News / Locked

    Lviv: A Canary’s Diary

    February 20, Sunday Yesterday, at home in Kyiv, we listened to Boris Johnson’s speech and immediately bought tickets to Lviv. My husband Roman suggested a week ago that S, our three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and I stay with my parents in Lviv, but I refused, despite the American and British embassies having already relocated there (and my…

    War and the Liberal Hegemony

    Why did the United States intervene in the Second World War? The question is rarely asked because the answers seem so obvious: Hitler, Pearl Harbor, and what more needs to be said? To most Americans, World War II was the quintessential “war of necessity.” As the late Charles Krauthammer once put it, “wars of choice,”…

    The World as a Game

    What is a game? Ludwig Wittgenstein famously chose this nebulous concept to illustrate what he meant by “family resemblance,” where the individual members of a class can be determined to fulfill no necessary and sufficient conditions for admission, and instead only share some traits with some others in the class, others with others. Yet we…

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    1. three hundred nameless walk holding names behind their backs bone to bone muscle to muscle let us stretch their memory between our lines 2. saved by death from life name yourself mouth-holes stare 3. outside, it’s not death that whitens with bones in the leaves of trees you look closer but indeed, it is…

    night forty-eight

    1 I wear a second-hand country a second-hand city apartment bed pillow blanket ability to walk across a park without checking under my feet without checking over my shoulder but Poland is not safe Lithuania is not safe Germany is not safe 2 I wake up from loud conversations behind the wall fuss jostling banging…

    An Open Letter to an Enemy of Liberalism in My Native Land

    Dear Professor Legutko, Early this year, when Russians were positioning their troops along Ukraine’s borders and liberal democracies were debating what it all might mean, I started reading your books. I have heard that they are influential in Poland, and I am concerned about the weakening of liberal democratic commitments in our native land and…

    A Dangerous Desire to Do Right

    War begets war: it is an old truism, and internecine wars — of the type twice fought on American soil — typically have their antecedents in prior wars. Consider our Revolutionary War, whose cri de coeur was “no taxation without representation.” But how often we overlook that Britain imposed these heightened taxes on the colonists…

    And the Bleat Goes On

    Wait long enough and every enjoyment is eventually placed on the altar, gussied up, and sanctified. Rock ‘n’ roll lyrics were once a readymade source of ridicule, regarded as gibberish written by and for bubblegum brains and blasting out of transistor radios to drive mom and dad mad. The late-night television host Steve Allen, equipped…

    Soul-Making Studies

    I’ll admit to being biased here. Teaching a great books course at Columbia — I was a graduate student, my charges were freshmen — was the pedagogical experience of my life. I was never the same again, and I know that many of my students also weren’t, because they told me so, and because, decades…

    The Oblomovization of the Western World

    Ilya Ilyich Oblomov is a mid-nineteenth century landowner outside of Saint Petersburg. An honest and decent man, he suffers from a natural tendency towards inertia. He lives less in his home than on his sofa, and less on his sofa than in his capacious dressing gown of Persian fabric, and less in his dressing gown…

    The Deer Seeing Himself in the Water

    In the clear water of a spring, A Deer gazing at himself one day Praised the beauty of his antlers And could hardly bear the sight Of his slender legs, Whose shape he saw vanish in the waters. “What a disproportion between my feet and my head!” He said, grieving when seeing their shadow, “My…

    Two Goats

    As soon as the Goats have grazed, A certain sense of independence Makes them seek out fortune; off they go To the parts of the pasture Least frequented by humans. There, if there is a place without roads or paths, A cliff, a mountain with precipices, That is where these Ladies walk away their whims;…

    The Animals Sick from the Plague

    An evil that spread terror, An evil that the Heavens in their fury Invented to punish the crimes of the earth, The Plague (we must call it by its name), Able to replenish in one day the river Acheron, Made war against animals. They didn’t all die, but all were struck: You didn’t see any…

    The Coach and the Fly

    On a steep, sandy, arduous trail, One from all sides exposed to the Sun, Six sturdy horses pulled a Coach. Women, a Monk, old men—all got off. The team was sweating, snorting, spent. A Fly arrives, and gets near the horses; Claims to be urging them with her buzzing; Stings one, stings the other, and…

    The Rat and the Oyster

    A Rat living in a field, a Rat with a small brain, has one day had enough of the paternal Gods. He abandons the field, the grain, and the stubble, Quits his burrow to roam the countryside. As soon as he is outside of his home: “How vast and wide is the world!” he says….

