“The art of photography is deliciously impure: its aesthetic triumphs and traditions are inescapably enmeshed in the messy world of work.” So writes Peter Galassi, curator of “Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century,” the Museum of Modern Art’s ambitious new exhibition devoted to the work of one of the most brilliant photographers of the twentieth century.
William Blake: Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing, c. 1785
It never crossed my mind that I would become the poet laureate of the United States. The day I received the call from the Library of Congress, I was carrying a bag of groceries from the car to the house when the phone rang. They didn’t beat around the bush, but told me straight out that this was an honor and not a job they were offering to me. Of course, I was stunned, and without letting the groceries out of my hand, told them that I needed to think about it for a while and that I would call them back tomorrow. My first thought was, who needs this?
The fate of Raoul Wallenberg, the heroic young Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews before he was arrested by the Soviets in Budapest in early 1945, is one of the great unresolved mysteries of World War II. For decades, the official story from Moscow has been that Wallenberg died in Moscow’s Lubyanka Prison on July 17, 1947—two and a half years after he was captured. But many questions have surrounded that story, and now the Russians themselves have come up with startling new information suggesting that Wallenberg did not die on that date.
After the second televised prime ministerial debate, Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats continue to run neck-and-neck in opinion polls with David Cameron’s Conservatives, with Gordon Brown and Labour in third place.
This interesting, but not entirely unexpected, turn of events has little to do with Clegg’s personal charisma or a sudden rush of popular enthusiasm for Lib Dem policies, like their strong support for Britain’s membership of the EU, their redistributionist tax schemes (among other measures, they’d raise the basic tax threshold to £10,000 per annum and slap a “mansion tax” on houses worth more than £2m), and their championing of civil liberties against New Labour’s increased use of extended detention without trial and mass surveillance. Polling suggests that most Britons are either lukewarm about the Lib Dem proposals or don’t know what they are. Their enthusiasm for Clegg, and their seeming readiness to vote Lib Dem on May 6, has another likely explanation.
In reporting on the two million people who have fled Iraq since 2003, Alisa Roth and I have been struck by the extent to which their experiences have eluded visualization. Unlike during other refugee crises, we have seen no columns of people on foot pushing their belongings in carts and wheelbarrows; no large camps with blue UN tents; no legions of starving, half-naked children gathered in dusty rural terrain. Instead, hundreds of thousands of ordinary, middle-class men and women—educated city-dwellers like ourselves—have fled from Baghdad and other Iraqi cities to similarly anonymous urban areas outside the country.
Archbishop Romero surrounded by nuns, shortly after being gunned down at Mass, El Salvador, March 24, 1980 (Eulalio Pérez)
I was in Managua, Nicaragua, thirty years ago, recovering from dengue fever, when my editor at The Guardian called from London to say that I should get on the next plane to San Salvador: the Archbishop of El Salvador had been gunned down while saying Mass. I remember laughing at the impossibility of this too literary story—Murder in the Cathedral; of course it wasn’t true!—and then feeling sick. Óscar Arnulfo Romero, a self-effacing, not particularly articulate, stubborn man, who insisted every day on decrying the violence and terror that ruled his country, was, after all, the hierarch of the Catholic Church in El Salvador. He had all the weight of the Vatican behind him, and the natural respect of even the most right-wing zealot for such a holy office. And then there was the act itself: murder at the most sacred moment of the Catholic Mass. Who, in such a Catholic country, would dare to violate the transubstantiation of Christ’s body?
At ten o’clock on a recent weekday morning, when the crowds were let in the door and up the stairs to the big hall on the second floor of MoMA, Marina Abramović was already seated in the center of a space that had been cordoned off by lines on the floor, strong lights making it seem like a movie set. She was wearing an immensely dramatic flowing red dress. Her black hair was in a single plait which folded around her left shoulder. She had her back to the stairs. She would not move from her own chair, not once, not even to eat or go to the bathroom, while the museum stayed open.
Charges and counter-charges are swirling around the Catholic church. Newspaper articles have raised questions about how much Pope Benedict XVI knew about particular cases and the ways in which he himself dealt with abusers. No one can predict what will happen as more cases come to light and more victims tell their stories. But it’s worth stepping back, for a moment, and remembering that Benedict is probably the greatest scholar to rule the church since Innocent III, the brilliant jurist who served from 1198 to 1216. He knows how to wield all the tools of historical research and theological and exegetical argument. No one has studied the development and meaning of the Catholic liturgy with more care and precision, or performs Mass more beautifully. His rich sense of the value of tradition—and the way it develops over time—will likely determine his response to the current crisis.
I never knew Toni Avegael. She was born in Antwerp in February 1926 and lived there most of her life. We were related: she was my father’s first cousin. I well remember her older sister Lily: a tall, sad lady whom my parents and I used to visit in a little house somewhere in northwest London. We have long since lost touch, which is a pity. I am reminded of the Avegael sisters (there was a middle girl, Bella) whenever I ask myself—or am asked—what it means to be Jewish.