Roving thoughts and provocations

My Life, Their Archive

Tim Parks

Sotheby’s/PA Wire

Today’s successful author will sooner or later be invited to sell personal papers. Not just manuscripts, typescripts, notebooks, but electronic data too. Your emails to your children, your ex-wife or husband, lovers, ex-lovers, dying parents, estranged cousins, needy friends, your fencing with would-be publishers and agents, your self-promotional lobbying for the Pulitzer or the Booker.

Tiananmen: How Wrong We Were

Jonathan Mirsky

Catherine Henriette/AFP/Getty Images

A few days before the killings in Tiananmen Square, thousands of unarmed soldiers marched towards the square only to be scolded by elderly women and shamed into turning back. A column of tanks had been stalled on the edge of the city, where young men urinated on their treads while local women offered the crews cups of tea. Now we really thought the Party was finished. How wrong we were.

Stendhal’s Grudge

Adam Michnik

Julien Sorel’s grudge bred that peculiar amalgamation that was the tragic experience of all the revolutions of the twentieth century. A begrudged rebellion and the need for vengeance changed a rebel into an executioner—the heirs of Robespierre and Danton, Julien Sorel and Auguste Blanqui, taught us that. We listen very carefully to the words of the rebels who wish to turn everything upside down. And we closely watch their hands. We know all the sins and villainies of this world of ours. Sometimes Stendhalian fury grips us.

Majesty, Vehemence, Splendor’

Andrew Butterfield

National Gallery, London

Paolo Veronese’s prodigious facility, love of magnificence, and untroubled service to the dreams of wealthy clients were all counted against him for much of the twentieth century. Few great artists have seemed less radical or rebellious. But this reaction overlooks his own ambitions as a painter as revealed in The Family of Darius before Alexander. He worked with breathtaking dispatch and unerring certainty, and was able to create almost any effect.

China: Detained to Death

Renee Xia and Perry Link

Chinese Human Rights Defenders

It is crucial to understand what happened to Cao Shunli, a Chinese legal rights activist who had a chronic liver condition when she was detained last year. She died on March 14 after being denied treatment in prison—a pattern that has emerged with other Chinese detainees.

Six Chairs in Search of an Audience

Tim Parks

Roger Viollet/Getty Images

When you head for the exit in the cinema, something I do fairly often, you possibly bother the person next to you for a few seconds, but you can’t upset what’s happening on the screen. As for a book, no one will be disturbed or offended when you send it off with the old newspapers for recycling. The theater is quite different, especially the small, intimate stages where experimental material first gets an airing.

Ways of Being Alien

Geoffrey O’Brien

A24 Films

At any given moment in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, we might be watching a fantastic tale dressed up in documentary trappings or a mass of documentary footage held together by the wisp of a fantasy. The fantastic element resides essentially in the person of Scarlett Johansson, who while often naked is at the same time entirely concealed.

Engineering Elegance

Martin Filler

Cecil Beaton/Vogue/Condé Nast

The highly constructed garments created by the Anglo-American Charles James (1906–1978)—who is the subject of a new retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art—are such feats of fabric engineering that they can stand up by themselves. This is all the more striking in view of the era in which he reached the height of his career. During the 1930s, women’s clothing was generally limp and clinging, but James was able to achieve strong, sculptural shapes with stiff materials like grosgrain and taffeta that stood away from the body.

The Beauty in Her Sacrifice

Ian Buruma

Shintoho

If there was one subject that obsessed the Japanese master film director Kenji Mizoguchi it was that of women sacrificing themselves for their men. He was himself a great patron of brothels and geisha houses, but he felt so strongly about the awful fate of women that he once stood up in a room full of prostitutes and begged their forgiveness.