Roving thoughts and provocations

Manhood Against Marriage

Francine Prose

Magnolia Pictures

What do males expect of themselves at this historical moment, and what do women want from them? In Ruben Östlund’s engrossing and perceptive Force Majeure, as in life, questions of masculinity collect around blunt manifestations of bravery and fear, and around confrontations with nature, regardless of how civilized people think they are.

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.

Turkey’s Double Game in Syria

Christopher de Bellaigue

Jacob Simkin/NurPhoto/Corbis

If ISIS captures the Kurdish city of Kobani, the militants could consolidate their control of a long stretch of the Turkish border, and establish a corridor between their stronghold of Raqqa in eastern Syria and positions further West. But for the Turkish government, the fall of Kobani might be a price worth paying for the sobering effect it would have on what Turkey deems a greater threat: Kurdish nationalism.

The Voter ID Mess

Steven H. Wright

Eric Gay/AP Images

One could be forgiven for being confused about where things stand with voter ID laws in this fall’s midterm election. Federal-court orders have altered voting rules in a number of states, just weeks before voters go to the polls. A larger concern is whether states can prevent confusion among poll workers themselves—the people who have the de-facto last word in determining whether you are eligible to vote.

Seeing Our Selves

Francine Prose

Amazon Studios

Most viewers, I’d assume, might hesitate to identify with the appealing, but maddeningly solipsistic Pfeffermans of the new Amazon series Transparent. At its center is the balding, thickset Mort/Maura, not exactly a wildly attractive exemplar of either gender. And yet I finished each installment eager to spend more time with the Pfeffermans, whose individual and collective predicaments seem at once entirely unique and universal.