Today in Slate

Hillary Is Testifying, but She Would Probably Prefer Not To

Herman Melville, the Benghazi hearings, and Drake.

Members of the Libyan army stand on a tank as heavy black smoke rises from the city’s port in the background after a fire broke out at a car tire disposal plant during clashes against Islamist gunmen in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on Dec. 23, 2014.

Photo by Abdullah Doma/AFP/Getty Images


The day’s big news is Hillary Clinton’s testimony before the House Benghazi committee. In a perfect world, a congressional committee ostensibly charged with investigating an attack that killed an ambassador would tell us important things about the world. But I think we’ll learn more about life by first reading an annotated version of a 19th-century short story.

“Bartleby, the Scrivener” will tell you more about the world than the Benghazi hearings.

Maybe when you were in high school, you were assigned to read “Bartelby, the Scrivener,” Herman Melville’s short story about a Wall Street officeworker who would prefer not to. It’s a classic for many reasons: It’s funny and has a memorable unreliable narrator; it poses timeless existential questions, critiques capitalism, and contains deep mysteries. Building on his own studies, Slate interactives swami Andrew Kahn became a kind of Melville monk, diving deep into criticism of the story and transposing it online, into the 21st century. Kahn’s notes reveal multitudes within the text—arguments, theories, and tidbits about genre, Melville’s life, his motivations for writing it, queer and economic interpretations—and they complement Kahn’s own questions and thoughts on the prose. Usually this newsletter describes how Slate’s smartest piece about the day’s biggest news stories will tell you the most about the world. But today, spend some time away from Congress, away from the 2016 campaign. Lessons from Herman Melville will last beyond the next news cycle.*


If you’d prefer not to, Hillary and Congress are still here.

The Benghazi committee’s questions to Hillary Clinton have already lasted a full day. You’re probably lucky enough that you didn’t have to watch the whole thing, but Josh Voorhees did, and his liveblog contains the hearing’s most important takeaways. The panel’s Republicans asked Clinton about her email use, suggested she could have done more to prevent the 2012 attack, and accused her of obfuscating what really happened. The panel’s Democrats yelled at its Republicans for wasting time and money to hurt Clinton’s presidential campaign. Hillary mostly kept her cool. Pretty much nothing new was learned about the actual attack in Benghazi. Catch up on this spectacle’s background, and learn about the real city of Benghazi, which tragically has become a dangerous mess of a place. The hearing continues tomorrow, and the 2016 election remains 13 months away, so this won’t end anytime soon.


Off Capitol Hill, shame, hope, and delight abound on the Web, in classrooms, and with Drake.


Upon the flighty temper of Turkey,
Seth Maxon
Home page editor for nights and weekends

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