FALL BOOKS OCTOBER 17, 2016
5 GOINGS ON ABOUT TOWN 23 THE TALK OF THE TOWN
Amy Davidson on the third-party candidates; NeverTrump; Bonnie Raitt; Norm Macdonald; James Surowiecki on Trump’s other tax ploy. THE POLITICAL SCENE
Taming Trump The trials of the campaign’s third manager.
The Thirty-Year Coup An exiled Turkish cleric’s shadow army.
“The Edge of the Shoal”
SHOUTS & MURMURS
Never Give Up
ONWARD AND UPWARD WITH THE ARTS
Out of Bounds Ursula K. Le Guin’s unruly imagination. PROFILES
How the Light Gets In Leonard Cohen and the voice of God. SKETCHBOOK
Hillary 2016 Campaign Memorabilia A REPORTER AT LARGE
THE CRITICS BOOKS
Alexandra Schwartz Adam Gopnik Zoë Heller Leo Robson
80 85 90 94 99 Dan Chiasson 100
Emily Witt’s “Future Sex.” Novelists rewriting Shakespeare. Shirley Jackson’s mad, mad world. Evaluating the novelist Henry Green. Brieﬂy Noted Thomas De Quincey’s doped-up genius. MUSICAL EVENTS
Alex Ross 104 “Tristan und Isolde,” “Das Rheingold.” THE ART WORLD
Peter Schjeldahl 106 Agnes Martin at the Guggenheim. THE CURRENT CINEMA
Anthony Lane 108 “The Girl on the Train,” “Under the Shadow.” POEMS
Marianne Boruch C. L. O’Dell
“Hospital Linens” “My Father Sings Like a Crow” COVER
R. Kikuo Johnson
“The Finish Line”
Will McPhail, Robert Leighton, Trevor Spaulding, Benjamin Schwartz, Michael Crawford, David Sipress, Shannon Wheeler, Liam Francis Walsh, Edward Koren, Edward Steed, David Borchart,William Haefeli, Jason Patterson, Jack Ziegler, Emily Flake, Frank Cotham, Amy Hwang, Tom Toro, Paul Noth, Avi Steinberg, Charlie Hankin, Danny Shanahan, P. C. Vey SPOTS Giacomo Bagnara
CONTRIBUTORS Ryan Lizza (“Taming Trump,” p. 30), a
Washington correspondent for The New Yorker, is also a political commentator for CNN.
Dexter Filkins (“The Thirty-Year Coup,”
p. 60) is a staﬀ writer and the author of “The Forever War,” which won a National Book Critics Circle Award.
Sheila Marikar (The Talk of the Town,
p. 24) is a writer living in Los Angeles. She is currently working on a book about modern-day communes.
Jack Handey (Shouts & Murmurs, p. 37)
Alexandra Schwartz (Books, p. 80) became a staﬀ writer earlier this year. Cynan Jones (Fiction, p. 72) is the au-
thor of ﬁve novels, including “The Dig” and “Cove,” which will be published in the U.K. this fall.
Zoë Heller (Books, p. 90) contributes to The New York Review of Books. She has published three novels, including “Notes on a Scandal.” C. L. O’Dell (Poem, p. 97) is a poet and the editor of The Paris-American.
has written several humor books, including, most recently, “Squeaky Poems: Rhymes About My Rat.”
Leo Robson (Books, p. 94) is a freelance
Julie Phillips (“Out of Bounds,” p. 38) is
magazine’s music critic since 1996, is working on a book entitled “Wagnerism: Art in the Shadow of Music.”
working on a book on writing and mothering, and is researching a biography of Ursula K. Le Guin.
R. Kikuo Johnson (Cover), an illustrator
and cartoonist, teaches cartooning at the Rhode Island School of Design.
writer based in London.
Alex Ross (Musical Events, p. 104), the
Anthony Lane (The Current Cinema, p. 108) is a staﬀ writer and ﬁlm critic for the magazine. “Nobody’s Perfect” is a collection of his New Yorker pieces.
PHOTO BOOTH Images by the photographer Peter Hujar, who captured the characters of downtown New York in the seventies.
TRUMP AND THE TRUTH
Spin a wheel of Trump’s statements to explore our series of reported essays on the G.O.P. candidate’s untruths.
SUBSCRIBERS: Get access to our magazine app for tablets and smartphones at the
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THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
LEFT: COURTESY PETER HUJAR ARCHIVE AND PACE/MACGILL GALLERY; RIGHT: KELLY NILAND AND ERIK T. JOHNSON
NEWYORKER.COM Everything in the magazine, and more.
THE MAIL A MUSEUM’S UNSUNG HERO
Vinson Cunningham’s piece on the Smithsonian Institution’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture describes the museum’s long period of gestation, the obstacles it faced, and its many champions, but neglects to mention one of its major contributors, the late African-American architect J. Max Bond, Jr. (“Making a Home for Black History,” August 29th). The idea of a national museum dedicated to the African-American experience was ﬁrst discussed in 1915. In 1991, while working on the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute with the congressman John Lewis, Bond joined the eﬀort. In 2006, he and another noted architect, Phil Freelon, received the commission to deﬁne the project’s objectives and to choose its site on the Mall. The early work of Bond and Freelon, who joined forces with the museum’s director, Lonnie Bunch, and the Smithsonian, led to an open design competition. A ﬁrm believer in the power of collaboration, Bond invited David Adjaye to join him and Freelon, to form a partnership—FAB—which ultimately won the commission. Bond, who died in 2009, saw the design process as akin to a jazz ensemble, where individuals would inspire one another to create a structure that reﬂected the richness and diversity of African-American life. The museum is not the eﬀort of a single architect, Adjaye, as Cunningham’s article suggests. While Bond cannot be here to share in the triumph, the decade of eﬀort by him and his team should be recognized. Charlie Shorter Senior Adviser, Davis Brody Bond New York City
1 A STAR TURN
Yuja Wang’s emergence as a gifted Mozart interpreter is a less recent phenomenon than Janet Malcolm claims in her Proﬁle of the pianist (“Performance Artist,” September 5th). I saw Wang perform in 2008 with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, at the age of twenty-one, when the pianist Mur
ray Perahia, who had been scheduled to both conduct and perform, had to drop out. The late Sir Neville Marriner conducted, and Wang, with just a few weeks’ notice, took on the planned Mendelssohn and Mozart concertos. Her performance of Mozart’s C-Minor Concerto was remarkable. As her teacher Gary Graﬀman told Malcolm earlier this year, “Who can play Mozart the way she did? It was so natural, in such good taste.” One of the orchestra musicians later told me that they had all been impressed— as strong a recommendation as any Mozartian could wish for. Later, I saw Wang chatting with friends backstage. She had already changed into jeans and ﬂat shoes. Whatever she chooses to wear, her exceptional musicianship is the genuine article. David Beech Monterey, Calif.
I read Ian Parker’s piece on the Times restaurant critic Pete Wells on September 11th, ironic timing for a piece that refers to ﬁve-hundred-dollar dinners (“Knives Out,” September 12th). I was left with real sympathy for both Wells and the chef-restaurateur David Chang, whose restaurant was the subject of one of Wells’s critical reviews. Eating at a Manhattan destination restaurant is an increasingly vainglorious experience; no wonder the food often disappoints and the “fun” has become diﬃcult to locate. Wells tells the devastated Chang, “This is the life you chose,” and so did Wells, who has the power to make or destroy careers. But it’s worth noting that they work in a rareﬁed arena, in which good food has become something more and yet less than it is for most people, to whom it means sustenance and community. Hank Benson New Haven, Conn.
Letters should be sent with the writer’s name, address, and daytime phone number via e-mail to email@example.com. Letters may be edited for length and clarity, and may be published in any medium. We regret that owing to the volume of correspondence we cannot reply to every letter. THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
OCTOBER 12 – 18, 2016
GOINGS ON ABOUT TOWN
Anna Deavere Smith has carved out a singular niche straddling performance art, academia, and publicinterest journalism. Her documentary solo works, in which she plays a panoply of interview subjects, have covered topics from the Crown Heights riots to the frailties of the human body. In her latest, “Notes from the Field,” beginning previews Oct. 15 at Second Stage, Smith (above, in costume) draws on more than two hundred and ﬁfty interviews to explore hot-button issues of education and inequality. PHOTOGRAPH BY RYAN PFLUGER
1 MUSEUMS AND LIBRARIES Museum of Modern Art “Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter” No word but “disgrace” can describe our passivity in the face of the current displacement of more than sixty-five million people. This grave, accusatory exhibition evokes the transit, and the intermittent protection, of refugees through photographs, artists’ projects, water-purification tablets, and a steel-frame tent from the United Nations Refugee Agency: temporary shelter that, for too many people, has now become permanent housing. Photographs appropriated by Xaviera Simmons consider the near-daily deaths in the Mediterranean, and are accompanied by a list of the drowned. Refugee camps from Lebanon to Kenya are among the world’s fastest growing; while this show fails to acknowledge the experiences of people trapped in Lesbos or Calais, it complements Bouchra Khalili’s videos, recently on view at the museum, that gave voice to ref-
ugees who risked their lives to reach Europe. The most shattering object here is the smallest: a color-coded plastic bracelet, used by Doctors Without Borders to measure arm circumference and gauge malnutrition. It rests on a pedestal near a Dorothea Lange photograph of a migrant mother outside a tent in Depression-era California—a reminder that Americans have been displaced persons, too. Through Jan. 22.
1 GALLERIES—UPTOWN Sally Mann The photographer commemorates her long friendship with Cy Twombly in a series documenting his modest studio in their home town of Lexington, Virginia. (She began the project in 1999; it ended in 2012, a year after his death.) The painter is absent from these pictures, but Mann remains alert to his presence, most obviously in her photographs of his paintings and sculptures, and of their splattered traces. He feels present, too, in the soft glow of light—a
1 GALLERIES—CHELSEA Ryan Gander Motion-detector-activated googly eyes, set into the wall, greet visitors to this British artist’s strenuously charming show. They bat their lashes and waggle their brows, shameless flirts. Further entertainments include antique mirrors draped with what appears to be cloth but is, in fact, solid marble, and human-size stick figures made of gleaming hardware which, while faceless, bespeak mopey moods. Thirty-two sculptures and assemblages (incorporating a box of passport photographs and a tastefully decorated ceramic dildo, among other objects) ride a conveyor belt behind a hole in a wall. Clearly, Gander expects you to like him. Through Oct. 15. (Lisson, 504 W. 24th St. 212-505-6431.) Meleko Mokgosi The Botswana-born, New York-based painter impresses and tantalizes with his aggressively enigmatic realist paintings, in many shapes and formats. They depict figures sprung from the artist’s imagination, whether prosperous African citizens or an elegant woman being adored, or perhaps assaulted, by winged putti (based on a canvas by Bouguereau). Several works in this two-part exhibition contain words, hand-printed in white on raw linen, in the Setswana language of southern Africa. (According to Mokgosi, they are tales from an oral tradition; he declines to provide English translations.) Post-postcolonial with a vengeance, Mokgosi immerses us in currents of a powerful, complex civilization. Through Oct. 22. (Shainman, 513 W. 20th St. and 524 W. 24th St. 212-645-1701.) Oscar Murillo At the age of thirty, the London-based artist has been a market phenom for several years, but he may feel that he still has something to prove. In his second solo in New York, Murillo comes on like a house afire with big, heavily stitched, messy but strangely elegant paintings that feature fugitive antique images, including one of a marching band; many handmade books of furiously scribbled drawings and personal snapshots; and an immense installation. The latter, entitled “A Futile Mercantile Disposition,” deploys steel and PVC pipe in frameworks supporting metal shelves or bunks, draped with swatches of blackpainted canvas and linen. There are hints of social animus. But Murillo’s chief motive seems to be art about art, with a debt to the Germans. Imagine a mashup of Beuys, Polke, and Kiefer, spun by a d.j. who is high on something. Through Oct. 22. (Zwirner, 525 W. 19th St. 212-727-2070.)
Sam McKinniss’s painting “Swan II,” in “Egyptian Violet,” at the Team gallery, opening Oct. 13. The exhibition title refers to the crepuscular pigment the young artist uses, to striking effect. 6
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
Stephen Shames The New York photographer got his start in 1966, documenting the founding and growth of the Black Panther Party, in pictures that emphasized substance while admiring style. Any show of that series of Shames’s can’t avoid the trivializing tug of radical chic (Angela Davis, Huey Newton, and
COURTESY THE ARTIST AND TEAM GALLERY, NEW YORK
flare, an aura, a dotted pattern of sun on the wall. The emptiest of these images recall Uta Barth’s equally poetic interior views, but Mann’s pictures of a room crowded with Twombly’s spindly totemic sculptures hark back to Brancusi’s photographs of his own Paris studio, and are every bit as unfussy and elegiac. Through Oct. 29. (Gagosian, 976 Madison Ave., at 76th St. 212-796-1224.)
ART 1 Bobby Seale are dazzlingly charismatic), but the focus of this smart exhibition is on the Panthers’ community service—schools, clinics, and freefood programs—as well as its armed resistance. In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, the show and its related book do more than mark a fiftieth anniversary—they’re an inspired call to continue the fight against poverty, racism, and police brutality. Through Oct. 29. (Kasher, 515 W. 26th St. 212-966-3978.)
GALLERIES—DOWNTOWN Aneta Grzeszykowska This unabashed artist from Warsaw appears at the beach or the breakfast table in a dozen solarized photographs, but she stands out from her surroundings in strange shades of gray. A related video reveals her process: we see Grzeszykowska paint her nude body in black, then apply white contours to her eyelids and nip-
NIGHT LIFE 1 ROCK AND POP Musicians and night-club proprietors lead complicated lives; it’s advisable to check in advance to conﬁrm engagements.
Tredici Bacci A few years ago, the guitarist Simon Hanes, a New England Conservatory graduate obsessed with Italian and French soundtracks of the nineteensixties and seventies, put together this fourteenpiece band of well-trained musicians to play his complex tunes, which pay tribute to Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti-Western scores and to the sleazy, funk-tinged lounge compositions of Morricone’s contemporary Armando Trovajoli. Tredici Bacci’s forthcoming début, “Amore per Tutti,” includes sultry ballads with feathery harmonies, up-tempo tunes with aggressive bass lines, and a snarled guest vocal, delivered by the downtown scum-rock legend J. G. Thirlwell, on the record’s most addictive cut, “Give Him the Gun.” This performance features a ninepiece version of the band—plenty to fill the cozy back room of this elegant little club. Opening will be the Actual Trio, a Berkeley-based jazz group that includes John Hanes, Simon’s father, on drums. (The Owl, 497 Rogers Ave., Brooklyn. 718-774-0042. Oct. 12.) Craig David This U.K. pop martyr has staged a resurrection that few people could have seen coming, but which seems all the more fitting with each listen to the Hot 100. The dots connected last September, when David performed his 2000 classic, “Fill Me In,” on BBC 1, over the instrumental to Jack Ü’s smash, “Where Are Ü Now.” The harmonies were in key, the drops lined up, and the studio erupted at the realization that the U.K. garage sound had snuck back on air. A video of the performance racked up four hundred thousand views, and within weeks David had announced a new album and gone back on tour. But he’d been setting the stage since 2013, when he started the TS5 party series in Miami, spinning rave, soul, R. & B., and garage while improvising live performances throughout. The party comes to Rough Trade this week, in celebration of “Following My Intuition,” David’s first No. 1 album in sixteen years. (64 N. 9th St., Brooklyn. roughtradenyc.com. Oct. 14.) Luscious Jackson Luscious Jackson’s début record, “Natural Ingredients,” was the first release on the Beastie Boys’ now-defunct label, Grand Royal. In 1991, Jill Cunniff, Gabrielle Glaser, Vivien Trimble, and Kate Schellenbach offered an X-Girl alternative to “Paul’s Boutique,” blending rumbling funk breaks and dusted post-punk riffs as a foun8
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
dation for monotone femme-rap parables. “Semiautomatic sisters,” Cunniff sings on “Daughters of the Kaos,” “I might be strong, but don’t call me ‘mister.’” Fans of the group’s biggest hit, the ravefriendly “Naked Eye,” will likely enjoy its 2013 reunion album, “Magic Hour.” The continuity is uncanny, given that Trimble opted out of the new incarnation of the act. Also in 2013, the band released “Baby DJ,” a record for the young children that members conceived while on hiatus; catch their only live performance of the year. (The Bell House, 149 7th St., Brooklyn. 718-643-6510. Oct. 14.)
Rhythm of Afrika Some of the most exciting sounds in dance are coming from militant producers bent on jamming hardedged club rhythms together with transcendent Afrobeats. The results are sprawling and rich, reconfiguring everything that fans love about house and dancehall. Such d.j.s and producers are regulars at this monthly rave, and are increasingly influential on the pop circuit; summer hits from PartyNextDoor and Drake leaned on the jumping tropical rhythms that are standard across select D.I.Y. venues and dives. STA7CK (pronounced “stark”) and Brian Lee McCloud (known as B.L.M.) are two young jockeys with boundless taste and mixes worth sifting through for hidden African house gems; they co-headline this sweaty installment at the Knockdown Center, a converted glass-and-door factory that lures club rats out to Queens each weekend. (52-19 Flushing Ave., Maspeth. 347-915-5615. Oct. 14.) Caetano Veloso Earlier this year, the seventy-four-year-old Brazilian legend Veloso released “Dois Amigos, Um Seculo de Musica,” an exquisite live album with his lifelong friend and sometime musical collaborator Gilberto Gil. The stripped-down record, a high point in a half-century-long career filled with them, features Veloso’s 1967 saudade classic “Coração Vagabundo,” along with newer songs that showcase his undiminished talent for lyrical sophistication and harmonic ambiguity. For this solo concert, Veloso will present material spanning several decades in a similarly spare manner, but his primary motivation is to draw attention to the opening act, Teresa Christina. Christina, a subtle, potent singer, will perform the songs of the samba pioneer Cartola, accompanied by her tasteful, virtuoso guitarist, Carlinhos Sete Cordas. (Town Hall, 123 W. 43rd St. 212-840-2824. Oct. 12-13.)
1 JAZZ AND STANDARDS Henry Butler New Orleans’s own Butler is an astonishing pianist whose technical agility is matched only by
ples. A concurrent exhibition, at the 11R gallery, includes fascinating photographs of effigies that the artist makes in pink pigskin, based on parts of her body (lips, finger, breast, navel)—a partial self-portrait. Grzeszykowska’s treatment of the fragmented figure has affinities with another Polish experimentalist, the late, great Alina Szapocznikow. Through Oct. 16. (Lyles & King, 106 Forsyth St. 646-4845478.)
his stylistic versatility; he’s got the entire history of the music under his fingers, and a solo performance will be the optimum way for him to share his encyclopedic knowledge and breathtaking virtuosity. (Jazz Standard, 116 E. 27th St. 212-576-2232. Oct. 12.)
Freddy Cole Old-school suave and still in hale voice, Cole (here celebrating his eighty-fifth birthday) has yet to encounter a ballad or a swinging blues number that he couldn’t finesse to a shine. It took him decades to step outside the shadow of his brother Nat, but Freddy now commands from a throne of his own. (Jazz Standard, 116 E. 27th St. 212-576-2232. Oct. 13-16.) Christine Ebersole If portraying both Big and Little Edie Beale in the same production of the musical “Grey Gardens” doesn’t confirm your theatrical bona fides, then what can? The veteran actress and vocalist Ebersole won her second Tony Award for that dual performance, and her manifold talents are sure to be on vivid display during this intimate engagement. (Café Carlyle, Carlyle Hotel, Madison Ave. at 76th St. 212-7441600. Oct. 11-22.) Jazz 100: The Music of Dizzy, Ella, Mongo, and Monk Other than their legendary jazz status, what do Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Mongo Santamaria, and Thelonious Monk have in common? They’ll all have their hundredth birthdays in 2017. For this early celebration, a hand-picked ensemble, under the direction of the pianist Danilo Perez, including Chris Potter, Wycliffe Gordon, and Ledisi, reinterprets music from each of the icons. (Rose Theatre, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Broadway at 60th St. 212-721-6500. Oct. 14-15.) Bucky Pizzarelli Trio Pizzarelli’s dulcet tone and perfectly turned phrases have filled the air for some eight decades now—this year, the dean of mainstream jazz guitar turned ninety. Supported by his son Martin on bass and the second guitarist Ed Laub, Pizzarelli will demonstrate undiminished flair on his trademark seven-stringed instrument. (Jazz at Kitano, 66 Park Ave., at 38th St. 212-8857119. Oct. 14.) Gary Smulyan The baritone may never attain the sexy cachet of other members of the saxophone family, but that hasn’t discouraged persuasive stylists from coaxing magic from the horn. Smulyan, among the handful of contemporary titans of the instrument, unites a hefty sound with nearfrightening dexterity. (Smoke, 2751 Broadway, between 105th and 106th Sts. 212-864-6662. Oct. 12-13.)
Rachel Weisz returns to the stage. Toward the end of Peter Brook’s inspiring 1968 book, “The Empty Space,” the esteemed director says that an actor “must bring into being an unconscious state of which he is completely in charge.” In a way, what we look for in the best performers is not only a face and a body that distill emotions we may or may not have been aware of but also a person who reﬂects something of the times. While we sometimes associate the lush, forty-six-year-old British-born consummate actress Rachel Weisz’s romantic countenance and mindfulness with epochs other than her own— 10
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
in certain roles, she brings to mind the pluck, imagination, and melancholy of a star from the nineteen-thirties—she is completely modern in her depiction of women who long to escape their times, or who are uneasy in them while endeavoring to make splintered worlds whole. Weisz was born into a world deﬁned by displacement. Her parents, both from Central Europe, emigrated to England to escape the Second World War; as Jews, they were outsiders in a country where anti-Semitism was often the rule, not the exception. Weisz’s diﬀerence made her watchful, interior, rebellious. At secondary school, she was fortunate to meet an instructor who picked up on her talent for
reading and analyzing poetry. At Cambridge, she wrote her dissertation on Carson McCullers and her break from ideas of femininity formed in and by the antebellum South. It was while Weisz was at university—she had been modelling for a number of years—that she began to perform. Her ﬁrst part, she told me one recent evening, was as a Saxon slave girl in “The Romans in Britain.” She describes the role as less than satisfying. To ﬁnd herself as an artist, she started a theatre company with friends called Talking Tongues (a precursor of 600 Highwaymen, one of New York’s best nontraditional companies), where she starred in “Savage/Love” and “Tongues,” early pieces by Sam Shepard. Weisz’s performances often create a hunger in her audiences; we want to know more about what’s behind the mysteries and intimacies that her characters let us into and then turn away from. Indeed, her ﬁrst large-scale success was playing that open mystery Gilda, in the 1994 Donmar Warehouse production of Noël Coward’s 1932 “Design for Living,” a play about bisexuality, art, and fast modern lives. It was that production, Weisz told me, that led to ﬁlms. Co-starring in immensely popular action pictures like “The Mummy,” in 1999, did not, as it so often does with young actresses, keep Weisz waiting to repeat past commercial successes. She was an artist, and interested in how that artistry might grow and develop in diﬀerent contexts, in front of diﬀerent lenses. Eventually, directors such as Wong Kar-wai, Terence Davies, and Yorgos Lanthimos caught up with her, knowing that what she showed was as important as what she didn’t show. Now Weisz is entering into the life and mind of another ultimately unknowable woman—Susan Traherne, in David Hare’s 1978 play, “Plenty” (at the Public, through Nov. 20). Restless, unsure, and bored by the safety of the present, Traherne makes a romance of the past, just as audiences tend to make a romance of Weisz. Part of her strength is her ability to resist such easy classiﬁcations, and to show us various unconscious states consciously, with a conjurer’s truth. —Hilton Als
ILLUSTRATION BY PIERRE MORNET
THE THEATRE 1 OPENINGS AND PREVIEWS The Cherry Orchard The Roundabout presents a new adaptation of the Chekhov play by Stephen Karam (“The Humans”), directed by Simon Godwin and starring Diane Lane, Tavi Gevinson, Joel Grey, Chuck Cooper, and John Glover. (American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St. 212-719-1300. In previews. Opens Oct. 16.) Chris Gethard: Career Suicide The comedian’s solo show, directed by Kimberly Senior, looks for humor in such weighty subjects as mental illness, suicide, and alcoholism. (Lynn Redgrave, 45 Bleecker St. 866-811-4111. In previews. Opens Oct. 13.) Coriolanus Red Bull Theatre presents Shakespeare’s politically minded tragedy, directed by Michael Sexton and starring Dion Johnstone as the Roman general. (Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow St. 212868-4444. Previews begin Oct. 18.) Heisenberg Mary-Louise Parker and Denis Arndt reprise their roles in Simon Stephens’s drama, about two strangers who cross paths at a London train station. Mark Brokaw directs the Manhattan Theatre Club production. (Samuel J. Friedman, 261 W. 47th St. 212-239-6200. In previews. Opens Oct. 13.) Les Liaisons Dangereuses Janet McTeer, Liev Schreiber, and Birgitte Hjort Sørensen star in Josie Rourke’s revival of the Christopher Hampton drama, depicting the seductive games of aristocrats in pre-Revolutionary France. (Booth, 222 W. 45th St. 212-239-6200. In previews.) “Master Harold” . . . and the Boys Athol Fugard directs his 1982 drama, set in a tea shop in South Africa in 1950, where two black men and a white boy face the cruelties of apartheid. (Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St. 212-244-7529. Previews begin Oct. 18.) Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 Josh Groban and Denée Benton star in Dave Malloy’s electro-pop adaptation of a section of “War and Peace,” in an immersive production directed by Rachel Chavkin. (Imperial, 249 W. 45th St. 212239-6200. Previews begin Oct. 18.) Orwell in America Joe Sutton’s play, directed by Peter Hackett, imagines George Orwell on a book tour for “Animal Farm,” for which his publisher has deployed a young woman to keep his political pronouncements in check. (59E59, at 59 E. 59th St. 212-2794200. Opens Oct. 12.) Sell / Buy / Date Sarah Jones (“Bridge & Tunnel”) performs a new multicharacter solo show exploring the commercial sex industry, directed by Carolyn Cantor for Manhattan Theatre Club. (City Center Stage II, 131 W. 55th St. 212-581-1212. In previews. Opens Oct. 18.) She Stoops to Conquer The Actors Company Theatre revives the eighteenth-century comedy by Oliver Goldsmith, in which a young lady poses as a barmaid to appeal to a shy suitor. Scott Alan Evans directs. (Clurman, 410 W. 42nd St. 212-239-6200. In previews. Opens Oct. 16.) 12
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
Sweat Kate Whoriskey directs a new play by Lynn Nottage, about a group of friends from an assembly line who find themselves at odds amid layoffs and pickets. (Public, 425 Lafayette St. 212-9677555. Previews begin Oct. 18.)
1 NOW PLAYING Afterplay The conceit of Brian Friel’s one-act play from 2002, directed by Joe Dowling, is intriguing from an intellectual angle. Andrey (Dermot Crowley), the once promising academic from “Three Sisters,” and Sonya (Dearbhla Molloy), Astrov’s disappointed lover from “Uncle Vanya,” meet in a somewhat seedy tearoom in nineteen-twenties Moscow, many years after the action of their respective plays. There, in thoroughly Irish conversation, they get to know each other, sharing confidences, deluding themselves and one another along the way. For dedicated students of Chekhov, this exercise may hold some interest, but as a stand-alone piece of theatre there’s little to draw the audience toward the two characters. (Irish Repertory, 132 W. 22nd St. 212-727-2737.) Holiday Inn In a season of American agita, the Roundabout serves a nice glass of warm milk: a musical adaptation of the 1942 film, which gave us Bing Crosby crooning “White Christmas.” Gordon Greenberg’s production pads out the story with other Irving Berlin standards, including “Blue Skies” and “Cheek to Cheek,” sung and danced to by a game, bright-eyed cast. Corbin Bleu, filling Fred Astaire’s tap shoes, plays Ted, a nightclub entertainer who craves the spotlight. Bryce Pinkham is his partner, Jim, who just wants to give it all up for a farm in Connecticut, where he meets a girl (Lora Lee Gayer) and puts on a show to pay the bills. Don’t expect an iota of irony; like Jim, the show longs for simpler pleasures, and delivers them by way of well-polished choreography, familiar tunes, and two debonair leading men. (Studio 54, at 254 W. 54th St. 212-719-1300.) The Maids Jean Genet’s play is one of theatre’s most irresistible mystery texts, and José Rivera’s new adaptation threatens to overload it with yet more complexity. The setting is transposed to the Puerto Rican island of Vieques in 1941; two actors play one of the show’s housekeeping sisters, and three (including Rivera himself) play the other, all of them tag-teaming or even double-teaming the roles according to a logic that only the creative team knows. This is an aggressively bodily, gleefully obnoxious, and gratifyingly maniacal take on Genet, complete with dance breaks and actors climbing on the ceiling (including Daniel Irizarry, who plays the maids’ boss and also directs). Audiences game for such wild impishness will find a production that positively gushes with superb physical comedy yet stays true to the spirit of the original. (INTAR, 500 W. 52nd St. 212-352-3101.) The Roads to Home Few actors have as much command of Horton Foote’s sensibility as his daughter Hallie, who is a living through line to much of his work. She is a highlight of Primary Stages’s revival of a trio of linked one-acts, and she has a magnificent accomplice in Harriet Harris; the pair play friendly housewives in nineteen-twenties Hous-
THE THEATRE ton. The first two pieces are pure, if slightly undercooked, Horton Foote, with seemingly innocuous chatter suggesting the woven fabric of family and community. The central character in the third is a lovely belle at a Texas ball (Rebecca Brooksher, in a part played by Hallie in 1992) whose grip on reality is fraying—the party is held in an insane asylum. It’s a jarring coda to the show, though Foote fans will be fascinated to see the playwright dip a toe in Tennessee Williams waters. (Cherry Lane, 38 Commerce St. 866-811-4111.)
Stuffed After forging her reputation with hilariously vicious contributions to celebrity roasts, the socalled insult comic Lisa Lampanelli is making her début as a playwright—though the show is best when she breaks for a standup-like monologue, complete with a handheld mike. In “Stuffed,” which might have been called “Love, Loss, and What I Ate,” Lampanelli and her three co-stars embody various aspects of women’s fraught relationships with food, weight, and body image. One character (Ann Harada) is comfortable with her extra pounds; another (Jessica Luck) is anorexic; a third (Zainab Jah) is a “skinny bitch”; and the fourth is Lampanelli’s “Lisa,” who eats her feelings—and eventually gets gastric-sleeve surgery, like her real-life creator. The comedian’s blue streak is refreshing, but it can’t cut through the rosy glow of mutual acceptance and selfempowerment. (McGinn/Cazale, 2162 Broadway, at 76th St. 866-811-4111.) That Golden Girls Show! Season after season, “The Golden Girls” sustained an astonishingly dense barrage of zingers, craftily delivered by a fabulous cast. Now Jonathan Rockefeller has written new adventures for the infamous Miami ladies that make use of their superpowers: throwing shade and firing off ribald jokes. The gimmick is that Sophia, Blanche, et al. are played by hand puppets, à la “Avenue Q.” The gimmick to the gimmick is that Bea Arthur’s Dorothy is voiced by a man. This could have been a misogynist fiasco, but Michael LaMasa has such a command of Arthur’s inflections—and an uncanny ability to mimic her lethal slow burn—that his performance is loving rather than caricatured. The real problem is that the show peters out after thirty minutes, with another sixty to go. There’s a reason sitcoms stick to a half hour. (DR2, at 103 E. 15th St. 212-727-2737.)
MOVIES 1 OPENING The Accountant Ben Affleck stars in this thriller,
as an organized-crime bookkeeper who tries to maintain the appearance of legitimacy. Directed by Gavin O’Connor; co-starring Anna Kendrick and J. K. Simmons. Opening Oct. 14. (In wide release.) • Aquarius A drama, directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho, about a woman in Brazil who resists selling her beachfront apartment to a developer. Starring Sonia Braga. Opening Oct. 14. (In limited release.) • Certain Women Reviewed in Now Playing. Opening Oct. 14. (In limited release.) • Christine Rebecca Hall stars in the real-life story of Christine Chubbuck, a television reporter who committed suicide on the air in 1974. Directed by Antonio Campos; co-starring J. Smith-Cameron, Tracy Letts, and Michael C. Hall. Opening Oct. 14. (In limited release.) • Little Sister Reviewed in Now Playing. Opening Oct. 14. (Metrograph.) • Tower Reviewed in Now Playing. Opening Oct. 12. (In limited release.)
gions of working-class Britain, now turns her attention to the United States. The result is her longest and loosest movie to date: a road trip, undertaken by the eighteen-year-old Star (Sasha Lane), in the company of a mad and merry gang. In charge is the adamantine Krystal (Riley Keough), who, like Fagin, sends her minions onto the streets and takes a cut of the earnings; the difference is that these youngsters, uprooted and adrift, are not picking pockets but selling magazines. Star’s orbit takes her through parking lots, motels, and truck stops; there are passing encounters with oil workers, rich types in cowboy hats, and impoverished kids whose mother is too strung out on drugs to care. The camera’s gaze is restless and encyclopedic, and the grimness of the settings is offset by a raucous soundtrack, and by Arnold’s trademark splashes of hot and concentrated color. Whether her feeling for American lives on the move is as strong as her grasp of British earthiness, though, is open to question, and the movie is menaced by its own aimlessness; such hunger for sensation can never have enough. With Shia LaBeouf.—Anthony Lane (Reviewed in our issue of 10/10/16.) (In limited release.)
1 NOW PLAYING American Honey The British director Andrea Arnold, who, in films like “Fish Tank” (2009), has scoured the rougher re-
L’Argent Robert Bresson’s last film, from 1983, adapted from a story by Tolstoy, features Christian Patey as Yvon, an oil-truck driver who is paid by a client in counterfeit money. Arrested for passing the bills,
1 ALSO NOTABLE All the Ways to Say I Love You Lucille Lortel. • A Day by the Sea Beckett. • Duat Connelly. • The Encounter Golden. • Falsettos Walter Kerr. • Fit for a Queen 3LD Art & Technology Center. • The Front Page Broadhurst. • Hamilton Richard Rodgers. • The Humans Schoenfeld. • A Life Playwrights Horizons. • Love, Love, Love Laura Pels. • Marie and Rosetta Atlantic Theatre Company. Through Oct. 16. • Nat Turner in Jerusalem New York Theatre Workshop. Through Oct. 16. • Notes from the Field Second Stage. • Oh, Hello on Broadway Lyceum. • Public Enemy Pearl. • A Taste of Honey Pearl. • Tick, Tick . . . Boom! Acorn. • The Trial of an American President Lion. Through Oct. 15. • Two Class Acts Flea. • Underground Railroad Game Ars Nova. • Verso New World Stages. • Vietgone City Center Stage I. • Waitress Brooks Atkinson. THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
MOVIES Yvon loses his family while imprisoned; when he gets out, he acts on his blankly righteous rage. Bresson captures the moral weight of tiny gestures in brisk, precise images, and conveys the cosmic evil of daily life through one of the all-time great soundtracks, full of the rustle of bills and the clink of change, the click of a cash register and the snap of locks. These noises make the exchange of labor and goods for money play like original sin itself. Bresson builds a brilliant sequence from an oppressive succession of doors—of a paddy wagon, a store, and a subway car, ending with the hellish barriers that separate a prisoner from his freedom. A spiritual filmmaker, Bresson is fascinated by violence. Here, he revisits a classic moment from “Psycho” in a terrifying wink and reveals the making—as well as the meaning—of a sacred monster. In French.—Richard Brody (Film Society of Lincoln Center; Oct. 12.)
Certain Women The three sections of Kelly Reichardt’s new film— set in Montana and adapted from stories by Maile Meloy—are consistent in their restrained tone but divergent in their impact. The first two episodes offer little besides moderately engaging plots, but the third packs an overwhelming power of mood, observation, and longing. In the first, Laura Dern plays Laura, a lawyer whose affair with a married man named Ryan (James Le Gros) is ending just as a client (Jared Harris), a disabled construction worker, comes unhinged. In the second, Ryan and his wife, Gina (Michelle Williams), who is also his boss, visit an elderly acquaintance, Albert (René Auberjonois), to buy stone for their country house. The third story features Lily Gladstone as Jamie, a young caretaker at a horse farm who drops in on an adult-education class and strikes up a tense and tenuous friendship with the teacher, a young lawyer named Beth (Kristen Stewart). Here, Reichardt infuses slender details with breathtaking emotion. The fervent attention to light and movement—as in a scene of a quietly frenzied nocturnal pursuit—seems to expand cinematic time and fill it with inner life.—R.B. (In limited release.) Deepwater Horizon Peter Berg’s account of the explosion on an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana, in 2010, is so expertly done, and so thrilling to behold, that you end up slightly troubled by your own excitement. Should the story of a true catastrophe, which left eleven people dead and wrought havoc on the environment, really be this much fun? We get a small squad of characters to guide us through the tangle of the incident. Mark Wahlberg plays Mike Williams, the chief electronics technician on the rig, with Kate Hudson as his wife and an indestructible Kurt Russell as his boss, known to all as Mr. Jimmy. The villain of the piece, a senior figure from BP, is—as you would hope— played by John Malkovich. (Though the bulk of the blame ultimately went to BP, fault was also found with other companies; but the film has no room for such niceties.) The movie, credible and relaxed as it delves into the daylight habits of the crew, bursts into pandemonium as the well blows, night falls, and the flames assume command. If you don’t quite understand what’s happening, you’re not alone; even some of the old hands, struggling to contain the chaos, are at sea.—A.L. (10/10/16) (In wide release.) Little Sister The 2008 Presidential election and the intimate devastation resulting from misguided politics are the fully integrated context of Zach Clark’s fierce, tender, and grandly visionary story of a broken family in broken times. Addison Timlin plays Colleen, a young novitiate in a New York convent who is summoned to her family’s home, in North Carolina, to visit her brother, 14
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
Jacob (Keith Poulson), a wounded Iraq War veteran newly released from the hospital. Grievously burned, Jacob lives as a recluse; his girlfriend, Tricia (Kristin Slaysman), works hard to sustain their relationship. Their mother, Joani (Ally Sheedy), who suffers from depression, and their father, Bill (Peter Hedges), a failing actor, maintain a veneer of exuberance, which Colleen’s arrival quickly shatters. Despite the family’s troubles, the film is as joyful and energetic as it is unsparing and compassionate. Infusions of goth styles retrieved from the siblings’ adolescence and their ecstatic reunion with old friends, vibrant undercurrents of local weirdness and echoes of radical activism shake the core of heartland stereotypes. With its blend of terrifyingly intense family bonds and the howling furies of the world outside, this is a great American political film.—R.B. (Metrograph.)
The Magnificent Seven A well-meaning rehash of John Sturges’s 1960 Western, Antoine Fuqua’s movie takes place in 1879, in a town that is blessed with a gold mine and cursed by the heavy hand of Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Murdering, menacing, or buying off the citizens, he seems invincible, until one proud widow (Haley Bennett) brings in a gaggle of mixed mercenaries. They are played by Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, and an ursine Vincent D’Onofrio: not a bad gang, and certainly diverse enough to meet our ethnic demands, yet it lacks the near-wordless cool that radiated from some of Sturges’s team—Yul Brynner, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, and Steve McQueen. The shootouts, too, fall short of the old dexterity; the most interesting innovation, mid-finale, is the cruel arrival of a Gatling gun, which allows the unchivalrous shadow of the modern age to fall across the West.—A.L. (10/3/16) (In wide release.) Masterminds Jared Hess’s wildly plotted comedy of clueless criminals, based on a true story, is intermittently funny but consistently inspired. It’s about an armored-car driver named David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis), who, in 1997, in rural North Carolina, is persuaded by Kelly (Kristen Wiig), with whom he’s hopelessly in love, to steal millions in cash from his company’s vault. She, in turn, is under the influence of a coolly devious friend (Owen Wilson), who ships David off to Mexico and sends a hit man (Jason Sudeikis) to keep him silent. The reversals of fortune, the narrow escapes, the plans for revenge—and, for that matter, the ludicrous details of the robbery itself— are gleefully outlandish, and Hess infuses them with his unique sugar-frosted style and religious substance. The carefully coiffed, goofily tucked-in David seems to be answering, in his own blundering way, the call of a higher power; David’s jilted fiancée, Jandice (Kate McKinnon), blends sacred love with profane humor; and all of the amateur miscreants have a wide-eyed naïveté that veers toward holy innocence.—R.B. (In wide release.) Sully Clint Eastwood transforms the events, in 2009, of Flight 1549—which Captain Chesley Sullenberger and First Officer Jeff Skiles safely landed in the Hudson River after losing both jets in a bird strike—into a fierce, stark, haunted drama of horror narrowly avoided. Eastwood’s depiction of Sully (played, with terse gravity, by Tom Hanks) begins with a shock: the captain’s 9/11-esque vision of his plane crashing into New York buildings. The action of the film involves another shock: federal officials question Sully’s judgment and subject him and Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) to an investigation that could cost him his job and even
MOVIES his pension. Eastwood films the doomed flight with a terrifyingly intimate sense of danger, focussing on its existential center, the little red button under the pilot’s thumb. The film movingly depicts Sully’s modest insistence that he was just doing his job and the collective courage of flight attendants, air-traffic controllers, police officers, and the passengers themselves. But, throughout, Eastwood boldly thrusts attention toward the aftermath of the flight: the nervejangling media distortion of events and personalities, plus the investigators’ ultimate weapon, a computer simulation of the landing, a movie on which Sully’s honor depends. The result is Eastwood’s dedicated vision of moviemaking itself.—R.B. (In wide release.)
13th Ava DuVernay’s brilliantly analytical and morally passionate documentary traces the current-day mass incarceration of black Americans to its historical origins in the Thirteenth Amendment, which banned slavery and involuntary servitude “except as punishment for a crime.” That exception, as she demonstrates by way of a wide range of interview subjects (including Jelani Cobb, of The New Yorker) and archival material, quickly led to the systematic criminalization of black people. When Jim Crow laws yielded to the civil-rights movement in the nineteen-sixties, Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” and “law and order” campaign—which endure to this day—aimed to keep black citizens subjugated and out of power. DuVernay shows Ronald Reagan’s “war on drugs,” his economic policies, and his efforts at voter suppression to be a part of the same strategy. Meanwhile, DuVernay traces the rising number of black
prisoners (Bill Clinton’s policies, many undertaken with the support of black politicians, were also to blame) as well as the widespread tolerance of police violence against black people, linking legal depravities to entrenched economic interests. The film reveals crimes that have been fabricated in the service of oppression as well as another, real and ongoing crime—against humanity.—R.B. (In limited release.)
Tower This documentary, by Keith Maitland, reconstructs with forensic precision and dramatic immediacy the 1966 sniper attack at the University of Texas at Austin that left eighteen people dead, an event that’s widely considered the first modern mass shooting. Maitland blends archival footage, original interviews with survivors and responders, and animated images of several sorts—including, strikingly, ones that return the interviewees to their age at the time of the attack. The animation, by Craig Staggs, has a notable imaginative specificity, and the meticulously complex interweaving of styles turns the film into a horrifying true-crime thriller that’s enriched by a rare depth of inner experience. The effect is as much intellectual as emotional, folding the movie reflexively into its subject: the personal importance of public discussion. The dearth of archival interviews regarding this event corresponds to the interviewees’ retrospective view of the mid-sixties. Exhorted at the time to put the troubles behind them and discouraged from speaking about their experiences, many of the subjects approach Maitland’s interviews as long-overdue, albeit pain-filled, acts of personal liberation.—R.B. (In limited release.)
DANCE New York City Ballet In the last week of the season, Jerome Robbins’s “Dances at a Gathering,” a favorite of audiences and dancers alike, will be performed four times as part of a double bill, with George Balanchine’s “Firebird.” “Dances at a Gathering,” from 1969, marked Robbins’s return to ballet after years of working on Broadway. Made up of a series of solos, duets, trios, and ensembles set to Chopin piano works, it is linked by a thread of lyricism, humor, and delicate emotion. “Firebird,” in contrast, is a Russian folk tale with all the trimmings: a magic bird, a sorcerer, a pure-hearted prince, and a wondrous score by Stravinsky. • Oct. 11 and Oct. 13 at 7:30 and Oct. 14-15 at 8: “Dances at a Gathering” and “Firebird.” • Oct. 12 at 7:30: “Serenade,” “American Rhapsody,” “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,” and “Western Symphony.” • Oct. 15 at 2: “For Clara,” “The Dreamers,” “ten in seven,” “Unframed,” and “Everywhere We Go.” • Oct. 16 at 3: “Glass Pieces,” “Thou Swell,” and “Stars and Stripes.” (David H. Koch, Lincoln Center. 212-496-0600.) Company Wang Ramirez Sébastien Ramirez is French, and of Spanish descent. Honji Wang is German-Korean. They are a couple, onstage and off, and “Monchichi” is about their merging. Cutesy skits riffing on intercultural challenges alternate with impressive but quick-fading bursts of dancing in their common physical language, an elastic extension of hip-hop. (BAM Fisher, 321 Ashland Pl., Brooklyn. 718-636-4100. Oct. 12-15.) Rachid Ouramdane A white set, two dancers: “Tordre (Wrought)” is much more spare than the French-Algerian cho-
reographer’s previous multimedia works, but it’s similarly intense. The piece, part of the Crossing the Line Festival, is two solos that overlap—attracting, repelling, and sometimes colliding with each other. Lora Juodkaite, who spun with relentless virtuosity in Ouramdane’s “Ordinary Witnesses,” spins again here, while Annie Hanauer, who has one prosthetic arm, seems stripped of defenses as she twitches. (Baryshnikov Arts Center, 450 W. 37th St. 866-811-4111. Oct. 13-15.)
Danish Dance Theatre Denmark’s foremost contemporary dance ensemble appeared at the Joyce in 2013, as part of a Nordic dance festival. Now it’s back, on its own, with a new work (“Black Diamond”) by the company’s artistic director, Tim Rushton. With an abstract theme (“the inherent duality of everything”) and futuristic unisex costumes, the piece is self-consciously contemporary. It begins with a flash: a landscape of exploding fragments. The movement, which ranges from legato partnering to angular, robotic moves, is set to a sound collage of Philip Glass, Alexander Balanescu, and electronic beats. (Joyce Theatre, 175 Eighth Ave., at 19th St. 212-242-0800. Oct. 13-16.) Platform 2016: Lost and Found Danspace Project, the site of many memorials for dancers who died of AIDS, looks back at the plague years and their impact on the present in a six-week series of performances, conversations, and film screenings. Much of the emphasis is on the hidden influence of careers cut short and people left out of standard histories, but the first week focusses on such prominent THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
DANCE survivors as Bill T. Jones and Neil Greenberg, as well as on the voguing pioneer Willi Ninja, who died in 2006. (St. Mark’s Church In-the-Bowery, Second Ave. at 10th St. 866-811-4111. Oct. 13-15. Through Nov. 19.)
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker / “Vortex Temporum” For years, the Belgian choreographer has been fascinated by the physical qualities of sound and by the kinship between sound and movement. How do we experience a Bach violin partita while sitting in the dark? Or the trajectory of voices around an open space? “Vortex Temporum,” from 2013, is the most recent of these aural experiments to arrive in the U.S. The contemporarymusic group Ictus plays Gérard Grisey’s 1995 piece, a study in tonal colors for flute, piano, clarinet, and strings. At first, the musicians are alone. Then, the dancers take over. Finally, the groups begin to mingle, moving in spare, simple patterns. A warning to the impatient: De Keersmaeker’s work can be extremely deliberate and rather plain. But this restraint can lead to small revelations. (BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn. 718636-4100. Oct. 14-15.)
Taylor 2 The chamber ensemble associated with the Paul Taylor Dance Company will perform the Taylor classic “Aureole.” More than fifty years after its creation, it still feels like a joyous exposition of Taylor’s style: athletic, fluid, unsentimental. Also on the program are “Dust” and “Piazzolla Caldera.” (Schimmel Center, Pace University, 3 Spruce St. 212-346-1715. Oct. 15-16.) “Letter to a Man” Vaslav Nijinsky was referred to as le dieu de la danse, and certainly in our time Mikhail Baryshnikov has been the closest thing to a dance god. Now sixty-eight, Baryshnikov has turned increasingly to theatre. “Letter to a Man,” inspired by the diaries of Nijinsky, is his second collaboration with the director Robert Wilson. The oneman show explores the poetic, exalted, often obscene writings of Nijinsky, scribbled in three notebooks during the six months before his diagnosis of schizophrenia and his subsequent seclusion in a series of mental hospitals. There is little dancing here; Wilson’s concept is like high-art vaudeville, with Baryshnikov as a tragic and grotesque but always elegant master of ceremonies. (BAM’s Harvey Theatre, 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn. 718-636-4100. Oct. 15-16. Through Oct. 30.) 16
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
The art of Max Beckmann and the music of Paul Hindemith meet at the Met Museum on Oct. 16.
The Good Germany Leon Botstein makes a case for a neglected mid-century masterpiece.
The composer Paul Hindemith (18951963) and the painter Max Beckmann (1884-1950) had many things in common. Both were formidable, German, and bald. Both ﬂed Nazi Germany in the nineteenthirties, eventually reaching the United States. Each maintained a proliﬁc output yet never compromised on craftsmanship—a zeal that made them natural (and distinguished) teachers. After the First World War, each moved from Expressionism to the New Objectivity, and then on to a more personal kind of mastery. Most important, each did so without abandoning what might be called the human ﬁgure: Hindemith, by subtly reinventing the traditional language of melody and tonal harmony; Beckmann, by remaining a representational artist at a time when abstraction was all the rage. The two will meet at the Metropolitan Museum on Oct. 16, where Leon Botstein will lead the Orchestra Now (TŌN), a symphonic ensemble based at Bard College, in “Hindemith & Beckmann: Expressionism and Exile,” a program that illuminates their mutual genius through discussion and performance. Botstein will conduct Hindemith’s “Mathis der Maler” (“Mathis the Painter”) Symphony, a once popular work
that the composer wrote in 1934, while preparing his opera of the same name—a dramatic meditation on the life of Matthias Grünewald, the creator of the Isenheim Altarpiece, who struggles to balance his sympathy for the failed German Peasants’ Revolt (1524-25) with his duty to God and to his art. Hindemith, a modern-day Grünewald trying to survive within the tightening cultural noose of Nazi Germany, wrote a symphony that seeks balance between personal and communal expression. G-major chords in the strings evoke heavenly radiance; D-ﬂat-major chords in the brass signify warm, earthly power. Quotes from German folk song and Gregorian chant coexist with angular remnants of Expressionist angst. There are abundant, longlimbed melodies, but their svelte, modernist contours, phrased in irregular lengths, shine with a serene impersonality, like the songs of angels. The incisive individualism and theatrical ﬂair of Beckmann’s work—seen strikingly in the postwar triptych “The Beginning,” in the Met’s upcoming exhibition “Max Beckmann in New York” (opening Oct. 19)—jibe with our own cultural moment. Hindemith’s symphony, for all its glory, does not. But if anyone could convince us otherwise, it’s Leon Botstein. —Russell Platt
ILLUSTRATION BY ANDREA VENTURA
The American Dance Guild Performance Festival The choreographer Jean Erdman, like her husband, Joseph Campbell, was fascinated by mythological archetypes. A distinguished member of the Martha Graham company, she was most famous for her dance-theatre adaptation of “Finnegan’s Wake.” A weekend focussing on Erdman (who is a hundred years old and too frail to travel from her home, in Hawaii), in celebration of the Guild’s sixtieth year, begins with a “Fridays at Noon” presentation featuring reconstructions of the 1942 solo “The Transformations of Medusa” and the 1946 solo “Passage,” each performed by a former Graham dancer (Christine Dakin and Miki Orihara). From Friday night through Sunday, these and other Erdman pieces join twenty-some other historical and contemporary dances on mythical themes. (92nd Street Y, Lexington Ave. at 92nd St. 212-415-5500. Oct. 14-16.)
