Even the Emperor

Hans Holbein

Hans Holbein the Younger: The Emperor, 1497/1498—1543

Hans Holbein’s The Dance of Death, a series of forty-one miniature woodcuts about the triumph of death, was produced between 1523 and 1525. In making these depictions, the Cambridge scholar Ulinka Rublack observes, Holbein was intensely engaged with the problem of corruption in politics.

Embracing the Vulgar

Hilary Reid

Loafers by Alessandro Michele for Gucci, 2016

What is vulgar? The word’s many meanings and many forms are at the heart of “The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined,” an expansive exhibition at the Barbican Centre in London. The show takes shape around eleven categories of vulgarity conceived by writer and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, like “Puritan,” “Impossible Ambition,” and “Showing Off.” Each is explored through clothing, shoes, and texts spanning the eighteenth century through the present.

The Threat of Moral Authority

Masha Gessen

Representative John Lewis, Selma, Alabama, February 14, 2015

In his now familiar way, Trump has come across as clueless, as though he doesn’t know who Representative John Lewis is, which district he represents, and more important, what history he represents. But his instincts are guiding him into a confrontation that is hardly new: it is a response that has occurred over and over when an autocratic leader is challenged by the voice of moral authority.

Cairo Without End

Yasmine El Rashidi

Still from Tamer El Said's In the Last Days of the City, 2016

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.

The Song of John Berger

Ben Ratliff

John Berger, photographed by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris, 1994

John Berger didn’t want to be called a critic. Where there is formal analysis, his Marxist reasoning implied, there is patrolling and commodifying. He sometimes used formal analysis, but as an opening maneuver, as a means to an end. (The end was often a thought about desire and work and human dignity in relation to profit.) Anyway, no matter what he thought, criticism is wide enough to encompass him. To some degree he made it so: he expanded the practice.

The Autocrats’ Diplomat?

Christian Caryl

Rex Tillerson, secretary of state nominee and former ExxonMobil CEO, during his Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing, Washington, D.C., January 11, 2017

What does it mean when the man chosen to run the State Department has no experience in government but ample experience doing business with dictators of every stripe? Given what we know so far, it is possible to imagine two possible directions Rex Tillerson’s tenure as secretary of state could go.

The Dystopia in the Mirror

Francine Prose

Tobias Menzies as Liam Monroe, Chloe Pirrie as Gwendolyn, Jack Monaghan as Robert, Louis Waymouth as Simon Finch, and Waldo voiced by Daniel Rigby, in

The episodes of Black Mirror vary in tone from horrific to comic, but most share certain themes: advanced technologies run horribly amuck, our culture’s obsessive love affair with electronics, and the exploitation of conflict, suffering, and embarrassment as a source of mass entertainment. Watching Black Mirror at bedtime is, I’ve discovered, unwise.

Five Questions for Jeff Sessions

David Cole

Senator Jeff Sessions, with Senators John Cornyn and Mark Pryor, July 25, 2006

As a matter of longstanding policy, the ACLU does not take positions supporting or opposing nominees for office, and as a result it rarely testifies in confirmation hearings. But we are sufficiently concerned about Sessions’s record that we have elected to depart from our usual practice and speak out—not to oppose the nomination, but to insist that the many questions about Sessions’s record must be answered before the Senate votes on his nomination for attorney general.