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Elizabeth Drew: Our Rigged Electio Elections


May 21, 2015 / Volume LXII, Number 9

INTERSTELLAR SPACE by Priyamvada Natarajan Judge Jed Rakoff: Prisons The Judges Are Silent


ASIAN KINGDOMS by William Dalrymple

Nicholas Lemann: ‘The American Dream in Crisis’ Jonathan Freedland: The Great Tony Judt

Which Wolf Hall?



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PA U L K A S M I N G A L L E R Y 515 W E S T 2 7 T H S T R E E T N E W YO R K 10 0 01 L E C O Q , 19 24, P O L I S H E D B R O N Z E , 3 6 5⁄ 8 X 4 1⁄ 16 X 14 7⁄ 8 I N. / 9 3 X 10 . 2 X 3 8 C M E D I T I O N 5 O F 8 , C A S T B Y S U S S E F O N D E U R , PA R I S , I N 2 013 © 2 015 A R T I S T S R I G H T S S O C I E T Y ( A R S ) N E W YO R K / A D A G P, PA R I S

Contents 4

Jerome Groopman


Robert Darnton


William Dalrymple

On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks Figures publiques: L’Invention de la cÊlÊbritÊ, 1750–1850 by Antoine Lilti Buddhism Along the Silk Road, 5th– 8th Century an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia, Fifth to Eighth Century an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City Catalog of the exhibition by John Guy


Jed S. Rakoff


Phillip Lopate


Elizabeth Drew

Democracy and Justice: Collected Writings edited by Desiree Ramos Reiner, Jim Lyons, Erik Opsal, Mikayla Terrell, and Lena Glaser The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown by Richard L. Hasen


Fintan O’Toole

Wolf Hall based on the novels by Hilary Mantel, written by Peter Straughan, and directed by Peter Kosminsky, six episodes, PBS, April 5–May 10, 2015 Wolf Hall Part One and Wolf Hall Part Two: Bring Up the Bodies adapted by Mike Poulton from the novels by Hilary Mantel, directed by Jeremy Herrin, and produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, at the Winter Garden Theater, New York City, March 20–July 5, 2015 Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies: The Stage Adaptation by Mike Poulton

Max Beerbohm: The Prince of Elegant Writers


Nicholas Lemann

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert D. Putnam

G. W. Bowersock

The Ransom of the Soul: Afterlife and Wealth in Early Western Christianity by Peter Brown


Jonathan Freedland


Marianne Boruch Priyamvada Natarajan


John Gray


C. K. Williams


Joshua Hammer


Masha Gessen


Verlyn Klinkenborg


Letters from

When the Facts Change: Essays, 1995–2010 by Tony Judt, edited and with an introduction by Jennifer Homans Poem Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time by Michael Benson You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes—Photographs from the International Space Station by Chris HadďŹ eld Interstellar a ďŹ lm directed by Christopher Nolan The Science of Interstellar by Kip Thorne, with a foreword by Christopher Nolan The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically by Peter Singer Poem Limonov: The Outrageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, a Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero in Russia by Emmanuel Carrère, translated from the French by John Lambert

Randomness to Create a

Jefferson Morley, Susan Dunn, and Martin Nekola


G. W. BOWERSOCK is Professor Emeritus of Ancient History at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. His latest book is The Throne of Adulis: Red Sea Wars on the Eve of Islam. WILLIAM DALRYMPLE’s books include The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857 and Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839– 42. He is codirector of the Jaipur Literature Festival. ROBERT DARNTON is Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and University Librarian at Harvard. His new book is Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature. ELIZABETH DREW is a regular contributor to The New York Review. Her most recent book, Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon’s Downfall, was published last May. JONATHAN FREEDLAND is Executive Editor for Opinion at The Guardian, where he also writes a weekly column. In 2014 he was awarded the Orwell Special Prize for journalism. MASHA GESSEN’s new book, about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy. JOHN GRAY is Emeritus Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics. His latest book is The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Inquiry into Human Freedom.

Minds Battled Quantum Unified Theory of Physics

Redeployment by Phil Klay

MARIANNE BORUCH’s most recent poetry collection is Cadaver, Speak. Her poem in this issue will appear in her forthcoming collection, Eventually One Dreams the Real Thing, to be published in August 2016.


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The Very Tricky Trial of the Khmer Rouge



What Caused the Crime Decline? a report by Oliver Roeder, Lauren-Brooke Eisen, and Julia Bowling




JEROME GROOPMAN holds the Recanati Chair at Harvard Medical School. His most recent book is Your Medical Mind: How to Decide What Is Right for You, written with Pamela Hartzband. JOSHUA HAMMER is a former Newsweek bureau chief and correspondent-at-large in Africa and the Middle East. His new book, The Badass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts, will be published next year. VERLYN KLINKENBORG’s books include Several Short Sentences About Writing and More Scenes from the Rural Life. NICHOLAS LEMANN is a Professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and a staff writer for The New Yorker. PHILLIP LOPATE’s most recent book is a collection of essays, To Show and to Tell. His article in this issue will appear in different form as the introduction to The Prince of Minor Writers: The Selected Essays of Max Beerbohm, to be published in June 2015 by New York Review Books. PRIYAMVADA NATARAJAN is a Professor in the Departments of Astronomy and Physics at Yale. She is the author of a forthcoming book on the acceptance of radical scientiďŹ c ideas. FINTAN O’TOOLE is Literary Editor of The Irish Times and Leonard L. Milberg Visiting Lecturer in Irish Letters at Princeton. His latest book is A History of Ireland in 100 Objects. JED S. RAKOFF is a United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York. C. K. WILLIAMS’s most recent collection of poems is All at Once: Prose Poems. His Selected Later Poems will be published in the fall.

Âť David Cole: Capturing Terrorists Âť Maureen Freely: Remembering Istanbul

Âť Ian Johnson: Discovering Xinjiang Âť Colm TĂłibĂ­n: Gawking at Quixote

Plus: Tim Parks on the technology of writing, Ukraine’s front lines in pictures, and more

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The Victory of Oliver Sacks On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks. Knopf, 397 pp., $27.95

lighted his enthusiasm for chemistry, which I share, but I imagine some readers were not ready to immerse themselves deeply in the Periodic Table.

“You did splendid scholarship papers, Sacks. Why are you failing this silly exam again and again?” I said I didn’t know, and he said, “Well, this is your last chance.” So I took the test a fourth time and finally passed.

had won the prize. Everyone was dumbfounded—how could someone who had come one but last in the anatomy finals walk off with the Theodore Williams Prize? I was not entirely surprised, for it was a sort of repetition, in reverse, of what had happened when I took the Oxford prelims. I am very bad at factual exams, yes-or-no questions, but can spread my wings with essays.

Jerome Groopman


The New York Times, February 19, 2015. See also Sacks’s description of his treatment, “A General Feeling of Disorder,” The New York Review, April 23, 2015.

2 “Water Babies,” The New Yorker, May 26, 1997. Sacks’s father studied Talmud, and the essay on swimming brought to mind a curious passage, Tractate Kiddushin 29a: “A father has the following obligations towards a son—to teach him Torah, to find him a wife, and to teach him a craft or trade. And there are some who say that he must also teach him how to swim.” I wondered whether the Talmudists meant that in life we encounter situations unlike our supportive terra firma and that we need the skills to swim in such waters. 3

Knopf, 2001.


On the Move is a memoir of his matu-

rity. It is tighter in focus, but still pulses with his distinctive energy and curiosity. The narrative conveys a sense of freedom, that Sacks has reached a time and position in which he can be humorous and self-deprecating, but also discuss fraught parts of his life: the

This would prove to be only the first such academic hurdle. Sacks nearly flunked his course in anatomy. He feared informing his mother, who as a surgeon lauded such knowledge. To allay his anxiety, Sacks got drunk: Rolling out of the White Horse, liquored up, I was seized by a mad Jill Krementz

For more than a decade, I have taught a seminar on the literature of medicine for Harvard freshmen. We begin with Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych, read stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Kafka, and William Carlos Williams, and then Oliver Sacks’s An Anthropologist on Mars. His portrayals of a skilled surgeon with Tourette’s syndrome and an accomplished autistic artist with eidetic memory—the ability to “see” an object that is no longer present—cause the students to rethink “abnormal” as meaning only “abject.” This year, I also assigned the class Sacks’s recent essay “My Own Life.”1 He had received a diagnosis of metastatic melanoma and wrote that his survival is likely measured in months. He described himself as of “vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions.” A talented student drew a contrast with Ivan Ilych, who was passionless and shaped his behavior to strictly conform to others’ expectations. Tolstoy judged Ilych’s life as “most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.” Sacks’s autobiography, On the Move, reveals how very different from that his life has been, and therefore most gratifying. Sacks’s early case histories, many published in these pages, revealed little about his background. Then, in 1997, he wrote an essay on swimming.2 He recalled how his father was a champion swimmer, and the young Sacks learned by imitating his slow, measured strokes. Though he was nervous and clumsy on land, swimming involved adaptation and altered identity, two of Sacks’s great themes; in the water he “found a new being, a new mode of being.” His memories of the water brought intimations of mortality; noting that his father swam into his nineties, he ended the essay: “I hope I can follow him, and swim till I die.” Four years later, his boyhood memoir Uncle Tungsten appeared. 3 Sacks was raised in a traditional Jewish home filled with academic expectation. His father was a general practitioner, his mother one of the first qualified woman surgeons in England. The youngest of four brothers, Oliver had eclectic interests at a young age. The book high-

Imagine Sacks sitting for our cascade of standardized tests that culminates in the SAT. Such educational assessments narrow students’ thinking into a binary mode, allowing scant opportunity for an expansive mind that thrives on nuance.

We thankfully live in a time when

sexual orientation is more respected than it used to be, with increasing legal protections in employment and a growing affirmation of the right of gay and lesbian people to marry. Sacks emphasizes that in 1950s England, homosexuality was treated not only as a perversion but as a criminal offense. He recreates an interchange with his father on the subject: “You don’t seem to have many girlfriends,” he said. “Don’t you like girls?” “They’re all right,” I answered, wishing the conversation would stop. “Perhaps you prefer boys?” he persisted. “Yes, I do—but it’s just a feeling—I have never ‘done’ anything,” and then I added, fearfully, “Don’t tell Ma—she won’t be able to take it.” But his father did tell her, and his mother’s reaction was damning: The next morning she came down with a face of thunder, a face I had never seen before. “You are an abomination,” she said. “I wish you had never been born.” Then she left and did not speak to me for several days. When she did speak, there was no reference to what she had said (nor did she ever refer to the matter again), but something had come between us.

Oliver Sacks, New York City, 2000; photograph by Jill Krementz

profound love and admiration for his mother colored by her condemnation of his sexuality; his beloved brother Michael’s schizophrenia; being marginalized by a medical establishment that did not value his holistic approach to neurology; the roots of his perilous descent into drug abuse. Early in the book, we learn how he nearly did not enter a university:

and impudent idea. I would try to compensate for my abysmal performance in the anatomy finals by having a go at a very prestigious university prize—the Theodore Williams Scholarship in Anatomy. The exam had already started, but I lurched in, drunkenly bold, sat down at a vacant desk, and looked at the exam paper.

At Oxford, one had to take an exam called “prelims” for entry; it was considered a mere formality with me, because I already had an open scholarship. But I failed prelims; I took them a second time and I failed again. I took the test a third time and failed yet again, and at this point Mr. Jones, the Provost, pulled me aside and said,

There were seven questions to be answered, and he “pounced on one”: “Does structural differentiation imply functional differentiation?” For two hours, he wrote nonstop. An hour before the exam ended, he left without answering the other six questions: The results were in The Times that weekend; I, Oliver Wolf Sacks,

Sacks had been her favorite, her “mugwump” and “pet lamb” as a child; “now I was ‘one of those’”—a second burden added to his brother Michael’s schizophrenia. Years later he can look back kindly, but he still feels the pain: We are all creatures of our upbringings, our cultures, our times. . . . My mother did not mean to be cruel, to wish me dead. She was suddenly overwhelmed, I now realize, and she probably regretted her words or perhaps partitioned them off in a closeted part of her mind. But her words haunted me for much of my life and played a major part in inhibiting and injecting with guilt what should have been a free and joyous expression of sexuality. In his writing on Tourette’s syndrome and the spectrum of autism, Sacks questions the arbitrary divisions society The New York Review


“Vincent Crapanzano is not only a thoughtful man who writes eloquently about his rich and adventurous life, but he is also a worldly emissary who advises us never to take for granted our own vision of the world.” —g a y ta l e s e au t h o r o f a w r i t e r ’ s l i f e

“The most fascinating and intelligent book I’ve read in a long time. A true marvel!” —l o u i s b e g l e y a u t h o r o f memor ie s of a mar r iag e

“Rejecting the fast — and so often false — intimacy and revelatory conventions of autobiography, Crapanzano invites the reader to partake in a mode of reflection that exquisitely moves between the ironic and the uncertain, the considered and the serendipitous, the delicate and the raw.” —a n n l a u r a s t o l e r au t h o r o f a l o n g t h e a r c h i va l g r a i n

“This deeply candid and personal memoir opens with a question that all of us have been asking all life long: Have I learned anything? This gem of a book asks the same question of love, of people, of places, of careers, of everything. This is me, exactly me, we say.” — a n d r e´ ac i m a n au t h o r o f o u t o f e g y p t

“A uniquely compelling sequence of immediate experience and profound insight into how we each construct the story of our lives. Skeptical, alluring, wrenching, exhilarating, always riveting . . . a tour de force.” —p e t e r

sack s

h a rva r d u n i v e r s i t y

“A remarkable, wide-ranging book about anthropology and what it can tell us about all aspects of modern life, thought, and memory.” —c a r o l i n e m o o r e h e a d au t h o r o f a t r a i n i n w i n t e r

other press

May 21, 2015


Sacks’s training prepared him for a

prominent career in neurology. His first brush with the perils of the medical establishment occurred when he was writing Migraine. He was working under the tutelage of a senior neurologist, Dr. Friedman, who seemed supportive: The head of the migraine clinic was a man of some eminence called Arnold P. Friedman. He had written a good deal on the subject and he had run this clinic—the first of its kind—for more than twenty years. I think Friedman took a shine to me. He thought I was bright, and I think he wanted me to be a sort of protégé. He was friendly towards me, and he arranged for me to do more clinics than everyone else and to be paid slightly more. He introduced me to his daughter, and I even wondered whether he thought of me as a potential son-in-law.

from colleagues asking why I had published earlier versions of some of the chapters under the pseudonym of A. P. Friedman. I wrote back, saying I had done nothing of the sort and that they should address their question to Dr. Friedman in New York. Friedman gambled foolishly on my not publishing the book, and when I did publish it he must have realized he was in trouble. I never said a word to him, and I never saw him again. Sacks attributes Friedman’s bad behavior to a role reversal of the “youthful son-in-science” outshining

With this cast of mind, Sacks advanced a unique form of clinical scholarship, charting the multifaceted world of people with differences in perception and cognition. Over the past decade, he has become an eminent figure in neurology, not only among laymen but among the highest tier of scientists. The Nobel laureates Francis Crick and Gerald Edelman sought his views on the workings of the brain, specifically the nature of consciousness. He received the honor of Commander of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth.

After much agonizing, Sacks decided not to bow to his authority and to publish Migraine. He soon received some eye-opening correspondence: When Migraine came out, I got a couple of rather puzzled letters 6

Sacks easily could have suffered a heart attack or stroke. With characteristic clarity, he notes, “I did and did not realize I was playing with death.” His addiction continued after he moved to New York, where he entered psychoanalysis with Dr. Shengold: I was still half-psychotic at times from the amphetamines I had not yet kicked. Thinking of my schizophrenic brother, Michael, I asked Shengold if I too was schizophrenic. “No,” he answered. Was I then, I asked, “merely neurotic”? “No,” he answered. I left it there, we left it there, and there it has been left for the last forty-nine years.

All went well until Sacks began to write the book, emphasizing the striking individuality of each case, how no two patients were ever the same. When Friedman discovered this, he became belligerent, stating that if the work saw the light of day, he would destroy him professionally: Who did I think I was to write a book on migraine? he demanded. What presumption! I said, “I’m sorry, it just happened.” He said that he would send the manuscript out for review, to someone very high up in the migraine world. I was very taken aback by these reactions. A few days later, I saw Friedman’s assistant photocopying my manuscript. I didn’t pay much attention to this, but I noted it. About three weeks later, Friedman gave me a letter from the reviewer, from which all identifying characteristics of the sender had been removed. It was a letter lacking any real, constructive critical substance but full of personal and often envenomed criticism of the book’s style and its writer. When I said this to Friedman, he replied, “On the contrary, he is absolutely right. This is what your book consists of; it’s basically trash.”. . . He warned me not to think of going back to the book, saying that if I did, he would not only fire me but see that I never got another neurological job in America. At that time, he was chairman of the headache section of the American Neurological Association, and it would indeed have been impossible for me to get another job without his recommendation.

I took a puff, nervously, then another, and then, voraciously driven, smoked the rest, voraciously because it was producing what cannabis alone had never produced—a voluptuous, almost orgasmic feeling of great intensity. When I asked what the joint had contained, I was told that it had been doped with amphetamine. . . . I was hooked after that night with an amphetamine-soaked joint and was to remain hooked for the next four years. In the irresistible thrall of amphetamines, sleep was impossible, food was neglected, and everything was subordinated to the stimulation of the pleasure centers in my brain.

this sense of adventure. (I regard all neurology, everything, as a sort of adventure!)

Douglas White

makes between sick and well. We learn here something about the origins of this sensibility. His brother Michael “sometimes called the rest of us, the non-schizophrenic world, ‘rottenly normal’ (great rage was embodied in this incisive phrase).”

The first antidote to his addiction was the reward of doctoring: I would continue to seek satisfaction in drugs, I felt, unless I had satisfying—and, hopefully, creative—work. It was crucial for me to find something with meaning, and this, for me, was seeing patients. As soon as I started clinical work in October of 1966, I felt better. I found my patients fascinating, and I cared for them. I started to taste my own clinical and therapeutic powers and, above all, the sense of autonomy and responsibility which I had been denied when I was still a resident in training. I had less recourse to drugs and could be more open to the analytic process.

Oliver Sacks, Greenwich Village, 1961

“the father.” I take a less generous view. Serving on grant review committees, I have observed senior researchers who are fair and well-intentioned, but also those who slam proposals from creative investigators, then steal their ideas. Similar fratricide occurs with submitted manuscripts, with reviewers denigrating competing research so it is not published. There is an ugly side to the scientific hierarchy that comes from unchecked lust for success and fame. We have entered a time in medicine that celebrates “big data,” as large cohorts of patients are reduced to numbers fit for meta-analysis. Rather than narrow statistical significance, Sacks sees a larger emotive dimension in each person’s condition: Patients were real, often passionate individuals with real problems—and sometimes choices—of an often agonizing sort. It was not just a question of diagnosis and treatment. Emotions that can be instructive and exhilarating are also sparked in the doctor: I have never seen a patient who didn’t teach me something new, or stir in me new feelings and new trains of thought; and I think that those who are with me in these situations share in, and contribute to,

Eminence has not brought hubris, but self-deprecating humor: I was half-afraid that I would do something awful, like faint or fart right in front of the queen, but all went well. . . . She spoke to me briefly but warmly, asking me what I was working on. . . . It was as if she—and England—were saying, “You have done useful, honourable work. Come home. All is forgiven.”

Then there was a second reward:


had hoped for a life with a young, energetic man named Mel, whom he met while training in neurology at UCLA. At first, they became roommates, enjoying motorcycle excursions and exercise at the beach. There was close physical contact with wrestling, but not sex. Then, while giving a naked Mel a massage, Sacks had an orgasm. Mel left him: I felt desperately lonely and rejected when Mel moved out, and it was at this juncture that I turned to drugs, as some sort of compensation. I rented the little house in Topanga Canyon—it was rather isolated, being at the top of an unpaved trail, and I resolved never to live with anyone again. Despondent, he happened to smoke laced marijuana:

I had one more drug high or mania in February of 1967, and this—paradoxically and unlikely all my previous highs—took a creative turn and showed me what I should and could do: to write a worthwhile book on migraine, and perhaps other books after this. It was not just a vague feeling of potential but a very clear, focused vision of future neurological work and writing which came to me when I was high but then stayed with me. Sacks “never took amphetamines again—despite sometimes-intense longings for them.” And with his emotions “no longer out of reach, . . . analysis could get somewhere.”


have long been fascinated by Sacks’s distinctive style of writing, particularly The New York Review


Alessandro Acquisti

Katherine Eban

Arthur Lupia

Patricia L. Sullivan

Carnegie Mellon University


University of Michigan

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Larry M. Bartels

Caleb Everett

Sarah Mathew

Philip E. Tetlock

Vanderbilt University

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Shahzad Bashir

Masha Gessen

Ian Morris

Elizabeth F. Thompson

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Stanford University

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David E. Bloom

Donald P. Green

Leith Mullings

Daniel J. Tichenor

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Kevin Gerard Boyle

Mala Htun

Laurence Ralph

Zeynep Tufekci

Northwestern University

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Fotini Christia

Valerie M. Hudson

Louise I. Shelley

Lynn Vavreck

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John D. Ciorciari

Maria Ivanova

Timothy David Snyder

Max Weiss

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Gregory T. Cushman

Keir A. Lieber

Thomas J. Sugrue

Elizabeth J. Wilson

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University of Minnesota

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SELECTION JURY Chair: Susan HockďŹ eld, president emerita, Massachusetts Institute of Technology â&#x20AC;˘ Ralph Cicerone, president, National Academy of Sciences Jared Cohon, president emeritus, Carnegie Mellon University â&#x20AC;˘ Mary Sue Coleman, president emerita, University of Michigan John DeGioia, president, Georgetown University â&#x20AC;˘ Robbert Dijkgraaf, director and Leon Levy Professor, Institute for Advanced Study Jonathan Fanton, president, American Academy of Arts & Sciences â&#x20AC;˘ Amy Gutmann, president, University of Pennsylvania Ira Katznelson, president, Social Science Research Council â&#x20AC;˘ Earl Lewis, president, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Don Randel, chair of the board, American Academy of Arts & Sciences â&#x20AC;˘ Robert Silvers, editor, The New York Review of Books Pauline Yu, president, American Council of Learned Societies â&#x20AC;˘ Rapporteur: Arthur Levine, president, Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation

May 21, 2015


his affection for adjectives. Instead of mere repetition, each adjective enhances the breadth of the described subject. Where did this nuanced sensibility originate? My mother was a natural storyteller. She would tell medical stories to her colleagues, her students, her patients, her friends. And she had told us—my three brothers and me—medical stories from our earliest days, stories sometimes grim and terrifying but always evocative of the personal qualities, the special value and valor, of the patient. My father, too, was a grand medical storyteller, and my parents’ sense of wonder at the vagaries of life, their combination of a clinical and a narrative cast of mind, was transmitted with great force to all of us. My own impulse to write— not to write fiction or poems, but to chronicle and describe—seems to have come directly from them. In Uncle Tungsten, Sacks describes a home filled with Jewish celebrations. As the youngest child, he asked

the Four Questions at the seder, and searched for the hidden half-middle matzah, the afikomen. He also adored Sukkot, the autumn harvest holiday, and his interest in horticulture was directed toward adorning the sukkah with branches and leaves. He is no longer observant, but Sacks appreciates certain psychological benefits of ritual. After his mother’s death, I wondered how I would feel about sitting shiva. I did not know if I could bear it, sitting all day on a low stool with my fellow mourners for seven days on end, receiving a constant stream of people, and talking, talking, talking endlessly of the departed. But I found it a deep and crucial and affirmative experience, this total sharing of emotions and memories, when, alone, I felt so annihilated by my mother’s death. . . . As they spoke of her, I was reminded of my own identity as a physician, teacher, and storyteller and how this had brought us closer, adding a new dimension to our relationship, over the years. It made

me feel too that I must complete Awakenings as a last tribute to her. A strange sense of peace and sobriety, and of what really mattered, a sense of the allegorical dimensions of life and death, grew stronger and stronger in me with each day of the mourning. . . . And in this mood, I wrote the later, more allegorical sections of Awakenings, with a feeling, a voice I had never known before.

There was an essential part of Sacks’s life that was long absent. Then, at the age of seventy-seven, he fell in love with the writer Billy Hayes. They now share a domestic life: It has sometimes seemed to me that I have lived at a certain distance from life. . . . Deep, almost geological changes had to occur; in my case, the habits of a lifetime’s solitude, and a sort of implicit selfishness and self-absorption, had to change. New needs, new fears, enter one’s life—the need for another, the fear of abandonment. There have to be deep, mutual adaptations.

Reading On The Move and knowing that Sacks is facing a terminal illness heightens certain parts of the book. He became a close friend of the evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould. Sacks writes that Gould “had had a brush with death before I met him,” from mesothelioma, a rare and typically fatal cancer, but “was determined to beat the odds and survive.” After this experience, Gould became more productive than ever. “There was not a minute to waste; who knew what might happen next?” Sacks echoes this in his recent essay in The New York Times. “I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential.”

