My first reading of The Waste Land, in a high-school literature class at age sixteen, was hardly a reading at all. It would take many lessons and cribs and further readings before suddenly Eliot’s approach could begin to awaken recognition and appreciation. The mind had conjured a lock that allowed the poem to function as a key; it fitted into my mind and something turned and swung open.
What is its greater contribution to humanity at large: Greek theater or double-entry bookkeeping? Aeschylus or Keynes? This summer, in the ancient Greek theater of Syracuse in Sicily, Aeschylus’s The Suppliants, one of the world’s most ancient plays, turned out to be one of the world’s most timely, in the hands of an Italian actor-director who was once an immigrant himself, Moni Ovadia.
Is America an Empire? Should it be? I’ve recently found myself thinking about Rudyard Kipling and Teddy Roosevelt, two celebrants of empire who became close friends over a series of visits they made to the Washington Zoo in 1895. We already know that the 2016 presidential campaign will involve a great deal of muscular talk about America restoring its leadership in world events. But what is to be the future of the American empire?
Despite Tunisia’s unusual political and cultural assets, it has now suffered the two worst terrorist attacks in its history—both involving radicalized young Tunisians, both seeming to target the post-revolutionary order the country has worked so hard to construct. How can the Arab world’s most promising and ambitious new democracy also be one of its greatest producers of violent jihadists?
In their way, The Wolfpack and The Tribe represent the classic Lumière/Méliès dichotomy—do motion pictures reflect or construct reality? The opposition has existed since the medium was invented. But here there is a twist. The Wolfpack is a documentary that delights the viewer with proliferating fictions. The Tribe, more brutal, is an invented story founded on a discomfiting bedrock of documentary truth.
In the Supreme Court term that ended Monday, the liberal justices won twice as many closely divided cases as they lost. Does this amount to a shift to the left by the Roberts Court? Part of the reason this year’s results seem so remarkable is that the Court’s conservatism has often been exaggerated. But it is also possible that it has proved less conservative than many feared because the country is less conservative.
Vladimir Nabokov tells us, “One cannot read a book: one can only reread it.” Only on a third or fourth reading, he claims, do we start behaving toward a book as we would toward a painting, holding it all in the mind at once. He does not mention forgetting, but it’s clear that this is what he is largely talking about.
Julie Taymor declared recently that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is “unfilmable.” The remark was intended not to disparage her own just-released movie version of the play, but to define what it is: a record of a stage production. Cinematic art direction and special effects, however cunning, cannot adequately substitute for the very different kind of magic that actors can create out of the tension of being live on stage.
I usually have no patience for “happy family” literature, not to mention the contemporary habit of adults reading mediocre books for “young adults,” whoever they might be. But when I read Astrid Lindgren’s Seacrow Island (1964), for the first time this spring, I liked it so much that I consumed it slowly, like a savored cake. A month later I read it again, perhaps even more deliberately. It is a beautiful book, for adult readers as well as the children to whom it could be read.
Three years ago, The Municipal Archives received a call from the NYPD, wanting to know whether they could help dispose of a roomful of photographic material stored at One Police Plaza. The final yield amounted to about 180,000 images from perhaps 50,000 cases, ranging from an uncertain point prior to 1914 all the way to 1972. These pictures are of undeniable photographic significance.