    Sheila Heti and The Fight for Art

    On the fourth page of Pure Colour, the fourth and most recent novel by the Canadian writer Sheila Heti, it is proposed that there are three kinds of beings on the face of the earth. They are each a different kind of “critic,” tasked with helping God to improve upon His “first draft” of the…

    “I want to be able to say anything I wish to say”

    The following conversation took place in Russian in 1995 at Headington House, Isaiah Berlin’s home near Oxford. ADAM MICHNIK: What do you consider yourself to be: an Englishman, a Jew, or a Russian? ISAIAH BERLIN: I have lived here for seventy years now and people see me as an Englishman. After all, Oxford is the…

    The Poem of the Beautiful Landscapes

    Why are the landscapes beautiful, and the approaches to the forest at twilight drawn to the melody of the pipes warming in your breast, and the bluish puddle on the other side of the railroad tracks make the tune in your heart tremble and the body yearn to step over its banks as if once,…

    Cross Purposes: Polanski and Huston

    We have to understand how movies have taught us to feel. That spell is always waiting to take us beneath the tracery of storyline so that we may plunge into the pit of what the story is about. And why we are breathless to see what happens while wondering if we will ever escape the…

    How to Talk to God

    Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for You As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new. I, like an usurped town, to another due, Labor to admit You, but O, to no end; Reason,…

    Bière de Garde

    How good it is, to sip a beer outdoors, with winter drawing near, above the wreckage of a meal. How good, before the bill comes due, to watch a copper light gleam through an ale infused with chanterelle and trust yourself to only those sensations of the tongue and nose, what’s felt, and how it…

    Beulah Land

    Going home means anywhere but here, putting aside worn grays for the bright amber of a fall morning. No more counting days in the clack and steam of laundry. With the hush of brakes a Greyhound bus glides beneath the trees and past a shuttered smelter. Grisaille shadows. Chains of geese. A swath of sheepish…

    Last Song

    after Guiraut Riquier It’s for the best that I stop singing. Songs should come from happiness, and lately I’ve felt less and less inspired, with my horizon shrinking. When I recall my darkest days and contemplate a world ablaze and dread extinctions of tomorrow, who could wonder at my sorrow? My fire dwindled long ago….

    After Wyatt

    They slip away, those creatures who once caught my eye and ventured near, near enough to smell of snow as cold lingered in their fur and breath warmed my sleeping ear; who ate an apple from my hand and lounged in sunlight, unconstrained. Such old affections slip away, all but one, la douce dolor: she…

    Mortifying

    Thirty-five minutes into the movie The Piano Teacher, there occurs an indelible scene. In a dim bathroom cluttered with drugstore label sprays, lotions, and other feeble concoctions designed to fend off decay, a middle-aged woman in a silk robe briskly zips open her pocketbook and removes a folded slip of paper, which she unfolds to…

    The War Has Happened

    It is a dreary world, gentlemen. GOGOL The most consequential event of our time, I pray, will be the heroism of the Ukrainians. Here are men and women fighting and dying for liberal democracy. It was beginning to seem as if such a thing were no longer possible. Worse, no longer desirable. Here in the…

    Gender: A Melee

    The king was pregnant. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness It turns out the supply-side cheerleader George Gilder was more correct than not when he forecast, in the poignantly titled Sexual Suicide in 1973, that women playing at being men would spell the collapse of Western civilization and probably the social order…

    Science and Politics: Three Principles, Three Fables

    Science is a creative endeavor that requires the free and open exchange of ideas to thrive. Society has benefited immensely from scientific progress, and in order for science to continue to better the lives of individuals and nations scientific work must be evaluated on the basis of scientific merit alone. Over the past decade, however,…

    After Babel

    I How do you read? In posing this question, I have in mind the Surrealists’ question of 1919: “Why do you write?” But this time around the question is about reading. Weren’t the Surrealists also great readers? In André Breton’s Anthology of Black Humor, didn’t he turn his readings of Lautréamont, Roussel, Arthur Cravan, Leonora…

    Taiwan: Chronicle of a Crisis Postponed

    I The South China Sea, fabled and contested, stretches from the Taiwan Strait south to the Java Sea and the Singapore Strait, where the Horsburgh lighthouse, an active relic of Asia’s violent encounter with Europe, now keeps watch over the world’s most crucial chokepoint. North of Singapore, the sea is bounded to the east by…

    Expressionist Film

    We arrived at our goal in the dark, via the Avus. The green eye of the Radio Tower winking, as we saw the city sprawled below us. The broad streets radiated inwards reaching towards a center, monsters’ fingers, from the days of silent film, closing round a throat. The journey passed by ditches, new building…

    In the Cold Arms of Water

      I picked roses on the Wannsee and don’t know who to give them to. Jakob van Hoddi We left the city on muddy paths along the riverbank. Bare trees dogged us unseen like shadows in the icy water, the grey cross hatching. We brushed past blackthorn, breaking off alder branches with our shoulders. We…

    East-West-Axis

    The cold glint of gold in the winter sun. The monuments no longer blaze like back in the day, the barrels of anti-aircraft guns, clumsy tanks. The old capital of terror turns over in its sleep, shifts from one side to the other: East-West. A great listening ear hovers in the air above the Tiergarten…

