Roving thoughts and provocations

Negative Space

Thomas Beller

Dominique Nabokov

There is so much action in New York one is sometimes perversely excited by those moments, or those places, when one is not part of it. Where nothing is happening. These places, in turn, become little air-pockets of possibility—what I call negative space. They are unidentified, off the grid, the staging areas for trysts, seductions, encounters. They are the places where crimes are committed, of one kind or another. The most conspicuous, hiding-in-plain-sight negative space in New York is Central Park.

On Fang Lizhi (1936–2012)

Perry Link

Fang Lizhi’s path through life observed a pattern that is common to China’s dissidents: a person begins with socialist ideals, feels bitter when the rulers betray the ideals, resorts to outspoken criticism, and ends in prison or exile. Liu Binyan, Wang Ruowang, Su Xiaokang, Hu Ping, Zheng Yi, Liu Xiaobo, and many others have followed this pattern. Most have been literary figures—writers, editors, or professors of Chinese—who base their dissent in the study of Chinese society and culture. Fang was a natural scientist, and this made him different in important ways.

An End to the War on Drugs?

Alma Guillermoprieto

AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

As a normally pro-forma gathering of hemispheric leaders gets under way in Cartagena, Colombia, this weekend, Latin America could instead be approaching its declaration of independence from the United States. For the first time, the region might come out against a US policy. The immediate cause is the War on Drugs. Unimpeachable allies of the United States, like Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla, and Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos, who is the meeting’s host, have expressed their support for legalization of the drug trade. And, as is not infrequently the case in matters concerning Washington’s home hemisphere, the US has been caught unaware.

Modernism’s Slyest Lens

Martin Filler

Pedro E. Guerrero

The ever growing recognition of mid-twentieth-century architectural photography has elevated the reputations of Julius Shulman, Ezra Stoller, and Balthazar Korab from that of workaday chroniclers of America’s postwar building boom to co-inventors of the High Modernist mystique. Yet there is a fourth member of their generation whose remarkable work on modernism has been far less widely known: Pedro E. Guerrero, who will turn 95 later this year, and who for many years was Frank Lloyd Wright’s favorite lensman. Working for the period’s most stylish glossy magazines, Guerrero devised a deceptively suave manner that in retrospect can seem quite subversive. It is particularly welcome then, that the Julius Shulman Institute at the Woodbury School of Architecture in Burbank has organized Pedro E. Guerrero: Photographs of Modern Life, the first major retrospective of his work.

The Mind Outside My Head

Tim Parks

Peter Marlow/Magnum Photos

“There are no images.” This was the first time I noticed Riccardo Manzotti. It was a conference on art and neuroscience. Someone had spoken about the images we keep in our minds. Manzotti seemed agitated. The girl sitting next to me explained that he built robots, was a genius. “There are no images and no representations in our minds,” he insisted. “Our visual experience of the world is a continuum between see-er and seen united in a shared process of seeing.” As a novelist I’d always supposed I was dealing in images, imagery. This stuff might have implications. So we had a beer together.

More on the Toulouse Murders and Anti-Semitism

William Pfaff

Franck Prevel/Getty Images

More may be said about the Toulouse murders. In murdering the children, Mohammed Merah acted ruthlessly and despicably. We do not know enough about him to be sure he killed principally out of anti-Semitism, which is an irrational hatred with historical origins not to be gone into here. Merah killed Muslim, or supposedly Muslim French soldiers (the one survivor was Christian, and remains in a coma), because they betrayed Islam by joining the enemy army. I would presume that he acted—in the case of both the children and the soldiers—out of what to him was a rational motive, to kill, or punish, those he believed or had been told were enemies of Islam. It does not appear he was directly influenced by any coherent ideology.

Scholars of Sodom

Roberto Bolaño

Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

It’s 1972 and I can see V.S. Naipaul strolling through the streets of Buenos Aires. Well, sometimes he’s strolling, but sometimes, when he’s on his way to meetings or keeping appointments, his gait is quick and his eyes take in only what he needs to see in order to reach his destination with a minimum of bother, whether it’s a private dwelling or, more often, a restaurant or a café, since many of those who’ve agreed to meet him have chosen a public place, as if they were intimidated by this peculiar Englishman, or as if they’d been disconcerted by the author of Miguel Street and A House for Mr. Biswas when they met him in the flesh and had thought: Well, I didn’t think it would be like this, or: This isn’t the man I’d imagined, or: Nobody told me.

Our War Against the Pashtuns

Anatol Lieven

Peter van Agtmael/Magnum Photos

The war in Afghanistan has always been an Afghan civil war, as well as a war between the Taliban and Western forces. The fact is that a plurality of Afghans are rural Pashtuns. By tipping the military balance in favor of the non-Pashtun nationalities, the US and NATO intervention has motivated Pashtuns to fight against the western forces. The tragic reality is that the presence and actions of the US forces themselves have contributed to Taliban support. If there was any doubt about that before the burning of the Korans and the massacre by Sergeant Robert Bales in Kandahar, there can be no doubt now.

Why the Health Care Challenge Is Wrong

Ronald Dworkin

Franz Jantzen

The Supreme Court’s hearings in the health care case, Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, over a nearly unprecedented three days of oral argument, generated all the attention, passion, theater, and constant media and editorial coverage of a national election or a Super Bowl. The legal issues, most analysts think, are not really controversial: the Constitution’s text, the Supreme Court’s own precedents, and basic constitutional principle seem obviously to require upholding the Affordable Health Care Act. But the questions of the ultra-conservative justices in the oral argument have now convinced most commentators that on the contrary, in spite of text, precedent, and principle, the Court will declare the Act unconstitutional in June, by a 5-4 vote.