Roving thoughts and provocations

Pakistan: A New Beginning?

Ahmed Rashid

K.M. Chaudary/AP Images

Although opposition leader Nawaz Sharif was favored going into Pakistan’s fraught parliamentary elections on Saturday, nobody predicted that his party would win so convincingly. The weeks leading up to the vote were marred by the worst election violence in the country’s history, combined with widespread fear that a divided electorate would fail to produce a government with sufficient clout to deal with growing intolerance, multiple insurgencies, and an imploding economy. But the strong victory by Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML) amid high voter turnout now holds the promise of greater stability—and with it the possibility that a civilian government might at last be equipped to tackle some of these challenges.

A Mind Among Pigs

Gabriel Winslow-Yost

ERBP

Upstream Color, Shane Carruth’s long-awaited second film, begins with an extended sequence of victimization, extraordinary in its deadpan brutality. A young woman (Kris, one of only two characters given real names, played by Amy Seimetz) is stun-gunned outside a bar by a deceptively pleasant-looking man, referred to in the credits as the Thief. He forces a strange grub-like creature down her throat, and she wakes up as a sort of zombie—blank, passive, absolutely credulous and obedient. Over the course of several days, the Thief issues her a series of slightly surreal instructions, takes all her valuables, empties her bank account, even makes her take out a loan on her home to give him more money. Meanwhile, the creature squirms visibly under her skin.

Reading It Wrong

Tim Parks

Grandville

How far is language really able to communicate something new, something that runs contrary to my expectations? One of the intriguing aspects when teaching translation is watching students struggle with sentences that say things they didn’t expect them to say. In many cases, if a writer should come up with some perplexing idea, or, worse still, some declaration running contrary to received wisdom or political correctness, students, but also practiced translators, will end up reducing the text to something more conventional. Do we as readers subconsciously make these “corrections”? How far can they go?

Chavismo After Chávez

Alma Guillermoprieto

Luis Acosta/Getty Images

From one moment to the next it wasn’t so funny anymore: Nicolás Maduro Moros, the late Hugo Chávez’s chosen successor, had gone on the campaign trail with the full backing of the chavista state, chavista judicial system, and chavista coffers. Everyone, possibly including the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski himself, expected him to win an easy victory. Yet on April 14, according to the officially impartial but unashamedly chavista electoral council, Maduro scraped out a tiny victory. Or perhaps he lost. And then chavismo collapsed into a scary collective insanity.

Imelda’s Sweet Sauce

Ian Buruma

Joan Marcus/The Public Theater

Turning the life and times of Imelda Marcos into a piece of musical theater set in a disco is almost too obvious. And yet Here Lies Love, the musician David Byrne’s imagining of Imelda’s inner landscape, mostly works very well. The pop opera, brilliantly staged by Alex Timbers and choreographed by Annie-B Parson, is performed in a made up disco with constantly shifting stages sliding across the floor. As video clips are flashed onto the walls, in a kind of light show of Imelda’s public life, the mostly middle-aged audience is coaxed by a raucous DJ and pink-suited ushers into bopping along with the actors.

My Psychic Garburator

Margaret Atwood

Grandville

Most dreams of writers aren’t about dead people or writing, and—like everyone else’s dreams—they aren’t very memorable. If you keep a dream journal, your mind will obligingly supply you with more dreams and shapelier ones, but you don’t always want that, nor can you necessarily make any sense of what you may have so vividly dreamt. Why, for instance, did I dream I had surged up through the lawn of Toronto’s Victoria College and clomped into the library, decomposing and covered with mud? The librarian didn’t notice a thing, which, in the dream, I found surprising. Was this an anxiety dream? If so, which anxiety?

LA’s Alternate Realities

Martin Filler

Alan E. Leib Collection

How can the most architecturally innovative part of the United States also be such a thoroughgoing urban mess? This spring and summer, two complementary exhibitions seek to bring the unfathomableness of LA into focus. The first, Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940–1990,” which is at the J. Paul Getty Museum through July 21, explores how the city emerged through fitful initial development, explosive postwar growth, and a distinctive built legacy. The second, “Never Built: Los Angeles,” which opens at LA’s Architecture and Design Museum on July 13, examines a stunning array of unexecuted projects to show why the city didn’t become something else.

Guantánamo and Torture: It’s Up to Obama

David Cole

Yahya Arhab/Corbis

Until now, President Obama has put the blame for failing to deal with Guantánamo on Congress. Without question, Congress has made his job more difficult by obstructing detainee transfers with onerous “certification” requirements. But there are steps the president could nonetheless take. For example, the current law permits the executive branch to waive some of the requirements when the transfer “is in the national security interests of the United States.” Moreover, eighty-six detainees have been “cleared for release” but remain in detention. Fifty-six of them are Yemeni citizens, and it was President Obama, not Congress, who placed their release on hold.

Someone Else’s Memories

Francine Prose

Strand Releasing

The most intriguing and moving scene in Carlos Reygadas’s Post Tenebras Lux takes place at a meeting of a local twelve-step recovery group. One by one the men get up and describe, in what we intuit are their own words, the personal crises that drove them to seek help from the group. The camera pans the room. The assembled participants, whom we glimpse only briefly, are clearly not professional actors; they are as unconventionally attractive as the Mennonite characters in his earlier film Silent Light. Their highly condensed confessions are spellbinding and affecting. I was sorry when the scene ended and we returned to Juan and his neurotic preoccupations. It makes one wish that Reygadas will, in the future, redirect his attention away from the work of his cinematic heroes and his own memories and feelings—and return to the lives of others.

Octopus: The Footed Void

Caspar Henderson

Ethan Daniels/Getty Images

In a celebrated poem Ogden Nash begs the octopus to tell him if its limbs are arms or legs. Textbooks have a no-nonsense answer: they are arms, not legs (and emphatically not tentacles). But super tongues would be at least as good. Each octopus arm is a muscular hydrostat, like a human tongue, and each of the tens or hundreds of suckers on it is lined with tens of thousands of chemoreceptors—taste buds to you and me—and a comparable number of nerve endings that provide an exquisite sense of touch.