Why Russia Needs Syria

Amy Knight

top, AFP/Getty Images; bottom, AP Photo/Sergei Chirikov, Pool

In both the Ukrainian and Syrian conflicts, the Kremlin is trying to provide a counterweight to NATO. Yet while Russia has managed thus far to hold its own in Ukraine, the Syrian gambit is far riskier. Russian journalist Yulia Latynina says, “The scandals over Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib will seem like kindergarten in comparison to what in a month the western media will be saying about Russian involvement in Syria.”

Totalitarian Love

Francine Prose

Canal+/Film4 Productions

Yorgos Lanthimos’s strange and original films observe and reflect the culture in which we live. At the same time they create a parallel, fanciful world by taking our social institutions, our common experiences, and our deepest emotions—and pushing them to their illogical extreme. Lanthimos’s new film, The Lobster, takes on the subject of modern love. It posits a dystopian near-future in which it has become illegal not to be part of a couple.

The Truth in Midair

J. Hoberman

Sony Pictures

Like many post-9/11 films, The Walk is, in part, experiential, partaking in the simulated “new real-ness” which with cinema, as an institution, has responded to the loss of authenticity brought about by relentless digitalization. Petit’s actual walk was approximately three times as long as the filmed sequence but the difference is that, through the magic of digital cinema, Zemeckis is able to place the audience with Petit, on “an island floating in mid-air on the edge of the void.”

A Frisky ‘Figaro’

Garry Wills

Michael Brosilow/Lyric Opera of Chicago

In the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s season-opening production of The Marriage of Figaro, director Barbara Gaines lets us know early on that this is going to be a lusty romp. As the overture is playing, a scream is heard from a woman in “naughty maid” costume running down the aisle, pursued by the Count in a long red robe that makes him look like Sargent’s portrait of the womanizing Doctor Pozzi now on display at the Metropolitan Museum.

The Trotsky Paradox

William T. Vollmann

David Levine

Bernard Wolfe’s The Great Prince Died: A Novel About the Assassination of Trotsky stands or falls by its invocation of the Kronstadt rebellion. If Trotsky was correct at Kronstadt, then his own murder could also be construed as right. If his murder stinks (as I most certainly believe), then he was wrong at Kronstadt, in which case his murder again becomes justified so long as he supports Kronstadt-like actions.

A Prophet in Reverse

Jorge Luis Borges and Osvaldo Ferrari

Studio Pericoli

Jorge Luis Borges: History would be the art of divining the past, no?

Osvaldo Ferrari: Yes, the art of the historian.

Borges: Yes, once something has happened, one demonstrates that it happened inevitably. But it would be more interesting to apply that to the future.

Ferrari: That’s more difficult than to predict the past—it’s harder to be a prophet than a historian.

Borges: Well, that’s how literary histories are written.

A Garden for Oliver Sacks

Roberto Calasso

Roberto Calasso

It is not entirely clear why, but my meetings with Oliver Sacks were all marked by an irrational euphoria. The places changed, from the Bronx to Spoleto—but above all Manhattan. We would start to talk and the sense of time would discreetly dissolve. On two occasions it also seemed to me that I could glimpse something of Oliver’s innermost essence.

The Edge of Horror

Stephen King

Edward Gorey Charitable Trust

Neither of William Sloane’s novels are, strictly speaking, science fiction. They are good stories, and can be read simply for pleasure, but what makes them fascinating and takes them to a higher level is their complete (and rather blithe) disregard of genre boundaries.

Egypt’s Media: Endorsing Repression

Leslie T. Chang

Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has used lethal force to stamp out dissent; reports of abuse and torture are widespread. But as I discovered in interviews with leading Egyptian talk show hosts and newspaper editors, they regard the defining feature of Sisi’s administration—the use of state-sanctioned violence and politicized trials to maintain order and crush its opponents—with near-unanimous approval.