1 OPERA Metropolitan Opera It is a cruel twist of fate that a work as sprawling, ambitious, and influential as Rossini’s “Guillaume Tell”—a three-and-a-half-hour hybrid of Italian bel canto and French grand opera—would be known primarily for its admittedly wondrous eleven-minute overture, a pops-concert favorite. For the past eighty-five years, the Met has been among those opera houses scared off by the demands of Rossini’s final opera, but now it’s receiving a high-profile new production by Pierre Audi with a first-rate cast, including Gerald Finley, Marina Rebeka, and Bryan Hymel; Fabio Luisi conducts. (Oct. 18 at 6:30.) • Also playing: Rossini’s fun and fizzy comic opera “L’Italiana in Algeri” has returned to the house, with Marianna Pizzolato joining the short list of mezzo-sopranos whom the company has entrusted with the title role. The bass Ildar Abdrazakov and the tenor René Barbera join her for Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s traditional production, from 1973; James Levine. (Oct. 12 at 7:30 and Oct. 15 at 8.) • As in his 2015 staging of “Iolanta,” Mariusz Treliński’s production of “Tristan und Isolde” turns late-Romantic romance into post-Hitchcockian psychodrama. The result is risky but effective. Wagner’s opera, set mostly on a modern-day warship, now has a “Marnie”-like backstory: Tristan’s yearning for oblivion stems from the early loss of his parents, which his foster father, King Marke, an admiral, cannot heal, perhaps because of his own complicity. The staging is more than matched by formidable singing from Nina Stemme (Isolde, her finest role at the house), Stuart Skelton (Tristan), and René Pape (once a firebrand King Marke, now older and wiser). Under the fierce command of Simon Rattle, the orchestra, miles away from Levine-like lushness, is an acoustical anaconda, squeezing the characters until not a speck of truth remains unheard. (Oct. 13 and Oct. 17 at 6:30.) • Christmas comes early this year, as the Met presents the first of three runs of a holiday favorite—Franco Zeffirelli’s snow-kissed staging of Puccini’s evergreen romance “La Bohème.” Ailyn Pérez, Susanna Phillips, Dmytro Popov, David Bizic, and Ryan Speedo Green take the leading roles; Carlo Rizzi. (Oct. 14 at 8.) • The British baritone Simon Keenlyside, who returns to the Met for the first time in four years after a bout of ill health, is a revelation in the title role of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” With a voice that can be seductively robust or cleverly insinuating, he turns the don into an elegant nihilist who takes his pleasures (wine, chocolate, and sex) very seriously, but not much else. The rest of the cast also turns in strong characterizations: Hibla Gerzmava’s emotionally attuned Donna Anna; Serena Malfi’s wholesome Zerlina; Malin Byström’s Donna Elvira, who swoops through the opera like an avenging fury; Paul Appleby’s Don Ottavio, who harbors hints of heroism in his impressive top notes; and Adam Plachetka’s smart yet loutish Leporello. Fabio Luisi—marshalling his strength for Rossini, perhaps—tends to hang fire in the pit. (Oct. 15 at 1.) (Metropolitan Opera House. 212-362-6000.) National Sawdust The au-courant venue devotes its weekend schedule to experimental-music luminaries old and new. On Saturday, the Dutch director Jorinde Keesmaat stages a double bill of vocal works by the venerable minimalist master Louis Andriessen: the monodrama “Anaïs Nin” (with the mezzo-soprano Augusta Caso) and “Odysseus’ Women” (for four voices), with Neal Goren conducting. On Sunday, the composer David T. Lit18
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
tle and the librettist Royce Vavrek celebrate the release of the original-cast recording of their hit opera “Dog Days,” a tense dystopian drama. Several of the show’s cast members, including the riveting Lauren Worsham, perform excerpts from the work, with James Johnston at the piano. (80 N. 6th St., Brooklyn. nationalsawdust.org. Oct. 15 at 8 and Oct. 16 at 7.)
1 ORCHESTRAS AND CHORUSES New York Philharmonic: Kaija Saariaho’s “Circle Map” Saariaho, the long-prominent Finnish composer, is a constant presence in New York recital programs, but this fall her profile will grow exponentially. The first major event is presented by the Philharmonic and the Park Avenue Armory, a program of four works, all of which benefit from spatial realization—“Lumière et Pesanteur,” “D’om le Vrai Sens,” “Lonh,” and “Circle Map”—will be performed in the Armory’s cavernous Drill Hall in an immersive production by the Armory’s director, Pierre Audi. Saariaho’s husband and frequent collaborator, Jean-Baptiste Barrière, will provide projections that expand on the composer’s literary and artistic inspirations; the Philharmonic, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, will be at the center of the action. (Park Ave. at 66th St. armoryonpark.org. Oct. 13-14 at 7.) Orchestra of St. Luke’s The versatile David Robertson leads the distinguished chamber orchestra’s first Carnegie Hall concert of the season, an evening that begins with “Testament,” a piece by the noted Australian composer Brett Dean which pays tribute to Beethoven’s “Heiligenstadt Testament,” continues with songs from Mahler’s “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” (with the baritone Thomas Hampson), and concludes with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major. (212-247-7800. Oct. 13 at 8.) Jeremy Denk and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra The classical season at the 92nd Street Y begins auspiciously, with Denk, one of the great New York pianists, joining forces with some favorite out-of-towners, the musicians of the S.P.C.O. The orchestra goes it alone in a new work by the Grawemeyer Award-winning composer George Tsontakis, “O Mikros, O Megas” (“The Small World, the Huge World”), and in Schubert’s winsome Second Symphony, with Denk leading from the keyboard in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major. (Lexington Ave. at 92nd St. 212-415-5500. Oct. 15 at 8.) Ensemble Connect and Simon Rattle: “Winterreise” The British conductor, very much in town conducting “Tristan” at the Met, is also branching out for other concerts. He conducts Carnegie Hall’s superb Ensemble Connect (the pre-professional group formerly called Ensemble ACJW) in a novelty that extends our current love affair with Schubert: “Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’—A Composed Interpretation,” by the composer and conductor Hans Zender, which recasts the work’s piano part for a small orchestra. The singer is another British star, Mark Padmore. (Zankel Hall. 212-247-7800. Oct. 16 at 3.) “Music Before 1800” Series: Juilliard415 The essential, high-quality period-performance series likes to bring in groups from all over, but
this year’s season starts with talented students from Juilliard. Their guest leader, the esteemed Baroque violinist Rachel Podger, will be a soloist and conductor in “A Più Stromenti: The Italian Concerto,” an afternoon of works for strings, oboes, flutes, and bassoon. (Corpus Christi Church, 529 W. 121st St. 212-666-9266. Oct. 16 at 4.)
White Light Festival: “Human Requiem” This year’s festival begins with a piece that perfectly embodies its nondenominational spiritual ethos: Brahms’s surpassingly eloquent “German Requiem,” a work that uses Lutheran Bible verses instead of the Catholic Liturgy, putting the emphasis on the emotions of the living rather than the rites for the dead. Simon Halsey and his Berlin Radio Choir, which made waves in Peter Sellars’s Berlin Philharmonic production of the St. Matthew Passion at the Park Avenue Armory in 2014, returns on its own, performing the piece in the piano four-hands version in a staging by Jochen Sandig, which takes place at the capacious Synod House of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. (Amsterdam Ave. at 112th St. whitelightfestival.org. Oct. 16 and Oct. 18-19 at 7:30.)
1 RECITALS Brooklyn Rider and Anne Sofie von Otter If there’s any classical vocalist today who can pull off a program of songs by Björk, Elvis Costello, Kate Bush, and Nico Muhly as arranged for string quartet, it’s the Swedish mezzo-soprano, a lauded veteran still exploring new boundaries. Von Otter and her dynamic young partners offer these selections and others—Caroline Shaw’s “Cant Voi l’Aube,” Colin Jacobsen’s “For Sixty Cents,” and the aria “Am I in Your Light?,” from John Adams’s “Doctor Atomic”—from their new album, “So Many Things.” Brooklyn Rider also plays Janáček’s bracingly beautiful String Quartet No. 1, “The Kreutzer Sonata.” (Zankel Hall. 212-247-7800. Oct. 13 at 7:30.) Music at the Frick Collection: Carducci Quartet The brilliant young Anglo-Irish ensemble, renowned for pulling off marathon concerts of all the Shostakovich string quartets, limits itself to the composer’s fleet and enigmatic Quartet No. 11 in F Minor in a concert that also features Mendelssohn’s stormy Quartet No. 6 (in the same key) and Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” Quartet No. 3 in C Major. (1 E. 70th St. 212-5470715. Oct. 16 at 5.) Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Opening Night New York’s major-league chamber squad kicks off its new season with a themed concert loosely inspired by the travels of the young Felix Mendelssohn. The imagined journey begins in England, with a chamber-ensemble performance of Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony; songs by Mendelssohn and Schubert (“Shepherd on the Rock,” sung by the soprano Lisette Oropesa) cover the composer’s Germanic exploits. And Italy and France receive a nod, respectfully, with a string-quartet version of Palestrina’s “Sanctus” from “Missa Aeterna Christi Munera,” followed by Ravel’s Piano Trio, an arresting work from the twentieth century performed by the youthful combo of the pianist Michael Brown, the violinist Erin Keefe, and the cellist Mihai Marica. (Alice Tully Hall. chambermusicsociety. org. Oct. 18 at 7:30.)
ABOVE & BEYOND
City of Science An exhibition of immersive demonstrations arrives at the Park Slope Armory, the fourth stop on the World Science Festival’s borough-wide tour. Aimed at budding experimenters of all ages, City of Science will feature activities and presentations based on physics, chemistry, technology, and engineering, including principles of giant waves, a pool that allows for walking on water, and a game of tug-of-war on wheels. The festival is open to the public; tickets, which are free, are recommended but not required. (361 15th St., Brooklyn. 212-348-1400. Oct. 16.) Open House New York Historic residential and commercial buildings will be opened to the public during this annual architecture-tour-and-talk series. Attendees will enjoy unparalleled access to more than two hundred and seventy-five sites across the city, along with informative lectures from the designers and developers who continue to shape civic life and build the New York of tomorrow. Highlights include the African Burial Ground National Monument, in Tribeca; the newly restored Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, in the financial district; the rooftop farms of Brooklyn Grange; a trip to the top of Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine; the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage, in the Bronx; the Met Breuer, which opened last March, on the Upper East Side; and Kings Theatre, in Flatbush, which was restored and reopened in January, 2015. (Various locations. ohny. org. Oct. 15-16.)
ILLUSTRATION BY PABLO AMARGO
AUCTIONS AND ANTIQUES Nobel Prize medals have proved a lucrative new niche in the auctions market. The latest to come up for sale is the one awarded, in 1994, to John F. Nash, Jr., the troubled mathematician who inspired the 2001 film “A Beautiful Mind.” (Nash, who profoundly influenced the fields of game theory and differential geometry, died, with his wife, in a car crash last year.) The medal goes under the gavel at Sotheby’s on Oct. 17. (York Ave. at 72nd St. 212-606-7000.) • After a sale of bric-a-brac and paintings from the nineteenth century (Oct. 13-14), Christie’s offers a selection of jewels (Oct. 18) led, as usual, by plump diamonds. This week also marks the start of an online auction of photographs (Oct. 18-27) from the collection of Shalom Shpilman, the founder of the Shpilman Institute for Photography, in Tel Aviv. The images in the sale—everything from Surrealist collages by Edouard Léon Théodore Mesens to the conceptual art of Sophie Calle—all relate to the human form. (20 Rockefeller Plaza, at 49th St. 212-636-2000.) • A sale of prints at Doyle (Oct. 18) includes pieces
by Lucien Freud (“Woman with an Arm Tattoo”), Ellsworth Kelly (“Colored Paper Image XIII”), and Andy Warhol (“Mick Jagger”). (175 E. 87th St. 212-427-2730.)
1 READINGS AND TALKS Powerhouse Arena The crime scene of glitter and hair spray that was glam rock is now distant enough to revisit with a documentarian’s eye: the rock critic Simon Reynolds takes a brave step with his new book, “Shock and Awe.” Focussing on the years from 1971 through 1975, Reynolds situates the pageantry against a backdrop of social and cultural upheaval, positioning the music and style of the era as a celebration of artifice over authenticity in a time when the truth was hard to confront. The potent period gave us David Bowie, Alice Cooper, T. Rex, and Roxy Music, and, ultimately, public spheres in which to engage androgyny, astrology, and excess. (28 Adams St., Brooklyn. 718-666-3049. Oct. 13 at 7.) 92nd Street Y The Oscar, Grammy, and two-time Golden Globe winner Carole Bayer Sager is an unmatched songwriting talent who has lent her skill to landmark vocalists for five decades. Sager wrote her first hit, “A Groovy Kind of Love,” at just seventeen, and she’s since helped iconic singers like Anita Baker, Neil Diamond, Michael Jackson, Carole King, and Dolly Parton find the right words. She appears in conversation with Bette Midler; in 1977, the duo co-wrote Sager’s first hit as a recording artist, “You’re Moving Out Today.” They reflect on Sager’s career in celebration of her new memoir, “They’re Playing Our Song.” (1395 Lexington Ave. 212-415-5500. Oct. 17 at 7.) Cornelia Street Café Americans married in great numbers in the postwar fifties, when citizens looked to affirm victory and prosperity with green lawns and picket fences. But, before that, the Second World War had a different effect on Western gender roles. Women were tapped to fill the void in the workforce left by draftees, and when soldiers returned a new generation of financially independent women faced a choice: proceed with working life in big cities or settle into the role of wife and mother. In “The Courtship of Eva Eldridge,” Diane Simmons traces one woman’s story through hundreds of wartime letters and papers, ultimately uncovering postwar America’s rampant bigamy and the women who overcame it. She discusses the book with Rachel Hall, the author of “Heirlooms.” (29 Cornelia St. 212-9899319. Oct. 18 at 6.) THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
FßD & DRINK
1633 Second Ave., at 85th St. (212-837-8285) Until very recently, the front of this new Greek restaurant was intentionally boarded up, in order to throw diners oﬀ. “We started with a speakeasy vibe,” a waiter explained the other night. “You had to come in through the kitchen, but the clientele didn’t understand that.” He sighed. “It’s the Upper East Side.” But even with the boards gone 1633 continues to vibe, wonderful and strange, in a neighborhood not usually synonymous with risk-taking. There’s something magical about the surrealism of the sculpted putti and painted pigs frolicking on the walls and the chintzy ﬂoral patterns that bloom across the ceilings. The over-all eﬀect is as if David Lynch and Marguerite Duras had opened a Mediterranean saloon somewhere in Mitteleuropa. On the other hand, 1633 also manages to strike a classic Manhattan timbre. Perhaps this is merely an eﬀect of the disco soundtrack—think Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage—but more likely it arises from the melding of cultures that results in excellent dishes like the gyro pizza: steaming heaps of pork belly and lamb shoulder, ﬁnely ground, over crispy pizza dough spread with tzatziki. The chef Dionisis Liakopoulos’s dishes 20
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
manage to be fun and surprising while brimming with the freshness of the three New Jersey farms that he buys from. On the “small plates” section of the menu is Fire in the Ocean, a small black pot ﬁlled with clams and mussels in an eﬀervescing chili-wine broth. This is best mopped up with chunks of baguette, which, spread thick with coppery torched béchamel, comes alongside. Wash it all down with a Maine-lobster cappuccino, the sole inhabitant of the menu’s “liquid food” section. Or, if that’s too surreal, try a more traditional cocktail, like the Moro Mou (“my baby” in Greek), in which tequila and saltedpistachio orgeat lap at a single rock of cut ice. Most of the “main” dishes—delicate pieces of fried red mullet, lamb cooked and served in a plastic bag next to a bit of roasted-pepper ketchup—feel about the same size as the small plates. The exception, however, is the astako pasta, in which an imperial lobster, resplendent in full garnet regalia, presides over a realm of soft fettuccine. For Liakopoulos’s ﬁnal chapter, entitled “sweet (dreams),” the brightest star is baklava swimming in a jar with ice cream and spiced syrup. One feels that if only the Sibyl of Cumae, that other great resident of a jar, had just had some baklava, she’d have been happy to live forever. (Entrées $24-$69.) —Nicolas Niarchos
1 BAR TAB
Ear Inn 326 Spring St. (212-226-9060) On a recent evening at Ear Inn, a bartender cheekily mimicked a customer asking about the draftbeer selection. “He sounds like a Russian spy,” the bartender joked, then inquired where the man was from—Milan. On a less recent evening, in 1817, James Brown, an African-American who fought under George Washington in the Revolutionary War and later became a tobacconist, supervised the finishing touches on his house, then just a few steps from the Hudson. He sold it in the eighteenthirties, and since then the exquisite Federal-style building has been home to a number of taverns of varying legality. Ear Inn was born there in 1977, when the building was bought by its current owners, Rip Hayman and Martin Sheridan. The duo have covered the bar’s time-warped ceilings and storied walls with curios from the ages: eighteenthcentury wine jugs that were dug up in the cellar during excavations, porthole-framed paintings, numerous sculptures and drawings of ears. At a table with a tasty cheeseburger ($12.50) and a Moscow Mule ($11), a visiting Mancunian told of the Williamsburg Airbnb where he was staying, which was owned by a hunter and came with a fridge full of complimentary bear and deer meat. Airbnb users with tastes less carnivorous and more historical can find an apartment that Hayman calls “Ear Up” on the site. Sitting outside on a wooden bench that hugs two trees, one can peek up at the ceiling of the living room. Reviewers of the rental mention that, despite the vibrant scene downstairs, no noise is audible, but one voiced concern about hearing ghosts bumping around. Perhaps the poltergeists had a few too many pints before heading upstairs.—Colin Stokes
PHOTOGRAPH BY AMY LOMBARD FOR THE NEW YORKER; ILLUSTRATION BY JOOST SWARTE
TABLES FOR TWO
THE TALK OF THE TOWN COMMENT THREE’S A CROWD
L Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico
ILLUSTRATIONS BY TOM BACHTELL
ast Wednesday, Neil Cavuto, of Fox News, oﬀered
and the Libertarian Presidential nominee, a scenario: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are in a boat, and they both fall overboard. “Who are you going to save?” Cavuto asked. Instead of considering the question, Johnson collapsed into giggles, as though the prospect of both candidates ﬂailing in the water while he watched was the funniest thing he’d heard in a while. “Well, America will be saved,” he said. Johnson was on Fox, in part, to refute reports that his running mate, William Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, might be taking a more sober view. The day before, Weld had told the Boston Globe that Trump now has his “full attention,” owing to the singular awfulness of his foreign-policy positions. The Globe, buttressed by sources close to Weld, took this to mean that he would focus exclusively on insuring that Trump would not be President. Follow-up reports in other publications worked on the assumption that Weld was, in eﬀect, giving up on his own running mate and endorsing Clinton. After all, the Johnson-Weld ticket is polling at about seven per cent nationally, and Weld has previously said that he is “not sure anybody is more qualiﬁed” than Clinton to be President. And, if Trump’s reckless comments about America’s place in the world weren’t enough to persuade him, then surely those of his running mate were. Weld must have been mortiﬁed, the thinking went, when Johnson drew a blank after being asked about the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, then followed that by calling his failure to come up with the name of a single foreign leader he admired an “Aleppo moment.” ( Johnson has since looked
into the tragedy of that city and decided that it is kind of Clinton’s fault.) Still, logic is a poor tool for analyzing political speech in this election. Johnson quickly told the Times that Weld had merely suggested a division of labor, in which he, Johnson, would focus on Hillary. Weld, in turn, said that he wasn’t campaigning for anyone but himself and Johnson, and would continue to strive to break up what he called the “two-party duopoly.” In an interview on Fox Business News, he said, “This is a year when voters looking at the two establishment parties are thinking, I’m watching a scary movie and I can’t change the channel. Well, you can change the channel!”—as if, having tired of the ﬁnalists on “The Celebrity Apprentice,” one could simply switch to “Shark Tank” and be done with it, tuning out the White House and the world. Nor would Weld concentrate, as had also been suggested, on solidly red states, where he wouldn’t harm Clinton’s electoral-college chances: last Friday, he campaigned in Maine and New Hampshire, where the polls show only a couple of points separating Trump and Clinton, and where more than ten per cent of likely voters favor the Libertarian ticket. There are, in fact, eleven states where the diﬀerence between Trump and Clinton is less than the sum of likely voters who say that they support either Johnson-Weld or Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, and her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, who are at about two and a half per cent in the polls. ( Johnson is on the ballot in all ﬁfty states, Stein in forty-four.) In Florida, for example, Clinton has a narrow lead in a head-to-head contest with Trump, which diminishes when the contest is polled as a four-way race. In 2000, Al Gore oﬃcially lost Florida to George W. Bush by ﬁve hundred and thirty-seven votes; Ralph Nader, the THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
Green candidate, got almost a hundred thousand votes there. Beyond the electoral math, with Trump preëmptively alleging that if he loses it will likely be the result of cheating, the popular vote may matter a great deal in terms of securing the winner’s mandate. Yet many Americans consider their votes to be meaningless, because they see the major parties as members of the same corporate oligarchy or as big-government enemies of individual freedoms, or the candidates as generic self-serving politicians. Something has gone deeply awry in the ﬁnancing and the functioning of our electoral process. But one cannot imagine a more destructive embodiment of that breakdown than a President Trump. Senator Bernie Sanders, no stranger to the concept of duopolies, has demonstrated in the past few months that it is possible to resist the lure of the sort of political narcissism that disguises itself as purity. Last Thursday, in a speech to the United Auto Workers in Dearborn, Michigan, another swing state, he spoke with his usual progressive passion (“Wells Fargo—fraud! Bank of America— fraud! Goldman Sachs—fraud!”), but insisted that there is only one option left in this election. “I understand that neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump are particularly popular,” he said. “But forget about that for a moment. Take BRAVE NEW WORLD DEPT. TRADING VS. TRUMP
T Roosevelt, the MTV generation
he Depression era had Eleanor
had Rock the Vote. Our current age has apps. In August, Amit Kumar, an entrepreneur in Menlo Park, California, distressed by the popularity of Donald Trump, released a mobile app called #NeverTrump, which allows users— there are now more than a thousand of them—to win points for prodding friends in swing states to vote. The app matches a user’s contacts with publicly available data, ﬁgures out whom the user knows in battleground states, then oﬀers to send those people automated reminders to vote and, especially, to not vote for Trump. “On Facebook, a lot of people post, ‘I want to do something, but I’m in California, I feel powerless,’ ” Kumar said the other day, at an Asianfusion restaurant in Sunnyvale. “Now you have something to do.” Kumar, a slim, genial man of thirtynine, ordered American chop suey, a favorite during his college days in New 24
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
a hard look at the agendas of the campaign.” Clinton, he said, was the necessary choice. (Sanders has also said that he wouldn’t vote for Johnson even if he could win, because of Johnson’s extreme anti-regulatory policies.) Some of his supporters will nonetheless conclude that there is nothing wrong with enabling the election of a bigoted demagogue if it serves to disrupt the current system. But revulsion at the cronyism and the decrepitude of major-party politics can’t be what’s driving Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, two eminent members of the establishment. Both have said that Trump would be a disaster—a “chaos candidate,” a “phony,” a “fraud.” Yet both have also said that they can’t imagine voting for Clinton and have hinted that Johnson could be their choice. This is so despite their professed respect for experience and expertise. For them, Johnson is a cover, a way to keep playing to the elements in the Republican Party who see Clinton as a dangerous criminal. It’s hard to sort out the mixture of vanity, partisanship, and wounded feelings that would lead them to underscore the bitterness that this campaign has brought to the country, rather than try to mitigate it. They know better, as do other Republican leaders who dally with Johnson, about the damage that Trump could do, and about who in America might be left to drown. —Amy Davidson
Delhi. He arrived in the United States in 1998, to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science, with “two suitcases and two hundred dollars—the canonical Indian story.” Kumar dropped out of his program when the ﬁrst dot-com boom beckoned. He hopped between computernetworking startups before joining Yahoo as an engineer, in 2005. After three years, he left and, in 2009, founded Lexity, which used a Web bot named Sophie to help small businesses market themselves. (“Sophie would say, ‘I’ve done some analysis on your site. The best course of action is to advertise on Google and spend three hundred dollars a month.’ ”) In 2013, he sold the thirty-person shop to Yahoo for a reported thirty-ﬁve to forty million dollars. Kumar calls it “a life-changing event.” A few months after the sale, Kumar and his wife, who works for Cisco Systems, became eligible for citizenship. “Our accountant sat us down and said, ‘Do you really want to do this? Because you’ll have a lot of negative consequences from a tax perspective,’ ” Kumar said. “We didn’t have to think twice.” They took the Oath of Allegiance at a community hall in Cupertino. Kumar wears designer denim and
drives a gray Tesla with his new company’s name on the license plate: Trimian, short for three simians, a nod to the wise monkeys of Japanese legend. It builds networking apps for professionals. Emoji monkeys covering their eyes, ears, and mouth adorn the door of Trimian’s oﬃce, which is sandwiched between two acupuncture studios in a Sunnyvale oﬃce complex. “If you’re looking for Google or Facebook, this isn’t it,” Kumar said. He passed a pantry stocked with kale chips and protein bars, and a graphic designer balancing on a concave boogie board while typing at a standing desk. He sat down by a whiteboard and opened the #NeverTrump app on his iPhone. (He coded the beta version over a weekend, and his employees, most of them immigrants, jumped in to ﬁne-tune it.) A pixellated monkey asked Kumar where he was registered and whom he plans to vote for. For argument’s sake, Kumar said he was in Ohio and voting for Gary Johnson. The friendly monkey disappeared, replaced by an admonition: “You are voting for Gary Johnson in a swing state, which could deliver the White House to Donald Trump.” The app explained how Kumar could ﬁnd a friend in a non-battleground state and “trade” his
vote—he votes for Clinton, the friend promises to cast a ballot for Johnson. Sixteen per cent of #NeverTrump users are registered in swing states, and half of them want to vote for a third-party candidate. Last weekend, #NeverTrump unveiled a feature that suggests ﬁve to ten users with whom these voters can trade, so they can vote their conscience without inadvertently helping elect Trump. There’s also a chat room where people post messages like “Hey, Robert, if you’ll vote Hillary in Co., I will vote Stein in N.J.” “Let’s say there are millions of such people, and the margin of victory for Trump is, like, a hundred thousand,” Kumar said. “If we can shift just a few of them over to Hillary . . .” He paused. “This only matters on the boundary condition, when there’s a coulda, woulda, shoulda. It’s back to Bush versus Gore. ” A casual observer of politics—“I wouldn’t consider myself a Democrat”—Kumar was pushed over the edge by Trump’s rhetoric against immigrants and Muslims. Outside, by the Tesla, he brought up Martin Niemöller’s poem “First They Came . . . .” “This poem about the Holocaust—who would have thought that, less than a hundred years on, we would have to invoke that?” he said. “America was supposed to be the last bastion of bring me your tired, huddled masses,” he went on. “It doesn’t matter what they believe in, who they believe in. This was their ﬁnal place. If you’re persecuted, if you’re looking for opportunity, there’s one place you can go. Hence my Iranian swim instructor.” —Sheila Marikar
1 THE INDUSTRY SING IT STRONG
never even been to Bed-Stuy “I ’ve before,” Bonnie Raitt said. She was
at the deep end of Bar LunÀtico, which is owned by her friend Richard Julian, a singer and songwriter. A few years ago, Julian, amid the ongoing struggle of trying to make a living in the music busi26
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
ness, decided to diversify, so he bought a building in Brooklyn, moved in upstairs with his wife and child, and turned the ground ﬂoor into a bar, with a stage crammed in one corner. Raitt was here to hang out, not to perform. She favors bigger venues, and has been successful and sensible enough in her aﬀairs to have the luxury of forgoing diversiﬁcation. It was early evening, and there weren’t many people around. She had on black boots, black jeans, a faux-leather mesh shirt, and a necklace of brass skeleton keys. To go incognito, she’ll often not wear eye makeup and truss up her red hair under a hat, but on this night she felt no need to hide. She looked like Bonnie Raitt. She tasted her drink, a nonalcoholic craft cocktail, and said, “I might have to hit on myself later.” “It’s really nice to be here and watch the daylight fade,” she said. On the road, she explained, she spends her late afternoons in windowless rooms and halls— sound check, dinner, prep, performance— and doesn’t get outside again until after midnight. “Small price to pay for the gig I have, but I really miss watching the day end and the night come on.” When Raitt passes through New York, she tries to build in extra time. She likes to bike the loop around Central Park. She has tenuous roots here. Her early childhood was spent in Westchester County, while her father, John Raitt, held down the lead in “The Pajama Game” on Broadway. “I knew all the alternate parts of the shows he was in,” she said. “ ‘Carousel.’ ‘Oklahoma!’ It was really cool to hang out backstage when I was a kid and soak up all that warming up and all the half-naked people running around. He did twenty-ﬁve years of summer stock. He toured into his early eighties.” When she was seven, he moved the family to Los Angeles. Summers, she attended a Quaker camp upstate. “I raced to get old enough to come to New York in the sixties, but I was too late.” It was in 1969, post-heyday, that she got her ﬁrst real gig, at nineteen, at the Gaslight, in the Village. In the seventies, she often played the Schaefer Music Festival, at Wollman Rink; early sets led to late nights at J.P.’s, a notorious den on the Upper East Side. Raitt got sober decades ago. “I needed to get healthy. Also, I was getting chunky, and I wanted to lose
weight. Women at my end of the spectrum often blow up and then get into money problems and all that—whether it’s Judy Garland or Billie Holiday or any number of chanteuses who had no money at the end of their careers. I thought, You know, this is gonna get out of hand if I don’t do something. I was maybe going to work with Prince, and I thought, Man, if we make a video together, this is gonna look rough.” She went on, “There’s always someone who can give you advice about stalk-
Bonnie Raitt ers or investing your money or not signing your publishing away. You know, ‘I’m in love with someone who’s married—what did you do?’ People help me, then I turn around and help somebody else. It sounds facile, but it’s what gets you through.” A friend of Raitt’s walked up with an older guy, who had on worn dungarees and a black American-ﬂag T-shirt and was carrying a guitar case. “Know this cat?” the friend said. It was Danny Kalb, a bluesman from the old Village days, who was there to play a tip-jar set. “Danny! Nice to see you.” “Bonnie Raitt! Are you going to hear me tonight?” “I’m gonna hear a little bit. I have to get up early tomorrow.” Kalb went to set up, and Raitt said, “I haven’t seen him since the sixties. I only met him once.” She went on, “I feel really lucky at sixty-six to still have a gig, because there’s an awful lot of people
who do this who aren’t suited for other kinds of work. What are they supposed to do, re-create themselves at sixty?” Soon, Kalb began to play a low, muttering blues, accompanied by a younger man on standup bass. “Danny Kalb!” Raitt half whispered. “He was already famous when I was starting out. He’s much older than me.” She laughed. (He’s seventy-four.) “Sing it high, sing it strong,” he grumbled into the mike. “Everything I’ve had is now done and gone.” Later, between numbers, he said, “Tragedy. It’s kind of built into it, isn’t it, Bon?” She nodded. Outside you could hear the rev of motorcycle engines. —Nick Paumgarten
1 INK TEMPS PERDU
N and former “Saturday Night Live” orm Macdonald, the comedian
cast member, who lives in Los Angeles, recently visited New York. One morning, he was drinking coﬀee at a table in Bryant Park, wearing a red polo shirt from the Shadow Creek golf course, in Las Vegas. He had just made an appearance on “Fox & Friends,” where he talked about his new and largely ﬁctional memoir, “Based on a True Story,” and about the breakup of Angelina Jolie and Brad
Pitt. He then walked through Times Square, reﬂecting on his anxiety that, having now read half of the ﬁrst volume of “In Search of Lost Time,” he might have chosen the wrong translation. A section of Forty-second Street was closed, because of a bomb scare, and the atmosphere in Champs Sports, at the edge of the cordoned area, was not restful. Macdonald left without buying anything; he wondered if Champs was the smallest sports store in the world. In the park, Macdonald considered two plans: one was to rent an apartment in New York for a few months next spring; the other was to go to college. “I always wanted to be educated, and always envied educated people,” he said. He prefers long-dead authors, but said that his son, who is twenty-three, and who has published poetry and short stories, had recently persuaded him to try Raymond Carver. “And Carver really reminded me of Chekhov, whose work I love,” he said. Macdonald had tickets for a matinée preview of “The Cherry Orchard” that afternoon; this was only the third or fourth time he’d been to the theatre. The operator of the Bryant Park carrousel began to remove overnight covers that protect the horses. Macdonald, who is ﬁfty-six, and whose performances have a sort of sunny nihilism, talked about Chekhov’s stories. “I like the endings where nothing happens. And I like bleakness, because I grew up in a bleak area,” he said. (In Quebec, then Ontario.) “There is one story about a guy who’s on a boat, who’s dying, on this long, long trip. And everyone’s taunting him, about
dying, you know: ‘You’re going to be dead soon.’ ” Macdonald laughed. “So, anyways, the guy dies, and then Chekhov continues the story. They put him in a kind of duﬀelbag, a sack, and throw him overboard. He sinks in the ocean, his dead body. And one ﬁsh grazes against him, rips the sack, and his body tumbles out, and a bunch of minnows come and eat little bits of him. And a big ﬁsh comes and takes away his legs, and that’s the end.” (Some of these details are not in the original.) “You sort of go, ‘What? It’s still going on? The guy’s dead. He’s still asked to endure these indignities!’ It’s a really cruel ending, and I like that.” Macdonald jerked his head to one side. “That bird almost hit me in the face, like Fabio on the roller coaster,” he said. Macdonald, who includes imaginary ﬁstﬁghts in his memoir, and in his comedy, said that there was “a kind of joy” in the real thing. “If you punch a guy, and it doesn’t hurt your ﬁst or anything, and he just falls—I don’t know, but it’s fun,” he said. “One time I was in a ﬁght—I was nineteen or twenty—and the guy was short, but he was strong, and he kept hitting me and hitting me. So I got in closer and embraced him, and I pushed down, and his head hit the cement. I picked him up, and then the head hit the cement again. And then the terrible terrible part was: I picked him up again, and he was limp, and I hit him against the cement. Which, at that point, I guess, was . . . murder, attempted murder, or something. So I just went home, and I was so scared. I was thinking, God, I hope he didn’t die, I hope he’s O.K.” Macdonald was laughing. “And he was O.K. We were both having sex with a girl who was married to another guy. So we were both bad.” He walked back to his hotel; in the lobby, he read a text message on his phone. “Fucking Louis C.K.,” he said, half-seriously. “He always wants to meet and then he’s, ‘Nope, can’t do it.’ ” C.K., a friend, was asking if they could change a plan, and meet that afternoon, at a time when Macdonald would be seeing “The Cherry Orchard.” “How do I lie my way out of this?” Macdonald asked, putting the phone back in his pocket. A moment later: “The truth! I never considered the truth.” —Ian Parker
THE FINANCIAL PAGE TRUMP’S OTHER TAX PLOY
T in the mid-nineties may have enabled him to avoid
he revelation that Donald Trump’s business losses
paying federal income tax for nearly two decades may be the biggest “October surprise” of any recent Presidential campaign. But the substance of it was no surprise at all. When, in the ﬁrst debate, Hillary Clinton challenged him about years in which he may not have paid federal taxes, he boasted, “That makes me smart.” And his real-estate empire, such as it is, was built on exploiting just about every government tax abatement, credit, and subsidy available. Still, whatever tax savings Trump has ﬁnagled over the years are dwarfed by the huge tax break he plans to give wealthy Americans if he wins. According to the Tax Foundation, Trump’s tax plan would boost the after-tax income of the top one per cent by ten to sixteen per cent, while average households would gain only between .08 and 1.9 per cent. He would lower the estate tax, which only the rich pay. He would slash the corporate tax rate by more than half, to ﬁfteen per cent, and has said that any business would be able to take advantage of that lower rate, even so-called pass-through corporations, whose proﬁts are typically taxed via personal income taxes rather than via corporate taxes. That would mean a huge windfall for, among others, hedge-fund and private-equity managers. None of this is shocking, given Trump’s obvious aﬀection for paying as little in taxes as possible. But it’s worth noting how oddly tax cuts for the wealthy ﬁt with the rest of his campaign. Trump has presented himself as an outsider sticking up for the ordinary voter against fat cats and special interests, and, as he says, “taking on big business and big media and big donors.” He has burnished his populist credentials by challenging G.O.P. orthodoxy on issues like trade and immigration, while promising to protect Social Security and Medicare. Yet his tax plan follows conventional Republican supply-side economics: hefty tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations, and blind faith that cutting marginal tax rates will drive growth. This ploy—Palin in the streets, Reagan in the balance sheets—is a crucial part of Trump’s strategy for winning in November. No matter how much his core supporters love him, he has no chance unless he can persuade traditional Republicans, many of whom would have preferred a more traditional candidate, to turn out. There’s little that this base cares about more than cutting taxes, an issue that has
taken on the status of a moral creed. In 2012, the Republican platform stated, “Taxes, by their very nature, reduce a citizen’s freedom.” Trump’s tax plan signals to conservatives that he is ultimately on their side. There are political risks to Trump’s embrace of supplysiderism. After all, more than sixty per cent of Americans think that the wealthy should pay more in taxes. And his plan will only reinforce the image of the Republican Party as the home of rich people, something that has already started to worry a few Republicans, known as reformocons. “There are a lot of voters who look at Republican politicians and say that all they care about is cutting taxes for rich people,” Michael Strain, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told me. Strain and other reformocons think that the Party could draw new supporters if it started thinking creatively about using tax credits and subsidies to incentivize work, education, and long-term investment. But, though Trump’s tax plan may not attract many independents, let alone Democrats, it’s unlikely to bother the white working-class voters who are his most ardent fans. Few voters pay attention to the small print of tax proposals, which makes it easier for tax-cut proponents to put their policies in the best possible light, as Trump is doing by insisting that cutting taxes for the rich is really all about boosting employment. “The wealthy are going to create tremendous jobs,” he said in the ﬁrst debate. More fundamentally, polls show that taxes just aren’t an emotive issue for most voters. As long as Trump’s working-class supporters believe that he’s with them on the issues they care about most—bringing back jobs, keeping immigrants out—no tax policy will drive them away. Put simply, white working-class voters are willing to tolerate a handout to the rich in exchange for the rest of Trump’s ideological agenda, while the Republican establishment is willing to elect an ethno-nationalist populist in exchange for tax cuts. The fact that more than eighty per cent of registered Republicans now say they’ll vote for Trump demonstrates that, as long as a candidate can be counted on to bring taxes down, traditional Republicans will overlook any number of heresies and oﬀensive statements. Coming out against free trade and open borders, defending entitlements, attacking veterans, cozying up to foreign autocrats, indulging in openly racist and xenophobic rhetoric: none of these things have hurt Trump with the vast majority of Republican voters and politicians. If he had wavered on tax cuts, it would have been a very diﬀerent story. Trump may be the most politically incorrect man in America, but even he knows that there are some taboos you can’t violate. —James Surowiecki THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
THE POLITICAL SCENE
TAMING TRUMP A new campaign manager tries to reform an unreformable candidate. BY RYAN LIZZA
I Trump spoke in Chester Township, n late September, when Donald
Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia, he wasn’t the only star at the event. Kellyanne Conway, his new campaign manager, who grew up nearby, and who has become ubiquitous on television, was greeted as a celebrity. “Did you see the people asking me to sign their posters and hats?” she asked me in a text while Trump was speaking. “So weird.” In August, Conway, who is forty-nine, and a longtime Republican pollster, became Trump’s third campaign manager. Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart, a right-wing news site that has championed Trump’s candidacy, was named C.E.O. Conway, who is the ﬁrst woman to run a Republican Presiden30
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
tial campaign, told me that she was proud of the milestone but not hung up on it. “I’ve been in a very male-dominated business for decades,” she said. “I found, particularly early on, that there’s plenty of room for passion, but there’s very little room for emotion.” She added, “I tell people all the time, ‘Don’t be fooled, because I am a man by day.’ ” When Conway took over, the campaign was foundering, owing to Trump’s repeated insults to the parents of Humayun Khan, a soldier killed in action in Iraq. Polls showed that Trump was losing to Hillary Clinton by up to ten points. By the time of the Chester speech, four days before the candidates’ ﬁrst debate, Conway and her team had brought the race to a near-tie. Trump,
reading from a teleprompter, sounded almost like a conventional politician as he spoke about “breaking up the special-interest monopoly” and described America as “a nation of strivers, dreamers, and believers.” Conway was being lauded as the “Trump whisperer”—the only person who could persuade him to prepare for his crucial showdown with Clinton. For the ﬁrst twenty minutes of the debate, held at Hofstra University, on Long Island, on September 26th, Conway seemed to have succeeded. Trump adroitly pressed Clinton on the fact that she had once praised the Trans-Paciﬁc Partnership trade deal, which she now opposes. The comedian Samantha Bee, on her show “Full Frontal,” depicted the start of the event with an image of Conway controlling Trump with an electronic dog collar. But Trump soon reverted to his natural state, bragging about not paying federal taxes, claiming that cheering for the housing-market crash was “good business,” lying about his support for the Iraq War, failing to apologize for his tenure as the leader of the birther movement, and gratuitously attacking Rosie O’Donnell. After the debate, Trump’s aides were slow to enter the spin room, a gymnasium, where each campaign made the case to reporters that its candidate had won. Bannon, in a blazer and open shirt, kept his distance from the cameras and the microphones. Conway, wearing a royal-blue lace dress, stepped forward to deliver the Trump campaign’s message. “I love the fact that he restrained himself tonight and he was a gentleman toward her,” she told a knot of reporters. “He deﬁnitely could’ve gone where a lot of America was thinking he should or could go, which is to talk about her husband and women, and he did not. He restrained himself, and you know what? Restraint is a virtue, and it is certainly a Presidential virtue, and I think many voters today, particularly women, probably saw that and respected that a great deal.” For almost three hours, Conway strolled around the Hofstra gym, spreading the message with a smile. Others in the Trump campaign thought his performance was catastrophic, and they blamed the Conway camp. (The Trump ILLUSTRATION BY BARRY BLITT
campaign has several power centers, and his advisers are quick to savage one another, though not always on the record.) “I view her as an enabler,” one Trump campaign oﬃcial told me. “Right now, post-debate, I guarantee you there’s a fucking Kool-Aid cooler the size of a fucking wheat silo that they’re all drinking from. I guarantee you, because none of them can accept the blame for what they failed to do.” The next day, Conway was sitting in the Trump Grill, in the peach-marbled lobby of Trump Tower, which has served as a set for several of the campaign’s famous moments. The restaurant has a view of the escalator that Trump and his wife, Melania, descended when, on June 16, 2015, he declared his candidacy, and adjoins the area where, the same day, he claimed that Mexico was sending rapists to the United States. Eric Trump, the candidate’s thirty-two-year-old son, who is an executive vice-president of the Trump Organization and one of his father’s closest campaign advisers, was dining at a nearby table. Conway noted his presence with a wink, as if to signal that we should be on our best behavior in front of the boss’s kid. She had already appeared on four morning shows, but she seemed as energetic as ever. She was, though, irritated by some conversations on Twitter. Her assistant, who had access to her Twitter account, was posting the results of nonscientiﬁc polls that declared Trump the winner of the debate, and readers were pillorying Conway for sharing bad data. She tapped out an urgent message to her assistant, asking her to stop polluting her feed. Conway had no such control over Trump. As we met, he sent out a celebratory montage of the results of ten online polls. “Such a great honor,” Trump wrote. “Final debate polls are in—and the MOVEMENT wins!” In fact, according to polls that used representative samples, voters believed, by a two-to-one margin, that Clinton had won. There were other frustrations. The day before, BuzzFeed had posted an article suggesting that Conway was nothing more than window dressing for the campaign. “Well, I know better,” she told me. “I thought it was really sexist, and I’m not one to 32
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
run around screaming about sexism.” Shortly after the debate, Stuart Stevens, who served as Mitt Romney’s top strategist in 2012, and who is outspoken about his distaste for Trump, had picked up the criticism. “Saw last night why campaign managers focus on helping their candidates prepare for debates & don’t live on tv talking about debates,” he tweeted. He later noted that, during the primaries, Conway had helped run Keep the Promise, a Ted Cruz super PAC, and that Trump had criticized Cruz’s wife’s appearance. “And yet Conway still goes to work for that man?” Stevens told me. “To me, that smacks of desperation.” The attacks stung Conway. She supported Romney four years ago, donating to his campaign and oﬀering it advice. “I was a good little soldier,” she said. “And, even if they”—Romney and his former aides—“can’t give that kind of support in return, then they should at least realize, hey, give us our chance to lose eight of the nine swing states like you did! I’ve noticed a lot of people are very bold and blustery on Twitter, because it’s easy to do that with the poison keyboard and a hundred and forty characters.” Conway, who has four young children, continued, “For Stuart Stevens to say I, quote, live on TV? You know where I live? I live with four kids who need their mother, in a household that I run.” She added, “This smacks of misogyny and sexism, to suggest that I can’t do the job of a campaign manager—I can only go on TV. How about if I could do all of the above?” She said that she was trying to spend more time on campaign management, but for Trump a measure of her success was her presence on television. “I’ve cut my TV time in half,” she told me. “And he’s, like, ‘I didn’t see you on TV in the last hour. Where are you?’ I’m, like, ‘Mr. Trump, managing the campaign means talking to the state directors and the mail house and the R.N.C.’ ” Conway worked for Newt Gingrich in the nineties, when he was rising in the House of Representatives, and in 2012, when he ran for President. Gingrich, who is one of Trump’s most prominent supporters, told me that he had recently observed Conway and Trump on Trump’s plane. “They have very good
chemistry,” he said, adding that previous advisers had made the mistake of trying “to reshape him.” Gingrich said, “That’s not going to happen, because he’s a seventy-year-old adult billionaire who has been on a toprated TV show, had the No. 1 book in the country, beat sixteen people, got the record number of votes as the nominee. He actually thinks he knows something.” Gingrich went on, “Her view is that she needs to intuit what he’s good at and what he’s bad at, and how to deal with them.”
R paign is like being the drummer in
unning Donald Trump’s cam-
Spinal Tap: those who take the position tend to disappear in mysterious circumstances. First, there was Corey Lewandowski, an operative from New Hampshire, who oversaw Trump’s rise from reality-television star to Republican-primary front-runner, but who was seen as indulging his erratic behavior. “Corey was ideal for that ﬁrst phase, because Trump just wanted someone who would follow orders,” a Trump adviser told me. “There was never any juncture during which Corey would ever say to him, ‘Well, wait a minute, Mr. Trump. Maybe that’s not a good idea.’ ” Lewandowski had near-total control of the campaign, and he gradually alienated Trump’s eldest children, Donald, Jr., Ivanka, and Eric, and Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, the owner of the New York Observer. “The Trump children didn’t like Corey, because they thought Corey was becoming too familiar,” the Trump adviser said. “He started regarding himself as another Trump child. Corey, who is from a relatively poor, working-class background, became quite mesmerized with the life style.” In March, Trump hired Paul Manafort, a Republican lobbyist who was a partner in the ﬁrm Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly. His job was to make sure that Republican delegates would not be able to stage a coup against Trump at the Convention. The end for Lewandowski came when Manafort and Kushner allied against him. “When Manafort was brought on, Corey and Manafort basically went head to head,” the Trump campaign oﬃcial said. “Jared, the son-in-law, who is a snaky little motherfucker, a horrible human being,
hated Corey, so Jared sided with Paul to get rid of Corey.” Manafort became the campaign chairman in May, and took full control when, a month later, Lewandowski was ﬁred. But Manafort turned out to be too blunt to get Trump to do his bidding. “You have to know how to inﬂuence Trump’s thinking, and that takes a mix of diplomacy and psychiatry,” the Trump adviser told me. Manafort, he claimed, had “no chemistry with Donald.” Manafort wanted Trump to pay for polling and focus groups to test TV advertisements. “Donald went berserk,” a Republican close to Manafort said. Trump is known to disdain the traditional tools of politics. He thinks “this is all just a public-relations exercise,” the Trump adviser said, “and he’s a master of public relations, and the rest is all bullshit.” Kushner sided with Trump. By early August, Manafort was further weakened, by scandals related to political work that he had done in Ukraine. After the Times reported that he might have received millions of dollars in cash payments from a party aligned with Vladimir Putin, there was open speculation about how long he could keep his job. “When the Ukraine stuﬀ comes to pass, Jared now is holding the axe over Paul’s head,” the campaign oﬃcial said. The Trump adviser added, “The real campaign manager, in fact, the entire time, has been Jared Kushner, who is still the real campaign manager, even today.” At the start of the election cycle, Conway talked to several Republican candidates, including Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Rick Santorum, and Carly Fiorina, about joining their campaigns. She spoke to Lewandowski, too, but she ended up working for Keep the Promise, the Ted Cruz super PAC. Keep the Promise had an important supporter, the conservative hedge-fund manager Robert Mercer, who donated more than ten million dollars to the pac. Conway said that working for Cruz was “a geographic decision, because the Mercer super PAC is in New York.” But she also knew Mercer’s daughter Rebekah, who leads many of the family’s political eﬀorts. “Rebekah’s a very close friend of mine, personally,” Conway said. During the primaries, Conway occasionally took shots at Trump on behalf THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
of Cruz. She said that Trump should be “transparent” about his tax returns, and described his personal attacks on his rivals as “fairly unpresidential.” And she objected to his comment, in a television appearance in March, that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who have abortions. Conway passionately opposes abortion rights, but she knows the subject has to be addressed with care, and has spent years shaping language to articulate the prolife position. When we spoke, she was still bothered by Trump’s statement. “Pro-lifers believe there are two victims in an abortion: the unborn child and the woman who felt that that was her best option,” she told me. “We never look at her as the perpetrator—ever.” Trump’s remark was “a great example of him just undoing decades of work where we worked really hard.” Steve Bannon had his own alliance with the Mercer family. Since 2011, Robert Mercer has been a major backer of Breitbart, Bannon’s news site, and Bannon has served as a political adviser to the Mercers. Breitbart enthusiastically embraces the nationalist right, and, as Trump’s political fortunes rose, Breitbart became his most obsequious media booster. “You can make the case that Breitbart pretty much wrote Trump’s immigration policy,” Kurt Bardella, who resigned as Breitbart’s spokesman in March, told me. He added, “Bannon is the poster child for that white, nationalistic, alt-right world view.” After Trump’s victory in the Indiana primary, on May 3rd, Cruz dropped out of the race, and the Mercers, with Bannon’s encouragement, moved into the Trump camp. Later that month, Rebekah Mercer and Conway met with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner at Trump Tower to discuss the campaign. In late June, the Mercers transformed Keep the Promise into Make America Number 1, a Trump super PAC, and the Trump campaign, at the Mercers’ urging, hired Conway as a pollster. With Manafort falling out of the Trump family’s favor, Conway began subtly undermining his strategists. When 34
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
Tony Fabrizio, the lead pollster, submitted a budget that Kushner thought was too high, Conway oﬀered a cheaper alternative. “Kellyanne gives him a budget of between one and a half and three million dollars,” the campaign oﬃcial said. “Come on. I mean, Senate races do more than that. You can’t do a modern Presidential campaign on that.” In August, the Mercers recommended that Trump bring in Bannon to lead a reorganized eﬀort. “I’ve never run a campaign,” Bannon told Trump. “I’d only do this if Kellyanne came in as my partner.” Conway said that Trump oﬀered her the job of campaign manager on August 12th, in a private meeting in his oﬃce. “We’re losing,” she told him. “No—look at the polls,” Trump replied. “I looked at the polls. We’re losing,” she said. “But we don’t have to lose. There’s still a pathway back.”
