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
It is customary an essay about Kafka by emphasizing how impossible it is to write about Kafka, then apologizing for making a doomed attempt. This gimmick has a distinguished lineage. “How, after all, does one dare, how can one presume?” Cynthia Ozick asks in the New Republic before she presumes for several ravishing pages. In the Paris Review, Joshua Cohen insists that “being asked to write about Kafka is like being asked to describe the Great Wall of China by someone who’s standing just next to it. The only honest thing to do is point.” But far from pointing, he gestures for thousands of words. Read more here.
The novels of the English experimentalist Ann Quin are not like most: although she was loosely affiliated with a movement of pioneering British writers in the 1960s, among them B.S. Johnson and J.G. Ballard, she remains singular in her aversion to the usual strictures of structure. Her books careen wildly among verb tenses and perspectives. They lack the customary form—the start, the climax, and the denouement—that holds most stories together.
Yet even when Quin is shredding the conventions of traditional narrative, she fills her work with trios. Instead of plot arcs, there are love triangles. In Berg (1964), Quin’s outlandish retelling of Hamlet and her first published book, a man sets out to seduce his father’s girlfriend (and afterward to kill his father, though he does not succeed). In Passages (1969), Quin’s third novel, a man on a tortuous trip with a woman fantasizes obsessively about sadomasochistic threesomes. And in Tripticks (1972), the last novel Quin completed before committing suicide in 1973, a man is chased across America by his ex-wife and her new beau. The book contains illustrations by Carol Annand, and many of its poppy cartoon panels are triptychs. Read more here.
One afternoon in Brighton, England, wealthy art collector Adam Verver spends a small fortune on a set of precious Damascene tiles. Then, for what turns out to be a somewhat steeper price, he procures a precious wife. Charlotte Stant, soon to be Charlotte Verver, is an American expatriate of extraordinary taste and talent: her only failing is her limited means, which force her to shuttle back and forth between her rich friends’ country estates. At the beginning of The Golden Bowl (1904), Henry James’s last great novel, Charlotte is left to compensate for her material penury with her social graces. But when we encounter her after her propitious union with Adam, she is at last polished and perfected: she descends a “monumental” staircase decked out in “unsurpassed diamonds,” “with a consciousness materially, with a confidence quite splendidly, enriched.” With the benefit of Adam’s backing, Charlotte can finally gleam as brightly as a diamond or a Damascene tile, for she, too, is a “rare and special product.” Read more here.