Over the last ten years or so I have read literary biographies of Dickens, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Hardy, Leopardi, Verga, D. H. Lawrence, Joyce, Woolf, Moravia, Morante, Malaparte, Pavese, Borges, Beckett, Bernhard, Christina Stead, Henry Green, and probably others too. With only the rarest of exceptions, literary biographers present their subjects as simply the most gifted and well-meaning of writers, while their behavior, however problematic and possibly outrageous—Dickens’s treatment of his children, D.H. Lawrence’s fisticuffs with Frieda—is invariably described in a flattering light. Special pleading is everywhere evident, as if biographers were afraid that the work might be diminished by a life that was less than noble.
If countries were ranked by lawlessness, Guatemala would score near the top. The country is ridden by crime and corruption and has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Now, a decision to remove Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz seems aimed at derailing her pursuit of those who committed genocidal violence in the 1980s.
The real estate mogul Aby Rosen is planning to remove a historic Picasso stage curtain from the Seagram Building on February 9. The wall-sized, unframed canvas, which Picasso created in 1919 for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, has hung in the tower’s Four Seasons Restaurant since it opened in 1959. According to the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, Peg Breen, taking down the delicate work could be its death sentence. The Landmarks Conservancy is seeking a last-minute injunction to halt the removal.
Why on earth would the Kremlin decide to host the Games in an underdeveloped place where terrorists lurk nearby—a place that The New York Times describes as “the edge of a war zone”? The answer is not as complicated as it may seem. Vladimir Putin comes from St. Petersburg. He rules from Moscow. But it is the North Caucasus that launched him on his path to the summit of Russian power.
Richard Madsen: The happiness level is diminishing. The pace of economic growth is not continuing like it was. You still have people becoming fabulously wealthy and crassly displaying it, but that also feeds into a deteriorating moral climate.
The atrocities committed by all sides in the increasingly violent Syrian civil war cry out for some form of international accountability. The “Caesar” photos, released in late January, up the stakes dramatically by providing remarkably specific evidence of mass murder and torture by agents of the Syrian government.
For a meager fee of seventy-five kronor Stig Dagerman was commissioned by Sweden’s National Society for Road Safety to write a cautionary tale as part of a campaign designed to get Swedish motorists to slow down on highways. What could have been an ephemeral and gimmicky work of public service fiction became perhaps the greatest short short story in the history of Swedish letters.
By making jobs the centerpiece of the speech, President Obama gave one of his best State of the Union addresses. But the jobs situation is not merely a concern. It is a crisis. Minorities and the young in particular have been battered. And the most necessary measure of all—continued fiscal stimulus to encourage growth—is not being entertained.
Turkey’s political crisis has divided the two groups dominating Turkish life: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP, on the one hand, and an exiled spiritual leader, Fethullah Gulen, whose movement has sweeping influence in the police and the judiciary, on the other. The conflict could end a decade of political stability and economic prosperity.
Was Emily Dickinson a radical poet of the avant-garde, challenging regularized notions of stanza shape, typography, visual and verbal presentation, erotic love? Or was she a poet of restraint, restricting herself to a few traditional patterns of meter and stanza? It is a conflict reaching back to “The War Between the Houses,” when Dickinson’s manuscripts were divided into two main collections.