Oliver Sacks inspired my efforts as a physician-writer, as he has for so many others. I am, in a sense, one of his students. Now, in settings like my seminar, his work inspires the next generation to think and create. I will add On the Move to our reading list. His writing, like the light from a distant star, will continue to illuminate the lives of his readers, long after its source is extinguished.

How to Become a Celebrity Robert Darnton

One of the most famous first lines among modern novels—“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” (L. P. Hartley, The GoBetween, 1953)—has migrated from literature to history and now serves as an article of faith among professional historians. It means: avoid anachronism. The first line in Antoine Lilti’s historical study of celebrity flies in the face of that injunction: “Marie-Antoinette is Lady Di!” This remark, made by Francis Ford Coppola as he watched the filming of Marie Antoinette (2006), written and directed by his daughter, Sofia Coppola, was splendidly anachronistic. So was the film, which contrasted the youthful freshness of the queen, played as if she were an American adolescent by Kirsten Dunst, with the suffocating protocol of Louis XVI’s court, captured in sumptuous detail by cameras positioned in Versailles itself. Instead of dismissing Marie Antoinette as a failed attempt to reconstruct the past, Lilti celebrates it as an expression of what he calls “the culture of celebrity,” a long-term, transatlantic phenomenon that first took root in Paris and London around 1750 and now has spread everywhere in the world—even, it seems, to North Korea, where Hollywood’s version of the cult surrounding Kim Jong-un in The Interview produced a combustible confusion between image and reality similar in some ways to the predicament of the French queen. Not that Lilti himself embraces anachronism. He construes celebrity as a historical subject, and he works it over with all the rigor and originality 8

Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon/ RMN -Grand Palais/Art Resource

Figures publiques: L’Invention de la célébrité, 1750–1850 by Antoine Lilti. Paris: Fayard, 430 pp., €24.00 (paper)

‘Marie-Antoinette Hunting with Dogs’; detail of a painting by Louis-Auguste Brun de Versoix, circa 1780–1785

that he deployed in his earlier book, Le Monde des salons: Sociabilité et mondanité à Paris au XVIIIe siècle (2005). But he takes Coppola’s remark seriously. Not only does an affinity exist between Marie-Antoinette and Princess Diana, he argues, but Voltaire and Rousseau have something in common with Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. That something, Lilti argues, is celebrity. But what exactly is it? Lilti situates celebrity between two older notions: on the one hand, reputation, a judgment attached to a person by others in relatively close contact with him or her, and glory, a renown earned by great deeds that extends far beyond the range of individual contacts and outlasts the life of the celebrated person. Like reputation, celebrity tends to be ephemeral. Like glory, it reaches many people, moving in one direction:

a celebrity is known to a broad public, but he or she does not know them. The knowledge, however, is superficial. It is attached to an image of the person conveyed by the media, whether printed pamphlets and crude woodcuts or films and Facebook. Also, celebrity tends to be double-edged. It may be desirable, but once achieved, it can produce painful aftereffects, such as a sense of imprisonment within one’s public self while suffering damage to one’s true self. This notion may seem familiar, because celebrity has become a favorite topic among sociologists and cultural critics as well as journalists. To follow variations on the theme, one can consult a convenient anthology, The Celebrity Culture Reader (2006). Lilti makes use of this literature, but he raises the subject to another level by revealing its history, and he challenges his readers

by pushing his argument to the edge of anachronism, without falling into it.

Among the case studies he presents is

Nicolas Chamfort, a famous writer and wit in eighteenth-century Paris, who defined célébrité sardonically when the word began to be used widely in French: “Celebrity is the advantage of being known by those who do not know you.” As Lilti points out, the quotation is often misconstrued as “the advantage of being known by those whom you do not know.” In its correct form, Chamfort’s remark referred to something more insidious than disequilibrium in knowledge. It evoked a new kind of public, one that fastened onto the images of famous writers that were created by literary reviews, café gossip, and cheap engravings hawked in the streets by peddlers. In its hunger for information, this ravenous public tried to penetrate into the writers’ private lives, while the writers struggled to keep for themselves whatever self remained—and that could be little, for Chamfort’s use of “advantage” was ironic. In another witticism he remarked, “Celebrity is the chastisement of merit and the punishment of talent.” After becoming a celebrity himself, he found the cost too dear. He ceased publishing and withdrew from public life until the Revolution promised to transform the relation between writer and public. But it failed to keep its promise, and in the depth of disillusionment, when faced with arrest during the Terror, Chamfort tried to commit suicide and ultimately died from his self-inflicted wounds. Chamfort’s case may seem too dramatic to represent the tensions inherent in the early experience of celebrity, to say nothing of the life of celebrities today. Yet Lilti argues that today’s The New York Review

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mass media enormously increase the pressure on public figures, magnifying the disparity between their private and their public selves in such a way that the loss of the sense of the inner self can lead to the loss of life. After a long discussion of this problem in Rousseau, he cites the deaths of Marilyn Monroe and Kurt Cobain. Should the parallels be dismissed as anachronistic? Consider the omnipresence of celebrity today. The word appears every day in every newspaper and it is everywhere on the Internet. The New York Times on December 20, 2014, featured a story on the “celebrity guests” who feted Stephen Colbert during the final episode of The Colbert Report, and it asked a question about the nature of the self among such personages: How would Colbert manage “once he drops his Comedy Central mask and has to be himself on the ‘Late Show’”? It answered reassuringly: Actually, he won’t have to be his real self onstage any more than Mr. Letterman or Jimmy Kimmel or Seth Meyers has to. Talk shows are acting jobs, except the hosts play themselves rather than fictional characters. They maintain public personas that often have very little to do with the people they are privately. The point may seem obvious today, but the experience was new in the eighteenth century, when the media acquired unprecedented power and the notion of celebrity first took shape. Although the word existed earlier, it originally had a different meaning. Derived

from the Latin celebritas, célébrité denoted a solemn official ceremony in the seventeenth century. Lilti shows how the modern usage began to appear in dictionaries around 1720 and became widespread after 1750, as can be demonstrated by statistics drawn from data sets studied by Google’s Ngram viewer. (“Celebrity” evolved in the same way in English, but its usage was complicated by the related term “fame.”)


et the word did not correspond exactly to an idea, and the phenomenon cannot be captured by the usual methods of intellectual history. Celebrity belonged to what the French call “the collective imaginary.” It was a new element in the mental landscape shared by an entire population, an original category in the way of thinking among ordinary people as they sorted out the experiences of everyday life. Lilti shows how those experiences came together to open up a new conceptual space in eighteenth-century Paris and London. The factors have long been studied by social historians: urbanization, increased wealth, a growing economy of consumption, and an expansion of the culture industries, especially in the print media. Books, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, engravings, and posters appeared everywhere—for sale in shop windows and store shelves, displayed on the packs of peddlers and pasted on the façades of buildings, passed around in coffeehouses and rented out in cafés—within easy sight wherever the public gathered. The concepts of a public, public space, and public opinion undergird

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Lilti’s argument. They can be found in a great deal of current social science, and Lilti draws on the familiar work of the sociologists Jürgen Habermas, Edgar Morin, and Pierre Bourdieu, among others. But he also takes cues from Gabriel Tarde, the nineteenth-century sociologist, whose ideas were overshadowed by those of his rival, Émile Durkheim, but are currently undergoing a revival, thanks in large part to the work of Elihu Katz and Bruno Latour.* Tarde related the development of collective consciousness to the experience of reading, especially reading newspapers. While perusing the day’s news, he argued, readers are aware of others doing the same thing at the same time. They develop a sense of community, even though they do not know the other readers; and as the news becomes amplified in conversations, especially in cafés, the readership develops into a public, which expresses itself as public opinion. “Names make news”—that adage has a place in Lilti’s argument, although he does not make use of it. News crystalizes around personages, especially in sectors of journalism marked off by gossip and scandal. John Brewer’s discussion of popular journalism in A Sentimental Murder (2004) includes an account of “Têtes-à-Têtes,” a feature in Town and Country Magazine from the 1760s that showed facing silhouettes of prominent persons above reports about their scandalous love affairs. In the 1770s, Henry Bate, known as “the Reverend Bruiser,” and William Jackson, or “Dr. Viper,” made the London Morning Post and the Morning Herald into bestselling scandal sheets, far more libelous than the tabloid press today. Paris did not develop a comparable brand of journalism, but the genre of scandalous biographies known as vies privées circulated widely in the underground book trade. Private lives became fodder for public consumption as the press stamped the collective imagination of eighteenth-century readers. By turning the private/public distinction inside out, the media made celebrity into a torture for many people who suffered in the same way as modern movie stars. Lilti does not hesitate to apply the term “star” to eighteenth-century personages and “fan” to their followers. He does so, no doubt, for the shock effect, to disturb schematized views of the past, which have hardened into orthodoxy. Where other historians locate breaking points, he sees continuity, and he spreads his argument over an unusual time period, 1750–1850, with forays into the twentieth century, as if the French Revolution did not produce a decisive transformation of collective consciousness. He therefore treats Mirabeau and Napoleon as celebrities, caught up in the same cycle of adulation and ambiguity as Rousseau before them and Sarah Bernhardt afterward.


xtravagant as it may sound, the argument has much to be said for it. Lilti


*See Latour, The Science of Passionate Interests: An Introduction to Gabriel Tarde’s Economic Anthropology (Prickly Paradigm, 2010). Tarde’s ideas have a great deal in common with those developed by Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities (Verso, 1983), although Anderson does not refer to them.

does not dispute standard interpretations of revolutions—neither the revolution of 1789, nor 1830, nor 1848—and he does not attempt to write a full history of celebrity. Instead, he studies its “mechanism,” showing how the basic elements came together soon after 1750 and have remained together right up to the present. Samuel Johnson, he explains, understood how the desire for fame could overcome a writer and then, if realized, could cut him off from other human beings and deprive him of his original self, now transformed into a public commodity. Even Benjamin Franklin had a canny sense of how the personality cult that he carefully cultivated in Paris—the plainspoken Quaker, the intrepid scientist, the man of the people and “cher Papa,” whose image appeared in countless engravings, statuettes, and bric-a-brac—could make him look ridiculous, reduced to the level of a doll or a toby jug. Voltaire worried about how his public image—notably Jean Huber’s sketches of him in the setting of his private life at Ferney—could expose him to ridicule, the force he dreaded most. Voltaire does not, in fact, fit well into Lilti’s model of celebrity, but Rousseau epitomizes it, for his sudden conquest of fame with the publication of his Discourse on the Sciences and Arts in 1750 inflicted such suffering on him—circulating what he believed was a false idea of himself—that his last writings, especially the Confessions and Rousseau juge de Jean-Jacques, can be understood as an attempt to exorcise the curse. It is quite a feat to sustain an original interpretation of Rousseau’s life and works after they have been subjected to so much study over so many years. But Lilti makes a convincing case. He does not dispute that Rousseau’s obsession with conspiracies can be viewed as paranoia, but he shows that it also expresses a sentiment of estrangement from the self in response to overexposure to the public. The waves of fan mail, the multiple reproductions of his portrait, the endless reprinting of his books, every contact with the outside world proved to Rousseau that the public had taken over Jean-Jacques (he was the only celebrity at the time, except le Grand Thomas, the famous tooth-puller of the Pont Neuf, to be known by his first name—in anticipation of Elvis and Marilyn). He attempted to rescue his authentic self, “Rousseau,” by escaping from the public, but he found no refuge, not when he fled to Switzerland, not when he sought shelter with Hume, not even when he attempted to live in obscurity by copying music anonymously in Paris. At every turn, he found enemies hidden behind the masks of benefactors and tormentors who pretended to be moved by his writing and used the transparency it offered as a way to invade his soul. An extreme case? Certainly, but Lilti detects in it the same elements that existed in other cases—from Marie-Antoinette and Mirabeau to Chateaubriand, Byron, Liszt, Queen Victoria, Garibaldi, and, across the ocean, George Washington and Andrew Jackson. One could come up with counterexamples and dispute such a selection, but it would be wiser to enjoy this grand tour of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for what it is: a way of presenting familiar territory in an unfamiliar light. The New York Review

The Great & Beautiful Lost Kingdoms William Dalrymple Bridgeman Images

Buddhism Along the Silk Road, 5th–8th Century an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, June 2, 2012–February 10, 2013. Online catalog available at listings/2012/buddhism


Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia, Fifth to Eighth Century an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, April 14–July 27, 2014. Catalog of the exhibition by John Guy. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 317 pp., $65.00 “People of distant places with diverse customs,” wrote a Chinese Buddhist monk in the mid-seventh century, “generally designate the land that they admire as India.” Xuanzang was a scholar, traveler, and translator. When he wrote these words in the seventh century, he had just returned from an epic seventeen-year, six-thousand-mile overland pilgrimage and manuscript-gathering expedition to the great Indian centers of Buddhist learning. Buddhism by then had been the established religion of most of South and Central Asia since it was taken up by Emperor Ashoka in the third century BC, around three hundred years after the Buddha’s death in northern India. The account Xuanzang wrote of his journey, Buddhist Record of the Western World, makes it clear that the places he passed through from western China to the Hindu Kush were then very largely dominated by Indic ideas, languages, and religions. For most of its later medieval and modern history, it was India’s fate to be on the receiving end of foreign influences. Following the establishment of a series of Turkic-ruled Islamic sultanates throughout India in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Persian became the language of government across much of the region, and Persian cultural standards, in art, dress, and etiquette, were adopted even in Hindu courts. By the nineteenth century, English had replaced Persian, and India became instead a distant part of the Westernizing Anglosphere. To master English was now the route to advancement, and Indians who wished to get ahead had to abandon, or at least sublimate, much of their own culture, becoming instead English-speaking “Brown Sahibs,” or what V. S. Naipaul called “Mimic Men.” But for at least seven hundred years before then, from about 400 AD to 1200 AD, India was a large-scale and confident exporter of its own diverse civilization in all its forms, and the rest of Asia was the willing and eager recipient of a startlingly comprehensive mass transfer of Indian culture, religion, art, music, technology, astronomy, mythology, language, and literature. Out of India came not just artists, sculptors, traders, scientists, astronomers, and the occasional fleets of warships, but also missionaries of three Indic forms of religion: Buddhism May 21, 2015

centuries BC . From the empire of the Gupta dynasty in the north and that of the Pallava dynasty in the south, India during this period radiated its philosophies, political ideas, and architectural forms out over an entire continent not by conquest but by sheer cultural sophistication.

A tower at the Ta Prohm temple, founded by the Khmer king Jayavarman VII, Angkor, Cambodia, late twelfth–early thirteenth centuries

and two rival branches of Hinduism: Shaivism, in which Lord Shiva is revered as the Supreme Being; and Vaishnavism, which venerates Lord Vishnu. If the scale and breadth of this extraordinary cultural diffusion is not as well known as it should be, that is perhaps partly because of a tendency to perceive and study this process as two separate disciplines, each the preserve of a different group of scholars. The many Buddhist monuments scattered around Afghanistan and the Taklamakan desert in northwest China, through which Xuanzang passed, for example, are usually viewed today as the first step in the story of the spread of Buddhism from India through Asia, or else as an episode in the history of the “Silk Road,” a term coined in the nineteenth century by the Prussian geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen to describe the trading routes linking China with the Mediterranean West. Conversely, the spread of Indian and especially Hindu culture, literature, and religion southeastward to Burma, Thailand, Sumatra, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, Java, and the Malay Peninsula tends to be studied as part of the story of the adoption throughout Indo-

China of the Sanskrit language and literary culture. Recently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York held two remarkable but quite separate shows that, along with their catalogs, reflected this conceptual division. The northward thrust of Indian influence was examined in a small but fascinating show entitled “Buddhism Along the Silk Road: 5th–8th Century,” which was mounted in the Indian department of the museum between June 2012 and February 2013. The visual legacy of the diffusion of Indian art to Southeast Asia was the subject of a far more ambitious exhibition held at the Met a year later, in the summer of 2014, entitled “Lost Kingdoms.” Both exhibitions were beautifully mounted and brilliantly curated. Yet to tell the diffusion of Indian influence at this period as two separate processes partially obscures a still more extraordinary story. For it is now increasingly clear that between the fourth and twelfth centuries the influence of India in both Southeast and Central Asia, and to some degree also China, was comparable to the influence of Greece in Aegean Turkey and Rome, and then in the rest of Europe in the early

n a bright, cloudless day last spring, I drove out of Kabul with a party of French archaeologists. We headed warily south through Logar province, past a succession of fortified mudbrick compounds surrounded by barren stripfields and sheltered by ragged windbreaks of poplar. After an hour, we turned off the road onto a bumpy mud track and headed up, through a succession of Afghan army checkpoints, into hills that were still, in April, etched with drifts of snow. At the summit, we crossed onto the high-altitude plateau of Mes Aynak, twenty-five miles southeast of Kabul. The landscape could not have been more bleak or remote, yet in the sixth century this was the site of one of the most important Buddhist trading cities in Central Asia, a major stopping point for caravans of Indian traders and pilgrims heading toward China, and an important center for the northward diffusion of Indian culture, philosophy, and ideas. It was also a major stop for Chinese monks like Xuanzang heading southeast to the Indian cities of Sarnath, Bodh Gaya, and the great Buddhist university of Nalanda in northeast India, then the greatest repository of learning east of Alexandria. Around us, all that remained of this once-great metropolis—the crumbling ruins of dark mudbrick buildings— stood out against the thick snowfields, their forms mutilated and eroded by two thousand years of winter rains. A hundred miles to the west lay the Bamiyan valley with its empty niches where once stood two of the world’s largest Buddha statues. When the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas in March 2001, the caves of Mes Aynak were being used by al-Qaeda for training some of the September 11 hijackers. Now the plateau was full of archaeologists urgently scraping away at the ground with trowels before the Chinese company that owns the land moves in, destroys the Buddhist remains, and turns it all into a vast copper mine. Crowning the top of the hill above the excavations lay the newly uncovered ruins of a citadel of Buddhist monastic buildings. Here lines of stucco Buddha statues faced square slate Buddhist stupa shrines. On the walls of the chapels inside the stupas, sometimes almost invisible, at other times startlingly vivid, were the outlines of delicate sixth-century Indic wall paintings on plaster, distant cousins of those being painted at the same time in the Ajanta caves inland from modern Bombay. Here the archaeologists had recently found a spectacular life-sized gold face of a meditating Gautama Buddha sculpted in the North Indian style of the Gupta empire—tense-lipped, eyes 11


s the great Sanskritist Sheldon Pollock put it in his magisterial The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: All across mainland and maritime Southeast Asia, people who spoke 12

radically different languages, such as Mon-Khemer and MalayoPolynesian, and lived in vastly different cultural worlds adopted suddenly, widely, and long-lastingly a new language [Sanskrit]—along with the new political vision and literary aesthetic that were inseparable from it.1 Sanskrit became throughout Southeast Asia the language of court, government, and literacy, and while it remained an elite tongue—like Latin in medieval Europe—it left a permanent mark on the map: the name Java, for example, derives from the Sanskrit Yadadweepa—the island is shaped like a yawa, or barley corn. Indeed so deeply immersed in Sanskritic culture did the elites of the region become, and so central was Indian thought to the conceptual world of the scholars, rulers, and administrators of the region, that they began renaming both themselves and their landscape after people and places in Indian mythology. The earliest inscription in Khmer territories in Southeast Asia records how a fifth-century ruler in what is now Laos took the Indic name Devanika and the Sanskrit title Maharaj Adhiraja (King of Kings) during a ceremony when he installed a Shiva lingam— the symbol representing the Hindu deity Shiva—under the phallic-shaped mountain that towered over his capital of Champasak. There he consecrated a water tank that he named Kurukshetra, after the plain slightly to the north of Delhi where the great battle of the Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata was fought. The towers of Angkor Wat—shaped in a quincunx, five points in a cross— were named after Mount Meru, the home of the gods believed in Indian myth to lie at the center of the world. A ninth-century inscription from Dong Duong—the main town on Vietnam’s largest island—claims that the rulers of the area were descended from the sage Bhrigu of the Mahabharata. The principal city of what became Thailand was named Ayutthaya, after Ayodhya, Lord Rama’s capital in the other great Sanskrit epic, the Ramayana. These were conscious acts by which the living landscape was empowered with mythological Indic names and Indic metaphors of divinity, in effect extending the sacred landscape of the Indian holy land so that it became their own. Exactly how this process happened is still a matter of dispute. Few now believe, as some Indian nationalist historians once claimed, that Indians founded imperial colonies in the IndoChina region they called the Lands of Gold.2 It appears instead that large numbers of highly educated monks and Brahmins traveled with the fleets of Indian merchant ships trading with Indo-China, carrying portable religious objects and artworks. They sought employment and offered in return their literacy—there appears to have been no 1

Sheldon Pollock, The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India (University of California Press, 2006), p. 124. 2

See Early Interactions Between South and Southeast Asia: Reflections on Cross-Cultural Exchange, edited by Pierre-Yves Manguin, A. Mani, and Geoff Wade (Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011).

written language in Southeast Asia before Sanskrit was imported—as well as their political, technical, and cultural knowledge. In time, some merchants built armed coastal enclaves for themselves, much as the East India Company would later do at Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras. Meanwhile the emigrant Brahmins married into the families of kings and chieftains across the region, and established themselves as a wealthy, learned elite. Sanskrit inscriptions scattered from Burma to Java bear witness to the dominant status they achieved. Today scholars talk of a reciprocal relationship between rulers in India Victoria and Albert Museum, London

half-closed, focused fixedly inward in search of enlightenment. The influence of early India is equally striking in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia—all places as different as one could imagine from the mountains of the Hindu Kush. The temple of Ta Prohm on the edge of Angkor Wat is perhaps the most spectacular example of this (see illustration on page 11). The temple rises out of the trees of the Cambodian jungle. A mountain of masonry ascends in successive ranges, a great tumbling landslide of sculpted plinths and capitals, octagonal pillars and lotus jambs. Tree trunks spiral out of the vaults of the shingled Buddhist temple roofs like the flying buttresses of a Gothic cathedral; branches knot over Sanskrit inscriptions composed in perfect orthography and grammar, before curving around the reliefs of Indic lions and elephants, gods and godlings, sprites and tree spirits. The trees’ roots fan out like fused spiderwebs and grip crumbling friezes of bare-breasted apsarasas (heavenly dancing girls) and dreadlocked sadhus (wandering holy men). In the evening, by the light of a torch, the forty-foot-high face of the temple’s twelfth-century founder, Jayavarman VII, looked out from the monsoonstained ashlar of one of the spires. This was the Sanskrit name taken by a Khmer prince who had overthrown the Hinduism of his ancestors—venerated in the main Angkor temple complex— in favor of another rival Indic religion, Buddhism, while retaining in his service Indian Brahmins to administer his kingdom. Here he was still, staring out into the night, with his full lips and firm chin, broad nose and prominent forehead, his expression impassive but pensive and philosophical, a man both monk and monarch. Jayavarman built his temple in the twelfth century, the same century that brought the Turks to India—the beginning of the end of the long period of Indian cultural influence throughout the region that had started seven hundred years earlier in Afghanistan at Mes Aynak. By this time, Buddhism had come to flourish across Afghanistan and Central Asia. Sanskrit, the classical Indian literary language, had become the language of learning in Tibet. Thriving along the trading cities between the Himalayas and the Gobi desert were Buddhist monasteries founded by Indians whose great libraries of manuscripts were written in Indian scripts. The murals in several of the monasteries drew on the themes, styles, and motifs developed by Indian painters at Buddhist cave monasteries such as Ajanta. In Quanzhou—China’s greatest seaport, facing the Taiwan Strait—Chinese sculptors had created statues that took as their model the work of Indian artists of the Gupta Empire of the fourth and fifth centuries AD in such towns as Sarnath and Mathura in the Ganges plains. At the T’ang court, Sanskrit poetry exercised its allure on the imperial poets. But what had happened in Southeast Asia was even more remarkable and profound.

A statue likely representing the goddess Uma, Lord Shiva’s consort, southern Vietnam, second half of the seventh century

and their counterparts in Southeast Asia, a process of interaction that was so advanced, according to Pollock, that “in the first millennium it makes hardly more sense to distinguish between South and Southeast Asia than between north India and south India. . . . Everywhere similar processes of cosmopolitan transculturation were under way.” Pollock describes this cultural commonwealth as the “Sanskrit cosmopolis.” Yet for all this, the cultural flow was overwhelmingly one way: there are no inscriptions in the Khmer language in southern India, no Indonesian architectural forms in Bengal. Instead it was Indian religions and Indian languages that were in use in Angkor and the Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya. As the historian Michael Wood nicely put it in his book India, “history is full of Empires of the Sword, but India alone created an Empire of the Spirit.”


he earlier exhibition at the Met, “Buddhism Along the Silk Road, 5th– 8th Century,” contained only sixty ob jects filling a single room, but the artworks it featured—statuary, jewelry, architectural reliefs, wall paintings, found objects from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the western reaches of Central Asia—were of spectacular quality and interest and many are illustrated in the online catalog.