I her for a boss like Trump. Born Keln a sense, Conway’s life prepared
lyanne Fitzpatrick, she grew up in Atco, New Jersey, twenty miles from Philadelphia. Her mother raised Kellyanne in a house that they shared with her grandmother and two unmarried aunts. “These four Italian women raised me,” she said. “It’s like South Jersey’s version of ‘The Golden Girls.’ ” When Kellyanne was a teen-ager, her mother worked at the Claridge Hotel and Casino, in Atlantic City, as a shift supervisor in the main cage, where players cash their chips. Her father was a truck driver, and was divorced from her mother by the time Kellyanne was two years old. She didn’t see her father again until she was twelve or thirteen. She said, rolling her eyes, that he is now married to his fourth wife. The family was religious. “We had pictures of the Pope and the Last Supper and anything I drew at school,” she said. “We never had pictures of Kennedy or Reagan. We never had a single political conversation that I can remember. I should’ve been a Democrat. I mean, I grew up with all women in the nineteen-seventies.” She recalled that someone gave her mother a subscription to Ms.
She discovered politics in 1984, when, in high school, she wrote for a local paper about the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. “I loved Cuomo and Ferraro at the Democratic Convention,” she said. Geraldine Ferraro, the ﬁrst female nominee on a major-party Presidential ticket, and Mario Cuomo, then governor of New York, were the two bestknown Italian-American politicians in the country, and both gave speeches. But when she saw Ronald Reagan’s speech she knew that she was a Republican. “He really touched me,” she said. “I liked the more uplifting, aspirational, yet toughguy kind of thing.” Conway went to Trinity Washington University, a Catholic college in Washington, D.C., and received a law degree from George Washington University. She pointed out that, while Hillary Clinton failed the D.C. bar exam in 1973, before passing in Arkansas, Conway was allowed into the D.C. bar after passing the exams in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Conway said she thought about that during the ﬁrst debate: “Boy, she really can cram a lot of information into her head for one performance. How the heck did she fail the D.C. bar?” While Conway was in law school, she worked as a research assistant in the ﬁrm of Richard Wirthlin, Reagan’s longtime pollster and strategist. She brieﬂy practiced law, and later worked for the Republican pollster Frank Luntz. The polling business was dominated by men. “I’m a female consultant in the Republican Party, which means when I walk into a meeting at the R.N.C. or somewhere I always feel like I’m walking into a bachelor party in the locker room of the Elks club,” she said. Conway found mentors in political ﬁxers such as Charlie Black, a partner in Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly. To Conway, the ﬁrm’s principals, who worked for Reagan and George H. W. Bush, “were the untouchables. They were the gold standard of lobbying, Capitol Hill access.” Early in her career, Conway was invited to Black, Manafort, Stone’s Christmas party, and, she said, “it was, like, ‘What am I gonna wear?’ It was like Cinderella.” They talked, and she listened. “Charlie’s one of those men in Washington— and there have been many of them— who, early on in my career, took an
interest in what I was doing and would stop by the oﬃce, or we’d go have lunch at the Palm,” Conway said. “I tended to learn from what I would consider the revered wise men, the veterans, the political veterans who really took an interest in my career.” Conway founded her own ﬁrm, the Polling Company, in 1995, and developed a niche advising corporations— American Express, Hasbro, Vaseline, and others—about consumer trends, especially among women. Her most well-known political clients, including Gingrich, Mike Pence, and Dan Quayle, have been socially conservative Republicans who needed help reaching female voters. “She spent most of her career looking at polling data, with a particular emphasis on consumers and on women,” Gingrich said. “So she sees them more holistically than a lot of political pollsters.” In the nineties, Conway started appearing on television, as a panelist on Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect,” which brought together an eclectic group of entertainers and political commentators, and featured a new generation of female pundits. Bill Maher gave “a great platform” to “the young conservative women who were just coming into their careers,” Conway said. “You can’t put a young girl in her twenties of any political aﬃliation alone in a room with half of Congress. It’s like an occupational hazard. But I always felt Bill Maher was a perfect gentleman.” Maher said, “I think we’re the show that kind of made Ann Coulter and Kellyanne and Laura Ingraham—you know, those were, like, our blond Republican ladies.” For a time, Conway stopped appearing on Maher’s show, because she had grown tired of his anti-Catholic sentiments. Earlier this year, Trump showed his own lack of respect for the Church. Pope Francis said that a person who wants to build walls is “not Christian,” and Trump called the comment “disgraceful.” Conway spun this into proof of Trump’s virtue. “Oftentimes, Mr. Trump punches down,” she told me. “I actually think the Pope is punching up or punching across, if you will, if you’re Mr. Trump.” Maher, who despises Trump, said that he didn’t remember any disagree-
ment with Conway—“I’ve blocked it out, like an uncle who molested me”— but he was incredulous at her description of Trump’s response to the Pope. “Wow,” he said. “That so epitomizes the whole campaign. Everything Donald Trump does is marked on a curve.” He went on, “Because Donald Trump is normally a giant asshole who punches down, the one time that he does it up to the Pope then we say it’s O.K. If there’s a Nobel Prize in hypocrisy, those people have got to win it this year.” Kellyanne’s husband is George T. Conway III, who as a young lawyer played a historic—and largely hidden—role in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Conway, a graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School, worked at the New York City ﬁrm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, and was a member of the Federalist Society, the conservative organization that led many of the legal challenges to the Clinton Administration. When Paula Jones sued Bill Clinton for sexual harassment, Conway wrote the Supreme Court brief, though his name never appeared on it. The Court, in a landmark decision, agreed with Jones’s argument that a sitting President could face a civil lawsuit. During depositions in the lawsuit, Clinton denied having a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, which eventually led to his impeachment trial. George Conway became deeply involved in getting out information from the depositions. During that period, he reportedly e-mailed Matt Drudge an infamous scoop about the shape of Clinton’s penis. In January, 1998, the month that Drudge broke the Lewinsky scandal, Conway saw a picture of Kellyanne Fitzpatrick on the cover of a Washington society magazine and asked a mutual friend to set them up. They met the following year, and married in 2001. Their four children are between the ages of six and eleven. “I had my ﬁrst children at thirty-seven, then I had two daughters in my forties, forty-one and almost forty-three,” she said. “They say there are no eggs left in your forties, but there were two rolling around in there somewhere. I was surprised both times, like, ‘Oh! O.K. Not a stomach ache.’ ” In 2004, Conway wrote a book with Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, called “What Women Really Want.” “We have the common bond of struggling in THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
a male-dominated business,” Lake said. “Lots of women consultants told us to be careful how much you do about women voters, because that can be a ghetto, not just a franchise.” Lake joked to me that Conway has tried to teach Trump some of the lessons of their book, which emphasizes that women respond better to the language of inclusion than to that of division, “but Trump won’t stay on the lessons learned.” In 2001, the Conways bought an apartment in Trump World Tower, near the United Nations, where they lived for seven years, and where she got to know Trump. “I sat on the condo board, and he’s very involved in his condos,” she said. “Over the years, he would ask me my opinion about politics.” One of her top clients at the time was Major League Baseball, which relied on her advice about marketing the game to female fans. In 2008, the Conways moved to a six-million-dollar home in Alpine, New Jersey, a town that Forbes has called “America’s most expensive Zip Code.” In late 2013, Trump was considering running for governor of New York, and Conway produced a poll for him. “She thought that it was possible for him to win New York,” Michael Caputo, a Trump adviser at the time, who resigned from his Presidential campaign after clashing with Lewandowski, told me. In a memo on the poll results, Conway wrote, “NY loves its celebrity politicians and families: the Kennedys, Moynihans, Buckleys, Clintons, and even the Cuomos. Donald Trump ﬁts that (loose) bill, and he has the money and moxie to compete if he chooses to enter the race.” Conway’s research showed Trump losing to Andrew Cuomo by thirty-ﬁve points, but she chose not to include that ﬁgure in her memo. A Trump adviser involved in the discussion said that Conway misrepresented Trump’s prospects: “She produces an analysis that buries every terrible number and highlights every positive number. It’s just an enormous crock of shit.” He added, “She’s looking for a client because Trump is talking about spending a hundred million dollars to run for governor, which we both know he was never really going to do, just like he was going to spend a hundred million dollars in this race, which he has not done.” Conway responded, “I see nowhere in the memo where I claim 36
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
Trump is ahead or can win.” She added, “This does not account for the private presentation I and another team member had with him about the data.” Conway told me that some advisers asked Trump, “ ‘If you’re going to run for oﬃce, why not start with President of the United States?’ And, you know, it’s a fair question, and he ultimately decided that.” he period after the ﬁrst PresiT dential debate has been perhaps the worst of Trump’s campaign. Of the ﬁrst
two dozen swing-state polls that were released, Clinton led in all but one. Trump’s pre-debate gains evaporated as he reverted to the erratic caricature that the two previous campaign teams had struggled to control. The campaign oﬃcial claimed that Conway and Bannon sent Trump onstage without a strategy for the debate or what followed. “These people make decisions knee-jerk and haphazardly,” he said. “There has never been a written campaign plan for this campaign, ever. ” Another senior member of the campaign said that the goal of the ﬁrst debate was simply “risk mitigation,” and claimed, “I think he won. You know why? Because we got through the ﬁrst big thing in front of eighty million people, where she’s the greatest in world history and she brought a good game, and guess what? Nothing happened, right?” He noted Trump’s direct hit on the Trans-Paciﬁc Partnership, but conceded that Trump was unable to deliver the lines that were prepared for him on immigration, Obamacare, and other policy issues. He had “ﬁve other packages ready to go. They didn’t come up— or he wasn’t able to bring them up into the debate.” During the debate, Clinton baited Trump by speaking about a woman named Alicia Machado, who was named Miss Universe in 1996. Later that year, Trump bought the contest, and he humiliated Machado, calling her “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.” Conway and her colleagues couldn’t get Trump to let it go. On Twitter, he called Machado “disgusting” and told supporters to “check out” her “sex tape” (none emerged). Conway told me that she understood Trump’s impulse to respond once he’s provoked. “He and I have this in com-
mon,” she said. “I really don’t draw ﬁrst blood. There’s no fun, there’s no point, and there should be no joy in gratuitously attacking someone or picking an argument out of whole cloth.” she continued, “He feels that he should be able to defend himself. Everybody says ‘no grievance too large or too small,’ but that’s just the way he feels: that there’s a way to settle the score.” On Friday, Conway’s task of spinning Trump became all but impossible. The Washington Post published a video from 2005 in which Trump talks about women in the most degrading terms. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he says. “You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy.” (Conway declined to comment.) Conway told me that she did have a productive conversation with Trump, on the day he hired her as campaign manager. She was upset with him after he appeared on CNBC and said that he wouldn’t mind if he lost, because he would just “go back to a very good life.” He added that he would take “a very, very nice, long vacation.” Conway confronted Trump: “I told him, ‘You can’t say that.’ Everybody thinks I sugarcoat it, but I don’t. I can actually deliver tough news in a friendlier way.” Conway says that she told him, “People believe that this election is not about you—it’s about them. And when you say ‘I, I, I’ you sound like her: ‘I’m with her,’ ‘Ready for Hillary.’ She should just shortcut all of her slogans to say ‘Me, me, me, me, me.’ ” Conway continued, “You’ve built a whole movement, and people feel like they’re part of it. Mr. Trump, people have stood in the rain for three hours just to say they were there when you were there. They so believe in you that when you say, ‘Eh, if it doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to the happy place,’ they don’t think that they will.” Since his dressing down by Conway, Trump hasn’t repeated the remarks. At the end of our interview at Trump Tower, Conway told me that she will turn ﬁfty on January 20th, Inauguration Day. Before she started working for Trump, she promised her family a trip to Italy to celebrate her birthday. Now she hopes to be in the capital, but, like Trump, she has a backup plan. “I’ll either be at a fabulous party in Washington, D.C., or I’ll be in Italy,” she said, with a smile and a wink. “I can’t lose.”
I people of today, it would be this: Never give up. Keep trying and pushing and struggling, even if you don’t know what your goal is or why you would want to achieve it. As you march down the street not giving up, hold your head high and swing your elbows. People will recognize you as someone who won’t give
knowing that you have a higher purpose. Remember, nobody liked van Gogh’s work, and if nobody likes yours it’s probably a sign that you’re a genius. Look to the horizon. See that little dot? No, not that one—the one that’s even farther out. You can barely see it. Now don’t stop until you reach it. Take out your machete and hack a new path through the jungle, even if there is an
give up. With each unnatural sex act, you will be one step closer to your goal. When you ﬁnally reach the ﬁrst stage of success, congratulate yourself. But remember that there are twenty-four more stages of success. Some people may ask, “If I take a rest, even a little one, is that the same as giving up?” Yes, it is. But if you need to pretend to give up—so that people will leave you alone—go ahead. Then keep doing what you do, but even harder. Several years ago, there was a man who wouldn’t give up. He was just an actor, but he had bigger things in mind, in the world of politics. People tried to talk him out of his wildeyed notions, but he wouldn’t listen.
up, and they will get out of your way. Some of them will even hide. Some will try to discourage you. They’ll say that what you’re doing is “illegal,” or a “sin,” or a violation of the health code. They may cling to your legs, causing you to drag them along, or jump onto your back, pleading, “In the name of God, please stop what you’re doing!” Keep going. Rest assured, they’re jealous. “We’re not jealous, honestly,” they may say. “Just please stop!” Maybe you’ve struck a nerve. “No, you haven’t struck a nerve,” they’ll say. “What you’re doing is just awful, and we’d like you to stop!” Let that be your inspiration. Shake oﬀ the naysayers and trudge on, through the mud and the ﬁlth and the slime,
old path just a few feet away. Fend oﬀ the monkeys of “good manners” and the sloths of “patience.” We are born with the instinct not to give up. As babies, we cry and scream until we get what we want. But somewhere along the line we lose that ability. People talk us out of our crazy ideas—people who live in the so-called real world, where things “make sense.” They’ve never attempted the impossible. But you have, many, many times. Keep pushing ahead—not in a way that seems pushy but in a way that says you won’t stop. Some people say you shouldn’t bang your head against a wall. Tell that to the woodpecker. Along the way, there will be compromises—bribes and torture and “hunting accidents.” You may have to engage in unnatural sex acts. But don’t
And that man was John Wilkes Booth. Keep pushing and scraping and clawing and begging. Even in your dreams, don’t give up. If you dream that you are wearing nothing but underpants, try to make them expensive, executive underpants. Eventually, all your determination will pay oﬀ. The same people who mocked your ideas and tackled you will now claim to love your vision. “We love it! We love it!” they’ll say. They’ll tell you that the governor is interested in your ideas and will bundle you oﬀ in a car to the governor’s mansion. But when you pass under the stone archway you’ll notice that it doesn’t say “Governor’s Mansion” but “Insane Asylum.” Jump out of the car and run into the woods. Keep running. Never give up running.
SHOUTS & MURMURS
NEVER GIVE UP BY JACK HANDEY
f I could say one thing to the young
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
ONWARD AND UPWARD WITH THE ARTS
OUT OF BOUNDS The unruly imagination of Ursula K. Le Guin. BY JULIE PHILLIPS
Le Guin says she is “not just trying to get into other minds but other beings.”
P of people lately, and Ursula K. Le
olitics has been obsessing a lot
Guin is far from immune to bouts of political anger. In an e-mail to me last winter, she wrote that she felt “eaten up” with frustration at the ongoing occupation of an eastern Oregon wildlife refuge by an armed band of antigovernment agitators led by the brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy. She was distressed by the damage they had done to scientiﬁc programs and to historical artifacts belonging to the local Paiute tribe, and critical of the F.B.I. for being so slow to remove these “hairy gunslinging fake cowboys” from public property. She had been mildly cheered up, she added, by following a 38
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
Twitter feed with the hashtag #BundyEroticFanFic. The high desert of eastern Oregon is one of Le Guin’s places. She often goes there in the summer with her husband, Charles, a professor emeritus of history at Portland State University, to a ranch on the stony ridge of Steens Mountain, overlooking the refuge. She has led writing workshops at the Malheur Field Station, a group of weatherbeaten buildings used mainly by biologists and birders, and published a book of poems and sketches of the area, with photographs by Roger Dorband, called “Out Here.” She likes the awareness the desert gives her of distance, emptiness, and geological time. In a poem,
“A Meditation in the Desert,” she imagines a stone being “full / of slower, longer thoughts than mind can have.” She has roots in eastern Oregon that go back to the early days of white settlement. Not long ago, she told me excitedly that she’d rediscovered records in the attic of her grandmother’s childhood: “My great-grandfather, with my grandmother age eleven, moved from California to Oregon in 1873. . . . They drove three hundred and ﬁfty head of cattle up through Nevada and built a stone house on the back side of Steens Mountain. I don’t think he made a claim; there was nowhere to make it. He was one of the very ﬁrst ranchers in what is still very desolate country.” The family stayed there for ﬁve years before they moved on, in search of new grass or less isolation—her grandmother didn’t say. The story gives hints of what Le Guin already knew: that the empty spaces of America have a past, and that loneliness and loss are mixed up with the glory. The history of America is one of conﬂicting fantasies: clashes over what stories are told and who gets to tell them. If the Bundy brothers were in love with one side of the American dream—stories of wars fought and won, land taken and tamed—Le Guin has spent a career exploring another, distinctly less triumphalist side. She sees herself as a Western writer, though her work has had a wide range of settings, from the Oregon coast to an anarchist utopia and a California that exists in the future but resembles the past. Keeping an ambivalent distance from the centers of literary power, she makes room in her work for other voices. She has always defended the fantastic, by which she means not formulaic fantasy or “McMagic” but the imagination as a subversive force. “Imagination, working at full strength, can shake us out of our fatal, adoring selfabsorption,” she has written, “and make us look up and see—with terror or with relief—that the world does not in fact belong to us at all.” When I met Le Guin at her house in Portland this summer, she was in a happier mood. Coming out onto the back porch, where I was sitting with Charles in the late-afternoon sun, to oﬀer us a bourbon-and-ice, she was ILLUSTRATION BY ESSY MAY
positively cheerful, her deeply lined, expressive face bright under a cap of short white hair, her low, warm woodwind voice rising into an easy laugh. The bourbon is part of the couple’s evening ritual: when they don’t have company, they have a drink before dinner and take turns reading to each other. On the hillside below us, two scrub jays traded remarks through the trees. The cheerfulness was relative, she told me: it was partly because a conference call set for earlier that day, with the fantasy writer Neil Gaiman and some ﬁlm people who had a project to propose, had been postponed, leaving her with enough energy for a conversation. Her back is bent now with age— she’ll be eighty-seven this month— and she has to be careful with a resource she once had in abundance. “My stamina gives out so damn fast these days,” she said. The house where Le Guin has lived for more than ﬁfty years has, in certain respects, come to resemble its owner. Past the barriers at the entrance— Charles’s menacingly thorny roses, the lion’s-head knocker that guards the door—the dark-panelled Craftsman living room, with its Victorian feel, might stand for her books set in Europe, or for the great nineteenth-century novels she has always loved, with their warmth, humanity, and moral concern. The front hall is surveyed by a row of British Museum reproductions of the Lewis chessmen, souvenirs of the Le Guins’ two sabbatical years in London, when their three children were small. Some of her awards are in the attic, but she keeps several, notably her ﬁrst Hugo, from 1970, discreetly displayed in the hall on the way to the kitchen. A place of honor at the right of the ﬁreplace is given to a portrait of Virginia Woolf, a hand-colored print that is a treasured gift from a writer friend. Later, I went with her into the kitchen, where it’s easy to end up in the Le Guin household. It’s a homey room with white appliances, cream cabinets, and no sign of steel or marble, as indiﬀerent to fashion as its owners. Le Guin dresses well, but casually, favoring T-shirts, and wears little jewelry, though occasionally she puts on earrings fastened with clips or magnets. “You put the stone in front and a
tiny magnet behind your earlobe,” she explains. “The trouble is that if you bend down near the stove, for instance, all of a sudden your earrings go wham!— and hit the stove. It’s kind of exciting.” Europe ends and the West begins outside the windows, on the back porch, with its view stretching over the Willamette River, past the city, to three volcanoes of the Cascade Range: the white peak of Mt. Adams, distant Mt. Rainier, and the sullen ash heap of Mt. St. Helens. The span of it evokes the feeling of distance and isolation that runs through her work, and the awareness, more often found in science than in ﬁction, that what we can comprehend is a small part of everything there is to know. Imaginative literature, she has written, asks us “to allow that our perception of reality may be incomplete, our interpretation of it arbitrary or mistaken.” Michael Chabon, a friend and admirer, sees her as “untiringly opening her work up to a perspective, to a nature that feels somehow beyond human, and yet fully human and recognizable. She gives us a view from the other side.” To talk to Le Guin is to encounter alternatives. At her house, the writer is present, but so is Le Guin the mother of three, the faculty wife: the woman writing fantasy in tandem with her daily life. I asked her recently about a particularly violent story that she wrote in her early thirties, in two days, while organizing a ﬁfth-birthday party for her elder daughter. “It’s funny how you can live on several planes, isn’t it?” she said. She resists attempts to separate her more mainstream work from her science ﬁction. She is a genre author who is also a literary author, not one or the other but indivisibly both. Le Guin can be polemical, prone to what one close friend calls “tirades” on questions she feels strongly about. I once watched her participate in a panel discussion on gender and literature at WisCon, an annual gathering of feminist science-ﬁction writers, readers, and academics in Madison, Wisconsin. Scowling like a snapping turtle, she sat waiting for illogical remarks, which she then gently but ﬁrmly tore to bits. Yet a conversation with Le Guin is often full of comic asides, laughter, and—a particularly Le Guin trait— good-natured snorts. Humor seems to
be her way of taking the edge oﬀ the polemic, as well as an introvert’s channel of communication. Behind even the lightest remarks, one is aware of a keen intelligence and a lifetime of thought, held back for the purposes of casual conversation. She has never felt at home temperamentally with establishments of any kind. But now she ﬁnds the establishment wanting to hear what she has to say. Her criticism of the economics of publishing—objections to Amazon, a ﬁght with Google over its digitization of copyrighted books—is widely reported in the news. Earlier this year, a Kickstarter campaign for a documentary about Le Guin, by the ﬁlmmaker Arwen Curry, raised more than two hundred thousand dollars, nearly three times the requested amount. In 2000, the Library of Congress declared her a “living legend,” a designation that has made its way into many introductions to her readings. Last month, her “Orsinian Tales” and the novel “Malafrena” appeared as a volume in the Library of America. (She and Philip Roth are the only living novelists included in the series.) “I am getting really sick of being referred to as ‘the legendary,’ ” she protests, laughing. “I’m right here. I have gravity. A body and all that.”
I tall house in Berkeley, California, a n the late nineteen-thirties, in a
girl climbs out the attic window onto the roof in search of solitude. If she scrambles far enough up the redwood shingles, she can reach her own Mt. Olympus, the roof ’s peak. From here, she can gaze out over the rough blue of the bay to the city of San Francisco, row upon row of white houses climbing the hills above the water. The city is strange to her—she rarely ventures so far from home—but the view is hers, and splendid. Beyond it she knows there are islands with a magical name: the Farallons. She imagines them as “the loneliest place, the farthest west you could go.” Meanwhile, inside the house, the girl’s father is at work, thinking about myths, magic, songs, cultural patterns— the proper territory of a professor of anthropology. From him she will take a model for creative work in the midst of a rich family life, as well as the belief
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
that the real room of one’s own is in the writer’s mind. Years later, she tells a friend that if she ended up writing about wizards “perhaps it’s because I grew up with one.” Ursula Kroeber was born in Berkeley, in 1929, into a family busy with the reading, recording, telling, and inventing of stories. She grew up listening to her aunt Betsy’s memories of a pioneer childhood and to California Indian legends retold by her father. One legend of the Yurok people says that, far out in the Paciﬁc Ocean but not farther than a canoe can paddle, the rim of the sky makes waves by beating on the surface of the water. On every twelfth upswing, the sky moves a little more slowly, so that a skilled navigator has enough time to slip beneath its rim, reach the outer ocean, and dance all night on the shore of another world. Ursula absorbed these stories, together with the books she read: children’s classics, Norse myths, Irish folktales, the Iliad. In her father’s library, she discovered Romantic poetry and Eastern philosophy, especially the Tao Te Ching. She and her brother Karl supplemented these with scienceﬁction magazines. With Karl, the closest to her in age of her three brothers, she played King Arthur’s knights, in armor made of cardboard boxes. The two also made up tales of political intrigue and exploration set in a stuﬀed-toy world called the Animal Kingdom. This storytelling later gave her a feeling of kinship with the Brontës, whose Gondal and Angria, she says, were “the ‘genius version’ of what Karl and I did.” Her father was Alfred L. Kroeber, one of the most inﬂuential cultural anthropologists of the past century. A New Yorker from a prosperous German immigrant family, he went west in 1900, when he was twenty-four, and did ﬁeld work among the Indians of Northern California. Throughout his career, he learned about cultures that were rapidly being transformed or destroyed from men and women who were among the last survivors of their people. At a time when the dominant story of America was one of European conquest, Ursula was aware, through her father and his Indian friends who came to the house, that there were 40
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
other stories to tell and other judgments that might be made. Ursula’s mother was Theodora Kracaw Kroeber, born in Denver in 1897 and raised in the mining town of Telluride. A friend of Le Guin’s recalls seeing her, at the house in Berkeley, “coming down the long staircase, a majestic-looking woman with a long gown and a great big Indian silver and turquoise necklace. She was very stately.” Theodora took to writing in her late ﬁfties, and produced “Ishi in Two Worlds,” a nonﬁction account of the last survivor of the Yahi people. Le Guin loved her mother and admired her psychological gifts. But she says that their relationship also contained “something darker and stranger” that she has never quite understood. “We were very lucky, because we never had to act that out. But if I see daughters and mothers act it out toward each other it doesn’t shock me or surprise me. It’s there.” The Kroeber household was full of voices as well as stories. Alfred liked to pose philosophical questions or puzzles over the dinner table and ask his four children about anything that interested them. The kids were encouraged to take an active part in the conversation, but, as the little sister, Ursula rarely got a word in: “There were too many people, and I was outshouted by everybody else.” Learning how to be heard taught her persistence and gave
her a tendency to appear ﬁercer than she is. “People think I mean everything I say and am full of conviction, often, when I’m actually just ﬂoating balloons and ready for a discussion or argument or further pursuit of the subject. It’s my fault—I speak so passionately. Probably because, as the youngest and shrillest child of an extraordinarily articulate and passionate family, I could only be heard by charging over the top, shouting, ‘Marchons, marchons! Qu’un
sang impur abreuve nos sillons!’ every time I entertained a passing opinion.” Le Guin’s work combines a Berkeleyite’s love of alternative thought with a strong scientiﬁc bent that she sees as an inheritance from her father. In her ﬁction, she has tried to balance the analytical and the intuitive. “Both directions strike me as becoming more and more sterile the farther you follow them,” she says. “It’s when they can combine that you get something fertile and living and leading forward. Mysticism—which is a word my father held in contempt, basically—and scientiﬁc factualism, need for evidence, and so on . . . I do try to juggle them, quite consciously.” If it was diﬃcult to be the youngest and most precocious of the Kroeber children, leaving the house to enter the world made Ursula feel like “an exile in a Siberia of adolescent social mores.” In the fall of 1944, at fourteen, small for her age, disguised in the sweater, skirt, and loafers of a “bobby-soxer” (a term that still makes her shudder), she began her ﬁrst year at Berkeley High School, a huge, impersonal institution where popularity mattered more than learning, and ﬁtting in was the ideal. When Le Guin speaks of her teen-age years, she speaks of loneliness, confusion, and the pain of being among people who have no use for one’s gifts. “You’re just dropped into this dreadful place, and there are no explanations why and no directions what to do.” She found a refuge in the public library, reading Austen and the Brontës, Turgenev and Shelley. In ﬁction, she could satisfy her deep romantic streak: she fell in love with Prince Andrei in “War and Peace” and once, at thirteen, defaced a library book by cutting out a still of Laurence Olivier’s Mr. Darcy and taking it home to look at in private, guilty rapture. From Thomas Hardy she learned to handle strong feelings in ﬁction by pouring them into landscapes, letting the settings carry part of the emotional charge. “There’s a patronizing word for that: the ‘pathetic fallacy,’ ” she says. “It’s not a fallacy; it’s art.” As a child, she was painfully shy, and she still alludes to anxieties that she keeps hidden from the world. I caught a glimpse of that when she asked me,
cautiously, “Wouldn’t you say that anybody who thought as much about balance as I do in my work probably felt some threat to their balance?” After a long pause, she added, “Of course all adolescents are out of balance, and very aware of it. To become adult can certainly feel like walking a high wire, can’t it? If my foot slips, I’m gone. I’m dead.”
E in Le Guin’s great works about ad-
quilibrium is a central metaphor
olescence, the six-volume Earthsea series, which began in 1968 with “A Wizard of Earthsea.” That book follows Ged, a lonely teen-ager with a gift for magic, who at wizards’ school learns a painful lesson in achieving balance rather than forcing change. There’s little resemblance between the school on Roke Island, with its Taoist magic (a mage is taught to “do by not doing”), and Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. There is some resemblance between Ged, the provincial boy with a chip on his shoulder, and Ursula Kroeber, the Californian in jeans arriving at Radcliﬀe College in 1947, all books and opinions, never before out of her home state, eager to prove herself as a poet. Her Radcliﬀe friend Jean Taylor Kroeber, who became her sister-in-law, recalls that, before she and Ursula bonded over Russian literature, jokes, and music, she found her “a little frightening. It’s not that she meant to be, but that’s the way it came across . . . that there was a good chance that she was ahead of you, in wherever the conversation was going. And one rather brief acute remark could set you back on your heels.” Ursula had her ﬁrst clash with the literary establishment when she and a friend signed up to read submissions for a new Radcliﬀe literary magazine, Signature. Rona Jaﬀe worked on the magazine, and its undergraduate contributors included Edward Gorey, Harold Brodkey, and Adrienne Rich, whose poem “Storm Warnings” was published there. The magazine accepted nothing of Ursula’s, and she found those fellowstudents “cliquish and unfriendly”: “Their comments on what we submitted ourselves, even the comments on our comments, were often remarkably savage and dismissive. We got out again and gratefully went back to our invisibility.” When Rich won the Yale
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
Younger Poets Prize in her senior year, Le Guin, still unpublished, felt pangs of envy. On top of that, Radcliﬀe women were given a double message, receiving an excellent education while knowing, in Rich’s words, that “the real power (and money) were invested in Harvard’s institutions, from which we were excluded.” Though Radcliﬀe has long since become part of Harvard, Cambridge remains a place of mixed emotions for Le Guin. She has told me both that her college years were wonderful and that she has come to dislike the institution; the two emotions shadow each other. Her senior year was marred by a handsome and arrogant Harvard student, an accidental pregnancy, a broken heart, and an illegal abortion. “I’m often startled at the depth of my anger at Harvard,” she told me. “I know some of the reasons for it, but it wouldn’t be so immediate and uncontrollable if it were accessible to reason. I did get a splendid education there—there was wonderful Widener, the Fogg, the elmy campus, which I remember fondly. But the anger’s there like a mine, ready to go oﬀ at a quiver of the ground.” Le Guin graduated from Radcliﬀe with a degree in French, in 1951. Over the decade that followed, she wrote poems, short stories, and at least four novels. She submitted them to publishers; they came back with encouraging rejections. She felt her way tentatively forward, unsure of her direction, lacking models. American literature was still under the spell of Hemingway, Faulkner, Richard Wright; realism held sway, and there was little interest in play or fantasy. “I was going in another direction than the critically approved culture was,” Le Guin has said. “I was never going to be Norman Mailer or Saul Bellow. I didn’t know who my fellow-writers were. There didn’t seem to be anybody doing what I wanted to do.” She was alarmed by the literary rivalries of the period; she remembers thinking, “I’m not competing with all these guys and their empires and territories. I just want to write my stories and dig my own garden.” Instead, she found “allies in foreigners I never met,” reading Woolf ’s “Orlando,” Isak Dinesen’s “Seven Gothic
Tales,” and the short stories of Sylvia Townsend Warner, with their playful and revelatory shifts of perspective. She also became fascinated by the premature, failed revolutions of 1830 and the passionate political documents of the Romantic period, such as “My Prisons,” by the Italian poet and patriot Silvio Pellico. “Books like that were very exciting to me because I could handle them better than I could the contemporary works,” she says. They opened up “the distance that I needed, and probably have always needed, between me and the raw, implacable fact that’s going on right now. I’ve never really been able to handle that. If it’s right in my face, I can’t see it.” Some writers of her generation embraced confessional literature and, later, memoir. Le Guin has always preferred self-concealment to self-exposure. In the introduction to the Library of America volume, she writes, “I have no interest in confession. My games are transformation and invention.” In college, she began setting her ﬁction in an imaginary Eastern European country called Orsinia and found that it freed her up as a writer. Away from the “small and stony” ground of realism, her imagination began to ﬂourish. Orsinia also gave her the distance to comment, indirectly, on Communist repression, the persecutions of the McCarthy era, the unfreedom of the age, and her decision to follow her own path. During the ﬁfties, she worked on “Malafrena,” a novel about a young nobleman who obeys his moral compass by ﬁghting for freedom of speech and thought. Freedom is “a human need, like bread, like water,” he insists. Pressed to deﬁne it, he replies, “Freedom consists in doing what you can do best, your work, what you have to do.” For Le Guin freedom is a complex ideal and a word “too big and too old” to be devalued as a platitude or appropriated by hypocrites. “Of course it gets misused,” she says. “But I don’t think you can really damage the word freedom or liberty.”
A Cannon Beach, a summer town
nother of Le Guin’s places is
on the Oregon coast where she and Charles have a small house on a street leading to the ocean. Although she
claims to share her father’s “incapacity for reminiscence,” she and I went there to talk about her past. The prospect made her uncomfortable at ﬁrst, and when we entered the shut-up house she threw nervous energy into cleaning, enlisting me to stand on a chair and brush cobwebs oﬀ the ceiling. At a little kitchen table, over tea served in the indestructible handmade earthenware mugs of the seventies, she commented, somewhat deﬁantly, that she had always taken pleasure in cooking and keeping house. It sounded like criticism of the heroic writer, alone in his garret, but there’s more to it than that. She feels that marriage and family have given her a stability that supported her writing—the freedom of solitude within the solidity of household life. “An artist can go oﬀ into the private world they create, and maybe not be so good at ﬁnding the way out again,” she told me. “This could be one reason I’ve always been grateful for having a family and doing housework, and the stupid ordinary stuﬀ that has to be done that you cannot let go.” When Ursula graduated from Radcliﬀe, her plan was to get her doctorate and become an academic, like her three older brothers. She got her master’s in Romance languages at Columbia University, then received a Fulbright fellowship to do research in France for her dissertation. On the boat going over, she met Charles LeGuin, a historian with an attractive Georgia accent who was writing his thesis on the French Revolution. They shared a sense of humor; they liked the same books; in Paris, they went together to the opera and the Louvre. Within two weeks they were engaged. When they applied for a marriage license, a “triumphant bureaucrat” told Charles his Breton name was “spelled wrong” without a space, so when they married they both took the name Le Guin. Ursula abandoned her Ph.D. thesis on medieval French poetry, and while Charles ﬁnished researching his own thesis she read, wrote, and talked with him about Europe and revolution. Charles became the ﬁrst reader for all her work, made sure she got time to write, and when they had children shared in their care. They spent the next few years in Georgia and Idaho,
“With the money we’ll save by shutting down quality control, we can issue some truly spectacular apologies.”
• until, in 1959, Charles got the job at Portland State. Ursula recalls ﬂying up from Berkeley with a child on her lap and pregnant with her second. “The plane came in low up the Willamette Valley and circled the city, and I was in tears, it was so beautiful. I thought, My God, I’m going to live there.” Stubbornness and a self-confessed arrogance about her work helped Le Guin through her unpublished years. Then and now, she feels that she is the best judge of her writing; she is unmoved by literary trends, and not easily swayed by editorial suggestion. “Writing was always my inmost way of being in the world,” she says, but that made rejections increasingly painful: “I suﬀered a good deal from the contradiction between knowing writing was the job I was born for and ﬁnding nowhere to have that knowledge conﬁrmed.” Then, in 1961 and 1962, two of Le Guin’s stories were published. One, set in Orsinia, a meditation on the consolations of art, went to a small literary journal. The second, about a junior professor liberated from academia by an act of magic, was bought by the science-ﬁction magazine Fantastic. “I just didn’t know what to do with my stuﬀ until I stumbled into science ﬁction and fantasy,” Le Guin says. “And then, of course, they knew what to do
• with it.” “They” were the editors, fans, and fellow-authors who gave her an audience for her work. If science ﬁction was down-market, it was at least a market. More than that, genre supplied a ready-made set of tools, including spaceships, planets, and aliens, plus a realm—the future—that set no limits on the imagination. She found that science ﬁction suited what she called, in a letter to her mother, her “peculiar” talent, and she felt a lightheartedness in her writing that had to do with letting go of ambitions and constraints. In the fall of 1966, when she was thirtyseven, Le Guin began “A Wizard of Earthsea.” In the next few years—which also saw her march against the Vietnam War and dance in a conga line with Allen Ginsberg, when he came to Portland to read Vedas for peace— she produced her great early work, including, in quick succession, “The Left Hand of Darkness,” “The Lathe of Heaven,” “The Farthest Shore,” and “The Dispossessed,” her ambitious novel of anarchist utopia. Science ﬁction opened her up further to writing from alien points of view—composing the political manifesto of an ant, wondering what it would be like if humans had the seasonal sexuality of birds, imagining love in a society in which a marriage involves four THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
people. Le Guin says her ambition has always been “not just trying to get into other minds but other beings.” She adds, “Somewhere in the nineteenth century a line got drawn: you can’t do this for grownups. But fantasy and science ﬁction just kind of walked around the line.” Another use of the fantastic for Le Guin was to bring her ethical concerns into her ﬁction without becoming didactic. Take a metaphor far enough and it becomes a parable, as with her widely anthologized story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” Le Guin’s story begins with an ethical question posed by William James: If all could be made blissfully happy by the fact that one person was being kept in torment, would we accept that condition? She gives the problem just enough reality for the reader to picture the single abused child and feel the consequences of the bargain. Her inﬂuential thought experiment “The Left Hand of Darkness” uses this strategy to explore gender and alterity. Genly Ai, a man from a future Earth, arrives on the planet Gethen, which is inhabited by human beings who are neither male nor female but, for a few days a month, in a sexual phase, can become either. Ai, as a permanent male, is to them a “pervert.”
His isolation and wariness are mirrored in the landscape of Gethen, a place of perpetual winter. No one trusts Ai but Estraven, a Gethenian who is in exile; these two characters take turns narrating the book, so that we see how strange they appear to each other, and how they struggle to connect. Among the book’s central themes are balance—light is the left hand of darkness, the Gethenian saying goes—and trust.These are set against anxieties about otherness, about control and the loss of it. Estraven hopes that Ai can prevent impending war between two rival states, and asks him: “Do you know, by your own experience, what patriotism is?” “No,” I said, shaken by the force of that intense personality suddenly turning itself wholly upon me. “I don’t think I do. If by patriotism you don’t mean the love of one’s homeland, for that I do know.” “No, I don’t mean love, when I say patriotism. I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression. It grows in us, that fear.”
To fulﬁll this mission, Ai must see beyond his own narrow perspective and learn to trust, even love, this person whose nature calls his own into question. The novel earned Le Guin her ﬁrst
“Welcome to tonight’s panel on interfaith humor.”
Hugo and Nebula awards, the top honors in science ﬁction; her migration from the margins was well under way. Despite her growing success, she suﬀered periods of depression in the nineteen-sixties—“dark passages that I had to work through” is how she described them to me, as if they were vexed sequences in a novel. She wrote them into her ﬁction, she added, in the Earthsea novel “The Farthest Shore,” exploring a metaphor she borrowed from Rilke’s “Duino Elegies”: depression as a journey through the silent land of the dead. Another diﬃcult time for her came in the long period that began after “The Dispossessed” was published, in 1974, when she was rethinking the subjects of her work. She had been writing about imaginary revolutions, but by then an actual liberation movement, feminism, was gaining traction. In the light of “the personal is political,” her “Left Hand of Darkness” seemed to some readers too oblique and metaphorical, her sense of play not illuminating but evasive. Up until then, almost all of Le Guin’s protagonists had been male, and she wasn’t sure how to write from a woman’s perspective, especially since she had long resisted writing directly from personal experience. As a wife and mother who had always had her husband’s support, she was wary of the angry anti-family rhetoric of some mid-nineteen-seventies feminists. She explained, “I had lost conﬁdence in the kind of writing I had been doing because I was (mostly unconsciously) struggling to learn how to write as a woman, not as an ‘honorary man’ as before, and with a freedom that scared me.” She went on working steadily, writing short stories, essays, poetry, and young-adult ﬁction. She revised and published some of her older work: “Orsinian Tales” (which was a ﬁnalist for a National Book Award) appeared in 1976; “Malafrena” in 1979. She did begin writing from female points of view. But her turn to “writing as a woman,” while it won her new readers, alienated part of her old audience. Some of her new work was criticized as unsubtle or moralistic. Her mother died in 1979, a painful loss. She came to think of this time as “the dark hard place.”
Le Guin emerged from this period by stepping over the boundaries that separated science ﬁction and literature. Starting in the nineteen-eighties, she published some of her most accomplished work—ﬁction that was realist, magic realist, postmodernist, and sui generis. She wrote the Borgesian feminist parable “She Unnames Them,” and in 1985 an experimental tour de force of a novel, “Always Coming Home.” She produced “Sur,” the epic tale of an all-female Antarctic exploring party that may be her greatest and funniest feminist statement. Her short stories began appearing in The New Yorker, where her editor, Charles McGrath, saw in her an ability to “transform genre ﬁction into something higher.” In fact, it was the mainstream that ended up transformed. By breaking down the walls of genre, Le Guin handed new tools to twenty-ﬁrst-century writers working in what Chabon calls the “borderlands,” the place where the fantastic enters literature. A group of writers as unlike as Chabon, Molly Gloss, Kelly Link, Karen Joy Fowler, Junot Díaz, Jonathan Lethem, Victor LaValle, Zadie Smith, and David Mitchell began to explore what’s possible when they combine elements of realism and fantasy. The fantasy and science-ﬁction scholar Brian Attebery has noted that “every writer I know who talks about Ursula talks about a sense of having been invited or empowered to do something.” Given that many of Le Guin’s protagonists have dark skin, the science-ﬁction writer N. K. Jemisin speaks of the importance to her and others of encountering in fantasy someone who looked like them. Karen Joy Fowler, a friend of Le Guin’s whose novel “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” questions the nature of the human-animal bond, says that Le Guin oﬀered her alternatives to realism by bringing the fantastic out of its “underdog position.” For writers, she says, Le Guin “makes you think many things are possible that you maybe didn’t think were possible.” Le Guin still has strong feelings about artistic liberty. In November, 2014, she travelled to New York with her son, Theo, to accept the Distinguished Contribution medal at the Na
tional Book Awards ceremony. In a new collection of nonﬁction, “Words Are My Matter,” she writes that drafting her six-minute speech took her six months. “I rethought and replanned it, anxiously, over and over. Even on a poem, I’ve never worked so long and so obsessively, or with so little assurance that what I was saying was right, was what I ought to say.” But, having clashed with corporate publishing in the past, she felt an obligation to take the industry to task. Standing at the lectern, she gave an uncharacteristically apologetic smile. Then she scowled at her audience of editors and publishers and unleashed a tirade. “I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers, in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an e-book six or seven times more than they charge customers. . . . And I see a lot of us, the producers, who write the books and make the books, accepting this—letting commodity proﬁteers sell us like deodorant and tell us what to publish, and what to write.” Instead, she admonished them, “We’ll need writers who can remember freedom— poets, visionaries—realists of a larger reality.” At her conclusion, members of the audience hesitated, looked around, and then slowly rose to their feet for an ovation.
S Le Guin returned in earnest to his-
tarting in the nineteen-nineties,
torical ﬁction, in “Lavinia,” and to science ﬁction and fantasy. Some of her best late work in this mode appears in “The Found and the Lost,” a new eight-hundred-plus-page compendium of her novellas. But a few years ago Le Guin stopped writing ﬁction, saying it took an energy she didn’t have—although she doesn’t rule out anything in the future. “Never” and “last,” she wrote in a recent blog post, “are closing words. Having spent a good deal of my life trying to open closed doors and windows, I have no intention of going around slamming them shut now.” She still gives readings, which attract a notably youthful audience. And she writes nonﬁction, including book reviews for the Guardian, in which she is glowing in her enthusiasms and ﬁerce
in her dislikes. (The enthusiasms include works by Saramago, Rushdie, and Atwood; the dislikes include presenttense narration, ﬁction about “dysfunctional American suburban families,” and mainstream writers who attempt science ﬁction without understanding its rules.) She is turning more now to poetry; her most recent collection, “Late in the Day,” was published last year. She told me she was writing some poems exploring extreme old age, playing with the metaphor of an explorer’s sea voyage to the West. “I think some testimony from the late eighties could be useful to people,” she said. Then she added, laughing, “Other people in their late eighties might want to read it. I don’t know about anybody in their late ﬁfties: ‘Oh, God, I don’t want to go there.’ ” At the house in Cannon Beach, she showed me the family’s photo albums. Over the years, Le Guin’s author photos show a steady progression from a wary young woman, ill at ease in front of the camera, to someone more at home in a public role. But I had asked about the private photos, and here was Ursula, age six or seven, with short black hair, bare-legged on dusty California ground, playing with a toy car and staring into the distance at something unseen. “I like that one,” she told me. “I look feral. I guess I was rather feral.” Then there was Ursula at the Arc de Triomphe, a gamine holding an armful of roses, and Charles, looking dashing in a new Parisian coat, climbing Mont Sainte-Victoire. Infants enter the pictures, then small children. In a photo of Ursula in her twenties, she glances up from a typewriter with a look I’d come to recognize: startled, her eyes unfocussed, her thoughts in a place the camera can’t follow. The next morning, Le Guin stood in the front yard of her house at the edge of the world, feeding a family of crows. The sun was out, and a block away the surf beat gently on the broad beach, where the town meets the waters of the North Paciﬁc. Here the land seemed undone by the unknown distances of the ocean, and Le Guin seemed to be standing where the forces met, gazing beyond her garden to some farther shore. THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN Leonard Cohen at eighty-two. BY DAVID REMNICK
hen Leonard Cohen was twenty-ﬁve, he was living in London, sitting in cold rooms writing sad poems. He got by on a three-thousand-dollar grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. This was 1960, long before he played the festival at the Isle of Wight in front of six hundred thousand people. In those days, he was a Jamesian Jew, the provincial abroad, a refugee from the Montreal literary scene. Cohen, whose family was both prominent and cultivated, had an ironical view of himself. He was a bohemian with a cushion whose ﬁrst purchases in London were an Olivetti typewriter and a blue raincoat at Burberry. Even before he had much of an audience, he had a distinct idea of the audience he wanted. In a letter to his publisher, he said that he was out to reach “inner-directed adolescents, lovers in all degrees of anguish, disappointed Platonists, pornography-peepers, hair-handed monks and Popists.” Cohen was growing weary of London’s rising damp and its gray skies. An English dentist had just yanked one of his wisdom teeth. After weeks of cold and rain, he wandered into a bank and asked the teller about his deep suntan. The teller said that he had just returned from a trip to Greece. Cohen bought an airline ticket. Not long afterward, he alighted in Athens, visited the Acropolis, made his way to the port of Piraeus, boarded a ferry, and disembarked at the island of Hydra. With the chill barely out of his bones, Cohen took in the horseshoe-shaped harbor and the people drinking cold glasses of retsina and eating grilled ﬁsh in the cafés by the water; he looked up at the pines and the cypress trees and the whitewashed houses that crept up the hillsides. There was something mythical and primitive about Hydra. Cars were forbid46
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
den. Mules humped water up the long stairways to the houses. There was only intermittent electricity. Cohen rented a place for fourteen dollars a month. Eventually, he bought a whitewashed house of his own, for ﬁfteen hundred dollars, thanks to an inheritance from his grandmother. Hydra promised the life Cohen had craved: spare rooms, the empty page, eros after dark. He collected a few paraﬃn lamps and some used furniture: a Russian wrought-iron bed, a writing table, chairs like “the chairs that van Gogh painted.” During the day, he worked on a sexy, phantasmagoric novel called “The Favorite Game” and the poems in a collection titled “Flowers for Hitler.” He alternated between extreme discipline and the varieties of abandon. There were days of fasting to concentrate the mind. There were drugs to expand it: pot, speed, acid. “I took trip after trip, sitting on my terrace in Greece, waiting to see God,” he said years later. “Generally, I ended up with a bad hangover.” Here and there, Cohen caught glimpses of a beautiful Norwegian woman. Her name was Marianne Ihlen, and she had grown up in the countryside near Oslo. Her grandmother used to tell her, “You are going to meet a man who speaks with a tongue of gold.” She thought she already had: Axel Jensen, a novelist from home, who wrote in the tradition of Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. She had married Jensen, and they had a son, little Axel. Jensen was not a constant husband, however, and, by the time their child was four months old, Jensen was, as Marianne put it, “over the hills again” with another woman. One spring day, Ihlen was with her infant son in a grocery store and café. “I was standing in the shop with my basket waiting to pick up bottled water
and milk,” she recalled decades later, on a Norwegian radio program. “He is standing in the doorway with the sun behind him.” Cohen asked her to join him and his friends outside. He was wearing khaki pants, sneakers, a shirt with rolled sleeves, and a cap. The way Marianne remembered it, he seemed to radiate “enormous compassion for me and my child.” She was taken with him. “I felt it throughout my body,” she said. “A lightness had come over me.” Cohen had known some success with women. He would know a great deal more. For a troubadour of sadness—“the godfather of gloom,” he was later called—Cohen found frequent respite in the arms of others. As a young man, he had a kind of Michael Corleone Before the Fall look, sloe-eyed, dark, a little hunched, but high courtesy and verbal ﬂuency were his charm. When he was thirteen, he read a book on hypnotism. He tried out his new discipline on the family housekeeper, and she took oﬀ her clothes. Not everyone over the years was quite as bewitched. Nico spurned him, and Joni Mitchell, who had once been his lover, remained a friend but dismissed him as a “boudoir poet.” But these were the exceptions. Leonard began spending more and more time with Marianne. They went to the beach, made love, kept house. Once, when they were apart—Marianne and Axel in Norway, Cohen in Montreal scraping up some money— he sent her a telegram: “Have house all I need is my woman and her son. Love, Leonard.” There were times of separation, times of argument and jealousy. When Marianne drank, she could go into a dark rage. And there were inﬁdelities on both sides. (“Good gracious. All the girls were panting for him,” Marianne recalled. “I would dare go as far as to
Leonard Cohen at home, Los Angeles, September, 2016. PHOTOGRAPH BY GRAEME MITCHELL
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
and laugh in full consciousness. When we read it aloud, she smiled as only Marianne can. She lifted her hand, when you said you were right behind, close enough to reach her. It gave her deep peace of mind that you knew her condition. And your blessing for the journey gave her extra strength. . . . In her last hour I held her hand and hummed “Bird on the Wire,” while she was breathing so lightly. And when we left the room, after her soul had ﬂown out of the window for new adventures, we kissed her head and whispered your everlasting words. So long, Marianne . . .
