Roving thoughts and provocations

Why Tunisia?

Hugh Eakin

Yassine Gaidi/Demotix/Corbis

Despite Tunisia’s unusual political and cultural assets, it has now suffered the two worst terrorist attacks in its history—both involving radicalized young Tunisians, both seeming to target the post-revolutionary order the country has worked so hard to construct. How can the Arab world’s most promising and ambitious new democracy also be one of its greatest producers of violent jihadists?

The Boys in the Cage

J. Hoberman

Magnolia Pictures

In their way, The Wolfpack and The Tribe represent the classic Lumière/Méliès dichotomy—do motion pictures reflect or construct reality? The opposition has existed since the medium was invented. But here there is a twist. The Wolfpack is a documentary that delights the viewer with proliferating fictions. The Tribe, more brutal, is an invented story founded on a discomfiting bedrock of documentary truth.

Has the Court Turned Left?

David Cole

Charles Dharapak/Pool/Cnp/ZUMA Press/Corbis

In the Supreme Court term that ended Monday, the liberal justices won twice as many closely divided cases as they lost. Does this amount to a shift to the left by the Roberts Court? Part of the reason this year’s results seem so remarkable is that the Court’s conservatism has often been exaggerated. But it is also possible that it has proved less conservative than many feared because the country is less conservative.

Reading Is Forgetting

Tim Parks

Art Resource

Vladimir Nabokov tells us, “One cannot read a book: one can only reread it.” Only on a third or fourth reading, he claims, do we start behaving toward a book as we would toward a painting, holding it all in the mind at once. He does not mention forgetting, but it’s clear that this is what he is largely talking about.

Shakespeare’s Unfilmable Dream

Geoffrey O’Brien

Joan Marcus/Ealing Studios

Julie Taymor declared recently that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is “unfilmable.” The remark was intended not to disparage her own just-released movie version of the play, but to define what it is: a record of a stage production. Cinematic art direction and special effects, however cunning, cannot adequately substitute for the very different kind of magic that actors can create out of the tension of being live on stage.

A New Trip to Lindgren Land

April Bernard

ullstein bild/Getty Images

I usually have no patience for “happy family” literature, not to mention the contemporary habit of adults reading mediocre books for “young adults,” whoever they might be. But when I read Astrid Lindgren’s Seacrow Island (1964), for the first time this spring, I liked it so much that I consumed it slowly, like a savored cake. A month later I read it again, perhaps even more deliberately. It is a beautiful book, for adult readers as well as the children to whom it could be read.

A Roomful of Death and Destruction

Luc Sante

Michael Lorenzini/Municipal Archives

Three years ago, The Municipal Archives received a call from the NYPD, wanting to know whether they could help dispose of a roomful of photographic material stored at One Police Plaza. The final yield amounted to about 180,000 images from perhaps 50,000 cases, ranging from an uncertain point prior to 1914 all the way to 1972. These pictures are of undeniable photographic significance.

Torrential, Gut-Bucket Jazz

Geoff Dyer

Bob Parent/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It hardly needs emphasizing that the desire for freedom in jazz is bound up with the larger dreams of freedom itself. Ornette Coleman tended to play down the connection between his musical project and the larger social turbulence of which it might have seemed a product and expression. When did it begin, this longing for freedom of which Ornette’s music is the undying expression?

Pope Francis: The Cry of the Earth

Bill McKibben

Donatella Giagnori/epa/Corbis

Laudato Si’, finally released this morning in Rome, is a remarkable 183-page document, incredibly rich—it’s not dense, but it is studded with aphorisms and insights. This marks the first time that a person of great authority in our global culture has fully recognized the scale and depth of our crisis, and the consequent necessary rethinking of what it means to be human.

Holy Ignorance

Garry Wills

Jim Young/Reuters/Corbis

When a Republican politician, asked about climate change, says, “I’m not a scientist,” most of us hear just a cowardly way of dodging the question; but the politician’s supporters hear a brave defiance of an alien force. They summon a courage not to know. Even when Pope Francis’s new encyclical on climate change introduces a concern for the poor into the environmental discussion, conservative Catholics will think him nice but naive, and suspect the Devil fooled him.