It has long been a commonplace that fiction provides a way to talk about potentially embarrassing or even criminal personal experiences without bringing society’s censure on oneself. Put the other way round you could say that taboos and censorship encourage creativity, of a kind. But Taboo after taboo has fallen away. Homosexuality is no longer something to be hidden. Love relationships and marriages are no longer conceived of as fortresses of propriety. And everybody’s leaving traces of what they do or say on email and Twitter. What does all this mean for writers?
In his new film Diplomacy, Volker Schlöndorff has expertly created the creepy, almost surreal atmosphere of two men discussing the ruination of Paris. The only risk of historical fiction, especially in the movies, is that it ends up replacing in the public memory the facts of what actually happened. But Schlöndorff is not a historian. The best way to look at his film is as a love story about Paris.
If ISIS captures the Kurdish city of Kobani, the militants could consolidate their control of a long stretch of the Turkish border, and establish a corridor between their stronghold of Raqqa in eastern Syria and positions further West. But for the Turkish government, the fall of Kobani might be a price worth paying for the sobering effect it would have on what Turkey deems a greater threat: Kurdish nationalism.
One could be forgiven for being confused about where things stand with voter ID laws in this fall’s midterm election. Federal-court orders have altered voting rules in a number of states, just weeks before voters go to the polls. A larger concern is whether states can prevent confusion among poll workers themselves—the people who have the de-facto last word in determining whether you are eligible to vote.
Most viewers, I’d assume, might hesitate to identify with the appealing, but maddeningly solipsistic Pfeffermans of the new Amazon series Transparent. At its center is the balding, thickset Mort/Maura, not exactly a wildly attractive exemplar of either gender. And yet I finished each installment eager to spend more time with the Pfeffermans, whose individual and collective predicaments seem at once entirely unique and universal.
On the corner of Fifth Avenue and 13th Street, a block from where I lived in the 1960s, there was a movie theater that showed a lot of foreign movies. I’d go to bed at night, toss and turn unable to sleep, and realize that I still had time to catch the late show. I remember exiting through the empty lobby at one o’clock in the morning wearing pajamas under my raincoat and finding that an inch or two of snow had fallen in the meantime.
To the surprise of virtually everyone, on Monday morning the Supreme Court denied review in all of the marriage equality cases pending before it. The decision not to intervene is a huge win for marriage equality, and a prudent if unusual act of judicial statesmanship.
The Pakistani Taliban’s new announcement of support for ISIS is a startling indication of how much ISIS is changing the jihadist landscape. For a younger generation of Islamic militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it suggests a readiness to bring ISIS-style tactics to their own campaigns.
What would have happened if the federal government had saved Lehman Brothers back in September 2008? The nation would certainly not have passed the Dodd-Frank financial reforms. Nor would there have been enormous pressure on other federal agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission to become more vigilant.
We tend to categorize novels as well or poorly written, popular or unpopular. Perhaps more usefully, we should distinguish those that make the conversation, and those that do not: Jonathan Franzen’s TheCorrections became part of the national conversation; Lydia Davis’s short stories, for all their brilliance, did not.