Roving thoughts and provocations

The Guts of Spring

Christopher Benfey

Städel Museum, Frankfurt

The ritual sacrifice of animals, except under carefully regulated conditions (sport-hunting, the slaughter of livestock, the euthanizing of pets) is strictly prohibited. And yet, perhaps there are other occasions in our daily lives that invite the attention of the haruspex.

Too Many Books?

Tim Parks

Erich Lessing/Art Resource

In 1742, responding to what he already saw as a deafening chorus of incompetent poets, Alexander Pope spoke of “snows of paper” providing space for the ever more widespread publication of the “uncreating word.” Two and half centuries later, the Internet and the e-book have also given us access to hundreds of thousands of contemporary novels from this very space into which I am writing. Is it possible our experience of literature might be crucially influenced by the mere availability of the materials necessary for its production? If the Internet hadn’t opened up endless oceans of space on which to write, would we take our books more seriously?

Gawking at Quixote

Colm Tóibín

The Hispanic Society of America, New York

The artist Charles Coypel’s images of Don Quixote are so dramatic in their visual scope and use of space and color and contrast that they must have been a gift to both engravers and tapestry-makers. As much as Cervantes, he could work wonders with chance, mayhem, indignity, happenstance, and misadventure, and there is a sense of him as being a genuine kindred spirit with the novelist.

Targeted Killing: The New Questions

David Cole

Jane Rosenberg/Associated Press

To kill or capture? That is the chilling question that US officials—and even members of Congress—reportedly ask behind closed doors these days. Revelations in a Brooklyn terrorism case show that parts of our government wanted to kill, without a trial, a citizen who, even if convicted, will now face a maximum of fifteen years in prison.

China: What the Uighurs See

Ian Johnson

Carolyn Drake

Xinjiang is one of those remote places whose frequent mention in the international press stymies true understanding. American photographer Carolyn Drake has come to know the region well, and struggled to break free from its clichés. The summation of her work is Wild Pigeon, an ambitious, beautiful, and crushingly sad book.

Georges Perec’s Lost Novel

David Bellos

Jean-Claude Deutsch/Paris Match via Getty Images

I went to dine with a former journalist who’d met Georges Perec at the Moulin d’Andé, the writer’s retreat in Normandy that was Perec’s second home in the later 1960s. Toward the end of the evening, he let it out that someone had once given him a Perec manuscript to look at. Could I perhaps tell him what it was? He went to a wardrobe, pulled out a manila envelope and handed it to me.

A Hollywood Exorcism

Francine Prose

Prospero Pictures/Focus World

What’s exciting about Maps to the Stars, David Cronenberg and Bruce Wagner’s new film about Los Angeles, is the inventiveness and ease with which it stakes out a dark corner of territory under the bright California sun. It’s Hollywood hell, populated by suffering souls: comic, sad, frightening characters, who are believable, more than slightly weird, and all, it turns out, connected.

Ukraine: Two Poets in the War

Tim Judah

Larry Towell/Magnum Photos

In general terms, most Ukrainians, are more united than ever and many say that Vladimir Putin and the war have done more to strengthen Ukrainian patriotism than anything since independence in 1991. But it is impossible to ignore that the conflict is by now not only a matter of aggression by Russia but also a civil war in the east.

A New Future for Iranian Physics?

Jeremy Bernstein

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images

One of the most interesting parts of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action reached between the P5+1 countries and Iran has to do with the enrichment facility at Fordow. According to the plan, the facility is to be wholly converted to peaceful purposes. But the important thing to know about Fordow is its underground location.

The Lost Purpose of School Reform

Diane Ravitch

Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

Fifty years ago, Congress passed a federal education law to help poor children get a good public education. As the House and the Senate now debate a reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, it is crucial to understand the law’s origins and how it has evolved over time.