Splice publishes new content on Mondays and Wednesdays, but throughout the week we bulk it out with bonus material on Facebook and Twitter. On Fridays, “Backchat” looks at the week that was and gathers up all the bonus material in one place.
This week, Splice focused on What Are We Doing Here?, the latest collection of essays by Marilynne Robinson. Jack Hanson contributed a review of the new book, and Daniel Davis Wood took it as a prompt for a longer meditation on ways of reading all of Robinson’s essays in totality.
It’s worth noting that Jack and Daniel have both written about Robinson before now. Jack reviewed Robinson’s most recent novel, Lila, for Open Letters Monthly, and also reviewed her previous essay collection, The Givenness of Things, for The Hopkins Review. Daniel reviewed The Givenness of Things, too, and prior to that he wrote a short essay on the modernist aspects of Robinson’s Gilead.
Robinson’s own essays are strewn across the Internet, so this week we spent some time rounding up as many as we could. For British readers, Robinson will probably be more familiar as a novelist than an essayist, but her back catalogue of non-fiction actually begins right here in these isles: in 1985, she published a long essay she published in Granta on the environmental degradation of Cumbria as a result of pollution from the Sellafield nuclear power plant. That essay went on to form the basis of her first book of non-fiction, Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State, and Nuclear Pollution (1989).
As for Robinson’s more recent essays, here’s a round-up of freely available pieces that you’ll also find collected in What Are We Doing Here?:
- ‘What Are We Doing Here?’, published in the New York Review of Books, about the humanities and humanism more generally
- ‘Save Our Public Universities’, published in Harper’s Magazine, about the cultural significance of the public university and the liberal arts college in the United States
- ‘Old Souls, New World’, published in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, about the legacy of English Puritanism in the United States
- ‘Integrity and the Modern Intellectual Condition’, an audio recording of a lecture delivered at Westminster Abbey
- ‘What Is Freedom of Conscience?’, published in The American Scholar, about religious faith and ethical obligations that depart from the will of an established church
- ‘A Proof, a Test, an Instruction’, published in The Nation, about the presidency of Barack Obama and its cultural significance
Of course, many essays from Robinson’s previous collections are still online as well. Here are a few from The Givenness of Things (2015) and When I Was a Child I Read Books (2012):
- ‘Fear’, published in the New York Review of Books, on the role of fear in the United States, particularly as it relates to gun ownership
- ‘Humanism, Science, and the Radical Expansion of the Possible’, published in The Nation, on the intersections between humanist philosophy, neuroscience, and quantum physics
- ‘Night Thoughts of a Baffled Humanist’, published in The Nation, on economic austerity, sympathy, and charity
- ‘Reclaiming a Sense of the Sacred’, published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, on an attempt to define miraculousness
- Robinson’s extended conversation with Barack Obama, published in the New York Review of Books: part one and part two
And lastly, here’s an essay you won’t find reprinted in any of Robinson’s books: some thoughts on the poet Emily Dickinson and her way of selecting words, published in the New York Times Book Review last year. And if you really feel as if you can’t get enough Marilynne Robinson, head over to YouTube where you’ll find hundreds of videos of her in discussion with others.
That’s all for this week! Next week we’ll be looking at Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir’s Hotel Silence, published by Pushkin Press: we’ll have a review by Alec Dewar, along with a brief essay on Icelandic literature and an interview with the translator Brian FitzGibbon. Follow Splice on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with everything as it unfolds…