From its first issue in 1963, Robert Silvers was either co-editor with Barbara Epstein or, after her death in 2006, editor of The New York Review. Bob worked almost to the very end of his life, which would be no surprise to those who knew him well, including those who have written these brief memoirs.
There is a particular kind of gnawing at the soul that happens when you live in a city under political duress. The sort of place that dictates how you act and who you get to be. A city that forces you to curb or conceal desires, swallow and suppress ideas, hide beliefs, stand in the shadow of who, elsewhere, you might be. It is a matter of survival, fitting in. In these cities, such as Cairo or Lahore, the desire to leave is constant. Imagining a life elsewhere occupies you, even as you know, if only from literature, that exile will be equally fraught.
They came to the Cairo morgue looking for bodies. This was nearly a month before the Egyptian police confronted the Muslim Brotherhood on August 14. A woman whose husband hadn’t come home in three days, a couple whose son had been absent for a week, three relatives looking for a man, Karam, who had been missing for nine days. He had last been seen on July 2, on his way to his mother’s apartment. He had taken a taxi there and neighbors saw him get out at the main street. There was fighting in the neighborhood between the residents and members of the Brotherhood, and people cautioned him against entering the alley that turned onto another alley that led to his mother’s building.
In his quiet film In the Last Days of the City, Tamer El Said brilliantly captures a struggle I’ve had for years: how to pin down what it is about Cairo that leaves us feeling as if we exist in a no man’s land, somewhere between past and present, constantly searching, never quite there.
Dido believed fervently that anarchy was better than the despotism we had. My reservations were inherited. He had hoped I might turn out as political as he was, but I’d failed him in every way. He consumed literature voraciously, but thought writing in a country like ours to be an exercise in passivity, a luxurious musing, not a tool for change.
For those of us who were part of Egypt’s revolution, Iranian artist Shirin Neshat’s new series of works, “Our House Is On Fire,” captures a reality that surrounds us, yet has been all but overlooked in the continuing story of the Arab uprisings: the reality of a country struggling with despair.
That winter we all became activists. We opened Twitter accounts, many of us, and learned how to dress for winter nights in Tahrir Square. I thought, we all thought, that the euphoria, the sense of possibility, would carry the country for years. As Jehane Noujaim’s documentary, The Square, vividly depicts, not only did we forget, but the euphoria quickly dissipated.