    Lumière

    This black train, puffing out clouds of white smoke, still races towards the viewers. They say some jumped up in fright, thinking the catastrophe was about to occur. The light on the wall of the salon, light from an incarnate summer’s day – so different from the Paris light at the same moment, outside on…

    Flea Market

    Enough of these silver spoons and tropical helmets, widows’ broaches and porcelain; enough of these bent and antiquated bird cages, and the photo portraits of dead children. Set up in rows on wobbly tables, under canvas in wind or bad weather, what do they say, what do they hide, these remnants of the nameless crimes…

    The War on Objectivity in American Journalism

    In May 2021, a newly hired journalist at the Associated Press, a twenty-two-year-old Stanford graduate named Emily Wilder, began posting provocative musings on Twitter about fighting between Israel and Hamas. Wilder had not been assigned to write about the Middle East. She may have thought she was tweeting as a private citizen. But the Associated…

    Thucydides 2022

    Whenever sabers begin to rattle somewhere in the world, I am irresistibly drawn back to Thucydides, the Athenian general who wrote a history of the Peloponnesian War, the deadly clash between Athens and Sparta that raged from 431 to 404 BCE and engulfed most of the Greek-speaking world in its chaos. He wrote, perhaps, precisely…

    Marat/Zemmour

    To understand Éric Zemmour, the ultra-right candidate who has garnered so much attention in the French presidential election this spring, it helps to go back all the way to April, 1793. On the thirteenth of that month, France’s ruling National Convention voted the arrest of the deputy and journalist Jean-Paul Marat. The violent rhetoric that…

    Song of the Andoumboulou: 266

     —book of the there we’d have been—  We remained entranced by words positing   a world beyond their reach, that words don’t  go there said with words. They were speaking                for   the we that was no we they knew. It wasn’t music went where words were unable,…

    Atrocity in the Garden of Eden: Myanmar

    Something new and unexpected is happening in Myanmar. No, not the most recent coup d’état. Few countries have had so many coups as Myanmar. The surprise is that, a year later, the military are still not in control. That is what has never happened before. On February 1, 2021, when a new parliament was due…

    Bans, Then and Now

    Can anything surprise us anymore? A madman with no political experience who boasts of sexually assaulting women is elected president of the United States, and the only thing that keeps him from doing irreparable harm to the American republic is his own stupidity and incompetence. A rabid mob of citizens, incited by his lies and…

    The Fiction That Dare Not Speak Its Name

    Pity literary biographers. There are few writers less appreciated, there are none more despised. There they sit, with their church bulletins of family trees and their dental records, their interviews with ex-lovers, mad uncles, and discarded children, and go about “reconstructing” the life of someone they never knew, or knew just barely. To George Eliot,…

    Women With Whips

    Name a classic Western of the 1950s starring a great actress of the 1930s. She should play a woman of power and influence, maybe with a little bit of a dominatrix vibe. (When critics talk about the film, they will probably call it “psychosexual”.) It is highly stylized. Whatever happens in it, it doesn’t take…

    A Gift from Heaven

    What makes you think I can live in a room from which you have removed – admittedly with considerable tact – one of the four walls? I agree, the view has really improved (not that you can see the Arno and the Ponte Vecchio in the distance) but is the (let’s call it) “radical renovation”…

    Blake in Paradise

    Biographers and scholars agree: he was mad. But does it matter whether he really used to see angels dancing in the trees in his garden, or would spend long evening hours conversing with Isaiah and Ezekiel? Isn’t it enough that that he left us “Proverbs of Hell” and “Jerusalem”? Shortly before closing his eyes he…

    Delirious Passion

    Each morning when you go out on the balcony to enjoy your first coffee of the day you face the same intolerable backdrop: Delos reposing nonchalantly in precisely the same place you left it yesterday. How much you wish that nature, just for once, would cast off for a while its earnest attire and, like…

    Poetic License

    For Anne Carson In the second book of the Iliad, he calls him a mighty king: λάσιον κῆρ – in Rieu’s prose: “Pylaemenes of the shaggy breast led the Paphlagonians”. In the Fifth Book, he decides to have him killed – without too much fuss, in just two lines: “the great spearman Menelaus son of…

    Cycladic Idyll

    Lower your eyes. When beauty invades your life with such force, it can destroy you. The two ants hurrying along next to the soles of your feet are burying their summer dreams deep in the ground. The load they are carrying will not crush them. They have measured their strength accurately. Your shadow melts into…

    The Beehive

    The ambition that burned in the breasts and the brushes of the immigrant artists at La Ruche was not enough to warm them on winter nights. Hunger is what lured them to Paris and hunger is what kept them there, a zealous hunger that fortified them against the physical hunger which incessantly rumbled in the…

    On Not Hating the Body

    Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine. …The cat walked stiffly…