The show, put together by the associate curator of the Department of Asian Art, Kurt Behrendt, demonstrated how the diffusion of Indian culture northward reached its peak in a period that Indian nationalist historians have called “the Golden Age of the Guptas,” between 320 AD and the last part of the sixth century. This era of great prosperity and growing international trade was when Indian culture was at its most self-confident and widely admired. This was also the time that the Puranas, the ancient Hindu texts telling the stories of various deities, which form the template for much of modern Hinduism, were reaching their final shape and the astronomer Aryabhata was correctly calculating the length of the solar year, using two crucial Indian inventions: zero and “Arabic” numerals. At this time, too, Sanskrit drama and poetry reached their climax, the Kama Sutra was being compiled, and the playwright Kalidasa (circa 400–455 AD) was writing his great masterworks, including the story of Shakuntala, an orphaned girl who becomes an Indian queen. Exhibit after exhibit in “Buddhism Along the Silk Road” showed how influential Gupta innovations were on the art of Buddhist Afghanistan and the lands beyond. A gorgeous fifth-century stucco head of the Buddha from Hadda, near the Khyber Pass, showed him locked in deepest meditation. Much of the paintwork has survived, giving it an eerily contemporary feel; yet the abstracted treatment of the eyes and the intersecting planes defining his forehead, eyebrows, and nose are all features shared with images then being produced in Gupta India. Interestingly, according to Behrendt, the period of greatest Indian cultural influence does not seem to have been at the peak of the power of the Gupta emperors so much as during their precipitous decline in the later sixth century when tribes of Huns invaded northern India, bringing the two regions under one political leadership. This also created a diaspora of displaced Brahmins, artists, and intellectuals who scattered around the region, taking refuge in remote areas such as Kashmir and the furthest Himalayan passes, and so spreading ever more widely their ideas, rituals, and art forms.


he second Met show, “Lost Kingdoms,” was a much grander affair: in fact it was the largest pan-regional show ever mounted of Southeast Asian sculpture, terracottas, and bronzes. It was put together by the curator of the Indian and Southeast Asian department, John Guy, who also edited the remarkable catalog. This book is a monument in itself, containing a set of remarkable essays representing the current state of scholarship, and weaving a diplomatic course through the thicket of national sensitivities of the countries from whom Guy borrowed the 150 often very large and often breathtakingly beautiful national treasures on show. Few of these lenders now wish to be looked on merely as Indian cultural satellites. “Lost Kingdoms” opened by illustrating how cosmopolitan the Indian Ocean was in the early centuries AD, when each monsoon would bring a fleet of Roman ships to southern India in search of silk and spices. This caused a dramatic drain of Western silver to India, something confirmed by finds The New York Review

of several huge Roman coin hoards in Tamil Nadu. One South Indian king even sent an embassy to Rome to discuss the empire’s balance of payments problems. Some of these Roman and Byzantine ships traveled on to Southeast Asia, bringing with them luxury objects, as well as bullion. The show included a third-century Roman coin minted in Cologne and a Byzantine bronze oil lamp, both of which have recently turned up in excavations in Thailand. New archaeological evidence suggests that the Indian Ocean trade began earlier than was previously realized, gaining momentum from the third century BC. The seepage of Indian religious ideas eastward was eased by the similarity of the pre-Buddhist nature cults that formed the bedrock of folk religions in both regions. This meant that Indian Sanskritic religion, and its pantheon of beliefs and deities, were easily grafted onto a common foundation of the cult of powerful nagas and yakshis, water and tree spirits, who were believed to rule the untamed landscape. While there are traces of North Indian Gupta influence on the arts of Southeast Asia, by far the most influential region was southern India, which was then under the joint sway of the royal Indian Chalukya dynasty in south-central India and the Tamil Pallava dynasty, who controlled the southern tip of the Indian peninsula and who grew rich from the thriving international trade passing through their port of Mahaballipuram, some thirtyfive miles south of modern Chennai. In Mahaballipuram today massive sculptures of elephants, warriors, and sages as well as flights of gods and goddesses still face onto what was once a quayside where, according to a seventh-century poet, “ships rode at anchor, bent to the point of breaking, laden as they were with wealth, with big-trunked elephants, and with mountains of gems of nine varieties.” This was the sight that greeted Indian traders returning from voyages across the Indian Ocean to Java and Bali. It is no surprise that Tamil literature of this period is full of seafaring expeditions in search of gold, precious metals, and raw materials, in much the way the Chinese are doing in Africa today. One epic, the Manimekalai, includes stories of merchants who sailed to Java, while another epic describes kings who sent off fleets of ships laden with silk, sandalwood, spices, and camphor. Inscriptions in the Tamil script are among the earliest in Southeast Asia: around 450 AD a ruler in West Java declared himself a devotee of Vishnu and identified himself with that god with these words: Purnavarman, the “great king, ruler of the world, whose footprints are the same as those of Lord Vishnu.” There are very clear affinities between the sculpture on the Pallava temples at Panamalai in Tamil Nadu and the reliefs at the Dieng and Borobodur temples over two thousand miles away in central Java. Four hundred years later, large-scale sculptures in the Pallava style were still being produced on the Malay Peninsula.

In the “Lost Kingdoms” exhibition,

successive rooms illuminated successive waves of Indian influence, starting with the art of Southeast Asia’s early Buddhist sites. The highlight of this first Buddhist phase was a podium

May 21, 2015

containing four large, seated Buddhas, one each from Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Thailand, arranged back to back, facing the cardinal points of the compass. Each was shown to be deep in meditation, smiling yet tense with spiritual concentration as each attempted to make a spiritual crossing of the turbulent waters of existence and rebirth, from samsara—the illusory physical world—to spiritual liberation. Each Buddha was chosen to represent a distinct sculptural tradition, each with its own personality, flavor, and style, where Indian inspiration had been transformed by local artists to produce something quite new and distinct. The connection to India was as clear as the degree to which the artists in IndoChina had radically transformed their models.

While the Buddhist presence in Southeast Asia appears to be closely linked to merchants and their commerce, the Brahminical Hindu presence that succeeded it was more closely associated with kingship and statecraft. Vaishnava Hinduism arrived a little later than Buddhism, initially as a vehicle for chiefs to sacralize their rule. A spectacular Vietnamese Vishnu towered above the gallery, the perfected human, tall, severe, and authoritarian, and the ideal model for divine kingship. Yet within a hundred years, by the seventh century, the rival Hindu cult of Lord Shiva had begun to dominate the cults of both the Buddha and Vishnu. Here the most striking images were those of Shiva’s beautiful consort, Uma, embodied in two deeply graceful, sensual, slender-bodied female

statues (see illustration on page 12). Both are probably portraits of actual Khmer princesses and sculpted with a startling naturalism: confident, proud, full-lipped, tight-bodied, strikingly more muscular and less voluptuous than their Indian counterparts. They were placed facing one another across the gallery, competing for attention in the Met as once these woman might have faced off against each other in a Khmer court. While the direction of influence was always from India to Southeast Asia, the exhibition clearly showed the degree to which Southeast Asians transformed what India sent. At every point Indian influence was adapted rather than slavishly adopted. This was not just a matter of style: the iconography was also sometimes quite different. A

The Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers bids fond farewell to the

Class of 2014–2015 Negar Azimi Deborah Coen Carlos Dada Hal Foster Keith Gessen Kenneth Gross Megan Marshall Ayana Mathis

Gerard Passannante Kim Phillips-Fein Steve Pincus Jordi Puntí Dash Shaw Justin Torres Michael Vazquez

ͽ …and welcomes with pleasure the

Class of 2015–2016 Annie Baker Edward Ball Robin Blackburn Yasmine El Rashidi Victoria Johnson László Krasznahorkai Sarah Lewis Vivek Narayanan

Larry Rohter John Ryle Vanessa Schwartz Debora Silverman Nick Wilding Paul Yoon Alejandro Zambra

The Cullman Center is made possible by a generous endowment from Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman in honor of Brooke Russell Astor, with major support provided by Mrs. John L. Weinberg, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Estate of Charles J. Liebman, John and Constance Birkelund, The Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, and additional gifts from The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, Helen and Roger Alcaly, Mel and Lois Tukman, The Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, The Rona Jaffe Foundation, William W. Karatz, Mary Ellen von der Heyden, The Arts and Letters Foundation, Merilee and Roy Bostock, Lybess Sweezy and Ken Miller, and Cullman Center Fellows.


sculpture of the Buddha’s first sermon in central Thailand had, for example, an audience of dreadlocked Hindu holy men, their faces wracked with confusion as the Buddha’s words challenged beliefs they had held all their lives. There is no parallel for this image anywhere in India. India turned more inward-looking in the twelfth century as it battled successive waves of Turkic invaders from the

north. At this time Chinese influence slowly replaced India’s in much of the region, as the decline of Indian influence coincided with a rare moment of expansion of the Chinese presence, culminating in the fifteenth-century voyages of Admiral Zheng He, which reached as far as Jeddah on the Red Sea and Malindi in East Africa. Today this battle for influence continues in countries such as Myanmar

and Sri Lanka, which find themselves caught between the two great economic powers of the future, as China and India again confront one another, each aiming to dominate the lands and oceans that lie between them. In the last decade Chinese growth has far outpaced that of India, as has the power of the Chinese navy to project itself into the Indian Ocean through a line of newly acquired deepwater ports,

the “String of Pearls” stretching from Gawda in Pakistan through Trincolmalee in Sri Lanka eastward to the Chinese mainland. But Indian soft power in the form of its culture and movies remains dominant in much of Southeast Asia, and as “Lost Kingdoms” demonstrates from a very different period, India’s ability to exert power through the sheer charm of its civilization should never be underestimated.

Mass Incarceration: The Silence of the Judges Jed S. Rakoff

For too long, too many judges have been too quiet about an evil of which we are a part: the mass incarceration of people in the United States today. It is time that more of us spoke out. The basic facts are not in dispute. More than 2.2 million people are currently incarcerated in US jails and prisons, a 500 percent increase over the past forty years. Although the United States accounts for about 5 percent of the world’s population, it houses nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population. The per capita incarceration rate in the US is about one and a half times that of second-place Rwanda and third-place Russia, and more than six times the rate of neighboring Canada. Another 4.75 million Americans are subject to the state supervision imposed by probation or parole. Most of the increase in imprisonment has been for nonviolent offenses, such as drug possession. And even though crime rates in the United States have declined consistently for twentyfour years, the number of incarcerated persons has continued to rise over most of that period, both because more people are being sent to prison for offenses that once were punished with other measures and because the sentences are longer. For example, even though the number of violent crimes has steadily decreased over the past two decades, the number of prisoners serving life sentences has steadily increased, so that one in nine persons in prison is now serving a life sentence. And whom are we locking up? Mostly young men of color. Over 840,000, or nearly 40 percent, of the 2.2 million US prisoners are African-American males. Put another way, about one in nine African-American males between the ages of twenty and thirty-four is now in prison, and if current rates hold, one third of all black men will be imprisoned at some point in their lifetimes. Approximately 440,000, or 20 percent, of the 2.2 million US prisoners are Hispanic males. This mass incarceration—which also 14

William Widmer

What Caused the Crime Decline? a report by Oliver Roeder, Lauren-Brooke Eisen, and Julia Bowling, with a foreword by Joseph E. Stiglitz and an executive summary by Inimai Chettiar. Brennan Center for Justice, NYU Law School, 134 pp., available at

Chris Gage, an inmate at Louisiana State Penitentiary—where a majority of inmates are serving life sentences without parole, many of them for nonviolent crimes—and three-time winner of the ‘guts and glory’ event at the semiannual Angola Prison Rodeo, in which prisoners try to grab a red poker chip that has been tied to the head of a bull, October 2014. Proceeds from the rodeo go to the Inmate Welfare Fund, which provides for educational and recreational supplies within the prison.

includes about 800,000 white and Asian males, as well as over 100,000 women (most of whom committed nonviolent offenses)—is the product of statutes that were enacted, beginning in the 1970s, with the twin purposes of lowering crime rates in general and deterring the drug trade in particular. These laws imposed mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment on many first offenders. They propounded sentencing guidelines that initially mandated, and still recommend, substantial prison terms for many other offenders. And they required lifetime imprisonment for many recidivists. These laws also substantially deprived judges of sentencing discretion and effectively guaranteed imprisonment for many offenders who would have previously received probation or deferred prosecution, or who would have been sent to drug treatment or mental health programs rather than prison.

The unavoidable question is whether these laws have succeeded in reducing crime. Certainly crime rates have come down substantially from the very high levels of the 1970s and 1980s that gave rise to them. Overall, crime rates have been cut nearly in half since they reached their peak in 1991, and they are now at levels not seen in many decades. A simple but powerful argument can be made that, by locking up for extended periods the people who are most likely to commit crimes, we have both incapacitated those who would otherwise be recidivists and deterred still others from committing crimes in the first place. But is this true? The honest answer is that we don’t know. And it is this uncertainty that makes changing the status quo so difficult: for, the argument goes, why tamper with what seems to be working unless we know that it isn’t working?


here are some who claim that they do know whether our increased rate of incarceration is the primary cause of the decline in crime. These are the sociologists, the economists, the statisticians, and others who assert that they have “scientifically” determined the answer. But their answers are all over the place. Thus, for example, a 2002 study by the sociologist Thomas Arvanites and the economist Robert DeFina claimed that, while increased incarceration accounted for 21 percent of the large decline in property crime during the 1990s, it had no effect on the similarly large decline in violent crime. But two years later, in 2004, the economist Steven Levitt—of Freakonomics fame—claimed that incarceration accounted for no less than 32 percent of the decline in crime during that period.1 Levitt’s conclusions, in turn, were questioned in 2006, when the sociologist Bruce Western reexamined the data and claimed that only about 10 percent of the crime drop in the 1990s could be attributed to increased incarceration. But two years after that, in 2008, the criminologist Eric Baumer took still another look at the same data and found that it could support claims that increased incarceration accounted for anywhere between 10 percent and 35 percent of the decrease in crime in the 1990s. As these examples illustrate, there is nothing close to an academic consensus on the proportion of the decrease in crime attributable to increased incarceration. Last year, a distinguished committee of the National Research Council, after reviewing the studies I have mentioned as well as a great many more, was able to conclude only that while most of the studies “support the conclusion that the growth in incarceration rates reduced crime . . . the magnitude of the crime reduction remains highly uncertain.”2 1

In the Brennan study discussed below, the authors recalibrate Levitt’s study and find that, if his assumptions are indulged, incarceration accounted for no less than 58 percent of the violent crime drop and 41 percent of the property crime drop during the 1990s. 2 National Research Council, The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences, edited by Jeremy Travis, Bruce Western, and Steve Redburn

The New York Review

Most recently, in February 2015, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School published a study entitled “What Caused the Crime Decline?” that purports to show that increased incarceration has been responsible for only a negligible decrease in crime. One cannot help but be impressed by the sheer scope of the study. The authors identify the fourteen most popular theories for the decline in crime in the last few decades and attempt to test each of them against the available data. Five of the theories involve criminal justice policies: increased incarceration, increased police numbers, increased use of statistics in devising police strategies to combat crime, threat of the death penalty, and enactment of right-to-carry gun laws (which theoretically deter violent criminals from attacking victims who they now have to fear might be armed). Another four of the theories are economic in nature, involving changes in unemployment, income, inflation, and consumer confidence. The final five theories involve environmental and social factors: aging population, decreased alcohol consumption, decreased crack use, legalized abortion, and decreased lead in gasoline (which theoretically reduces the supposed tendency of lead fumes to cause overaggressive behavior). The primary findings of the Brennan study are that “increased incarceration has had little effect on the drop in violent crime in the past 24 years” and has “accounted for less than 1 percent (National Academies Press, 2014); reviewed in these pages by Christopher Jencks, October 9, 2014.

of the decline in property crime this century.” To reach these striking results, the authors rely (as did most of the earlier studies cited above) on the social scientist’s favorite method, a multivariable regression analysis that “controls for the effects of each variable on crime, and each variable on other variables.” But as anyone familiar with regression analysis knows, it rarely speaks to causality, as opposed to correlation; and even to show correlation, the analysis involves a lot of educated guesswork. The authors admit as much, but seek to downplay the level of uncertainty, stating: “There is always some uncertainty and statistical error involved in any empirical analysis.” But when you are dealing with matters as difficult to measure as how much of the decrease in crime can be attributed to everything from decreased alcohol consumption to increased consumer confidence, your so-called “estimates” may be little more than speculations. In an attempt to adjust to this difficulty, the authors state the percentage of crime decrease attributable to each given factor as a range, e.g., increased police numbers accounted, according to the study, for between 0 percent and 5 percent of the decline in crime between 1990 and 2013. But if you take the low end of each of the ranges, the fourteen factors analyzed in the Brennan study collectively accounted for as little as 10 percent of the decline in crime over that period; and even if you take the high end of each of the ranges, the various factors still accounted for only 40 percent of the decline in crime. Under any analysis, therefore, either the decline in crime in the last twenty

years or so was chiefly the product of forces that none of the leading theorists has identified, or (as seems more likely) the regression analysis used by the authors of the Brennan study is too imperfect a tool to be of much use in this kind of situation.

My point is not to criticize the Bren-

nan study. It is in many respects the most ambitious and comprehensive study of its kind undertaken to date. But as the National Research Council report points out in discussing the many similar studies that, as noted, led to a wide range of results, there are simply too many variables, uncertainties, estimates, and challenges involved in the question to rely on a regression analysis that is little more than speculation dressed up as statistics. The result is that one cannot fairly claim to know with any degree of confidence or precision the relative role of increased incarceration in decreasing crime. Put another way, the supposition on which our mass incarceration is premised—namely, that it materially reduces crime—is, at best, a hunch. Yet the price we pay for acting on this hunch is enormous. This is true in the literal sense: it costs more than $80 billion a year to run our jails and prisons. It is also true in the social sense: by locking up so many young men, most of them men of color, we contribute to the erosion of family and community life in ways that harm generations of children, while creating a future cadre of unemployable ex-cons many of whom have learned in prison how better to commit future crimes. And it is even true in the

symbolic sense: by locking up, sooner or later, one out of every three AfricanAmerican males, we send a message that our society has no better cure for racial disparities than brute force. So why do we have mass incarceration? As mentioned, it is the product of laws that were passed in response to the substantial rise in crime rates that began in the 1960s and continued through the 1980s. These laws varied widely in their specifics, but they had two common characteristics: they imposed higher penalties and they removed much of judicial discretion in sentencing. The most pernicious of these laws were the statutes imposing mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment. Although there were a few such laws prior to 1970—for example, criminal contempt of Congress carried a mandatory minimum sentence of six months in prison—beginning in the 1970s Congress passed laws dictating much harsher mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment for a very wide variety of criminal violations. Most notably these laws imposed mandatory minimums of five, ten, and twenty years for various drug offenses, and as much as twentyfive additional years for possession of guns during drug trafficking. But they also imposed mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment for such widely varying offenses as possession of child pornography, aggravated identity theft, transportation of aliens into the United States for commercial advantage, hostage taking, unlawful possession of antiaircraft missiles, assault on United States servicemen, stalking other persons in violation of a restraining order, fraudulent use of food stamp access

Michael Heizer Altars

Gagosian Gallery May 9 – July 2, 2015 555 West 24th Street New York t. 212.741.1111

May 21, 2015




But why, given the great decline in




crime in the last quarter-century, have most of the draconian laws that created these harsh norms not been repealed, or at least moderated? Some observers, like Michelle Alexander in her inďŹ&#x201A;uential book The New Jim Crow (2010), 3 assert that it is a case of thinly disguised racism. Others, mostly of an economic determinist persuasion, claim that it is the result of the rise of a powerful private prison industry that has an economic stake in continuing mass incarceration. Still others blame everything from a continuing reaction to the â&#x20AC;&#x153;excessesâ&#x20AC;? of the 1960s to the neverending nature of the â&#x20AC;&#x153;war on drugs.â&#x20AC;? While there may be something to each of these theories, a simpler explanation is that most Americans, having noticed that the crime-ridden environment of the 1970s and 1980s was only replaced by the much safer environment of today after tough sentencing laws went into force, are reluctant to tamper with the laws they believe made them safer. They are not impressed with academic studies that question this belief, suspecting that the authors have their own axes to grind; and they are repelled by those who question their good faith, since they perceive nothing â&#x20AC;&#x153;racistâ&#x20AC;? in wanting a crime-free environment. Ironically, the one thing that might convince them that mass incarceration 3

See the review in these pages by Darryl Pinckney, â&#x20AC;&#x153;Invisible in Black America,â&#x20AC;? March 10, 2011.

is not the solution to their safety would be if crime rates continued to decrease when incarceration rates were reduced. But although this has in fact happened in a few places (most notably New York City), in most communities people are not willing to take the chance of such an â&#x20AC;&#x153;experiment.â&#x20AC;? This, then, is a classic case of members of the public relying on what they believe is â&#x20AC;&#x153;common senseâ&#x20AC;? and being resentful of those who question their motives and dispute their intelligence. What is called for in such circumstances is leadership: those whom the public does respect should point out why statutes prescribing mandatory minimums, draconian guidelines, and the like are not the solution to controlling crime, and why, in any case, the long-term price of mass incarceration

to adopt a position that could be characterized as â&#x20AC;&#x153;soft on crime.â&#x20AC;? But what about the federal judiciary, which is protected by lifetime tenure from political retaliation and, according to most polls, is generally well regarded by the public as a whole? On one issueâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;opposition to mandatory minimum lawsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the federal judiciary has been consistent in its opposition and clear in its message. As stated in a September 2013 letter to Congress submitted by the Judicial Conference of the United States (the governing board of federal judges), â&#x20AC;&#x153;For sixty years, the Judicial Conference has consistently and vigorously opposed mandatory minimum sentences and has supported measures for their repeal or to ameliorate their effects.â&#x20AC;? But nowhere in the nine single-spaced Carlos Javier Ortiz/Red Hook Editions

An Investment in the Real World

devicesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and much more besides. The dictate common to all these laws was that, no matter how minor the offenderâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s participation in the offense may have been, and no matter what mitigating circumstances might be present, the judge was required to send him to prison, often for a substantial number of years. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, many of the ďŹ fty statesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;with the full support of the federal government, which hugely increased its funding for state prisons during these yearsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; passed similar mandatory minimum laws, and some went a step further and imposed mandatory minimum sentences of life imprisonment for recidivists (Californiaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s â&#x20AC;&#x153;three strikesâ&#x20AC;? law being a noteworthy case). Not to be outdone, Congress not only passed â&#x20AC;&#x153;career offenderâ&#x20AC;? laws similar to the â&#x20AC;&#x153;three strikesâ&#x20AC;? statute, but also, in 1984, enacted, with bipartisan support, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. These guidelines, although initially intended to minimize disparities in sentencing, quickly became a vehicle for greatly increased sentences for virtually every federal crime, chieďŹ&#x201A;y because Congress repeatedly instructed the Sentencing Commission to raise their levels. Moreover, these so-called â&#x20AC;&#x153;guidelinesâ&#x20AC;? were, for their ďŹ rst twenty-one years, mandatory and binding. And while, in 2005, the Supreme Court declared that they were unconstitutional unless discretionary, federal judges were still required to treat them as the starting point for determining any sentence, with the result that they continued to be followed in most cases. More generally, both state and federal judges became accustomed to imposing prison terms as the â&#x20AC;&#x153;normâ&#x20AC;?; and with the passage of time, there were fewer and fewer judges on the bench who had even experienced a gentler approach.

A mural painted by teenagers at Paul Robeson High School, Chicago, 2009; photograph by Carlos Javier Ortiz from his book We All We Got. It includes a foreword by Alex Kotlowitz as well as essays by Tonya Burch and others whose communities have been affected by gun violence, and is published by Red Hook Editions.

is too high to pay, not just in economic terms, but also in terms of shared social values. Until quite recently, that leadership appeared to be missing in both the legislative and executive branches, since being labeled â&#x20AC;&#x153;soft on crimeâ&#x20AC;? was politically dangerous. Recently, however, there have been some small signs of progress. For example, in 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder ďŹ nally did away with the decades-old requirement that federal prosecutors must charge offenders with those offenses carrying the highest prison terms. And in the last Congress, a bill to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders was endorsed not only by the Department of Justice, but also by such prominent right-wing Republican senators as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. On the other hand, prosecutors still have discretion to charge offenders with the most serious offenses available, and they usually do. And the aforementioned bill to modify the applicability of mandatory minimum sentences never reached a vote.

pages that follow is any reference made to the evils of mass incarceration; and, indeed, most federal judges continue to be supportive of the federal sentencing guidelines. As for Congress, while occasionally approving reductions in the guidelines recommended by the Sentencing Commission, it has much more often required the Sentencing Commission to increase the prison time reďŹ&#x201A;ected in those guidelines, thereby further supporting mass incarceration. Yet even within the judiciary there is some modest cause for hope. Several brave federal district judgesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;such as Lynn Adelman of Wisconsin, Mark Bennett of Iowa, Paul Friedman of the District of Columbia, and Michael Ponsor of Massachusetts, as well as former federal judges Paul Cassell and Nancy Gertnerâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;have for some time openly denounced the policy of mass incarceration. More recently, a federal appellate judge, Gerard Lynch of New York, expressed his agreement (albeit in an academic article): The United States has a vastly overinďŹ&#x201A;ated system of incarceration that is excessively punitive, disproportionate in its impact on the poor and minorities, exceedingly expensive, and largely irrelevant to reducing predatory crime.4


o where in all this stands the judiciary? In some ways, this should be our issue, not just because sentencing has historically been the prerogative of judges, but also because it is we judges who are forced to impose sentences that many of us feel are unjust and counterproductive. It is probably too much to ask state judges in the thirtyseven states where judges are elected


Gerard E. Lynch, â&#x20AC;&#x153;Ending Mass Incarceration: Some Observations and Responses to Professor Tonry,â&#x20AC;? Criminology and Public Policy, Vol. 13, No. 4 (November 2014). The New York Review

Perhaps the most encouraging judicial statement was made just a few weeks ago, on March 23, 2015, when Justice Anthony Kennedy—the acknowledged centrist of the Supreme Court—told a House subcommittee considering the Court’s annual budget that “this idea of total incarceration just isn’t working,” adding that in many instances it would be wiser to

assign offenders to probation or other supervised release programs. To be sure, Justice Kennedy was quick to tie these views to cost reductions, avoidance of prison overcrowding, and reduced recidivism rates—all, as he said, “without reference to the human factor.” Nor did he say one word about the racially disparate impact of mass incarceration. Yet his willingness to

confront publicly even some of the evils of mass incarceration should be an inspiration to all other judges so inclined. In many respects, the people of the United States can be proud of the progress we have made over the past half-century in promoting racial equality. More haltingly, we have also made some progress in our treatment of the

poor and disadvantaged. But the big, glaring exception to both these improvements is how we treat those guilty of crimes. Basically, we treat them like dirt. And while this treatment is mandated by the legislature, it is we judges who mete it out. Unless we judges make more effort to speak out against this inhumanity, how can we call ourselves instruments of justice?

