Author: James Livingston

Mermaids Want Shoes

Speaking once again of “The Little Mermaid,” I took my 3-year old daughter to see it when it came out (she’s now a 31-year old attorney). She didn’t yet have the viewing skills to understand such a complicated story–not to mention the musical discourse, beyond the plot, where you’ll find most of the graceful gestures to ancient myth and modern literature, from Prometheus to Faust–so I wrote her a letter to be opened when she leaned to read. It was my crash course in writing plain speech rather than sticking to my adopted academic tongue, and it was so...

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St. Mawr

I don’t read a lot of fiction. I write a lot of it according to my colleagues among historians, who think my accounts of pragmatism are “fanciful” or “imaginative,” which is to say untethered to the non-fictional texts that are supposed to serve as our common denominator. Ever so politely, they suggest that I make shit up. Maybe they’re right, I always thought I’d be a novelist. But I’m not. Nor am I a literary critic. Still, I’m here to report on a remarkable fiction that came my way by the enthusiasm of friends, who have huddled around it...

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The Good Fight

I faithfully watched The Good Wife on Sunday nights for all seven seasons. It’s a melodrama centered on a big Chicago law firm, Gardner & Lockhart, a newly crafted yet creaking vessel that tries to steer an honorable course between the Scylla of financial success and the Charybdis of moral bankruptcy. Every lawyer there, every character I should say, knew what was at stake, and kept rolling the dice, hoping for the best and knowing “the best” is simply impossible under the legal system that regulates our modern lives, because there the protocols of argument, the procedures themselves—in theory,...

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Fuck Work: An Introduction

My condensation of the 2016 book, No More Work (UNC Press), for Aeon, the online magazine, reverted to the original title, “Fuck Work.”  That piece went totally viral.  To date it has received over a million reads (not hits, actual reads that last 14 minutes) and roughly 90,000 Facebook shares.  WTF? Paul Jorion, a French sociologist andf all-around intellectual, noticed the traffic, and enjoyed the argument, so he commissioned a translation and a comment for his blog.  Then he went further and pitched a translation of the book to Flammarion, the esteemed French publishing house.  That translation is now in print, with...

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Smallwood

The small, bright lake shone every morning, even when it rained. You could see the sky without looking toward heaven. All souls were reflected there. I walked its two-mile circumference every day for almost a month. I was in exile, upstate, estranged from my wife, waiting for her to move out of the apartment in the city. Only once was the water roused enough by wind to punctuate the surface with neat white-tipped commas. It was late in my stay. That was when I noticed the withered forest in the lake. The trees were still standing, so I supposed...

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