A Novel Kind of Conformity

Tim Parks

Francisco Goya: <em>As Far back as his Grandfather</em>, 1799
Art Resource

Is it really possible to be free as a writer? Free from an immediate need for money, free from the need to be praised, free from the concern of how those close to you will respond to what you write, free from the political implications, free from your publisher’s eagerness for a book that looks like the last, or worse still, like whatever the latest fashion might be?

Happy Birthday, Radu Lupu!

Kirill Gerstein

Radu Lupu rehearses with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra

Radu Lupu’s piano playing, especially when experienced live, resists my professional habit of analyzing the elements of interpretation and performance —exactly how he achieves the results that he does. Trying to understand his phrasing, timing, or the effect his bear-like posture at the keyboard has on the sound yields only partial results. The whole is greater than the sum of its ingredients. The instrument, the craftsmanship, even the compositions themselves recede into the background, and there remains a lone figure communicating not just music, but something deeply humane. As Lupu plays, the experience of the composers, earlier encoded into sounds and preserved on paper, seems to be revived from the deep freeze of notation.

Written on Beasts

Bruce Holsinger

A wandering vellum repair in a tenth-century manuscript of Boethius
Erik Kwakkel

The sensual richness of the written record confronts us like nothing else can with the sobering animality of our archive: the ghost of a spine, the curve of a haunch; patterns of scar tissue, hair follicles, sutures snaking across flayed skin; bindings as fuzzy as a cat. The written record is a vast storehouse of creaturely remains that continue to claim our attention and wonder.

Xi’s China: The Illusion of Change

Ian Johnson

Chinese President Xi Jinping in Manila, Philippines, November 18, 2015
SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Chinese president Xi Jinping has been credited with a vigorous foreign policy, economic reforms, and a crackdown on corruption. But his primary goal is to recreate the early years of Communist rule in the 1950s when, according to official mythology, the party was clean, officials upright, and the populace content. Returning to this imagined past means strengthening, not weakening party control.

The Man Who Shaped Tomorrow

Martin Filler

Peter Muller-Munk’s Wayne 500 series gasoline pump, 1950
Tom Little/Carnegie Museum of Art

Though he is little known to the American public today, the silversmith and industrial designer Peter Muller-Munk was among the most innovative twentieth-century American designers. Now, an illuminating new exhibition traces his evolution from craftsman of precious objects to stylist of household appliances like refrigerators and vacuum cleaners, was part of a broader midcentury shift from high-end exclusivity to mass-market practicality.

Yale: The Power of Speech

David Cole

A college notice board at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, November 12, 2015
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters/Corbis

Most of what has transpired at Yale and other colleges reflects the best traditions of the First Amendment: students of color and others have been organizing politically and speaking out in packed rallies. They are using the First Amendment to stand up, communicate their experiences, and demand equal justice. That’s exactly how the First Amendment should work.

Burma: How Much Change?

Christian Caryl

An illustration of Aung San Suu Kyi, chair of the National League for Democracy (NLD), at the NLD party headquarters in Rangoon, Burma, November 13, 2015
Lynn Bo Bo/epa/Corbis

“Change” is a word that crops up in many conversations in Burma these days. After decades of struggle Aung San Suu Kyi has achieved her greatest triumph—her NLD appears to have won an overwhelming 80 percent of parliamentary seats—one can only hope that she will wield her mandate to the best effect, and that she can successfully overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of the transformation her voters want.

From Mumbai to Paris

Ahmed Rashid

Police searching for a suspect of the Paris attacks in Brussels, Belgium, November 16, 2015
Christophe Licoppe/Corbis

Much of the ISIS playbook in Paris—the meticulous planning, the selection of soft targets, the multiple simultaneous attacks by different teams used to create a sense of chaos in the streets, the mayhem created—was inspired by the extremist group LET’s attack in Mumbai in 2008. LET’s most important innovation in jihadi warfare is the use of mass attacks on civilian targets.

Paris: The War ISIS Wants

Scott Atran and Nafees Hamid

An Islamic State flag in Sadiyah, Iraq, November 2014
AP Photo

As our own interviews with ISIS recruits in Europe and captured ISIS fighters in Iraq have shown, simply treating the Islamic State as a form of “terrorism” or “violent extremism” masks the menace. Dismissing the group as “nihilistic” reflects a dangerous avoidance of trying to comprehend, and deal with, its profoundly alluring mission to change and save the world.

My Friend Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Hughes

Robert Rauschenberg: <em>Retroactive I</em>, 1963
Art © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Rauschenberg’s references to other media aren’t just tricks. They’re an integral part of the way he connects the language of his images to that of a wider world. Around 1962, Rauschenberg began to use not things but the images of things. By reusing silk-screened images from one painting to the next, it let him use repetition and counterpoint across a series of works in a way that wasn’t possible, or not easily possible, if he had been using things themselves. In doing this, he was adapting to the great central fact of American communication, its takeover by the imagery of television.