept through that moment of world history, and while I was asleep, the pot wasn’t just being stirred, it was being knocked over and smashed to bits’. In many cases, the smashing was physical: the wall itself was torn down, while Erpenbeck’s erstwhile elementary school was reduced to rubble. But a form of life was also destroyed, and much of Not a Novel treats its author’s conviction that even now she remains riven, an occupant of both a place that no longer exists and its strange, shiny successor. Read more here.
Lauren Oyler is viral and vicious. A critic with a reputation for pulling no punches, she is known for delivering refreshingly sane judgments of overhyped, commercially successful books. She is not alone in her ruthlessness — there are a number of critics who are at least equally ferocious about deflating promotional balloons, among them Merve Emre and Christian Lorentzen — but she is the hater who makes the greatest waves on the internet. She specialises in skewering vapid writing that takes its cues from social media, and her 2020 take-down of Jia Tolentino’s popular essay collection was shared so many times that the London Review of Books website crashed in the aftermath. When asked in a recent profile about her enviable fearlessness, she replied: ‘We’re all adults here.’ Read more here.