Roving thoughts and provocations

My Asian Road

Leo Rubinfien

Leo Rubinfien/Taka Ishii Gallery/Steven Kasher Gallery

I stayed in quaint hotels and some that were appalling, also in some that were grand. I was an intent, anxious, too-serious boy bent over a heavy novel in the slop-strewn eating hall of a travelers’ block in Shanxi province; at an obscure mountain inn where the rain wouldn’t stop; in Bangkok, at yet another Indian cafe in a murky cul-de-sac. The view changed constantly, but what hardly varied was the sequence of long walks each day.

Liberia: The Hidden Truth About Ebola

Helen Epstein

Abbas Dulleh/AP Images

Even as Ebola hysteria rages in the US, the epidemic here in Liberia, which is supposed to be its epicenter, seems to be subsiding. According to official counts, this impoverished country of 4 million people is currently home to fewer than four hundred Ebola patients and the number of new cases is declining. The paranoid US response could make the disease far more dangerous than it currently is.

Denouncing Surveillance, on Camera

David Cole

Richard Drew/AP Photo

In their extraordinary revelations about what the NSA and its secret programs have been doing, Edward Snowden’s leaks have shown the precariousness of privacy in the digital age. But Laura Poitras’s documentary Citizenfour also demonstrates, unwittingly, that we are part of the problem. We have chosen to broadcast our lives.

Manhood Against Marriage

Francine Prose

Magnolia Pictures

What do males expect of themselves, and what do women want from them? In Ruben Östlund’s engrossing and perceptive film Force Majeure, as in life, questions of masculinity collect around blunt manifestations of bravery and fear, and confrontations with nature.

Okinawa: Why They Chose Death

Jonathan Mirsky

Keystone/Getty Images

Would the Japanese have surrendered without Hiroshima? For decades the question has lingered, as historians have challenged one of the most important American rationales for dropping the bomb. It comes freshly into view in Descent into Hell: Civilian Memories of the Battle of Okinawa, a remarkable new book based on Japanese eyewitness testimony from one of the bloodiest land battles of the war.

The Lessons of Dr. Funk

James Guida

 

Sci-fi spectacle was integral to P-Funk, the postmodern and psychedelic brand of funk that George Clinton helped innovate. Yet one of the most intriguing points to emerge in Clinton’s new memoir, Brothas Be, is just how consciously he shaped his music, weird and warped as it is, as a kind of smaller, counter-culture Motown.

Escape from Microsoft Word

Edward Mendelson

David Levine

When I work in Word, for all its dazzling prowess, I can’t escape a faint sense of having entered a closed, rule-bound society. When I write in WordPerfect, with all its scruffy, low-tech simplicity, the world seems more open, a place where endings can’t be predicted, where freedom might be real.

Reality Fiction

Tim Parks

Abner Dean

It has long been a commonplace that fiction provides a way to talk about potentially embarrassing or even criminal personal experiences without bringing society’s censure on oneself. Put the other way round you could say that taboos and censorship encourage creativity, of a kind. But Taboo after taboo has fallen away. Homosexuality is no longer something to be hidden. Love relationships and marriages are no longer conceived of as fortresses of propriety. And everybody’s leaving traces of what they do or say on email and Twitter. What does all this mean for writers?

The Argument That Saved Paris

Ian Buruma

Jerome Prebois

In his new film Diplomacy, Volker Schlöndorff has expertly created the creepy, almost surreal atmosphere of two men discussing the ruination of Paris. The only risk of historical fiction, especially in the movies, is that it ends up replacing in the public memory the facts of what actually happened. But Schlöndorff is not a historian. The best way to look at his film is as a love story about Paris.