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
For a newsletter called Paragraph, to which you can subscribe here.
Here's my paragraph: In college, I developed an interest in the philosopher Karl Popper, who argued that we are not justified in extrapolating from a single instance of a phenomenon to a universal law. But, he continued, “we are justified in reasoning from a counter-instance to the falsity of the corresponding universal law.” He should have written that we are not justified in reasoning from any number of instances to the truth of the corresponding universal claim. We can never observe enough white swans to know that all swans are white; there could always be more swans, some of whom are pink or green. Yet a single mauve swan is sufficient to show that not all swans are white. We can at least relish the falsity—if never the truth—of universal principles. I dreamt up a sort of corollary: if we are never afforded the pleasure of seeing our suspicions decisively defanged, we can at least
anticipate the pleasure of seeing them decisively confirmed. The symptoms, slight as they may be, are always consistent with cancer; the wind, mild as it is, could always portend a squall. One day the disaster will arrive, and then you will know it is there. I once asked a man if he loved me so many times that one morning he let the eggs char into a crusted tar and yelled, “No! Not anymore!” And at last certainty bloomed like a bright rose in my blighted heart.
“I PAINT THE PORTRAIT OF THE AGE,” the Austrian writer Joseph Roth proclaimed in a 1926 letter to his editor at the Frankfurter Zeitung. “I’m not a reporter, I’m a journalist,” he continued. “I’m not an editorial writer, I’m a poet.”
In the English-speaking world, Roth is most often canonized as a novelist. He is known primarily as the author of The Radetzky March, a 1932 saga about an Austrian dynasty rendered tragic—and ridiculous—by the collapse of the dual monarchy. During his own lifetime, however, Roth was better known as a writer of feuilletons, and even his longer works are rich with redolent miniatures. In Job, his 1930 chronicle of Galician Jewish life and perhaps his most extraordinary book, an angry woman stands “hissing as if filled with boiling water,” and clocks tolling sound like “great heavy spoons” striking “gigantic glasses.” A flabby man in The Emperor’s Tomb (1938) has a face like “dough that has failed to rise.” A woman’s tongue in Confession of a Murderer (1936) is “a red and venomous little animal.” Read more here.