Hi, I'm Becca. I am (very soon to be) the non-fiction book critic at the Washington Post. In the meantime, I'm an essayist and literary critic, a contributing editor at The Point and The Boston Review, and a PhD candidate (albeit one on hiatus) in philosophy at Harvard. I'm currently putting the finishing touches on an essay collection about maximalism, tentatively titled All Things Are Too Small, to be published by Metropolitan Books in the US and Virago in the UK. 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
I did a podcast
about aesthetic value, beauty, and whether philosophy is aesthetically (or otherwise) valuable--although speaking continues to terrify me, and I think I am a lot worse at it than I am at writing! You can listen here: https://shows.pippa.io/ipse-dixit/episodes/becca-rothfeld-on-consuming-beauty
12/28/2019 05:36:40 am
Your discussion of Weil’s belief that on earth one can’t take any action toward beauty reminded me (please excuse the egotism) of a qualm I’ve sometimes felt about the idea of devoting my life to mathematics (assuming that some form of Platonism obtains): Although mathematics has indeed, as Russell famously put it, “supreme beauty—a beauty cold and austere,” even the great masters of it who wander deep into its flowered wood are in a sense walking through something sealed off from their touch and smell. Heaven would be where mathematical beauty is somehow not just merely observed but simultaneously observed and made—smelled and touched for the first time. Perhaps this is why some people are strongly drawn toward the act of writing fiction: It can combine the glories of observation that one finds in books, with participation in the creation of the structure of that observation. Anyway, these are likely trivial thoughts, but they seem relevant. Incidentally, your terror is misplaced; you did a fine job speaking. I hope you do more podcasts!
12/28/2019 06:43:32 am
No, not trivial at all! Beautifully articulated, very interesting, and, I suspect at first glance, probably in large part true! Thank you!
12/30/2019 07:13:34 am
Kind words. Thanks!
Leave a Reply.