David Bromwich is Sterling Professor of English at Yale. Moral Imagination, a collection of his essays, was recently published in paperback. (November 2016)


On the Election—I

What is to be done about the Republican Party? Sixty years ago it was the party of Dwight Eisenhower and a dynamic suburban middle class putting an end at last to the long reign of the New Deal Democrats. This summer it became the pathetic captive of Donald Trump, a television performer professing to speak for a discontented and sullen middle class.

The Genius of a Neighbor

Wisława Szymborska, Kraków, 1984; photograph by Joanna Helander

Map: Collected and Last Poems

by Wisława Szymborska, translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak
Wisława Szymborska (1923–2012) was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1996, but she came of age in the late 1930s, in Poland; and to judge by the evidence in Map: Collected and Last Poems, her wit and judgment were sharpened and her disposition of charity deepened by the war years. Yet …

On the Target

A detail of a still from Laura Poitras’s video installation O’Say Can You See, composed of images filmed at Ground Zero in the days after the September 11 attacks, 2001/2016

Laura Poitras: Astro Noise

Astro Noise: A Survival Guide for Living Under Total Surveillance

by Laura Poitras and others
Installation art is a mixed genre. It can be contemplative in ways denied to a picture hanging on a wall or a film projected on a screen. At the same time it lends itself to provocation, to “confrontational” ambitions: the spectator may be startled by light or noise, or subjected …


Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Ambition

From left, John Wilkes Booth as Mark Antony, Edwin Booth as Brutus, and Junius Booth as Cassius in Julius Caesar, New York, 1864

It is clear from Lincoln’s speeches, writings, and actions that he struggled against ambition in order not to let it prevail over his sense of justice. From what familiar political sources might an American of Lincoln’s generation have come to suppose that ambition poses a moral and political danger? A commanding statement was the pair of speeches by Brutus and Mark Antony to the Roman crowd in Act 3 of Julius Caesar.

Stumbling Into Syria

A Syrian rebel fighter descending from a damaged building, Aleppo, Syria, June 12, 2013

A train of commitments by two administrations has led to the US intervention in Syria, an involvement that started well before the revised intelligence estimate about chemical weapons climbed to “high certainty.” Throughout the peculiar history of preparing the ground in Syria, there are distinct reminders of Iraq. As with Iraq, the US is looking to enter a scene of sectarian hostilities that it hopes to control by the right tactics once regime change has been accomplished. As with Iraq, refusal of inspections by the existing government has been taken to indicate the possession and use of forbidden weapons. As with Iraq, we are being encouraged by Sunni regional partners who are willing to sponsor jihadists from an overwhelming desire to weaken and overthrow the government of Iran.

The Pox Beneath the Powder

Enrique Chagoya: The Headache, A Print after George Cruikshank, 2010

The title “Infinite Jest” gives a very partial impression of the survey of caricatures showing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through March 4. Hamlet said those words about Yorick, but Yorick was a jester at the court of Elsinore. There may be something expansive about the very idea of jest, because it obeys no rules and draws hints from the humor of the audience. The art of caricature, by contrast, is finite, bounded and severe. A bad jest may redeem itself by having a better for its sequel. A flat or vapid or wrong-headed caricature cannot be pardoned. The province of satire is wit, and when wit goes wrong it signifies not a tactical error but a defect of mind.

Obama’s Middle East: Rhetoric and Reality

President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in the Oval Office at the White House, Friday, May 20, 2011.

Being president of the world has sometimes seemed a job more agreeable to Barack Obama than being president of the United States. The Cairo speech of June 2009 was his first performance in that role, and he said many things surprising to hear from an American leader—among them, the statement that “it is time for [Israeli] settlements to stop.” But as is now widely understood, the aftermath of Cairo was not properly planned for. Though Obama had called on Benjamin Netanyahu to halt the expansion of settlements, he never backed his demand with a specific sanction or the threat of a loss of favor.