Roving thoughts and provocations

Lincoln’s War of Words

Ted Widmer

Art Resource

As It is clear that writing was a form of self-therapy for Abraham Lincoln, and before he could save the nation, he needed to find the right words, to save himself. The exhibition Lincoln Speaks opens with Lincoln as a young child scrawling some mischievous doggerel: “Abraham Lincoln, his hand and pen, he will be good, but God knows when.”

The Case for Hollywood History

Francine Prose

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Perhaps my skepticism about holding movies like Selma, The Imitation Game, and The Theory of Everythingto rigorous standards of veracity has to do with the fact that I grew up during an era in which “historical” films routinely departed so far—and often so comically—from reality.

China: Inventing a Crime

Perry Link

Elizabeth Dalziel/AP Images

After nearly eight months in detention, Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang has been informed that formal charges are now being considered against him. The crime? “Picking fights and causing trouble” on his microblog. It may seem odd to detain someone first and then go look for the reasons for the detention, but this is a well-established pattern.

In Search of Authenticity

Tim Parks

David Levine

When an author renounces some easy twist, some expected payoff, to take us into territory we didn’t expect but that nevertheless fits with the drift of the story, then the novel gains force and conviction. And when he or she does it again, telling quite a different story that is nevertheless driven by the same urgent tensions, then we are likely moving into the zone of authenticity.

Renzo Piano’s Hidden Masterpiece

Martin Filler

Michel Denancé/Renzo Piano Building Workshop

Though it has received scant attention since its opening in Paris last fall, Renzo Piano’s discreetly restrained Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé ranks among his best works. With its voluptuously swelling aluminum-and-glass-clad form, it is an ingenious demonstration of how to insert a work of avant-garde architecture into a historic setting.

A Nightmare on Broadway

Francine Prose

New Regency Pictures/Fox Searchlight Pictures

In Birdman Alejandro González Iñárritu has taken his cinematic nightmare to the Great White Way, illuminated it with Broadway footlights, located the pathos—and the hilarity—in the New York stage, and given us a cast of nuanced and beautifully acted minor characters.

Thomas Struth: Style Without Style

Jana Prikryl

Thomas Struth/Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In an afterword to his recent book Walking, Thomas Struth writes that he took the photographs “by rubbing my shoulders and my senses against ordinary, everyday architecture again.” This seems to acknowledge the project’s departure from the monumental rhetoric of his current show at the Metropolitan Museum, where twenty-five photographs are assembled in a kind of “greatest hits” homage.

Mark Strand: Living Gorgeously

Charles Simic

Lawrence Schwartzwald/Splash News/Corbis

Mark Strand, who died in November at the age of eighty after a long battle with cancer, is the first among my oldest friends to go. Having known him for forty-six years, I’ve come to realize since he passed away what a huge presence he was in my life and still continues to be.