The Art of Wrath

The very first line of the Iliad forces any English-language translator to decide immediately and to declare conspicuously whether he would rather be caught betraying his poet or his own language. The opening word, mēnin, wrath, is the subject of the long poem that follows, but not of the long sentence it begins. This word order in the original creates a markedly stylized but not a strained effect. Poetic Greek can bring off putting the potent single thematic word first and then proceeding to other parts of the sentence, placed in an order that satisfies the demands of rhetoric and versification. Not English, where “man bites dog” means that man bites dog and not the other way around.

Nuclear Apocalypse Now?

The most telling aspect of Trump’s UN speech was, after threatening to “totally destroy North Korea,” his calling the possibility of nuclear conflict “unthinkable.” On the contrary, we must think about it. And crucial to any understanding of the moral import of the possible use of nuclear weapons is to go back to the foundational moment of this nuclear age and ask again: Were Hiroshima and Nagasaki war crimes?

Splendid Isolation

Christopher Nolan’s epic movie about the rescue of the British army from the beaches of northeastern France in May 1940 has become a worldwide box office success. This is splendid news for its makers, and can do no harm to American, Taiwanese, or for that matter Rajput audiences. In the eyes of some of us, however, its impact upon the British people is calamitous at this moment in our fortunes. Dunkirk contains no foreigners except a few understandably grumpy French soldiers. It is a British tale that feeds the myth that has brought Churchill’s nation to the cliff edge of departure from the European Union: there is splendor in being alone.

John Ashbery (1927–2017)

Ashbery’s style was marked above all by a calm, discursive voice, going along at a walking pace, often seeming to have been caught in midstream, maybe half-heard from outside through the curtains. That voice could occasionally sound explicitly poetic or expressionistically fractured, but more often—and more consistently as time went by—it sounded conversational, demotic, mild, even-toned, deep-dish American. Its apparent placidity allowed for all sorts of things to appear bobbing happily in its current: recondite allusions, philosophical asides, foreign idioms, schoolyard jokes, forgotten cultural detritus of all sorts, even the occasional narrative or analysis or argument.

Ruth Asawa: Tending the Metal Garden

When the Black Mountain College artist Ruth Asawa debuted her wire sculptures in New York in the Fifties, critics dismissed them as decorative or housewifely. Yet the universal implications of Asawa’s work are owed to the particularities of her struggle at a Japanese internment camp. Asawa sought to evoke “transparent geometries” found in nature: the scales of a butterfly wing, a spiderweb, a wasp’s nest, or a reef of coral.

Impeachment?

To the Editors: In “What Are Impeachable Offenses?” Noah Feldman and Jacob Weisberg present a scholarly review of Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution of the United States. They claim that a self-pardon, “would be ineffectual because no judge would regard it as valid.” I believe the authors are wrong.

Dealing with the Enemy

To the Editors: Jessica Mathews’s thoughtful review of my book Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy provides excellent insights into the complexities of dealing with Iran and North Korea. Our one area of disagreement is the role of sanctions. The issue is not whether sanctions were effective in hurting Iran’s economy—which they clearly were—or whether they provided America with leverage—which they clearly did. Rather, the question that rarely gets asked is what the alternative costs to sanctions are.

John Berryman’s Letters

To the Editors: We are currently coediting a volume of John Berryman’s literary correspondence. We believe some of your readers may possess unpublished letters from the poet, and we would like to consider these for inclusion in our volume. If readers believe they have material that would be of use, we would be grateful if they could contact us.

When Dissent Became Treason

As our newspapers and TV screens overflow with choleric attacks by President Trump on the media, immigrants, and anyone who criticizes him, it makes us wonder: What would it be like if nothing restrained him from his obvious wish to silence, deport, or jail such enemies? For a chilling answer, we need only roll back the clock one hundred years, to the moment when the United States entered not just a world war, but a three-year period of unparalleled censorship, mass imprisonment, and anti-immigrant terror.

The Passport of Whiteness

Everyone knows we are a nation of immigrants, that immigrants are good for the economy, and that freedom seekers are our kin. What I find sad is that we all know this history. We did not think the ideal of liberal democracy, the open society, would have to be fought for all over again. We are so spoiled we thought that it just grew naturally with everything else we have in our gardens of relative good fortune.

Terrorism: The Lessons of Barcelona

I’ve spent the last few years in Barcelona studying radicalization. As the day of the terrorist attacks in Spain unfolded, I thought, what comes next? The blaming of the Muslim community, the demonizing of the town the attackers came from, and vows from politicians to throw more money at the problem. But my time in Barcelona taught me one thing: radicalization is a local phenomenon. Equipping local officials to solve local problems—and avoiding the distraction of easy, unhelpful generalizations about immigrant or local communities—is the best way to thwart the jihadists’ international aims.

