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“Urge and urge and urge,” Whitman intoned. “Always the procreant urge of the world.” These words signal the life instinct, eros, that innate, libidinal drive for pleasure and survival.

Humans are compelled by life, attracted to it and aroused by it. The procreant urge motivates us to act, stimulates our choices and actions, shapes our personal identity. There’s no subjectivity, no consciousness, absent coital awareness. The properties of life — what it means and how it appears to be alive — are conditions for their own perpetuation: to love life is to make it.

We are drawn to life, that inner bloom within the verdant body. We seek intimacy with the animated, energetic fertile parts, the warm, electric, pulsating body that’s flowing with blood, propelled by agency and personality. The sensual qualities of living flesh stir up an intense and unconscious desire for the continuity of our kind. More… “Sex with the Dead”

Allen Mendenhall is an associate dean at Thomas Goode Jones School of Law and executive director of the Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty. Visit his website at AllenMendenhall.com

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During an undergraduate English seminar, our professor got frank with us about her multiple miscarriages. It wasn’t completely out of sorts — the seminar was centered around the body and we had spent a lot of time with the concept of madness as elucidated by Elaine Showalter in The Female Malady. After more than 10 years, I don’t remember much about that course, but I do remember our instructor’s confessional moment, what felt like at the time, an incredibly intimate detail in her life. It wasn’t the first time I had come across the concept of miscarriage. At age four, I was told I was going to be a big sister and then not long after, was told I wasn’t. But I was struck by her openness and matter-of-factness. These weren’t situations we were supposed to discuss. It felt almost indecent and out of line at the time. More… Lost Time”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.

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“You can never make that crossing that she made, for such Great Voyages in this world do not any more exist. But every day of your lives the miles that voyage between that place and this one you cross. Every day. You understand me? In you that journey is.”
Angels in America, Millennium Approaches, Act 1, Scene 1

At the end of Ithaca College’s production of Millennium Approaches in October 2017, the lights flickered and we — the audience and Prior Walter — met the Angel for the first time. As both a reader and an audience member, I have immersed myself in this play countless times over the last 25 years — at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco in 1995, in the Off Broadway revival, during many viewings of the superb HBO production. I look forward to seeing the current Tony-award-winning version of the play, its first Broadway production in the Trump era. When we finally meet the Angel at the end of Millennium, it is a spectacle. In the text and in previous productions, her entrance is preceded by a giant boom that causes part of the bedroom ceiling to crash down to the floor. When she descends and asserts, “The Great Work begins!” it is significant, stunning, and terrifying. In Ithaca College’s otherwise phenomenal production, the Angel entered . . . on roller skates. More… “The Great Work Begins Again”

Jennifer Tennant is an associate professor of Economics at Ithaca College. A health economist by training, her research focuses on disability and mental health policy. She has written a number of articles on health economics and disability policy and has recently started writing creative nonfiction. Her first piece of creative nonfiction, a personal essay, will be published in Pleiades in January 2019. An image text essay, created with the photographer Nura Qureshi, was published in July 2018 in A VELVET GIANT.

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Sometimes, an idea can be so arresting that, for a time at least, we care more about the fascinating nature of the idea than we do about its feasibility or reality. This was how I felt when I discovered that one man (and a few others before and after him) firmly believed that the Earth is “hollow and habitable within.” The idea of a concave inner world that was as yet unexplored captivated me initially, but in the end, it was the man who believed this theory so doggedly who captured my attention.

John Cleves Symmes Jr. lived 200 years or so ago; I discovered a monument in his honor in a park in Hamilton, Ohio, a small city north of Cincinnati. I first learned of it when I was surfing Atlas Obscura and went to check out the monument.

The monument stands in a really run-down park; the monument itself has been defaced and a forbidding fence has been erected around it to prevent further vandalism. On its top is a bronze model of the “Hollow Earth,” with the openings a little scalloped, like you could easily walk down the slope from the icy areas of Siberia into the lush interior of the Earth. No one in Hamilton really cares about this guy, as far as I can tell; no one really celebrates him, but the monument still hasn’t come down even 150 years later. More… “Hollow Words”

Laura Leavitt is a writer and teacher living in Ohio. She has written a variety of pieces about travel, young adulthood, and food culture, including pieces at The Hairpin and Roads and Kingdoms. She blogs about living a disorganized life at Messy Mapmaker.

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At first glance, Bull Durham doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that would get the Criterion Collection treatment. A cinephile’s delight, Criterion is usually associated with more esoteric films: their staggeringly comprehensive editions of the works of Ingmar Bergman and Josef Von Sternberg are alluring indeed, but not what you’d call mainstream fare. Kudos to Criterion for being open-minded enough to notice how progressive, subversive, and worldly-wise Bull Durham really is. Brilliantly written by former minor leaguer Ron Shelton, the film shows authentic affection and respect for America’s pastime but doesn’t shy away from the deeper questions that go beyond calling balls and strikes. Bull Durham is a thinking person’s sports movie, containing a deep, unapologetically intelligent and mature understanding of the world both inside and outside the ballpark.