L ond ﬂoor of a modest house in Mideonard Cohen lives on the sec-
“Less bromance, more broductivity.”
• say that I was on the verge of killing myself due to it.”) In the mid-sixties, as Cohen started to record his songs and win worldly success, Marianne became known to his fans as that antique ﬁgure—the muse. A memorable photograph of her, dressed only in a towel, and sitting at the desk in the house on Hydra, appeared on the back of Cohen’s second album, “Songs from a Room.” But, after they’d been together for eight years, the relationship came apart, little by little—“like falling ashes,” as Cohen put it. Cohen was spending more time away from Hydra pursuing his career. Marianne and Axel stayed on awhile on Hydra, then left for Norway. Eventually, Marianne married again. But life had its burdens, particularly for Axel, who has had persistent health problems. What Cohen’s fans knew of Marianne was her beauty and what it had inspired: “Bird on the Wire,” “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,” and, most of all, “So Long, Marianne.” She and Cohen stayed in touch. When he toured in Scandinavia, she visited him backstage. They exchanged letters and e-mails. When they spoke to journalists and to friends of their 48
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
• love aﬀair, it was always in the fondest terms. In late July this year, Cohen received an e-mail from Jan Christian Molle stad, a close friend of Marianne’s, saying that she was suﬀering from cancer. In their last communication, Marianne had told Cohen that she had sold her beach house to help insure that Axel would be taken care of, but she never mentioned that she was sick. Now, it appeared, she had only a few days left. Cohen wrote back immediately: Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.
Two days later, Cohen got an e-mail from Norway: Dear Leonard Marianne slept slowly out of this life yesterday evening. Totally at ease, surrounded by close friends. Your letter came when she still could talk
Wilshire, a diverse, unglamorous precinct of Los Angeles. He is eighty-two. Between 2008 and 2013, he was on tour more or less continuously. It is highly unlikely that his health will permit such rigors ever again. Cohen has an album coming out in October—obsessed with mortality, Godinfused, yet funny, called “You Want It Darker”—but friends and musical associates say they’d be surprised to see him onstage again except in a limited way: a single performance, perhaps, or a short residency at one venue. When I e-mailed ahead to ask Cohen out for dinner, he said that he was more or less “conﬁned to barracks.” Not long ago, one of Cohen’s most frequent visitors, and an old friend of mine—Robert Faggen, a professor of literature—brought me by the house. Faggen met Cohen twenty years ago in a grocery store, at the foot of Mt. Baldy, the highest of the San Gabriel Mountains, an hour and a half east of Los Angeles. They were both living near the top of the mountain: Bob in a cabin where he wrote about Frost and Melville and drove down the road to teach his classes at Claremont McKenna College; Cohen in a small Zen Buddhist monastery, where he was an ordained monk. As Faggen was shopping for cold cuts, he heard a familiar basso voice across the store; he looked down the aisle and saw a small, trim man, his head shaved, talking intently with a clerk about varieties of potato salad. Faggen’s musical expertise runs more to Mahler’s lieder than to popular song. But he is an admirer of Cohen’s work and introduced himself. They have been close friends ever since.
Cohen greeted us. He sat in a large blue medical chair, the better to ease the pain from compression fractures in his back. He is now very thin, but he is still handsome, with a full head of gray-white hair and razory dark eyes. He wore a well-tailored midnight-blue suit—even in the sixties he wore suits—and a stickpin through his collar. He extended a hand like a courtly retired capo. “Hello, friends,” he said. “Please, please, sit right there.” The depth of his voice makes Tom Waits sound like Eddie Kendricks. And then, like my mother, he oﬀered what could only have been the complete catalogue of his larder: water, juice, wine, a piece of chicken, a slice of cake, “maybe something else.” In the hours we spent together, he oﬀered many refreshments, and, always, kindly. “Would you like some slices of cheese and olives?” is not an oﬀer you are likely to get from Axl Rose. “Some vodka? A glass of milk? Schnapps?” And, as with my mother, it is best, sometimes, to say yes. One day, we had cheeseburgers-with-everything ordered from a Fatburger down the street and, on another, thick slices of geﬁlte ﬁsh with horseradish. Marianne’s death was only a few weeks in the past, and Cohen was still amazed at the way his letter—an e-mail to a dying friend—had gone viral, at least in the Cohen-ardent universe. He hadn’t set out to be public about his feelings, but when one of Marianne’s closest friends, in Oslo, asked to release the note, he didn’t object. “And since there’s a song attached to it, and there’s a story . . .” he said. “It’s just a sweet story. So in that sense I’m not displeased.” Like anyone of his age, Cohen counts the losses as a matter of routine. He seemed not so much devastated by Marianne’s death as overtaken by the memory of their time together. “There would be a gardenia on my desk perfuming the whole room,” he said. “There would be a little sandwich at noon. Sweetness, sweetness everywhere.” Cohen’s songs are death-haunted, but then they have been since his earliest verses. A half century ago, a record executive said, “Turn around,
kid. Aren’t you a little old for this?” But, despite his diminished health, Cohen remains as clear-minded and hardworking as ever, soldierly in his habits. He gets up well before dawn and writes. In the small, spare living room where we sat, there were a couple of acoustic guitars leaning against the wall, a keyboard synthesizer, two laptops, a sophisticated microphone for voice recording. Working with an old collaborator, Pat Leonard, and his son, Adam, who has the producer’s credit, Cohen did much of his work for “You Want It Darker” in the living room, e-mailing recorded ﬁles to his partners for additional reﬁnements. Age and the end of age provide a useful, if not entirely desired, air of quiet. “In a certain sense, this particular predicament is ﬁlled with many fewer distractions than other times in my life and actually enables me to work with a little more concentration and continuity than when I had duties of making a living, being a husband, being a father,” he said. “Those distractions are radically diminished at this point. The only thing that mitigates against full production is just the condition of my body. “For some odd reason,” he went on, “I have all my marbles, so far. I have many resources, some cultivated on a personal level, but circumstantial, too: my daughter and her children live downstairs, and my son lives two blocks
down the street. So I am extremely blessed. I have an assistant who is devoted and skillful. I have a friend like Bob and another friend or two who make my life very rich. So in a certain sense I’ve never had it better. . . . At a certain point, if you still have your marbles and are not faced with serious ﬁnancial challenges, you have a chance to put your house in order. It’s a cliché, but it’s underestimated as an analgesic on all levels. Putting your
house in order, if you can do it, is one of the most comforting activities, and the beneﬁts of it are incalculable.”
C His Montreal, however, was noth-
ohen came of age after the war.
ing like Philip Roth’s Newark or Alfred Kazin’s Brownsville. He was brought up in Westmount, a predominantly Anglophone neighborhood, where the city’s well-to-do Jews lived. The men in his family, particularly on his father’s side, were the “dons” of Jewish Montreal. His grandfather, Cohen told me, “was probably the most signiﬁcant Jew in Canada,” the founder of a range of Jewish institutions; in the wake of anti-Semitic pogroms in the Russian imperium, he saw to it that countless refugees made it to Canada. Nathan Cohen, Leonard’s father, ran Freedman Company, the family clothing business. His mother, Masha, came from a family of more recent immigrants. She was loving, depressive, “Chekhovian” in her emotional range, according to Leonard: “She laughed and wept deeply.” Masha’s father, Solomon Klonitzki-Kline, was a distinguished Talmudic scholar from Lithuania who completed a “Lexicon of Hebrew Homonyms.” Leonard went to ﬁne schools, including McGill and, for a while, Columbia. He never resented the family’s comforts. “I have a deep tribal sense,” he said. “I grew up in a synagogue that my ancestors built. I sat in the third row. My family was decent. They were good people, they were handshake people. So I never had a sense of rebellion.” When Leonard was nine, his father died; this moment, a primal wound, was when he ﬁrst used language as a kind of sacrament. “I have some memories of him,” Cohen said, and recounted the story of his father’s funeral, which was held at their house. “We came down the stairs, and the coﬃn was in the living room.” Contrary to Jewish custom, the funeral workers had left the coﬃn open. It was winter, and Cohen thought of the gravediggers: it would be diﬃcult to break the frozen ground. He watched his father lowered into the earth. “Then I came back to the house and I went to his closet and I found a premade bow tie. I don’t know why I did this,
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
I can’t even own it now, but I cut one of the wings of the bow tie oﬀ and I wrote something on a piece of pa per—I think it was some kind of fare well to my father—and I buried it in a little hole in the back yard. And I put that curious note in there. . . . It was just some attraction to a ritual re sponse to an impossible event.” Cohen’s uncles made sure that Masha and her two children, Leon ard and his sister, Esther, did not suﬀer any ﬁnancial decline after her husband’s death. Leonard studied; he worked in an uncle’s foundry, W. R. Cuthbert & Company, pouring metal for sinks and piping, and at the clothing factory, where he picked up a useful skill for his career as a touring musician: he learned to fold suits so they didn’t wrin kle. But, as he wrote in a journal, he always imagined himself as a writer, “raincoated, battered hat pulled low above intense eyes, a history of injus tice in his heart, a face too noble for re venge, walking the night along some wet boulevard, followed by the sym pathy of countless audiences . . . loved by two or three beautiful women who could never have him.” And yet a rockandroll life was far from his mind. He set out to be an au thor. As Sylvie Simmons makes plain in her excellent biography “I’m Your Man,” Cohen’s apprenticeship was in letters. As a teenager, his idols were Yeats and Lorca (he named his daugh ter after Lorca). At McGill, he read Tolstoy, Proust, Eliot, Joyce, and Pound, and he fell in with a circle of poets, particularly Irving Layton. Cohen, who published his ﬁrst poem, “Satan in Westmount,” when he was nineteen, once said of Layton, “I taught him how to dress, he taught me how to live for ever.” Cohen has never stopped writ ing verse; the poem “Steer Your Way” was published in this magazine in June. Cohen was also taken with music. As a kid, he had learned the songs in the old lefty folk compendium “The People’s Song Book,” listened to Hank Williams and other country singers on the radio, and, at sixteen, dressed in his father’s old suède jacket, he played in a countrymusic combo called the Buckskin Boys. He took some informal guitar les sons in his twenties from a Spaniard 50
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he met next to a local tennis court. After a few weeks, he picked up a ﬂa menco chord progression. When the man failed to appear for their fourth lesson, Cohen called his landlady and learned that the man had killed him self. In a speech many years later, in Asturias, Cohen said, “I knew noth ing about the man, why he came to Montreal . . . why he appeared at that tennis court, why he took his life. . . . It was those six chords, it was that gui tar pattern, that has been the basis of all my songs, and all my music.” Cohen loved the masters of the blues—Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bessie Smith—and the French storytellersingers like Édith Piaf and Jacques Brel. He put coins in the jukebox to listen to “The Great Pretender,” “Tennessee Waltz,” and anything by Ray Charles. And yet when the Beatles came along he was indiﬀerent. “I’m interested in things that contribute to my survival,” he said. “I had girlfriends who really irritated me by their devotion to the Beatles. I didn’t begrudge them their interest, and there were songs like ‘Hey Jude’ that I could appreciate. But they didn’t seem to be essential to the kind of nour ishment that I craved.”
T tuned in to Bob Dylan, in 1961, he same set of ears that ﬁrst
discovered Leonard Cohen, in 1966. This was John Hammond, a patrician related to the Vanderbilts, and by far the most perceptive scout and pro ducer in the business. He was instru mental in the ﬁrst recordings of Count Basie, Big Joe Turner, Benny Good man, Aretha Franklin, and Billie Hol iday. Tipped oﬀ by friends who were following the folk scene downtown, Hammond called Cohen and asked if he would play for him. Cohen was thirtytwo, a published poet and novelist, but, though a year older than Elvis Presley, a musical nov ice. He had turned to songwriting largely because he wasn’t making a liv ing as a writer. He was staying on the fourth ﬂoor of the Chelsea Hotel, on West Twentythird Street, and ﬁlled notebooks during the day. At night, he sang his songs in clubs and met people on the scene: Patti Smith, Lou Reed (who admired Cohen’s novel
“Beautiful Losers”), Jimi Hendrix (who jammed with him on, of all things, “Suzanne”), and, if just for a night, Janis Joplin (“giving me head on the unmade bed / while the limousines wait in the street”). After taking Cohen to lunch one day, Hammond suggested that they go to Cohen’s room, and, sitting on his bed, Cohen played “Suzanne,” “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,” “The Stranger Song,” and a few others. When Cohen ﬁnished, Hammond grinned and said, “You’ve got it.” A few months after his audition, Cohen put on a suit and went to the Columbia recording studios in mid town to begin work on his ﬁrst album. Hammond was encouraging after every take. And after one he said, “Watch out, Dylan!” Cohen’s links to Dylan were obvi ous—Jewish, literary, a penchant for Biblical imagery, Hammond’s tute lage—but the work was divergent. Dylan, even on his earliest records, was moving toward more surrealist, free associative language and the furious abandon of rock and roll. Cohen’s lyr ics were no less imaginative or charged, no less ironic or selfinvestigating, but he was clearer, more economical and formal, more liturgical. Over the decades, Dylan and Cohen saw each other from time to time. In the early eighties, Cohen went to see Dylan perform in Paris, and the next morning in a café they talked about their latest work. Dylan was especially interested in “Hallelujah.” Even be fore three hundred other performers made “Hallelujah” famous with their cover versions, long before the song was included on the soundtrack for “Shrek” and as a staple on “American Idol,” Dylan recognized the beauty of its marriage of the sacred and the pro fane. He asked Cohen how long it took him to write. “Two years,” Cohen lied. Actually, “Hallelujah” had taken him ﬁve years. He drafted dozens of verses and then it was years more be fore he settled on a ﬁnal version. In several writing sessions, he found him self in his underwear, banging his head against a hotelroom ﬂoor. Cohen told Dylan, “I really like ‘I and I,’ ” a song that appeared on Dylan’s
album “Inﬁdels.” “How long did it take you to write that?” “About ﬁfteen minutes,” Dylan said. When I asked Cohen about that exchange, he said, “That’s just the way the cards are dealt.” As for Dylan’s comment that Cohen’s songs at the time were “like prayers,” Cohen seemed dismissive of any attempt to plumb the mysteries of creation. “I have no idea what I am doing,” he said. “It’s hard to describe. As I approach the end of my life, I have even less and less interest in examining what have got to be very superﬁcial evaluations or opinions about the signiﬁcance of one’s life or one’s work. I was never given to it when I was healthy, and I am less given to it now.” Although Cohen was steeped more in the country tradition, he was swept up when he heard Dylan’s “Bringing It All Back Home” and “Highway 61 Revisited.” One afternoon, years later, when the two had become friendly, Dylan called him in Los Angeles and said he wanted to show him a piece of property he’d bought. Dylan did the driving. “One of his songs came on the radio,” Cohen recalled. “I think it was ‘Just Like a Woman’ or something like that. It came to the bridge of the song, and he said, ‘A lot of eighteen-wheelers crossed that bridge.’ Meaning it was a powerful bridge.” Dylan went on driving. After a while, he told Cohen that a famous songwriter of the day had told him, “O.K., Bob, you’re Number 1, but I’m Number 2.” Cohen smiled. “Then Dylan says to me, ‘As far as I’m concerned, Leonard, you’re Number 1. I’m Number Zero.’ Meaning, as I understood it at the time—and I was not ready to dispute it—that his work was beyond measure and my work was pretty good.” Dylan, who is seventy-ﬁve, doesn’t often play the role of music critic, but he proved eager to discuss Leonard Cohen. I put a series of questions to him about Number 1, and he answered in a detailed, critical way—nothing cryptic or elusive. “When people talk about Leonard, they fail to mention his melodies, which to me, along with his lyrics, are his greatest genius,” Dylan said. “Even
• the counterpoint lines—they give a celestial character and melodic lift to every one of his songs. As far as I know, no one else comes close to this in modern music. Even the simplest song, like ‘The Law,’ which is structured on two fundamental chords, has counterpoint lines that are essential, and anybody who even thinks about doing this song and loves the lyrics would have to build around the counterpoint lines. “His gift or genius is in his connection to the music of the spheres,” Dylan went on. “In the song ‘Sisters of Mercy,’ for instance, the verses are four elemental lines which change and move at predictable intervals . . . but the tune is anything but predictable. The song just comes in and states a fact. And after that anything can happen and it does, and Leonard allows it to happen.
• His tone is far from condescending or mocking. He is a tough-minded lover who doesn’t recognize the brush-oﬀ. Leonard’s always above it all. ‘Sisters of Mercy’ is verse after verse of four distinctive lines, in perfect meter, with no chorus, quivering with drama. The ﬁrst line begins in a minor key. The second line goes from minor to major and steps up, and changes melody and variation. The third line steps up even higher than that to a diﬀerent degree, and then the fourth line comes back to the beginning. This is a deceptively unusual musical theme, with or without lyrics. But it’s so subtle a listener doesn’t realize he’s been taken on a musical journey and dropped oﬀ somewhere, with or without lyrics.” In the late eighties, Dylan performed “Hallelujah” on the road as a roughshod blues with a sly, ascending THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
“ You’ve been traded to Carthage for two third-round picks and a hippopotamus.”
• chorus. His version sounds less like the prettiﬁed Jeﬀ Buckley version than like a work by John Lee Hooker.“That song ‘Hallelujah’ has resonance for me,” Dylan said. “There again, it’s a beautifully constructed melody that steps up, evolves, and slips back, all in quick time. But this song has a connective chorus, which when it comes in has a power all of its own. The ‘secret chord’ and the point-blank I-know-you-better-than-you-knowyourself aspect of the song has plenty of resonance for me.” I asked Dylan whether he preferred Cohen’s later work, so colored with intimations of the end. “I like all of Leonard’s songs, early or late,” he said. “ ‘Going Home,’ ‘Show Me the Place,’ ‘The Darkness.’ These are all great songs, deep and truthful as ever and multidimensional, surprisingly melodic, and they make you think and feel. I like some of his later songs even better than his early ones. Yet there’s a simplicity to his early ones that I like, too.” Dylan defended Cohen against the familiar critical reproach that his is music to slit your wrists by. He compared him to the Russian Jewish immigrant who wrote “Easter Parade.” “I 52
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• see no disenchantment in Leonard’s lyrics at all,” Dylan said. “There’s always a direct sentiment, as if he’s holding a conversation and telling you something, him doing all the talking, but the listener keeps listening. He’s very much a descendant of Irving Berlin, maybe the only songwriter in modern history that Leonard can be directly related to. Berlin’s songs did the same thing. Berlin was also connected to some kind of celestial sphere. And, like Leonard, he probably had no classical-music training, either. Both of them just hear melodies that most of us can only strive for. Berlin’s lyrics also fell into place and consisted of half lines, full lines at surprising intervals, using simple elongated words. Both Leonard and Berlin are incredibly crafty. Leonard particularly uses chord progressions that seem classical in shape. He is a much more savvy musician than you’d think.”
C ing unnerving. His ﬁrst major at-
ohen has always found perform-
tempt came in 1967, when Judy Collins asked him to play at Town Hall, in New York, at an anti-Vietnam War beneﬁt. The idea was that he would make his stage début by singing “Su-
zanne,” an early song of his that Collins had turned into a hit after he sang it to her on the telephone. “I can’t do it, Judy,” he told her. “I would die from embarrassment.” As Collins writes in her memoir, she ﬁnally cajoled him into it, but that night, from the wings, she could see that Cohen, “his legs shaking inside his trousers,” was in trouble. He got halfway through the ﬁrst verse and then stopped and mumbled an apology. “I can’t go on,” he said and walked oﬀ into the wings. Out of sight, Cohen rested his head on Collins’s shoulder as she tried to get him to respond to the encouraging shouts from the crowd. “I can’t do it,” he said. “I can’t go back.” “But you will,” she said, and, ﬁnally, he acceded. He went out, with the crowd cheering, and ﬁnished singing “Suzanne.” Since then, Cohen has played thousands of concerts all over the world, but it did not become second nature until he was in his seventies. He was never one of those musicians who talk about feeling most alive and at home onstage. Although he has had many successful performance strategies— wry self-abnegation, drugs, drink— the act of giving concerts often made him feel like “some parrot chained to his stand.” He is also a perfectionist; a classic like “Famous Blue Raincoat” still feels “unﬁnished” to him. “It stems from the fact that you are not as good as you want to be—that’s really what nervousness is,” Cohen told me. “That ﬁrst time I went out with Judy Collins, it wasn’t to be the last time I felt this.” In 1972, Cohen, now accompanied by a full complement of musicians and singers, arrived in Jerusalem at the end of a long tour. Just to be in that city was, for Cohen, a charged situation. (The following year, during the war with Egypt, Cohen showed up in Israel, hoping to replace someone who had been drafted. “I am committed to the survival of the Jewish people,” he told an interviewer at the time. He ended up performing, often many times a day, for the troops on the front.) Out onstage, Cohen started singing “Bird on the Wire.” He stopped after the audience greeted
the opening chords and phrase with applause. “I really enjoy your recognizing these songs,” he said. “But I’m scared enough as it is out here, and I think something is wrong every time you begin to applaud. So if you do recognize this song, would you just wave your hands?” He fumbled again, and what at ﬁrst had seemed like performative charm now appeared to signal genuine anxiety. “I hope you bear with me,” he said. “These songs become meditations for me and sometimes, you know, I just don’t get high on it and I feel that I’m cheating you. I’ll try it again. If it doesn’t work, I’ll stop in the middle. There’s no reason why we should mutilate a song just to save face.” Cohen began singing “One of Us Cannot Be Wrong.” “I lit a thin green candle . . .” He stopped again, laughing, unnerved. More fumbling, more deﬂective jokes. “I have my rights up here, too, you know,” he said, still smiling. “I can sit around and talk if I want to.” By then, it was apparent that there was a problem. “Look, if it doesn’t get any better, we’ll just end the concert and I’ll refund your money,” Cohen said. “I really feel that we’re cheating you tonight. Some nights, one is raised oﬀ the ground, and some nights you just can’t get oﬀ the ground. And there’s no point in lying about it. And tonight we just haven’t been getting oﬀ the ground, and it says in the Kabbalah . . .” The Jerusalem audience laughed at the mention of the Jewish mystical text. “It says in the Kabbalah that if you can’t get oﬀ the ground you should stay on the ground! No, it says in the Kabbalah that, unless Adam and Eve face each other, God does not sit on his throne, and somehow the male and female parts of me refuse to encounter one another tonight—and God does not sit on his throne. And this is a terrible thing to have happen in Jerusalem. So, listen, we’re going to leave the stage now and try to profoundly meditate in the dressing room to get ourselves back into shape.” I recalled this incident to Cohen— it’s captured on a documentary ﬁlm that ﬂoats around the Internet—and he remembered it well.
“It was at the end of the tour,” he told me. “I thought I was doing very poorly. I went back to the dressing room, and I found some acid in my guitar case.” He took the acid. Meanwhile, out in the hall, the audience started singing to Cohen as if to inspire him and call him back. The song was a traditional one, “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem,” “We Have Brought Peace Upon You.” “How sweet can an audience possibly be?” Cohen recalled. “So I go out on the stage with the band . . . and I started singing ‘So Long, Marianne.’ And I see Marianne straight in front of me and I started crying. I turned around and the band was crying, too. And then it turned into something in retrospect quite comic: the entire audience turned into one Jew! And this Jew was saying, ‘What else can you show me, kid? I’ve seen a lot of things, and this don’t move the dial!’ And this was the entire skeptical side of our tradition, not just writ large but manifested as an actual gigantic being! Judging me hardly begins to describe the operation. It was a sense of invalidation and irrelevance that I felt was authentic, because those feelings have always circulated around my psyche: Where do you get to stand up and speak? For what and whom? And how deep is your experience? How signiﬁcant is anything you have to say? . . . I think
it really invited me to deepen my practice. Dig in deeper, whatever it was, take it more seriously.” Back inside the dressing room, Cohen wept ﬁercely. “I can’t make it, man,” he said. “I don’t like it. Period. So I’m splitting.” He went out one last time to speak to the audience. “Listen, people, my band and I are all crying backstage. We’re too broken up to go on. But I just want to tell you, thank you and good night.” The next year, he told the press, half-seriously, that the “rock life” was overwhelming him. “I don’t ﬁnd myself leading a life that has many good moments in it,” he told a reporter for Melody Maker. “So I’ve decided to screw it. And go.”
F revered than bought. Although his or many years, Cohen was more
albums generally sold well enough, they did not move on the scale of big rock acts. In the early eighties, when he presented his record company with “Various Positions”—a magniﬁcent album that included “Hallelujah,” “Dance Me to the End of Love,” and “If It Be Your Will”—Walter Yetnikoﬀ, the head of CBS Records, argued with him about the mix. “Look, Leonard,” he said, “we know you’re great, but we don’t know if you’re any good.” Eventually, Cohen learned that CBS had decided not to release the
“I wish I’d never bought Harold that 3-D printer.”
album in the U.S. Years later, accepting an award, he thanked his record company by saying, “I have always been touched by the modesty of their interest in my work.” Suzanne Vega, a singer-songwriter who is in her late ﬁfties, sometimes tells a funny story onstage about Cohen’s secret-handshake appeal. When she was eighteen, she was teaching dance and folksinging at a summer camp in the Adirondacks. One night, she met a handsome young man, a counsellor from another camp up the road. He was from Liverpool. And his opening line was “Do you like Leonard Cohen?” This was nearly four decades ago, and, in Vega’s memory, admirers of Leonard Cohen in those days were a kind of “secret society.” What’s more, there was a particular way to answer the young man’s semi-innocent question: “Yes, I love Leonard Cohen— but only in certain moods.” Otherwise, your new friend might think you were a depressive. But because the young man was English, and not given to the “fake cheer” of Americans, he replied, “I love Leonard Cohen all the time.” The result, she says, was an aﬀair that lasted for the rest of the summer. In the years to come, Cohen’s songs were fundamental to Vega’s own sense of lyrical precision and possibility. “It was the way he wrote about complicated things,” Vega told me recently. “It was very intimate and personal. Dylan took you to the far ends of the expanding universe, eight minutes of ‘one hand waving free,’ and I loved that, but it didn’t sound like anything I did or was likely to do—it wasn’t very earthly. Leonard’s songs were a combination of very real details and a sense of mystery, like prayers or spells.” And there was the other thing, too. Once, after Cohen and Vega became friendly, he called and asked her to visit him at his hotel. They met out by the pool. He asked if she wanted to hear his latest song. “And as I listened to him recite this song—it was a long one—I watched as one woman after another, all in bikinis, arranged themselves on beach chairs behind Leonard,” Vega recalled. “After he ﬁnished reciting, I said to 54
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Leonard, ‘Have you noticed these women in bikinis arranging themselves here?’ And completely deadpan, without glancing around, Leonard said, ‘It works every time.’ ” A world of such allurements had costs as well as rewards. In the seventies, Cohen had two children, Lorca and Adam, with his common-law wife, Suzanne Elrod. That relationship ﬁzzled when the decade did. Touring had its charms, but it, too, wore down his spirits. After a tour in 1993, Cohen felt utterly depleted. “I was drinking at least three bottles of Château Latour before performances,” he said, allowing that he always poured a glass for others. “The wine bill was enormous. Even then, I think, Château Latour was over three hundred bucks a bottle. But it went so beautifully with the music! I don’t know why. When I tried to drink it when there wasn’t a performance coming, it meant nothing! I might as well have been drinking Wild Duck or whatever they call it. I mean, it had no signiﬁcance.” At the same time, a long relationship with the actress Rebecca De Mornay was beginning to come undone. “She got wise to me,” Cohen has said. “Finally she saw I was a guy who just couldn’t come across. In the sense of being a husband and having more children and the rest.” De Mornay, who remains friends with Cohen, told the biographer Sylvie Simmons that he was “having all these relationships with women and not really committing . . . and having this long relationship to his career and yet feeling like it’s the last thing he wants to be doing.”
S uncles in his grandfather’s synaince his days davening next to his
gogue, Cohen has been a spiritual seeker. “Anything, Roman Catholicism, Buddhism, LSD, I’m for anything that works,” he once said. In the late sixties, when he was living in New York, he studied brieﬂy at a Scientology center and emerged with a certiﬁcate that declared him “Grade IV Release.” In recent years, he spent many Shabbat mornings and Monday evenings at Ohr HaTorah, a synagogue on Venice Boulevard, talking about Kabbalistic texts with the rabbi there, Mordecai Finley. Sometimes, on Rosh
Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Finley, who says that he considers Cohen “a great liturgical writer,” read from the pulpit passages from “Book of Mercy,” a 1984 collection of Cohen’s that is steeped in the Psalms. “I participated in all these investigations that engaged the imagination of my generation at that time,” Cohen has said. “I even danced and sang with the Hare Krishnas—no robe, I didn’t join them, but I was trying everything.” To this day, Cohen reads deeply in a multivolume edition of the Zohar, the principal text of Jewish mysticism; the Hebrew Bible; and Buddhist texts. In our conversations, he mentioned the Gnostic Gospels, Lurianic Kabbalah, books of Hindu philosophy, Carl Jung’s “Answer to Job,” and Gershom Scholem’s biography of Sabbatai Sevi, a self-proclaimed Messiah of the seventeenth century. Cohen is also very much at home in the spiritual reaches of the Internet, and he listens to the lectures of Yakov Leib HaKohain, a Kabbalist who has converted, serially, to Islam, Catholicism, and Hinduism, and lives in the San Bernardino mountains with two pit bulls and four cats. For forty years, Cohen was associated with a Japanese Zen master named Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi. (“Roshi” is an honoriﬁc for a venerated teacher, and Cohen always refers to him that way.) Roshi, who died two years ago at the age of a hundred and seven, arrived in Los Angeles in 1962 but never quite learned the language of his adoptive home. Through his translators, though, he adapted traditional Japanese koans for his American students: “How do you realize Buddha nature while driving a car?” Roshi was short, stout, a drinker of sake and expensive Scotch. “I came to have a good time,” he once said of his sojourn in the States. “I want Americans to learn how to truly laugh.” Until the early nineties, Cohen used to study with Roshi at the Zen Center, on Mt. Baldy, for periods of learning and meditation that stretched over two or three months a year. He considered Roshi a close friend, a spiritual master, and a deep inﬂuence on his work. And so, not long after getting home from the Château Latour tour, in 1993, Cohen went up to
SKETCHBOOK BY BARRY BLITT
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
Mt. Baldy. This time, he stayed for nearly six years. “Nobody goes into a Zen monastery as a tourist,” Cohen told me. “There are people who do, but they leave in ten minutes because the life is very rigorous. You are getting up at twothirty in the morning; the camp wakes up at three, but you have to light ﬁres in the zendo. The cabins are only heated a few hours a day. There’s snow coming in under the badly carpentered doors. You’re shovelling snow half the day. And the other half of the day you’re sitting in the zendo. So in a certain sense you toughen up. Whether it has a spiritual aspect is debatable. It helps you endure, and it makes whining the least appropriate response to suﬀering. Just on that level it’s very valuable.” Cohen lived in a tiny cabin that he outﬁtted with a coﬀeemaker, a menorah, a keyboard, and a laptop. Like the other adepts, he cleaned toilets. He had the honor of cooking for Roshi and eventually lived in a cabin that
was linked to his teacher’s by a covered walkway. For many hours a day, he sat in half lotus, meditating. If he, or anyone else, nodded oﬀ during meditation or lost the proper position, one of the monks would come by and rap him smartly on the shoulder with a wooden stick. “People have the idea that a monastery is a place of serenity and contemplation,” Cohen said. “It isn’t that at all. It’s a hospital, and a lot of the people who end up there can barely walk or speak. So a lot of the activity there is to get people to learn how to walk and speak and breathe and prepare their own meals or shovel their own paths in the winter.” Allen Ginsberg once asked Cohen how he could reconcile his Judaism with Zen. Cohen said that he wasn’t looking for a new religion, that he was well satisﬁed with the religion he had. Zen made no mention of God; it demanded no scriptural devotion. For him, Zen was a discipline rather than a religion, a practice of investigation.
“I put on those robes because that was Roshi’s school and that was the uniform,” he said. Had Roshi been a professor of physics at the University of Heidelberg, Cohen says, he would have learned German and moved to Heidelberg. Roshi, toward the end of his life, was accused of sexual misconduct. He was never charged with any crime, but some former students, writing in Internet chat rooms and in letters to Roshi himself, said that he had sexually groped or coerced many Buddhist students and nuns. An independent Buddhist panel determined that the behavior had been going on since the seventies, and that those “who chose to speak out were silenced, exiled, ridiculed, or otherwise punished,” according to the Times. One morning, Bob Faggen drove me up the mountain to the Zen Center. A former Boy Scout camp, the center comprises a series of rough-hewn cabins surrounded by pines and cedars. It was striking how few people were around. One monk told me that Roshi had left no successor and that the center had not yet recovered from the scandal. Cohen, for his part, took pains to explain Roshi’s transgressions without excusing them. “Roshi,” he said, “was a very naughty guy.” In 1996, Cohen became a monk, but that did not safeguard him from depression, a lifelong nemesis; two years later, it overwhelmed him. “I’ve dealt with depression ever since my adolescence,” he said. “Moving into some periods, which were debilitating, when I found it hard to get oﬀ the couch, to periods when I was fully operative but the background noise of anguish still prevailed.” Cohen tried antidepressants. He tried throwing them out. Nothing worked. Finally, he told Roshi he was “going down the mountain.” In a collection of poems called “Book of Longing,” he wrote: I left my robes hanging on a peg in the old cabin where I had sat so long and slept so little. I ﬁnally understood I had no gift for Spiritual Matters.
In fact, Cohen was hardly done with his searching. Just a week after
returning home, he boarded a ﬂight to Mumbai to study with another spiritual guide. He took a room in a modest hotel and went to daily satsangs, spiritual discussions, at the apartment of Ramesh Balsekar, a former president of the Bank of India and a teacher of Advaita Vedanta, a Hindu discipline. Cohen read Balsekar’s book “Consciousness Speaks,” which teaches a single universal consciousness, no “you” or “me,” and denies a sense of individual free will, any sense that any one person is a “doer.” Cohen spent nearly a year in Mumbai, calling on Balsekar in the mornings, and spending the rest of the day swimming, writing, and wandering the city. For reasons that he now says are “impossible to penetrate,” his depression lifted. He was ready to come home. The story, and the way Cohen tells it now, full of uncertainty and modesty, reminded me of the chorus of “Anthem,” a song that took him ten years to write and that he recorded just before he ﬁrst headed up the mountain: Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect oﬀering There is a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in.
Even if he was now freed of depression, the next crisis was not far oﬀ. Aside from a few indulgences, Cohen was not obsessed with luxury. “My project has been completely diﬀerent than my contemporaries’,” he says. His circle in Montreal valued modesty. “The minimum environment that would enable you to do your work with the least distraction and the most aesthetic deliverance came from a modest surrounding. A palace, a yacht would be an enormous distraction from the project. My fantasies went the other way. The way I lived on Mt. Baldy was perfect for me. I liked the communal life, I liked living in a little shack.” And yet he had made a considerable fortune from album sales, concerts, and the publishing rights to his songs. “Hallelujah” was recorded so often and so widely that Cohen jokingly called a moratorium on it. He certainly had enough money to feel secure about his two children and their mother, and a few other dependents.
Before he left on his spiritual adventures, Cohen had ceded nearly absolute control of his ﬁnancial aﬀairs to Kelley Lynch, his business manager for seventeen years and, at one time, brieﬂy, his lover. In 2004, however, he discovered that his accounts had been emptied. Millions of dollars were gone. Cohen ﬁred Lynch and sued her. The court ruled in Cohen’s favor, awarding him more than ﬁve million dollars. In Los Angeles County Superior Court, Cohen testiﬁed that Lynch had been so outraged by the suit that she started calling him twenty, thirty times a day and inundating him with e-mails, some directly threatening, eventually ignoring a restraining order. “It makes me feel very conscious about my surroundings,” Cohen said, according to the Guardian’s account of the trial. “Every time I see a car slow down, I get worried.” Lynch was sentenced to eighteen months in prison and ﬁve years’ probation. After thanking the judge and his attorney in his usual high style, Cohen turned to his antagonist. “It is my prayer,” Cohen told the court, “that Ms. Lynch will take refuge in the wisdom of her religion, that a spirit of understanding will convert her heart from hatred to remorse, from anger to kindness, from the deadly intoxication of revenge to the lowly practices of self-reform.” Cohen has never managed to collect the awarded damages, and, because the situation is still a matter of litigation, he does not like to talk about it. But one result was plain: he would need to return to the stage. Even a Zen monk has to earn some coin.
T about Cohen’s charm. For proof, here is something irresistible
take a look at a YouTube clip called “Why It’s Good to Be Leonard Cohen”: a ﬁlmmaker follows Cohen backstage as a beautiful German-accented actress tries to coax him, in front of a full dressing room, to “go somewhere” with her as he wryly rebuﬀs her. He is no less charming with men. So it was more than a little surpris-
ing when Faggen and I returned to the house one afternoon thinking that we were on time and were informed, in the sternest terms imaginable, that we were not. In fact, Cohen, wearing a dark suit and a fedora, settled into his medical chair and gave us the most forbidding talking-to I have experienced since grade school. I’m one of those tiresome people who are rarely, if ever, late; who show up, old-mannishly, for ﬂights much too early. But there had apparently been a misunderstanding about the time of our visit, and a text to him and his assistant seemed to have gone unseen. Every eﬀort to apologize or explain, mine and Faggen’s, was dismissed as “not the point.” Cohen reminded us of his poor health. This was an abuse of his time. A violation. Even “a form of elder abuse.” More apologies, more rebuﬀs. This wasn’t about anger or apology, he went on. He felt no rage, no, but we had to understand that we were not “doers,” none of us have free will. . . . And so on. I recognized the language of his teacher in Mumbai. But that didn’t make it sting any less. The lecture—steely, ominous, highﬂown—went on quite a long time. I felt humiliated, but also defensive. In the dynamic of people getting something oﬀ their chest, the speaker feels cleansed, the listener accused and miserable. Finally, Cohen eased into other matters. And the subject that he was happiest to talk about was the tour that began as a means of restoring what had been stolen from him. In 2007, he started conceiving a tour with a full band: three backup singers, two guitarists, drummer, keyboard player, bassist, and saxophonist (later replaced by a violinist). He rehearsed the band for three months. “I hadn’t played any of these songs for ﬁfteen years,” he said. “My voice had changed. My range had changed. I didn’t know what to do. There was no way I could transpose the positions that I knew.” Instead, Cohen tuned the strings on his guitar down two whole steps, so, for instance, the low E was now a low C. Cohen had always had THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
a deep, intimate voice, but now, with age, and after countless cigarettes, it is a fantastical growl, conﬁding, lordly. In concert, he always got a knowing laugh with this line from “Tower of Song”: “I was born like this, I had no choice / I was born with the gift of a golden voice.” Neil Larsen, who played keyboards in Cohen’s band, said that the preparation was meticulous. “We rehearsed very close to the way you would record,” he told me. “We did one song over and over and made adjustments. He was locking the lyrics into his memory, too. Usually it takes a while before a tour jells. Not this one. We went out ready.” The tour started in Canada, and then went everywhere during the next ﬁve years—three hundred and eighty shows, from New York to Nice, Moscow to Sydney. Cohen began every performance saying that he and the band would give “everything we’ve got,” and they did. “I think he was competing with Springsteen,” Sharon Robinson, a singer and frequent cowriter, joked about the length of the shows. “They were close to four hours some nights.” Cohen was in his mid-seventies by this time, and his manager did everything possible for the performer to marshal his energies. It was a ﬁrstclass operation: a private plane, where Cohen could write and sleep; good hotels, where he could read and compose on a keyboard; a car to take him to the hotel the minute he stepped oﬀ the stage. Some of the most memorable musical performances Cohen had ever seen were by Alberta Hunter, the blues singer, who had a long residency in the late seventies at the Cookery, in the Village. Hunter had retired from music for decades and worked as a nurse, and then made a comeback in the last six years of her life. Leonard Cohen was following suit: an elderly man, full of sap, singing his heart out for hours, several nights a week. “Everybody was rehearsed not only in the notes but also in something unspoken,” Cohen recalled. “You could feel it in the dressing room as you moved closer to the concert, you could feel the sense of commitment, tangi58
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
ble in the room.” This time, there was no warmup with Château Latour. “I didn’t drink at all. Occasionally, I’d have half a Guinness with Neil Larsen, but I had no interest in alcohol.” The show that I saw, at Radio City, was among the most moving performances I’ve ever experienced. Here was Cohen, an old master of his art, serving up the thick cream of his catalogue with a soulful corps of exacting musicians. Time and again, he would enact the song as well as sing it, taking one knee in gratitude to the object of aﬀection, taking both knees to emphasize his devotion, to the audience, to the musicians, to the song. The tour not only restored Cohen’s ﬁnances (and then some); it also brought a sense of satisfaction rarely associated with him. “One time I asked him on the bus, ‘Are you enjoying this?’ And he would never really own up to enjoying it,” Sharon Robinson recalled. “But after we ﬁnished I was at his house one day, and he admitted to me that there was something extremely fulﬁlling about that tour, something that brought his career full circle that he hadn’t expected.” In 2009, Cohen gave his ﬁrst performance in Israel since 1985, at a stadium in Ramat Gan, donating the proceeds to Israeli-Palestinian peace organizations. He had wanted to perform in Ramallah, in the West Bank, too, but Palestinian groups decided that this was politically untenable. And yet he persisted, dedicating the concert to the cause of “reconciliation, tolerance, and peace,” and the song “Anthem” to the bereaved. At the end of the show, Cohen raised his hands, rabbinically, and recited in Hebrew the birkat kohanim, the priestly blessing, over the crowd. “It’s not self-consciously religious,” Cohen told me. “I know that it’s been described that way, and I am happy with that. It’s part of the intentional fallacy. But when I see James Brown it has a religious feel. Anything deep does.” When I asked him if he intended his performances to reﬂect a kind of devotion, he hesitated before he answered. “Does artistic dedication begin to touch on religious devotion?” he
said. “I start with artistic dedication. I know that if the spirit is on you it will touch on to the other human receptors. But I dare not begin from the other side. It’s like pronouncing the holy name—you don’t do it. But if you are lucky, and you are graced, and the audience is in a particular salutary condition, then these deeper responses will be produced.” The ﬁnal night of the tour happened to be in Auckland, in late December, 2013, and the last songs were exit songs: the prayerful “If It Be Your Will,” and then “Closing Time,” “I Tried to Leave You,” and, ﬁnally, a cover of the Drifters song “Save the Last Dance for Me.” The musicians all knew this was not only the last night of a long voyage but, for Cohen, perhaps the last voyage. “Everybody knows that everything has to end some time,” Sharon Robinson told me. “So, as we left, there was the thought: This is it.”
T ing ahead. What is on Cohen’s here is probably no more tour-
mind now is family, friends, and the work at hand. “I’ve had a family to support, so there’s no sense of virtue attached to it,” he said. “I’ve never sold widely enough to be able to relax about money. I had two kids and their mother to support and my own life. So there was never an option of cutting out. Now it’s a habit. And there’s the element of time, which is powerful, with its incentive to ﬁnish up. Now I haven’t gotten near ﬁnishing up. I’ve ﬁnished up a few things. I don’t know how many other things I’ll be able to get to, because at this particular stage I experience deep fatigue. . . . There are times when I just have to lie down. I can’t play anymore, and my back goes fast also. Spiritual things, baruch Hashem”—thank God— “have fallen into place, for which I am deeply grateful.” Cohen has unpublished poems to arrange, unﬁnished lyrics to ﬁnish and record or publish. He’s considering doing a book in which poems, like pages of the Talmud, are surrounded by passages of interpretation. “The big change is the proximity to death,” he said. “I am a tidy kind of guy. I like to tie up the strings if I
can. If I can’t, also, that’s O.K. But my natural thrust is to ﬁnish things that I’ve begun.” Cohen said he had a “sweet little song” that he’d been working through, one of many, and, suddenly, he closed his eyes and began reciting the lyrics: Listen to the hummingbird Whose wings you cannot see Listen to the hummingbird Don’t listen to me. Listen to the butterﬂy Whose days but number three Listen to the butterﬂy Don’t listen to me. Listen to the mind of God Which doesn’t need to be Listen to the mind of God Don’t listen to me.
He opened his eyes, paused awhile. Then he said, “I don’t think I’ll be able to ﬁnish those songs. Maybe, who knows? And maybe I’ll get a second wind, I don’t know. But I don’t dare attach myself to a spiritual strategy. I don’t dare do that. I’ve got some work to do. Take care of business. I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.” Cohen’s hand has been bothering him, so he plays the guitar less than he did—“I’ve lost my ‘chop’ ”—but he was eager to show me his synthesizer. He sets a chord progression going with his left hand, ﬂips some switches to one mode or another, and plays a melody with his right. At one point, he ﬂipped on the “Greek” mode, and suddenly he was singing a Greek ﬁsherman’s song, as if we had suddenly transported ourselves back in time, to Dousko’s Taverna, “in the deep night of ﬁxed and falling stars” on the island of Hydra. In his chair, Cohen waved away any sense of what might follow death. That was beyond understanding and language: “I don’t ask for information that I probably wouldn’t be able to process even if it were granted to me.” Persistence, living to the last, loose ends, work—that was the thing. A song from four years ago, “Going Home,” made clear his sense of limits: “He will speak these words of wisdom / Like a sage, a man of vision / Though he knows he’s really nothing / But the brief elaboration of a tube.” The new record opens with the title
• track, “You Want It Darker,” and in the chorus, the singer declares: Hineni Hineni I’m ready my Lord.