Three Tales of Moral Corrosion

Here is one way to take stock of the ways in which this year has changed us. Consider three stories of alliances—or misalliances—unfolding in three different important institutions in this country. One involves Congressional Democrats and the president in Washington; the second is a story of political troublemakers descending on Berkeley; and the third involves political actors welcomed and not welcomed by Harvard. These are stories of new alignments and battles over legitimacy. All three showcase shattered expectations, both institutional and personal, and represent new and profound failures of moral compasses.

Three Tales of Moral Corrosion

Here is one way to take stock of the ways in which this year has changed us. Consider three stories of alliances—or misalliances—unfolding in three different important institutions in this country. One involves Congressional Democrats and the president in Washington; the second is a story of political troublemakers descending on Berkeley; and the third involves political actors welcomed and not welcomed by Harvard. These are stories of new alignments and battles over legitimacy. All three showcase shattered expectations, both institutional and personal, and represent new and profound failures of moral compasses.

Which Jane Austen?

On July 18, the Bank of England marked the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death by officially unveiling a new £10 note in her honor. It would be nice to imagine that someone at the bank had been reading Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century and thought this an appropriate way of acknowledging the woman who figures in it as one of our most clear-sighted guides to the origins of current economic arrangements. But Austen’s shrewdness about money seems to have been far less on anyone’s mind than a desire to rectify the absence of women other than the queen on British currency.

A Glove, a Car, and a Camera

Willa Nasatir—whose exhibition currently at the Whitney Museum features ten large chromogenic prints and seven smaller black-and-white prints, all produced in 2017—shoots on film and does not digitally retouch her images. Her analog production is made all the more surprising by the complexity of her compositions, which densely layer objects, tangles of wire, mirrors, surface glare, and textured patina in a shallow depth of field. The surreal effects happen entirely in the camera.

Morning

Between the gray walls
and a burst of chopping sounds,
morning comes, bundled and sliced,
and vanishes with the paralyzed souls
of the chopped vegetables.

Liu Xiaobo’s Last Text

This text is the last thing that Liu Xiaobo, the literary critic, poet, and human rights activist, wrote. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, two years after he was imprisoned for eleven years on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.” His “crime” was to speak out for freedom of speech, basic human rights, and democratic elections. He died on July 13 of liver cancer in a hospital in Shenyang.

India: Assassinating Dissent

Four journalists—most recently Gauri Lankesh—have been murdered in India. While it’s reasonable to be concerned about the impact of these killings on free speech and journalism, to see them primarily as an extreme form of censorship is to underestimate the enormity of the crime. Their murders look more like ideological assassinations designed to punish intellectual dissent.

Beloved & Condemned: A Cartoonist in Nazi Germany

The carefree world of Father and Son gives little hint of the fate that would be suffered by its creator, E. O. Plauen, who had become world-famous for his comic strips and was driven to take his own life. He was tall, heavy-set, and hard of hearing. Those close to him described him as humorous, awkward, curmudgeonly. The author Hans Fallada speaks of “an elephant who could walk a tightrope.”

Indonesia & China: The Sea Between

Indonesia announced on July 14 that it was renaming a part of the South China Sea the “North Natuna Sea.” China immediately demanded a retraction—which it will not get. At no point since the fifteenth century had a Chinese government been actively involved in the seas that it now claims on the basis of history.

Violence and Creativity

“So,” Michon began, “you’re an acceptable translator. Actually, no. You’re fine. But Vies minuscules is an exceptional text. It needs an exceptional translator. Understand?” His face was gray, grim. I made a few sounds that attempted to communicate that I didn’t understand; that we had worked together for years; that I wasn’t clear what had changed; that I’d done the same work I’d done in the past and arrived with, I thought, the same kinds of questions but— “But you haven’t even deciphered the text,” Michon said, loudly, pounding the table now with the fist that held the knife. The voices of the lunchtime crowd dimmed as the restaurant registered the disturbance. “You haven’t even deciphered it.”

The Great Africanstein Novel

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s magisterial first novel Kintu continually diverts us from our preconceptions about Africa. Despite the generalizing and pigeonholing, African writers are rarely thought to speak to universal questions. But as its two-faced title—man/thing—suggests, Kintu does in fact have a grand philosophical question in mind. The novel forces us to reckon over and again with what it means to be kintu, to be man, or human.

The Hardening of Consciousness

Manzotti: In declaring consciousness the “hard problem,” something extraordinary, and separating it from the rest of the physical world, Chalmers and others cast the debate in an anti-Copernican frame, preserving the notion that human consciousness exists in a special and, it is always implied, superior realm. The collective hubris that derives from this is all too evident and damaging.

Brexit’s Irish Question

The Irish Question rises yet again, looming on the road to Brexit like the Sphinx on the road to Thebes. It threatens to devour those who cannot solve its great riddle: How do you impose an EU frontier across a small island without utterly unsettling the complex compromises that have ended a thirty-year conflict? The “people” part of the preliminary Brexit negotiations concerns the mutual recognition of the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa. The “money” part concerns Britain’s outstanding obligations to the EU budget and the calculation of the final divorce bill. Both are awkward and politically divisive issues, but it should be perfectly possible to reach a settlement.