The Reichstag Warning

Timothy Snyder

The shell of the Reichstag after the fire, Berlin, Germany, 1933

The aspiring tyrants of today have learned the lesson of the Reichstag fire of 1933: that acts of terror—real or fake, provoked or accidental—can provide the occasion to deal a death blow to democracy. The most consequential example is Russia, so admired by Donald Trump, but the use of terrorist threats to create or consolidate authoritarian regimes has become increasingly frequent worldwide.

Submerged in the Cosmic Kingdom

David Shulman

A row of Guge stupas near Tholing, in the tenth-century Kashmir-informed style, 2009

Guge was once home to a major inner-Asian dynasty whose artists and craftsmen produced a plethora of masterpieces over some five centuries—including some large-scale murals and exquisitely carved and painted sculptures depicting Buddhist visions of the cosmos and its deities. Little known in the West largely because of Guge’s inaccessible location, the works have now been richly and systematically documented in the photographer and art historian Peter van Ham’s astonishing new book, Guge: Ages of Gold.

Our Animal History

Jenny Uglow

Pressed fish specimen (Zeus faber) collected by Carl Linnaeus, 1758

The fascinating exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London, “Making Nature,” investigates our long history of trying to comprehend the wealth of the animal world, while also making us dizzily aware that we are, after all, animals ourselves. One of the joys of these darkened rooms is the way that works of art share space with the scientific exhibits, often making the latter themselves seem fantastical.

Am I the Apple?

Riccardo Manzotti and Tim Parks

René Magritte: La carte postale (The Postcard), 1960

Parks: So I am the apple.

Manzotti: Of course that sounds absurd, because you identify your conscious self, the subject, the I, with your body, and your body is clearly not the apple. But what if I were to say that the very idea of consciousness was invented to explain how you could experience an apple when there is no apple in your head. So we have to have this consciousness apple. However, if experience and apple are one and the same, there is no longer any need to talk of a consciousness separate from it. The apple is more than enough.

‘Total Catastrophe of the Body’: A Russian Story

Masha Gessen

Vladimir Vladimirovich Kara-Murza

After a week in critical condition, the young Russian journalist and pro-democracy activist Vladimir Kara-Murza has been improving. He remains hospitalized in Moscow, with a diagnosis of “acute intoxication.” Kara-Murza has been a vocal proponent of individual sanctions—so while most Russians have probably never heard of him, he has made a record number of enemies among the people who run the country.

The Painter of Continuous Motion

Jana Prikryl

Elliott Green: Human Nature, 2017

Elliott Green’s paintings, on view February 18–March 26, 2017 at Pierogi Gallery in New York City, appear to be in continuous motion. They can’t help invoking intellectual movement as well: they set the viewer’s mind tumbling toward successive interpretations. The idioms of landscape painting have been set loose on Green’s canvases, and we’re invited to see top-shelf vistas everywhere—with all that we expect of them: peaks, shores, skies, and the great luxury of distance itself, which signifies time.

The Thrill of the Black Marching Band

Salamishah Tillet

Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland

In Jules Allen’s Marching Bands, a stunning collection of social documentary, portraiture, and panoramic photography, he takes us into this behind-the-scenes world of African-American marching bands all over the country. The roots of historically black college marching band performance stretch back to the post-Civil War period, when newly freed African Americans began to experiment with sounds, styles, and what it meant to be an American citizen.

Trump’s Threat to Public Health

Daniel Smith

Death the Vaccinator,  published by The London Society for the Abolition of Compulsory Vaccination, late nineteenth century

Skepticism about vaccines is as old as vaccination itself. But contemporary vaccine refusal has its roots in 1998. Today, President Donald Trump is not only the most prominent and media-savvy fear-monger in the English-speaking world, but also a dedicated, unabashed, very loud purveyor of myths about the dangers of vaccines. The stakes are huge—the danger being that Trump’s support for the anti-vaccination position will pry open and expand these pockets of resistance.

The True History of Fake News

Robert Darnton

L.M. Slackens: The Yellow Press, showing William Randolph Hearst as a jester handing out newspapers, published by Keppler & Schwarzmann,  October 12, 1910

Fake news is hardly new. The production of fake, semi-false, and true but compromising snippets of news reached a peak in eighteenth-century London, when newspapers began to circulate among a broad public. In 1788, London had ten dailies, eight tri-weeklies, and nine weekly newspapers, and their stories usually consisted of only a paragraph. In fact, the equivalent of today’s poisonous, bite-size texts and tweets can be found in most periods of history, going back to the ancients.

The Problem of Public Sculpture

Jon Day

Intended to rejuvenate public sculpture in Britain, in 1972 the City Sculpture Project gave sixteen artists £1000 each to produce a site-specific sculpture, to be installed in one of eight cities across England and Wales (now documented in an exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, England). The main responses to City Sculpture seem to have been of public indifference and barely concealed philistinism.