Hineni is Hebrew for “Here I am,” Abraham’s answer to the summons of God to sacriﬁce his son Isaac; the song is clearly an announcement of readiness, a man at the end preparing for his service and devotion. Cohen asked Gideon Zelermyer, the cantor at Shaar Hashomayim, the synagogue of his youth in Montreal, to sing the backing vocals. And yet the man sitting in his medical chair was anything but haunted or defeated. “I know there’s a spiritual aspect to everybody’s life, whether they want to cop to it or not,” Cohen said. “It’s there, you can feel it in people—there’s some recognition that there is a reality that they cannot penetrate but which in-
• ﬂuences their mood and activity. So that’s operating. That activity at certain points of your day or night insists on a certain kind of response. Sometimes it’s just like: ‘You are losing too much weight, Leonard. You’re dying, but you don’t have to coöperate enthusiastically with the process.’ Force yourself to have a sandwich. “What I mean to say is that you hear the Bat Kol.” The divine voice. “You hear this other deep reality singing to you all the time, and much of the time you can’t decipher it. Even when I was healthy, I was sensitive to the process. At this stage of the game, I hear it saying, ‘Leonard, just get on with the things you have to do.’ It’s very compassionate at this stage. More than at any time of my life, I no longer have that voice that says, ‘You’re fucking up.’ That’s a tremendous blessing, really.” THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
A REPORTER AT LARGE
THE THIRTY-YEAR COUP Did an exiled cleric try to overthrow the Turkish government? BY DEXTER FILKINS
t nine o’clock on the night of July 15th, General Hulusi Akar, the chief of the Turkish Army’s general staﬀ, heard a knock on his oﬃce door in Ankara, the nation’s capital. It was one of his subordinates, General Mehmet Dişli, and he was there to report that a military coup had begun. “We will get everybody,” Dişli said. “Battalions and brigades are on their way. You will soon see.” Akar was aghast. “What the hell are you saying?” he asked. In other cities, oﬃcers involved in the coup had ordered their units to detain senior military leaders, block major roads, and seize crucial institutions like Istanbul Atatürk Airport. Two dozen F-16 ﬁghters took to the air. According to statements from some of the oﬃcers involved, the plotters asked Akar to join them. When he refused, they handcuﬀed him and ﬂew him by helicopter to an airbase where other generals were being held; at one point, one of the rebels pointed a gun at Akar and threatened to shoot. After midnight, a news anchor for Turkish Radio and Television was forced to read a statement by the plotters, who called themselves the Peace at Home Committee, a reference to one of the country’s founding ideals. Without mentioning the President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, by name, the statement said that his government had destroyed the country’s institutions, engaged in corruption, supported terrorism, and ignored human rights: “The secular and democratic rule of law has been virtually eliminated.” For a time, the rebels seemed to have the upper hand. Provincial governors and community leaders surrendered or joined in, along with police squads. In a series of text messages discovered after the coup, a Major Murat Çelebioğlu told his group, “The deputies of the Istanbul police chief have been called, informed, and the vast majority have complied.” 60
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A Colonel Uzan Şahin replied, “Tell our police friends: I kiss their eyes.” But the plot seemed haphazard. A helicopter team sent to locate Erdoğan in Marmaris, the resort town where he was vacationing, failed to capture the President, despite a shootout with guards at his hotel. The rebels took control of only one television station, and left cellular-phone networks untouched. Erdoğan was able to record a video message, played on CNN Turk, in which he called on Turkish citizens to “take to the streets.” They did, in huge numbers. Faced with overwhelming popular resistance, the troops had to decide between shooting large groups of demonstrators and giving up. By morning, the uprising had been broken. Erdoğan declared a national emergency and, in the weeks that followed, made a series of appearances to remind the nation of the cost of the coup. Some of the plotters had brutally shot demonstrators and comrades who opposed them. One rebel major, faced with resistance, had texted his soldiers, “Crush them, burn them, no compromise.” More than two hundred and sixty people were killed and thousands wounded. The F-16s had bombed the parliament building, blasting holes in the façade and scattering chunks of concrete in the hallways. In Erdoğan’s telling, the coup was not a legitimate sign of civic unrest. In fact, it did not even originate in Turkey; the rebels “were being told what to do from Pennsylvania.” For Turks, the coded message was clear: Erdoğan meant that the mastermind of the coup was Fethullah Gülen, a seventy-eightyear-old cleric, who had been living in exile for two decades in the Poconos, between Allentown and Scranton. Gülen, a dour, balding proselytizer with a scratchy voice, had ﬂed Turkey in 1999, fearing arrest by the country’s military rulers. From afar, though, he had served as a spiritual guide for mil-
lions and overseen a worldwide network of charter schools, known for oﬀering scholarships to the poor. Gülen’s sermons and writings emphasized reconciling Islam with contemporary science, and promoted charity; his movement is called Hizmet, or “service.” For many in the West, it represented a hopeful trend in Islam. Gülen met with Pope John Paul II and the leaders of major Jewish organizations, and was fêted by President Bill Clinton, who saluted his “ideas of tolerance and interfaith dialogue.” To many outside observers, Erdoğan’s accusation sounded like something out of an airport thriller: a secret cabal burrowing into a modern state and awaiting orders from its elderly leader on a hilltop half a world away. For Erdoğan, though, it was a statement of political reality. Gülen, once a crucial ally, had become the leader of a shadow state, determined to bring down the Administration. In the following weeks, Erdoğan’s forces detained tens of thousands of people who he claimed were loyal to Gülen. In outraged statements to the United States government, he demanded that Gülen be extradited, so that he could be made to face justice in a Turkish court.
E Pennsylvania countryside, he has
ver since Gülen retreated to the
been a recluse, ﬂooding Turkey with audio and video recordings but refusing to appear in public. When I ﬁrst asked to talk with him, in 2014, I wasn’t hopeful. At the movement’s Manhattan oﬃce, the Alliance for Shared Values, the executive director, Alp Aslandoğan, told me repeatedly that an interview might never happen. “His health is very fragile,” he said. Even if Gülen agreed to speak, it was possible that after a few questions he would be too tired to continue. The following July, after a year of refusals, I was abruptly summoned to
Fethullah GÃ¼len, who lives in a compound in the Poconos, has millions of followers in Turkey. PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRISTAAN FELBER
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
can be completely isolated from politics, because policy decisions and actions aﬀect their lives,” he added. “Such a role for civil-society groups is normal and welcome in democratic societies—and it doesn’t make Hizmet a political movement.” We talked a little more, but, as his aides had predicted, Gülen seemed to tire. After about forty-ﬁve minutes, Aslandoğan signalled that the interview had come to an end.
I Gülen’s ideas in Turkey: Mustafa
had found a better embodiment of
• the compound. From New York, I drove west through the farmland of northern Pennsylvania, then south down a winding road to Saylorsburg, a town of about twelve hundred people. A couple of miles away, past the Mt. Eaton Christian Church, I found Gülen’s compound, the Golden Generation Worship and Retreat Center, which occupies some twentyﬁve acres of woodlands and lawns. Getting out of the car, I felt as if I’d arrived in the Anatolian countryside: the two main buildings were in the Ottoman style, with high windows and obliquely slanted roofs; women wore the stylish ﬁtted head scarves popular among Turkey’s middle class; everyone was speaking Turkish. Aslandoğan greeted me and led me to an ornate conference room furnished with couches that all faced a thronelike chair, which was reserved for me. After a few minutes, Gülen entered. He was dressed in a black suit, the kind you might ﬁnd at Target or Marshalls; his head was bowed, and he moved with a hesitant shuﬄe, more resembling a pensioner awakening from his afternoon nap than the patriarch of a global organization. He had a large, pale head, an expansive nose, and eyes freighted by enormous sacks. The only trace of 62
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• vanity was a wisp of gray mustache. Gülen greeted me with an indiﬀerent nod; after seventeen years in the U.S., he speaks almost no English. He led me into a hallway to show me his living quarters: two tiny rooms, with a mattress on the ﬂoor, a prayer mat, a desk and bookshelves, and a treadmill. There was no chitchat, and Gülen didn’t smile. When I asked about his relationship with Erdoğan, he told me, through an interpreter, that Erdoğan had never willingly shared power with anyone. “Apparently, he always had this vision of being the single most powerful person,” he said. Erdoğan and his followers were all alike: “In the beginning of their political careers, they put up a façade of a more democratic party and leadership. And they appeared to be people of faith. And therefore we did not want to second-guess their motives. We believed their rhetoric.” He spoke elliptically, something he is famous for. “You can’t understand him,” a Turkish intelligence oﬃcial warned me. When I asked whether his movement had an interest in politics, Gülen told me he had so many followers that some were bound to end up in important places, but that hardly amounted to a conspiracy. “No citizen or social group
Aksoy, a businessman I met in 2011, in the café of an Istanbul hotel. (After the coup and the subsequent crackdown, Aksoy asked to be identiﬁed by a pseudonym, to protect his family in Turkey.) Like many followers of Gülen, he was clean-shaven, wore a Western business suit, and projected an almost aggressively cheerful appearance. He was a very successful man: he owned a construction ﬁrm, a hotel-services company, and a housewares factory, which together employed about six hundred people. For three years, Aksoy had lived in Europe. He spoke ﬂuent English and was married to a Scandinavian woman; his work had taken him to every corner of the world. Aksoy told me that he became associated with the Gülenist movement in 1993, when he accompanied a group of businessmen on a trip to Turkmenistan, one of the Turkic-speaking countries of Central Asia. While there, he was given a tour of a secondary school that had been built by Gülen’s followers. The school stirred Aksoy’s patriotic pride; it was named for a former Turkish President, a Turkish ﬂag ﬂew at graduation, and a large photo showed the Turkish and Turkmen Presidents shaking hands. “It was the best school in the country,” Aksoy said. “All the parents were trying to get their kids into it.” Through the schools, Aksoy got involved in the Gülen movement, donating money as he travelled throughout Africa, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. “It became like a hobby for me— whenever I go somewhere, I just go and visit the Gülen school,” he said. The schools served as a sort of beachhead for Turkish interests. “Even in California, in the Hispanic area, I see schools that are totally Turkish. When I arrived
in Tanzania, there were two schools there, but no embassy. Now there is an embassy and many businesses.” Aksoy said the schools formed a loose network: “They’re communicating with each other, and they’re keeping up standards. There’s a continuous ﬂow of information.” But, like Gülen, he insisted that the movement had no secret agenda. He said the complaints about the Gülenists tended to come from people who were nostalgic for Turkey’s old secular order, an era that he regarded as dead. “The people who lost power cannot see the real changes,” he said. “Things are changing so fast in Turkey, and they need to blame someone.”
F Republic was designed as a secular
rom the beginning, the Turkish
state. It was founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal, better known as Atatürk—a ﬁerce nationalist who believed that religion and politics needed to be kept strictly apart. Once in power, he abolished the Islamic Caliphate, which had existed for thirteen hundred years, and put the country’s clerics on the state payroll, to make sure they didn’t step out of line. As a result, for most of the twentieth century Turkey’s pious majority was governed by a small secular élite. The Turkish military, perhaps the country’s strongest institution, saw itself as the guardian of Atatürk’s secular state; several times in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, Islamist parties rose to prominence, only to be shut down and banned. Displays of religious fervor were seen as undesirable, even dangerous. In 2001, the Justice and Development Party—known by its Turkish initials, A.K.P.—was founded by a group of men led by Tayyip Erdoğan. A dynamic former mayor of Istanbul, Erdoğan had recently emerged from prison; he had been jailed by the country’s military leaders after giving a speech that included the lines “The mosques are our barracks . . . and the believers our soldiers.” The next year, he announced his candidacy for Prime Minister. In campaign speeches, he proclaimed himself an Islamist, a voice for pious Turks, but he also promised to keep Islam out of politics. The A.K.P. swept into power in national elections, and Erdoğan began remaking Turkey. He overhauled the
judicial system, liberalized the economy, and eased relations with longsuppressed minorities like the Alevis and the Kurds. The G.D.P. doubled. In the West, Erdoğan was seen as a bridge to the Islamic world—the leader of a prosperous, democratic, and stable Muslim country. In the same years, Gülen was making his own accommodation with Turkey’s secular establishment. Gülen, a preacher in the coastal city of Izmir, may have been employed by the state, but he charted his own spiritual path; for inspiration, he looked to the theologian Said Nursi, who emphasized the compatibility of Islam with reason and scientiﬁc inquiry. While many Islamists espouse anti-Western, anti-capitalist, and anti-Semitic views, Gülen’s sermons were pro-business, pro-science, and—virtually unheard of in the Muslim world—conciliatory toward Israel. In 1971, after a military coup, the new regime arrested Gülen on charges of conspiring to overthrow the secular order, and he served seven months in prison. After that, he became a model Islamist of the secular establishment, meeting often with the country’s leaders and publicly expressing his support. “I have said time and again that the republican order, and secularism, when
executed perfectly, are blessings from God,” he once said on Turkish television. Such proclamations earned Gülen the ire of Islamist leaders, but they seemed to buy him a measure of protection from secular authorities. To Western audiences, Gülen’s appeal could be mysterious. He speaks in Koranically inﬂected Turkish, and his theology can seem like a blend of bumper-sticker slogans about love, peace, tolerance, and interfaith dialogue. “His charisma comes from his emotion,” one former follower explained. “He cries, he reacts quickly and unpredictably, he shows all of his emotions. For Westerners, this might be diﬃcult to understand. But for Muslims it can be magical.” In a kind of verbal sleight of hand, Gülen sometimes quotes people’s accounts of speaking to the Prophet, giving the impression that he was the one who had the divine encounter. “I was doubled over with the troubles of Muhammad’s followers and especially the Turkish people,” Gülen said, in one sermon. “Then I cleared my mind and said ‘O Muhammad, what will become of us?’ All of a sudden, Muhammad graced me with his appearance. This wasn’t a dream.” When Erdoğan took oﬃce, Gülen estimated that he had as many as three
million followers in Turkey, part of a rising class of entrepreneurial, moderately religious Turks who were challenging the secular élite and taking places within the country’s bureaucracy. As Gülen preached in favor of business, his followers had set up a network of test-preparation centers, which readied young people to take entrance exams for college, military academies, and the civil service. The centers were said to be highly lucrative, and successful adherents donated money to Gülen’s programs. Gradually, his followers built an empire, reportedly worth billions of dollars, that included newspapers, television stations, businesses, and professional associations. The Gülenist schools spread; there are now two thousand of them, in a hundred and sixty countries, including at least a hundred and twenty in the United States. In the early years of Erdoğan’s tenure, he and Gülen shared an interest in ﬁnding a place for Islam in public life, but they collaborated only sporadically.
Then, in the spring of 2007, Erdoğan and the military had a dramatic confrontation. After he attempted to nominate an Islamist conﬁdant as President, the oﬃce of the chief of the general staﬀ posted a memorandum on its Web site. “It should not be forgotten that the Turkish armed forces are a side in this debate and are a staunch defender of secularism,” it said. “They will display their convictions and act openly and clearly whenever necessary.” Instead of backing down, Erdoğan denounced the military, called for an election, and won decisively. Still, he was terriﬁed that the generals, backed by the secular establishment, would come after him again. “The Gülenists saw an opportunity,” Ibrahim Kalın, an Erdoğan aide, told me. “We were newcomers. When our party came to power, the only thing it had was the support of the people. Our party did not have any access to state institutions—no judiciary, no security forces.” Gülen, with his supporters in the bureaucracy, was an appealing ally. He and Erdoğan
began to work together more closely. Erdoğan thrived in the years that followed, but rumors spread about the price that he had paid for his alliance with Gülen. In late 2011, I drove to the outskirts of Ankara, to visit Orhan Gazi Ertekin, a judge in the secular tradition; at his oﬃce, a portrait of Atatürk hung on the wall, and Nina Simone was playing on the stereo. Ertekin told me that he had recently attended a convention to elect the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors, which picks jurists for appointments across the country. “I had arrived with some candidates in mind, and I came prepared to make deals and coalitions,” he said. At the conference, though, he began to believe that a group of fellow-judges, all Gülenists, were conspiring to exclude others. “In the beginning, I had only the vaguest idea of what was happening,” he said. “They were using a secret language.” After the vote, Ertekin saw that several new council members were followers of Gülen. “The Gülenists had decided who they were going to choose, and they had no need to coöperate.” Ertekin told me that Gülen controlled the justice system. “Erdoğan can accomplish what he wants in the judiciary only by going through Gülen,” he said. “The Gülenists determine the outcome of every important political and economic trial.” He was increasingly worried, but felt that it was dangerous to speak up. “There is no public domain in which free and open criticism of the Gülenists can take place,” he said. I wasn’t sure how seriously to take Ertekin’s claim. The secular tradition in Turkey was on the wane, and it seemed possible that he was spinning a conspiracy theory to explain its decline. But as I travelled around Turkey I heard more stories of this kind—tales of people who raised questions about the schools, or about Gülenist inﬁltration of the police corps, and were arrested and sent to prison. In private, people spoke of a secretive cabal, hidden within the state, that was steadily growing in power.
I freshman in the central Turkish city
n 1973, Ahmet Keleş, a high-school
“We’ll have a bottle of your flattest water.”
of Kırıkkale, ﬁrst heard a tape recording of a sermon by Gülen. Keleş was awestruck; Gülen spoke so passionately about the Holy Prophet that as
he listened he started to cry. Keleş was from a poor family—his father ran a small store selling table decorations— and for the ﬁrst time he came alive to his faith. “Gülen was making people ask themselves, What is your mission as a Muslim?” That summer, Keleş travelled to Izmir to meet Gülen, who invited him to attend his summer camp, free of charge. Keleş did, and returned for the next two summers. After he graduated from high school, Gülen asked him to run one of his “lighthouses”—student dormitories that doubled as religious discussion centers. Many Gülenists—perhaps most of them—practice their leader’s ecumenical ideas earnestly. But as Keleş was pulled into the movement he came to understand that it had a clandestine goal. “The only way to protect Islam was to inﬁltrate the state with our followers and seize all the institutions of government,” he explained. “The legal way to do it was by election, by parliament—but you couldn’t do it that way, because the military would step in. The only way to do it was the illegal way— to inﬁltrate the state and change the institutions from within.” From then on, Keleş told me, all his energies were dedicated to preserving the Gülen secret while maintaining a positive façade. “This is the dual structure— it is in the genetic code of the organization,” he said. Keleş rose through the ranks, taking on larger and larger tasks with growing pride. “Imagine—I am the son of a poor laborer and I am involved in this powerful organization,” he said. “I felt like a very important person.” Keleş, who has since left the movement, said that while Gülen presented himself as a humble, self-denying cleric, in private he was entirely diﬀerent: vain, megalomaniacal, demanding total obedience. The organization was hierarchical, divided into seven levels, with Gülen at the top. Keleş joined “level three”—a senior leadership assembly. “Level two” conducted covert operations, which he said he was never informed of. (Aslandoğan, the manager of Gülen’s Manhattan oﬃce, says that this characterization is misleading.) In meetings of the leadership assembly, Gülen described his plans as divinely ordained. “He would tell us, ‘I
met with the Prophet last night,’ and he told me to do the following things,” Keleş said. “Everyone believed him.” Indeed, Gülen’s followers came to see his teachings as an entirely new faith. “He started with Islam, but he created his own theology. We thought Fethullah Gülen was the Messiah.” Other former Gülenists told me much the same thing. “On the surface, he projects this idea that he is not interested in money or women or power, that he only wants to be close to God,” Said Alpsoy, a follower for seventeen years who left the movement in 2003, said. “The goal is power—to penetrate the state and change it from within. But they will never talk about power. They will deny it.” In a taped sermon from the late nineties, Gülen exhorted his followers to burrow into the state and wait for the right moment to rise up. “Create an image like you are men of law,” he told them. “This will allow you to rise to more vital, more important places.” In the meantime, he urged patience and ﬂexibility. “Until we have the power and authority in all of Turkey’s constitutional institutions, every step is premature,” he said. But, ultimately, he promised, their work would provide “the guarantee of our Islamic future.” Keleş told me that the chief targets of inﬁltration were the police and the judiciary. The schools and test-preparation centers were central to the plan. At the schools, acolytes were recruited at an impressionable age; at the centers, they were prepared for entrance examinations to the country’s bureaucracy. In many cases, “brothers” within government agencies fed answers to Gülenist candidates. Once the recruits were hired, fellow-Gülenists promoted them and furthered their careers. In inﬁltrated police departments, each Gülenist oﬃcer had a code name, and each unit was overseen by an outside “imam,” regarded by the oﬃcers as a higher authority than the police chief. By the early nineties, Keleş said, he had become the movement’s “imam” in Central Anatolia, overseeing ﬁfteen cities. By then, he estimated, forty per cent of the police in the region were
followers, and about twenty per cent of the judges and prosecutors. “We controlled the hiring of the police, and the entrance exams, and we didn’t let anyone in who wasn’t a Gülenist,” he said. Gülen, despite his reputation in the West for moderation, at times took hardline positions, denouncing the United States as “our merciless enemy” and suggesting that wife-beating could be acceptable “if it would make a hundred women more obedient.” His book “From Chapter to Chapter,’’ published in 1995, contained a rant in which he accused the “Jewish tribe” of developing ideas, such as Communism, that seduced the world into disaster. “This intelligent tribe has put forth many things throughout history in the name of science and thought,” Gülen wrote. “But these have always been oﬀered in the form of poisoned honey.” He continued, “Jews will maintain their existence until the apocalypse. And shortly before the apocalypse, their mission of acting as the coil-spring for humanity’s progress will come to an end, and they will prepare their end with their own hands.” Keleş told me that at ﬁrst he rarely questioned Gülen, even when he started to speak of world domination. “My father’s only goal was to have his son working as a laborer,” he said. “And here was this man with a plan to manage the world.” Today, Keleş is astonished by how credulous he was; he attributes it in part to Gülen’s charisma. “The line between crazy and genius is very thin— with him, it was the same thing,” he said. “His knowledge, his theological views, his organizational skill—he is a genius. We were all crazy at that time.” Inside the movement, Keleş and Alpsoy said, people often lost themselves in fantastical rituals. In one, a group of men gathered in a room would grab a comrade, pin his legs and arms, and remove his socks and shoes, often against his will. “They would hold him down, and everyone would kiss his feet,” Alpsoy said. “This I witnessed hundreds of times.” In the Islamic world, feet and shoes are symbols of ﬁlth; in many places, it THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
“That’s not who I am anymore.”
• is considered oﬀensive to cross your legs and show the bottoms of your feet. The foot-kissing ritual, Alpsoy said, was a way of demonstrating pure aﬀection: “If you kiss a person’s feet, then you must really love him.” Alpsoy could never bring himself to kiss anyone’s feet, he said, “but they did it to me three or four times.” Keleş recalled that the ritual sometimes took other forms: “To show love for someone, people would ﬁll his shoe with water and drink from it.” (Aslandoğan says that he has no knowledge of such rituals.) Alpsoy said that once a man appeared at a service with a shoe that he said had been worn by Gülen. “People were so excited—they stripped the leather from the shoe and boiled it for a long time. Then they cut the leather into pieces and ate it.” Members often fought over scraps of food that Gülen had left on his plate. A Turkish intelligence oﬃcial told me that one Gülenist received a package from her husband, who was living on the compound in Pennsylvania: inside was a piece of bread that Gülen had gnawed on and left behind. “Gülen knew about all these things,” Keleş said, “but he would just laugh.” It took years for Keleş to leave the movement. The turning point came in 1997, when Gülen publicly attacked Necmettin Erbakan, Turkey’s ﬁrst Islamist 66
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
• Prime Minister, directing his followers in the media to undercut him. Under pressure from the military, Erbakan stepped down in 1997. “Erbakan and Gülen said they wanted the same things—an Islamic state—and yet Gülen destroyed him,” Keleş said. “Power was more important to him than religion.” Not long after that, Keleş wrote a letter to Gülen, enumerating the ways in which he had drifted from Islam in the pursuit of power. Gülen expelled him from the movement. Keleş said that it was only after he left that he realized how cut oﬀ he had been. “I woke up to the real world,” he said.
I ten by Stuart Smith, an American n 2005, according to a cable writ-
diplomat, three senior members of the Turkish National Police visited the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, seeking a favor for Gülen. Three years earlier, Gülen, living in exile in the Poconos, had applied for permanent residence, claiming that he was an “exceptional individual” who deserved special consideration. The U.S. declined his application, on the ground that he was not an especially remarkable person and that he had exaggerated his credentials as a scholar. The policemen at the Consulate were pressing an appeal.
Smith was skeptical. In his cable, published by WikiLeaks, he noted Gülen’s “sharply radical past as a ﬁery Islamist preacher” and the “cult-like obedience and conformity that he and the layers of his movement insist on in his global network of schools, his media outlets, and his business associations.” If anyone was being persecuted, he suggested, it was Gülen’s critics: “Given the Gülenists’ penetration of the National Police (TNP) and many media outlets, and their record of going after anyone who criticizes Gülen, others who are skeptical about Gülen’s intentions feel intimidated from expressing their views.” Despite such oﬃcial American assessments, Gülen won his appeal, in part because inﬂuential friends wrote letters in his support. They included George Fidas, a former director of outreach for the C.I.A.; Morton Abramowitz, a former American ambassador; and, perhaps most notably, Graham Fuller, a former senior C.I.A. oﬃcial. During the Cold War, while Fuller was a ﬁeld oﬃcer in Turkey, the C.I.A. advocated supporting the growth of Islam along the southern border of the Soviet Union, in places like Iran and Turkey, to contain its expansion, with a cordon known as “the green belt.” Fuller, who now lives in Canada, told me that he had met Gülen only after retiring from the agency, while researching a book on political Islam, and said that he was unaware of an arrangement between him and the C.I.A. He had written to the F.B.I. because he admired Gülen’s “highly progressive” vision of Islam, and wanted to help resist any attempt to extradite him to Turkey. “I’d write the letter again,” he said. In Turkey, though, the connection has fed theories that Gülen was supported in his early years by the C.I.A. Some prominent Turks have said that the assistance continued at least into the nineties, when the Muslim-majority states of the former Soviet Union declared independence and Gülen’s network began to establish itself there. In 2010, Osman Nuri Gündeş, a former senior intelligence oﬃcial, wrote in a memoir that Gülen’s schools in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan had sheltered as many as a hundred and thirty C.I.A. agents, posing as English teachers. Ismail Pekin, a former head of Turkish military intelligence,
told me that the agency maintained a similar arrangement with workers at schools in Africa. “They might not have been C.I.A. employees, but they were engaged in intelligence gathering and mobilization,” he said. Pekin had raised concerns about Gülen to American oﬃcials, he said, but they were routinely dismissed: “We always brought it up at NATO meetings, every time. Every time, the subject of Gülen was pushed aside as ‘Turkey’s domestic problem.’ ” Within the country, the military saw Gülenists as a considerable threat. Gareth Jenkins, a fellow at the Central AsiaCaucasus Institute in Istanbul, said that, during the nineteen-nineties, the armed forces expelled hundreds of oﬃcers on suspicion of harboring links to Gülen. In a cable released by WikiLeaks, an American diplomat wrote that secular oﬃcers devised a test: they invited fellow-soldiers and their wives to pool parties, reasoning that women who declined to appear in public wearing swimsuits must be restricted by their religion. According to the diplomat, the Gülenist wives became aware of the tactic and came up with a countermeasure: they started wearing bikinis more revealing than their hosts’. When military inspectors began searching oﬃcers’ homes, the Gülenists stocked their refrigerators with decoy bottles of alcohol and planted empties in the trash. Gülen’s followers recognized that they needed greater numbers in the military. A former A.K.P. member named Emin Şirin told me that in the fall of 1999 he visited the compound in Saylorsburg, and Gülen told him that a “golden generation” of acolytes were working their way into Turkey’s institutions. If a more tolerant general was appointed to lead the military, he said, it would “bring me peace.” He mentioned General Hilmi Özkok as a desirable candidate. “I thought what I heard was insane,” Şirin recalled. But in 2002 Özkok was named chief of the Army, and the vigilance within the military relaxed. According to Jenkins, Gülen’s followers began to ﬁll the ranks. “This created an enormous amount of unease in the oﬃcers corps,” he said.
each with a regional chief, who regularly travelled to Pennsylvania to consult on initiatives. Erdoğan, too, sent high-placed representatives to Gülen’s compound—“not every month, but when he needed support for something,” Jenkins told me. Gülen was sometimes referred to as the second most powerful man in the country. The strengthening alliance helped Erdoğan to confront his rivals in the secular élite and the military. In 2007, police arrested the ﬁrst of hundreds of people whom the government accused of forming a secret organization devoted to keeping Islamist aspirations in check. Turks called this network derin devlet, the “deep state,” and it was said to have links across the military, media, academia, and law enforcement. Turks have long disputed the exact size and nature of the “deep state,” but few doubt that something like it once existed. According to scholars and former oﬃcials, it was a network of police, soldiers, and informants, begun during the Cold War, to control domestic dissent and keep democratically elected governments oﬀ balance. It is believed to be responsible for many assassinations—of Islamists, leftists, and, especially, Kurdish activists. When the arrests began, police claimed they had ﬁnally penetrated to
the deep state: a secret organization called Ergenekon, named for a mythological place in Central Asia that is sometimes invoked by ultra-nationalists. Shortly thereafter, they began a second investigation, aimed at the most senior generals in the Turkish military, who they claimed were fomenting a plot, called Sledgehammer, to overthrow Erdoğan’s government. The cases spread to include not just former military and police oﬃcers but also academics, journalists, aid workers—the core of the opposition to the new Islamic order. According to Turkish and Western oﬃcials, both investigations were headed by Gülenists in the police and the judiciary. For years, Zaman, the country’s largest newspaper, and Samanyolu TV, both run by Gülen loyalists, cheered on the investigations and demonized anyone who questioned the evidence. “In some cases, the critics were viliﬁed,” James Jeﬀrey, the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey from 2008 to 2011, told me. “In others, they were arrested outright.” Erdoğan supported the investigations with equal enthusiasm, saying that they were necessary to remove the shadow of the military from public life. “How and why could anyone try to stop this?” he said in a speech to his party in 2009. “The
A in 2007, the growing momentum
s Erdoğan started a new term,
toward political Islam in Turkey brought him and Gülen closer. Gülen had divided the country into seven districts,
“Look—let’s just get past today, O.K.?”
crimes in these charges violate our constitution and laws. Let the justice system do its job.” As diplomats and independent journalists began to review the prosecutions, it became clear that both contained fabricated evidence. In my own investigation into the two cases, I found several instances of unmistakable forgery. The evidence in Sledgehammer was built largely on a series of computer disks, which ostensibly contained blueprints for a wide-ranging military coup. But, while prosecutors alleged that the plan had been drawn up in 2003, it was written mostly on a version of Microsoft Oﬃce that wasn’t released until 2007. Similarly, many speciﬁcs of the plans—license-plate numbers of cars to be seized, a hospital to be occupied—referred to things that did not exist in 2003. Haneﬁ Avcı, the police chief for Eskişehir Province, told me that he saw Gülenist police, prosecutors, and judges fabricate evidence in political investigations. But when he alerted his superiors he was ignored. “I talked to ministers and I wrote memos and didn’t get any replies,” he said. In 2009, Avcı secretly began writing a book detailing the Gülenists’ activities in the police and judiciary. He described a movement of protean adaptability, whose methods resembled those of terrorist groups and criminal organizations; they framed opponents by planting evidence or blackmailed them with information gleaned from wiretaps. “What made the Gülen movement diﬀerent is that it was inside the state,” he said, noting that inﬁltrators in his department had sabotaged the careers of at least ten colleagues. The book, called “Simons Living on the Golden Horn” (the title is an abstruse metaphor for not seeing what is in plain sight), became a best-seller. It seemed especially authoritative because Avcı, a conservative Islamist, had two children in Gülenist schools. A month after the book was published, Avcı was arrested and charged with membership in a Communist terrorist organization called the Revolutionary Headquarters. Avcı insisted that he was innocent—“I’m not even a liberal,” he said—but prosecutors only 68
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
added to the charges, claiming that he had written the book on orders from Ergenekon. Avcı was sentenced to ﬁfteen years in prison. Some six hundred people were convicted in the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer trials, including scores of senior generals in the Turkish military and several prominent journalists. About two hundred were sentenced to long prison terms, many in cases presided over by judges thought to be loyal to Gülen. After the trials, Turkey’s secular élite was completely vitiated. That left Erdoğan and Gülen as the two strongest forces in the country, and they soon began to turn on each other. The judiciary, emboldened by Ergenekon and Sledgehammer, pursued the investigations ever closer to Erdoğan. In the early months of 2012, police issued a subpoena to Hakan Fidan—the chief of national intelligence and a conﬁdant of the Prime Minister—and arrested Ilker Başbuğ, the country’s highest military oﬃcer. “They felt that they could arrest anyone,” Gareth Jenkins said. Erdoğan responded in a way that seemed calculated to hobble the Gülenists: he started closing down their schools—a crucial source of income—and working to restrain the police. “For Erdoğan, that was a declaration of war,” Jenkins said.
O a cargo jet from Accra, Ghana, n the evening of January 1, 2013,
bound for Sabiha Gökçen International Airport, in Istanbul, was diverted, because of fog, to Istanbul Atatürk Airport. When the plane landed, customs oﬃcials found that a shipment labelled “mineral samples” actually contained more than three thousand pounds of gold bars. The gold belonged to Reza Zarrab, a twentynine-year-old Turkish-Iranian businessman who counted among his friends some of Turkey’s most powerful politicians, and it was ultimately destined for Tehran. Turkish investigators, listening in on Zarrab’s phone, determined that he was transporting extraordinary amounts of gold to Iran, as part of a far-reaching scheme to help the Iranian regime evade economic sanctions. At the peak of the operation, Zarrab said later, he was
moving two thousand pounds of gold a day. It seemed at ﬁrst as if the case had limited implications within Turkey. “We didn’t expect this little investigation to give way to a bigger one,” Nazmi Ardıç, the chief of the Istanbul police department’s organized-crime unit, told me. Then, investigators say, they heard wiretapped conversations suggesting that Zarrab was bribing oﬃcials in Erdoğan’s government. Within days, Ardıç said, police and prosecutors determined that Zarrab had paid millions of dollars to at least four Turkish cabinet ministers. According to documents ﬁled in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the Minister for the Economy, Zafer Çağlayan, accepted more than forty-ﬁve million dollars in cash, gems, and luxury goods. When police entered the home of Süleyman Aslan—the C.E.O. of Halk Bank, which Zarrab used to launder money—they found shoeboxes stuﬀed with four and a half million dollars’ worth of cash. The bribery allegations electriﬁed Turkey. Zarrab, the center of the investigation, seemed made for tabloid news. A brash young trader with a pouf of dark hair, he was married to one of the country’s biggest pop stars, Ebru Gündeş, famous for such songs as “Fugitive” and “I Dropped My Anchor in Solitude.” He was also friendly with Erdoğan: he’d stood with him at public functions and donated $4.6 million to a charity run by his wife, Emine. The allegations came at a time when Erdoğan was increasingly embattled, and also increasingly aggressive. In the spring of 2013, police had broken up a peaceful demonstration in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, igniting protests in which millions of people took part. Erdoğan turned loose the police; eleven people died, and more than eight thousand were injured. That year, more than a hundred journalists were ﬁred after criticizing Erdoğan. On December 17, 2013, police arrested Zarrab and eighty-eight others, including forty-three government oﬃcials. Although they did not arrest any of Erdoğan’s ministers, they detained the sons of three of them, claiming that they were conduits for bribes. Erdoğan’s son Bilal
They take the linens every day, the bloody linens worn through by sweat and sleeplessness. Simple bleach at the end of it, huge washers, soap swirling itself gray-green, the sound of planes landing. Not just surgeries. It’s mainly ordinary seepage, the drip down tubes into arms, drains in secret to abdomen and lung. Always sheets bearing up their cool ﬁnish as if nothing will happen, then caught in that lie. The life behind fabric—cotton, ﬂax in the weave—is a seed broken, getting ahead of itself by tiny increments unwatchable because we have no patience with the slower inscrutables. A woman drives this morning, takes the linens out one door, to the street, and into another. Huge plastic bags encloud her. Bedazzlement keeps staining, the dry brush-by of so many wings. She has a hard time with balance. Nothing to make of it, nothing but look again. The bloody linens, evidence. And the little truck they drive not much more than a go-kart really, a runabout. —Marianne Boruch also came under suspicion, after a wiretap captured what was alleged to be a conversation between him and his father. Erdoğan has insisted that the tape was doctored, but it circulated widely on social media, and Turks claimed to recognize his voice. Tayyip Erdoğan: Eighteen people’s homes are being searched right now with this big corruption operation. . . . So I’m saying, whatever you have at home, take it out. O.K.? Bilal: Dad, what could I even have at home? There’s your money in the safe. Tayyip: Yes, that’s what I’m saying.
A little while later, the two apparently spoke again. Tayyip: Did you get rid of all of it, or . . . ? Bilal: No, not all of it, Dad. So, there’s something like thirty million euros left that we haven’t been able to liquidate.
Western oﬃcials told me that they regarded the investigation as a Gülenist
attempt to topple Erdoğan’s government—but that the evidence seemed credible. As the investigation gathered force, four of Erdoğan’s ministers resigned. One of them, Erdoğan Bayraktar, called on Erdoğan to quit, saying, “The Prime Minister, too, has to resign.” Instead, Erdoğan struck back. He denounced the investigation as a “judicial coup” and enacted a wholesale reorganization of the country’s criminaljustice system, forcing out thousands of police, prosecutors, and judges linked to the Zarrab case. Ardıç, the police chief who headed the investigation, was removed from the case and later imprisoned. Ultimately, the bribery charges were dropped. In speeches, Erdoğan began lashing out at his former ally, speaking of a “parallel structure” that sought to rule Turkey. “O Great Teacher, if you haven’t done anything wrong, don’t stay in
Pennsylvania,” he told a rally in February, 2014. “If Turkey is your motherland, come back to Turkey, come back to your motherland. If you want to get involved in politics, go ahead and go into the public squares and make politics. But don’t mess with this country, don’t steal its peace. . . . The parallel structure is involved in grand treason.”
A Erdoğan pursued the Gülenists re-
fter the bribery case collapsed,
lentlessly. Thousands of public employees who were suspected of having ties to Gülen were pushed out, and government agents raided Gülenist businesses. Senior leaders in the movement began to ﬂee the country. On Christmas Day, 2015, Turkish intelligence breached an encrypted messaging app called ByLock—an apparently homemade network with two hundred thousand users. According to Turkish oﬃcials, it was set up not long after Erdoğan began purging suspected Gülenists from the government. When the network was discovered, the server, in Lithuania, quickly closed down, and its users switched to Eagle, another encrypted messaging app. “They went underground,” a Turkish government aide told me. The intelligence oﬃcials say that they were able to decrypt the exchanges, and one told me, “Every conversation was about the Gülen community.” By checking the ByLock users’ names against government records, they found that at least forty thousand were civil employees, mostly from the judiciary and the police department. In May, two months before the coup, the government began suspending them. In July, the intelligence department notiﬁed the military that it had also identiﬁed six hundred oﬃcers of the Turkish Army, many of them highly ranked, among the ByLock users. Military oﬃcials began planning to expel them at a meeting of senior generals that was scheduled for early the next month. “We think the coup happened in July because they needed to move before they were expelled,” Ibrahim Kalın, the Erdoğan aide, told me. The details of the failed coup are murky and often contradictory, but it seems clear that the attempt was organized in haste. Several detained soldiers THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
said that it was supposed to begin six hours later, at 3 A.M., then was rushed for reasons that are unclear. As the oﬃcers scrambled to take control, no leader came forward. In some cases, troops who’d received orders from rebel commanders apparently didn’t realize that they were taking part in an operation to overthrow the government, and refused to go along when they did. Indeed, it seems that the plotters staked their operation on capturing or killing Erdoğan and persuading General Akar to join them. “If those things had happened, the coup would have succeeded,” Kalın said. But none of the most senior generals of the Turkish armed forces could be persuaded to join, which may have left the plotters without a military leader. By 4 A.M., the coup plotters were running for their lives. “Has the operation been cancelled, Murat?” one oﬃcer asked, in a text message. “Yes, Commander,” Major Çelebioğlu replied. When another oﬃcer asked whether to mount an escape, the Major replied, “Stay alive, Commander. The choice is yours.” After the coup, several statements, purportedly from the plotters, were released to the press. The statements were impossible to verify. None of the men who confessed have spoken publicly, and most of their statements appear to have been heavily expurgated. Photographs have circulated of oﬃcers who confessed; in several cases, they have wounds on their faces, suggesting that they were beaten. Two Western diplomats who spoke on the condition of anonymity told me that they found the government’s accusations against Gülen’s movement compelling, if not entirely convincing. One said, “Un doubtedly, Gülenists played a credible role in it. But there were also anti-Erdoğan military opportunists mixed in.” Many people in the armed forces, and in Turkish civil society, were enraged by Erdoğan’s growing authoritarianism. Brigadier General Gökhan Sönmezateş, one of the plotters who went to Marmaris to capture Erdoğan, said in a confession, “I am absolutely not a Gülenist.” But when 70
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
one of the plotters called on a secure line to recruit him, he thought that things in the country were bad enough that he agreed to go along. Some former American oﬃcials said it was likely that Gülenists played the leading role. After the purges of the preceding decade, they argued, no other group in the Army was large enough or cohesive enough. “The Gülenists are the only people who could have done this,” Jeﬀrey said. One oﬃcer, identiﬁed only as Lieutenant Colonel A.K., testiﬁed that he was informed of a coup plot a week before, by a man who he assumed was a Gülen leader. The man spoke of the troubles that the movement had been facing, and said that some three thousand oﬃcers were going to be purged during the meeting of senior generals in August. “Gülen didn’t want this meeting to happen,” the man said. “We can’t lose our last fort.” Erdoğan’s government has given the U.S. tens of thousands of pages of documents, tracking the Gülenists’ history in Turkey. According to American oﬃcials, little or none of it is relevant to the question of Gülen’s direct involvement in the coup. General Akar, the chief of the general staﬀ, said in a statement that while he was being held captive, one of the senior plotters said, “If you wish, we can put you in touch with our opinion leader, Fethullah Gülen.” One of the Western diplomats, who has followed Akar throughout his career, told me, “Akar has been, since he took the position, a guy deﬁned by integrity.” The most compelling account came from Lieutenant Colonel Levent Türkkan, one of the oﬃcers who took Akar captive. The son of a poor farmer, Türkkan dreamed as a boy of joining the Army. His family couldn’t aﬀord to send him to a test-preparation school, so he started studying in the homes of Gülenist “brothers.” On the eve of the exam to get into an élite military school, the brothers gave him the answers—taking care to include a few wrong ones, to avoid arousing suspicion. He has remained a follower ever since. “I believed that Fethullah Gülen was a divine entity,” he told his interrogators. In his con-
fession, he identiﬁed seventeen colleagues as Gülenists, including Erdoğan’s personal military aide, Colonel Ali Yazıcı. (Aslandoğan disputes Türkkan’s testimony, but says that he can’t speak to speciﬁc claims.) In 2011, Türkkan was promoted and became an aide to General Necdet Özel, the chief of the Turkish Army. “I started carrying out assignments given by the sect,” he said. For four years, he planted a small “listening device” in Özel’s oﬃce every day and removed it every night. “The battery lasted one day,” he said. “I would take the full device to my ‘sect brother’ once a week and get an empty one from him.” The night before the coup, Türkkan said, a fellow-Gülenist, a colonel, asked him to step outside for a cigarette. Once they were alone, he described a plan: “The President, the Prime Minister, the ministers, the chief of general staﬀ, other chiefs of staﬀ and generals would be picked up one by one. Everything would be done quietly.” Türkkan’s assignment was to help ﬁnd Akar and “pacify” him. Disturbed, Türkkan went to see his “brother” in the Gülen movement, who lived in a house behind a nearby gas station. He wasn’t there, but several others were, and they conﬁrmed the operation. Türkkan has suﬀered since the coup. In a photograph released with his testimony, he is wrapped in a hospital gown, with his face visibly battered and his rib cage and hands swaddled in bandages. In his confession, he expressed bitter remorse. “When I learned from the TV that the parliament was being bombed and civilians were being killed, I started regretting it,” he said. “What was being done was like a massacre. This was done in the name of a movement that I thought worked for the will of God.”
T doğan, addressing a group of local
hree weeks after the coup, Er-
oﬃcials in Ankara, apologized for having once been Gülen’s ally. “We helped this organization with good will,” Erdoğan said. He said that he had trusted Gülen, because of his apparent reverence for education and his organization’s aid work. “I feel sad that I failed to reveal the true face of this traitorous organization long before.” For Erdoğan, though, retribution has always come more easily than apologies.
The state of emergency that he declared after the coup gave him dictatorial powers, which he used to carry out a far-reaching crackdown that began with Gülenists but has grown to encompass almost anyone who might pose a threat to his expanded authority. The ﬁgures are stupefying: forty thousand people detained and huge numbers of others forced from their jobs, including twentyone thousand police oﬃcers, three thousand judges and prosecutors, twentyone thousand public-school workers, ﬁfteen hundred university deans, and ﬁfteen hundred employees of the Ministry of Finance. Six thousand soldiers were detained. The government also closed a thousand Gülen- aﬃliated schools and suspended twenty-one thousand teachers. It’s diﬃcult to know whether those targeted were hard-core followers of Gülen, or sympathizers, or not related to the movement at all. Public criticism of Erdoğan has been almost entirely squelched, either by the outpouring of national support that followed the coup or by the fear of being imprisoned. Erdoğan has closed more than a hundred and thirty media outlets and detained at least forty-three journalists, and the purge is still under way. “The Gülenist cult is a criminal organization, and a big one,” Kalın, the President’s aide, told me. “You know, over eleven thousand people participated in the coup, according to our current estimates. We’re going after anyone with any connection with this Gülenist cult, here and there, in the judiciary, the private sector, the newspapers, and other places.” The irony of the attempted coup is that Erdoğan has emerged stronger than ever. The popular uprising that stopped the plot was led in many cases by people who disliked Erdoğan only marginally less than they disliked the prospect of a military regime. But the result has been to set up Erdoğan and his party to rule, with nearly absolute authority, for as long as he wants. “Even before the coup attempt, we had concerns that the government and the President were approaching politics and governance in ways that were designed to lock in a competitive advantage—to insure you would have perpetual one-party rule,” the second Western diplomat said. Erdoğan has solidiﬁed his power, but
“I need something sturdy enough to withstand the scrutiny of other parents.”
• he has also put himself in the awkward position of denouncing a man who enabled his rise. Talking about Gülen and his movement, he can seem almost to be in pain. “They came asking for seventeen universities, and I approved all of them,” he told a crowd in 2014. “He asked for land for schools, we gave it to him,” he added. “We gave them all kinds of support.” Erdoğan rarely spoke Gülen’s name in these speeches, but this time he addressed him and his followers directly. “So this is treason?” he asked, sounding dismayed. “What did you ask for that you couldn’t get?”
T emerged from seclusion, summon-
he day after the coup, Gülen
ing reporters to his compound for a press conference, at which he denied any involvement. As he watched his followers being arrested en masse—and as he became a national pariah—an edge crept into his voice. He told his followers that Erdoğan had staged the coup, and that no one outside Turkey believed that Gülen was responsible. In a ser-
• mon recorded a few days later, he said, “Let a bunch of idiots think they have succeeded, let them celebrate, let them declare their ridiculous situation a celebration, but the world is making fun of this situation, and that is how it is going to go down in the history books. “Be patient,” he told his followers. “Victory will come.” Gülen is old and ailing; it seems unlikely that he will be able to keep up the ﬁght for much longer. Listening to his sermon, I thought back to my meeting with him last year. Even then, his movement was being dismantled, his followers on the run. I asked how he thought he would be remembered, and he gave me an answer the like of which I’ve never heard from another leader in politics or religion. “It may sound strange to you, but I wish to be forgotten when I die,” he said. “I wish my grave not to be known. I wish to die in solitude, with nobody actually becoming aware of my death and hence nobody conducting my funeral prayer. I wish that nobody remember me.” THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
ILLUSTRATION BY EMILIANO PONZI
e swings the ﬁsh from the water, a wild stripe ﬂicking and ﬂashing into the boat, and grabs the line, twisting the hook out, holding the ﬁsh down in the footrests. It gasps, thrashes. Drums. Something rapid and primal, ceremonial, in the shallow of the open boat. Flecks of blood and scales loosen, as if turning to rainbows in his hands, as he picks up the ﬁsh and breaks its neck, feels the minute rim of teeth inside its jaw on the pad of his foreﬁnger, puts his thumb behind the head and snaps. The jaw splits and the gills splay, like an opening ﬂower. He was sure he would catch ﬁsh. He left just a simple note: “Pick salad x.” •
Briefly, he looks toward the inland cliﬀs, hoping the peregrine will be there, scanning as he patiently undoes the knot of traces, pares the feathers away from one another until they are free, and feeds them out. The boat is ﬂecked. Glittered. A heat has come to the morning now, convincing and thick. The kayak lilts. Weed ﬂoats. He thinks of her hair in water. The same darkened blond color. It’s unusual to catch only one. Or it was just a straggler. The edge of the shoal. Something split it from the others. He retrieves a carrier bag from the dry bag in back and stores the ﬁsh. Then he bails out the blood-rusted water from the boat. Fish don’t have eyelids, remember. In this bright water, it’s likely they are deeper out. He’s been hearing his father’s voice for the past few weeks now. I’ve got this one, though. That’s enough. That’s lunch. The bay lay just a little north. It was a short paddle from the ﬂat beach inland of him, with the caravans on the low ﬁelds above, but it felt private. His father long ago had told him that they were the only ones who knew about the bay, and that was a good thing between them to believe. You’ll set the pan on a small ﬁre and cook the mackerel as you used to do together, in the pats of butter you took from the roadside café. The butter will
be liquid by now, and you will have to squeeze it from the wrapper like an ointment. The bones in the cooling pan, ﬁngers sticky with the toﬀee of burned butter. He was not a talker. But he couldn’t imagine sitting in the bay and not talking to his father. There is a strange gurgle and a razorbill appears, shudders oﬀ the water, ﬂicks its head and preens. It looks at him, head cocked, turns as it paddles oﬀ a few yards. Then it dives again, and is gone. •
He takes the plastic container from the front stow. It has warmed in the morning sun, and it seems wrong to him, the warmth. As if the ashes still had heat. He unscrews the lid partially, caught by a sudden fear. That he will release some jinni, a ghost, the fatal germ. No. They’re sterile. He throws science at the fear. He’s had to go through so many possessions, things that exploded with memories during the past few weeks; but it is the opposite with the ashes. He tries to hold away the fact they know nothing of what they are. Wants to remind the ashes of events, moments. To make them the physical thing of his father. After the brief doubt, he relaxes again. Can feel the current arc him out, its subtle shift away from shore. A strong draw to the seemingly still water. He has a sense, out here, of peace. Thinks, Why do we stop doing the things we enjoy and the things we know are good for us? When he had fetched the kayak out from under the tarp, there were cobwebs, and earwigs in among the hatch straps. He had not told her he was going. He’d expected it to be a weight he wanted to lift by himself. There is a piping of oystercatchers, a clap of water as a ﬁsh jumps. He sees it for a moment, a silver nail. A thing deliberately, for a brief astounding moment, broken from its element. •
Round the promontory, he fades the kayak, lets it drift, wiggling his ankles, working his feet loose with arrival. The
water beneath him suddenly aglut, sentinel somehow, with jellyﬁsh. He wonders if they are a sign, of some increasing heat perhaps. Then the noise of music hits him. A child knee-high in the water, slapping at the waves. Another coming tentatively down the stones. A mother changing inside a towel. The ashes sit perfectly in the drinks holder by his legs. Laid out farther oﬀ, an adolescent girl.The sound of her radio travelling. A pile of bright things. The child has found a whip of kelp and slaps at the waves. It’s O.K., Dad, he says. We’ll come back later. The sound of a Jet Ski, from the beach in front of the caravans. An urban, invasive sound. We’ll come back when they’ve gone. Out in the distance, a small cloud. A white ﬂurry. A crowd of diving birds. They won’t be here all day. Then he paddles, the ashes by his legs, in a straight line out to sea. •
It’s as he’s holding his hands in the water, rubbing the blood and scales from them, that the hairs on his arms stand up and sway brieﬂy, like seaweed in the current. The birds that had indicated the ﬁsh had lifted suddenly. They are faint implications now, a hiatus disappearing against the light oﬀ the sea. He is far enough oﬀshore for the land to have paled in view. The ﬁrst lightning strikes somewhere out past the horizon. At ﬁrst he thinks it just a sudden glint. The thunder happens moments later, and he feels sick in his gut. He sees the rain as a thick dark band, moving in. Starts to paddle. Then there is a wire of electric brightness . Three. Four. A rumble that seems to echo oﬀ the surface of the water. He counts automatically, assesses the distance to land. Another throb of light. The coast still a thin woodcolored line. The wind picks up, cold air moving in front of the storm. And then there is a basal roll. The sound of a great weight landing. A slow tearing in the sky. THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
“Should we have to evacuate the building, let’s not forget him.”