The Prince of Elegant Writers Phillip Lopate National Portrait Gallery, London

Max Beerbohm has always been a minority taste. “There are only fifteen hundred readers in England and one thousand in America who understand what I am about,” he estimated. This did not dismay him. On the verge of being forgotten, he always seems to have the good fortune of being rediscovered and championed by those with a taste for invigorating prose. One such enthusiast, the critic F.W. Dupee, wrote: Rereading Beerbohm one gets caught up in the intricate singularity of his mind, all of a piece yet full of surprises. . . . That his drawings and parodies should survive is no cause for wonder. One look at them, or into them, and his old reputation is immediately re-established: that whim of iron, that cleverness amounting to genius. What is odd is that his stories and essays should turn out to be equally durable.

And really, outside his art, Mr Brummell had a personality of almost Balzackian insignificance. . . . I fancy Mr Brummell was a dandy, nothing but a dandy, from his cradle to that fearful day when he lost his figure and had to flee the country. . . .

Beerbohm himself claimed, “What I really am is an essayist,” and, to the degree that one values essays, one is apt to consider him not only durable but indispensable. In her 1922 piece “The Modern Essay,” Virginia Woolf singled out Beerbohm as an exemplary practitioner, while also nailing the paradox of his art. Calling him “without doubt the prince of his profession,” she went on: What Mr Beerbohm gave was, of course, himself. This presence, which has haunted the essay fitfully from the time of Montaigne, had been in exile since the death of Charles Lamb. Matthew Arnold was never to his readers Matt, nor Walter Pater affectionately abbreviated in a thousand homes to Wat. They gave us much, but that they did not give. Thus, some time in the nineties, it must have surprised readers accustomed to exhortation, information, and denunciation to find themselves familiarly addressed by a voice which seemed to belong to a man no larger than themselves. He was affected by private joys and sorrows, and had no gospel to preach and no learning to impart. He was himself, simply and directly, and himself he has remained. Once again, we have an essayist capable of using the essayist’s most proper but most dangerous and delicate tool. He has brought personality into literature, not unconsciously and impurely, May 21, 2015

artifice, and masks. Socially he fit in, being a good-humored listener with a tolerance for eccentricity, though Wilde, disconcerted by Beerbohm’s imperturbable manner, asked a mutual friend: “When you are alone with him, . . . does he take off his face and reveal his mask?” Max remained loyal to the Decadents’ belief in beauty and personae. But a firm grounding in common sense prevented him from swallowing the Decadents’ desire to shock, and he considered Wilde’s florid selfpresentation somewhat silly. “Only the insane take themselves quite seriously,” he said. His antennae for vanity, grandiosity, and selfdelusion governed from the start. In his initial essays on dandies and rouge, his touch was so deft that he seemed simultaneously defending and mocking artifice, as when he complimented the dandy Beau Brummell for his dedication to dress:

Max Beerbohm; portrait by William Nicholson, 1905

but so consciously and purely that we do not know whether there is any relation between Max the essayist and Mr Beerbohm the man. We only know that the spirit of personality permeates every word that he writes. Today, when memoirs and personal essays stand (rightly or wrongly) accused of narcissism and promiscuous sharing of private information, it does well to ponder how Beerbohm performed the delicate operation of displaying so much personality without lapsing into sticky self-disclosure. His readers learned everything about his temperament and response patterns—rigorously self-analytical, he was onto all his idiosyncrasies—but next to nothing about his background, finances, affairs, or spouse. Some of

that reticence regarding women had to do with his gentlemanly code: he drew almost no caricatures of women either. Aware that he shied away from confession, he wrote, “Personally I admire the plungingly intimate kind of essayist very much indeed, but I never was of that kind, and it’s too late to begin now.” The fact is, he could never make himself the rugged hero; what interested him more was tracking his odd turns of consciousness.

Beerbohm, born in 1872 to a middle-

class mercantile family, came to precocious prominence in the 1890s, while still an Oxford undergraduate, when he was taken up by the Yellow Book crowd. This group of self-styled Decadents, which included Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde, made a cult of beauty,

Beerbohm himself was impeccably turned out, but distanced himself in other respects from Dandyism. In her study The Dandy: Brummell to Beerbohm, Ellen Moers, summarizing an impertinent piece he wrote about Wilde, remarked: “Max had already mastered an art which would serve him for the rest of his career: the art of satirizing, lambasting, insulting with impeccable decorum; the art of getting away with it.” Nowhere was this balancing act between affection and aggression more evident than in his caricatures. In “The Spirit of Caricature,” he defended himself from accusations of meanspiritedness, saying the point of caricature is exaggeration: The most perfect caricature is that which, on a small surface, with the simplest means, most accurately exaggerates, to the highest point, the peculiarities of a human being, at his most characteristic moment, in the most beautiful manner. This description applies equally to Beerbohm’s prose, designed to convey economically the drollest possibilities. Part of his humor derived from a tendency to portray himself as behind 17

the times. In 1895, a mere five years after entering Oxford as a freshman, he declared: “Already I feel myself to be a trifle outmoded. I belong to the Beardsley period. . . . Indeed, I stand aside with no regret.” Prematurely middle-aged, he was always standing aside—or pretending to. Beerbohm was preoccupied with the past. “There is always something rather absurd about the past,” he wrote. “For us, who have fared on, the silhouette of Error is sharp upon the past horizon.” Much like Charles Lamb, who confessed he was too fond of retrospective glances, Beerbohm’s mind clung to the old days, even the period before he was born. A tongue-in-cheek tribute to the Prince of Wales, “King George the Fourth,” showed his fascination with the royals, especially after they had been stripped of their power and reduced to a “life of morbid and gaudy humdrum.” He felt sympathy for these ceremonial, leisure-plagued dinosaurs, fated to look on. He himself preferred to be a watcher, not a player. His Max persona drew on the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century essayist’s classic tropes: the idler, the spectator, the outsider, the bachelor (or later, the non-parent). This observer sensibility helped prepare Beerbohm for his next role, that of drama critic. His older half-brother, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, an actor and theatrical impresario, had taken him to plays and introduced him backstage. He had even engaged Max as his secretary on a barnstorming tour of America, though Max, with his fastidious concern for proper wording, proved too slow at answering his brother’s correspondence. One side effect of Max’s theatrical immersion was that he fell in love with a succession of actresses. Another was that he seemed to everyone (but himself) the logical candidate to succeed George Bernard Shaw in 1898 when the latter resigned his post as drama critic of The Saturday Review. Shaw had recommended the younger man, at twenty-five already a rising literary figure, as his successor, signing off with the famous sentence: “The younger generation is knocking at the door, and as I open it there steps sprightly in the incomparable Max.” This label, “the incomparable Max,” stuck to Beerbohm all his life, not entirely to his liking. There was generosity but also condescension in the compliment: Shaw would never have spoken of the Incomparable Leo, Virginia, or Henrik. Beerbohm repaid the favor by writing ambivalent reviews of Shaw’s plays. “Mr. Shaw is always trying to prove this or that thesis, and the result is that his characters (so soon as he differentiates them, ever so little, from himself) are the merest diagrams.”


eerbohm confessed reluctance about his new occupation in his maiden column: “Frankly, I have none of that instinctive love for the theatre which is the first step towards good criticism of drama.” But he took the job, needing the money. He would go to several plays, then compose his copy on Thursday. “Thursday was the day on which I did it; and the doing was never so easy as I sometimes hoped it might be: I had never, poor wretch, acquired one scrap of professional facility.” Compounding the problem was that he was a picky theatergoer, and when 18

he liked something, all the worse. “I have the satiric temperament: when I am laughing at any one I am generally rather amusing, but when I am praising any one, I am always deadly dull.” His collected theatrical criticism, Around Theatres, is still entertaining, but it comes alive most when he is playful. Such, for instance, is his hilarious review of Sarah Bernhardt’s memoirs. After quoting the actress’s passionate denunciation of capital punishment, and her witnessing the execution of a friend, the anarchist Vaillant, he comments: “You, gentle reader, might not care to visit an execution—especially not that of a personal friend. But then, you see, you are not a great tragedian.” This is classic Beerbohm: resisting the domineering, flamboyant personality (Wilde, Bernhardt, Shaw, or Max’s brother Herbert), meanwhile bonding with the phlegmatic English reader. One of his funniest essays, “Quia Imperfectum,” takes on Goethe, that titan who “has more than once been described as ‘the perfect man.’. . . But a man whose career was glorious without intermission, decade after decade, does sorely try our patience.” Beerbohm enumerates:

bachelor got married to an American actress, Florence Kahn, quit his critic’s post, left London, and at age thirtyseven took his wife and himself off to a little house outside Rapallo, Italy. There he lived, frugally, for the better part of the next forty-four years in semiretirement from society, though friends and relations would visit on their Italian vacations. Max had not been joking when he said he yearned for the quiet life. The ten years following his move to Italy saw his most productive writing period. First he completed his novel, Zuleika Dobson, a comic romp about a femme fatale who causes hordes of Oxford undergraduates to drown themselves. Zuleika was his most popular book. It was followed by A Christmas Garland, his wicked set of literary parodies, and Seven Men, his bittersweet fictional portraits of men of letters, mostly unsuccessful. All three works are exquisite; but it is a pity that Beerbohm is most known today as a novelist, parodist, and caricaturist, when his greatest achievement, I would argue, is as an essayist. The two collections he published after leaving England, And Even Now and Yet He was never injudicious, Again, contain the ripest never lazy, always in fruit of his essayistic art. his best form—and al(With mock conceit, he had titled his youthful, ways in love with some thin debut collection The lady or another just so Works of Max Beerbohm. much as was good for the Thereafter, he tagged each development of his soul subsequent gathering of esand his art, but never more says as an afterthought— than that by a tittle. More, And Even Now, Yet Again.) Beerbohm loves to seducHaving escaped the Lontively align with his readers, don social scene, Beerbohm by invoking some secret wish Joseph Conrad; caricature by Max Beerbohm, 1920. The caption reads: could articulate the strain for skepticism or spice. In his essay “How Shall I Word ‘Somewhere in the Pacific. Mr. Joseph Conrad: “What a delightful coast! that geniality had been for One catches an illusion that one might forever be almost gay here.”’ him. In “The Fire,” he deIt?,” which satirizes letterscribed the onus of being a writing manuals, Beerweekend guest: bohm characterizes the average readwhile I trotted prattling by my nurse’s er’s response: “He longs for—how side I regretted the good old days when For fifteen mortal hours or so, I shall he word it?—a glimpse of some I had, and wasn’t, a perambulator”), have been making myself agreebad motive, of some little lapse from or, conversely, his defense of arson able, saying the right thing, askdignity.” Yet as often as Max conspires (“Nothing is easier than to be an incening the apt question, exhibiting with the reader, he just as frequently diary. All you want is a box of matches the proper shade of mild or acute predicts that readers may not go along and a sense of beauty”). Daring the surprise, smiling the appropriate with his thin-skinned position. He prereader to disagree, he gives permissmile or laughing just so long and sents himself readily as isolated from sion to entertain one’s own curmudjust so loud as the occasion seemed the common response. In “Laughter,” geonly thoughts. That Beerbohm never to demand. . . . It is a dog’s life. he notes: “A public crowd, because of set himself up as a pundit, but only as a lack of broad impersonal humanity “a man no larger than themselves,” to Lord David Cecil, his attentive biin me, rather insulates than absorbs quote Virginia Woolf’s useful phrase, ographer, summarized Beerbohm’s me. Amidst the guffaws of a thousand made the vinegar more palatable. approach: strangers I become unnaturally grave.” Elsewhere, he snaps awake from the n the twelve years that he covered Irony is its most continuous and dream of kinship with readers by sudthe theater scene, he also led an exconsistent character; an irony at den distancing: “But perhaps you, haustingly active social life. Max was a once delicate and ruthless, from reader, are not as I am. I must speak sought-after guest at dinner parties and which nothing is altogether profor myself.” The point is to engage with galas. No one knew what it cost him to tected, not even the author himthe reader, warmly or cheekily. keep up this gregarious charm, to be self. Ruthless but not savage: Max Addressing the reader had already always “on.” His energy flagging, he could be made angry—by brutalbecome antiquated in Beerbohm’s day, lived for times when he could go off by ity or vulgarity—but very seldom and so it suited his behind-the-times himself to some seaside town in winter, does he reveal this in his creative persona. It also gave him freedom to tending his inner life. He even wrote a works. His artistic sense told him jettison subjects whimsically, like sayone-act play, A Social Success, about that ill-temper was out of place ing about the 1880s: “To give an aca man who plots unsuccessfully to bein an entertainment, especially curate and exhaustive account of that come socially ostracized. But like his period would need a far less brilliant in an entertainment that aspired protagonist, Beerbohm could never say pen than mine.” to be pretty as well as comic. His no to importuning hosts. The taking up of a serious subject in ruthlessness gains its particular Finally, he made a change that flavor from the fact that it is also a grave tone, only to abandon it with shocked everyone. In 1910 the longtime good-tempered. On the other hand a shrug of inadequacy, is exemplified by the opening of “Laughter”: “M. Bergson, in his well-known essay on this theme, says . . .well, he says many things; but none of these, though I have just read them, do I clearly remember, nor am I sure that in the act of reading I understood any of them.” He then explains how he is always resisting the philosophically fashionable: “It distresses me, this failure to keep up with the leaders of thought as they pass into oblivion.” (The sting in the tail of that sentence is priceless.) Much of his comedy stemmed from contrarian, impious impulse: his asserted dislike of going for walks (“Even


The New York Review

it is not so good-tempered as to lose its edge. In “Kolniyatsch,” he mocks the British admiration for moody, Dostoevskian writers, by inventing his own Slavic literary celebrity: At the age of nine he had already acquired that passionate alcoholism which was to have so great an influence in the moulding of his character and on the trend of his thought. . . . It was not before his eighteenth birthday that he murdered his grandmother and was sent to that asylum in which he wrote the poems and plays belonging to what we now call his earlier manner. Note the perfect-pitch parody of literary toadyism. Max was more at home with Trollope (“He reminds us that sanity need not be Philistine”) and Henry James. If we now take for granted the centrality of sexuality and passion in human behavior, Beerbohm’s reluctance to play those cards would seem to issue from another, more stoical understanding of life. His indifference to convincing us that he was a man of strong libido or emotion seemed in line with his unwillingness to play up to the reader: “But how exasperating, how detestable, the writer who obviously touts for our affection, arranging himself for us in a mellow light, and inviting us, with gentle persistence, to see how lovable he is!” Beerbohm’s syntax derived from the study of Latin, in which he had prided himself as a schoolboy, and which he considered essential “to the making of a decent style in English prose.” It was initially a prose steeped in the Edwardian manner: long unbroken paragraphs, sentences hemmed with semicolons, mock-learned Latin and Greek, aphoristic conclusions. Over time it became looser and more direct. Though always attracted to polished prose (“I love best in literature delicate and elaborate ingenuities of form and style”), he also grasped the danger of fussiness. In Oxford he had rebelled against Walter Pater’s treatment of “English as a dead language, . . .wherewith he laid out every sentence as in a shroud—hanging, like a widower, long over its marmoreal beauty. . . .” While Dupee said that Beerbohm “wrote with a kind of conscious elegance that has since become generally suspect,” Max drew the line at ornate obscurity. “Too much art is, of course, as great an obstacle as too little art.” He saw vocal quality as “the chief test of good writing. Writing, as a means of expression, has to compete with talking.” Beerbohm’s own prose was conversational: one more reason he kept addressing the reader. Its formality seemed a politeness, making the impudence acceptable. Back in London, Beerbohm’s popularity had irked Ezra Pound, who included a sneering, thinly veiled reference to him in his 1920 poem “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley”: BRENNBAUM

The skylike limpid eyes, The circular infant’s face, The stiffness from spats to collar Never relaxing into grace; May 21, 2015

The heavy memories of Horeb, Sinai and the forty years, Showed only when the daylight fell Level across the face Of Brennbaum “The Impeccable.” Pound’s anti-Semitism was misdirected, since Beerbohm was not Jewish. He told interviewers he would have gladly claimed Jewish heritage (both his wives were Jewish) but as it happened, he had none. Ironically, Pound ended up in Rapallo, Italy, not far from Beerbohm’s home. They did not become friends.


eerbohm returned to England during both world wars. Unlike the more feckless P. G. Wodehouse, he knew enough not to putter around the garden with fascists nearby: “A foreign country in war-time,” he wrote, “is an uncomforting place to be in. One wants to be where the English language is spoken, and English thoughts and feelings are expressed.” The expatriate had become more stalwart a patriot than ever. “I have never met anyone more stubbornly English than Max,” S. N. Behrman reported. He was invited by the BBC to give a series of radio talks, which were so well received that Beerbohm became, improbably in middle age, a national figure. Rebecca West wrote: “I felt, when I was listening to them, that I was listening to the voice of the last civilized man on earth.” Beerbohm wrote the talks with the listening ear in mind. The sentences had fewer dependent clauses; the diction was plainer; this was not just accommodating the broadcasting medium, but the direction his prose had been evolving. Max shied away, as ever, from triumphalism: “There is much to be said for failure. It is more interesting than success.” He sifted politics, using what he had called his “Tory Anarchist” perspective. Fearful of angry labor embracing the Soviet example, he acknowledged that no injustices would ever be righted unless the injured parties protested, citing women’s suffrage as example. He had opposed military adventurism and imperialism. Domestic service should be abolished, he wrote in “Servants.” He was, as he characterized himself in that essay, “Loth to obey, loth to command.” He was not one “ever seeking ‘sensations’ and experiences.’” His preface to A Variety of Things challenged: “I am a quiet and unexciting writer.” In fact he could be deliciously exciting, if irony was your meat. He pretended to regret its use: “I wish, Ladies and Gentlemen, I could cure myself of the habit of speaking ironically. I should so like to express myself in a quite straightforward manner.” But Beerbohm knew that “all delicate spirits, to whatever art they turn . . . assume an oblique attitude towards life”; and obliqueness suited him. He put it succinctly in a 1921 reply: “My gifts are small. I’ve used them very well and discreetly, never straining them: and the result is that I’ve made a charming little reputation. But that reputation is a frail plant.” Virginia Woolf, who so appreciated him, nevertheless expressed reservations: One takes for granted what one can only call Mr Beerbohm’s

perfection, and then, as if one could swallow perfection and still keep one’s critical capacity unsated, one looks about for something more. . . . For a second he makes his own perfection look a little small. Still, perfect is not bad. I have mentioned that Shaw’s calling him “the incomparable Max” irked him. It exempted him unfairly. Beerbohm wrote: Years ago, G. B. S., in a lighthearted moment, called me “the incomparable.” Note that I am not incomparable. Compare me. Compare me as essayist (for instance) with other essayists. Point out how much less human I am than Lamb, how much less intellectual than Hazlitt, and what an ignoramus beside Belloc; and how Chesterton’s high spirits and abundance shame me. . . . He wrote less, but showed his drawings in London galleries, and their sales helped support his and Florence’s modest Italian life. His neighbors reported seeing him laughing to himself—he still found much absurd, though in “Laughter” he maintained that one laughs less as one ages. Beerbohm frequently drew in books, wrote counterendings, or invented far-fetched dedications. He would occasionally show these comic interventions to guests, but he did it for the most part simply to amuse himself. The creative spirit that springs gratuitously from play, in children and adults, still manifested itself, though

now he had no need to display it. He had reverted to being an amateur, in the sense of doing something for love, and love alone. In 1951 his wife Florence passed away. Max turned to Elisabeth Jungmann, a long-standing devotee, for help with the funeral arrangements, and Elisabeth promptly moved in and took care of him in his remaining years. Just before he died, in 1956, Max married Elisabeth, willing her the house in Rapallo and his estate. He had not liked where the modern world was going; and the years had only strengthened his attachment to the past. But he could still defend that position good-humoredly, as when he twitted the Futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti for hating museums: With the best will in the world, I fail to be frightened by Marinetti and his doctrines. . . . How on earth is anyone going to draw inspiration from the Future? Let us spell it with a capital letter, by all means. But don’t let us expect it to give us anything in return. It can’t, poor thing; for the very good reason that it doesn’t yet exist, save as a dry abstract term. The past and present—there are two useful and delightful things. I am sorry, Marinetti, but I’m afraid there is no future for the Future. If there is to be any future for Beerbohm’s remarkable writing, it will come about through preserving all that is exquisitely wrought and laugh-inducing in it.


@BrookingsPress 19

Big Dangers for the Next Election Elizabeth Drew

The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown by Richard L. Hasen. Yale University Press, 239 pp., $30.00 While people are wasting their time speculating about who will win the presidency more than a year from now—Can Hillary beat Jeb? Can anybody beat Hillary? Is the GOP nominee going to be Jeb or Walker?—growing dangers to a democratic election, ones that could decide the outcome, are being essentially overlooked. The three dangers are voting restrictions, redistricting, and loose rules on large amounts of money being spent to influence voters. In recent years, we’ve been moving further and further away from a truly democratic election system. The considerable outrage in 2012 over the systematic effort in Republican-dominated states to prevent blacks, Hispanics, students, and the elderly from being able to vote— mainly aimed at limiting the votes of blacks and Hispanics—might have been expected to lead to a serious effort to fix the voting system. But quite the reverse occurred. In fact, in some of the major races in 2014, according to the highly respected Brennan Center for Justice, the difference in the number of votes between the victor and the loser closely mirrored the estimated number of people who had been deprived of the right to vote. And in the North Carolina Senate race, the number of people prevented from voting exceeded the margin between the loser and the winner. But even if it cannot be shown that the suppression of votes made the difference in the outcome of an important race in a given state, that doesn’t exactly make voter suppression benign. Hundreds of thousands of people are being denied their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. They have the misfortune of living in a state controlled by one party that wants to deprive the other party of as many votes as possible of the groups that tend heavily to support it. The ostensible rationale for such an effort— voter fraud—is itself a fraud. The Brennan Center estimates that 11 percent of qualified voters in the United States do not possess a government-issued photo ID or any other of the documents required by the voter ID laws now in effect in thirty-two states—a finding confirmed by other studies. Some people were turned away from the polls because 20

they had a driver’s license from another state or because their license had expired. Of course there were other reasons why the Democratic candidates didn’t do better in 2014. They included the president’s low approval ratings, the Ebola panic, the beheadings of American captives by ISIS, as well as the Democrats’ lack of much to say to the voters. All that fed into the sweeping Republican victory. But none of this disproves the fact that an across-the-board effort to deny the vote to selected groups, especially racial minorities, has been taking place and can turn an election.

