The Heroic Age of New York Movie Theaters

Phillip Lopate

Empire cinema, New York City, 1983

A new study by Ben Davis, Repertory Movie Theaters of New York City: Havens for Revivals, Indies and the Avant-Garde 1960–1994, with copious photographs, has just been published. I confess I approached it with trepidation, fearing it would get wrong somehow the passion to which I had given so much time and energy, rather like going to a mass political demonstration and coming home to see it distorted in the nightly news. As it turns out, Davis has done a superb job (I was almost disappointed not to be disappointed) of capturing the phenomenon of New York repertory movie theaters and placing it in historical context. His prose is clear, intelligent, engaging; his anecdotal examples colorful and often humorous; his research impeccably extensive.

Year One: Our President Ubu

Charles Simic

I hate everyone you hate, was Trump’s message over and over again, and these numbskulls who can’t even tell the differences between an honest man and a crook nudged each other, knowing exactly whom he had in mind. Since Trump became president, every time I told myself this man is bonkers, I remembered Ubu Roi, realizing how the story of his presidency and the cast of characters he has assembled in the White House would easily fit into Alfred Jarry’s play without a single word needing to be changed.

Under the Banner of New York

Zadie Smith

Maira Kalman: New York, Grand Central Station, 1999

New Yorkers choose to gather under the banner which says “New York”—which is so elastic it really means nothing at all—and that is exactly what I love about this place. The capacity to gather without precise definition I experience as a form of freedom, here where we do not have to be the clerk to the heir of wherever, where we can be unattached to our old European pedigree, or lack of same, and loosened from the bonds of distant villages, with their strictures and demands, their ideas regarding our sexuality or gender, their plans for our future.

How to Solve the Catalan Crisis

Jonathan Powell

People gesturing at a giant screen broadcasting Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Barcelona, October 27, 2017

Catalonia does not have a right under international law to unilaterally declare independence from Spain. But if it becomes clear that a large part of the people, possibly a majority, favor independence, then the only sensible thing for Madrid to do is to hold a dialogue with the leaders of that region. Negotiations do not imply that the government is going to accept independence, any more than the British government accepted a united Ireland in the Good Friday negotiations. The conservative government in Madrid, however, has always refused any such dialogue.

Why the Kurds Are Paying for Trump’s Gift to Iran

Peter W. Galbraith

Shiite militiamen celebrating their advance into Kurdish-held Iraqi territory near Kirkuk, October 17, 2017

Trump’s decision to decertify the nuclear deal followed an extensive policy review to come up with a new Iran strategy. By supporting Iraq, the administration intends to contain Iran’s influence in the region. An independent Iraq today could block Iran’s access to its ally in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad, and from there to the territory in Lebanon controlled by its proxy, Hezbollah. With this larger strategic picture in mind, sacrificing the Kurds may be an acceptable price to pay—especially as they had declined to follow US advice on the referendum. There is, however, an obvious flaw in this approach.

The Problem With ‘Problematic’

Francine Prose

Jonathan Wolstenholme: A Literary Joust, 2006

It’s undeniable that the literary voices of marginalized communities have been underrepresented in the publishing world, but the lessons of history warn us about the dangers of censorship. Unless they are written about by members of a marginalized group, the harsh realities experienced by members of that group are dismissed as stereotypical, discouraging writers from every group from describing the world as it is, rather than the world we would like.

Why This Is Not Trump’s Watergate

Andrew Cohen

Richard Nixon leaving the White House following his resignation, August 9, 1974

Never mind the obvious factual differences in the stories—the allegations of Russian collusion are far more grave—American law, politics, and journalism is far too different now to think that matters will unfold the way they did in the 1970s. As complex a story as Watergate was, it reads like a children’s book compared to what Mueller and his team are dealing with. As vicious and as partisan as the events were back then, they seem quaint in comparison to the poisonous atmosphere in which the current scandal is unfolding. That is why the comparisons to Watergate are so facile.

The Short, Sad Story of Stanwix Melville

Christopher Benfey

Illustration by Bill Bragg from The Folio Society edition of The Complete Shorter Fiction by Herman Melville

“He seems to be possessed with a demon of restlessness,” Stanwix’s mother remarked. But his real demon was motionlessness. After eighteen months in California, Stanwix reports: “I am still stationary.” After Bartleby’s employer suggests that he might consider “going as a companion to Europe, to entertain some young gentleman with your conversation,” Bartleby replies, “I like to be stationary.” To which his exasperated employer responds: “Stationary you shall be then.” Published two years after Stanwix’s birth, “Bartleby, the Scrivener” could not be based on Stanwix. But could Stanwix be based on Bartleby? Could Herman Melville, the distant, depressed father, have helped create the conditions for a Bartleby?

Can Kim Jong-un Control His Nukes?

Michael Auslin

North Koreans watching a news broadcast of their leader, Kim Jong-un, speaking about the country’s nuclear program, Pyongyang, September 22, 2017

Unlike a conventional military, where tanks, trucks, even planes are relatively simple instruments of war, owning nuclear weapons is a huge, expensive, and complex responsibility. Perhaps the world should worry less about the threat of a North Korean-instigated nuclear war and more about the risk of a nuclear accident. The most frightening question raised by Kim Jong-un’s pursuit of the ultimate weapon is also the simplest: Can he control his nukes?

When Pierre Boulez Went Electric

Christopher Carroll

Pierre Boulez, 1987

The piece is written for three separate groups: an orchestra, six soloists, and what the score calls an electro-acoustic system of computers and loudspeakers. No two performances of Pierre Boulez’s Répons are the same, bringing to light seemingly new interactions between the electronically treated soloists and the acoustic orchestra, among the soloists themselves, and even a difference in the way that the sounds, captured and dispersed by the electronics, travel through space itself.