• One repeated word now. No, no, no. When it hits him there is a bright white light. •
He wakes floating on his back, caught on a cleat by the elastic toggle of his wetsuit shoe. Around him hailstones melt and dissipate. They are scattered on the kayak, roll oﬀ as it bobs on the slight waves. There is a hissing sound. The hailstones melting in the water. He stares around, shell-shocked, trying to understand, a layer of ash on the surface of the water. He cannot move his arms. They are held out before him as if beseeching the sky. Dead ﬁsh lie around him in the water. He gets himself to the boat, the boat to him, drawing it with his leg, shaking until he frees the toggle, turns, kicks, twists, trying to lever with his useless arms. Somehow tips himself into the boat. Live, he’s thinking. Live. His ﬁshing rod on ﬁre upon the water as he slips oﬀ the world again, and passes out. •
He moves because he coughs, a cough made of glass. Slowly lifts himself. One eye closed with salt. His face has been 74
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
• in the ﬂoor of the kayak and the salt is from the evaporated water. The sun had come out hard after the storm and evaporated the water, leaving the salt in a crust on his eye. When he opens the other, the light blinds him. It hurts to breathe because his whole body hurts. As if he has suﬀered a great fall. His mouth, too, is crusted with salt. He does not know where he is. There is a pyroclast of ﬁne dried ash across his skin. He blinks and struggles to raise himself a little, the kayak shifting below him. The world slipping, rocking. When he grimaces, his lips split and bleed. He looks down at his hands, feels the briefest twitch in his right arm, a wave and it spasms, smashes unfeelingly against the inside of the boat and goes dead again, falls against his side, a ﬁsh ﬂicking after suﬀocating. What happened? His consciousness a snapped cord his mind tries to pull back together. His left hand stays inert, fractalled with purple; seems tattooed, in a pattern like ice on airplane glass. •
The right arm, for a while, is wayward. Movable, but numb, clumsy. He does not know how long he has been like this. Who he is.
He sees a rouge burn through the dry salt on the muscle of his forearm, sees the line of his shinbone startled and red. Feels his face. Like something felt through packaging, hears more than properly feels the paper of his dry, cracked lips. He has the strange conviction that if he opens his stuck eye he will see what happened. When he tries again, it’s as if that eye leaves his face and ﬂutters by him. A butterﬂy. It takes him a while to focus, to accept it. He’s forgotten there is other life. It puppets around him. He cannot believe that a thing so small, so breakable, is out here. A thing that cannot put down on the water. How far must we be from land? The butterﬂy settles on the bright lettering of the boat. He watches it open and close its wings in the sun. Opens and closes his working hand. He reaches up and scrapes the salt from his closed lid, picks at the hard crystals. He wets his hand in the water, blinks with the sting as he bathes the eye. When he refocusses, the butterﬂy is gone. For a split second, he believes again it was his eye, then he spots it, heading out over the water. He feels a confusion, a kind of throb in his head. There is a complete horizon. A horizon everywhere around and no point of it seems closer than another. It brings claustrophobia. He does not know if he’s moving—if he’s travelling. He cannot tell in which direction if he is. He feels only the rock, the sway, the dip and wallow of the boat. •
For a moment, as he lifts from sleep, he thinks the warm sun on his neck is someone’s breath. Hears, far oﬀ, the sound of a speedboat engine. There is land in sight, like a presence that has woken him. He wakes with the understanding that the paddle is gone, and with that comes low panic. His good arm has been in the water, and it is only as he raises it that he feels the little ﬁnger has been stripped. It is torn and frayed to the ﬁrst knuckle, skinned and swollen ragged
with water, the pain searing and hot. The nail is still there but tooth-marked where the little ﬁsh have bitten at it. As he touches the ﬁnger, his head spins, and when he passes out, again, it’s like another white light shoots through him. •
The thump of the ﬁn stirs him. His head was resting on the gunwale as the dark ﬁn struck. He does not move. Cannot move. A few yards oﬀ, the ﬁn rises again, a half-metre sail out of the water, a gungray body. His primal systems ﬁre a wave of fear through him, the adrenaline trying to get through him like water poured on ice; and the ﬁn folds, disappears. He is frozen, urinates, cannot move his head. When it bumps again it is as if the ﬁn had grown tactile. It folds and ﬂops, reaches into the boat, hallucinatory, cartoonish, like a sea lion’s ﬂipper. And then the body of the ﬁsh, clownlike, lolls side-on in the water, a disk the size of a table. This cannot be happening, he thinks. The sunﬁsh and he eye to eye, its curious ﬁn folding, ﬂopping. An aberrant ripple to the water in the otherwise lambent calm. This is it, he thinks. This is it. •
The sunfish stayed with him for hours. It could be said it steered him. It was almost the size of the kayak in length and bumped and rubbed the boat with a droll instinct, as a cow might a post. The sunﬁsh is not ﬁshable, not edible, and no instinct has been driven into it to stay away from man. And perhaps it was the warmth of the boat it liked, with the plastic heated by the sun. Or perhaps it was something more. But it stayed and bumped the boat for hours, and by doing so steered it; and it cannot be known whether it was deliberate, benevolent, that it did not steer the kayak farther out to sea. •
He tries the screw of the locker in the center of the kayak, confused by his sureness that there is a ﬁrst-aid kit, confused given the things he does not 76
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
know. The locker will not shift. Focus, he thinks. Just accept the pain. Focus on the fact that the land is there. He turns in his seat and reaches for the dry bag, husbanding the ﬁnger. Uses his teeth and his hand to open the bag and spill out the looser things—the sunblock, the T-shirt, the old cloth. His ears are blistered and cracked. His skin parched and sore, stretched and gritty with salt. He rubs the sunblock in. A baﬄing thought of holidays. Works urgently, as if the next few moments were vital. He rubs it on his dead hand and is frightened. That he cannot feel it. That it lies so inert. He feels a sort of horror at his body. How long has this taken to happen? How long have I been out here? He looks again at his useless hand, the now fernlike pattern. It seems to follow his veins, mark tiny capillaries, a leaf skeleton disappearing under the tide line of ash into the sleeve of his top. A wave of sick goes through him. The idea of breath on his neck lies under everything. A suspicion that someone has been left behind.
Shouts. Faintly. Loud shouts that reach him quieter than whispers. That seem to carry on the air like faintly visible things. He notes movement, just a shifting of the air, the smallest breeze that bears the shouts; a sure current, the kayak drifts. Goes sideways past the shingle bay. He is in a dream. He sees, there, a penguin crowd of people bathing in their clothes. In black-and-white suits. They are playing in the water. Children in waistcoats. As if a wedding had run into the sea. Where am I? He lifts his arm. They are far oﬀ. Tiny on the shore. Tries to shout. Shouts like a puncture. Like a hiss of air. Hears the draw and swash of the waves breaking in the bay, sees the children jumping the water. The sound of play. A bus parked on the road behind the beach. Are they celebrating the end of the world? he thinks. I am dreaming. They are bathing in their clothes.
He takes the T-shirt and wets it, wraps it on his head, the touch of it a heat at ﬁrst against his burned skin. But then it cools, and there is a sort of weight lifted, as if the sun had stopped pressing. He unzips the pocket of his buoyancy aid and fumbles out the phone, drops it into his lap as he pops open the waterproof pouch. He turns it upside down and tips the phone out, thunk on the boat, picks it up and tries to start it. Nothing. Take it apart. Let it dry out. He struggles with it until the back slips oﬀ. And there against the battery is a wren feather. He traps it with his thumb. Holds it carefully. His memory like a dropped pack of cards. Next door’s cat. Its strange possessive mewling, crouched over the wren, the bird like a knot of wood. The bird vibrated brieﬂy when he picked it up, a shudder of life. Then ﬂew away.
He could not picture her, but a sense of her came back with that. They had kept a feather each. •
He watches the land fade, as if it were slowly sinking into the ocean. He has bailed out the cockpit as best he can. The cloud of dark piss, the tide mark of salt that shows how the water has evaporated. Scales of mackerel decal the inside, here and there is a zip of dried blood. The ringing in his head is a hum now, a low choir, the ﬂick of water on the boat constant, random, like the sound of work in the distance. For a while, as he drifts, it is not the thirst, nor the sun, nor the open space around him that occupies him most. It is the need to stand up. He tries the locker again. Pressures and turns with his thumb and ﬁnger, patiently, until the screw hatch jumps and, after a few hard-fought-for millimetres, rattles loose. He ﬁshes out the built-in pouch, squeezes the toggle and loosens the drawstring. He unrolls the ﬁrst-aid bag, the rip of Velcro a strange abrupt noise that seems
to tear the fabric of sounds he has got used to. With the violence of the act, some of the dried ash falls ﬂaked from his skin, as if drawing attention to itself. He opens his mouth—winces at the chapped cracks of his lips—and bites down on a roll of gauze, uses an antiseptic towel on his ﬁnger. He even smells the sting, as he did as a child, Dettol on a grazed knee. He rocks it away, humming through the gauze, rocks until he can open his eyes on the pain. He tears the dressing packet, puts the pad down on his thigh, and wraps it clumsily around his ﬁnger. The eﬀort makes him reel. Then he pulls the papery tape with his teeth and gets an end around the dressing, jams the roll between his knees, makes a clumsy bandage. Fits on a plastic ﬁnger guard. •
The water slapping the side of the boat picks up. It’s just the angles, he tells himself. It’s because I’m shifting my weight. He leans over the front stow, unclips it, and draws out the large dry bag, sees the small pan in the hold, the rolled cloth that contains cutlery, a wooden spoon. He feels odd little humpback lurches, an empty sickness without food. He has the bizarre sense that he could reach out, feel the same little kick in her stomach. He pulls out a carrier bag. It is heavy with a bottle of water and a bottle of dark beer. He stares at the beer for a moment. He was going somewhere. He was going to drink a beer. Then, fumbling, urgent, he takes a drink of water, warm, hot almost, wets his mouth, lips, lets it spill wastefully over his chin. There is a shock at the immediacy of its eﬀect, a voice screaming, Do not waste this; do not drink too much. He brings the bottle down with a sort of fear. Don’t drink too fast. Remembers watering a dry plant too quickly. You have to save this, he thinks. Dry dirt will repel the thing it needs the most. Stares again for a moment at the beer. He empties out the dry bag: Small gas stove. Espresso cup. Coﬀeemaker. Small plastic box of coﬀee. Tackle box with traces, hooks, weights, swivels, lures.Thick jumper. Reel of ﬁshing line. Cagoule. You went out. You went out too far ﬁshing.
He keeps to hand the thick jumper. Tucks the cagoule in by the seat. Takes a brief inventory of the boat. He does not add: One man. One out of two arms. Four out of ten ﬁngers. No paddle. No torch. One dead phone. •
The sun drops beautifully. He takes oﬀ the buoyancy aid and pulls on the jumper, useless arm ﬁrst. He puts the cagoule on, again the useless arm ﬁrst, but cannot zip it up. Then he puts the buoyancy aid back on, and in the doing of it loses the T-shirt from his head. Watches, stoical, as it ﬂoats out on the water. There is a slight swell to the sea now, and the pan and the bottle in the forward hold roll and scrape inside, roll and scrape with the loll of the boat. He scoots forward, opens the hold cover, horribly aware in that instant how small the kayak is, stuﬀs the pan and the bottle under the dry bag to jam them. Of all the things to put up with, that would be too much: the persistent clunking. It is one of the few things he has any say in. He has a horrible fear of falling out of the boat. Its frail platform. Of being aﬂoat in the coming darkness. He slips the bungee from the back bay over himself like a seat belt, fastens
one end of the paddle leash to the carry handle, the other round his ankle. It is nothing. But it is all that he can do. •
With dark, the cold hits. It is immediate, comes with a sureness that it will get colder. For a long time he ﬁghts the need to piss. Or what feels like a long time. The swell picks up. The boat dips, sways as if two unseen hands are shifting it, panning for rare minerals. With his empty stomach, he feels a constant bowl of nausea. He lifts oﬀ the bungee, kneels in the boat, and pisses oﬀ the side, a weak stream, a stench he hears pattering on the side of the gunwale. But where it hits the water there is a sudden light, a gorgeous phosphorescence. When he sits back, he redoes the bungee round himself. That some of the stars on the horizon might be the lights of ships, of land, he can’t allow himself to think. Cannot allow himself to imagine the warmth, the food, the safety they would mean. It is better that they are stars. How long? How long has it been? Is this my ﬁrst night out? I would have been thirstier, wouldn’t I, if I’d been out longer? He looks. A child awake in a dark
“I have unfortunately linked my self-worth to something I’m not very good at.”
meat changed and cured in the heat. He chews the ﬁllet, the salt meat of it, then drinks some water, cooled again after the night. It is not possible for him to believe that he will die, but he begins to fear that he will leave her alone. This is going to be about rhythm. You cannot control anything else. Just your rhythm. You have half a small ﬁsh and four inches of water. If you grow impatient, it will go wrong. The foily taste of the ﬁsh grows as he swallows the water, brings a sting to his mouth. You have to conserve energy, and you have to be patient. When he turns round to stow the dry bag, there is the land.
“There isn’t a siege. We’re all in line for the bouncy castle.”
• bedroom. And, after a while, the stars seem to fade, at ﬁrst very slowly. He does not know if it is an illusion, but they start to go out, like houselights across a night landscape. He unwraps the emergency blanket, the silver foil of it speaking with reﬂected light. The boat shifts up and down, a lullaby hush. •
It is cold and it is pitch-black. Blacker when he opens his eyes, blacker than it was when they were closed—a stunning nothingness. He is hardly conscious. And he hears the child’s voice. Hears the clear troubling cry of a child. This is not real, he thinks. He feels that his heart is slow, his breathing ﬂaccid. Then comes the cry again. The cold a complete tiredness. A calm. Like an acceptance of drowning. I can go now, he thinks. I’ve done my best. He feels passive toward it. He is so cold that if there was any challenge to him he would let it happen, gently yield. A spray of water covers him, pattering the plastic blanket, falls on him, warmer than his skin, and he opens his eyes, sees the green light, the perfect shape of dolphins playing round the boat. 78
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
• Somewhere he feels his ticking heart, an engine trying to start. Was he nearly gone? Was he gone? The child’s cry, close by now, of the dolphin calf, and the mother breaks the water, a luminous green form leaving a ﬁgure of itself in the air, bright water dropping, a glow, crashing color landing , back , into the water. The calf sounded so human. A baby in an upstairs room. Stay alive, he thinks. A bright tail, beautiful triangle. You have to stay alive. •
He wakes with a strange, speciﬁc clarity. Three solid simple things: her, the child, his physical ability. These, now, are his landmarks. The night has left him alive. He sits up. His skin where it is bare has tightened. Where he touches there is a ﬁne sand of dried salt. He is uncertain of it, but he seems to sense something from his deadened arm. He takes the ﬁsh from the carrier bag in the dry bag, and the ﬁshing knife, and puts the ﬁsh down on the side of the boat, bringing a hollow gawp to his stomach. He cuts behind the gills, turns the blade ﬂat and draws it along, feeling it bump over the bones of the spine. The ﬁllet peels oﬀ like a ﬂap, the
This is just rhythm, he says. You cannot race. You will move the boat only a little, but you must not be impatient. He takes oﬀ the jumper and folds it into a pad. Then he kneels on it, puts on the buoyancy aid, and picks up the small frying pan as a paddle. After a few strokes, he gets the boat around. The pain of resting on his burning shins balances the pain of using his raw ﬁnger into a tough holdable thing. That’s the land, he says. That’s everything. It was a low undulating line. It’s all about rhythm now. •
All of his life he’s had a recurring dream: the car leaves the road. It is never the impact that terriﬁes him, wakes him. His fear comes the moment he feels the car go. His life does not pass before his eyes. There is even a point when he feels calm. But then he sees the faces of the people he loves. He sees their faces as they see him go. •
The lick came into the waves late afternoon, and with it a wide swell to the water. The clouds now were an intentful dark strip on the horizon and they were incoming, and the breeze came before them, bringing patches over the water like a cat’s fur brushed the wrong way. He had continued to paddle on and oﬀ. Had thrown up after eating the second piece of ﬁsh, and that had aﬀected him. There was a thin bare moisture in
the breeze, and every now and then he opened his mouth to it. Gradually he neared the land. The colors now distinguishable. It was less easy to bear, having the land in view. He did not think, If I die you must ﬁnd someone else; he could not think that. He felt a great responsibility. He wanted to make sure she knew how to reset the pilot light on the boiler. Pictured a coﬀee cup, never moved, the little liquid left growing into a ghost of dust. The note: “Pick salad x.” •
He thought at ﬁrst it was a bag or a sack ﬂoating stiﬄy in the water. It was a fence banner. He turned the boat frantically, the handle of the pan rattling and worked loose now. Seaweed and algae had grown on the banner, so it looked somehow furred, like a great dead animal on the surface of the water. He pushed at the fur of algae and it slid easily, uncovered a bright picture of a family car. There were metal eyelets in the corners and along the edge of the plasticked canvas, swollen and rusted in the water, and as he lifted it into the boat the banner caught and bridled in the breeze, the car rippling. He scraped the bigger patches of algae from the banner with the back of his knife, then doubled the ﬁshing line and fed it slackly through an eyelet and brought it back, tying it to the cleat where he clipped his seat. He did the same at the other corner. Then he cut the toggle away from one end and took the drawstring from the hem of the cagoule to give himself a cord. With that he tied the other corners of the banner around the carry handles of the boat. When he put his feet to the banner and lifted it aloft, the wind caught it with a snap. He had an idea that the land was a magnet. If he could get close, it would draw him in. •
The light dropped prematurely with the rain. At ﬁrst thin, persistent gray drizzle. He cut the top from the bottle and ﬁlled it where the rain ran down the
sail of banner. His skin loosened. His eyes stung with salt that the rain washed into them. Every so often he bailed out the boat. It was a light, saturating rain that pattered sharply on the cagoule he had put back on. Through it the land was visible and gray. Very sparsely, lights appeared. The wind now brushed the crests from the waves and it ﬁlled the sail, blew a ﬁne spray into the boat. In the falling light it seemed that a shadow lifted up from the water and went past him. A low whir of shearwaters. A ghost. He thought then how, for the time he had been drifting, he had not seen other birds. He had not seen a plane. What if this is it? What if there has been some quiet apocalypse? Some sheet of lethal radiation I survived. Some airborne plague. He thought of the sunburn on his body, a momentary scald. Of the butterﬂy. A sect, drowning themselves in the water. The heat, liquid. Sluicing from the air. Partly, there was relief in the idea. That he would not hurt them if they were already gone. He shook the thought away. The premature evening stars. How she wanted glow-in-the-dark dots stuck to the ceiling of the nursery. •
When it was beyond doubt that the land was nearing, he wept quietly. The tears went into his mouth. He lifted the banner with his feet a little and saw the growing details of the land. Then he rested, looked at the picture of the bright car. He could not get it out of his mind that she would be waiting on the beach; the bell of her stomach. It was only then he recognized the danger, staring at the car: The car leaves the road. I have no way of steering. The land is now a wall. The light was going. The storm was coming. He felt it in the water ﬁrst, like a muscle tensing. He would be better oﬀ farther out. If he could stay in the boat. If he could stay on it. Ride the storm. He could hear now, distantly, the boom of water hitting cliﬀs. A low echo. The ﬁrst sound of land.
Hold out. All you need is daylight. You could go in on your own if you could see. Trust the buoyancy aid, trust the ﬂoat. Just swim yourself in. He turned, tried to look back out to sea. A dark bank moving in. •
The squall came in like a landslide, with a physical force. It cracked into the sail and drove the nose down and he struggled to level the boat, the cockpit ﬁlling and spewing. As the sea picked up, he knew it was useless. The sign sang and hissed and seemed to bolt from him. You feel the strike, he knew now. You feel the strike coming. He cut the cord, sending the banner out like a kite. A bird ﬂapping. Then the line snapped and it ripped free, skimmed oﬀ over the water. A car out of control. He held the carry handle, tried to jam his useless arm behind the seat. You should have kept the banner. You should have kept it as a sea anchor. It might have kept you on to the waves. His father’s voice was everywhere now, as if he had entered the sky. There was no control. There was a randomness to the water. As if a great weight had been dropped into it. He was horriﬁed, tried to convince himself they could not see him, that they were not watching. The back tipped, tipped him, plunged with the whole body of the kayak shuddering. In the half-light it was as if the boat had been driven into a dark rut. He tried to press the kayak into the water, to cling on, as if to the ﬂank of some great beast. Tried to lean the kayak into the waves. But the boat went round. The sea was up. An uprushing ground. He thought of the land, the rock. He passed now beyond any sense of danger to a blank expectant place as he undid the paddle leash. I do not want the boat to come with me. It would be like a missile. If a bird the size of a wren can survive in the jaws of a cat. Trust the ﬂoat now. You have to trust the ﬂoat. NEWYORKER.COM
Cynan Jones on his story, “The Edge of the Shoal.” THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
THE CRITICS BOOKS
WHAT SHE’S HAVING Emily Witt’s adventures in a sexual wonderland.
F erotic optimism than the packed ew places are less conducive to
waiting room of a public health clinic in Brooklyn. Sitting on a hard plastic chair under a ﬂuorescent buzz as an employee lectures on proper condom use—a catechism you know by heart yet sometimes fail to heed—you may conclude, as Emily Witt did, that the time has come to change your life. It was March of 2012. Just before Valentine’s Day, Witt had slept with a friend. She was single; he was not. A few weeks later, he called to report that he might have chlamydia. He was overcome with guilt. His girlfriend was enraged. Witt didn’t feel too great, either. She was thirty, and depressed after a recent breakup. Though she had spent the ensuing months hooking up with various acquaintances, her hopes were set on long-term monogamy. “I still envisioned my sexual experience eventually reaching a terminus, like a monorail gliding to a stop at Epcot Center,” Witt writes in “Future Sex” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), her gutsy ﬁrst book. Instead, she found herself enmeshed in “sexual relationships that I could not describe in language and that failed my moral ideals.” She didn’t have chlamydia, it turned out. What she caught was worse: a dismal self-accounting of her existential shortcomings. Marriage, for many, signals the start of a new life stage. As Witt’s image of the Epcot monorail suggests, she preferred to see it as an endpoint, the moment that would bring the aimless liaisons of her single years to a full stop. Witt grew up in Minneapolis, went to college at Brown, and got a master’s degree in investigative journalism at 80
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
Columbia. She was raised by liberal boomer parents who came of age in the sixties. Inﬂuenced by that decade’s liberties, and chastened by its excesses, they encouraged her to think of youthful sexual experimentation as a healthy prelude to a coupled life. In this, Witt was hardly alone. For young, straight, well-educated American women, sleeping around for pleasure and experience has become a social convention, the way dancing the cotillion at a débutante ball once was. Witt was ready to move on. Following her visit to the clinic, she fantasized about giving herself over to “the project of wifeliness,” as she saw many of her peers doing, indulging in the sort of triumphal social-media posts— engagement photos, wedding photos, baby photos—that advertise the twentyﬁrst-century life cycle of young couples. Monogamy, she felt, would be all the more satisfying for being obviously traditional, a path she could see as a “destiny rather than a choice.” She was tired of choosing. Better, she thought, to fall in love with one person and have sex with him for the foreseeable future. But love failed to arrive. Her monorail glided on, Epcot nowhere in sight. Without the pressure of emotional commitment, Witt was free to do what she liked sexually, but she had little use for a freedom she had already decided to give up. Maybe the problem had to do with a failure of imagination. Sexual freedom can be put to more interesting uses than sleeping with your friends. Those of us born in the nineteeneighties belong to the ﬁrst generation whose experience of pornography comes
almost exclusively from the Internet, which, Witt points out, constitutes “the most comprehensive visual repository of sexual fantasy in human history.” Never before has such a wide variety of sexual preferences and behaviors enjoyed such social sanction, or been so easy to explore by typing a few words into a search engine in the privacy and the safety of one’s own home. Google may be the great sexual equalizer. “The answers its algorithms harvested assured each person of the presence of the like-minded: no one need be alone with her aberrant desires, and no desires were aberrant,” Witt writes. She began to see that she was living in a time of unprecedented erotic possibility, a sort of sexual future. Might she have a particular set of unrealized desires, a sexual identity she hadn’t yet discovered? Witt decided to take action. She bought a ticket to San Francisco in order to report on the sexual subcultures she had reason to believe she would ﬁnd there. (Parts of “Future Sex” ﬁrst appeared in n+1, to which Witt is a frequent contributor, as well as in the London Review of Books and Matter.) “They believed in intentional communities that could successfully disrupt the monogamous heterosexual tradition,” she writes, with a touch of the East Coaster’s skepticism toward the Bay Area’s positive-thinking citizens. “They gave their choices names and they conceived of their actions as social movements.” But she is honest about her true motivations: “I used the West Coast and journalism as alibis.” She was going to see how strangers in California used the Internet to
ABOVE: LUCI GUTIÉRREZ
BY ALEXANDRA SCHWARTZ
Witt’s sexual quest leads her to Burning Man’s “orgy dome,” a B.D.S.M. video shoot, an orgasmic-meditation workshop. ILLUSTRATION BY OLIMPIA ZAGNOLI
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
“Hey, we’d fight to the last Spartan if this rain would let up.”
• organize and make sense of their desires, but the life she intended to hack was her own.
W dating. She used OkCupid—Tinitt’s first stop was online
der was months away from launching — and discovered that, though its matchmaking algorithm could be eerily accurate about the sorts of people she would like, it couldn’t predict whether the sight of those people in the ﬂesh would ﬂood her with desire or leave her cold. This is understandable. Even if you’ve been happily partnered for years, let me recommend that you ﬁll out an OkCupid proﬁle to see what it’s like to squeeze your personality and desires through the sieve of questions posed by its jovial anthropomorphic algorithm. How much inﬂuence do your parents have over your life? Do you think you’re smarter than most people? Which are worse, starving children or abused animals, and which answer would you accept in a prospective match? Will your sanity be intact at the end of this interrogation? While still in New York, Witt went out with a composer, a woodworker, and a hair stylist. In San Francisco, she 82
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
• met a Brazilian who showed her his marijuana plants. Even when her dates exceeded what Witt calls, in self-deprecating scare quotes, her “standards,” attraction failed to materialize. “Until the bodies were introduced, seduction was only provisional,” she writes. Witt found that she often couldn’t discuss sex with her OkCupid prospects. It struck her as too direct. In this, she was not alone. One way that companies mitigate their female customers’ sense of vulnerability, Witt learns, is through the notion of “the clean, well-lighted place.” Women are more likely to go for sex, entrepreneurs have found, if it’s not presented with a louche, porny aesthetic. When Witt was using OkCupid, she felt that “the right to avoid the subject of sex was structurally embedded” in the site. Feminist sex-toy shops long ago discovered that women prefer to buy dildos and vibrators if they are displayed like Brancusi sculptures, the kind of objet d’art that you might ﬁnd on a coﬀee table at West Elm rather than at an XXX peepshow den in pre-Giuliani Times Square. It’s a marketing tactic meant to give women a sense of order in their
lives, akin to Marie Kondo’s teachings on “decluttering.” The cleanest, best-lighted place Witt ﬁnds is OneTaste, a San Francisco company specializing in “orgasmic meditation.” At an open house at the organization’s headquarters, a man and a woman projecting “the human neutrality of an Apple store or IKEA” lead a group of visitors in the sort of icebreaker games that recall college orientation, mildly spiked with eros. Going around a circle, participants describe their “red hot desire”; one after another, they agree to sit in the “hot seat” and answer questions posed to them by their fellows, who are instructed to limit all responses to “thank you.” Eye contact is encouraged. The orgasmic-meditation “practice”—a word, Witt notes, meant to signal “an ongoing, daily ritual in which one gained incremental expertise and wisdom over time”—is so simple that you might wonder why anyone would pay the hundred and forty-nine dollars it now costs to be certiﬁed to engage in it, never mind the twelve thousand that it costs to become a OneTaste coach. With a partner, a woman sets up a “nest” of pillows and blankets on the ﬂoor, then lies on it, naked from the waist down. Her clothed counterpart sits on a cushion to her right, puts on a pair of latex gloves, applies lube to a ﬁnger, and, after asking for permission to touch her and “poetically” describing her vulva, proceeds to stroke her clitoris. An iPhone timer is set for ﬁfteen minutes; when it goes oﬀ, the stroking stops, the partner covers the woman with a towel, and the pair verbalize their reactions. At the certiﬁcation Witt attends, the stroking is performed by OneTaste’s founder, a woman who had been on the verge of committing herself to celibacy at the San Francisco Zen Center before a Buddhist she met at a party gave her the idea for orgasmic meditation. After the demonstration, the audience is separated by gender into two lines and shuﬄed along at intervals, speed-dating style, under instructions to describe the face of each new person to appear opposite. “As a man described to me the traces of my makeup, a blemish on my chin, and other ﬂaws in my appearance that I
had convinced myself were too small to be noticeable,” Witt writes, “I felt a unique experience of horror.” Witt sees the appeal of orgasmic meditation. The timed stroking was a “sexual technique that allowed for an intimate connection but preserved an emotional distance,” a way of establishing a clear set of boundaries to allow women to give themselves over to pleasure without the pressure to reciprocate. Its terms, unlike those of casual sex, didn’t have to be negotiated every time. The woman didn’t have to wonder about her partner’s character or intentions; she didn’t even have to be attracted to him. The artiﬁciality of the structure was its point. The same is true, in a very diﬀerent way, of the experience Witt recounts in her best chapter, “Internet Porn.” Kink.com is a B.D.S.M. (bondage, domination, submission, and masochism) Web site based in a landmarked armory in San Francisco’s Mission District. It was founded by a man, but the person of particular interest to Witt is a woman: Princess Donna Dolore, an accomplished dominatrix who has presided over the site’s Public Disgrace channel since she came up with the idea for it, in 2008. In Public Disgrace videos, a woman (or a few) is stripped, bound, and subjected to a series of torments, such as getting zapped with electrical current or ﬂogged, while another performer (or a few) prods and penetrates her body to the cheers and enthusiastic insults of onlookers. Immediately afterward, the submissive performer records a testimonial to assure viewers that she thoroughly enjoyed herself. The shoot that Witt describes took place at a bar in a seedy neighborhood south of the Tenderloin. The female performer, a ﬁve-foot, twenty-threeyear-old blonde who goes by the stage name Penny Pax, has discussed ahead of time with Princess Donna what she will and will not do, and what kinds of things she especially wants done to her. Her partner for the evening is a Spaniard with the palindromic nom de porn Ramon Nomar and a penis, in Witt’s memorable description, “like the trunk of a palm tree.” Members of the public are recruited to be spectators in Public Disgrace videos and are
directed by Princess Donna, who both riles them up, encouraging them to slap or spit or jeer, and keeps them in check, lest the abuse go too far. Their presence gives the scene its veneer of reality. “Our job was to play the role of an unruly and voyeuristic crowd for the real audience, the people who paid to watch a series called Public Disgrace on the Internet,” Witt writes, though she has the additional job of jotting the whole thing down, coming as close as anyone has to embodying Nora Ephron’s epithet for a journalist: the “wallﬂower at the orgy.” Witt’s account of the scene is terriﬁcally done, an oddly sweet exercise in descriptive economy and dry comic timing. Paying attention to the startstop momentum intrinsic to any ﬁlm shoot, she captures the moments of tenderness and restraint that have no place in the ﬁnal cut: Princess Donna gently wiping Penny’s sweat during a break, giving her water and a kiss on the cheek; Ramon, wearing only combat boots, pacing and shaking out his arms “like a long-distance runner who has just crossed the ﬁnish line,” ignored by the crowd as Princess Donna fulﬁlls Penny’s special request to be anally ﬁsted. Then, there’s the crowd—mostly men, though there are women, too, in pairs or with their boyfriends. One in particular catches Witt’s eye, or, rather, her ear. She calls him “the shouty man.” He seesaws between raw id, when the camera is rolling (he is “particularly enthusiastic about yelling ‘worthless cunt,’ ” Witt notes), and bashful superego, when it’s not. “You are beautiful and I’d take you to meet my mother!” he calls out during a break, as if to reassure himself that he’s still a nice guy. Like the Public Disgrace scene itself, the shouty man’s performance is a compound of ﬁction and reality, though he seems uncertain which part is which. It all works in the regulated fantasy of the dungeon, but you might want to keep your distance from him at an actual bar.
W behavior and the motivations itt is a sharp observer of the
of others, a wry, aﬀectionate portraitist of idealistic people and the increasingly surreal place they belong
to. Among other things, “Future Sex” oﬀers a superb account of the absurdities of San Francisco in the ﬁrst half of this decade, a bouncy castle of a city where the private pleasures of the conquering tech class are construed (and marketed) as social beneﬁts for all. But where is she in these exploits? What progress has she been making in her quest to discover and express new desires? “I, personally, was not having sex while all this was going on,” she confesses, after the Public Disgrace shoot: The Kink actors were more like athletes or stuntmen and -women performing punishing feats, and part of what I admired was the ease with which they went in and out of it, the comfort with which they inhabited their bodies, their total self-assurance and sense of unity against those who condemned their practice. I possessed none of those qualities. I was, at that time, so miserable about being alone, and half-convinced by the logic that I could somehow solve the problem of loneliness by avoiding sex until I fell in love, that I was in the middle of a long and ultimately pointless stretch of celibacy.
This is a surprising admission. Witt’s adventure started because she decided that she had better get ahead with the physical side of things in case the love part didn’t happen for her. It seems that she’s been holding out for love anyway. “I performed, and experienced, detachment,” she says, of her ﬁrst attempt at orgasmic meditation. Detachment, though a useful quality for a reporter, is an aﬄiction for a person in search of a sex life. Witt does sometimes push herself to participate. In a chapter on live Webcams, she tries out Chaturbate, a site that allows users to stream videos of themselves that others can watch for free. Writing wistfully of the gay cruising scene of pre-AIDS New York, she makes the case that a voyeuristic platform like Chaturbate can let women experience similar anonymous encounters without worrying about physical danger, though when she ﬁnally initiates a private video chat with a naked man she’s too embarrassed to take her clothes oﬀ. At Burning Man, the annual festival in the Nevada desert that’s awash in hallucinogens and tech money, she meets THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
a guy she likes; they enter the “orgy dome,” where they have sex together as other couples and groups do their thing. In a novelistic chapter on a young polyamorous couple she spent time with in the course of a few years, she writes, “I envied their community of friends, the openness with which they shared their attractions.” But she’s not so sure that she envies the nature of the attractions themselves. Like Alice making her way through Wonderland, she is a visitor deciphering the codes and customs of a world she’s bound to leave behind. In that chapter’s ﬁnal scene, Witt is at a sex party arranged by Elizabeth, one of the polyamorous pair, inhaling whip-its, nitrous oxide dispensed through the nozzle of a whippedcream can. The gas leaves her giddy and relaxed. A man touches her. It feels nice. They kiss, and smack each other playfully with a riding crop. Around them, people cuddle and spank. A paragraph later, still warm with the evening’s glow, Witt reveals that she has a boyfriend back in New York who didn’t want her to go to the party. A boyfriend! The time line is hazy, but we seem to be a few years past Witt’s lonely celibate phase. She found what she had been looking for. Now she may not want it after all. She regrets her shyness at the party; she’s sorry that she kissed only one person rather than join the group cuddling on a satin-sheeted bed. “I was still thinking of myself as just a visitor, or rather neither here nor there,” she writes, “someone undertaking an abstract inquiry but not yet with true intention.”
W for “Future Sex” was “ Thy
itt has said that one model
Neighbor’s Wife” (1981), Gay Talese’s account of sex in the nineteen-seventies. The books are markedly diﬀerent in approach and style. While Witt is relatively narrow and idiosyncratic in her selection of topics—Kink.com represents a sizable sexual subculture; OneTaste does not—Talese set out to write an encyclopedic account of the eﬀects of the sexual revolution on American life. A reluctance to join in was, notoriously, not his problem. Talese was born in 1932. When he 84
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married, in the late nineteen-ﬁfties, essentially two sexualities were available to him: “normal” and “deviant.” A couple of decades later, that picture had irrevocably changed. He had decided on his sexual future during a time of relative scarcity. Now that there was a surplus to sample—massage parlors and swingers’ parties—he wanted to feast. To Witt, who grew up in the era of the sexual supermarket, the abundance of options was less an allure than a challenge. Through Chaturbate, she meets Edith, a young woman who likes to bare her body to strangers on her Webcam but is not sexually active oﬀline. Edith is “Internet-sexual,” she tells Witt. She has found her niche, while Witt is still searching for hers. As Witt realizes, the problem may lie with the very notion of choice—the idea that there’s always something better to select, that one’s experience can be optimized if only the right search terms are found. In the “red hot desire” orgasmic-meditation exercise, Witt tells her partner that her wish is “to surrender to another person without having to explain what I wanted.” The expectation that a person learn to articulate his or her pleasure is crucial to contemporary sexual mores, the key to consent. It also means that you have to know the right words for what you want. If you don’t, the Googleera Internet, built to catalogue and categorize and suggest based on previously expressed preferences, can’t be of much help. Witt leaves her Wonderland without being able to say exactly how it has aﬀected her. “Five years passed, and my life saw few structural changes,” she reports. She now sees sexuality as being determined not by a set of actions but by the way those actions are framed. A husband who cheats on his wife and a polyamorist who sleeps with a person outside his primary couple do much the same thing, but their behaviors have diﬀerent meanings. Witt remains, as ever, unsure of where she ﬁts in. She likes the idea of pledging herself to “the principle of free love,” though she seems to mean this as a statement of political solidarity, a way of allying herself with a set of values—feminism, gender equality, the
erosion of the primacy of marriage. Witt, in short, has made the search for identity her identity. In this light, her forays into the world of future sex gain a certain retroactive moral glamour. “I had wanted to seek out a higher principle of life than the search for mere contentment, to pursue emotional experiences that could not be immediately transposed to a party of young people in a cell phone ad, even if it meant delving into ugliness, contracting an STD, or lifting my shirt to entice someone jerking oﬀ over the Internet. There was no industry of dresses and gift registries for the sexuality that interested me in these years,” she writes. This pronouncement has a nicely engagé ring to it—it’s certainly not detached—but it doesn’t entirely convince. For one thing, the sexualities that interested her have all been commercially co-opted in their own way. (B.D.S.M. has its own apparel industry, and its tropes grace many an advertisement.) For another, the people whose commitment to unconventional sexual principles Witt admires most are motivated by their own search for contentment. They’re following their bliss, not choosing it from a drop-down menu. After the Kink shoot, Witt skeptically asked Penny Pax if she had experienced “moments of genuine pleasure.” Pax, she reports, “looked at me like I was crazy. ‘Yeah. Like the whole thing!’ ” What Witt considers extreme is heaven to Pax. Everyone has her own garden to cultivate. Contentment doesn’t have to mean complacency. The best sex Witt describes in her book is with a man she had encountered at a wedding and agreed to meet up with at Burning Man. He works in tech; the two of them have nothing in common aside from a thrilling mutual attraction. “I want to have sex with this person forever,” she thinks, after they hook up in the R.V. they are sharing with half a dozen other people. It’s a relief to read this, and not because the idea of having sex with someone forever suggests that Witt has surrendered to conventional monogamy. If you need to label it, call it happiness. For the ﬁrst time, she sounds like she’s enjoying herself exactly where she is.
BRUSH UP YOUR SHAKESPEARE When novelists rewrite the Bard. BY ADAM GOPNIK
T London, with ambition and auhe revived Hogarth Press, in
dacity and what must also be a very large fund for advances, has commissioned a series of novels by famous novelists that retell tales from Shakespeare. The novelists include Howard Jacobson, who has done “The Merchant of Venice” (as “Shylock Is My Name”); Anne Tyler, who’s done “The Taming of the Shrew” (as “Vinegar Girl”); and now Margaret Atwood, doing “The Tempest” (as “Hag-Seed”). Retelling Shakespeare’s stories, albeit in honor of the four-hundredth anniversary of his death, seems an odd en ILLUSTRATION BY BENDIK KALTENBORN
terprise at ﬁrst, given that Shakespeare grabbed his stories more or less at random from Holinshed’s history of Britain and Plutarch and old collections of Italian ribald tales. As the “ordinary poet” of a working company of players, he sought plots under deadline pressure rather than after some long, deliberate meditation on how to turn ﬁction into drama. “What have you got for us this month, Will?” the players asked him, and, thinking quickly, he’d say, “I thought I’d do something with the weird Italian story I mentioned, the one with the Jew and the contest.” “Italy again? All right. End of the
month then?” These were not the slowcooked stories and intricately intertextual fables of the modern art novel. One thing Shakespeare certainly never did is what all the novelists adapting him for Hogarth must have done, and that is worry at length about whether or not it would be an interesting artistic challenge to adapt a classic. Homer, Plutarch, Holinshed, Menander—Shakespeare just did them and dropped them. (Though, like the novelists, he was surely glad to get paid once he had got it done.) And then the story content of a Shakespeare play is the least content it has. Saluting Shakespeare with new versions of his stories is a bit like saluting Mozart by commissioning Philip Glass to write a new opera to the plot of “Così Fan Tutte,” with its disguised Albanians and absurd coincidences. Shakespeare’s music counts for far more than his material. Adaptations of Shakespeare, from “West Side Story” to “The Boys from Syracuse,” have ﬂourished from time to time, but it is notable that the early, more strongly plotted plays are remade most persuasively: the musical adaptation of “Othello” (which starred, of all people, Jerry Lee Lewis) remains a memorable oddity. “The Tempest” has been retold many times, from science ﬁction (“Forbidden Planet”) to dense philosophical poetry (Auden’s “The Sea and the Mirror”), but the retellings all tend to force one back to the original. Most of the authors in the Hogarth series, to their credit, aren’t so much “reimagining” the stories as reacting to the plays. They’ve taken on not the tale itself but the twists in the tale that produced the Shakespearean themes we still debate: anti-Semitism in “Merchant of Venice,” the subjugation of women in “The Taming of the Shrew,” art and isolation in “The Tempest.” Each of the novels gives us a revisionist account of the central Shakespearean subject, and asks us to think anew about that subject more than about the story that superintends it. Howard Jacobson, who is famous as a sort of English Philip Roth (though often making one more grateful than ever for the American one), was a natural for Shylock. His version of “Merchant” has a plotline so complicated, THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
so overpopulated with players and ideas and unrelated riﬀs, that I will confess I had to go back and reread it before I could make sense of it. We meet both a contemporary British Shylock, an art collector named Simon Strulovitch, and the original Shylock, teleported forward to our time, into whose monologues we peer, and with whom Strulovitch has intense exchanges about money-lending, circumcision, and Jewishness generally. The dramatis personae, augmented by these twin Shylocks, include an English professional footballer who has disgraced himself, as some French footballers have done in life, by oﬀering the “quenelle,” the ambiguously inverted Nazi salute. The central action turns on the footballer’s proposal to Strulovitch’s daughter, and on Strulovitch’s insistence, as a conscious parody of the demand of Shakespeare’s Shylock for a pound of ﬂesh from Antonio, that the Gentile athlete be circumcised. There is a large cast of secondary, mostly Jewish-British characters, including an irresistible Nigella Lawson-like ﬁgure named, in a Joycean sideswipe, Anna Livia Plurabelle. Jacobson has an unmatched reputation in his homeland as a humorist, but not all of it translates for an American reader, since the jokes seem to depend more on extreme aggravation of tone than on close observation of life. Everything in Jacobson sounds as if it should be read out loud by Alan Rickman, as when Strulovitch speaks to Shylock about his daughter’s suitor: Here I’ve been steeling myself against the next over-principled, money-hating, ISIS-backing Judaeophobe with an MA in ﬁne art she’s going to bring back from college and she hits on someone who’s probably never opened a book and certainly never heard of Noam Chomsky—a hyper possessive uneducated uber-goy from around the corner. I’ve no idea how or where she met him. At a wrestling match, is my guess, or at the dodgems. . . . If I hadn’t frightened her oﬀ Jewish boys by telling her she had to ﬁnd one she might have met a nice quiet embroiderer of skullcaps.
At one point, Jacobson uses the word “sarcastic” to describe a speaker’s tone, and he is often sarcastic, instead of, in Roth’s American way, mordantly ironic; his tone can become tetchy and irritable as a result. Irritability is an odd trait for literature, but it seems a dominant one in contemporary English ﬁction, 86
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at least that written by men. We even have, in Glen Duncan’s “Bloodlines” trilogy, an irritable werewolf. The best things in the book are often the most discursive, the philosophical-historical exchanges between Strulovitch and Shylock. Shylock has a wonderful riﬀ, concerning Strulovitch’s art dealing, about why words are, for Jews, always more fundamental than images: “God had spoken the world into existence—Let it be—he had not painted it. Had God been a painter the world would have been other than it is. Better or worse? Well, less disputatious and declamatory, which might not have suited Shylock.” (A reader may have the satisfying suspicion that Jacobson, like a few other contemporary novelists, would actually rather be a magazine writer, since the riﬀs are usually more compelling than the relationships.) Much of “Shylock Is My Name” is, indeed, taken up with set-piece discourses on the perils and pleasures of being an English Jew; though the book takes us in the end to Venice, most of it is set in Manchester. These things are ordered diﬀerently in England, one sees. American Jewish writers once faced the double comedy of being outsiders to Gentile culture writ large and outsiders to English literature speciﬁcally, thus producing the kind of pathos that the critic Lionel Trilling felt so keenly in his life, trying to be a gentleman devoted to Matthew Arnold as
a moral tutor while living a mixed-up Jewish life on the Upper West Side. British Jews, one feels, reading Jacobson, have long been more at home with the language of Shakespeare and more uneasy as patriots and citizens. A British Jew couldn’t begin a book, Augie March style, with “I am an Englishman, Manchester born.” They seem to enter Shakespeare with ease but English football with diﬃculty, where American Jews enter the ballpark non-
chalantly, Shakespeare aspirationally. Though the apparatus of Jacobson’s novel can be exhausting, several lovely turns and switcheroos lead us to a genuinely touching scene in which the original Shylock returns to Venice and paraphrases Portia’s great speech on mercy (rachmones, in Yiddish), reclaiming it as a Jewish invention: No man can love as God loves, and it is profane of any man to try. But you can act in the spirit of God’s love, show charity, give though it is gall and wormwood to you to give, spare the undeserving, love those that do not love you—for where is the virtue merely in returning love?—give to those who would take from you and where they have taken do not recompense them in kind, for the greater the oﬀence the greater the merit in refusing to be oﬀended. Who shows rachmones does not diminish justice. Who shows rachmones acknowledges the just but exacting law under which we were created.
Shakespeare’s anti-Semitism, Jacobson insists, is simply a category error; the morality in his play derives from his villain’s religion. With mercy and charity claimed as Jewish speciﬁcities, the sarcasms of the book at last rise and resolve into something like poetry.
A ing of the Shrew” is, predictably, nne Tyler’s take on “The Tam-
winsome, straightforward, and smart. Instead of making her Kate into, say, a caricature feminist professor, as might have seemed tempting, Tyler seizes on a less obvious but essential part of Kate’s psychology—her social awkwardness and her complicated relationship with Bianca, here represented as a sexy younger sister called Bunny. It is the fate of Tyler’s Kate not to be tamed, certainly, but to be socialized—in this case, by a still more socially awkward Russian-émigré biologist named Pyotr. From Shakespeare’s fable, Tyler has gracefully distilled a congruent but very diﬀerent one—not one in which Kate needs to be “tamed” by a masterful man but one where she becomes more herself by being made to engage with someone as odd as she is. The tone is Austen-Trollope, light and stinging and socially secure. The characters are assumed to be doing something important, even if they do it comically: Kate’s father, Dr. Battista, who urges Pyotr on her in order to keep him in his lab, is a bit of a clown,
but also an important immune biologist. Searching for the equivalent of an arranged marriage in our romantic day, Tyler ingeniously has found the one situation in which arranged marriages are acceptable in American life—in order to get a green card for a deserving alien. Tyler’s quiet and quirky comic gift is on display throughout the book. The scenes in the kindergarten where Kate works have a delightful, slightly Salingeresque tang, and the wedding— taking place shortly after experimental mice in the laboratory Pyotr shares with Dr. Battista have been kidnapped—is a lovely scene in a Laura Linney comedy: Pyotr was walking him towards the front of the chapel now, his hand still resting on Dr. Battista’s shoulder. “I wake up early,” he said. “I think I will go to lab early so I am in time for wedding. I get to door; is locked the same as always. I punch combination. I go inside. I go to mouse room.” They slowed to a stop a few feet from the altar. Uncle Theron and Kate and Bunny stayed where they were, watching. Then Pyotr turned to look back at Kate. “Where are you?” he asked her. “Me?” “Come on! We get married.” “Oh, well,” Dr. Battista said, “I don’t know if that’s really. . . . I think I’d just like to get on down to the lab now, Pyoder, even if—” But Kate said, “Wait til we say our vows, Father. You can check the lab afterward.”
Just as Jacobson takes Portia’s famous mercy speech and paraphrases it for modernity, Tyler, as the arranged marriage becomes a love match, takes Kate’s notoriously servile ﬁnal speech on men (is there something in the Hogarth contract that says you have to rewrite the big speech?) and re-orchestrates it to become at once a feminist statement, a love letter, and a musing on the perils of modern masculinity: It’s hard being a man. Have you ever thought about that? Anything that’s bothering them, men think they have to hide it. . . . They’re a whole lot less free than women are, when you think about it. Women have been studying people’s feelings since they were toddlers; they’ve been perfecting their radar—their intuition or their empathy or their interpersonal whatchamacallit. It’s like men and women are in two diﬀerent countries! I’m not “backing down,” as you call it; I’m letting him into my country. I’m giving him space in a place where we can both be ourselves.
