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
Some people speak like writers, but the Czech author Bohumil Hrabal writes like a talker. “I inhale images and then exhale them,” he once told an interviewer. It is fitting that much of Hrabal’s prose was heard before it was read: throughout the late nineteen-forties and fifties, when Hrabal worked as a clerk, an insurance agent, a travelling salesman, a stagehand, a foundry foreman, and a compactor of wastepaper in a recycling plant, he did not publish any of his eccentric stories in mainstream venues. Instead, he read them aloud to a handful of underground literati assembled in pubs. The few works he managed to have printed appeared only in samizdat. Read more here.
but it's only available in print. Email me for a PDF if you like!
A girl announces that she has decided to major in philosophy. A man replies, “That’s good, because they just opened up that philosophy factory in Green Bay.” This piece of joking dialogue comes from a 1999 episode of That Seventies Show—yet it remains sufficiently au courant to bear recycling in the kind of webcomics my friend sent me when I decided to study philosophy in college. The joke is not only that philosophy majors end up jobless (as, in fact, do majors in every other field). It is also that philosophy lacks the solidity that we might think is the whole measure of reality. It is also that things that can’t be crafted in factories can’t make material contributions to the world. Biologists brew medicines, and engineers make machines. Even economists trade in constructs with tangible power. But as Karl Marx put it in his “Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach” (1845), long before That Seventies Show loomed on even the distant horizon, “Philosophers have only interpreted the world.… The point, however, is to change it.”
Of course, Marx is one of the best advertisements for philosophy’s real-world influence. And it is a myth that all you can do with a philosophy degree is more philosophy: As I am always tripping over myself to assure my students, undergraduate philosophy majors get, on average, the highest LSAT and verbal GRE scores. They even get higher GMAT scores than economists, computer scientists, and chemists! Still, the fact that a philosophy degree enables students to flee to more lucrative pastures is hardly a recommendation for philosophy itself.
Read more here or in print.