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Democracy and Its Discontents

Democracy and Its Discontents

For the American right, Donald Trump’s inauguration as the forty-fifth president of the United States was a moment of political rebirth. Elements of American conservatism had long fostered a reactionary counterculture, which defined the push for civil rights as oppression, resisted the equality of women and the transgression of conventional heterosexual norms, pilloried the hegemony […]

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‘Dismembered, Relocated, Rearranged’

‘Dismembered, Relocated, Rearranged’

How can the contemporary novel speak the unspeakable? It’s an old question, a tired one perhaps, now that “the unspeakable” has come to encompass many forms of trauma that writers regularly speak about: self-harm, sexual abuse, genocide, fascism, climate change. Search for “speak the unspeakable” online, and the encyclopedic range of results, from the horrific (mass death) to the trivial (relationship advice) to the downright offensive (men’s rights forums, campus “free speech” controversies), makes it easy to start feeling cynical about how people deploy their memories for recognition.

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Shelley’s Anti-Boney Fides

Shelley’s Anti-Boney Fides

To the Editors: In his excellent piece on Napoleon, Ferdinand Mount asks why “half the intelligentsia of Europe,” including Percy Bysshe Shelley, “were passionate Napoleonists.” Shelley, however, was no Napoleonist.

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‘Boys Do It Better’: The Paintings of Louis Fratino

‘Boys Do It Better’: The Paintings of Louis Fratino

The twenty-five paintings in “Come Softly to Me”—Fratino’s first solo show, at Sikkema Jenkins & Co.—range from gem-like portraits of friends and lovers to larger scenes of city life to a trio of alluring box lids, each measuring roughly 3.5 x 3.5 inches. Known primarily for his graphic but tender representations of queer intimacy, often set in the same apartment, Fratino here swaps domestic tranquility for psychogeography. Many of the featured works were made following a breakup, during a period marked by long walks around the city; they certainly embody an ambivalent relationship to this sudden windfall of hours. For all the new faces and encounters, the prevailing mood is one of charged solitude.

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Whose Raj?

Whose Raj?

To the Editors: Max Hastings’s “Staying On” is an essay blighted by prejudice and redolent of the stuffiest traditions of British self-regard.

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‘Les Temps Modernes’: End of an Epoch

‘Les Temps Modernes’: End of an Epoch

Few publications remained as true to their initial goals as Les Temps Modernes, and few demonstrated the rigor and openness and bravery it did in fulfilling it. Fewer still could boast of contributors of the caliber of those who wrote for the journal, especially in its early days, and the quality and durability of their contributions. Difficult as it may be from our perspective, it is important to see that the review was, within its historical moment, making honest attempts to break out of the closed, bourgeois world it rebelliously grew from in order to seriously engage in changing society. If its call for radical action sounds hollow today, more’s the pity for us.

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The Fog of Ambition

The Fog of Ambition

“Almost great” is George Packer’s measured judgment on the life and character of the American diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who was trying to broker an end to the war in Afghanistan when he died suddenly in 2010. Holbrooke left the war pretty much as he found it, and peace is no closer now, nearly a decade later, but that isn’t what explains the cruel precision of Packer’s judgment. It’s the man. Holbrooke had the serious intent, the energy, the friends, the wit, and even the luck needed to accomplish great things, but he fell short. Packer circles the question of why in his new biography, Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century, but the force of the man survives the interrogation.

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Truth, Beauty, and Oliver Sacks

Truth, Beauty, and Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks found it impossible to work in the abstract; only when he went to work in a hospital as a neurologist, interacting with patients, did he begin to fulfill his potential. His natural shyness disappeared in the face of the problem to be solved—the human problem, the difficulty or the damage inflicted on the individual by his or her condition. But he was equally fascinated by the brain itself. By involving the patient as much as possible in his own insatiable inquisitiveness about its extraordinary ways, he took some of the doom, the curse, out of the condition.

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Jeff Sessions’s Grave Conflict of Interest

Jeff Sessions’s Grave Conflict of Interest

A government official with first-hand knowledge of the matter told me that Jeff Sessions enlisted his subordinates to lie on his behalf that he did not know he was under federal investigation when he fired then Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. In addition to firing McCabe, Sessions, while under investigation, played a leading role in more broadly carrying out President Trump’s relentless campaign to undermine and discredit the FBI. Several leading experts on legal ethics have told me that Sessions’s simultaneous and dual roles almost certainly violated the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct and federal government conflict of interest regulations. That demonstrates both the utility of Sessions’ misstatements, and the gravity of the situation he faced. 

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‘One Seed Can Make an Impact’: An Interview with Chen Hongguo

‘One Seed Can Make an Impact’: An Interview with Chen Hongguo

Ian Johnson: You got your PhD in law from China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing. You could have kept teaching in the capital but you chose to come to Xi’an. Why did you do that?
Chen Hongguo: You don’t realize how pitiful the students are here. The quality of teaching isn’t that good and they don’t get to hear good speakers. So I began to invite prominent intellectuals… I set up reading clubs to interact more closely with the students… We met in the stairway. People called it the “stairway lectures.”

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