Daniel Mendelsohn is Editor-at-Large at The New York ­Review and Professor of Humanities at Bard. His new collection of essays, ­Ecstasy and Terror: From the Greeks to Game of Thrones, will be published in October.
 (April 2019)

Follow Daniel Mendelsohn on Twitter: @DAMendelsohnNYC.


Ingmar Bergman, Novelist

Ingmar Bergman on the set of Fanny and Alexander, from the 1984 documentary The Making of Fanny and Alexander

The Best Intentions

by Ingmar Bergman, translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate

Sunday’s Children

by Ingmar Bergman, translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate
As he entered old age and grew increasingly exasperated with filmmaking, Ingmar Bergman turned to another medium, one that would allow him to revisit one particular “framework of reality”—his parents’ lives and doomed marriage—and weave an entirely new kind of pattern from it. That medium was fiction.

Robert B. Silvers (1929–2017)

Even as illness began to sap his legendary energy, Bob would lift the receiver when the office called and declaim his favorite greeting: “Hello, hello, hello!” The enthusiasm, bonhomie, and openness to possibility in that triple salutation were characteristic of Bob and defined his approach to editing “the paper.”

How Greek Drama Saved the City

Jason meeting Medea, with Amor between them; detail of a Sicilian red-figure cup, circa 350 BCE
For us, the children of Freud, great drama is often most satisfying when it enacts the therapy-like process by which the individual psyche is stripped of its pretentions or delusions to stand, finally, exposed to scrutiny—and, as often as not, to the audience’s pity or revulsion. But although there are great Greek plays that enact the same process—Sophocles’ Oedipus inevitably comes to mind—it would appear, given the strange twinning of Athenian drama and Athenian political history, that for the Athenians, tragedy was just as much about “the city” as it was about the individual.


Finding a Path Through the Odyssey

Great Synagogue of Bolechów, Bolekhiv, in present day Ukraine, 2001

The phrase “find a way” allowed me, first of all, to understand retroactively the nature of the creative and spiritual crisis I had undergone after finishing my previous book. I was suffering from what the Greeks called aporia: a helpless, immobilized confusion, a lack of resources to find one’s way out of a problem. The literal meaning of aporia is “a lack of a path,” or “no-way.” I hadn’t been able to leave my apartment; I couldn’t think of a new project. I was, in the Greek way of thinking, pathless.

The Power of the Critic: A Discussion

Lucas Zwirner, Manohla Dargis, Antwaun Sargent, Jillian Steinhauer, and Daniel Mendelsohn at David Zwirner Gallery, September 23, 2019

On September 23, 2019, The New York Review of Books and David Zwirner Books hosted “The Power of the Critic,” the first in a four-part series of public talks bringing together leading writers, artists, and thinkers to explore the role of power within the cultural sphere.

Stopping in Vilna: Encountering Stendhal on the Holocaust Trail

A Jewish cemetery in Vilna, 1922

I was traveling a great deal throughout Central and Eastern Europe—Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Belarus—researching a book that had to do with the Holocaust. My visits to local and regional archives, my tours of mass graves and abandoned shtetls would, I hoped, shed light on the lives and fates of certain relatives of mine: my mother’s uncle and aunt and cousins, Jews living in eastern Poland who had perished during the war. In Vilna, after three years of traveling in search of my family’s story, three years of interviewing people about the worst imaginable things, I couldn’t take it any more. Two things broke me.

The Cemetery Dream

For a period of two or three years during the late 1980s or early 1990s—it’s difficult, now, to recall exactly when, but I know it was while I was a graduate student—I repeatedly dreamt the same terrifying dream. Once a week sometimes, sometimes every other week, sometimes twice a week or more, it would (as I then thought) be waiting for me as soon as I dropped off, identical each time in every detail: the open gate, the familiar headstones, the sudden sunset, the missing graves, the dead I knew so well but who didn’t seem to know me any more, chasing me, the gun, the embarrassing horror-movie detail of the silver bullets.