Germany’s Election: Choosing the Unspeakable

The apparent calm of the election belied the real concerns of the German public, concerns evident in the election results. Chancellor Angela Merkel barely campaigned. To the eyes of the public, the two major parties seemed nearly identical. This provided the far-right party with an opening to be the opposition. If people turned to a party that said the unspeakable, it was partly because very speakable things weren’t being said at all.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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