Still, a conservative court of appeals and then the US Supreme Court held the Wisconsin law to be constitutional. During the litigation on the Wisconsin law, the well-known conservative appellate judge Richard Posner wrote in a dissent: “As there is no evidence that voter-impersonation fraud is a problem, how can the fact that a legislature says it’s a problem turn it into one?” Even the federal Government Accountability Office looked into the effect of voter ID laws and found that they suppressed the black vote. Michael Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center, has written that he and his allies aren’t pressing for a policy of no voter identification at all, but “I’m just against requiring ID that lots of Americans do not have.” What is now clear is that the efforts in many states to fix the outcome of the vote by keeping Democratic constituencies from voting have been largely successful. With the white share of the voting population dropping in such swing states as Florida and Nevada, both of which Obama won narrowly in 2012, and North Carolina, which Obama narrowly lost, the Republicans are all the more anxious to hold down A civil rights activist at a march outside the Alabama State Capitol commemorating Bloody Sunday the number of black and and protesting Alabama’s new voter identification law, Montgomery, March 2012 Latino votes. Laws restricting peon North Carolina shortly before the governor in Texas weren’t close calls, ple’s voting rights will continue to be 2014 election, Thom Tillis, the speaker those 600,000-plus people were also unpassed until the pattern becomes too of the state House of Representatives able to vote in contests for offices such as obvious for even the Supreme Court to and the Republican candidate for the justice of the peace or their state legislaignore, or we get a different Supreme US Senate against the incumbent Kay tor that could affect them more directly. Court, or enough people wake up to Hagan, rushed through the legislature The Supreme Court recently turned what’s going on and see that democracy one of the harshest voting laws in the down an appeal of a very strict voter ID is being curtailed. For the time being law in Wisconsin that’s ardently chamcountry. It cut back the number of days we cannot expect Congress to help. pioned by governor and presidential for early voting, eliminated same-day hopeful Scott Walker. Walker’s view registration, and prohibited people s with practically every other queswas, “It doesn’t matter if there’s one, one from voting outside their home pretion of public policy, voting rights has hundred, or one thousand” instances cincts—all forms of voting heavily relied now become a partisan issue. Only one of voter fraud, no one’s vote should be upon by blacks. Tillis defeated Hagan Republican leader—House Majority canceled out by an illegally cast vote. by 48,000 votes. One way to look at this Leader Kevin McCarthy of California When the Wisconsin law was challenged is that in 2012, 700,000 people voted on —attended the fiftieth anniversary in district court, the trial judge said those early voting days that were later of the Selma marches that led to pasthat it violated both the equal proteccut; and 100,000 voters, almost one sage of the Voting Rights Act—and he tion clause of the Constitution and the third of whom were black, had previdecided to go only at the last minute. Voting Rights Act of 1965 for minority ously been able to register and vote on George W. Bush attended, which put voters, and he saw no justification for it. the same day. North Carolina hadn’t him out of step with the current leaders The same district judge prepared a yet imposed a voter ID law in 2014, but one is in place for the next election. of his party, but then Bush, like Ronninety-page study of the 2004 election, In Kansas, the extremely conservative ald Reagan before him, had signed an which had given rise to claims of voter governor Sam Brownback had been in extension of the act. (In the Reagan fraud and demands for imposing voter ID laws. In his study of voter fraud alreelection trouble in 2014 because his White House, a then-young attorney legations—the most thorough yet made steep tax cuts had led to draconian cuts named John Roberts advised the presiin the US—the judge produced just in state services, but he surprised the dent not to sign the extension.) At the seven substantiated cases of individuals political world with a very narrow vicSelma ceremonies president Obama knowingly casting invalid votes—all of tory, by 33,000 votes. Kansas’s strict new made a ringing call for Congress to them people with felony convictions. voting laws, including requirements for a enact a strong voting rights law—then None of these violations could have photo ID for voting and proof of citizennothing happened. ship for voter registration (particularly been prevented by voter ID laws. AcFrom the time that George W. Bush cording to the Brennan Center, these the latter), held the number of votes pulled off his questionable presideninvalid ballots amounted to some down by close to the same amount. tial victory in 2000—with the help of a 0.0002 percent of those cast in the enIn Texas, in a suit brought shortly bebrother who was the governor of Florida tire state of Wisconsin. The judge said, fore the election against that state’s new and a Republican-dominated Supreme “The defendants could not point to a voting law, the toughest in the country, Court—he and his political henchman single instance of known voter imperrushed through by Greg Abbott, then Karl Rove set out to make sure that the sonation occurring in Wisconsin at any attorney general and the candidate for Republicans wouldn’t have to endure time in the recent past.” governor, a federal district judge found another such crisis. One way to do that that 608,470 registered and qualified voters lacked the newly required voter ID. She also found that black voters are 305 percent more likely and Hispanic voters 195 percent more likely than white voters to lack the required ID. In her ruling striking down the new law she said that it was intentionally discriminatory against blacks and Hispanics. The Texas ID law accepted concealed-carry permits but not stateissued student IDs. Nevertheless, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and the US Supreme Court let the law go into effect in the 2014 election. Though the race for the Senate and

Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times/Redux

Democracy and Justice: Collected Writings edited by Desiree Ramos Reiner, Jim Lyons, Erik Opsal, Mikayla Terrell, and Lena Glaser. Brennan Center for Justice, NYU Law School, 152 pp., available at



The New York Review

was to keep as many supporters of the Democrats as possible from voting. In his book The Voting Wars, Richard Hasen, an expert on election law, writes, “Florida mainly taught political operatives the benefits of manipulating the rules. . . . Election law has become part of a political strategy.” After Bush took office, Republican operatives set out to find instances of “voter fraud”—someone impersonating a qualified voter, which is a felony. But though allegations of fraudulent voting were widely made, almost none were proved. Hasen points out that people who cry foul often confuse registration fraud with fraudulence in the casting of votes. In 2009, workers for the community action organization ACORN were caught registering unqualified voters, but that didn’t mean that those people would vote. The workers were often paid per registration, so they had an incentive. Moreover, Hasen says, it would take a great many cases of voter impersonation to swing an election. “The bottom line,” he writes, “is that we have no modern instances to show that voter impersonation fraud is a real problem.” After the 2006 midterms, at the behest of the Bush White House the Justice Department fired nine US attorneys (all of whom it had appointed) for failing to come up with evidence of voting fraud. After the Republican sweep of the 2010 midterms, a national effort to manipulate voting laws began.

In 2013 the Supreme Court, by a 5–4 vote, gutted the Voting Rights Act. In the case of Shelby v. Holder, the Court found unconstitutional the sec-

tions requiring that states and regions with a history of voting discrimination must submit new voting rights laws to the Justice Department for clearance before the laws could go into effect. Congressman John Lewis called such preclearance “the heart and soul” of the Voting Rights Act. No sooner did the Shelby decision come down than a number of jurisdictions rushed to adopt new restrictive voting laws in time for the 2014 elections—with Texas in the lead. In ruling as it did, the Roberts Court broke with precedent (as it has tended to do) by overriding the will of Congress on voting rights. The majority—Chief Justice Roberts, along with Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas—held that there had been such progress in the states previously covered by the Voting Rights Act that preclearance was no longer necessary. In fact, what had actually happened was that though a great many more blacks were allowed to vote than before the act was passed, the recently adopted means to try to prevent large numbers of them from doing so were now more subtle. (The Court’s majority chose to ignore the extensive evidence of racial discrimination in voting that Congress had amassed when it considered extension of the Voting Rights Act in 2006.) Voter ID laws were the new literacy tests. Between 2000 and the issuance of the Shelby decision of 2013, 148 objections to unfair voting restrictions had been filed in twenty-nine states; Texas, with thirty objections, had the most. By the time of the 2014 elections twenty-one states had enacted new restrictions on voting rights. Follow-

ing the Republican triumphs in the state elections in 2014, forty new voter restrictions were introduced in seventeen states during the first few weeks of 2015 alone. By now, according to the National Council of State Legislatures, a total of thirty-four states have adopted some sort of voter ID law, and as of late March of this year thirty-two such laws were in effect. For years, Republicans were more alert than Democrats to the many opportunities provided by controlling governorships and state legislatures. Right now, the Republicans are in total control of twenty-four states whereas the Democrats have total control of only seven. The lesson seems to be that once Republicans get total power at the state level, they find a way to rig the rules to keep the other side’s strongest constituencies from voting. Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee when the Democrats are in control, has been trying to win bipartisan support for repairing the holes the Supreme Court shot in the Voting Rights Act law in the Shelby decision. Previous extensions of the law had been approved by overwhelming majorities in both chambers. One early ally was Republican Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, formerly chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Leahy also got the agreement of then Republican Whip Eric Cantor, who, like Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, believed that the party had to reach out to black voters if it was to win and that the Republican brand required that the party come off as sympathetic to minorities.

But once Cantor was upset in the Virginia primary in 2014 by someone even further to his right, Leahy could find no Republican supporters in the House—except for the now-isolated Sensenbrenner. It became clear that Speaker John Boehner wasn’t about to encourage his caucus to support voting rights. The current Republican southern delegations, including Texas, are too powerful for that. A congressional supporter of voting rights told me, “When Cantor went down, that was the death knell for Republican support for restoring the enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act.” Leahy has shopped around in vain for a Senate Republican cosponsor. He spent weeks trying to convince Rand Paul, who showed mild interest, that it was in his and his party’s interest to be seen as supporting voting rights, but Paul has resisted, as have other Republicans who might have reason to want to appear to support them. They include Thad Cochran, who owes his reelection to black votes in Mississippi; Roger Wicker, also of Mississippi; and Steve Scalise, the House Republican whip whose moving into that job hit a bump when it was learned that he’d spoken to a group supporting the white separatist David Duke.

Numerous Republican leaders under-

stand that their party cannot win future national elections as long as it’s seen as hostile to minorities, but because of the very rightward cast of its primary and caucus voters and the early primaries in South Carolina and Florida (and even the possibility of a regional southern


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aligned to the suppression of voting rights as an inhibitor of democracy is redistricting that follows each decennial census. Following the passage of the Voting Rights Act, as blacks succeeded in voting in vastly increased numbers, southern states tried to limit the effect of their votes. Some state offices were changed from elected to appointed. But the most widely used way to limit the effect of

black votes was to redraw voting districts. It used to be that black leaders worked with white legislators to guarantee that there would be enough blacks in a district that they could elect a black to represent them. More recently, the problem has become that in redrawing districts some states pack as many blacks as they can into a district, so they can reduce the total number of blacks elected to office and have the rest of their candidates run in safely white ones—which also reduces black political power. The redistricting of Alabama was recently rejected by the Supreme Court, but the celebrations by supporters of minorities’ voting rights may have been premature. Alabama’s redistricting plan was so blatant, putting far-apart, predominately black precincts together

Supreme Court in March of this year. Arizona had tried to depoliticize redistricting by setting up a nonpartisan citizens’ commission to draw electoral districts fairly. The commission drew the districts in 2001 but when it tried to redraw them again in 2011, the Republican-dominated state legislature sued, arguing that such commissions violated the constitutional clause that “the Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.” At issue is whether the commissions, which are often established through a state referendum, can be said to have been established by the legislature. In fact, state officials usually have some role in the establishment of a citizens commission. If, as many fear, Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times/Redux


primary), someone seeking the Republican nomination now is not likely to support voting rights for blacks. There are ways for Congress to guarantee blacks the voting rights they are promised in the Constitution, starting with Article One, which says that states set “the times, places, and manner” of federal elections, but also that “the Congress may . . . make or alter such Regulations.” Those who want to reform the voting system extrapolate from this that the federal government can set standards for voting in federal elections. And this would affect elections for other state offices. (How can you have people be qualified to vote for their US senator but not their governor or county commissioners?) There could be federally maintained voter lists. The voting procedures could be overseen by impartial officials rather than by partisan hacks. States could be required by federal law to make it easier to register. Quite recently Oregon adopted a system of automatic registration by mail of every citizen with a driver’s license. Such automatic registration takes place in a number of other countries and has been considered in other states, but it’s opposed by Republicans. (In Minnesota then governor Tim Pawlenty vetoed such a bill.) While such a system will likely expand voter participation, other means have to be found to help those without driver’s licenses to vote. Oregon was also the first to adopt mailin ballots, a practice now followed by Colorado and Washington State. Thus, solutions to suppression of minority voters aren’t mysterious, but because of the partisanship that now envelops the issue of voting reform it’s almost impossible to get anything done. In his book The Voting Wars, Hasen concludes that sometime in the future when there’s a razor-thin election we could again have a crisis such as the one in Florida in 2000, only the next one will be even more acrimonious, marked by unsubstantiated charges and inflamed by social media. “Political provocateurs,” he writes, “now aided by the social media, have spent the past decade fighting the Voting Wars in a way that will ensure that our next disaster will be far worse.” Perhaps it will take another dispute such as Florida, 2000, or some other election calamity to get people stirred up enough to demand changes in the election system that would make it more fair and reliable. It has been 147 years since the adoption in 1868 of the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing blacks due process and equal protection under the law—which was the basis of the Brown decision on school segregation—and in 1870 the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteeing blacks the right to vote. The strongest trend in recent years has been to deprive blacks and other minorities of one of their most basic rights.

Civil rights activists marching toward the state capitol, Montgomery, Alabama, March 2012

in the same district, that the Court in effect said, “Try again.” Few expect the next Alabama plan to be neutral in its allocation of the races among congressional districts. A Virginia plan was also rejected recently. Another problem with redistricting is that it has increasingly polarized our politics. Political scientists argue that this phenomenon has been brought about not so much by redistricting as by people of like minds increasingly choosing to live in the same areas— or “cluster”—and voting in the same way. But according to Michael Li of the Brennan Center, who specializes in redistricting, studies thus far of the effects of “clustering” on redistricting are inconclusive. Professor Sam Wang of Princeton, the founder and head of the Princeton Election Consortium, agrees. Moreover, he says that while redistricting is conventionally seen as a bipartisan practice, “confounding conventional wisdom, partisan redistricting is not symmetrical between the political parties.” Wang found that as a result of the redistricting that followed the 2010 census and also that year’s elections in which they did extremely well, Republicans had a greater advantage in House elections than the party breakdowns in the states would warrant. He adds that “through artful drawing of district boundaries, it is possible to put large groups of voters on the losing side of every election.” In any event, there’s no question that redistricting has had a distorting effect on our politics. In a recent interview with Time, James Baker, deploring the partisanship in Congress and the lack of a political center, said, “Redistricting has got way out of hand.” A highly important question about redistricting was brought before the

the Court rules that the commissions aren’t constitutional, the results will be chaotic and could well go beyond just redistricting. If the Court holds unconstitutional all voting plans adopted by measures on the ballot, a great many state laws will be rendered moot. In some states, for example, same-day registration and early voting were established as a result of initiatives or referendums. The Court could therefore nullify the power of the citizens of a state to take action on a broad range of issues. Such nullification would work both ways: Oregon’s law allowing voting by the mail was adopted by a ballot initiative. Mississippi established its harsh voter ID law through a referendum. Sometimes when the Court can foresee chaos from a decision it shrinks from making it; but that’s not a very comforting basis for hope that it will restrain itself. The redistricting wars are likely to go on for some time. As of early April of this year, eighty-seven bills had been introduced around the country to reform redistricting practices. Twenty of them call for independent commissions; most of them try to cut back on gerrymandering. Two bipartisan bills have been introduced in the House that would encourage the establishing of independent commissions, or require the states to publish proposed redistricting plans online and give the citizens an opportunity to comment on them before they’re adopted. Meanwhile the effects of redistricting—as well as restrictions on voting —take a place in distorting elections alongside the influence of big money in elections, which is both greater and less controlled than ever, and will be the subject of a second article. —This is the first of two articles. The New York Review

The Explosions from Wolf Hall Fintan O’Toole

Wolf Hall Part One and Wolf Hall Part Two: Bring Up the Bodies adapted by Mike Poulton from the novels by Hilary Mantel, directed by Jeremy Herrin, and produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, at the Winter Garden Theater, New York City, March 20–July 5, 2015

prepared for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s stage adaptation of her novels, now published with the text of Mike Poulton’s script, Hilary Mantel instructs Ben Miles, the fine actor who plays Cromwell: No one knows where you have been, or who you know, or what you can do, and these areas of mystery, on which you cast no light, are the source of your power. . . . People open their hearts to you. They tell you all sorts of things. But you tell them nothing.

Cromwell’s head: his reflections, his plotting, his private anguish, and, most of all, his barely contained laughter. On screen, we can get some notion of what is in Cromwell’s head by tracing the flickers of fear or triumph or humor that the camera catches on Rylance’s long, melancholic, and otherwise impassive face. On stage, that simply can’t be done. If it is to be more than a high-class pageant, the stage version has to find some other way to get under the skin of the story, some richness of Sara Krulwich/The New York Times/Redux

Wolf Hall based on the novels by Hilary Mantel, written by Peter Straughan, and directed by Peter Kosminsky. BBC /Masterpiece/ PBS, six episodes, April 5–May 10, 2015

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies: The Stage Adaptation by Mike Poulton. Picador, 265 pp., $16.00 (paper) To all the qualities that make him such a remarkable actor, we must now add that Mark Rylance is a great lurker. In the mesmerizing BBC /Masterpiece television adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s phenomenally successful novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Rylance plays Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith’s son who became, next to his master King Henry VIII, the second most powerful man in the troubled England of the 1530s. Rylance’s supremely watchful Cromwell is often at his most magnetic when he is loitering with intent. He is off-center—the soberly dressed man standing to the side while gaudy aristocrats strut their stuff in the Tudor court, the modest figure by the pillar in the church, a face in the crowd at a momentous execution. Rylance can watch proceedings in so many ways—anxiously, quizzically, with an air of quiet satisfaction or wry amusement or detached contempt— that shots of him looking are often as intensely dramatic and as informative as any scene of scripted dialogue. They tell us who Cromwell is—a man who makes his way in a vicious world by observing more sharply, scrutinizing more carefully, creating scenarios and watching how those he must please or destroy will act them out. The cliché is vindicated: Rylance’s eyes are windows through which we catch glimpses of Cromwell’s soul. But you can’t do this in the theater. The stage has no place for lurking. There is no camera to draw us away from the main action and toward the drab figure standing almost in the wings. We are the watchers—we are not interested in having someone do our looking for us. If sumptuously dressed couples are dancing a gavotte, our eyes feast on them and miss the still man on the margins. If a queen is about to be beheaded, we are not interested in the bureaucrat half-hidden in the curious crowd. If we are ever to know what is going on in that figure’s mind, he must, at some point, tell us directly or else we must be allowed to overhear him confiding in someone else. But neither of these strategies would really work for a stage version of Cromwell. Having him address the audience would make a man whose essence is discretion and self-containment far too up-front. In the character notes she May 21, 2015

Lydia Leonard as Anne Boleyn and Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Wolf Hall Part Two: Bring Up the Bodies, on Broadway this spring

So Cromwell doesn’t have confidants. His beloved wife Liz dies of the “sweating sickness” early in the story, along with his two daughters, and he does not replace her. He will not be exposed by personal intimacy and he knows all too well that he lives in a world where confidences are betrayed. He spends too much time filching other people’s privacies to risk exposing his own. He trusts his ward Rafe Sadler and his son Gregory but his attitude toward them is paternal and protective. He does not burden them with his doubts or his yearnings, which means that we are not allowed much access to them either. Hence, the fundamental problem of the RSC’s stage version now on Broadway. Poulton writes in his introduction to the published script that he imagined the task of adapting Wolf Hall as being “like taking apart a Rolls-Royce and reassembling the parts as a light aircraft.” The analogy is revealing. In its scale, Wolf Hall is more a Boeing than a Cessna: twenty-three actors playing forty-one named parts over almost six hours of playing time between its two halves. It is a great technical feat to get it aloft and keep it airborne for so long. But the air is not really the right place for a piece of theater. It has to be grounded in a psychological reality. Poulton notes: Some of the most memorable images in the books are formed in

language or some wonder of theatrical invention that, for all its impressive technique, the RSC’s production does not possess.


he story, after all, is essentially familiar. It has always been too rich to let lie between the covers of history books. It has everything: sex, violence, and religion; the lurid, the tragic, and the grotesque. Cromwell’s career is inextricable from the politics of Henry VIII’s bedchambers. Through him we can trace the main events of England’s bizarre progress toward the Protestant Reformation: the failure of Henry’s wife Katherine of Aragon to give him a living male heir; Henry’s conviction that he has been cursed because Katherine was previously married to his own brother; the fall of the mighty lord chancellor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, when he cannot secure papal approval for the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Katherine; Henry’s declaration of himself as head of the church in England and marriage to the aggressively ambitious Anne Boleyn; the execution of the dissident Sir Thomas More; Anne giving birth to a daughter (the future Queen Elizabeth) and then suffering two miscarriages; the accusations that Anne committed adultery with men including her own brother; the executions of Anne and her alleged lovers; Henry’s marriage to Jane Seymour.

Cromwell is in the middle of much of this action. As Wolsey’s loyal righthand man, he nearly falls with his master but places his supreme talents as a lawyer, banker, administrator, and plotter at Henry’s disposal. He takes power by ridding his master of the inconveniences of Katherine, More, and ultimately Anne. Mantel’s two novels (and hence both adaptations) take the story up to this point of triumph; the third, The Mirror and the Light, which will take Cromwell to his own execution, is a work in progress. The urge to dramatize these events stretches back over more than four hundred years. William Shakespeare and John Fletcher wrote Henry VIII around 1613, though their play stops diplomatically short with the joyous christening of Elizabeth. Cinematic versions abound, not least because the story is fair game for everything from knockabout comedy (Charles Laughton in Alexander Korda’s The Private Life of Henry VIII) to pompous melodrama (Richard Burton and Geneviève Bujold in Anne of a Thousand Days) to agonized morality tale (Robert Bolt’s successfully filmed play on Thomas More, A Man for All Seasons). On television, the 1970 miniseries The Six Wives of Henry VIII created, on both sides of the Atlantic, an appetite that has been fed most recently by the glitzy Showtime series The Tudors, which ran from 2007 to 2010. The most immediate question for any new dramatic retelling is: What’s new? The common answer is that Cromwell himself is new, that a sympathetic portrait of a previously reviled figure is startling in itself. As Jim Dwyer’s recent piece in The New York Times puts it in its opening sentence: “Suddenly, after 500 years of infamy and obscurity, here comes Thomas Cromwell. . . .” But there is no half-millennium of either obscurity or infamy. Cromwell has certainly been a hate figure for Catholics—the schemer who took England away from the true faith and the killer of the saintly Thomas More. In the protest culture of the 1960s, it was easy to see More as the brave dissident and Cromwell as the evil apparatchik: Cromwell is More’s persecutor in A Man for All Seasons and an utterly unscrupulous upstart in Anne of a Thousand Days. But precisely because he was a villain to Catholics, he has also long been a hero to Protestants. Cromwell (who had his own company of players) was treated well in early-seventeenthcentury drama. In Henry VIII, his eventual fall is prefigured as a martyrdom in the advice he is given by the defeated Wolsey: Let all the ends thou aim’st at be thy country’s, Thy God’s, and truth’s. Then if thou fall’st, O Cromwell, Thou fall’st a blessèd martyr. In the even earlier anonymous drama from the end of the sixteenth century, Thomas Lord Cromwell, Cromwell is indeed a martyr, destined in death “to rise to unmeasur’d height, winged with new strength.” His execution is a tragic mistake—at the end, as the axeman 23

In any case, who cares? You don’t sell

more than three million copies of two dense literary novels, as Mantel has done, just by rehabilitating an unjustly tarnished reputation. The refurbished Cromwell must be speaking to something in contemporary culture and the job of the adapters is to figure out what that something might be. They must do so knowing that whatever it is, it is not primarily about religion. The religious background is important in both versions: More’s relentless pursuit of heretics, Cromwell’s sympathy for, and manipulation of, Protestant reformers, the willingness of those reformers to support Anne because she is on their side, Henry’s genuine conviction that God is punishing his sin. But it matters as historical setting, not as contemporary passion. There is no religious shortcut to engagement with these dramas, no assumption that Catholics will hiss Cromwell and cheer More and that Protestants will do the opposite. Some other connection must be forged. What makes Mantel’s Cromwell appealing to readers, audiences, and TV viewers is that he is rather like most of them. He is a middle-class man trying to get by in an oligarchic world. Thirty years ago, Mantel’s Cromwell would have been of limited interest. His virtues—hard work, self-discipline, domestic respectability, a talent for office politics, the steady accumulation of money, a valuing of stability above all else—would have been dismissed as mere bourgeois orthodoxies. If they were not so boring they would have been contemptible. They were, in a damning word, safe. But they’re not safe anymore. They don’t assure security. As the world becomes more oligarchic, middle-class virtues become more precarious. This is the drama of Mantel’s Cromwell—he is the perfect bourgeois in a world where being perfectly bourgeois doesn’t buy you freedom from the knowledge that everything you have can be whipped away from you at any moment. The terror that grips us is rooted not in Cromwell’s weakness but in his extraordinary strength. He is a perfect paragon of meritocracy for our age. He is a survivor of an abusive childhood, a teenage tearaway made good, a self-made man solely reliant on his own talents and entrepreneurial energies. He could be the hero of a sentimental American story of the follow-your-dreams genre. Except for the twist—meritocracy goes only so far. Even Cromwell cannot control his own destiny, cannot escape the power of entrenched privilege. And if he, with his almost superhuman abilities, can’t do so, what chance do the rest of us have? This terror is what we need to see on stage or screen and it’s what the TV version expresses much more powerfully than the theatrical adaptation. Some of this is a matter of choices about what to 24

dramatize. While Mike Poulton’s version for the RSC and Peter Straughan’s for the BBC and Masterpiece broadly pick the same set pieces, there are important differences. Poulton chooses not to play out on stage the sudden deaths of Cromwell’s wife Liz and young daughters. We see his grief in retrospect and Liz appears later, rather ineffectually, as a ghost. For the audience, sympathy for Cromwell’s grief is constrained because we have seen very little of Liz and nothing of the girls. Even the one very early scene in which we get some sense of the bond between Cromwell and his wife is oddly played down in performance. In the published script, Liz is talking about Katherine of Aragon’s tears, and Cromwell asks, “I’ve never made you cry, have I?” She looks at him for a long time and then replies, “Yes you have. But only with laughter.” In performance, these lines are simply dropped, as if there is not time to dwell on the relationship. In the television series, by contrast, the relationships between Cromwell and his wife and daughters are beautifully established and their appallingly sudden deaths are heartbreakingly enacted. Rylance shows us this shock entering Cromwell’s soul and we know in every subsequent scene that he carries it deep within him. The momentary crumpling of Rylance’s face when he sees his daughters dead is like the opening of a crack in the public façade he has built so well.


he investment in these scenes pays large dividends. They establish Cromwell as indeed a middle-class man, his sweet domesticity in utter contrast to the sexual intrigue he will encounter at the court. And the suddenness of the deaths establishes better than anything else how capricious this universe really is and how little Cromwell’s decent personal values can protect him against its cruelties. Those cruelties are not just natural: on screen, unlike on stage, we see religious dissidents burned and, in a carefully brief but highly effective scene, Thomas More having a heretic tortured in More’s own house. The television version is also stronger visually. The RSC’s staging is very well lit with clear, clean white light allowing the sumptuous costuming to establish the Tudor world on a mostly bare stage. But in the television series, light is an unforgettable player in the drama. Everything is—or at least appears to be—shot with natural light and when this is not daylight, it is flickering firelight or softly glowing moonlight or the chiaroscuro of candles in the gloom. This works very effectively to establish the historic atmosphere but it matters even more for the way it takes us into a world where things are seldom clear or clean, where every light has its accompanying shadow. And sometimes, the difference between the two versions is simply in the way they are written, acted, and directed. Take, for example, a superbly conceived scene that is, on paper, very similar in both adaptations. Cromwell has been sent by Henry to tell Katherine that the king is to be declared head of the church in England, giving him the power to annul their marriage. Katherine is seated but her frail daughter Mary, who is to be made a bastard, is standing beside her chair. Cromwell sees that Mary is ill and suggests that

she sit on a stool. Katherine, wishing to show their resolve, insists that Mary stand. After some bitter dialogue, Mary faints. Cromwell is ready for this—he reacts instantly and gets her safely onto the stool. What is going on in this small scene? The story is progressing, of course—we are learning of Katherine’s unflinching determination to insist on her royal rights and of the problem of what to do with Mary. But we are also learning about Cromwell. The underlying dramatic question is how much we are learning. On stage, we are learning two things—that Cromwell is essentially kind and that he anticipates what is about to happen. Ben Miles takes hold of Leah Brotherhead’s tiny, fragile Mary and sets her gently onto the stool. It is a straightforward act of decency. Giles Keyte/Playground & Co. /Masterpiece/ BBC

walks in with his head, a belated messenger arrives from Henry with a reprieve and even Cromwell’s enemies are left wishing “would Christ that Cromwell were alive again.” This strain of sympathy for Cromwell runs all the way up to The Tudors, in which James Frain so recently played him with many of the same qualities that Mantel’s version highlighted. He was politically ruthless but personally kind, clever, conscientious, and opposed to unnecessary cruelty.

