Roving thoughts and provocations

Rembrandt in the Depths

Andrew Butterfield

Minneapolis Institute of Arts

“Rembrandt: The Late Works,” an exhibition now on view at London’s National Gallery, will linger long in the mind of anyone who has the pleasure to see it. Bringing together approximately ninety paintings, prints, and drawings Rembrandt made at the end of his life, it reveals a great artist working with unprecedented technical command and emotional power, even as the world closes in around him.

Borges and God

Jorge Luis Borges and Osvaldo Ferrari

Ferdinando Scianna/Magnum Photos

Osvaldo Ferrari: Throughout your writing, you have referred to what’s divine, including the supernatural. That is, you seem to admit that transcendence exists but you don’t call it God.

Jorge Luis Borges: I do think that it’s safer not to call it God. On the other hand, if we employ other words, perhaps less precise or vivid ones, then we could approach the truth, if an approach to truth is possible. Or it could be something that we ignore.

By Horror Haunted

Christopher Benfey

Erich Hartmann/Magnum Photos

My wife and I moved to a new house a few years back. The street address is 666. I warned her that Halloween might be lively at our house and suggested that we get the number changed. I think she was a little embarrassed for me, suspecting that I was superstitious. So far—knock wood—the tricksters have stayed away. But an attempt to remove the diabolical digits from the garage door, where they had been nailed in place by a previous owner, has gone awry. The outlines of the ghostly numbers now shine forth from the stained wood, more visible than ever.

My Asian Road

Leo Rubinfien

Leo Rubinfien/Taka Ishii Gallery/Steven Kasher Gallery

I stayed in quaint hotels and some that were appalling, also in some that were grand. I was an intent, anxious, too-serious boy bent over a heavy novel in the slop-strewn eating hall of a travelers’ block in Shanxi province; at an obscure mountain inn where the rain wouldn’t stop; in Bangkok, at yet another Indian cafe in a murky cul-de-sac. The view changed constantly, but what hardly varied was the sequence of long walks each day.

Liberia: The Hidden Truth About Ebola

Helen Epstein

Abbas Dulleh/AP Images

Even as Ebola hysteria rages in the US, the epidemic here in Liberia, which is supposed to be its epicenter, seems to be subsiding. According to official counts, this impoverished country of 4 million people is currently home to fewer than four hundred Ebola patients and the number of new cases is declining. The paranoid US response could make the disease far more dangerous than it currently is.

Denouncing Surveillance, on Camera

David Cole

Richard Drew/AP Photo

In their extraordinary revelations about what the NSA and its secret programs have been doing, Edward Snowden’s leaks have shown the precariousness of privacy in the digital age. But Laura Poitras’s documentary Citizenfour also demonstrates, unwittingly, that we are part of the problem. We have chosen to broadcast our lives.

Manhood Against Marriage

Francine Prose

Magnolia Pictures

What do males expect of themselves, and what do women want from them? In Ruben Östlund’s engrossing and perceptive film Force Majeure, as in life, questions of masculinity collect around blunt manifestations of bravery and fear, and confrontations with nature.

Okinawa: Why They Chose Death

Jonathan Mirsky

Keystone/Getty Images

Would the Japanese have surrendered without Hiroshima? For decades the question has lingered, as historians have challenged one of the most important American rationales for dropping the bomb. It comes freshly into view in Descent into Hell: Civilian Memories of the Battle of Okinawa, a remarkable new book based on Japanese eyewitness testimony from one of the bloodiest land battles of the war.