On October 13, a sold-out crowd at New York’s Cooper Union listened for an hour and a half to readings by such prominent writers as Art Spiegelman, Don DeLillo, Susanna Moore, Eve Ensler, A.M. Holmes, George Saunders, and Paul Auster. Convened by PEN American Center and the ACLU, these writers came together to read not their own work, but the words of CIA bureaucrats, FBI agents, torture victims, former President George W. Bush, Army interrogators, Guantanamo detainees, former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, and coroners’ reports on the homicides of suspects killed in US military and CIA interrogations.
Someone really needs to write a “History of the Improvised Explosive Device”—the IED—covering the period since September 11. This seems like a much-neglected aspect of the Long War—or whatever you want to call it—that hasn’t really gotten its due. Take some of the ominous reports that have cropped up in the news over the past few weeks:
Hatoyama Yukio, the new prime minister of Japan, is no great thrill. His wife, Miyuki, an ex music review actress, is more interesting: she claims to have met Tom Cruise in a former life. And yet Hatoyama, wealthy scion of a political dynasty that goes back to the 19th century (his grandfather was also prime minister), has presided over a victory that is, in its way, as revolutionary as Obama’s in the US.
I have read that more books in the United States are now sold online than in bookstores, and have noticed—and assume a causal connection—that there are less books on the shelves of stores. Since I almost never want to buy a book until I have held it in my hands and riffled through the pages, this means that I shall be purchasing fewer books in the future. Just as well, I suppose, as there is no space on my shelves.
The newly postponed completion dates for New York City’s beleaguered and laggard World Trade Center reconstruction project have an unexpected but telling parallel in Bernard Tschumi’s much-delayed New Acropolis Museum in Athens. When the museum finally opened this summer, few commentators noted that it was to have been completed in time for the city’s 2004 Olympics. Some blamed the lapse on Hellenic inefficiency. Santiago Calatrava’s flamboyant and technically complicated Olympic Stadium was barely ready for the games, an athletic extravaganza that burdened the Greek government with a $7 billion debt.
Over the last few days a consensus has formed, on both the left and the right, that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama was too much, too soon. Even the President’s warmest admirers were embarrassed by the honor’s prematurity, while his domestic critics seized on it much the way they had reacted to the international adulation Obama received as a candidate, when, for example, he brought more than 200,000 people onto the streets of Berlin: they saw it as evidence both of the wide-eyed, teenybopper crush foreigners have on Obama and, somehow, of the President’s own hubris. But on closer examination, the award is not the stunning surprise it first seemed. And, at least from the point of view of those who gave it, it’s not so daft either.
Yonville l’Abbaye, literature’s capital of provincial conformity, clichés, and idées reçues, was said by Flaubert to be “a place that does not exist.” But ever since Maxime du Camp, Flaubert’s friend and traveling companion, told the world that the germ of Madame Bovary was the scandalous death by suicide of Delphine Delamare, wife of the officer of health in the small market town of Ry, fiction and fact, Yonville and Ry, have become inseparably entwined.
I grew up in Boston in the 1950s, so I immediately grasped the basic idea of Roman street signs: they are there not to inform you ahead of time where you might want to turn but rather to confirm where you have already turned, once the fateful decision has been made. And at least Romans reliably tell you the name of the street or highway to which you have now committed yourself.
On September 1, the Slovak parliament made it largely illegal for its citizens to use any language other than Slovak. The use of minority languages in “official” situations is now punishable by fines of up to €5,000 (US $7,270)—and possible offenses include:
The most striking feature of China’s October 1 celebration of sixty years of Communist rule was the spectacular and tightly choreographed military parade in the center of Beijing. The display of crass militarism—paralleled only by parades in Pyongyang or, a few years ago, Moscow—cannot have done much for China’s image around the world, but China’s rulers may not have cared about that or even been aware of it. They no doubt had a domestic audience in mind. Their aim was to stir nationalism and cast themselves as its champion, or—in the case of Tibetans, Uighurs, or protesters of various kinds—to make it very clear who owns the guns.