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall

On screen, the scene tells us many other things. Yes, Cromwell is being kind to Mary. But he is also in a battle of political wills with her mother, who is still a queen and who still expects to be obeyed. On stage, Cromwell asks Mary gently, “Won’t you sit, Lady?” On screen, he addresses not Mary but his adversary, her mother: “Madam, your daughter should sit.” Before Mary actually faints, he moves decisively to grab the heavy stool and places it next to her. He more or less commands her: “Will you not sit down, Princess Mary?” And then, to allay her embarrassment, he says gently, “It’s just the heat.” In the way Rylance plays this scene, we see not just that Cromwell’s instincts are kind, but that his kindness has come to be wrapped up in political strategy. He is controlling the room, asserting himself against the queen, and he is being nice to a princess who may be down today but who, in this topsyturvy world, may have power over him someday. On screen, this one small scene has layers of motivation and psychological drama that it lacks on stage.

At times, indeed, the RSC version

seems to go out of its way to make Cromwell less complex. This is especially so in the playing out of Cromwell’s relationship with More. On screen, Anton Lesser’s superb More is at once nastier and more sympathetic. We see the victims of his ruthless campaign of torture and burning against those who wish to read the Bible in English, but we also see More at home, treating the women in his life with the same kind of tenderness that Cromwell showed toward his wife and daughters.

More and Cromwell are wary rivals, but they are also similar kinds of men, more like one another than either is like any of the aristocrats around the court. The shifting dynamic of their relationship as Cromwell rises and More falls is captured in a brief exchange that both versions draw from Mantel. More has given up the chancellorship in an attempt to retire into private life and avoid Henry’s demands that he support his breach with the papacy. Cromwell asks him what he will do now. More says, “Write. Pray.” Cromwell’s reply is: “Write just a little, perhaps, and pray a lot.” Between Rylance and Lesser, this is a hugely telling moment—the rapier wit is also a stiletto to More’s throat. Cromwell is being funny, clever, and outwardly friendly. He is also delivering a threat. The full complexity of his qualities is woven into a single line. Yet in the stage version, this moment, though written into Poulton’s script, is completely thrown away. It is as if there was a fear that it would make Cromwell too unlikable. This is of a piece with a larger decision—whereas on screen we are drawn fully into Cromwell’s ruthless entrapment of More into the self-incrimination that justifies his execution, we get little sense of this on stage. There is a similar exchange in the second part of the stage version. Now it is Anne Boleyn, whom Cromwell has done so much to elevate, who must be torn down. Anne and Cromwell have been allies, not just because they have needed each other, but because they too are alike. Both are upstarts, leaping over the established hierarchy. Both take advantage of a social fluidity that would previously have been unthinkable. As the imperial ambassador to London, Eustache Chapyus, puts it in the second episode of the TV series, “A world where Anne can be queen is a world where Cromwell can be . . .” The sentence does not need to be finished: the possibilities are endless. Now things are moving against Anne and it is this very fluidity that endangers her. She makes the mistake of threatening Cromwell by reminding him that he is a creature of Henry’s desires: “Those,” she says, “who are made can be unmade.” On screen, Rylance makes it clear how ironic the line is, how easily it can be turned back on the queen he has helped to make. On stage, this irony is all but lost. The decision to flatten out the stage Cromwell in these ways is understandable. Things are complicated enough already. The head-spinning logistics of moving the huge cast on and off the stage, of suggesting multiple locations with a minimum of props, and of keeping a clear line through convoluted events present a formidable challenge. Poulton’s adaptation and Jeremy Herrin’s direction meet that challenge admirably. It is not surprising that in doing so they decided to keep Cromwell relatively simple, allowing the always absorbing Ben Miles, as Cromwell, to plot a clear path from good intentions to nasty means. If clarity is the main goal, this works. But clarity is not really the point. Rylance’s watching eyes see everything clearly. But in the haunted hollows of his face is etched the knowledge that it is not enough even to see everything. He can watch his world’s capricious ways with life and death, he can even shape them to his advantage, but he can never make himself safe from their unending malice. The New York Review

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert D. Putnam. Simon and Schuster, 386 pp., $28.00

Julie Blackmon/Radius Books

ral scientists, but it’s part of Putnam’s appeal that, while it’s obviously important to him to follow the data rigorously, he has a powerful sentimental attachment to the vanished world of his youth Robert Putnam made the in Port Clinton. There’s no leap from the academic mistaking that he sees it as prominence he had already exemplifying a better sociachieved to something ety than the one we inhabit much broader in 1995 with now. Not many prominent Nicholas Lemann an article in the Journal of academics would find the Democracy called “Bowlmilieu of, say, the old TV show Happy Days—which ing Alone: America’s Dewas set, in order to comfort clining Social Capital.” 1970s America, in the 1950s Whenever an article in a Midwest—as deeply satissmall publication causes fying as Putnam does. He the kind of sensation that is drawn to such particular “Bowling Alone” did—it former aspects of commugenerated a great deal of ennity life as the cultural centhusiasm in government and trality of the football team, in the foundation world—it the innocence about sex says something about the inand drugs, and the prevatellectual climate of the molence of moms who were ment when it was published. more devoted to raising Putnam’s main point was their children than to adthat community life outside vancing their careers. government and business— Another deeply felt conthe proliferation of volviction of Putnam’s, which untary organizations that ‘Baby Toss,’ 2009; photograph by Julie Blackmon from her book Homegrown. It includes an introduction has run through nearly all observers since Tocqueville by Billy Collins and an interview with Reese Witherspoon, and is published by Radius Books. his work, is that social capihave noted as a special featal—your network of memture of American culture— berships and personal relationships—is structure is even more pronounced, but had severely eroded. He presented this Cleveland.2 Putnam was born in 1941. When he was growing up, he wrote, Port more important than money. Although more related to class and less to race, apparent decline in “social capital” as Clinton had been a relatively classless he takes pains to present Our Kids as a than Moynihan imagined it to be; that alarming, and his argument had a powplace in which everyone knew everyone book about inequality, there is almost for the two thirds of the population erful effect on people who had grown else and almost all his friends lived in no point of intersection between his without a college degree, overall inup in a world of Parent-Teacher Astwo-parent households. People in his treatment of the subject and that of last come growth has ended; and that the sociations, Veterans of Foreign Wars generation overwhelmingly wound up year’s sensationally popular Capital in men in this last group have even worse posts, and bowling leagues, and who rising higher on the economic and sothe Twenty-First Century, by Thomas prospects than the women. now lived in circumstances where such cial ladder than their parents. Piketty. Piketty’s primary focus was Nobody who follows this research institutions didn’t seem to exist.1 Bill Clinton was a few years into the But today in Port Clinton, the wellon the very richest people, and on the professionally will be surprised by anyproject of restoring the Democratic off live in their own newly constructed possibility that they will soon be able thing in Putnam’s new book. Readers Party to national power, after a period neighborhood apart from the rest of to accumulate enough wealth to live of Charles Murray’s 2012 book Comin which the Republicans had won five the community. They still have stable without working, like feudal lords. ing Apart, also aimed at a nonexpert of six presidential elections. He had families and institutions, but in the The prosperous class that interests audience, will be familiar with the idea done this by moving the party to the blue-collar, and sub-blue-collar, parts Putnam is the entire upper portion of that the prosperous, educated busiideological center, but he had just sufof town, incomes are stagnant or deness and professional classes tend to American society—those with at least fered a terrible defeat in the 1994 elecclining, the rates of drug use and crime a college degree. What differentiates live geographically apart from the rest tions at the hands of Newt Gingrich have risen alarmingly, divorce and of the country, and to have unusually them, for him, is their obsessive work and his allies. There was a sense of fraout-of-wedlock childbirth are at what stable family, religious, and economic ethic, their intense focus on their chilgility around the liberal recovery. Putwould once have been unimaginably lives, while the working class lives with dren’s development, their good health, nam’s emphasis on social capital and high levels, and the routine expectation high rates of crime, substance abuse, and their rich combination of associacivil society offered a way of expressing of upward mobility seems like a distant insecure employment, and family tions. Money helps them achieve this, the Democrats’ customary concern for memory. dissolution. but it certainly isn’t the point of these improving the lives of ordinary people But Putnam brings special abilities people’s lives, or the main object of without venturing into the perilous to the subject. His prominence has Putnam’s study. As he puts it, “this is a ur Kids is a book-length treatment territory of calling for new governgiven him access to copious resources. book without upper-class villains.” of this enormous set of changes, which ment programs, like the failed Clinton Murray’s book was based mainly on have occurred throughout American health care initiative, which conservaother people’s published research and n 1931, a popular historian named life. This year marks the fiftieth antives would find it easy to caricature. his largely suppositional evocations of James Truslow Adams published a niversary of the publication of DanGingrich’s favorite characterization of two places he called Belmont and Fishone-volume history of the United iel Patrick Moynihan’s famous report what he was against was “the liberal town. Putnam, who thanks thirteen States called The Epic of America. In called “The Negro Family: The Case for welfare state”—but calling for the res“generous supporters” (mostly major the epilogue he coined the term “the National Action,” and the forty-ninth toration of bowling leagues and other foundations), six members of “the adAmerican dream,” which he defined as anniversary of another, even more imsuch associations seemed immune to ministrative side of our operations,” portant though less well-known governbeing affixed with that deadly label. and dozens of field researchers, exa dream of a social order in which ment report, “Equality of Educational For liberal foundations, barred by the perts, colleagues, and local observers, each man and each woman shall be Opportunity,” by the sociologist James tax code from overtly participating in was able to send interviewers to look able to attain to the fullest stature S. Coleman. Continuously since then, politics, the idea that stopping the defirsthand at life in nine widely scatof which they are innately capable, chronicling and analyzing Ameriterioration of social capital might be tered sites in addition to Port Clinton. and be recognized by others for can society’s transition to the postthe main focus of the liberal project In Our Kids each of a series of chapters what they are, regardless of the industrial, post–civil rights age has offered a legal way of funding a grand, combines a summary of quantitative fortuitous circumstances of birth been the main ongoing task of Ameribenign transformation of American research findings with vivid ethnoor position. can social science, attracting the enersociety. graphic accounts of the lives of actual getic attention of, among many others, Two years ago, Putnam published a people, though, in accordance with soThis dream, he wrote, “has been realDaniel Bell, William Julius Wilson, moving article, consistent with the vicial science rules, Putnam doesn’t give ized more fully in actual life here than Christopher Jencks, Sara McLanahan, sion of “Bowling Alone,” about the us their real names (indeed, he tells us, anywhere else, though very imperfectly and Isabel Sawhill. The consensus that coming of severe economic and social in most cases he doesn’t know their real even among ourselves.” Like many has developed over the years is that ininequality to his hometown, Port Clinnames). And Putnam writes clear, imnon-Marxist liberals during the first equality of income and wealth has inton, Ohio, which sits on the shore of passioned, accessible prose that brings half of the twentieth century, Adams creased dramatically; that the demise Lake Erie midway between Toledo and two generations’ worth of academic was heavily influenced by Frederick of the traditional two-parent family findings into range for people who 1 Jackson Turner’s idea that in the ninedon’t study these subjects for a living. I was skeptical of “Bowling Alone”; 2 teenth century, the open frontier had Social scientists are supposed to be see my “Kicking in Groups,” The Atlan“Crumbling American Dreams,” The New York Times, August 3, 2013. tic Monthly, April 1996. been the main mechanism for enlarging every bit as ruthlessly objective as natu-

Unhappy Days for America



May 21, 2015




utnam divides the country into three bers of Americans individually moving the extra resources that better-off parroughly equal classes, by level of educaup and down the socioeconomic ladder ents can pour into their schools. tion rather than income: high school deevery generation in a way that would Children in the lower third are much gree or less, some college but no degree, make it impossible for rigid classes to less likely to play sports or to go to college or more. In his top third, both form. A long-running study strikingly church. The one surest thing you can the data and the interviews conducted similar to Putnam’s of his high school do in the United States today, if you’re by his associate Jennifer Silva leave the classmates, but much larger and more young, to improve your life chances over impression that the differences in chilrigorous—the Wisconsin Longitudinal the long term is get a college degree. The dren’s home lives have increased much Study, initially of ten thousand memcollege degree’s income premium over a faster than any changes, for better or bers of the high school class of 1957 in high school degree was 50 percent in worse, in their schools, and that diverthat state, and mainly managed over 1980, and it’s 95 percent today. In the gences in family resources generate adthe decades by a student of Duncan’s, bottom third, most people either don’t ditional divergences in school resources. Robert Hauser—supports the idea that, finish high school, get a high school The affluent parents in Our Kids are even for those of Putnam’s generation, equivalency certificate (GED), or go on to community college, all of which far more likely to be married, to have Americans didn’t typically travel far are associated with very low rates of more education themselves, to go to from their origins unless they belonged college completion. Only 12 percent of church, and to have extensive social to a category that was generally rising bestudents entering community college networks that they can call upon when cause of social and economic changes. wind up getting a bachelor’s degree. their children need extra help. They In Our Kids, Putnam acknowledges practice a kind of super-intense encourthat he is aware that years of studies agement that the sociologist Annette show that n 1959, at the height of the golden Lareau calls “concerted cultivation.” age when Robert Putnam was in high They exert their influence on their relative mobility accounts for only school in Port Clinton, the sociologists children’s education directly as well as a small portion of total mobility Seymour Martin Lipset and Reinhard indirectly, by being actively involved experienced by individuals across Bendix published a book called Social at school, by contributing to the foungenerations, whereas absolute dations that are now associ(or structural) mobility acated with many affluent public counts for most of it. schools, by paying for tutors, and by arranging their lives When he was growing up in around their children’s copiPort Clinton, the United States, ous extracurricular activities, victorious in World War II and like sports and student govrelatively undamaged by it, was ernment, many of which now much less susceptible to internacharge significant fees to partional competition than it is now, ticipants. (It’s hard to believe if and it was able to confer the you live in the big cities on the blessings of its growing econcoasts, but well-to-do Ameriomy widely across the populacan parents still overwhelmtion through a redistributive ingly send their children to tax system, high unionization, public school; they have been large-scale expansion of higher able to turn their schools into education, and a regulatory sysDaytona, Florida, May 1965; photograph by Tony Ray-Jones what Putnam calls “public tem that gave safe harbor to from his book American Colour 1962–1965. It includes privates.”) Putnam is the last many moderately sized regional an essay by Liz Jobey and is published by MACK . person you’d find joining the businesses. Those conditions are chorus of mockery of uppergone now. They were so propiMobility in Industrial Society, which middle-class “helicopter parenting.” tious for absolute mobility that it felt as argued, counterintuitively, that the unThe tone he uses in describing such if the American Dream was functionusually high degree of mobility implied parenting is deeply admiring. ing at full capacity, even if there wasn’t in the idea of the American Dream may “We don’t smoke marijuana in Musmuch relative mobility—i.e., movement have been a widely held perception, but kogee” was the opening line of Merle upward relative to other people in the it didn’t actually describe the nature of Haggard’s 1969 silent-majority anthem, same position. Instead, nearly everyour society. Mobility up and down the “Okie from Muskogee.” In those days body was moving up together. class structure between generations most people thought of drugs, sexual But Putnam is convinced that today was no higher in the United States than liberation, divorce, and secularism as relative mobility, as well as absolute in supposedly class-bound Europe. cultural habits of the educated middle mobility, is declining alarmingly—that In 1963, the sociologists Peter Blau and class. On the other side of the cultural dimost Americans are more firmly desOtis Dudley Duncan were able to pervide from “Okie from Muskogee” there tined to remain where they started out suade the Census Bureau to conduct a was, to choose one of many possible exthan they were when he was young. large quantitative survey of mobility, the amples, Joni Mitchell’s “My Old Man,” His passion about the need to change results of which they published a few released in 1970, which proclaimed this situation overwhelms his social years later in a book called The Amerithat in her romance, there was no need scientist’s epistemological caution. The can Occupational Structure. Their view for the constraint of marriage: “We don’t data simply don’t support his convicof American society’s distinctiveness need no piece of paper from the city tion: “But—and this ‘but’ is crucial for was somewhat, but only somewhat, more hall keeping us tied and true.” Songs this book—conventional indicators of sanguine: “There is a grain of truth in the aren’t data, of course, but these lyrics at social mobility are invariably three or Horatio Alger myth,” they wrote. (They least expressed attitudes, and to some four decades out of date.” Therefore, he were referring to the late-nineteenthextent behaviors, prevalent in two very insists, the evidence he presents in Our century novelist who churned out bestdifferent corners of American society. Kids “will foreshadow changes in soselling fables about plucky, penniless lads Today the situation is precisely reversed: cial mobility.” In other words, Putnam who pick themselves up by their booteducated liberals are more likely to be has to resort to predicting that a major straps.) Still, they found a high correlamarried, and blue-collar men in the red finding undergirding much of his argution between fathers’ and sons’ status states are more likely to use drugs. ment, a decline in relative mobility, will —in those days, studies of social mobilIn Putnam’s less-educated lower third, appear some time in the unspecified fuity were mostly about men only. What far more children live in a home with ture, because such a change hasn’t ocintergenerational movement there was only one parent, and have experienced cured in the present. It’s a sign of how usually covered short distances on the a traumatic event like divorce, addiction, sure he is that the lack of proof doesn’t deter him from making the assertion. socioeconomic scale. People from bluewitnessing violence, or a parent’s incarcollar backgrounds were especially unceration. Parents are short of time as likely to be upwardly mobile. well as money, so they have fewer hours f Putnam were more focused on abBlau and Duncan found that Ameriof direct contact with their children than solute mobility, which was the real encan mobility was mainly associated parents in the upper third. During the gine of the American Dream for his with overall, “structural” economic time they have to spend, they emphasize generation, then he might have spent changes that carried groups of people discipline and safety more than enrichmore time exploring economic policy up or down en masse, like the depopulament. They don’t often have extensive generally or ways of recreating the tion of the agrarian countryside and an social networks beyond family and imwidely distributed economic growth increase in the number of white-collar mediate neighborhood. Their schools that so much helped Americans his jobs, rather than with substantial numare short of money, and they don’t have


Tony Ray-Jones/ MACK

opportunity, and that, with the closing of the frontier, the challenge for American society was to come up with a substitute. Adams was not very concerned with economic disparities: in the worst period of the Great Depression, he wrote, “I am not here concerned with the longer economic problems raised by the relations of world distribution and consumption under mass production.” Adams’s friend Allan Nevins reported that Little, Brown had rejected Adams’s suggestion that the book be titled The American Dream, fearing that it would depress sales. But today, though Adams himself is forgotten, it’s impossible to get through a presidential campaign—or, it sometimes seems, any political campaign—without hearing repeated references to the American dream. It’s a universally popular formulation, and one that can be shaped to a wide variety of uses depending on who’s invoking it. Putnam uses it as the basic framing device for his book; his central concern, he writes, is that “social mobility . . . seems poised to plunge in the years ahead, shattering the American Dream.” Putnam has conducted a survey of the seventy-five members of his high school graduating class he could track down—half of the total. He found that three quarters of his classmates wound up getting more education than their parents, and half the children of parents without a high school degree finished high school and went on to college. But their children, on average, didn’t advance beyond their parents at all, in education or income. Average incomes in Port Clinton stopped rising a long time ago, and are now actually falling. The number of one-parent households has doubled. The divorce rate has quintupled. The percentage of births out of wedlock went from 9 in 1978 to 40 in 1990. Just in the last fifteen years the child poverty rate quadrupled, to 40 percent. The generally happy experience of Putnam’s generation would be likely only to come to people born into relative affluence, and would be highly unlikely for people born into families that are not well-off. More than a hundred years ago, Frederick Jackson Turner proposed that state universities could replace the frontier as the means of offering opportunity to all Americans. Today most discussions of inequality and opportunity still focus on education as the best way to prevent, or even to reverse, class divisions. (This is why, for example, American philanthropists today are so intensely focused on funding charter schools—it’s the expectation that they can create economic opportunities for their students that they otherwise wouldn’t have.) One problem with this idea, appealing as it is, is that one of the most consistent findings in education research is that students’ performance in school is far more closely correlated with what kind of home they come from—parental income, education, marital status, how they make use of time, and so on—than with anything that goes on in their school. That isn’t to say that schools can’t make a contribution to equal opportunity, but it has to be understood as commanding only a limited territory. Putnam, recognizing this, hopes that strengthening social capital outside of school can do some of the opportunityenhancing work that seems to be beyond the reach of schools.


