Adam Thirlwell is the author of two novels, Politics and The Escape; a novella, Kapow!; an essay-book, The Delighted States, winner of a Somerset Maugham Award; and a compendium of translations edited for McSweeney’s. He has twice been selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. His new novel, Lurid & Cute, will be published in 2015. He is the recipient of the 2015 E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

A Thousand Movies in One

Portuguese director Miguel Gomes in “The Enchanted One,” the third part of Arabian Nights, 2015

Director Miguel Gomes has always enjoyed combining two separate elements in a single film, and in Arabian Nights this technique is cosmically expanded. The dream is of pure lightness (a film as fantasia) and simultaneously of pure weight (a film as witness). Or, to put this another way: How do you take political and aesthetic risks in a film’s form while dramatizing them within that film as well?

Devaluing the Dirty War

Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1978

Roberto Bolaño wrote that Alan Pauls was “one of the best living Latin American writers”—curious readers unacquainted with Pauls’s work might begin with his new novel A History of Money, a desolate, delighted history of our impermanent valuations.

Dancing Mrs. Dalloway

Alessandra Ferri in “I Now, I Then,” the first part of Wayne McGregor's Woolf Works, 2015

Should a ballet be about something? Wayne McGregor’s new ballet, Woolf Works, which is derived from, or based on—the verbs being precisely the problem—three novels by Virginia Woolf, recently premiered at Covent Garden in London. It is a brilliant, uneven, tender piece—and it offers one way of thinking about this constant conundrum for the art of ballet.

It’s Still a Scandal!

James Joyce, circa 1922
Something is missing in Ulysses—which could be called romanticism, or the ideal, or the metaphysical; and its absence is the deep reason why Joyce’s early readers were so alarmed, and why it can still disturb.

The Giant Slightness of Being

How small can a story be? In the avant-garde underground of Stalinist Leningrad, Daniel Kharms once wrote a story in two sentences. In the first, he described how one day “a man on his way to work met another man who, having bought a loaf of Polish bread, …

Louis CK in Double Vision

 A scene from Louis CK's Tomorrow Night

Tomorrow Night represents Louis CK’s provenance. It makes the sofa-bound viewer consider a constant artistic problem: How does a voice become a voice? And there are perhaps two elements to Tomorrow Night that offer a possible answer. There’s the plot—which manages by a series of dreamlike maneuvers to corral its characters into gruesome situations. Our masturbating hero, Charles Brown, after a failed date with a girl called Lola Vagina, ends up marrying an old woman called Florence, because of the orderly beauty of her housekeeping, and adopting a sullen teenager called Clean. And there are the details that are pure surreal digression: like that deadpan way in which Louis CK, hosing down the sidewalk, also hoses down passing pedestrians, with no comment from anyone. No one in this miniature sequence is ever seen again.

When the Devil Danced in Hungary

László Krasznahorkai, Switzerland, 1993
One evening in October 2010, the Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai—a man in his fifties with a biblical look—appeared on the balcony of the Collegium Hungaricum in Berlin, a white modernist building that’s a block north of Unter den Linden. At the same time an image of a dog, in silhouette, was projected from inside the building onto a large window below the balcony. Without introduction or explanation, Krasznahorkai then began to speak. And at first, I suppose that the uninformed commuter in Berlin might have assumed that the monologue this man was pronouncing was in the imaginary voice of the silhouetted dog—stretched out, as if leaping. Whenever Krasznahorkai paused, in precise synchronization, a new image of the leaping dog’s silhouette was projected onto the window. Meanwhile, Krasznahorkai didn’t acknowledge the people standing below him on the pavement. He simply spoke to the street. As he continued, the nature of this monologue became more violent, threatening apocalypse.

In Kundera’s Laboratory

Milan Kundera’s new book on the art of the novel begins with an essay on the art of painting. The essay is about Francis Bacon, and it was written in 1995—when Kundera had been living in France for twenty years, following his emigration from Communist Prague. It opens with him …

The Master of the Crossed Out

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky on vacation in Italy, summer 1912
In December 1926 the German critic Walter Benjamin arrived in Moscow. Almost ten years after the Communist revolution, he was curious to see what revolution now looked like. It turned out, wrote Benjamin, that revolution was really renovation. Moscow was the city of Do-It-Yourself. Everywhere, he observed, there was this gusto for what the Russians called remont: an endlessly renewable, delighted, fussy passion for fixing, touching up, reupholstering, redecorating. “Each thought, each day, each life lies here as on a laboratory table.” He added: “The country is mobilized day and night.” Another inhabitant of this city was Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, a Ukrainian writer with a comically unpronounceable Polish name.

The Poet’s Head on a Platter

Vera and Vladimir Nabokov, Ithaca, New York, September 1958
On May 28, 1940, Vladimir Nabokov arrived in New York—the third major stage of his exile from Russia, after Berlin and Paris. Nathalie Nabokov—his cousin Nicolas’s ex-wife—was meant to be meeting him, his wife Vera, and their son Dmitri. She had, however, been confused about their precise time of arrival.