We follow the The Durham Bulls, a very minor league baseball team based in North Carolina. Most of the players know that they aren’t destined to be superstars, nor are they meant to be, which is mostly just fine by them. They’re in it purely for the love of the game, enjoying the laid-back camaraderie of athletes, content to horse around beneath the bright lights on warm summer evenings. Choosing to focus on this often-ignored aspect of the sporting life is particularly pointed, since the mid ’80s was a time just before baseball (and sports culture at large) got a metaphorical (and, it must be said, quite literal) shot in the arm, causing salaries and egos to run amok. The amiable Durham Bulls aren’t obsessively driven to be champions, which flips the implicit triumphalism of most sports movies on its head right off the bat, so to speak. More… “All-Star Flirtation”

Matt Hanson lives in Boston and writes for The Arts Fuse,  Boston’s online independent arts and culture magazine.  His work has also appeared in The Baffler, The Millions, and 3 Quarks Daily, and other places.  He can usually be found in the nearest available used bookstore.

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We started our “best of” practice in 2016, when it struck us that we were all pretty cool people who liked a lot of stuff. Most of our editorial meetings become exchanges of the movies, music, books, articles, podcasts, and tv shows we’re watching and loving. We have had informal office townhalls on Bob Dylan, Roxane Gay, and Beyoncé. We have created lists of the top female vocalists of the 20th century and debated the merits of authorship, discussed the role of fandoms, and every drama — no matter how great or how small — that have arisen in the past three years. The “Best of” post has become one of my most favorite rituals for The Smart Set. First, it allows us to reflect on all the material we’ve come across throughout the year and pluck those texts or people that really struck a chord. Second, it allows us to share that joy. We hope that you find below a few samesies from your personal lists and a couple of new things to binge.

  More… “BEST OF 2018”

Get in touch with The Smart Set at editor@thesmartset.com.

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Once again it’s time to look at all the “funnybooks” I read over the past 365 days and try to determine which are my most favorite of favorites. Many of the comics I wrote about for this column over the past year – Prism Stalker, Yellow Negroes, Why Art? – would easily make that short list. Not wanting to repeat myself, however, I thought instead I’d focus on some works that I didn’t have time to mention in this space. So here are 10 comics that I think are among some of the best of 2018 that I haven’t talked about here before. More… “Comic Countdown 2018”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some of them are slim and easily recognizable as such, they can look clumsy or elegant, others are shaped like a flying saucer. In our advanced age, some of them even have a brain and — almost — a life of their own. Although at some point they also need a human hand, so they can start work: vacuum cleaners.

The food of vacuum cleaners is dust which, as any electronic microscope reveals, also comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, both organic and inorganic: dead skin cells, paper fibers, dust mites, synthetic fibers, grains and pollen, and in some cases coal dust, asbestos or other harmful particles. The best way to see airborne dust is to observe a room flooded with light. It’s more fashionable these days to talk about microbes that live all over our bodies, bombard us with their genes and are even a part of dust. This is where scientists are on the front lines of discovery. But let’s stay with plain, classic dust for a minute or two. More… “Dust Never Sleeps”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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Since the seminal book by sociologist E. Digby Baltzel, Puritan Boston & Quaker Philadelphia, in 1996, articles by a range of thought leaders appear episodically to remind us that Philadelphia is a city still on the edge of greatness. But a deeper understanding of Philly shows that the city is a paradox for becoming a great city and there are advantages to being on the edge.

For total population, while not as big as the Apple, LA, and Chi-Town, the City of Brotherly Love has been battling three newcomers in the Southwest and holding its own as one of the most populated cities in the US. While not the paragon of hospitality, Philadelphia gets high marks by tourist magazines for being inviting to several subgroups such as the LGBTQ community and young African American professionals. Funny thing though, as locals we may not be the best guides to the most popular sites to see; seeing the liberty bell and other sites in Old City quickly become a faint memory from grade school. We are more likely to take you to the Whispering Wall (Memorial Hall Park), to find the statue of Chief Tedyuscung in the Wissahickon, or visit the Devil’s pocket and Swampoodle blocks of Philly. More… “A City on the Edge”

Stephen F. Gambescia, professor of health services administration at Drexel, has perfect attendance at school reunions.

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I knew Walden was a dangerous book from the first few pages.

“The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad” I read, “and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior.”

I remember looking up when I read these words to see if anyone was watching me. I was alone, sitting in the English Resource Center, which was a small library controlled by the English teachers in my high school. On most days, there were a handful of students hanging around — all members of an unofficial clique of mostly freshmen and sophomores who liked reading and discussing books. This is where the literary magazine Savannah was cut and pasted together, literally, twice a year, and where six of us hatched a school newspaper in our sophomore year. Kids came to the ERC to read, hang out, think revolutionary thoughts, and practice our best avant-garde poses. There were several second-hand couches and chairs, which together formed a sad little lounge area; an adjoining office with a mimeograph machine, typewriters and filing cabinets; and of course, the books, which were displayed in several creaky free-standing bookshelves that leaned forward from the white-painted cement-block walls, threatening to collapse into the center of the room from the sheer weight of intellectual curiosity. The shelves were jammed with novels and literary nonfiction — some philosophy and history too — and the air in the ERC always carried a faint whiff of paperback, that mouldering acidic smell that any collector of books will immediately recognize. I had thumbed through nearly all of these books, discovering for the first time names like Hemingway, Joyce, T.S. Eliot, E. E. Cummings, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard. More… “Steal This Book”

Daniel Vollaro is writer and teacher of writing whose fiction and nonfiction has been published in Boomer Cafe, Blue Moon Literary and Art Review, Crania, Creo, Fairfield Review, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, Paperplates, and Timber Creek Review.

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