The New York Review

age. Though he does acknowledge its importance, he largely ignores most of the specific ideas that come up in discussions of how to remedy inequality— like making tax rates more progressive (think of Piketty), or aggressively using monetary policy to tighten labor markets (think of Janet Yellen at the Federal Reserve), or raising the minimum wage, or more tightly regulating financial companies. Instead he is most intensely focused on increasing opportunity for individuals, and he believes the primary way to do that is by increasing their locally available store of social capital—through improved ways of rearing children, and encouraging activities and associations that will increase their chances in life. In proposing remedies, Putnam makes the appropriate bow to the importance of economic policy, but he devotes most of his attention to ideas that he sees as having the potential to increase social capital, like parental leave and mentoring programs. His voice comes alive when he’s discussing these ideas; it becomes flat and dutiful when he discusses the economy. The specific injustice that moves Putnam to the greatest height of outrage is “pay-to-play,” the policy of charging fees to student athletes, which effectively denies poorer kids access to school sports teams and therefore, in Putnam’s view, to a crucial source of social capital. He calls extracurricular activities “as close to a magic bullet as we are ever like to find in the real world of social, and educational, and economic policy,” and then adds: So if you are concerned about the issues discussed in this book, here

is something you could do right now. Close this book, visit your school superintendent—better yet, take a friend with you—and ask if your district has a pay-to-play policy. Explain that waivers aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, because they force students to wear a virtual yellow star, saying “I’m so poor my parents can’t afford the regular fee.” One could choose to see comparing school districts with pay-to-play policies to Nazis as a sign of admirable commitment to righting the wrongs Putnam has described, but in that case the solution ought to be grand enough to justify the moral certainty of the rhetoric. It’s not clear that this one does, and in general the claims Putnam makes for the all-importance of social capital run far ahead of the evidence he produces to support them. Deep within a long and likely to be little read “methods appendix” at the end of the book, Putnam tells us that the survey he conducted of his high school classmates showed that the surest way of producing socioeconomic mobility was through educational attainment—especially attainment strong enough to lead to college graduation. By the logic of the book, access to social capital ought to be strongly associated with going to college and doing well there—otherwise, why stress it so strongly? The syllogism would be: social capital leads to educational attainment, which leads to mobility. But for his classmates, Putnam reports, academic achievement was the factor most predictive of college attendance, and

the link between such achievement and parental encouragement (of the kind he has copiously praised in the main body of the book) was only “modestly important,” and “much weaker” than the link between class rank and college attendance. Not only that: No other measure of parental affluence or family structure or neighborhood social capital (or indeed anything else we had measured)—none of the factors that this book has shown are so important in producing today’s opportunity gap—had any appreciable effect on college attendance or other educational attainment. In the methods appendix, Putnam refers readers to his website for more detail on his findings about his classmates. There, he writes: No measure of parental resources adds any predictive power whatsoever—not parental occupational status, not parental unemployment, not family economic insecurity during high school, not homeownership, not neighborhood characteristics, and not family structure. . . . Parental education, parental encouragement, and class rank were all modestly predictive of extracurricular participation, but holding constant those variables, extracurricular participation itself was unrelated to college-going. So is it really the case that Putnam has shown that strong social capital

once produced individual opportunity—let alone that the deterioration of social capital has produced what he calls the opportunity gap? The passages I just quoted seem to indicate that the strong association between social capital and opportunity that is Putnam’s core assertion has not been proven. Putnam doesn’t define “social capital” precisely enough to rigorously test its effects, even on as small and unrepresentative a sample as the one in his survey, and he doesn’t attempt to test its effects precisely in the present. It could even be that, rather than social capital generating prosperity, prosperity might generate social capital, which would mean Putnam has been showing us the effects of inequality, not the causes. Putnam has made a real contribution in calling our attention to a situation of profoundly divergent experiences for different classes that Americans ought to find morally unacceptable, as he obviously does. It’s especially useful that he offers so much detail about the social aspects of inequality, which haven’t had the broad discussion they deserve. But many of his readers will conclude from his argument that the heart of the problem is a decline in individual (not overall) mobility from a previously high level, and that the heart of the solution is to shore up the social capital in less well-off communities. Both propositions are overstated, and by making them so insistently Putnam risks using the attention he commands to narrow the discussion about what to do now to a set of possibilities that are far too limited for a problem this big.

In Light of the Past 25 Years of Photography at the National Gallery of Art

Through July 26 Edward Steichen, An Apple, A Boulder, A Mountain, 1921, platinum print, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund © 2015 The Estate of Edward Steichen/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Memory of Time

Contemporary Photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Acquired with the Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

Through September 13 The Memory of Time, a fully illustrated exhibition catalog published by the National Gallery of Art and Thames & Hudson, is available now wherever books are sold. Chuck Close, Kara, 2007, daguerreotype, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund © Chuck Close, courtesy Pace Gallery

National Gallery of Art Admission is always free West Building, on the National Mall at Sixth and Constitution Ave NW Monday–Saturday: 10–5, Sunday: 11–6 | Phone: 202.737.4215

May 21, 2015


Money and Your Soul Church of Ognissanti, Florence

G. W. Bowersock The Ransom of the Soul: Afterlife and Wealth in Early Western Christianity by Peter Brown. Harvard University Press, 262 pp., $24.95 Faith and money lie at the core of all religious institutions, and although faith can exist without money, religious institutions cannot. It was hardly surprising that the French theologian Alfred Loisy declared in 1902 that although Jesus proclaimed the coming of the celestial kingdom, it was the church that actually arrived (“Jésus annonçait le Royaume et c’est l’Église qui est venue”). His insights here and elsewhere led ultimately to his excommunication, but he was right to emphasize the transition from the otherwordly aspirations of early Christianity to the accumulation of ecclesiastical wealth. Jesus famously advised a rich young man to sell what he possessed and give to the poor, and in return for this generosity he would store up treasure in heaven. But it was never clear how to draw upon that treasure, invest it, or exploit it for advantage in this world or the next. Christians were eventually able to work out systems in which personal wealth that had been acquired on earth could be deployed to allay anxieties about what lay ahead after death. Giving to the poor (almsgiving) could be seen as a kind of insurance for a benevolent reception in the world to come and as a payment for prayers for and to those who were already dead. Alms together with prayers in celebrating the Eucharist were naturally channeled through the church, which encouraged donations for such manifestations of piety and for efforts to reach beyond the grave. This proved to be arguably the most successful development campaign for any institution in the Western world. Christian success in attracting money to the church depended inevitably upon uncertainties and fears about the afterlife. The mechanisms to suppress dread of the future, while simultaneously adhering to Jesus’s explicit teaching, necessarily presupposed giving away wealth to the poor or, at least, ensuring that it was transmitted to the poor. It was in the interest of any donor to prepare for the life to come and to address in some way the persistent Christian emphasis on sin, which stood forever in need of expiation. It is easy to understand the theological desperation of Augustine when confronted with the Pelagian heresy. Its founder, Pelagius, believed that it was possible to live a sinless life, free from any sin inherited at birth, and Augustine was quick to realize that if there were no sin there could be no argument for giving money to expiate it. In his extraordinary new book, The Ransom of the Soul, which is the third that Peter Brown has devoted to the function of money in the early centuries of Christianity, he picks up on themes he introduced in 2000 in his Jerusalem Lectures on poverty and subsequently expanded at length in his recent book Through the Eye of a 28

Sandro Botticelli: Saint Augustine in His Study, 1480

Needle.* The new work, which is one of his shortest, is also prodigiously original—an astonishing performance for a historian who has already been so prolific and influential. It complements his two earlier books but is not, as he tells us explicitly, a spin-off from the earlier writings but a completely fresh look at the issue of Christian wealth and giving, with special attention to changing perspectives from the midthird century to the late seventh. He is concerned to avoid a master narrative, in which the history of the church may be judged to have followed some kind of linear evolution. He prefers to stress the shifting principles of giving across time and place from the days of the great plague under Cyprian in North Africa (circa 250–258 AD) down to the Franks in Europe. He leads us straight into the Middle Ages by an entirely new path.

*Peter Brown, Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire: The Menahem Stern Jerusalem Lectures (University Press of New England, 2002), and Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350–550 AD (Princeton University Press, 2012).


rown’s title comes from the biblical book of Proverbs, traditionally associated with Solomon. In the eighteenth chapter we read, “The ransom of a man’s soul is his wealth,” although some translations into English render nephesh as “life” rather than “soul.” Brown readily admits that the basic meaning of this seems to be that anyone could secure his life in this world if he had enough money. As he puts it, “A rich man could use his wealth to save his skin, as a poor man could not.” But after Platonism seeped ineradicably into early Christian theology and the meaning of nephesh, Greek psyche, and Latin anima became increasingly complicated, the old saying ascribed to Solomon seemed to imply that money could do something to improve or secure your soul in a much more theological sense, both in life and in death. For the real terrors lurked in the afterlife, where so much was uncertain until that magisterial judgment that God would ultimately pronounce upon the deceased. It was in this twilight zone of theology that a solution had to be found to address the paradox of giving away one’s wealth to the poor while redeeming one’s soul by means of the wealth that one was enjoined to give away.

It clearly would not do to take cash out into the street and distribute it directly to the indigent. But the church was ready and waiting to undertake the distribution on behalf of the pious rich, and almsgiving soon became the optimal way to pierce the gloom of the afterlife. Peter Brown explains this portentous transition by an arresting comparison between the poor and the dead. He identifies two “highly charged and paradoxical poles of the Christian imagination: the socially dead and the physically dead—the poor and the souls of the departed.” It thus became possible to ransom one’s own soul by almsgiving but also, through prayers at the Eucharist, the souls of dear ones who had already died. Brown begins with a survey of the Christian afterlife that he ingeniously frames with a relatively obscure book on the age to come (futurum saeculum) written by Julian of Toledo in the late seventh century. Julian raided his library to assemble edifying quotations for a dying bishop who needed comfort and consolation. Beginning with the ruminations of Cyprian of Carthage during the great plague of the third century, Julian provides a series of examples that show how notions of the afterlife changed between Cyprian’s time and his own. In Cyprian’s day martyrs went straight to heaven, whereas most mortals had to anticipate a long waiting period of probation until their future in the next world would be established. This was a time long before the creation of Purgatory, but it was already a time that could conceive of prayer and intercession before the final judgment. About a century and a half later, when Augustine preached at Hippo in North Africa about the expiation of sin through giving to the church, the great bishop could be eloquent about a purging fire (ignis purgatorius) that foreshadowed the later Purgatory. Augustine was well aware of its efficacy, but he preferred not to dilate upon the purging flames. As Brown observes, with a wry nod to Augustine’s pastoral genius, “He spoke of it [the ignis purgatorius] always with the reticence of a scientist who realizes that he made a discovery that might be used to create a devastating secret weapon.”

All the texts about the afterlife that

Julian of Toledo collected, with their reflections of changing Christian doctrines about what happens to the soul at death, incorporate a solid core of pagan practice that underlay early Christian attitudes and imperceptibly merged into Christian teachings. This goes far beyond the purely philosophical impact that came with Christian immersion in the works of Plato. In the Greco-Roman culture into which Christianity was launched there was a long tradition of mediation with the dead on the part of the living, and money had been an important part of that tradition. Like the Christians, rich pagans spent their wealth in the present with a view to rewards after death. Most conspicuously this munificence took the form of lavish gifts for both tombs and civic buildings, and Brown rightly emphasizes that philanthropy of The New York Review

the latter kind was conceived as “civic euergetism.” “Euergetism” derives from the Greek word for a benefactor, euergetês, and encompasses various forms of self-aggrandizement and contributions to a community that included funding for festivals, competitions of various kinds (athletic and oratorical), endowments to support both education and commemoration, and the construction of great monuments that would long outlast the donor. The ancient Greek word for this kind of activity was philotimia, which literally means a love of honor. This was an honor that would survive long after the benefactor had disappeared. When pagans confronted the burial of their dead, the rich could honor both the deceased and themselves with extravagant tombs. The innumerable tombstone inscriptions in which the dead speak out from their graves to those who pass by leave no doubt that the pagans of antiquity felt that communication between the living and the dead was a real possibility. But this was not a one-way exchange, in which the dead importuned the living. It was no less possible for the living to address the dead through religious rituals. Pagans deployed these rituals to assure continued contact between the living and the dead. Their arrangements were often organized within families, not only after the death of children or spouses but in anticipation of the death of the donors. From the end of the third century BC an early example of an endowment for bringing together family members both before and after their demise comes from the testament of an affluent

woman called Epicteta on the island of Thera (the modern Santorini in the Aegean Sea). Her husband had already set up a sanctuary of the Muses—a Museum—to honor the memory of their late son and to prepare a monument for him and other members of the family after death. In due course Epicteta’s husband died and was buried in the monument. In her will she prepared for her own inclusion in the sanctuary and the eventual rites of remembrance that would bring surviving members of the family together for sacrifices in honor of the dead, after which the living and the dead would dine together. What historians call funerary banquets depended upon sacrifices offered by the living. They took place inside a consecrated sanctuary that came to be known as a hêrôon, because the honored dead were now recognized as heroes. The meal with the dead (often called by the German name Totenmahl) had a long tradition in ancient Greek culture. By the time that Christianity arose in the Mediterranean world it had been substantially enlarged through widespread endowments and shrines that owed their origins to the anxieties as well as the generosity of the rich. For instance, a newly discovered inscription from Anatolia in Turkey records an exceptional endowment of a shrine by a bereaved father to honor a son who died in an accident. The father took this action because the dead youth had appeared to him in dreams and visions and encouraged him to establish a tomb and an altar for a cult that would serve as a lasting remembrance. This is an unusual case in which the dead can

be seen as interceding directly with the living to solicit an endowment on the part of those who were left behind. But endowments of this kind, initiated by family members before or after bereavement, were an integral part of the early Christian world and go a long way to explain evolving Christian procedures for securing access to the afterlife, and to those who were already there. The common denominator in these pagan cults is their origin in munificence. They all cost money and often depended upon endowments.


eter Brown aptly invokes Christian encounters of the living with the dead in the enclosed portico, known as a triclia, which was discovered among the catacombs beneath the basilica of San Sebastiano along the Appian Way outside Rome. In the third century this was believed to contain the remains of Peter and Paul, to whom visitors appealed in graffiti that still survive there. Clearly these apostles were believed to be capable in death of interceding on behalf of petitioners who came to the cemetery. The attractive triclia included benches and cooking facilities to enable the living to dine in close proximity to the dead. Brown quotes the art historian Richard Krautheimer as describing a triclia as like “any tavern on the green.” The physical closeness of the living and the dead thus opened up the barrier to the afterlife and even allowed Christians to ask the dead, and not only the apostles, to pray on their behalf from beyond the grave: “Ianuaria, take your rest well, and ask for us.” In

such cases the distance between the pagan Epicteta and the Christian Ianuaria is almost imperceptible, apart from the endowment with which Epicteta founded the cult of her family. It is only the manner of funding for such memorials that distinguishes them from the tombs along the Appian Way. We need hardly be surprised that in late antiquity some Christians founded their own hêrôa to serve as tombs of the traditional pagan kind, but duly adorned with Christian symbols, such as the cross and fish (icthys). One inscription from a Christian hêrôon specifies that the space is reserved for “the most excellent singers of psalms.” If Christian hêrôa were a late and relatively rare relic of the old pagan munificence on behalf of city and family, the Christianization of the Mediterranean world after Constantine increasingly channeled private wealth through the church, where prayers both to and for the dead could be programmed through the Eucharist. The transformation of almsgiving from giving to the poor into giving to the church became, as Augustine had seen during the Pelagian controversy, inexorably bound up with the expiation of sin without ever losing its connection with money. As Brown observes, “Sin came to be spoken of in financial terms. . . . Sin was a debt.” In fact this conjunction of debt and sin had been spelled out in the Lord’s Prayer, as can be seen by comparing the versions of it in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Brown cites the Vulgate Latin text for Matthew’s Dimitte nobis debita nostra (“Forgive us our debts”), and he observes that the debts here (debita) are actually sins. Although



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After surveying the chiaroscuro of

the afterlife between Cyprian and Julian of Toledo, Brown narrows his gaze to concentrate upon North Africa and Gaul in late antiquity. He traces telling differences between North Africa, where Augustine encouraged his congregation in habits of generosity, and the post-Augustinian evolution of thought about prayer and penance in Gaul. He begins with Salvian at the great monastery on one of the Lérins islands off the Côte d’Azur. Salvian had already figured prominently in Brown’s Through the Eye of a Needle, and now Brown shows a still deeper understanding of this Rhinelander who was transplanted into Provence: What was at stake for Salvian when he wrote on religious giving was not the creation of humdrum habits of giving among the rank and file but the movement of entire fortunes. He wrote to persuade the truly rich. In the monastery of Lérins Salvian absorbed terrifying views of the afterlife from monks who had been steeped in the values and demons that prevailed among the monks of Egypt. As Brown puts it well, “Lérins had brought a touch of the desert of Egypt to within sight of the coast of Gaul.” The growing ferocity of visions of the afterlife bred fear. This in turn encouraged the spread of penance in Gaul far beyond anything Augustine had promoted. Hilary of Arles, who had been a monk at Lérins, evoked the fires of Hell and urged his flock, “Go out, go out,” because there would be no exit from the flames on the other side. Brown associates this preaching with a group of charismatic bishops, such as Faustus of Riez and Caesarius of Arles, who had led what he calls “the momentum of the penitential drive” in Gaul. With the spread of Merovingian rule in the later sixth century this momentum was taken up by the government itself, and through a series of proclamations the Frankish kings determined that it was necessary to impose penance upon a part of the population whose sins threatened the community as a whole. Brown powerfully describes it as “a call to order in this world.” This meant that the world beyond and the present world were now commingled.


Patrick Kelley

A detail from a monument to Cardinal Giuseppe Renato Imperiali, sculpted by Pietro Bracci, 1741, in the basilica of Sant’Agostino, Rome

Proceeding by steps from Salvian to Gregory of Tours, Brown summons up a Christian who is not so much a harbinger of the approaching Middle Ages as a preacher to “confident persons, only too happy with the things of this world.” Gregory’s mission was to shake them up with reminders of the divine judgment to come. He did not offer a new vision to separate the ancient world from his own but remained firmly anchored in the past. He had the misfortune of serving the church during a time of civil war in the later sixthcentury Frankish kingdom. This may account to some extent for his reviving an ancient practice by writing a history of his own time. In the last book of his History, Gregory even found an opportunity to describe his confrontation with a priest who declared that he did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Gregory’s roots in the past bore fruit in his participation in the turmoil and materialism of the present, and so he can serve as yet another example of change and flux among the Christians of late antiquity. It is only with the arrival of Columbanus in northern France at the end of the sixth century that Brown’s reader confronts an altered world, rather than one in constant debate and change, and can finally glimpse what we might call the Middle Ages. Into the busy urban communities of Gregory of Tours, who instructed and tolerated the affluent

elites of Gaul, Columbanus brought from his monasteries in Ireland a perception of a fast-approaching Day of Judgment and a new kind of monasticism that Brown characterizes as “the ground zero of a mighty spiritual detonation.” We move now to the silence and spiritual rigor of monasteries and convents where frequent confession served to break down the willfulness of arrogant and ambitious Christians. This emotional assault, which left little space for fear, served to prepare for a more serene anticipation of the life to come. Columbanus’s rules for his monks and nuns, according to Brown, “deliberately turned upside down the codes of the elites from which they were recruited.” It is therefore with Columbanus that we enter the Middle Ages at the end of a surprisingly long late antiquity. The piety of his followers became, as Brown presents it, “the watershed between late antiquity and the Middle Ages.” This vision of the slow and complex transition from one historical age to another, and across widely separated regions, recapitulates and reinforces the idea that Christianity had no single master narrative. It evolved in different places in different ways, and at different times. Its diversity was its most potent legacy to future generations. Its reception of Columbanus was but the latest manifestation of that diversity, Patrick Kelley

this rendering accurately conveys the Greek opheilêmata—debts—in Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, Luke’s text prays explicitly for the removal of sins (harmartias), in return for which the worshiper promises to forgive any debtor. Here the Vulgate correctly reads peccata (sins). So the equation of sin with debt was there from the beginning. It provided an unmistakable monetary option for wiping away sin. But as Augustine insisted, sin could never be wiped out altogether, and hence the need for expiatory giving would never entirely go away. The ransom of the soul both in this world and the next required payments without end—a consequence that the unknown author of the verse ascribed to Solomon in Proverbs probably never anticipated. Brown rightly says that this theology “meant, in effect, that perpetual giving was the counterpart of perpetual sin.”

A medieval tombstone in Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Rome

and its embrace of Irish monasticism only strengthened it.


the monks and nuns of Columbanus Peter Brown circles back to the principal theme of his book, money. The rich, who had no interest in subjecting themselves to a monastic regime, could become patrons of it and “bridge the chasm between the sacred and the profane through gifts.” Their gifts were not simply mercenary transactions to buy recognition or even prayers, although it would be hard to deny the subliminal presence of such motivation. But the gifts of the rich were, as Brown points out, an exchange from which the poor had now vanished. Almsgiving as a form of penance or a step toward expiation of sin yielded to the funding of monastic endowments, sometimes on the ancestral property of the donors, as a means of ensuring the prayers of the monks and nuns on their behalf. “Monks and nuns,” Brown observes, “replaced the poor as the intercessors par excellence.” Monasteries and convents became “powerhouses of prayer.” They became the antechambers of the celestial kingdom as well as the guarantors of the peace of the temporal kingdom. Brown’s extraordinarily vivid panorama of money in the early church ends with what he calls “the grand finale of centuries of intercessory prayer.” It reconfigured Jesus’s promise of treasure in Heaven not only by equating it with treasure on earth, but by marginalizing the original notion that money should go to the poor as a means of assuring prayerful intercession with those who had gone before. This brings us back to the idea of ransoming the soul, as we know it from Proverbs. This idea has now become much closer to what it had been in the beginning. A person’s wealth could be deployed in this world to achieve spiritual security with financial recognition, as well as contact with saints and martyrs through prayer. The physical properties of monasteries and convents were palpable proof of the efficacy of money and prayer. With these foundations we come back directly to the pagan roots of benefaction that had ennobled and profited the great cities of antiquity. But the comforts that monastic patrons may have bought by their munificence did nothing to alleviate the terrors of death for the monks and nuns in their communities. Those devout and prayerful persons knew all too well that their time would come, and if they were found wanting, demons would be there at their deathbed. They had no money to solicit prayer and intercession. Their souls had to be ransomed by others, and the invention of Purgatory eventually made the process of judgment much more complex than it had been in the days of Augustine’s purging fire. Peter Brown’s subtle and incisive tracking of the role of money in Christian attitudes toward the afterlife not only breaks down traditional geographical and chronological boundaries across more than four centuries. It provides wholly new perspectives on Christianity itself, its evolution, and, above all, its discontinuities. It demonstrates why the Middle Ages, when they finally arrived, were so very different from late antiquity. The New York Review

The Best Man Among Us Jonathan Freedland Redux

When the Facts Change: Essays, 1995–2010 by Tony Judt, edited and with an introduction by Jennifer Homans. Penguin, 386 pp., $29.95

1. More than a decade ago, I met Tony Judt for the first time. We drank whiskey in the lobby of a smart London hotel. He looked a little out of place: the scholar among the expensively dressed international businessmen and women, a visiting American professor who was also a former Londoner, born and raised in some of the city’s shabbiest neighborhoods. Only a few months earlier, in October 2003, The New York Review had published Judt’s best-known or, more accurately, most notorious essay, “Israel: The Alternative.” There he had declared the Middle East peace process dead, and the prospect of a twostate solution to the Israel–Palestine conflict buried along with it. It was time, he had argued, to think afresh, even to turn toward the notion of a single state in historic Palestine, one that would be a secular home to both Jews and Arabs. Yes, it would mean the dissolution of the Jewish state and an end to the Zionist movement that had given it birth. But perhaps there was no longer a place in the world for such a state. Surely Israel had become “an anachronism. And not just an anachronism but a dysfunctional one.” That essay had brought the roof down on Judt’s head. He was not only denounced in the most vicious terms by the usual suspects on the American Jewish right and barred from speaking on at least one occasion, but also condemned by former friends and allies. He had been a contributing editor at The New Republic but suddenly found his name removed from the masthead. A onetime activist in a Zionist youth movement, a volunteer during Israel’s 1967 war who had put his Hebrew to use as a translator, Judt was now declared by Israel’s most unbending cheerleaders to be a nonperson. It struck me at the time that his critics were misreading the essay, or at the very least misunderstanding its intent. A kind of confirmation came when I asked Judt if he would have published that same piece not in The New York Review but in its UK counterpart, the London Review of Books. He paused, thinking through the implications, and finally said no, he would not. The simple explanation was that Judt understood the contrast in the climate of opinion between the two countries. In Britain (and Europe) hostility to Israel was already deeply entrenched: Ariel Sharon had recently reincurred the deep enmity of mainstream liberal opinion, not least through his crushing of the second intifada. In the US, in New York especially, the prevailing assumptions were in Israel’s favor. Indeed, a blanket of complacency and unquestioning solidarity tended to muffle any genuine debate. In a subsequent exchange in these pages, where Judt May 21, 2015

Tony Judt, New York City, 2006; photograph by Gina LeVay

took on several of his antagonists, he wrote:

ism, is—as I acknowledged in my essay—utopian.

The solution to the crisis in the Middle East lies in Washington. On this there is widespread agreement. For that reason, and because the American response to the Israel– Palestine conflict is shaped in large measure by domestic considerations, my essay was directed in the first instance to an American audience, in an effort to pry open a closed topic. [my italics]

That encounter in the London hotel lobby offered a glimpse of a crucial aspect of Judt’s character: his refusal to surrender to dogma. An ideologue would have insisted that the truth was the truth was the truth and that there could be no adjustment for context. But Judt understood that the same argument could have different meanings in different situations, that even the most firmly held principles had to take account of variations in time or place, and that, sometimes, a position had to shift.