For Tyler, the very idea of the taming of the shrew is obviously defunct. But
the shaming of the true—our struggle with the truth that only authentically facing another can enable any of us to be ourselves—continues. In contrast to the elaborate po-mo agonies of Jacobson and the neat undermining charm of Tyler, Margaret Atwood’s “Hag-Seed” lays out a satiric account of contemporary plays and players. Setting her tempest within a production of “The Tempest,” she brings us to what any Canadian reader will recognize as the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, where an artistic director is elbowed aside by his aide—Stratford can be a bloody place—just as he is about to mount a full-court-press “modernized” production. (“His Ariel, he’d decided, would be played by a transvestite on stilts who’d transform into a giant ﬁreﬂy at signiﬁcant moments.”) Sent into the cultural wilderness—a comfortable Canadian cultural wilderness, to be sure—he returns, twelve years later, with a revival of his production staged within the walls of a prison. And let us add to the Hogarth series another hot British retelling, “Macbeth, Macbeth” (Bloomsbury), by the Shakespeareans Ewan Fernie and Simon Palfrey. The point of the exercise—immensely pleasing to the neo-Marxist Slavoj Zizek, who calls it “a miracle”—is that it opens up the play’s “absences,” telling the human tales of all the little people whose fate Shakespeare leaves out of his tragedy. It is a solemn version of the joke that James Thurber played so well, decades ago, in “The Macbeth Murder Mystery,” in which a hidden pattern involving obscure rustics is found within the play. Here the hidden pattern is that of the cruelty, starvation, and pervasive oppression of ordinary people, pushed to the fringes by Shakespeare’s concentration on the élite.
B also outside the Hogarth estate, is etter than any of these, though
Ian McEwan’s “Nutshell” (Doubleday), a short, modern-dress take on “Hamlet,” in which the tale is narrated by the fetus of the Prince, observing life from the womb as his mother, Trudy, and uncle, Claude, plot to poison his father. (Their prize in this case is not the Kingdom of Denmark but something THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
far more valuable: a prime bit of London real estate.) Though the names and many of the details are taken from the play, “Nutshell” would succeed as a story even if the connection to Shakespeare were made far more subterraneanly. It’s essentially an extreme closeup study of how mad, adulterous passion leads to murder, with the evil couple being caught at the end more eﬃciently than they are in the play— a tale on the whole closer in tone to James M. Cain than to Shakespeare. For a reader utterly innocent of its source, the book would still work, though many of the details are cunningly punned: the unborn Hamlet conspires to revenge his father’s murder with a ﬁendish touch of his ﬁngernail, sending Gertrude into labor just as the couple are about to abscond, a detail surely meant to invoke the foil by which, in the play, the Prince also brings justice to that pair. The device of the omniscient fetus is one that McEwan takes up with a comic ﬂair more darkly mischievous than McEwan fans, accustomed to his usually melancholic-meditative tone, might expect. The consciousness that McEwan provides for the unborn babe is, once one accepts the premise, persuasive in that he knows a lot but not too much—he is innocent of the diﬀerence between green and blue, but does know everything political passing in the world, evidently from hearing the BBC all day and night. Many beautiful notes register, as with the embryonic Hamlet’s ﬁne palate for the wines he consumes through the plumbing of his guiltracked mother. (This, of course, is the one sensual detail that a hyperliterate fetus would be expert in.) One also suspects that, in addition to the ghosts of Shakespeare, the book is haunted by John Updike’s earlier, sympathetic take on the story of Gertrude and Claudius, in his 2000 novel of that name. Certainly the marked tone of serene sexual relish seems deliberately Updikean, particularly in our womb’s-eye view of the lovers’ ruttings. (There is also the telling little detail that the good father, a poet, is identiﬁed by his psoriasis, the skin signature of the bard of Shillington.) The book, despite its small size, 88
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eventually bursts at the seams a bit with occasional essays and drive-by editorials, though for the most part McEwan curbs the inevitable agingnovelist’s need to register opinions on contemporary absurdities, or what seem so. An exasperated digression into the stupidity of safe spaces and trigger warnings resolves into a beautiful meditation on time and temperament, with Gertrude embodying the instantly achieved innocence of the postmodern mind, against her consort’s darker guilt: “Her grief, her tears, are proof of probity. She’s beginning to convince herself with her story of depression and suicide,” imputed to the man they’ve poisoned. “Claude, unlike Trudy, owns his crime. This is a Renaissance man, a Machiavel, an oldschool villain who believes he can get away with murder. The world doesn’t come to him through a haze of the subjective; it comes refracted by stupidity and greed, bent as through glass or water, but etched on a screen before the inner eye, a lie as sharp and bright as truth.”
W of all this revision? We are sup-
hat would Shakespeare make
posed to say that he would be pleased, but in truth he would be puzzled. A long stretch of literary invention lies between him and us, and it involves both the internalization of action into psychology—a thing he is taken to have begun but not completed—and the overcomplication of narrative. The low-key, chastened, anti-dramatic movement of Anne Tyler’s imagination—no marvels or events, really, just inner action rebounding oﬀ halfspoken idea—would have baﬄed him. This sells? He was used to getting half of London on their asses for a play, and he knew you needed bloody scenes and children baked in pies to do it. And then to the inner consciousness of the modern novel we add the extreme self-consciousness of the postmodern one, as in Jacobson, with the insistent mashup of forms and genres and characters. Shylock in Manchester now? Oh, right, nice move. Shakespeare is a dramatic poet rather than a psychological novelist or a selfconscious critic of texts, and his imagination runs in broader, potent strokes
that are not so much illuminated as belied by the inward-turning ironies of the modern psychological novel. Shakespeare’s poetic imagination runs on such bold lines that we assume his moral imagination must, too. But that is a modern assumption: if we had asked Shakespeare or any of his company what to think about Shylock, we would have been told that it’s a great part—giving full scope to human behavior, a mirror held up to nature—but not that he’s a sympathetic man. The empathy that Fernie and Palfrey ask us to feel for Macbeth’s victims is not part of Shakespeare’s vision. We feel sorry for poor old Polonius being killed by accident, but when Hamlet says he’ll lug the guts out of the room after he’s killed him we are not meant to feel the chill sense that Hamlet is a psychopath (though by our standards he behaves like one, oﬃng Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern without much more than a morbid pun or two). He’s still a hero. Shakespeare’s heroes kill innocent people. Shakespeare believed in fate, order, and forgiveness; we believe in history, justice, and compassion—three pairings so similar as to sometimes seem the same, though they are not. The novelistic, psychological work of explaining why evil people are evil gets very little energy from him. His villains are the products not of trauma and history but of nature and destiny. He amputated Iago’s motive for malignancy from the Italian story where he found Othello’s tragedy, in order to make the evil more absolute. Even to ask if Shylock’s graspingness is a product of his people’s history of exclusion would not have seemed important to him. He wasn’t looking for causes. Though not satisfying to our modern sense of “psychology,” this is actually psychologically quite satisfying. The malevolent people we encounter in life are mostly just like that. They don’t have a particular trauma that, if addressed and cured, would stop them from being evil. They were creepy, malignant kids, too. And Shakespeare believed in order as an absolute good. His most eloquent speeches are given to singers of well-ordered communities, as with
Canterbury’s speech on the beehive in “Henry V,” or, most memorably, Ulysses in “Troilus and Cressida”: “Take but degree away, untune that string / And, hark, what discord follows! / Then every thing includes itself in power, / power into will, will into appetite /And appetite, an universal wolf ” devours all. Maybe he felt this way because the circumstances of the religious wars ﬁlled his youth, but even to put it like this is to show our prejudice for anachronistic historical or biographical explanations. He liked order. Most people do. He was perfectly aware that the social order he saw before him was arbitrary and unjust, but he was convinced that its absence would lead to chaos and cruelty, not to liberation and kindness. Although modern scholars like to pretend that this is one point of view among many on oﬀer in the plays, any sensitive reader recognizes in the eloquence of the argument the pressure of personal faith. But Shakespeare also believed in forgiveness in a way that we don’t. Really rotten people get forgiven, in the comedies and romances, at least, in ways that still make us uneasy. In “The Tempest,” “As You Like It,” “Twelfth Night,” bad actors get easy outs. Even Shylock isn’t killed. Dr. Johnson thought the moment when Hamlet delays killing Claudius in order to deprive him of any chance of forgiveness was “too horrible to be read or to be uttered.” We are much more ostentatiously compassionate and much more eﬀectively vindictive. Small incidents of plagiarism end careers—not a rule that Shakespeare himself would have escaped—and sexual sins can place their perpetrators forever beyond the bounds of redemption. In Shakespeare, rotten people do rotten things, but if they stick around and say they’re sorry they are forgiven. By contrast, we feel everyone’s pain, forgive no one’s trespasses. Our novelists aim at modernizing Shakespeare by adding history or a greater sense of justice or more compassion to plays that seem to lack them. We are asked to feel for Macbeth’s victims’ plight; given a discursive explanation of how Shylock came to behave as he does; presented with an understanding of why a woman might seem
“There are plenty of children out there who would love being a pirate.”
• shrewish when she is only shy; shown Gertrude and Claudius grappling with their erotic compulsion toward each other in a manner essentially sympathetic to their entrapment. We apply our dutifully expansive moral imagination to the plays, and, while this makes them seem fuller to us, it brings us no closer to Shakespeare. Our eﬀort, in the end, is hardly diﬀerent from the eighteenth century’s insistence on tacking a happy ending on to “King Lear,” wishful thinking in the guise of an improvement. If Shakespeare is our contemporary, it is not because he shares our attitudes but because he shares our agonies. A production of “The Merchant of Venice” that treats Shylock as anything other than the most interesting person in the play will always fail. But one that makes him into its hero has to ﬁght so hard against the text that it will fail, too. Kate is persecuted and oppressed in horrible ways, but she lives as she is. Tell students that “Hamlet” is a study in the horizons of personal liberation, and they will fall away, puzzled. Tell them that it’s about a man who can’t decide whether to obey his father’s revenge rit-
• uals or kill himself ﬁrst, and they vibrate. Speaking for humanity, Shakespeare spoke for the dehumanized. But it would take a tortured reading of the text to ﬁnd within it a message of equality or of what we understand to be human freedom. A permanent Shakespearean paradox remains: his people continue to haunt us after the social and ethical structures that held them up have disappeared. It turns out to be just as possible to ﬁnd persuasive human beings in a world governed by fate and order and forgiveness as in one governed by trauma and justice and compassion. Shakespeare oﬀers not so much an argument for universality as evidence for it. The settings change. The roles don’t, because the players can’t.
1 Correction of the Week From the Times. An article in some editions last Sunday about bars where dogs are still welcome inside in violation of New York City’s health code misidentified the breed of a dog visiting a bar in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He is a yellow Labrador, not a golden retriever. The article also omitted part of the dog’s name. He is Captain William Trigger of Ludlow, not Captain Trigger of Ludlow. THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
HAUNTED HOUSES What frightened Shirley Jackson? BY ZOË HELLER
A new biography argues that Jackson’s books should be seen as proto-feminist.
H ously as a woman writer: Use deere’s how not to be taken seri-
mons and ghosts and other gothic paraphernalia in your ﬁction. Describe yourself publicly as “a practicing amateur witch” and boast about the hexes you have placed on prominent publishers. Contribute comic essays to women’s magazines about your hectic life as a housewife and mother. Shirley Jackson did all of these things, and, during her lifetime, was largely dismissed as a talented purveyor of hightoned horror stories—“Virginia Werewoolf,” as one critic put it. For most of the ﬁfty-one years since her death, that reputation has stuck. Today, “The Lottery,” her story of ritual human sacriﬁce 90
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
in a New England village (ﬁrst published in this magazine, in 1948), has become a staple of eighth-grade reading lists, and her novel “The Haunting of Hill House” (1959) is often mentioned as one of the best ghost stories of all time. But most of her substantial body of work— including her masterpiece, the beautifully weird novel “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” (1962)—is not widely read. In recent years, there have been signs of renewed interest in Jackson’s work. Various writers, including Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Lethem, and A. M. Homes, have praised her idiosyncratic talent, and new editions of her work have appeared. But these attempts to reclaim Jackson have had a mixed response.
In 2010, when the Library of America published an edition of Jackson’s selected works, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, a critic at Newsweek protested that it was an exercise in barrel-scraping: “Shirley Jackson? A writer mostly famous for one short story, ‘The Lottery.’ Is LOA about to jump the shark?” In a new, meticulously researched biography, “A Rather Haunted Life,” Ruth Franklin sets out to rescue Jackson from the sexists and the genre snobs who have consigned her to a dungeon of kooky, spooky middlebrow-ness. Franklin’s aim is to establish Jackson as both a major ﬁgure in the American Gothic tradition and a signiﬁcant, proto-feminist chronicler of mid-twentieth-century women’s lives. In contrast to Jackson’s ﬁrst biographer, Judy Oppenheimer, whose 1988 book, “Private Demons,” somewhat played up Jackson’s alleged occult powers, Franklin argues that Jackson’s sorceress persona was mostly shtick: a fun way to tease interviewers and to sell books. Jackson was interested in witchcraft, she writes, less as a “practical method for inﬂuencing the world” than as “a way of embracing and channeling female power at a time when women in America often had little control over their lives.” Similarly, Jackson used supernatural elements in her work not to deliver cheap thrills but, in the manner of Poe or James, “to plumb the depths of the human condition,” or, more particularly, to explore the “psychic damage to which women are especially prone.” was born in San Francisco J inackson 1916 and brought up, with a young-
er brother, in one of the city’s aﬄuent suburbs. Her parents were conservative country-club people, who regarded their high-strung child with some perplexity. Jackson identiﬁed herself early on as an outsider and as a writer. “When i ﬁrst used to write stories and hide them away in my desk,” she later wrote in an unpublished essay, “i used to think that no one had ever been so lonely as i was and i used to write about people all alone. . . . i thought i was insane and i would write about how the only sane people are the ones who are condemned as mad and how the whole world is cruel and foolish and afraid of people who are diﬀerent.” The chief representative of the cruel and foolish world during Jackson’s ILLUSTRATION BY CRISTIANA COUCEIRO
SOURCE: FRANCES BENJAMIN JOHNSTON/LIBRARY OF CONGRESS (HOUSE)
childhood was her mother, Geraldine, an elegant, rather vapid woman, who was disappointed by her daughter and who made it clear that she would have preferred a prettier, more pliable one. She told Jackson that she was the product of a failed abortion and harangued her constantly about her bad hair, her weight, and her “willful” refusal to cultivate feminine charm. Long after Jackson had grown up and moved away, Geraldine continued to send letters criticizing her “helter skelter way of living,” her “repetitious” ﬁction, and her appearance: “I have been so sad all morning about what you have allowed yourself to look like.” Quotations from the correspondence of the awful Geraldine are a source of guilty entertainment throughout Franklin’s biography. Jackson’s adult life was ostensibly a rebellion against her mother and her mother’s values. She became a writer; she grew fat; she married a Jewish intellectual, Stanley Edgar Hyman, and ran a bohemian household in which she dyed the mashed potatoes green when she felt like it. But she never quite shook Geraldine’s tentacular grip, or ceased to be tormented by her disapproval. And in her marriage to Hyman she found a person with whom to replicate the abusive relationship. Jackson and Hyman met at Syracuse University; he sought her out after reading her ﬁrst published story, “Janice,” in a college magazine and deciding that she was the girl he was going to marry. To Jackson, who had already begun to experience the anxiety, depression, and “fears of people” that plagued her throughout her life, Hyman seemed a savior: a brilliant man who didn’t think she was ugly, who understood her and loved her, who believed in her promise as a writer. His main drawback was his principled insistence on sleeping with other women. He also expected Jackson to listen good-naturedly to accounts of his sexual adventures. On a few occasions during the early stages of their relationship, Hyman’s behavior drove Jackson into such paroxysms of anguish that he worried she might be mentally ill. But he refused to compromise his integrity on the issue. “If it turns you queasy, you are a fool,” he told her. Jackson, whom Franklin describes as having been primed by her mother’s criticisms “to accept a relationship with a man who treated her
disrespectfully and shamed her for legitimate and rational desires,” reluctantly went along with his terms. They married—in the face of determined opposition from both sets of parents—shortly after graduating, and moved to New York. During the next couple of years, both of them began contributing to The New Yorker, she as a ﬁction writer and he as a contributor to The Talk of the Town and, later, as a staﬀ writer. In 1945, after their ﬁrst child was born, they settled in Vermont, where Hyman had been oﬀered a post on the literature faculty at Bennington College. Here, in a rambling, crooked house in North Bennington, they raised four children and became the center of a social set that included Howard Nemerov, Ralph Ellison, Bernard Malamud, and Walter Bernstein. Their domestic life, as described in the comic dispatches that Jackson wrote for Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Home Companion, was raucous and warm. But Jackson was miserable a good deal of the time, as indicated by her increasing reliance on alcohol, tranquillizers, and amphetamines. She felt patronized in her role as a faculty wife and frozen out by the townspeople of North Bennington. (She took her revenge by using them as the model for the barbaric villagers in “The Lottery.”) Most of all, she felt oppressed by her husband. Hyman’s lordly expectations of what he was due as the family patriarch were retrograde, even by the standards of the time. Jackson did the cooking, the cleaning, the grocery shopping, and the child-rearing; he sat at his desk, pondering the state of American letters and occasionally yelling at his wife to come and reﬁll the ink in his pen. (His brother Arthur once commented that Hyman’s views on the domestic division of labor were the only aspects of his traditional Jewish upbringing that he had retained.) Long after Jackson became the chief breadwinner in the marriage, Hyman continued to control the family’s ﬁnances, meting out portions of Jackson’s earnings to her as he saw ﬁt. Although he always encouraged Jackson’s writing, in part because it was her writing that kept the family aﬂoat, he came to resent how completely her career had eclipsed his. His major published works—“The Armed Vision” (1948), a comparative study of modern methods
of literary criticism, and “The Tangled Bank” (1962), on the literary strategies of Marx, Freud, Darwin, and Sir James Frazer—were grand projects of intellectual synthesis, and both had taken on a dusty, doomed, Casaubonish quality by the time he completed them. He took solace in characterizing Jackson to their friends as a sort of gifted idiot, who composed her ﬁction in a trance state of automatic writing and had to take it to him to have it explained. He also continued to be chronically, blithely unfaithful, mostly with former students. The motif of a lonely woman setting out to escape a miserable family or a grimly claustrophobic community and ending up “lost” recurs throughout Jackson’s stories. Sometimes a woman comes to a place of apparent refuge—a house that seems to oﬀer security and love— only to discover, once she is there, creeping menace or hidden evil. Sometimes, as in several of the stories included in Jackson’s ﬁrst published collection, “The Lottery; or, The Adventures of James Harris” (1949), a woman encounters a romantic, chimerical ﬁgure, a “daemon lover,” who promises to rescue her and then vanishes, leaving her alone and on the brink of madness, in a frightening, alien landscape. Always, the hope of an alternative, happier life proves illusory. If these stories allude to the disappointment of Jackson’s marriage—the escape from her mother’s house which proved to be no escape at all—they also suggest the nature of the anxieties that prevented her from ever leaving Hyman. She was full of rage toward him, and she expressed this not only in the portraits of insuﬀerably pompous men that she smuggled into her ﬁction but also in strange revenge-fantasy cartoons that showed her serving Hyman entrails for dinner, or creeping up behind him with a hatchet. She once wrote Hyman a sixpage letter explaining why she would eventually divorce him: “I used to think . . . with considerable bitter amusement about the elaborate painstaking buildup you would have to endure before getting [one] of your new york dates into bed . . . they had been sought out, even telephoned, spoken to and listened to, treated as real people, and they had the unutterable blessing of being able to go home afterward. . . . i would have changed place with any of them.” Yet THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
fear always inhibited her ability to act on her anger. However intense the miseries of life inside her house, they were, in the end, less vivid to her than the imagined horrors lurking outside it. fiction is a sort of serial J ackson’s investigation of the malevolent, im-
prisoning power of her own fears. Her mother, in a letter, once reproached her for the excess of “demented girls” in her stories—which was both an excellent Geraldinism and a not entirely unjustiﬁed complaint. Eventually, Jackson herself came to lament the narrowness of her thematic range: “I wrote of neuroses and fear and I think all my books laid end to end would be one long documentation of anxiety.” While her early stories are often about people being oppressed and persecuted by closed-minded communities, in her later work she focussed increasingly on the “demon of the mind”—the evil that aﬄicts its victims from within. In “The Lottery,” a woman is stoned to death by her neighbors and family; in “The Haunting of Hill House,” written eleven years later, the stones that rain down on the childhood home of the protagonist, Eleanor, have a more ambiguous source. Eleanor’s mother thinks vicious neighbors are responsible; Eleanor and her sister blame each other; but the strongest suggestion is that the stones are the work of Eleanor’s poltergeist, a paranormal manifestation of her rage and unhappi-
ness. At Hill House, where the adult Eleanor has been invited to assist in an investigation of psychic phenomena, she imagines that she is being ganged up on by the other people at the house and that its spirits have singled her out as their target. But what tortures her and ultimately drives her to insanity is her own complex of childhood fear and guilt. The leader of the paranormal investigation assures his assistants that if they ever become too scared they can always run away from the house: “It can’t follow us, can it?” But the horror for Eleanor is that she can’t run away from what haunts her. The persona that Jackson presented to the world was powerful, witty, even imposing. She could be sharp and aggressive with fey Bennington girls and salesclerks and people who interrupted her writing. Her letters are ﬁlled with tartly funny observations. Describing the bewildered response of New Yorker readers to “The Lottery,” she notes, “The number of people who expected Mrs. Hutchinson to win a Bendix washing machine at the end would amaze you.” Of Katinka De Vries, the wife of the novelist Peter De Vries, she writes that she found it diﬃcult “to spend the day with someone named Katinka, even though she is very nice.” Some of the women in her novels speak with this sort of conﬁdent humor. They often function as the alter egos of her fragile, insecure protagonists, representing the boldness and the freedom
that they can never achieve. In “The Haunting of Hill House,” one of Eleanor’s fellow-assistants is the self-assured, ironic Theodora. In “Hangsaman” (1951), Natalie, a lonely college freshman, has a daring imaginary friend named Tony. In “The Bird’s Nest” (1954), Elizabeth, a shy clerical worker, develops three other personalities: the charming Beth; the vain, frivolous Bess; and the monstrous Betsy, who promises, “Someday I am going to get my eyes open all the time and then I will eat you and Lizzie both.” In “We Have Always Lived in the Castle,” it is the protagonist, Merricat, who is the courageous, adventurous ﬁgure and her sister, Constance, who is the domestic, gentle partner. Jackson described Merricat and Constance as “two halves of the same person,” and it’s possible to see all of her female couples as depictions of the two contradictory halves of her own personality: the potent, angry woman, whom she characterized in her letters as Snarly Shirley, or Sharly, and the cowed woman who felt trapped inside her house. Franklin argues that Jackson’s portraits of “split” women anticipate Betty Friedan’s description of the nineteen-ﬁfties housewife as a “virtual schizophrenic”—a woman, as Franklin puts it, “pressured by the media and the commercial culture to deny her personal and intellectual interests and subsume her identity into her husband’s.” All of Jackson’s work, Franklin writes, is animated by the tension she felt between her socially sanctioned role as a happy homemaker and her vocation as a writer. As such, it “constitutes nothing less than the secret history of American women of her era.” The tension between socially acceptable housewifery and creative ambition is certainly easy to ﬁnd in Jackson’s life, but it’s rather harder to locate in her ﬁction. There’s no question that, in her books, the house is a deeply ambiguous symbol—a place of warmth and security and also one of imprisonment and catastrophe. But the evil that lurks in Jackson’s fair-seeming homes is not housework; it’s other people—husbands, neighbors, mothers, hellbent on squashing and consuming those they profess to care for. And what keeps women inside these ghastly places is not societal pressure, or a patriarchal jailer, but the demon in their own minds. In this sense, Jackson’s work
is less an anticipation of second-wave feminism than a conversation with her female forebears in the gothic tradition. Her stories take the ﬁgure of the imprisoned “madwoman,” as found in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” or Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre,” and make her the warder of her own jail. If there is an animating tension in Jackson’s ﬁction, it is surely the tension between wanting to get out and being too frightened to go, or between longing for a home and knowing that in all homes one person inevitably ends up swallowing the other. (As Elizabeth’s psychiatrist in “The Bird’s Nest” observes, “Each life, I think . . . asks the devouring of other lives for its continuance.”) The problem with hunting for signs of nascent feminist sentiment in Jackson’s stories is that doing so tends to shut down, rather than open up, what is most interesting in them. It empties the haunted air and installs a simmering housewife to ﬁll the vacuum. You can, I suppose, seize on the fact that the villager who is stoned to death in “The Lottery” is a woman, and read the story, as Franklin does, as “a parable for the ways in which women are forced to sacriﬁce themselves: if not their lives, then their energies and ambitions.” But only if you ignore the fact that the lottery is an equal-opportunity selection process—as likely to pick a man as a woman—and therefore a rather weak metaphor for patriarchal oppression. In making the case for Jackson as a herald of Friedan and others, Franklin doesn’t say much about Jackson’s humor— which is a pity, because one of her most distinctive and appealing characteristics is a tendency to interleave unheimlich atmospheres and dark portraits of psychological breakdown with bursts of spry drawing-room comedy, droll Mitfordian dialogue, and the odd joke about eating children. ( Jackson is sometimes compared to Muriel Spark or to Flannery O’Connor, but the writer with whom she has more in common—and whose inﬂuence she worried lay too heavily on her work—is Ivy Compton Burnett.) “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” perfectly demonstrates her talent for mixing creepiness with wit. The sisters Merricat and Constance ﬁnally achieve a fairy-tale ending, by killing oﬀ the other members of their family and barricad
ing their house against all intruders. They retreat into a cheerfully mad, private world, not unlike the one created by Big Edie and Little Edie in the Maysles brothers’ documentary “Grey Gardens.”
S “We Have Always Lived in the Cas-
hortly after the publication of
tle,” in September, 1962, Jackson suﬀered a nervous breakdown and a prolonged bout of acute agoraphobia that prevented her going outside for half a year. “I have written myself into the house,” she said. It took her two years to recover completely, during which time she was unable to write. Toward the end of this period, when she was beginning to recover, she tried to coax herself back into producing ﬁction by starting a journal. In it, she looked forward to a future in which she would be free from fear, and able, ﬁnally, to leave her husband—“to be separate, to be alone, to stand and walk alone, not to be diﬀerent and weak and helpless and degraded.” This new, liberated person, she speculated, would have to ﬁnd a new subject, a new style, for her writing: if i am cured and well and oh glorious alive then my books should be diﬀerent. who wants to write about anxiety from a place of safety? although i suppose i would never be entirely safe since i cannot completely reconstruct my mind. but what conﬂict is there to write about then? i keep thinking vaguely about husbands and wives, perhaps in suburbia, but i do not really think this is my kind of thing. perhaps a funny book. a happy book. . . . plots will come ﬂooding when i get the rubbish cleared away from my mind.
Jackson did eventually begin a new novel—a funny, happy novel, in which a recently widowed woman abandons her old name, calling herself Angela Motorman, and embarks on a new life in a boarding house, unencumbered by pets, address books, souvenirs, or even friends. She is alone but conﬁdent that she can provide her own “ﬁne high gleefulness.” Jackson was seventy-ﬁve pages into this novel when she died in her sleep, of heart failure, at the age of forty-eight. She never found out whether this style was going to work, or whether she would ever really be capable of living alone. But the last words in her journal, written six months before she died, suggest a woman heroically trying to persuade herself into optimism: “I am the captain of my fate. Laughter is possible laughter is possible laughter is possible.” THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
DOINGS AND UNDOINGS How great was the novelist Henry Green? BY LEO ROBSON
O the actress Elaine Dundy was leav-
ne night in the spring of 1955,
ing a party in New York when a sharpnosed, ﬂoppy-haired young man came toward her and, without context or introduction, asked, “Do you know Henry Green?” Dundy replied that she did. The young man told her his name— she instantly forgot it. Dundy told him to contact her, but he didn’t call. Instead, he started appearing in the lobby of the Buckingham Hotel, in the West Fifties, where Dundy was staying. On one occasion, he had been waiting around so long that, by the time Dundy showed up, the tulips he was holding had gone droopy. Dundy apologized:
could they speak another time? The young man returned the next day, and so did the tulips. But Dundy was running late. When, ﬁnally, he caught her at a good time, she invited him up to her room, and he helped her prepare for the arrival of guests while explaining that his name was Terry Southern, that he was a writer from Alvarado, Texas, and that he had waited a very long time to ﬁnd someone who, on being presented with the question he had posed at their ﬁrst meeting, was able to answer yes. At the time, Green was in his late forties and the author of nine novels, including “Living,” “Party Going,” and
Green’s peculiar style arose from a keen sense of human unknowability. 94
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“Loving,” and a memoir, “Pack My Bag.” His stock was high among fellowwriters. In a 1952 Life proﬁle, W. H. Auden was quoted calling him “the best English novelist alive.” The following year, T. S. Eliot, talking to the Times, cited Green’s novels as proof that the “creative advance in our age is in prose ﬁction.” But Green had never been a popular success. In 1930, Evelyn Waugh had reviewed “Living,” Green’s novel about Birmingham factory life, under the headline “A Neglected Masterpiece.” It was the ﬁrst of several dozen articles that bemoaned Green’s lack of acceptance and helped bind his name as closely to the epithet “neglected” as Pallas Athena is to “bright-eyed.” Waugh blamed philistine book reviewers, but he knew that Green’s image hadn’t helped. “From motives inscrutable to his friends, the author of Living chooses to publish his work under a pseudonym of peculiar drabness,” he wrote. Green was born Henry Vincent Yorke, to a prominent Gloucestershire family, and he worked as the managing director of H Pontifex & Sons Ltd., a manufacturing company purchased by his grandfather; he presented himself as a Sunday writer. (Where other novelists might serve as secretary of PEN, Green did a stint as chairman of the British Chemical Plant Manufacturers’ Association.) He claimed that he wrote under an assumed name in order to hide his writing from colleagues and associates. The Life proﬁle, “The Double Life of Henry Green,” had the subtitle “The ‘secret’ vice of a top British industrialist is writing some of Britain’s best novels.” But Green’s ﬁrst book, “Blindness,” was published in 1926, while he was at Oxford, and a desire for privacy characterized much of his behavior. After a certain point, he refused to have his portrait taken. Dundy had ﬁrst recognized him from a Cecil Beaton photograph that showed only the back of his head. The literary scholar Nick Shepley, in “Henry Green: Class, Style, and the Everyday” (Oxford), writes that “the search for an identiﬁable or classiﬁable Henry Green retreats into the shadowy distance as the layers accumulate.” But, as Shepley notes, and as NYRB Classics’ new reissues of Green’s novels illustrate, his ﬁction was
CECIL BEATON/CONDÉ NAST
autobiographical—at times consciously parasitic. He claimed that he disliked Oxford because “literature is not a subject to write essays about.” In reality, he had discovered that Oxford was not a subject to write novels about— at least, not his time there, which was mostly spent watching movies, playing billiards, poring over Proust with his Eton classmate Anthony Powell, and ignoring his tutor, C. S. Lewis. In a letter to his father, Green explained his decision to abandon his degree in favor of a stint working on the ﬂoor at the Pontifex iron foundry: “Of course I have another book in my mind’s eye. . . . I want badly to write a novel about working men.” There may have been a similar impulse behind Green’s decision, in 1938, to volunteer for the Auxiliary Fire Service. Anyway, once he had joined, he assured a friend, “It will make a good book one day.” That day soon came. During the early years of the Second World War—the so-called Phoney or Bore War, then the Big Blitz—while his wife, Dig, and son, Sebastian, were living in the countryside, Green remained in London, responding to air raids, frequenting jazz clubs, falling serially in love, socializing with other ﬁremen—and writing one of his best novels, the charged, ornate, and wrenching “Caught” (1943), which amounted to a virtual live feed of all that activity. (“At that period the Fire Service came next after pilots with the public. . . . Street cleaners called Richard ‘mate.’ ”) To Elaine Dundy and Terry Southern, a pair of Americans in their early thirties, this odd upper-class Englishman embodied hope for self-fulﬁllment. Dundy had been introduced to Green at a party, and the two began meeting for lunch regularly. For Dundy, these lunches provided relief from the anguish of her marriage to Kenneth Tynan, the theatre critic. Green was, she later wrote, “an enheartener.” But the personal connection had literary consequences: the enheartener was also a muse. Green had a “gift for drawing you out and staying in step with you,” she wrote; in his company, she found herself adopting a comic persona “that was me but that wasn’t me.” On her return to England from New York, she started work on a novel—it became
“The Dud Avocado”—which she chose to write in the ﬁrst person, using “the voice I’d been polishing up on Henry.” Until that point, Southern’s relationship with Green resembled Green’s deﬁnition of the ideal prose contract: “a long intimacy between strangers with no direct appeal to what both may have known.” Southern had ﬁrst encountered Green not at a party but in the pages of Partisan Review. An essay titled “The Novels of Henry Green,” in the journal’s May, 1949, issue, might have been designed to snare the young rebel. It called Green “a terrorist of language.”
A degrees, Green’s writing had omitlong the way, and to diﬀering
ted the deﬁnite article (a habit his mother lamented on his wedding day); avoided the relative pronoun (favoring “and this had” over “which had”); played havoc with the comma; ﬁddled with tense; taken a guillotine to the adverbial suﬃx “-ly” (“she said, more serious”). Green believed that well-groomed, wellbehaved English was an obstacle to expression. But his style wasn’t a merely negative exercise, a winnowing or clearing out: he delivered a gorgeous, fullbodied alternative. The Henry Green novel—typically portraying failures of love and understanding, and noisy with the vernacular of industrialists and Cockneys, landowners and servants—was terse, intimate, full of accident and unnerving comedy, exquisite though still exuberant, sensual and whimsical, reﬂexively ﬁgurative yet always surprising, preoccupied with social nuance, generational discord, and sensory phenomena while maintaining an air of abstraction, as reﬂected in those ﬂighty gerund titles. (The Oxford classicist Maurice Bowra, who knew the undergraduate Green, said that his mind “worked with a piercing insight, stripping men and ideas of their disguises and going straight to some central point.”) “Blindness” was justly celebrated for its precocity, “Living” for its politicsfree—and article-light—treatment of the working class. But Green made a terriﬁc leap in his next novel, “Party Going” (1939), a discomﬁting social comedy—think Buñuel meets Forster, or Beckett meets Mitford—that follows a group of daft and desiccated
Bright Young Things for a four-hour period during which their trip to France is delayed by fog. As his characters hang around the train platforms and hotel rooms of Victoria Station, Green, showing a new appetite for the long sentence, assails the reader with hazy symbols and exotic metaphors. But his characters, for all the resources of their creator’s language, remain fumblers and muddleheads—strangers to one another and to themselves. Much of “Party Going” is taken up with the saturated love life of the wealthy ﬂibbertigibbet Max Adey, who, in going on a holiday that he has proposed, will be spending time with a girlfriend he’s lukewarm about, Julia Wray, at the expense of the society beauty Amabel, whom he thinks he may worship. He tells himself that he “could not leave Amabel,” but the news that his things are nearly packed engenders the feeling that “he might as well leave Amabel.” On arriving at Victoria, he takes Julia to a private room and hassles her for kisses. But when Amabel suddenly appears he realizes that she “still swayed him like water moves a trailing weed,” and the two get together: She lay on his shoulder in this ugly room, folded up with almost imperceptible breathing like seagulls settled on the water cock over gentle waves. Looking at her head and body, richer far than her rare fur coat, holding as he did to these skins which enfolded what ruled him, her arms and shoulders, everything, looking down on her face which ever since he had ﬁrst seen it had been his library, his gallery, his palace, and his wooded ﬁelds he began at last to feel content and almost that he owned her. Lying in his arms, her long eyelashes down along her cheeks, her hair tumbled and waved, her hands drifted to rest like white doves drowned on peat water, he marvelled again he should ever dream of leaving her who seemed to him then his reason for living as he made himself breathe with her breathing as he always did when she was in his arms to try and be more with her. It was so luxurious he nodded, perhaps it was also what she put on her hair, very likely it may have been her sleep reaching out over him, but anyway he felt so right he slipped into it too and dropped oﬀ on those outspread wings into her sleep with his, like two soft evenings meeting.
The tone could hardly be more rapturous; it may be the most beautiful passage in all of Green’s writing. But when Max wakes up—the crowd on the station concourse has given out “a huge wild roar”—he ﬁnds himself wondering THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
“what it would be like to have Julia here in his arms to sleep on his shoulder for if he had only slept ﬁve minutes it was as though he had travelled miles.” He has already forgotten “the urgency of what Amabel had been.”
O to Green’s admirers, such as Southne of the things that appealed
ern and the French writer Nathalie Sarraute—and, later, John Updike— was that he had thought deeply about what he was doing. In this, he resembled Henry James, whose preface to “What Maisie Knew” he had read carefully. Green was going for something that was not so diﬀerent: ﬁction that was illuminating, yet disorderly enough to convey—in James’s words, “really to represent”—a sense of life. And, as with James, the desire led him in extreme directions. In 1950, Green wrote a BBC radio talk, “A Novelist to His Readers,” which was subsequently published in The Listener. He said nothing about the things that his readers might have considered obvious topics—the use of symbolism in scene-setting, for instance, or the relationship between metaphor and muddle. Instead, he launched an assault on the very idea of the narrator, whom he branded a “know-all.” We cannot tell what people in life are thinking and feeling, he said. Writers should, therefore, restrict themselves to what their characters say out loud. Green accepted that he could not do without narration altogether—the reader “must at least be told who is speaking” and how a character behaves after speaking. But he had turned his back on what he called “very carefully arranged passages of description.” Now he oﬀered the example “He seemed to hesitate” as suitably tentative, comparing it to “He hesitated,” which was “too direct a communication from the author.” Green had just written a very talky novel about upper-class amatory intrigue, “Nothing” (1950), and was working on another, “Doting” (1952). He achieved the unintrusive eﬀect—and sombre tone—he wanted, but, in seeking to correct what he perhaps considered the bossiness of his previous novel, “Concluding” (1948), which used interior monologue and précis, he overlooked the innovations of his earlier 96
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works, which had found their own ways of avoiding authorial omniscience. It is true that in “Party Going” we learn a great deal, very directly, about what the characters are thinking, noticing, failing to realize, or neglecting to notice, but we are also given cause to mistrust what we are told; the narrator, far from being a know-all, has a shaky grasp on who is doing what, and how, and possibly why. (Waugh, on reading a draft, sent Green a list of bewildered questions about hotel etiquette and train-travel logistics; Green expressed his gratitude, and didn’t change a thing.) And in “Loving” (1945), probably his greatest novel, Green conﬁned himself to a mixture of deduction and conjecture—“probably,” “you could safely say”—which worked in league not only with the characters’ chatter but also with the fevered notation of surfaces. (In all, he uses color words more than two hundred times.) “Loving,” which takes place at an Irish castle in the early nineteen-forties, opens with the death of an old butler, Eldon, and portrays the gaﬀe-prone early days in the regime of his successor, Charley Raunce. A ring belonging to Mrs. Tennant, the lady of the house, goes missing; one of the castle’s peacocks is killed by a young evacuee from London; Edith, an underhousemaid whom Raunce adores, discovers Mrs. Jack, Mrs. Tennant’s daughter-in-law, in bed with a man who isn’t her husband. Green’s descriptions are lush and free—they do more than identify the speaker. But the emphasis is on dramatic presentation, the audible and the visible; “seemed” is given a thorough workout. In one scene, Raunce ﬁnds Edith standing in the pantry with his assistant Bert: Raunce eyed her very sharp. He seemed to appraise the dark eyes she sported which were warm and yet caught the light like plums dipped in cold water. He stayed absolutely quiet. At last she said quite calm, “Would the dinner bell have gone yet?” “My dinner,” he cried obviously putting on an act, “holy smoke is it as late as that, and this lad of mine not taken up the nursery tray yet. Get going,” he said to Bert, “look sharp.”
Later in the novel, Raunce and Edith are in a library together:
“Love,” he went on toneless, “what about you an’ me getting married? There, I’ve said it.”
“That’ll want thinking over Charley,” she replied at once. Her eyes left his face and with what seemed a quadrupling in depth came following his to rest on those rectangles of warmth alive like blood. From this peat light her great eyes became invested with rose incandescence that was soft and soft and soft.
Green was an obsessive cinemagoer, and “Loving,” in its plot and setting, has strong resemblances to Jean Renoir’s “The Rules of the Game” (1939), which concerns upstairs-downstairs antics at a French villa over a shooting weekend. Between the Mozart waltz during the opening credits and the closing shot of symmetrical shrubbery, an atmosphere of chaos reigns: decorum and ceremony are continually undone by the overﬂow of human feeling. “Loving” begins with “Once upon a day” and ends with “happily ever after,” but along the way Green thwarts the reader’s desire to impose a sense of order on the action. (Those fairy-tale phrases are booby-trapped, too: “Once upon a day” is confounding, and it’s not clear that the ending will be happy in the least.) A game of blindman’s buﬀ played by the servants in “Loving” is similar, in its position and its import, to a game of hide-and-seek in “The Rules of the Game.” Renoir and Green also share the use of a perspective that is neither omniscient nor subjective—one that is partial and imperfect, but not obviously unreliable. In “The Rules of the Game,” the camera, rather than anticipating where its characters will go, can hardly keep up with their movements. The Green narrator sometimes knows a lot and at other times is likely to throw up his hands and say, “It may have been a few days later that . . .” Neither novel nor ﬁlm tells us much of its characters’ histories. Encoded in these habits is a wider aversion to authorial conﬁdence and an embrace of human mystery. As Octave, the character played by Renoir in “The Rules of the Game,” says, “Everyone has their reasons,” so Raunce tells a housemaid, “Everyone has their feelings.” In “A Novelist to His Readers,” Green notes that he is talking about method and not theme: “We are all individuals and each writer has something of his own to communicate.” But in “Loving,” as in “Party Going,” the method is at one with the
MY FATHER SINGS LIKE A CROW
My father is a lamp, a boy, is two fathers: his own and a wolf father. Me, other kids, camp around his flame; night dissolves like snow on his skin. A whole life lives in each fist of my father the way a burning city lives in a firefly’s gut. It’s there, a faint light cradling a chicken egg, clutching an axe, raising a newborn’s almost see-through body. There is an animal looking back and leaping forward inside him. My father carries a shadow speckled with the soot of dawn, and drags a darker one. There is a boy there building everything, and he is free, and when he is lost he burns down a mountain or sings like a crow. But he is never lost. —C. L. O’Dell message: the diﬃculty of getting a proper hold on things. Toward the end of “Loving,” Mrs. Tennant says that she doesn’t like it when “there’s something unexplained.” Being out of one’s depth is an inevitable fate for a Henry Green character. Despite drawing on a repertoire far broader than speech plus tentative stage directions, “Loving” convincingly inhabits a world of the unexplained—a world in which, as an insurance man recovering from dental surgery puts it, “nobody theemth to know nothing.”
I Southern and Green in touch, South-
n November, 1955, after Dundy put
ern wrote Green a fan letter. He said that he had read his books “many times,” except for “Blindness” (which was out of print), and was familiar with one of his manifesto-essays, which he had tracked down in a French translation. Southern explained that he was working on a novel inspired by Green, called “Flash and Filigree.” (He later said that the title was an “apt description” of Green’s style.) Green read the manuscript, which he declared “amazingly good,” and after Southern moved to Geneva, where his wife had taken a teaching job, Green, whose conduct had become increasingly erratic, sent them a telegram claiming exhaustion and asking, “CAN YOU PUT ME UP SEVEN DAYS.” He was a welcome guest. Excited by this new friendship, Green had told Dundy, “We’re going
to resurrect me.” Southern and Green started work on a Paris Review interview, which appeared in 1958 and oﬀers the best account of what it is like to read a novel by Green. You do not forget that there is an author, Southern says, but must remind yourself that there is one, owing to discrepancies in the storytelling, apparent failures to stress the signiﬁcance of certain events, and a disquieting sense that the reader “sees more in the situation than the author does.” The eﬀect, Southern decides, is that “the characters and story come alive in an almost incredible way, quite beyond anything achieved by conventional methods of writing.” But Southern, despite his lucid conception of Green’s eﬀects, was also eager to present him as eccentric. The printed interview opens with Southern’s suggestion that critics consider Green’s body of work “the most elusive and enigmatic in contemporary literature,” and Green himself, “professionally or as a personality, none the less so.” As we learn from the recently published “Yours in Haste and Adoration: Selected Letters of Terry Southern” (Antibookclub), he advised Green that “the appeal of these interviews is, so they suppose, based on the personality-cult phenomenon and the fascination (for the general reader) of temperaments which are ‘odd,’ ‘artistic,’ ‘individual,’ and so on.” He suggests that “instead of answering questions directly,” Green could reply “in haunt-
ingly cryptic parables”—and Green is only too happy to oblige. Although the Paris Review exchange was conducted by letter, the ﬁnal transcript pretended to describe an encounter in which Green’s partial deafness had been a recurring problem. (When Southern asks if Green’s work is “too subtle” for American readers, Green replies with a deﬁnition of “suttee,” the Hindu selfsacriﬁce ritual.) In a letter devising the interview, Southern envisaged “a sharp boost in American demand; a burst of reprinting; stage, ﬁlm, and video oﬀers; dollars pouring in by the veritable barrelful!” But in the interview itself Southern appears to ﬁnd Green’s neglect admirable, as if obscurity were a mark of integrity. He stresses the zany absurdism of Green’s writing. His one remark about “Loving” is a complaint that none of “the critical analyses” had wondered what all those English servants were doing in an Irish household. And in a short introduction he calls Green a “writer’s writer’s writer.” Green’s conduct only became odder. He fell out of touch with Southern before his friend and fan co-wrote the ﬁlms “Dr. Strangelove,” “The Cincinnati Kid,” and “Easy Rider.” In the decade before Green’s death, in 1973, he rarely went outdoors. Visiting interviewers, expecting an Old Etonian wit and raconteur, maybe even a theorist of the nonintrusive, unexplaining novel, found instead a dazed, haunted ﬁgure— or, in Michael Holroyd’s recollection, a body asleep on the staircase. Somehow he retained a muse-like quality: his daughter-in-law the novelist Emma Tennant, in her memoir “Girlitude,” recalled thinking, “In all his rumpled, ash-bestrewn state, drunk and frequently ﬁlled with bile, Henry Green will inspire me.” But Green’s own writing stopped. “Nothing” and “Doting”— the fruit of his campaign against narration—were his ﬁnal books. He told people that he had forgotten how to write, though it seems just as likely that he had little to write about.
G quickly, and looked set to be a se-
reen’s afterlife got going very
ries of false dawns. Between 1977 and 1980, all his books were reissued in Britain, prompting adjectives like “great”
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
no blackout.”) And Green revealed that his time in the Auxiliary Fire Service, the subject of “Caught,” had also been an indirect source of inspiration. Asked about the origins of “Loving,” Green recalled the words of a volunteer who had been a manservant: He was serving with me in the ranks, and he told me he had once asked the elderly butler who was over him what the old boy most liked in the world. The reply was: “Lying in bed on a summer morning, with the window open, listening to the church bells, eating buttered toast with cunty ﬁngers.” I saw the book in a ﬂash.
“And if the golf area of the brain was somehow destroyed, there might be a little something extra in it for you.”
• and “major” alongside “neglected.” John Updike, introducing a compendium of “Living,” “Loving,” and “Party Going,” said that Green had revealed “what English prose ﬁction can do in this century.” V. S. Pritchett, in a review of “Blindness,” which was available for the ﬁrst time since 1932, called Green “the most luminous novelist of the Thirties and Forties.” But the new volumes soon fell out of print. After failing to be a reader’s writer, Green failed to become a teacher’s pet, his work stubbornly resisting every label. He was born too late to be a high modernist like Woolf and Joyce. But when the ﬁction of the nineteen-thirties became the subject of literary histories he was not really part of that story, either. In the years that Waugh published eleven books—and other contemporaries were similarly productive—Green had been busy running Pontifex, and managed only “Party Going.” And though the eminent scholar Frank Kermode, an expert on the workings of the canon, discussed “Party Going” alongside “Ulysses” and the Gospels in his Norton Lectures, at Harvard, he did not spur a fashion for exploring Green’s symbols and enigmas. Help arrived in an unlikely form. In 1995, Adam Piette, a British literary 98
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• scholar, published an agenda-setting book, “Imagination at War: British Fiction and Poetry, 1939-1945,” which argued that the subject had been ignored for half a century out of a sense of guilt that the real suﬀering had taken place in continental Europe. Green made an appearance as a Second World War novelist, which previously hadn’t really been a recognized category. Three years earlier, Green’s grandson, Matthew Yorke, compiled “Surviving: The Uncollected Writings of Henry Green” (1992), making available the wartime stories “The Lull,” “A Rescue,” “Mr. Jonas,” and “The Old Lady,” along with some pages from the manuscript “London and Fire 19391945,” a nonﬁction version of “Caught” on which Green worked intermittently in the late nineteen-ﬁfties. All this lent support to a new way of approaching Green. Yorke’s collection also featured Southern’s strenuously oddball Paris Review interview, which, in this context, revealed various warshaped traces. Responding to Southern’s baﬄement about the Cockney cast of “Loving,” Green said that he wanted to show the “conﬂict,” for Raunce, of being in Ireland—a neutral country— while England was at war. (The novel’s setting is established with the sentence “For this was in Eire, where there was
Nick Shepley, in his new study of Green, complains that the recent emphasis on what he terms “the 1940s ﬁction” has unfairly obscured Green’s other work, in particular the “dialogic novels.” For the time being, his resistance looks like a lost cause. The literary historians’ war-focussed version of Green has migrated to the public realm. Green’s inﬂuence is evident in novels set in the period, such as Sarah Waters’s “The Night Watch” and Shirley Hazzard’s National Book Awardwinning “The Great Fire,” in which a character is reading “Back,” Green’s 1946 novel about a wounded soldier returning home. Three years ago, Lara Feigel gave Green a starring role in “The Love-Charm of Bombs,” her popular account of ﬁve writers in the Second World War. Last year, “The Lull” was included in “The Penguin Book of the British Short Story.” And NYRB Classics is starting its new uniform edition of Green’s books with “Caught,” “Loving,” and “Back.” The Second World War has the advantage of giving Green’s writing a semblance of cohesion: more than half of his books either portray the war or signal its imminence (“Party Going,” “Pack My Bag”). And it makes him a more graspable writer. In “Caught,” a character thinks that war “is sex,” but the novel shows that to Green war was life, only more so: calamitous, ineﬀable. In the ﬁnal pages, Richard Roe is relieved of duty after a breakdown— Green’s rebuke to the evolving myth of the stoical “Blitz spirit”—and becomes frustrated as he struggles to recapture the experience of ﬁreﬁghting: We had been ordered to Rhodesia Wharf, Surrey Commercial Docks. I never felt so alone in all my life. Our taxi was like a pink beetle
drawing a pepper corn. We were specks. Everything is always so diﬀerent from what you expect, and this was fantastic. Of course, we couldn’t hear from the noise of the engine, and we had shut the windows so as to get more inside. There was only the driver, old Knocker, on the front. No one said a word. Yet I suppose it was not like that at all really. One changes everything after by going over it. . . . The point about a blitz is this, there’s always something you can’t describe, and it’s not the blitz alone that’s true of.
