I was faintly apprehensive when I clambered up the curving staircase of the Courtauld Gallery to see “Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album.” But as soon as I was face to face with his powerful, irreverent sketches, I was both horrified and entranced. The small dancing figures linger in my eye. Once seen, never forgotten.
In his 1934 bestseller, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, Franz Werfel took what might have been a footnote to World War I—the deportation and mass murder of the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian minority—and wrote an epic that anticipated the ominous events unfolding in Germany. Those who read it could see the Young Turks of the novel as the Nazis of real life and the Armenians as Europe’s Jews.
Little by little, I translated myself out of Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul and back into my own. Word by word, I conjured up Istanbul circa 1962. And when I had succeeded in putting myself back there, it turned out not to be the paradise I remembered: the gold was laced with jealousy, confusion, and terror.
In Roman times, the haruspex was a priest who practiced divination by inspecting animal entrails. The ritual sacrifice of animals, except under carefully regulated conditions (sport-hunting, the slaughter of livestock, the euthanizing of pets) is now strictly prohibited. And yet…
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.