Roving thoughts and provocations

Raise Your Hand If You’ve Read Knausgaard

Tim Parks

Aubrey Beardsley

Raise your hand if you know what the actual sales are for Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. This mammoth work of autobiography—presently running at three five-hundred-page volumes with three more still to be translated from his native Norwegian—is relentlessly talked about as an “international sensation and bestseller” (Amazon) and constantly praised by the most prestigious critics. Important newspapers carry frequent articles about Knausgaard and his work. In The Guardian, the academic Sarah Churchwell remarks that after sitting on the jury for the Booker prize she looks forward to being “the last reader in Britain” to tackle My Struggle.

The Children of Silicon Valley

Robert Pogue Harrison

HBO

Silicon Valley does not change the world as much as it changes my way of being in it, or better, of not being in it. It changes the way I think, the way I emote, and the way I interact with others. It corrodes the worldly core of my humanity, leaving me increasingly worldless. Thoreau wrote: “Be it life or death, we crave only reality.” If only that were unconditionally true.

NSA Surveillance: What the Government Can’t See

Sue Halpern

Abner Dean

In a July 2 report on the NSA’s warrantless surveillance of non-US citizens, the bipartisan Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board mostly found that the program is working as it was supposed to. But three days later, The Washington Post revealed the program is monitoring American citizens, and that the documents scooped up include baby pictures, love letters, messages between attorneys and their clients.

The Pope and the Pederasts

Garry Wills

Luca Zennaro/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis has acted fast on his preferred issues—poverty and economic justice. He has been slower to apologize to victims of sex abuse by priests, authorize a panel to study the problem, and promise reforms. Is it because all these things are beside the point? Very likely, they are. Without addressing structural issues in the Vatican, meaningful action to restore trust in the priesthood and church authority cannot get far.

Kurdish Independence: Harder Than It Looks

Joost Hiltermann

Kamaran Najm/Metrography/Corbis

For Iraqi Kurds, the jihadist blitz through northwestern Iraq has offered an opportunity to take possession of areas they’ve long claimed as theirs and push for independence. At the heart of these “disputed areas” is the strategic city of Kirkuk, which the highly motivated Kurdish Peshmerga took over in mid-June. But the Kurds’ sudden gains may not be a panacea.

The Witches of West End

Ingrid D. Rowland

Jay Brooks

The presence of a woman director at the Old Vic means that women are running the business of theater more actively than they may have in the past. It is not hard to search for one toppling tyranny in Britain, a tyranny that continues to threaten elsewhere around the globe: the tyranny of male over female. Arthur Miller can rest assured that The Crucible is once again speaking at a crisis point in society.

Bend or Break

Christopher Benfey

Jacob Aue Sobol/Magnum Photos

In art, it is generally more interesting to bend the rules (bend them like Beckham) than to break them. Bend is evolution. Break is revolution. What once seemed revolutionary (Whitman, Impressionism, Duchamp, Cage) often turns out to be evolutionary instead.

“She broke my heart.” In retrospect, she only bent it.

Confessions of a Soccer Addict

Charles Simic

Bob Thomas/Getty Images

I haven’t done a thing in three weeks except watch soccer. Mowing the lawn, paying bills, working on an essay whose deadline is fast approaching, answering dozens of urgent emails—all these have had to wait. Should an unexpected visitor come to the door, I would emulate the example of soccer players and fake an injury, dropping on the floor and writhing in agony until the person left.

ISIS: The New Taliban

Ahmed Rashid

Reuters/Corbis

Like the Taliban, ISIS’s political outlook is distinct from both traditional Islamic fundamentalist parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and global terrorism organizations like al-Qaeda. The extreme version of Islam it imposes terrifies local populations and demoralizes armies and governments. But as the Taliban showed before it, this way of ruling cannot constitute a viable political program.