“When you write my epitaph,” Elizabeth Bishop famously told the poet Robert Lowell in 1974, “you must say I was the loneliest person who ever lived.” But being lonely and being alone are not the same, and Bishop recognized from a young age that there was something special, even salvific, about the latter. “There is a peculiar quality about being alone, an atmosphere that no sounds or persons can ever give,” she wrote in her 1929 essay, “… in being alone, the mind finds its Sea, the wide, quiet plane with different lights in the sky and different, more secret sounds.” I understood this sentiment well, the special beauty of the blue hours when you are, by choice, alone, and the candle of your self burns in a way it never quite can when you are with someone else.
This year, After Man was republished, a book by the Scottish geologist Dougal Dixon that imagines how other species will evolve after humans go extinct, fifty million years in the future. It’s a premise that has aged well, as anxiety over our long-term damage to the planet grows; the book has been reissued a dozen times since its publication in 1981. Dixon’s taxonomy is far from comprehensive (he neglects the oceans, plant life, and insects) but as a thought-experiment, After Man is an effective primer on evolutionary genetics and natural selection. Still, he sometimes wonders whether people see his work simply “as picture books of funny animals.”
We continue our fifty-fifth anniversary tour through the Review’s archives with five pieces from the early 1990s: Janet Malcolm on morals for journalists, John Gregory Dunne on the beating of Rodney King and its aftermath in Los Angeles, Joyce Carol Oates on Muhammad Ali, a poem by James Fenton, and Charles Lane on the sources for The Bell Curve.
The Kahan Commission produced the official Israeli government report into Israeli involvement in the Sabra and Shatila massacre of hundreds of Palestinian refugees conducted in September 1982 by Lebanese Phalange militiamen allied to Israel. That report had a secret appendix never before published—until now. It includes extensive minutes of meetings between Israeli and Lebanese officials, discussions between the Israeli Mossad, Israeli military intelligence, and Lebanese Maronite Christian leaders over the fate of Palestinians, testimonies from high-ranking Israeli officials, and Israeli cabinet minutes. Together, these new documents paint an incriminating picture of Israeli official eagerness to invite the Phalange militia into Beirut to help fulfill a broader objective of vanquishing Palestinian demands for nationhood and the right of return.
It has been a remarkable summer for Tacita Dean in Britain. This versatile, genre-defying artist has enjoyed three concurrent retrospectives at the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Royal Academy, three of the biggest art museums in the UK. It is an honor not merely unusual for an artist still in her mid-fifties, but apparently unprecedented. And Dean is not done quite yet. At the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh, she is currently offering a kind of coda—one last exhibition for now, which runs until the end of September. It seems to be the final piece of the puzzle, or—to put it another way—an attempt to break back out of the classical constraints of the previous shows.
David Bomberg’s work, first deemed too radical by many established critics of the time, would later gain the reputation of being too conservative. His shifts in style baffled critics, he was considered an outsider in his own country, and his attempts to serve as an official war artist were largely rejected. A new exhibition offers an opportunity to better understand what was radical about his early work, and demonstrates how his decisive modernism lived on in later work.
The 1973 War Powers Resolution has a very important provision that legislates for when the president has introduced armed forces into unauthorized hostilities, as has occurred in Yemen. In such circumstances, a single member of Congress can force a debate and a vote on the military action; this debate and vote cannot be blocked by the leadership of either house. It is unfortunate that the major media have given so little attention to the battle in Congress, because that is how the war in Yemen will be ended and potentially millions of lives saved. But most journalists seem to accept the imperial presidency as a political reality. They do not seem to realize that Congress has constitutional authority over decisions of war and peace. Its motivation to reclaim that authority is growing day by day. The implications of this shift would be historic.
The Snowden phenomenon was far larger than the man himself, larger even than the documents he leaked. It showed us the first glimmerings of an emerging ideological realignment—a convergence, not for the first time, of the far left and the far right, and of libertarianism with authoritarianism. It was also a powerful intervention in information wars we didn’t yet realize we were engaged in, but which we now need to understand. To this day, Snowden speaks often, and uses his platform. So whether we trust him matters. And it certainly matters if we conclude that he is a well-intentioned whistleblower who has shown bad judgment or has allowed himself to become an unwitting pawn of the Russians.
It’s been hard to get your hands on David R. Bunch’s best-known work for almost half a century now. Most of the Moderan stories—linked, fable-like tales written in an experimental mode, set on an Earth ravaged by nuclear holocaust—were originally published during the 1960s and 1970s in magazines and later gathered in the original Moderan volume, long out of print. Yet, in the years since his most prolific period, the nightmarish dystopia he imagined has begun to look increasingly prescient, even prophetic. Replace nuclear annihilation with climate change and over-industrialization, and Bunch’s future feels psychologically and metaphorically akin to our modern situation. What are we doing right now but paving over our future with plastic?
Nowadays, gulls are increasingly thought of not as seabirds but trash birds, the sub-natural inhabitants of what MIT professor of urban design Alan Berger called “drosscapes,” déclassé and mongrelizing in their habits. We see them as scavengers, not as entrepreneurs—as aliens, not as refugees. They steal our chips and kill our Chihuahuas. They are too big for the world they have entered. Some of this distaste is particular to the times, and some is a resurgent rivalrous antagonism that almost any other creature on Earth can trigger in our species—that dark loathing we can find in ourselves for any nonhuman life. Yet, even besmirched like this, the gulls keep us company. And they’ll be with us, we feel, for the duration of this, our late hour.