Harper’s Notes (3/4)

The Harper Review’s weekly newsletter: mystique, marriage, mania, and more.

The editors

March 4, 2024

Therapy blues: By all metrics, Generation Z is struggling. Young people today suffer unprecedented rates of depression, suicide, and loneliness with no abatement in sight. Unsurprisingly, many alarmed parents have turned to therapists in the hopes of helping their children find relief. But, as Kate Whitaker suggested in The Harper Review’s inaugural essay,  therapy may make these mental health problems worse, investigative journalist Abigail Shrier writes in her new book Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up. Citing extensive fieldwork, Shrier claims therapy and “soft” parenting often backfire by eroding coping skills and drawing undue attention to stressors. Contradicting conventional therapeutic wisdom, Shrier calls for a return to a more traditional parenting style in which boundaries are clear, expectations are high, and children are occasionally allowed to trip and fall. Learning to pick themselves up again, Shrier claims, is exactly what children need to become resilient.

An end to the feminine mystique: In his recent book Lineages of the Feminine: An Outline of the History of Women, French anthropologist Emmanuel Todd argues that it’s time to return to a more biologically grounded definition of “woman.” Against the explosion of the gender studies discipline that philosopher Judith Butler pioneered, Todd argues that the term “woman”—bridging biological sex and cultural gender—deserves a more sympathetic place in the academy and public discourse. Reviewing Lineages of the Feminine for American Affairs, writer Ginevra Davis links Todd’s theories to the earlier work of feminists like Simone de Beauvoir, who campaigned for the freedoms of women yet maintained that the female experience was fundamentally different from the male one. By reaffirming the (not necessarily insurmountable) difference between men and women, Davis argues that feminism can set more reasonable expectations and avoid the sort of balkanization—into tradwives, gender theorists, trans-exclusionary radical feminists, and more—that recent years have brought.

Lisztomania: On March 10, British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor will perform Franz Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. One of Liszt’s most highly debated works, some scholars see the sonata as a representation of the legend of Faust, while others think it could be autobiographical. Fittingly, Grosvenor will also perform the US premiere of Australian composer Brett Dean’s Faustian Pact (Hommage à Liszt), the latest installment in a series inspired by different composers and eras of classical music. It appears that Dean favors the Faustian interpretation of Liszt’s sonata. In addition, Grosvenor will also perform two Chopin pieces in accompaniment. Find tickets for the concert at the link above.

Old wives’ tales: Often, the purpose of a book review is to direct us towards a deserving work and to situate it in a wider context. Not this one. In her review of author and editor Lyz Lenz’s This American Ex-Wife, Lily Meyer, a critic at The Atlantic, skewers Lenz’s conflation of memoir and self-help book. In the wake of her own failed marriage, Lenz writes with certainty that heterosexual marriage has failed all women, and urges them to escape the “violent prison” of marital life. In her review, however, Meyer cautions that in centering such a simplistic narrative, Lenz’s personal story loses its resonance: what her argument gains in dogmatism, it loses in usefulness. Read for yourself to follow Meyer’s engaging dissection of the memoir, an exemplar of how refusing complexity leads to bad writing, unengaging stories, and highly questionable advice.