The Limits of Satire

Tim Parks

Charlie Hebdo

Is the kind of satire that Charlie Hebdo has made its trademark—explicit, sometimes obscene images of religious figures (God the father, Son, and Holy Spirit sodomizing each other; Muhammad with a yellow star in his ass)—essentially different from mainstream satire? Is it crucial to Western culture that we be free to produce such images? Do they actually work as satire?

France: The Ground Shifts

Mark Lilla

Thibault Camus/AP Images

No one had predicted or even expected the Charlie Hebdo attacks. But already one reads and hears that “all the signs were there” and that “they”—the government, the police, multicultural journalists—refused to recognize them. It is not a hard story to sell.

They’re Watching You Read

Francine Prose

Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In an age in which our email messages can be perused by the NSA and our Facebook posts are scanned for clues to our habits and our desires, what joy and a relief it is, to escape into a book and know that no one is watching. But now it turns out that I haven’t been quite as alone as I’d imagined.

Waking Up to the New al-Qaeda

Ahmed Rashid

AP Images

Almost from the moment the massacre at Charlie Hebdo was first reported last week, there was speculation that the attack might have been tied to ISIS. But while ISIS represents an extraordinary threat of its own, the Paris attacks have demonstrated that the greatest danger to the West is al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch.

Laughter and Terror

Robert Darnton

Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris

One of the many cartoons published in homage to the cartoonists and journalists assassinated on Wednesday in the office of Charlie Hebdo showed a gravestone with the inscription “Died of Laughter.” No one is laughing these days in Paris. In fact, the massacre raises questions about laughter itself.

‘Selma’ vs. History

Elizabeth Drew

Yoichi Okamoto/LBJ Library

By distorting an essential truth about the relationship between Lyndon Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King over the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Selma has opened a very large and overdue debate over whether and how much truth the movie industry owes to the public.

A Grande Dame in Close-Up

Jenny Uglow

Idéale Audience/Gallery Film/Zipporah Films

In Frederick Wiseman’s brilliant new three-hour documentary on the National Gallery in London, we may learn about Caravaggio, Rembrandt, or Vermeer, about Holbein and Henry VIII, about the ethos of the Counter-Reformation or Titian’s use of poesia. But we learn almost more about the varied ways that art can be brought to life today.

Our Animal Hell

Robert Pogue Harrison

Museo del Prado, Madrid

We like to think of ourselves as the stewards or even saviors of nature, yet the fact of the matter is that, for the animal world at large, the human race represents nothing less than a natural disaster. This applies to all creatures, from those that we allow to roam “wild” in designated nature preserves to those we cram together on our chicken farms.

Pynchon’s Blue Shadow

Geoffrey O’Brien

Warner Bros. Pictures

To say that Paul Thomas Anderson has faithfully and successfully adapted Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice to the screen is another way of saying that he has changed it into something entirely different. The words in Anderson’s film are mostly Pynchon’s; the plot elements too, however freely they have been culled and transposed; the free-associative multiplicity and ricocheting mood changes are carried over with a miraculous lightness of touch.

Our New Politics of Torture

Mark Danner, interviewed by Hugh Eakin

DigitalGlobe/ScapeWare3d/Getty Images

One of the main findings of the Senate investigation of the CIA’s torture program was not simply the abuse, or the law-breaking, or the moral reprehensibleness of it. It was that there was a fundamental corruption of governance, in which the CIA persistently lied, not only to Congress but to the executive branch to which it ostensibly reported.