Roving thoughts and provocations

Last Words

Charles Simic

FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Why the enormous interest in the final thoughts of men and women who were often guilty of committing horrific crimes? It must be the same morbid curiosity that brought huge crowds of Americans to public executions in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Many considered these grim occasions so much fun they brought their families along. The spectators didn’t mind if the hanging they were watching was botched and the condemned struggled choking for a long while at the end of the rope, or if his body dropped headless to the ground, and greeted such horrors with “rude jests” and “rabid laughter.” They expected, as part of the program, to hear a public admission of guilt, expression of remorse, appeal for forgiveness from God and the assembled, and a warning about the evils of booze and company of loose women. They were rarely disappointed.

Can the Internet Bring Change to Cuba?

Daniel Wilkinson

Sven Creutzmann/Mambo Photo/Getty Images

For decades, the Castro government has been very effective in repressing dissent in Cuba by, among other things, preventing its critics from publishing or broadcasting their views on the island. Yet in recent years the blogosphere has created an outlet for a new kind of political criticism that is harder to control. Can it make a difference?

Apartheid’s Twisted Dream: David Goldblatt’s South Africa

Joseph Lelyveld

As a matter of crude shorthand, the South African photographer David Goldblatt might be described as his country’s Walker Evans. Though Evans was one of Goldblatt’s models when he was starting out more than a half century ago, the comparison at this point serves only to hint at the moral clarity of his vision, the seriousness of his purpose and the scope of his achievement. It does not prepare you in any serious way for the stirring experience that awaits you at the Jewish Museum where a copious exhibition of his black-and-white work, mainly from the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties—the heyday of apartheid—will be on display through September 19.

Charles Rosen Plays Chopin

Podcast

Dominique Nabokov

Charles Rosen plays the music of Frédéric Chopin and talks to Chris Carroll about the composer’s surprising radicalism and the critical controversy surrounding his work, the mysterious spianato style, and whether there is a right way to play Chopin’s music.

New Art in Old Rome: Playing Among Giants

Ingrid D. Rowland

Giorgio Cosulich/Getty Images

MAXXI is Rome’s new, much-touted national museum of contemporary art (the XXI standing, in Roman numerals, for the present century). With such a mission, this $188 million project of the Italian Ministry of Culture has a number of tasks to perform simultaneously: not only housing what aspires to be an inspirational, international selection of recent work, but also proving that—despite frequent claims to the contrary—a city that once played host and Muse to so many great architects, famous and forgotten, from Etruscan times onward, can do so again.

Tyrant with a Movie Camera

J. Hoberman

Andrei Ujica

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceauşescu, which had its world premiere at Cannes last month and will be turning up at other film festivals this fall, is an example of what the radical Soviet documentarian Dziga Vertov called a “film object.”

Culled from a thousand hours of archival footage and four years in the making, this unconventional documentary assembled by the émigré Romanian film-essayist Andrei Ujică is a three-hour immersion in a totalitarian leader’s official reality. Ceauşescu’s Romania, the Eastern bloc’s most brutally destructive regime, is remembered for its systematic repression, its failed industrialization, and its pervasive police state—including a disastrous ban on contraception that produced a culture of clandestine abortions and horrific orphanages. None of this appears explicitly in the film. Instead, Ujică shows Ceauşescu’s public image as fabricated by (and for) the dictator himself during the course of his catastrophic 25-year reign.

The Roberts Court’s Free Speech Problem

David Cole

Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

On January 21, in its first decision of this term, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court’s five-member conservative majority announced that the First Amendment bars Congress from imposing even mild constraints on the ways corporations can employ their vast financial resources to drown out the voices of ordinary people in federal election campaigns. On June 21, in one of its last decisions of the term, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the same majority, this time joined by Justice John Paul Stevens, ruled that the First Amendment permits Congress to imprison human rights activists for up to fifteen years merely for advising militant organizations on ways to reject violence and pursue their disputes through lawful means. The two decisions purported to apply the same First Amendment standard, but in fact the Court applied that standard in radically different ways. In the Roberts Court’s world, corporations’ freedom to spend unlimited sums of money apparently deserves substantially greater protection than human rights advocates’ freedom to speak.

Maradona and Me

Alma Guillermoprieto

Alma Guillermoprieto

In January 1986, I became the South American bureau chief for a US magazine. It was not a happy marriage, and from the beginning I showed that I was not up to the job. A few weeks into my assignment, my editor phoned me. “We have a great story for you!” he burbled. I said that was wonderful. “We’re going to put you on the cover!” he exclaimed further, and I said that was wonderful too. Bursting with excitement, he said, “It’s Maradona!” There was a pause, and then I asked, “Where is that?” The silence that followed between us was to be never ending.

The Kimbell Gamble

Martin Filler

Robert LaPrelle/Kimbell Art Museum

Those who undertake additions to architectural landmarks ought to abide by the famous medical principle, “first, do no harm.” Thus the best one can say of Renzo Piano’s recently unveiled plans for a $125 million expansion of Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Art Museum of 1966–1972 in Fort Worth is that no fatal physical damage is about to be inflicted on what many revere as the finest of all modern gallery buildings.

The Trouble with Arizona

Larry McMurtry

Scott Olson/Getty Images

On April 23, Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona signed into law what is probably the most stringent and least welcoming immigration law in the nation. Its intent is to have all law enforcement agencies in the state—Federal, state, and local—pool their muscle and get illegal immigrants out of the state of Arizona, pronto. Senate Bill 1070 may be cited as the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.” Its passage immediately set off a chorus of indignation.