Modern society, as a whole, tends toward a sort of institutional optimism, espousing Hegelian notions of history as progress and encouraging us to believe happiness is at least potentially available for all, if only we would pull together in a reasonable manner. Hence the kind of truth pessimists tell us will always be a subversive truth.
The master referred to as the Berlin Painter, who lived in Athens in the early fifth century BC, was an artist whose name, nationality, and even gender remain unknown, but whose distinctive and confident illustration in the red-figure style stands out as clearly as any signature. The first phase of the Berlin Painter’s career coincided with the birth of democracy in Athens, and the early works—which portray ordinary people caught in simple moments of daily life in much the same way that other vase painters treated gods and heroes—demonstrate the humanism of that political evolution.
On May 20, Jeff Sessions completed his first hundred days as attorney general. His record thus far shows a determined effort to dismantle the Justice Department’s protections of civil rights and civil liberties. Reversing course from the Obama Justice Department on virtually every front, he is seeking to return us not just to the pre-Obama era but to the pre-civil-rights era.
Chinua Achebe found a way to represent for a global Anglophone audience the diction of his Igbo homeland, allowing readers of English elsewhere to experience a particular relationship to language and the world in a way that made it seem quite natural—transparent, one might almost say. A measure of his achievement is that Achebe found an African voice in English that is so natural its artifice eludes us.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, long a pioneer in anti-liberal government in Europe and an admirer of Donald Trump, is making a wager that a crackdown on universities is the latest addition to the increasingly sophisticated repertoire of right-wing populism—with implications that go far beyond Hungary’s borders.
Vladimir Putin and Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov have long had a Faustian bargain. Putin counts on Kadyrov’s ruthlessness to keep potential unrest in his Muslim-majority republic, where the Kremlin has fought two wars, from coming to the surface. In return, the Kremlin funnels vast sums of money into Chechnya—by one estimate one billion dollars annually, much of which goes into Kadyrov’s own pocket. Kadyrov runs the republic as his personal fiefdom.
On the day he was killed, Mexican journalist Javier Valdez had just come from a meeting with the Riodoce newspaper staff about his security situation; he should leave Sinaloa, at least for a while, everyone agreed. He was intercepted by gunmen on his way home.
Few filmmakers meant as much to his country as Andrzej Wajda did to Poland. Both a world-famous director and a national conscience, Wajda—who died last October at age ninety—was a singular artist. It is appropriate then that his final film, hauntingly titled Afterimage, would be a drama concerning the last years of another Polish artist, the abstract painter Władysław Strzemiński.
There is a larger cultural dimension to much of what we see in Florine Stettheimer’s paintings at the Jewish Museum: the skyscrapers, the department stores, the African-American jazz, the shifting gender roles. Viewers in search of the perfect counterpoint to the Stettheimer retrospective need only walk a block south to the razzle-dazzle show “The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s.”