In a letter to the novelist Rosamond Lehmann written in 1945, Green reported a “frightful surge of power and ideas,” and called “these times . . . an absolute gift to the novelist.” Could it be that war inspired him because war had helped to form him in the ﬁrst place? Updike said that one “looks in vain” in “Pack My Bag,” Green’s memoir, to understand how he became such an original writer. There may be more clues than Updike realized. In 1917, when Green was a boy of eleven or twelve, Forthampton Court, his family home, was turned into a hospital for convalescent oﬃcers. Green wrote that he “began to learn the half-tones of class,” and then prevaricates: “or, if not to learn because I was too young, to see enough to recognize the echoes later when I came to hear them.” And he learned something even more valuable: how to listen, to surrender, to make himself a vehicle or channel. The soldiers, he recalled, “found in me a boy who looked on them as heroes every one and who enjoyed each story of blood and cruelty they had to tell.” Green knew that these encounters had been formative: in “Caught” and in the “London and Fire” manuscript, he noted the eﬀects of war on children. And in an essay on the Victorian writer C. M. Doughty, published in 1941, Green seems to be alluding to experiences both past and recent. After praising Doughty’s travelogue “Arabia Deserta” (the “words that exactly describe,” the sentences that “meander”), he reﬂects on the beneﬁts of war for the writer: it sends him out into territory—though it “may well be at home”—that, by being strange and demanding the acceptance of strangeness, forces him to develop a pure, honest, singular style that “shall be his monument.”
BRIEFLY NOTED The Mothers, by Brit Bennett (Riverhead). In this compelling début novel, set in a black community in Southern California, two seventeen-year-old girls form a bond. Both have lost their mothers—one chose husband over daughter, the other killed herself—and both love the same broken man. In the next two decades, as their lives develop, the pair are watched over by the female congregation of Upper Room Chapel (the Mothers of the title), who contribute choruslike sections of narration. Sharing secrets and bringing food to the bereaved, the Mothers are an all-knowing entity, at once witness and impetus. They anchor Bennett’s theme of female community: the two motherless women, overseen by the Mothers, struggle with the choice of whether to become mothers themselves. On Jupiter Place, by Nicholas Christopher (Counterpoint).
Memory and longing form the core of this poetry collection, which ranges in subject from the formative absence of the poet’s tubercular mother during his childhood to the doomed romance of Lois Lane and Clark Kent. Many of the poems are highly narrative—Christopher is also a respected novelist—while others are short epiphanies, including diarylike fragments composed in the months after the death of his father. Set against death’s inexorability are signs of continuance—an apple tree in a former children’s prison, a meal made by a stranger—and celebrations of moments of feeling “as immortal as we’ll ever get.”
Looking for “The Stranger,” by Alice Kaplan (Chicago). This
quasi biography of Albert Camus’s 1942 novel “L’Étranger” seeks to strip away the book’s fame to see it as it was when it left Camus’s desk. The novel acquired labels soon after publication (“existentialist,” “absurdist”) and, later, became emblematic of political and racial conﬂicts that still dominate its interpretation. Returning to the source, Kaplan presents an intimate narrative of Camus’s life in Algiers and Paris in the thirties and forties. She oﬀers various interpretations of the victim of the book’s famously motiveless murder (an Arab shot by a European), which are compelling, if inconclusive. Paraphrasing Sartre, she writes that Camus’s novel is a reminder that “a novel could exist with nothing to prove.”
Murray Talks Music, by Paul Devlin (Minnesota). The critic and
novelist Albert Murray’s opinion that race “has no place in a real discussion of art” set him at odds with many of his twentiethcentury black contemporaries. But his refusal to see race as monolithic and determinative has aged well. This collection of his jazz writings, marking the centennial of his birth and compiled by a protegé, collects essays, talks, and interviews with, among others, Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis, and the producer John Hammond. These often casual forums ﬁnd Murray at his most outspoken—assailing those who rely on theories of “race relations” to interpret blues music and insisting on a categorical division between vernacular and ﬁne art. Black artists and writers such as Langston Hughes understand folk traditions, he says, but too often get stuck there. THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
HELL OF A DRUG The spaced-out brilliance of Thomas De Quincey. BY DAN CHIASSON
ness was always dangerously leveraged. Wilson’s book is a revelatory study of its subject. De Quincey was thirty-six when “Confessions of an English OpiumEater,” his sensational memoir of addiction, was published, anonymously, in 1821. At the time, Wilson writes, England was “marinated in opium, which was taken for everything from upset stomachs to sore heads.” It was swallowed in the form of pills or dissolved in alcohol to make laudanum, the tincture preferred by De Quincey. The Turks, it was said, all suﬀered from opium dependence. But English doctors prescribed it with abandon. The drug was given to women for menstrual discomfort and to children for the hiccups. All the while, its glamour was growing: it was ancient, shamanic, a supernatural tether to otherworldly visions. You could ﬁnd reference to it in Homer and Virgil, Chaucer and Shakespeare. In his essay “Coleridge and Opium-Eating,” De Quincey wrote that he had found it referenced, too, in John Milton’s great Biblical epic: You know the Paradise Lost? and you remember from the eleventh book, in its earlier part, that laudanum already existed in Eden— nay, that it was used medicinally by an archangel; for, after Michael had “purged with euphrasy and rue” the eyes of Adam, lest he should be unequal to the mere sight of the great visions about to unfold their draperies before him, next he fortiﬁes his ﬂeshly spirits against the aﬄiction of these visions, of which visions the ﬁrst was death. And how? “He from the well of life three drops instill’d.”
ong before he tried opium,Thomas De Quincey, the English essayist, was addicted to books. The cycles of “remorse and deadly anxiety” that he suﬀered in his adult life began when he was seven, after a kindly bookseller lent him three guineas. This, according to Frances Wilson’s new biography, “Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), was De Quincey’s “earliest trespass”: a “mysterious (and indeed guilty) current of debt” that he feared would carry him away. Among the books De Quincey acquired, there was a history of Britain, expected to grow in time to “sixty or eighty parts.” But he craved something vaster and more dangerous, so he purchased “a general history of navigation, supported by a
vast body of voyages”: a work that was, like its subject, “indeﬁnite as to its ultimate extent” and, as he was told by a jesting clerk, might involve as many as ﬁfteen thousand volumes. It would “never end,” De Quincey reasoned, since by the time “all the one-legged commodores and yellow admirals” of one generation had ﬁnished, “another generation would have grown another crop of the same gallant spinners.” You can hear the elation mixed in with the dread: according to a logical short circuit that was characteristic of his thought, an inﬁnite subject meant inﬁnite books. Debt was only the punctuation between ecstasies. De Quincey was happiest when he was chipping away at the sublime, volume by volume or vision by vision, and his happi-
For De Quincey, opium put the actual and the imagined on equal footing. 100
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The image of Adam getting high in the Garden of Eden may seem outlandish, but opium had made a kind of Adam out of De Quincey: in “the bosom of darkness, out of the fantastic imagery of the brain,” he wandered through ancient cities “beyond the splendour of Babylon and HekatÓmpylos,” crammed with “temples, beyond the art of Phidias and Praxiteles.” Opium deepened his “natural inclination for a solitary life” by giving a cosmic cast to idleness. “More than once,” he wrote, “it has happened to me, on a summer-night, when I have been at an open window . . . from sun-set to sunrise, motionless, without wishing to move.” Motionlessness is not peace of mind, but De Quincey, who struggled his entire life to ﬁnd a comfortable way to inhabit time, had good reason to prize it. Writing late in his life to his ILLUSTRATION BY LEIGH GULDIG
daughter, he identiﬁed “procrastination,” which he linked with unpardonable guilt, as “that most odious of vices”: the procrastinator is doomed, since “in midst of too-soonness he shall suﬀer the killing anxieties of too-lateness.” “Our fate is always to ﬁnd ourselves at the wrong station,” he wrote. Once he’d bought one book, it was too late; he had, in eﬀect, bought them all, which excused him to buy a second book and then a third. This was the destructive logic behind his opium use: to have started something was to be already too late to stop it, as though a delegate, sent to the future, were messing things up for the innocent De Quincey, back here in the past. It was an insight about time, and also about identity. De Quincey seemed to fear the idea that there were others of him, distributed throughout time and space, acting as his agents without his explicit command. He understood himself, for good or for ill, to exist in duplicate or triplicate. Probably every great autobiographer, characterizing the choices and dilemmas faced by an almost unrecognizable younger person whose name he bears, feels a version of this; for De Quincey, it was a lifelong ﬁxation, heightened by his addiction and marring his happiness even as it informed his greatest work.
H born Thomas Quincey, in Man-
is confusion set in early. He was
chester in 1785; the preﬁx was added when he was around eleven, in one of his mother’s many attempts to suggest an aristocratic lineage. A series of blows levelled the family before De Quincey’s tenth birthday. His sister Jane died when he was four. Two years later, his beloved sister Elizabeth, his “leader and companion,” died at the age of nine, likely of meningitis. In “Suspiria de Profundis,” De Quincey writes that on the day after her death he sneaked up the back staircase to view her body, laid out in her bedroom:
Entering, I closed the door so softly, that, although it opened upon a hall which ascended through all the stories, no echo ran along the silent walls. Then turning round, I sought my sister’s face. But the bed had been moved; and the back was now turned. Nothing met my eyes but one large window wide open, through which the sun of midsummer at noonday was showering down torrents of splendour.
The corpse is dispatched with stock adjectives: “frozen” eyelids, “marble” lips, “stiﬀening” hands. De Quincey is ﬁxated, instead, on the “solemn wind” that “swept the ﬁelds of mortality for a hundred centuries . . . the one sole audible symbol of eternity.” He adds, “And three times in my life I have happened to hear the same sound in the same circumstances, namely, when standing between an open window and a dead body on a summer day.” De Quincey’s writing often boils down trauma to its core variables—a window, a dead body, summer—so as to make the experience repeatable, both for him and for his readers. He called these “combinations of concrete objects,” recurring in time, “involutes,” a term he borrowed from conchology. The highly spatialized memory of his sister’s death, with its signiﬁcant staircase and closed door and open window, as well as his insistence on later iterations of it, is emblematic of his thinking. The great endeavor of his writing was to convert time, with its irremediable losses, into space, a container where all things can exist simultaneously. But this tactic also turned grief into paranoia: if nothing was lost, much, he feared, must be hidden from him. De Quincey’s father, then a prosperous merchant, died just a year after Elizabeth; soon, his loathed older brother, William, who was eleven, returned from boarding school. William was known for all manner of household torments, some directed at the pets—he “had succeeded,” De Quincey wrote, “at bringing down cats by parachutes”—and Wilson writes that he “despised” Thomas. Mrs. De Quincey soon moved the family to Bath, the “ﬁne and striking” spa town where Jane Austen set “Northanger Abbey,” and rented a prominent house whose most recent occupant had been Edmund Burke. De Quincey was sent to the local grammar school, where he was considered a prodigy in Greek, but he suﬀered a setback when his teacher accidentally struck him in the head with a cane aimed at a misbehaving student. He spent several weeks in bed, cared for by his mother, who read Milton to him aloud; upon his recovery, she refused to send him back to school, on the ground that his success there might
swell his ego, and instead hired a tutor. When William died, in London, at the age of seventeen, Thomas, now the male head of the family, saw it as “the answer to a prayer,” Wilson writes.
T is often described as the dawn of he turn of the nineteenth century
Romanticism, the movement in the arts that so enthralled Europe. But its early stirrings were strange and diﬀuse. In Bath, De Quincey was deeply aﬀected by the unusual story of Thomas Chatterton, a teen-age poet from nearby Bristol who had found dusty medieval documents in the muniment room of his parish church and, his imagination ignited, invented the ﬁgure of Thomas Rowley, a ﬁfteenth-century blind monk and poet. Wilson writes that Chatterton smeared his forged poems with “yellow ochre and lamp charcoal” and passed them oﬀ as his discoveries. He died, a suicide, at the age of seventeen, but he became an idol of the Romantics. Keats dedicated “Endymion” to him, and Wordsworth, in homage, penned his famous couplet: “We Poets in our youth begin in gladness; / But thereof come in the end despondency and madness.” Soon De Quincey, now around fourteen, made his own discovery: the anonymous manuscript copy of Wordsworth’s ballad “We Are Seven,” then making its way around Bath. He called it “the greatest event in the unfolding of my own mind.” A new literary phase was taking shape, and it looked to be a weird one, distinguished by anonymity and hoaxes, made-up monks and rural sages. For De Quincey, a complex identiﬁcation with Wordsworth began, tantalizingly, even before he had heard the man’s name. De Quincey was early to recognize Wordsworth’s genius—early in his own life, early in the career of the great poet— which meant, by his inescapable logic, that he was already too late to do anything about it. He was still in his teens when he encountered “Lyrical Ballads,” published anonymously in 1798 and in a second edition, signed by Wordsworth, in 1800. Resolving to meet Wordsworth as soon as he could, he set out on a northern road, but soon decided that he was unworthy of presenting himself to such a “hallowed character.” After wandering in Wales, he found himself penniless in London, an adolescent runaway THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
squatting in the empty residence of his attorney and spending his days with a ﬁfteen-year-old prostitute named Ann, whose companionship he soon lost. Ann was the ﬁrst of many latter-day versions of his sister Elizabeth, whose centrality and loss were yoked together: lost because she was central, central because she was lost. For the rest of his life, whenever he visited London, he scanned “many, many myriads of ” strangers’ faces in the hope that he would ﬁnd Ann again. On one of these missions, in 1804, a fellow-student recommended opium to De Quincey, for pains. It was his ﬁrst experience with the drug. At the time, Wordsworth was living with his sister Dorothy and his wife Mary in a former inn in Grasmere, which by the time of his death was known as Dove Cottage. In 1805, while a student at Oxford, De Quincey again resolved to meet his hero, with whom he had now been exchanging letters. He boarded an English mail coach headed to the Lake District but, a few miles south of his target, panicked and turned back; a year later, he tried again, got within spotting distance of Wordsworth’s “little white cottage,” and once more lost his nerve. When, on November 4, 1807, De Quincey ﬁnally met Wordsworth, near his front door, the poet appeared “like a ﬂash of lightning,” as De Quincey put it. He was ushered up to Wordsworth’s study, which served also as the family’s dining room, the children’s playroom, and the drawing room. A paltry “two or three hundred volumes” of books, negligently arranged, ﬁlled a bookshelf. The poet, then thirty-seven, looked, to his worshipper, “rather over than under sixty,” his body nearly “deformed” by the mismatch of his short legs and his long torso; he walked like “some sort of insect,” De Quincey wrote. It is hard to know exactly what De Quincey wanted from Wordsworth, but, whatever it was, it seems clear that he could tell from the start he wouldn’t be getting it. Veneration can be a stop on the road to contempt, and De Quincey, who had so much of his self-esteem invested in his idolatry of Wordsworth, behaved around the poet like a man who, in being let down by his hero, had been confronted with his own insuﬃciencies. In time, needing to act out his cycles of approach and withdrawal in tighter 102
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and tighter circuits, De Quincey ingratiated himself into Wordsworth’s family, acting as a surrogate uncle to the children and kindling the aﬀections of poor Dorothy Wordsworth, whom many believed to be in love, and some believed to be in a sexual relationship, with her brother. These dramas were De Quincey’s specialty, and were certainly reënactments of his childhood. He had even selected his latest version of Elizabeth in the person of the young Catherine Wordsworth, who was born with a condition consistent with Down syndrome and died of “convulsions” at the age of three. De Quincey, by then renting Dove Cottage after Wordsworth’s departure, was abject. He slept on the girl’s grave for more than two months, and witnessed her apparition walking the nearby ﬁelds. The grief led to stomach pains; the stomach pains, De Quincey said, “yielded to no remedies but opium.” De Quincey had seen as a warning the escalating addiction of Coleridge, who, for his part, recognized in De Quincey a doppelgänger, their “two faces, each of a confused countenance,” blended with the same mixture of “muddiness and lustre.” But De Quincey’s opium use now passed the point of no return, peaking at a rate of approximately four hundred and eighty grains per day, or twelve thousand drops of laudanum. The next several years of his life, though they coincided with the birth of his ﬁrst child, William, in 1816, and his subsequent marriage to the mother, Margaret Simpson, a pure-of-heart girl from a farm family of primordial English stock, can be understood only in terms of the dark visions and anxieties that dogged him constantly. Coleridge had his “person from Porlock,” whose knock at the door of his cottage both interrupted and made possible the composition of “Kubla Khan.” For De Quincey, his anxiety about the birth of his child was linked to the sudden appearance of a mysterious Malay in “turban and loose trousers of dingy white,” who turned up on the doorstep of Dove Cottage and, having ingested a large share of De Quincey’s opium, bolted and was never seen again. In De Quincey’s mind, the disappearance was, like Margaret’s pregnancy, an interlude terminated by a transformative event: the Malay, he worried, would be found dead, poisoned by the drugs;
likewise, his child would be born, which struck De Quincey as a diﬀerent sort of tragedy.
W course with her subject. This is ilson’s book is on a collision
always the case with biographies of great autobiographers. Somehow one needs to ﬁgure out how to do more than tidy up after the subject’s mind has swept, cyclone-like, through the details of his life. But in De Quincey’s case the challenge is even bigger. He wrote in deﬁance of chronology, which he called a “hackneyed roll-call.” In his visions, events widely separated in time were yoked together by the imagination—which, in turn, because of his delusions, was his reality. “Our deepest thoughts and feelings,” he wrote, “pass to us” through “compound experiences” that dissolve the gap between one end of the time line and the other. The details of his life were like carrousel horses, disappearing around the bend and reappearing, in his visions as in his writing, with fresh intensity and vividness. The ﬁrst half of De Quincey’s life is a long and convoluted story. But the second half is the story of his retelling of that story, ﬁrst in stray passages in his journalism, then in the articles that became the “Confessions,” and later in many remarkable extracts from his autobiographical work. De Quincey’s life, like that of Beckett’s Krapp, was fundamentally the record he kept of it, and that record owes its existence and its brilliance to the drug that all but destroyed him. De Quincey knew, as one scholar put it, “how one thing has a bearing on another,” and so does Wilson. She is a biographer with a De Quinceyan eye for pattern, and a sharp sense of the ironies that made her subject’s life at once so rich and so depleted. These ironies were not lost on De Quincey: they fed his imagination. His writing career began with a series of failures that nevertheless opened to him his true subject. A longtime conservative, he got a lucky break when asked, in 1818, to take over as editor of a local Tory newspaper, the Westmorland Gazette. Under his editorship, the quiet family paper started running columns about opium trips, opinions about Kant, and salacious tabloid items about murders across Europe. De Quincey resigned after eighteen months, but during his
tenure he introduced the use of imaginative fantasias to frame his own travails as a subject worthy of the public eye. His pieces were often marked by accounts of the dramas he suﬀered while trying to write them, the odd personal intercalations reliant upon the expectation that he would write straight journalism. The formula had been set early: debt, here in the form of deadlines unmet; procrastination; and opium. But now there was a new addition to the sequence: writing. In “The Age of Wonder,” Richard Holmes writes that “the idea of the exploratory voyage, often lonely and perilous, is in one form or another a central and deﬁning metaphor of Romantic science.” That idea was easily internalized, and brought together in one heroic quest De Quincey’s opium visions and the writing that he concocted to describe them. When the “Confessions” was ﬁrst published, in The London Magazine, it appeared in two installments; the second included sections on the “Pleasures of Opium” and the “Pains of Opium.”There were familiar disputes about whether De Quincey was corrupting the young, but the main intoxicant on display was his prose, which derived its power from being written in the grip of its subject. De Quincey beheld, in the “theatre” of his mind, along with “more than earthly splendours,” horrors beyond belief: “vast processions” of “mournful pomp,” and “friezes of never-ending stories” as terrifying as Greek tragedies. Space “swelled” around him; time hemorrhaged so that he seemed “to have lived for 70 or 100 years in one night.” He especially dreaded a recurring vision of the ocean “paved with innumerable faces, upturned to the heavens: faces, imploring, wrathful, despairing, surged upwards by thousands, by myriads, by generations, by centuries.”
R use in England when De Quincey omanticism wasn’t a term in broad
began writing. It wasn’t like modernism, a movement founded more or less intentionally, its constitution reﬁned and defended in strategic ways by its adherents. Wordsworth and Coleridge had no idea they were “Romantics.” But M. H. Abrams’s distinction in the title of his seminal study of the period, “The Mirror and the Lamp,” still holds. Abrams argued that early eighteenth-century literature was a mirror, reﬂecting reality as
“Of course, now that my assistant has passed away this isn’t nearly as exciting. ”
• it was, while the new Romantic literature acted like a lamp generated by individual minds, peering into spaces illuminated by their subjectivity. De Quincey is a special case, since he experienced subjective impressions as though they were real and wrote about them as though their reality could be conveyed, in all its Technicolor wonder and horror. He witnessed with his senses what some of his contemporaries only pondered in the abstract; opium levelled, for him, the distinction between actual and imagined things. “I seemed every night to descend, not metaphorically, but literally to descend, into chasms and sunless abysses, depths below depths,” he wrote. When the writer Maria Edgeworth read Milton’s lines about Hell (“And in the lowest deep a lower deep / Still threatening to devour me opens wide”), she objected: How could the lowest deep open into a lower deep? De Quincey answered, “In carpentry it is clear to my mind that it could not.” But in cases of “deep imaginative feeling” it was natural to behold the “never-ending growth of one colossal grandeur chasing and surmounting another, or of abysses that swallowed up abysses.” Wordsworth’s work often shows us how to achieve, for ourselves, the rap-
• turous perception that feeds some of his greatest eﬀects. There are sections in “The Prelude” that tell us how to see things close up, from afar, from above and below. A celebrated passage describes the process by which a person can hang “down-bending from the side of a boat” and witness, in palimpsest, the “weeds, ﬁshes, ﬂowers, / Grots, pebbles, roots of trees” mingled with reﬂections of the “rocks and sky, / Mountains and clouds.” He also showed, in an exercise crucial before the invention of photography, how to experience time as a “spot” that could be revisited on demand. We all do this: in my case, I think of being inside a woodshed at the back of our property in Vermont, with an orange ﬁbreglass roof that made the entire space glow eerily. There I am ﬁve years old. What Wordsworth is to the world of perception, De Quincey is to the dream world, giving us concrete structures in place of mental static, structures impossible to describe except in the sentences he built to accommodate their labyrinthine organization. Reading about his visions, we’re experiencing them; his prose is their conveyable form. His imagination thrived on poison. But his sentences transmute all that pain into beauty. THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
WAGNER WEEKEND “Tristan” at the Met, and “Das Rheingold” in Chicago. BY ALEX ROSS
C tan und Isolde” does not end with
ontrary to popular belief, “Tris-
a Liebestod, or “love-death.” In the ﬁnal minutes of the opera, Isolde indeed collapses, lifeless, after singing an aria of serene ecstasy over Tristan’s body. But Wagner called that monologue Isolde’s “Transﬁguration.” He applied the word “Liebestod” to the music of groping longing that appears in the Prelude and recurs in Act I, as the lovers partake of the potion that they mistakenly believe to be poison. It was Franz Liszt who, in an 1867 piano paraphrase, dubbed the ending “Isolden’s Liebes-Tod.” In its original context, Liebestod indicates a death that turns into love. The later usage implies the opposite, a love that turns into death.The misnomer is particularly ironic
because the dying Isolde never mentions death: instead, she hears Tristan’s voice immortally resounding. Her transﬁguration unveils a metaphysical realm indistinguishable from music itself. The migration of the “Liebestod” from the beginning to the end of “Tristan” encouraged the impression that the opera is a ritual of erotic suicide. In Gabriele d’Annunzio’s 1894 novel, “The Triumph of Death,” a Wagner-besotted nobleman tries to persuade his beloved to undergo a Liebestod, and, failing to do so, hurls her and himself over a cliﬀ. In Yukio Mishima’s 1966 ﬁlm, “Patriotism,” a Japanese lieutenant and his wife commit seppuku as “Tristan” plays. And, in more than a few latter-day stagings, Isolde meets a grislier demise than what Wagner envis-
Nina Stemme and Stuart Skelton reached the stratosphere of Wagner performance. 104
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aged. Mariusz Treliński, in a production now playing at the Metropolitan Opera, goes farther than most. Not only does Isolde slit her wrists before singing her farewell; Tristan suﬀers a self-inﬂicted wound, and, in a ﬂashback presented as a black-and-white ﬁlm montage, Tristan’s father shoots himself. Such bloodyminded scenarios tend to wipe away the sensuous mysticism of Wagner’s creation. Treliński’s staging, with sets by Boris Kudlička and costumes by Marek Adamski, is a consistently gloomy aﬀair. The ﬁrst act unfolds on a modern warship of indeterminate nationality. The second act, with its immense love scene, is set largely in a munitions storage room. The third act takes place in a hospital with cold tiled walls. Black, gray, and silver tones predominate, accented by radar-screen green, searchlight yellow, and, for a happy moment, a multicolored, shimmering aurora borealis. Electric fans rotate noirishly; grainy surveillance video ﬂickers. I kept thinking that Matt Damon was about to run onstage and get into a shoot-out with King Marke’s beefy guards. The unrelenting grimness matches the opera’s darkest moods but misses its ﬂashes of joy—and hence its complexity. Dark is not always deep. Still, Treliński is a thoughtful, meticulous director, and he brings to “Tristan” the same ﬁnely observed detail that distinguished his prior Met eﬀort, a double bill of “Bluebeard’s Castle” and “Iolanta,” last season. The military setting yielded some striking, unsettling images: for example, the intersecting ﬂashlights of rival groups during a blacked-out ﬁght in Act III. (Less pleasing was the muddy ampliﬁcation of oﬀstage voices.) And, however dubious the emphasis on suicide, the ﬁnal tableau was heartbreaking: the lovers sitting on a bench, Isolde resting her head on Tristan’s shoulder. On the second night of the run, musical values reached the stratosphere of modern Wagner performance.The Swedish dramatic soprano Nina Stemme has been singing Isolde for more than a decade, and her voice shows little wear; if anything, she sounded fresher and more youthful than she did last season at the Met, when she had the title role in “Elektra.” Her high notes burn through the orchestra; her lower range has a dusky gleam. Perhaps her greatest asset is her diction: in her Act I entrance, you could ILLUSTRATION BY RUI TENREIRO
make out every biting word of “Wer wagt mich zu höhnen?” (“Who dares to mock me?”). The missing element may be a warm, rounded tone in quieter stretches. “Mild und leise” (“Softly and gently”), the ﬁrst words of the “Transﬁguration,” were a touch hesitant. Yet the voice was never anything but beautiful. No less thrilling was the Tristan of Stuart Skelton, who ﬁrst sang this cruellest of tenor roles in March, when Treliński presented his staging in Baden-Baden. Skelton, a forty-eight-year-old Australian, has the musical intelligence to undertake the part and the physical stamina to survive it. Only a few rough high A’s in the extended delirium of Act III betrayed fatigue, and these seemed in character for a dying man. Best of all was his poignant ardor in such passages as “Wie sie selig, hehr und milde wandelt” (“How blissfully, bravely, and gently she wanders”). René Pape repeated his tour de force as King Marke, which ﬁrst awed Met audiences in 1999. Ekaterina Gubanova was a burnished Brangäne, Evgeny Nikitin a punchily aﬀecting Kurwenal. Simon Rattle, in his second conducting assignment at the Met (the ﬁrst was “Pelléas et Mélisande,” in 2010), achieved wonders. The performance had a masterly architectural shape; it was phenomenally precise (you could hear every note of the upward-rushing violins in the Prelude); it allowed the singers to be heard without strain; it did not stint on Wagnerian majesty and mystery. If only the frenzy of feeling that erupted in Act II had been visible onstage.
E I was on a plane to Chicago for the
ight hours after “Tristan” ended,
ﬁrst installment of a new “Ring of the Nibelung” at the Lyric Opera. David Pountney’s playful, buoyant production of “Das Rheingold” came as a relief after all the bleakness at the Met. Pountney, who recently won praise for reviving Mieczysław Weinberg’s Holocaust opera, “The Passenger,” disclaims any grand revisionist agenda. In a program note, he writes, “The emphasis in our case will be to tell the story.” The question then becomes: what is the story, when Wagner drew not only on Teutonic and Norse legends but also on Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Calderón de la Barca, and Schopenhauer? Pountney avoids the digital tricks that,
at the Met, too often substitute for theatrical craft. Instead, working with sets designed by Robert Innes Hopkins and the late Johan Engels, the director repurposes quaint, pre-cinematic devices. The waters of the Rhine are evoked by billowing blue banners yanked by ropes; the giants are conjured with heads atop towers and with oversized puppet arms. The gods, attired in an amusingly garish array of caps, coats, breeches, and gowns (the costume designer is Marie-Jeanne Lecca), resemble Restoration-comedy and operabuﬀa characters who have wandered into a Norse comic book. The dwarfs wield Jules Verne-looking contraptions. Members of the stage crew scurry about in plain sight, and the singers pitch in. When Donner summons his storm, you see a thunder sheet shaking on one side of the stage, and Loge operating it. At times, the whimsy proliferates to excess, crowding out Wagnerian politics and psychology. Wotan builds Valhalla to compensate for a loveless marriage; Alberich forswears love to forge the Ring. The motivations of Pountney’s sashaying gods and cackling dwarfs are less clear. The great American bass-baritone Eric Owens was singing his ﬁrst Wotan onstage; the opera world has long awaited the occasion, but Owens was curiously reserved on opening night, his voice not quite booming out at climactic moments. Still, his portrayal oﬀered a characteristic wealth of nuance: this god seemed haunted and melancholy from the start, at odds with the scherzo-like mood of the production. Samuel Youn, a mainstay at Bayreuth, sang Alberich with manic force, even if his curse upon the Ring lacked the anguished menace that Owens evinced at the Met in 2012. Štefan Margita all but stole the show with his sly, antic, liquid-voiced Loge, and it made sense that the gods’ mischief-maker dominated Pountney’s conception. The Lyric Opera cast had impressive depth, with ﬁne younger Germans (Tanja Ariane Baumgartner as Fricka, Okka von der Damerau as Erda) joining ascendant Americans (Zachary Nelson as Donner, Jesse Donner as Froh). Andrew Davis led a performance of vigor and heft: the horns were idyllic at the start and steel-plated at the end. As at the Met, the musicians delved into territory that went unexplored onstage. Wagner remains, on most nights, a theatre of the mind. THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
DRAWING LINES An Agnes Martin retrospective. BY PETER SCHJELDAHL
“Summer” (1964): Synthesizing both Abstract Expressionism and minimalism.
T tin died in 2004, at the age of he abstract painter Agnes Mar-
ninety-two, and a new retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum aﬃrms that the greatness of her work has only ampliﬁed in the years since. That’s something of a surprise: no setting would seem less congenial to the strict angles of Martin’s paintings than the curves of Frank Lloyd Wright’s creamy seashell. I also worried that the work’s repetitive formulas—grids and stripes, mostly gray or palely colored, often six feet square— would add aesthetic fatigue to the mild toll of a hike up the ramp. But the show’s challenges to contemplation and stamina turn out to intensify a deep, and deepening, sense of the artist’s singular powers. The climb becomes a sort of secu106
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
lar pilgrimage, on which you may feel your perceptual ability to register minute diﬀerences of tone and texture steadily reﬁned, and your heart ambushed by rushes of emotion. Each canvas, as selected and installed by the curators, Tiﬀany Bell and Tracey Bashkoﬀ, evinces a particular character. Drawings and “On a Clear Day” (1974), a remarkable suite of silkscreened grids and lines in inks that uncannily mimic graphite, provide rhythmic relief. The cumulative eﬀect is that of intellectual and emotional repletion, concerning a woman who synthesized the essences of two worldchanging movements—Abstract Expressionism and minimalism—and who, from a tortured life, beset by schizo-
phrenia, managed to derive a philosophy, amounting almost to a gospel, of happiness. There is nothing cuddly about Martin. (You will know the feeling of one close acquaintance to whom she said, “I have no friends, and you’re one of them.”) But there is joy. The show starts with a late climax: “The Islands I-XII” (1979), a dozen paintings in acrylic that at ﬁrst glance appear almost identically all-white but which deploy diﬀerently proportioned horizontal bands and pencilled lines. Admixtures of light, almost subliminal blue cool some of the bands. The design stops just short of the sides of the canvas. When you notice this, the ﬁelds of paint seem to jiggle loose, and to hover. If you look long enough— the minute or so that Martin deemed suﬃcient for her works—your sensation-starved optic nerve may produce fugitive impressions of other colors. (At one point, I saw green, and then I didn’t.) It helps to shade your eyes. This causes tones to darken and textures to register more strongly. Looking at Martin’s art is something of an art in itself. Motivated by continual, ineﬀable rewards, you become an adept. “The Islands” crowned the second act of Martin’s career. The ﬁrst peaked in the mid-nineteen-sixties, when she was living in New York, with the public success of the grid pictures—typically, uniform rectangles pencilled or incised on painted square canvases. She had begun making them in 1958, at the age of forty-six, after a long apprenticeship in modern art. In 1967, she stopped working and left the city, heading out in a pickup truck for a year and a half of solitary wandering and then the building of an adobe house for herself near Santa Fe. It was several years before she resumed painting. Martin was at no pains to explain the interregnum, beyond remarking with satisfaction, in a letter to a friend at the time, “Now I do not owe anything or have to do anything.” (She added, “Do not think that that is sad. It is not sad. Even sadness is not sad.”) In recent years, she had been hospitalized for spells of psychosis, tending toward catatonia, and was plagued by doomy thoughts. (“I have tried existing, and I do not like it,” she wrote.) Stardom in the art world imposed pressures that she seemed to
COURTESY PATRICIA L LEWY GIDWITZ
THE ART WORLD
ﬁnd intolerable. But her ﬂight, even from her own creativity, remains a mystery—comparable to Arthur Rimbaud’s abandonment of poetry for adventuring in Africa. As detailed in a crisp and penetrating recent biography, “Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art,” by Nancy Princenthal, the artist’s hard existence began, in 1912, in a small town on the plains of Saskatchewan, as the third of four children of Scottish Presbyterian parents. Her father, who farmed wheat, died two years later. Her mother, Margaret, was, by Martin’s account, harsh and unloving. (Martin seldom spoke of her past, and what she told wasn’t always to be trusted.) Margaret eventually moved the family to Vancouver, where, in high school, Martin excelled at swimming; she just missed qualifying for the Canadian Olympic team, for the 1936 Games in Berlin. She reportedly attended the University of Southern California on a swimming scholarship, but dropped out and taught in elementary schools for a couple of years, before completing a degree at the Teachers College of Columbia University, in 1942. Then, at the age of thirty, Martin found a vocation in painting. She made ﬁgurative work, while working odd jobs in New York, and went to study art at the University of New Mexico, in 1946. Five years later, she returned to Columbia to earn a master’s degree in ﬁne-arts education. During that time, she absorbed principles of Taoist and Zen philosophy that would thenceforth guide her thinking, or, more accurately, her refusals of thought, even as she developed sternly logical solutions to the problems of painting. (Never religious, she was the most matter-of-fact of mystics.) Exposed to the high noon of Abstract Expressionism in the city, she destroyed most of her early works and gravitated to abstraction. Martin was back in New Mexico when, in 1957, the august New York dealer Betty Parsons saw her work— which at that point ran to abstracted landscapes incorporating jagged shapes reminiscent of Clyﬀord Still—and oﬀered her a show, on the condition that she move back to the city. Martin took a loft, which had electricity but no running water and little heat, downtown on Coenties Slip, the most justly
fabled address of budding artistic revolutionaries since the Bateau-Lavoir of Picasso, Juan Gris, and their associates. Her neighbors included Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, and James Rosenquist—most of them gay (she was a lesbian) and determined to counter the histrionic paint-mongering that was then in vogue. Her works from that seedbed period tell a gripping tale of borrowed stylistic ideas—redolent of Arshile Gorky, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and other Abstract Expressionists, and of Johns and Kelly— which she didn’t so much follow as test, one by one, and expunge. Amid the time’s cross-ﬁring models of aesthetic and rhetorical innovation, she struggled less forward than inward. She wanted, passionately, to be alone. Martin had, from the start, an extraordinary sensitivity to subtleties of light and touch. When she hit, at last, on the format of the grid—a motif that was tacit in modern painting after Cubism but never before stripped, and kept, so bare—she found ways to make those qualities the exclusive basis of a wholly original, full-bodied art. She insisted that the results did not exclude nature but analogized it. She said, “It’s really about the feeling of beauty and freedom that you experience in landscape.” (Apropos of the slightly varied forms in some series of her paintings, she recalled studying clouds in the sky: “I paid close attention for a month to see if they ever repeated. They don’t repeat.”) The eﬀect of Martin’s art is not an exercise in overarching style but a mode of moment-to-moment being. The relation of Martin’s mental illness to her art seems twofold, combining a need for concealment and for control—the grid as a screen and as a shield—with an urge to distill positive content from the oceanic states of mind that she couldn’t help experiencing. She knew herself profoundly, because she had to. In a marvellous 1973 essay, “On the Perfection Underlying Life,” she coolly contemplates the “panic of complete helplessness,” which “drives us to fantastic extremes.” But the problem produces its own answer. She concluded that “helplessness when fear and dread have run their course, as all passions do, is the most rewarding state of all.” THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
arrived. Bennett is currently outgunning most of the guys in “The Magniﬁcent Seven,” a ﬂush of anger heightening the hue of her cheeks; Ferguson was top banana in last year’s “Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation,” leaving a baﬄed “The Girl on the Train” and “Under the Shadow.” Tom Cruise to work out what sort of banana he was meant to be; and Blunt BY ANTHONY LANE is Blunt, a deserving object of worship ever since, armed with a queenly disere is an introduction to “The Hawkins. Half the sentient beings on dain and the best eyelids in the busiGirl on the Train.” Listen care- earth appear to have read the book, al- ness, she held her own against Meryl fully, and answer the questions that fol- leging with near-unanimity that they Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada.” It low. Rachel (Emily Blunt) used to be couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t pick it is with inﬁnite regret, therefore, that I married to Tom ( Justin Theroux), but up. I tried, frequently, but it always fell must report on the veil of dourness that Tom had an aﬀair with Anna (Rebecca from my grasp, tugged down by the settles over all three actresses in “The Ferguson), who is now his wife. He and dead weight of the prose. Still, plenty Girl on the Train.” None of them are Anna have a baby, whose nanny is of viscous books have been transﬁgured allowed a ﬂurry of wit or a lighthearted named Megan (Haley Bennett). Megan into sprightly ﬁlms. Clint Eastwood shrug, and to switch from Grace Kelly, looks a bit like Anna. She— in “Rear Window” —a movie Megan, not Anna—lives that dared to suggest how with Scott (Luke Evans), much fun might be had from who is creepy and possessive, the wicked watching of other although Tom also looks a lives and the amateur probing of crimes—to Taylor’s bit clenched. Not as clenched heroines is to pass from luas Kamal (Edgar Ramírez), minescence to a zone of querhowever, who is Megan’s superhot shrink. Rachel will ulous gloom. The tale is set later enroll as a patient of largely in a suburb on the Kamal’s. Stay with me here. Hudson, and nothing is duller It so happens that Rachel, or more stiﬂing, as a rule, than who is obsessed with her people who wish to make it ex, takes a twice-daily train perfectly plain how stiﬂed ride that passes the house they feel by their dull suburwhere Tom and Anna live. ban existence. Does it matter that the One day, she—Rachel, not plot is so full of holes that Anna—sees, or thinks she you could use it to drain spasees, a woman with blond ghetti? (For a more waterhair, who could be Megan, tight version, consult Agatha although she might be mistaken for Anna, kissing a Christie’s “4:50 from Padman with dark hair, who dington,” in which a passencould be Scott, Tom, Kamal, ger—a chum of Miss Maror possibly the FedEx delivple’s, thank heaven—sitting ery guy, on a balcony. Faced in one train spots a stranwith this devastating evigling in another.) Newcomdence, she, Rachel, becomes ers, innocent of Hawkins’s a sleuth, teaming up, slightly novel, may not even care that unwisely, with Scott, who Emily Blunt in Tate Taylor’s film of the best-selling novel. the ﬁnal twist is visible from believes, slightly wrongly, many leagues distant. What that she is a friend of Megan’s. So made something watchable out of “The does rile, though, is the drink. Rachel (1), who beds whom? (2) Who doesn’t? Bridges of Madison County,” a public is a lush, decanting vodka tonics into a (3) Who gets whacked? (4) Why can’t feat that ranks with the raising of plastic beaker for boozing on the move, Rachel mind her own business? (5) Frankly, Lazarus. Perhaps the same could be and Blunt presents a gaunt and sorry who gives a damn? done with Hawkins’s narrators—three spectacle, with ﬂaking lips, unfocussed Such are the issues that spring from of them, no less, maundering on in the gaze, and rosy nose. Whereupon she the ﬁlm, which is directed by Tate Tay- ﬁrst person, often in the present tense, attends a single A.A. meeting and— lor, written by Erin Cressida Wilson, and each as annoying as the next. bingo!—the problem starts to clear. Spirits rose when news of the cast We realize that alcoholism was never and adapted from the novel by Paula THE CURRENT CINEMA
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
ILLUSTRATION BY ADRIAN TOMINE
a serious theme; it was merely an excuse for false-memory syndrome, and hence a lazy way to mess with the logic of the story. Judging by the restive sighs that crowned the screening I went to, not everyone is fooled. Last and least, there is the title. Whether there was an overt attempt, ﬁrst by Hawkins and then by the ﬁlmmakers, to cash in on “Gone Girl,” I cannot say, but in both cases an enfeebling example has been set. By any measure, the principal ﬁgures in both works are women, and to label them as girls is to tint them with childishness, as if they were easily cowed by circumstance or stormy feelings, and thus more liable to lash out, or to sink into a sulk, rather than submit their troubles to adult consideration. In 1942, Katharine Hepburn starred in “Woman of the Year” as a prize-winning political columnist. Try zipping back in time, telling Hepburn to rename the movie “Girl of the Year,” and see how far you get.
A street. Her feet are bare, and so is
woman runs in terror down a
her head. She carries a child in her arms. Darkness has fallen, and it’s a relief when we see the lights of a police vehicle ahead; surely these men will come to her aid. Instead, they start to chide her, saying, “Are we in Europe now?” No, we are not. Welcome to Tehran, in 1988, during the exhausted last stage of the Iran-Iraq War. Hundreds of thousands have died, and the city is a target for Iraqi missiles, but what concerns the authorities, at this instant, is that the woman has appeared outside without a chador. She is detained,
and is lucky to get oﬀ with a reprimand. Her name is Shideh (Narges Rashidi), her child is Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), and they have just ﬂed from their apartment. This is not because Shideh’s husband, a laughably handsome doctor named Iraj (Bobby Naderi), has been drafted to serve near the front line, leaving his wife and daughter to fend for themselves, or even because of the missile that landed, not long ago, on their building and failed to explode. (The nose cone protruded through the roof, and spidery cracks from the impact spread across the ceiling of the apartment.) What propels Shideh into the night is the belief, shared with her daughter, that their home is possessed by spirits. “Under the Shadow” is being sold as a horror ﬁlm, and understandably so; there are a few nasty surprises that will bop you right on the nose cone. At what point, though, will the unwarned viewer become aware that this is a horror ﬁlm at all? Many scenes are chafed by vexations that could not be less supernatural: Shideh’s dismay upon learning that she is forbidden to complete her medical training; her quarrels with Iraj, who reckons that she should swallow that humbling fate; the solo workout sessions, in her living room, in front of banned Jane Fonda videos; her trips to the doctor, when Dorsa develops a fever; tea with the landlord’s wife; and the dashes to the cellar when the air-raid sirens cry. But there’s the rub. Low-grade horror rustles up its fears from nowhere, inventing cheap curses or doltish backstories, but the writer and director of this ﬁlm, Babak Anvari, grounds it in his own
experience of growing up in Tehran, and grates the nerves of his characters against the abrasively real. The lights don’t go out for no reason, in a bid to stoke the mood; they go out because of a power cut. And you don’t go underground to confront the bogeyman; you go there to avoid being bombed. Yet there is a bogeyman—a djinn, beloved of Persian legend, cited by conservative neighbors, borne on the wind, and scoﬀed at by Shideh right up to the moment that she meets one. Is it a symbol of oppression, by gods and men (especially men); a symptom of contagious anxiety, passed from child to parent; or nothing but a noisome dream? All these and more, the result being that, by my calculations, “Under the Shadow” is precisely thirty-six times more interesting than “The Girl on the Train.” Where the conceit of that movie feels timid, cooked up, and culturally thin, Anvari’s is nourished by a near-traumatic sense of history, and, in terms of feminist pluck, Rashidi’s presence, in the leading role, is both gutsier and more plausible than the combined eﬀorts of all the main performers in Taylor’s ﬁlm. Shideh is by turns testy, moody, graceful, dog-tired, determined, and brave, even when the ceiling cracks begin to bulge, or when she glimpses behind her, mirrored in the TV screen, something that shouldn’t be there. As for special eﬀects, did you honestly doubt that peeling duct tape and a sheet of printed fabric, if handled with imaginative brio, could be as frightening as any ten-milliondollar monster? O ye of little faith. NEWYORKER.COM
Richard Brody blogs about movies.
THE NEW YORKER IS A REGISTERED TRADEMARK OF ADVANCE MAGAZINE PUBLISHERS INC. COPYRIGHT ©2016 CONDÉ NAST. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. PRINTED IN THE U.S.A. VOLUME XCII, NO. 33, October 17, 2016. THE NEW YORKER (ISSN 0028792X) is published weekly (except for five combined issues: February 8 & 15, June 6 & 13, July 11 & 18, August 8 & 15, and December 19 & 26) by Condé Nast, which is a division of Advance Magazine Publishers Inc. PRINCIPAL OFFICE: Condé Nast, 1 World Trade Center, New York, NY 10007. Elizabeth Hughes, publisher, chief revenue officer; Risa Aronson, associate publisher advertising; James Guilfoyle, director of finance and business operations; Fabio Bertoni, general counsel. Condé Nast: S. I. Newhouse, Jr., chairman emeritus; Charles H. Townsend, chairman; Robert A. Sauerberg, Jr., president & chief executive officer; David E. Geithner, chief financial officer; Jill Bright, chief administrative officer. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY, and at additional mailing offices. Canadian Goods and Services Tax Registration No. 123242885-RT0001. POSTMASTER: SEND ADDRESS CHANGES TO THE NEW YORKER, P.O. Box 37684, Boone, IA 50037 0684. FOR SUBSCRIPTIONS, ADDRESS CHANGES, ADJUSTMENTS, OR BACK ISSUE INQUIRIES: Please write to The New Yorker, P.O. Box 37684, Boone, IA 50037 0684, call (800) 825-2510, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Please give both new and old addresses as printed on most recent label. Subscribers: If the Post Office alerts us that your magazine is undeliverable, we have no further obligation unless we receive a corrected address within one year. If during your subscription term or up to one year after the magazine becomes undeliverable, you are ever dissatisfied with your subscription, let us know. You will receive a full refund on all unmailed issues. First copy of new subscription will be mailed within four weeks after receipt of order. For advertising inquiries, please call Risa Aronson at (212) 286-4068. For submission guidelines, please refer to our Web site, www.newyorker.com. Address all editorial, business, and production correspondence to The New Yorker, 1 World Trade Center, New York, NY 10007. For cover reprints, please call (800) 897-8666, or e-mail email@example.com. For permissions and reprint requests, please call (212) 630-5656 or fax requests to (212) 630-5883. No part of this periodical may be reproduced without the consent of The New Yorker. The New Yorker’s name and logo, and the various titles and headings herein, are trademarks of Advance Magazine Publishers Inc. Visit us online at www.newyorker.com. To subscribe to other Condé Nast magazines, visit www.condenast.com. Occasionally, we make our subscriber list available to carefully screened companies that offer products and services that we believe would interest our readers. If you do not want to receive these offers and/or information, please advise us at P.O. Box 37684, Boone, IA 50037 0684 or call (800) 825-2510. THE NEW YORKER IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THE RETURN OR LOSS OF, OR FOR DAMAGE OR ANY OTHER INJURY TO, UNSOLICITED MANUSCRIPTS, UNSOLICITED ART WORK (INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, DRAWINGS, PHOTOGRAPHS, AND TRANSPARENCIES), OR ANY OTHER UNSOLICITED MATERIALS. THOSE SUBMITTING MANUSCRIPTS, PHOTOGRAPHS, ART WORK, OR OTHER MATERIALS FOR CONSIDERATION SHOULD NOT SEND ORIGINALS, UNLESS SPECIFICALLY REQUESTED TO DO SO BY THE NEW YORKER IN WRITING.
THE NEW YORKER, OCTOBER 17, 2016
CARTOON CAPTION CONTEST
Each week, we provide a cartoon in need of a caption. You, the reader, submit a caption, we choose three finalists, and you vote for your favorite. Caption submissions for this week’s cartoon, by David Borchart, must be received by Sunday, October 16th. The finalists in the October 3rd contest appear below. We will announce the winner, and the finalists in this week’s contest, in the October 31st issue. Anyone age thirteen or older can enter or vote. To do so, and to read the complete rules, visit contest.newyorker.com. THIS WEEK’S CONTEST
THE WINNING CAPTION
“Let’s not mistake his confidence for leadership.” Michael Shainline, Denver, Colo. “I think I will unfollow him.” Andrew Ng, San Francisco, Calif. “You think that’s impressive? Wait till we get to the lake.” Bob Munro, Naperville, Ill.
“He’s not reinventing it—he’s making it great again.” Tim Noble, Brooklyn, N.Y.