In Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman, the narrator is a septuagenarian literary translator in Beirut—“the Elizabeth Taylor of cities,” as she calls it, “insane, beautiful, tacky, falling apart.” But Aaliya does not feel at home in her native city. For most of the novel, she walks through her neighborhood in West Beirut, remembering past lovers and favorite books.
According to a new opinion survey by the Pew Research Center, only 14 percent of Chinese think that belief in God is necessary for morality—the lowest percentage in any country. But if there’s one trend in China that is hard to miss, it’s the growing number who are taking part in organized religion. Could it be that the Pew study asks the wrong question?
Every time I see a large crowd on TV demonstrating against some autocratic government, I have mixed feelings: admiration for their willingness and bravery to take a stand, and a foreboding that nothing will come of it. I’ve watched too many worthy causes fizzle out over the years. But even by that grim reality the defeat of democracy movements across the Middle East and North Africa is staggering.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Piero della Francesca: Personal Encounters,” is the first ever exhibition about Piero’s devotional works. They are small-size paintings created for bedrooms or set-apart areas in the home. In spirit they take us to much the same austere and bare-bones realm as his more public pictures. Yet they present more directly and pleasurably the qualities that make Piero such a special figure, even by the heady standards of the fifteenth century, when so many Italian and Flemish artists, were finding one personal way after another to portray the actual, corporeal world they lived in.
Books began, in my case, when my parents read to me, so I knew from the start that reading must be a “good” thing. Later I exploited this faith of theirs in the essential goodness of literature to plot my escape from the suffocating world in which they lived. It was perfectly clear to me in adolescence that each member of the family would choose quite different books, and that what you were reading inevitably declared where you stood on the things that mattered in our house. You had to be careful when you chose to share a book.
For those of us who were part of Egypt’s revolution, Iranian artist Shirin Neshat’s new series of works, “Our House Is On Fire,” captures a reality that surrounds us, yet has been all but overlooked in the continuing story of the Arab uprisings: the reality of a country struggling with despair.
The legal doctrine that precludes reliance on evidence obtained from torture is called the “fruit of the poisonous tree” rule. But as the revelations that the CIA interfered with a Senate investigation of CIA abuses reflects, torture does far more than merely “taint” evidence. It corrupts all who touch it.
After more than a dozen years of the US-led “war on terror,” as Pakistan has slid between military and civilian rule, crackdowns and suicide bombings, the cosmopolitan city of Lahore has struggled to maintain its old values. A group of Lahori intellectuals have decided to fight back in the way they best know how: with words and books and open debate.
Does a museum show occupy space—or should it send us hurtling through it? Such is loosely the premise of two very different New York shows this winter, the New Museum’s “Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module” and the Studio Museum in Harlem’s “The Shadows Took Shape,” both featuring art inspired by 1960s and 1970s science fiction films.