When I arrived at the London Book Fair on Monday, I saw a huge sign outside showing a cute Chinese boy holding an open book with the words underneath him: “China: Market Focus.” The special guest of this year’s fair was the Chinese Communist Party’s censorship bureau. What has caused a bitter public wrangle in London is that Beijing not only chose—with the full approval of the fair itself and of the British Council—which writers to bring to the fair; it also excluded some of China’s best-known writers. Among these are two Nobel Prize winners: Gao Xingjian, China’s only Literature Prize laureate, who lives in nearby Paris, and Liu Xiaobo, the Peace Prize winner who is now serving out an eleven year prison sentence.
Has there ever been any survey conducted among those who lock themselves in the bathroom inquiring how they spend their time? Do they read, smoke, talk to themselves, think things over, say their prayers, or just stare into space? If not, how come? All those lights burning in bathrooms late at night in large and small cities must indicate someone is doing much more in them than just answering the call of nature. Wives slipping away from husbands who snore, husbands kept awake by their wives grinding their teeth, or just plain old insomniacs, they seek a refuge, a quiet place to read and meditate. With all the surveillance that dozens of government agencies and countless private companies are subjecting every American to, I would not be surprised if they are not already tearing down the veil of secrecy from these late night activities and have a certain dentist in Miami, a farmer in Iowa, a showgirl in Vegas, and thousands of others around the country closely monitored to determine the level of threat they and other bathroom readers may be posing to our country that may require congressional action once their findings are made public.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“The problem is that modernization and protecting heritage are at odds with each other. It’s like driving a car and then you tell someone to look back. You can’t do it. You say, for example, to a Miao woman, ‘Your clothes are beautiful,’ but she says, ‘No, I want to wear jeans.’”
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.
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.