In the same paragraph, Judt added that he was “very worried about the direction in which the American Jewish community is moving.” It seemed to me that his essay, and especially its vehemence, was designed to stir US Jews from their lethargy. (In Britain and Europe, the topic was far from closed and hardly needed prying open.) Viewed like that, “Israel: An Alternative” was less a detailed statement of binationalism than a provocation, forcing US supporters of Israel to confront what the death of the two-state solution would entail. In that same exchange, Judt conceded that he was hardly offering an immediate policy prescription: When I wrote of binationalism as an alternative future, I meant just that. It is not a solution for tomorrow. . . . If the problem with a twostate solution is that Israel’s rulers won’t make the necessary sacrifices to achieve it, how much less would they be willing to sacrifice Israel’s uniquely Jewish identity? For the present, then, binational-


reedom from dogma is the golden thread that runs through When the Facts Change, a collection of Judt’s essays—many of them first published in The New York Review—from 1995 until his premature death in 2010, aged sixty-two, from Lou Gehrig’s disease. The volume is staggeringly broad in its range, testament to the extraordinary eclecticism of Judt’s interests and knowledge. He writes learnedly on Israel, France, Britain, the United States, Central Europe, the Holocaust, social democracy, and much else. He is able to analyze both contemporary politics and modern history with deep erudition. There are profiles of Polish intellectuals alongside demolitions of Bush-era foreign policy, hymns to the glories of the railways next to detailed surveys of European welfare spending. The common element is intellectual pragmatism. The title, apparently chosen by Judt’s young son, refers to the riposte regularly attributed to John

Maynard Keynes and cited often by the author: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” That this was a Judt mantra we learn from a tender, affecting introduction written by the book’s editor and Judt’s widow, Jennifer Homans. Her opening line promises to “separate the man from the ideas.” But the piece has the opposite effect. Her sketch of Judt, depicting him as both a scholar—including a fascinating account of his writing method, down to the color-coded research notes—and a husband, serves to root what follows in lived experience, to acknowledge the role that Judt’s personal history played in his thinking. It’s wholly fitting since this too is a Judt theme. Throughout the collection, it is clear that he did not see ideas as existing in some realm of pure abstraction, but understood that people, individuals as much as nations, hold ideas as a consequence of the lives they have led. In that sense it is illuminating rather than indulgent for her to recall the way a domestic dispute between them— over the sale of an unwanted house in Princeton—was resolved. He had wanted to keep it, until Homans laid out the facts in a spreadsheet: Commuter train schedules, fares, total hours spent at Penn Station, the works. He studied it carefully and agreed on the spot to sell the house. No regrets, no remorse, no recriminations, no further discussion necessary. . . . When the facts changed—when a better, more convincing argument was made— he really did change his mind and move on. This is the lens through which to view Judt’s commentary on Israel, including the infamous 2003 essay. He adjusted his position in the light of the facts. For decades he had been an advocate of two states, yet seeing the expanding project of Jewish settlement in the occupied territories that would eventually have to become a Palestinian state, he concluded that Israel was not ready to take even the minimal steps required to make such an outcome possible. Accordingly, he looked for other options. One of those was binationalism, but here too he was ready to be swayed by the facts. In 2009, he wrote that he might still favor a one-state solution “if I were not so sure that both sides would oppose it vigorously and with force. A two-state solution might still be the best compromise. . . .” As if to prove the enduring power of the 2003 essay, at least one review of this posthumous collection has focused on that single piece almost exclusively, failing to take account of Judt’s postscript on the affair or his subsequent writing on the topic contained in the very same volume. This is not just questionable practice, it also misses something essential about Judt’s work: he was no peddler of pickled dogmas, reselling the same, unchanging ideas in one article after another. He was constantly thinking out loud, interrogating his earlier positions, and altering them in the light of changing events. It means that any reader coming to this anthology 31


hich is not to say that Judt’s writings were not guided by a coherent set of principles. For one thing, resistance to dogma was, for him, almost an ideology in itself. It led him to loathe totalitarianism in all its forms. He located fascism and the horrors of Nazism at the center of the twentieth century, casting their shadow over all that followed. He echoed and endorsed Hannah Arendt’s insistence that “the problem of evil” would be the defining question of the postwar era and he wrestles with it in this collection more than once. Of course for a liberal historian, born in Britain with a later career in the US, to be unwavering in his condemnation of Hitler’s wickedness involved no risk. Where Judt showed courage was in his willingness to look at monstrous crimes committed in the name of the left. He is acid in his denunciation of Stalinist murder and unforgiving of those leftists who were ready to look the other way or make excuses. The first piece in this collection assesses, for example, the revered British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. Judt admires the older man’s scholarship but laments his failure, as Judt put it in an earlier essay (republished in the 2008 collection Reappraisals), “to stare evil in the face and call it by its name.” He condemns Hobsbawm for remaining stuck in the 1930s, for failing to shake off the old Manichaean categories that equated left/right, Communist/Fascist, and progressive/reactionary with good/evil. Had he done so, Judt argues, he would have seen where fascism and Soviet communism came to resemble each other. Plenty of youthful Marxists went through Judt’s process of disenchantment and ended up far on the other side, reinvented as hawkish antiCommunists and neoconservatives. Judt made no such move: he would not trade one dogma for another. Indeed, he was a stern opponent of the Bush administration and its trampling on international norms. But he staked out a liberal terrain of his own, beholden to neither the anti-Western left nor the America-first right. So he could slam Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, blaming them for, among other things, shrinking the power of America’s example and therefore risking its appeal to the free nations of the world: This would spell the end of “the West” as we have understood it for half a century. The postwar North Atlantic community of interest and mutual friendship was unprecedented and invaluable: its loss would be a disaster for everyone. That’s not a sentence one can imagine being written by Noam Chomsky. Not that Judt was merely an exponent, however eloquent, of the soggy center ground. His stance against the extremes, the easy binaries of hard left or hard right, was strongly held and forcefully argued. For him pragmatism was a humane creed, compromise itself an ideal. The alternative was an absolutism that could only be secured by blood. In the final year of his life, by then a quadriplegic and reliant on awkward breathing equipment, he delivered a lecture at New York University that amounted to a spirited defense of so32

cial democracy, an idea battered by three decades of the Thatcher-Reagan model. He pleaded for a halt to the unraveling of the welfare state and the public sector, built so painstakingly through the postwar years: That these accomplishments were no more than partial should not trouble us. If we have learned nothing else from the twentieth century, we should at least have grasped that the more perfect the answer, the more terrifying its consequences. Imperfect improvements upon unsatisfactory circumstances are the best that we can hope for, and probably all we should seek.

in 1995, the Remarque Institute, dedicated to bringing Europe and his newly adopted home, the United States, closer together. If anyone could have been expected to be a euroenthusiast, it was surely Tony Judt. Yet in 1996 he was full of realism and caution. “The politics of immigration will not soon subside,” he wrote, reading the runes correctly. As it expanded, the European Union was rapidly dividing into “winners” and “losers,” he noted, describing accurately the situation that obtains now, nearly two decades later. The losers, he warned, would turn to nationalism. Right again. Still, it’s not for his powers of prophecy that people continue to look to Judt. (At the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, even as civil war rages, there is currently a seminar for gradu-

wars combined. In World War II, the French armies holding off the Germans in May–June 1940 suffered 124,000 dead and 200,000 wounded in six weeks, more than America did in Korea and Vietnam combined. Until Hitler brought the United States into the war against him in December 1941, Washington maintained correct diplomatic relations with the Nazi regime. There is more to this than just a display of copious knowledge, though Judt certainly had that. It is a faith in evidence, a devout empiricism that agrees to be bound by the facts wherever they lead—even if that means shedding one’s own prejudices and letting go of one’s most fondly held beliefs. It’s what he demanded of Hobsbawm over communism and himself over Zionism. It is in fact close to an ideology in itself, this belief in a truth that can be excavated through serious, honest inquiry. And it partly explains why Judt placed so much weight on the notion of “good faith.”

Perfection, he understood, was the goal of murderous dictators. The unglamorous, bloodless business of modest amelioration was a better ideal. That much is clear in Judt’s pantheon of heroes. Homans lists them, taking care to say they were not quite heroes but rather “shades . . . who were all around all the time.” Among them: Keynes, Isaiah Berlin, he second factor Raymond Aron, A. J. P. comes close to a stateTaylor, Albert Camus, ment of the obvious. It is “whose photo sat on his to note that though Judt desk,” and, inevitably, was a commentator on George Orwell. This contemporary politics collection includes encoand a writer of what is mia to some of those and Albert Camus, Paris, 1944; photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson now called “long-form” the same admired traits journalism, his calling recur. He praises Taylor was as a historian. Of course that enate students titled simply “Reading for a willingness to write “against the riched his observations about the presTony Judt.”) I would suggest instead grain of his own prejudices.” His eulogy ent, but there was more to it than that. three other factors that make his work for Leszek Kołakowski lauds the PolHe was also a champion of the past, strong and enduring. ish thinker’s ability to reject Marxism insistent on learning from it and retainThe first is a consistent fidelity to without concluding either that socialing from it what was worthwhile. That the facts. The book is rich in arresting ism “had been an unmitigated disaster” is the sentiment that powers the essay examples of hard facts, often accompaor that there was no point in striving on social democracy, for example, as nied by numbers. We learn that Primo to improve the condition of humanity. well as several others that turn a retLevi’s Auschwitz memoir, If This Is a Judt valued those who, like him, sought rospective eye on the twentieth cenMan, was serially rejected, eventually to save the baby even as they chucked tury as it ended. In the headlong rush published by a small local press in a tiny out bucketloads of bathwater. into the future Judt saw his generation print run of 2,500 copies, few of which In the mid-1990s, both Bill Clinton discarding much that its predecessors sold. Most were remaindered, stored in and Tony Blair were fond of speaking had carefully built and that was worth a Florence warehouse, and destroyed of “the vital center.” The phrase often saving. in the flood of 1966. What better illussounded hollow, as empty as the “third The result is, in more than a few tration could there be of the immediway.” But to read Judt is to see that it places, a note of unexpected conservaate postwar lack of interest in survivors can contain meaning. It can refer to tism from this man of the left. “Bring of the Shoah? Or take another examskepticism in the face of dogma; a reback the Rails!” he cries in one essay. ple: the next time Maale Adumim is fusal to believe that because one part Another speaks of “The Wrecking Ball described as a West Bank settlement, of a program has merits or flaws, the of Innovation.” Approaching his own consider that “this ‘settlement’ comentire program has to be accepted or death, and perhaps surprising himself prises more than thirty square miles— rejected; an ability to contain moral as much as anyone else, he wrote, with making it one and a half times the size complexity, to admit and interrogate the social democratic model in mind: of Manhattan . . . some ‘settlement.’” one’s own contradictions. In Tony Judt, “The Left, to be quite blunt about it, Judt’s writing radiates scholarship: the notion of the vital center found life. has something to conserve.” even his opponents could rarely chalThe weight that Judt placed on memlenge him on the facts. In his hands ory brings us closer to the heart of his rigor was a weapon. The book includes writings’ enduring value. Though able a thorough demolition of Norman DaThe question that hangs over any anto speak of the grand, sweeping forces vies’s Europe: A History (1996), leavthology of journalism, even one of the of history or geopolitics, he never lost ing that book in shreds. But he draws highest quality, is always the same: sight of the centrality of people’s lived only from an armory of facts, just one What relevance does it have for today? experience in shaping their ideas, atthat happens to be better stocked than In Judt’s case the easy answer is to point titudes, and longings. Not the facts on Davies’s. At the height of Bush-era to evidence of uncanny prescience. His the ground, writes Homans, so much as Francophobia in the precincts of Reessay “Europe: The Grand Illusion,” the “‘facts inside’—the things that were publican Washington—when Paris was is a typical example. It was written in just there, like furniture in [the] mind,” mocked as the capital of cheese-eating 1996, three years before the launch of those things you might bump into with“surrender monkeys” and only “freethe euro in a period fervent with exout ever seeing or knowing them fully. dom fries” were allowed on the menu cited eurofederalism. It was written by He applied that logic to his subjects, of the congressional canteen—Judt disa man free of the sulking, Little Engattributing Hobsbawm’s refusal fully charges a magazine full of facts: lander introversions of many of his felto disavow Stalinism, for example, to low Brits: Judt spoke French, German, the historian’s loyalty to his earlier In World War I, which the French Italian, Czech, and some Spanish and “adolescent self,” the boy who had witfought from start to finish, France had made his name as a historian of nessed the Communists confront the lost three times as many fighting France. He had only just established, Nazi brownshirts in pre-war Berlin. men as America has lost in all its Magnum Photos

looking for a fixed program or ordered manifesto will be disappointed.



The New York Review

He applied it to nations, so that even when condemning contemporary Israelis’ blindness to the occupation, he could see that, thanks to the Jewish past, “in their own eyes they are still a small victim-community, defending themselves with restraint and reluctance against overwhelming odds.” And he applied it to himself, understanding how his own life story—from his childhood encounters with British anti-Semitism to the multiple identities of a British-Jewish historian of France living in Manhattan—might color his worldview. The result is a spirit of empathy that runs through his writings, a patience missing in those cursed with ideological certainty. Yet that empathy should not be mistaken for moral relativism, indulging bad behavior as the understandable consequence of this or that experience. A fierce morality is present in Judt’s work, a clarity about right and wrong that leads back to the moral touchstone that is the Holocaust. Homans suggests that Jewishness was

perhaps the most crucial of the “facts inside” Judt. She writes that the loss of a cousin, whose name was Toni, in Auschwitz acted as a kind of black hole in his mind . . . weighty, incomprehensible, like evil or the devil, where this moment in history and this aspect of his Jewishness lay.


There is indeed—and this is the third factor in explaining his writings’ enduring value—a moral center to Judt’s work, the product perhaps of a weary knowledge of the wickedness of which humanity is capable. But it travels alongside a hope for something better and an understanding of the obstacles in our way. Judt wrote of his French hero: “Camus was a moralist who unhesitatingly distinguished good from evil but abstained from condemning human frailty.” That might be a fitting epitaph for Judt himself, whose wise, humane, and brave erudition this collection captures rather beautifully.

ONCE MADE OF FEATHERS AND AN OUNCE OF BLOOD From then on Katrina fiercing up from the get-go any girly girl named that.

A lively and deeply researched group biography of the figures who transformed the world of art in Bohemian Paris.

Before too, whole phrases incisor-sharp: fuck you, you fucking fuck! all down the front. New Orleans, black t-shirt sold on the street for mischief and joy years back, pre-nightmare. One has to respect options, I said, three parts of speech pressed into service. Rage on fabric going, gone redundant. End of the World, take that! A thing to slip over your head. Surely piles of them mouthing off on carts to wild up later. Ever after. Day of days. Torn wounded muck of it twisting out to sea, great biblical sweeps: shipwrecked porches, car parts in flight, dogs every bent shape of howl and horrific, dresser drawers jet-streamed smithereens beside warblers battered ancient into once made of feathers and an ounce of blood. You. If you ever wore such a shirt, you’d hold it close, a live explosive under a milder, say, button-down.

“Roe vividly and with fresh interpretation tells the concurrent tales of these subversive innovators, paying especially close attention to the two legendary rivals, Picasso and Matisse, while also incisively portraying Picasso’s muse, Fernande Olivier, and, most intriguingly, the marvelously renegade Marie Laurencin, the only prominent Montmartre woman artist…Profoundly deepens our understanding of and appreciation for this crucial artistic enclave.” — B O O K L I S T , starred review “Colorful…[Roe] is strongest in conveying social history: the gritty reality of the Bateau-Lavoir, with its ‘creaking floorboards beaten by winter storms and splintered by summer heat,’ where many artists made their homes; the intricate ballet of their friendships and romantic liaisons; their frustrations in exhibiting and selling their work.” — KIRKUS REVIEWS “Lively and engaging…[Readers] will find a fresh sense of how all these people—the geniuses and the hangers-on, the wealthy collectors and the unworldly painters—related to each other…In [her] entertaining, ingeniously structured account Roe brings Montmartre’s heyday back to life.” — T H E S U N D A Y T I M E S (UK)

And pause. Oh yeah? whipping open, getting even.

on steroids, if that were a god.


Like some Woden or Zeus seized. Grief

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—Marianne Boruch

May 21, 2015


J.C. Cuillandre, CFHT /Giovanni Anselmi, Coelum Astronomia

Revelations from Outer Space Priyamvada Natarajan

The Horsehead Nebula in the constellation of Orion, about 1,500 light years from the earth, as seen from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii; from Michael Benson’s book Far Out: A Space-Time Chronicle (2009)

Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time by Michael Benson. Abrams, 320 pp., $50.00 You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes—Photographs from the International Space Station by Chris Hadfield. Little, Brown, 200 pp., $26.00 Interstellar a film directed by Christopher Nolan The Science of Interstellar by Kip Thorne, with a foreword by Christopher Nolan. Norton, 324 pp., $24.95 (paper)

1. On Valentine’s Day in 1990, more than four billion miles from earth, in the vast emptiness and silence of space, the camera shutter of the spacecraft Voyager 1 snapped rapidly, taking sixty frames of photographs in quick succession. Among them was an image that has become one of the most famous pictures ever taken from space. In it, the earth is but a tiny speck, caught amid scattered rays of sunlight. It was Carl Sagan who suggested that Voyager 1 take a look back and photograph the earth as the probe hurtled on its quest into deep space, beyond our solar system, where it remains today. Inspired by this image, Sagan mused in his book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994): “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.” He ended by saying, “Every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” Sagan’s lyricism was intended to foster a timeless connection between 34

all past and present inhabitants on earth. Masterful in his use of astronomical imagery to engage the public with science, he is best known for his thirteen-part television series Cosmos, which was first broadcast on PBS in 1980. It has since been viewed by over 500 million people in sixty countries. Many generations of scientists since then were brought to science by Cosmos. The widely publicized image of the earth as a pale blue dot floating in space began a revolution in the perception of our planet. Photographic images of the night sky taken from the earth and satellite images taken from space, looking back at earth as well as looking outward into the solar system and beyond, continue to be an important source of the public’s knowledge about the cosmos. Consider, for example, the first photographic images of the full earth taken by the lunar orbiter in 1966, the famous image of the Horsehead Nebula taken from the Anglo-Australian Observatory by the astrophotographer David Malin, and Michael Benson’s images—some manipulated by computers—made from photographs taken from space probes in his book Beyond, which have provided stunning visual evidence of our place in the solar system and shaped our notions of space. Both Benson’s Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time and the astronaut Chris Hadfield’s You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes continue Sagan’s legacy of using the visual image to evoke the realities of space and science for a larger audience. In an age when so many of NASA’s images are available online, and when space exploration by probes like Rosetta is so focused on the possibilities of colonization and the potential extraction of resources from comets, these books also raise a larger question. Beyond generat-

ing awe and wonder, what scientific purposes do astronomical images serve?


he night sky has been documented and studied for thousands of years. The hammered copper and gold Nebra Sky Disk, dating to 1600 BC and found in the Saxony-Anhalt region of Germany, depicts the sun, lunar crescent, and stars, including a cluster believed to be the Pleiades. The ancient Mesopotamians were also assiduous and prolific astronomical recorders. The inscriptions on the Babylonian Venus Tablet, which dates to 700 BC and marks the position of the planet Venus in the sky, suggest that the Babylonians, like all ancient peoples, saw a direct connection between celestial and terrestrial phenomena: whether or not they could see Venus in the sky determined whether or not it rained on earth. It was clear to them that these apparent correlations required an explanation, an agent who ensured that they recurred, and for this they turned to their gods and, occasionally, a demiurge. Put another way, the first explanations for observed celestial phenomena, what we could characterize broadly as cosmological theories, were in fact myths. These myths in turn led to representations and images. One way of understanding the role of images in modern astronomy is to consider astronomers, like their ancient precursors but now equipped with telescopes, as cosmological mapmakers and documentarians. Astronomy, perhaps more than any other discipline, is a science that relies on images. Unlike other branches of science, no controlled experiments can be performed on the heavens. Therefore, observations are the closest that astronomy gets to actual experiments. For example, the Sloan Digital Sky

Survey, operational in New Mexico from 2000 to 2011, has created a picture of about one third of the entire sky. Several large ground-based telescopes currently under construction, including the American-led Large Synoptic Survey Telescope in El Peñón, Chile (LSST), the Thirty-Meter Telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii (TMT), the Giant Magellan Telescope at the Las Capanas Observatory in Chile (GMT), and the European Extremely Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory (ELT), also in northern Chile, will document much more of the sky, capturing extremely faint objects and providing three-dimensional maps of the universe with unprecedented depth and detail. Chile is often chosen because of the clarity of the sky in its northern desert. The amount of data that these future surveys will generate is staggeringly large. The camera on the LSST, for instance, will generate terabytes of data every single night. That is the amount of information in a thousand sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Visualization is even more important in the age of Big Data as we try to comprehend the complexity that results as we extend our reach farther in the sky.

2. Celestial representations and maps chart how the human view of the heavens shifted from the imagined and fantastical to the reasoned. The impetus for this shift was quite simple: navigation. Our ability to make increasingly sophisticated maps was driven by a seemingly inherent desire to explore our own planet. But to explore the earth and navigate the seas, we needed to look up at the heavens to see the stars as a compass. So terrestrial maps don’t just map the known world of terra The New York Review

ďŹ rma. They also map the heavens and are clues to the earliest understandings of the universe. Bensonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Cosmigraphics captures this shift by assembling a compendium of artfully curated images that present â&#x20AC;&#x153;a visual record of our attempts to visualize the universe and our place within it.â&#x20AC;? Benson has sifted through archive after archive of images, focusing on representations of the cosmos rendered by hand, and excluding straight photographs. There are manuscript drawings on vellum, all forms of prints, from engravings to etchings to woodcuts and offset prints, as well as computergenerated graphics, some based on supercomputer simulations of astronomical phenomena. Benson has collated images that range from premodern cosmogony to modern cosmology. He is not concerned with the scientiďŹ c accuracy of these images, although some of them were considered accurate at the time and place in which they were made. This is why, he tells us, he has included images such as medieval illustrations of Danteâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Paradise that fall well outside the category of what would be considered traditional astronomical images. In pictures such as Andreas Cellariusâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s 1716 map of Tycho Braheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s modiďŹ ed geocentric model, aesthetics outweigh scientiďŹ c accuracy as Bensonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s criteria for picking images. The image illustrates Braheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s alternative to the Copernican model, in which all the planetsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;except for the earthâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;orbit the sun, and the sun in turn orbits the earth with all its planets in tow. Yet he says he is searching for some â&#x20AC;&#x153;historical or cultural truthsâ&#x20AC;? in them. The subject of his book is thus â&#x20AC;&#x153;enigmaticâ&#x20AC;? images that chart our historical journey as we search for our place in the universe. Before the 1600s, astronomers were often astrologers, Renaissance painters were just as ardent students of optics as were scientists, and many scientists developed a lexicon of illustrative styles to document their observations through a telescope or a microscope. Astronomers have often used images to reveal the intricacies of science to the larger public, which is also what Bensonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Cosmigraphics does. Cosmology appears in Cosmigraphics to have evolved seamlessly and without intellectual conďŹ&#x201A;icts and ruptures. As a result, his compendium does something surreptitiously: it also persuades the reader of the provisionality of science without generating a sense of instability. The trial of Galileo over his interpretation of the solar system is not mentioned. The reader gets the impression that the story of cosmology, rather than being contingent and chaotic, is a visual narrative of smooth progress and growing reďŹ nement in the quest for understanding our place in the universe. Bensonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s presentation softens the disorienting shock that often accompanies what are in effect radical changes in conception or understanding. For example, Robert Fluddâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s 1617 account of the formation of a geocentric cosmos that originates with light contrasts with Hartmann Schedelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s model in his Liber chronicarum (1493) that starts ab initio with earth and water, consistent with the account of biblical creation.


Benson, HadďŹ eld presents photographic images of the earth from the International Space Station (ISS).

May 21, 2015

His planetary photographic tour is a visual delight and offers a unique perspective and window on our planet. His photographs chronicle not only visible natureâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s wonders but the consequence of human alterations to the face of the planet. Culled from 45,000 photographs that he took during his ďŹ vemonth sojourn on the ISS, HadďŹ eldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s goal is to help the public appreciate the beauty and variety of our planet. He succeeds. HadďŹ eldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s photography is the space counterpoint to Ferdinand Magellanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s 1519 circumnavigation of the earth, the voyage that ďŹ rst transformed our view of the planet. For HadďŹ eld, these photographs provide a new perspective; we are small, so much smaller even than we may have thought. To me thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not a frightening idea. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a helpful corrective to the frantic selfimportance we are prone to as a speciesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and also a reminder to make the most of our moment on this beautiful, strange, durable yet fragile planet. Many of the photographs have an otherworldly feel to themâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;particularly striking is one of Iranâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s largest desert, Dasht-e Kavir, which is covered with salt ďŹ&#x201A;ats left behind from an ancient ocean that dried up, leaving a pattern akin to Jupiterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s giant red spot. Then there is the huge indentation in the landscape of Mauritania called the Richat Structure and known as the Eye of the Sahara to astronauts, who frequently use it to orient and locate themselves. In a recent interview with Dan Schwabel of Forbes, HadďŹ eld commented that the view from the ISS makes the rising specter of climate change more palpable and urgent. For example, drastic changes to the planet over even the timescale of twenty-ďŹ ve years have become visibleâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;as with the drying up of the Aral Sea, which is partly in Kazakhstan and partly in Uzbekistan. Through these photographs, HadďŹ eld has become an unlikely and strong ally in making the case that human activity is causing climate change.

3. As these books show, imagination, representation, and documentation all have a part to play in visualizing science. Spectacular images have prompted scientiďŹ c inquiry and have generated scientiďŹ c questions worth asking. And it is on this issue that Benson makes his boldest and somewhat far-fetched claimâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;that images generate new discoveries. This is contrary to how most scientists conceive the origins of breakthroughs. However, Bensonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s book reminds us that oftentimes celestial phenomena were imagined before they were observed and documented. Two examples illustrate this well. In 1584, Giordano Bruno imagined other planets in his book De lâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;inďŹ nito, universo e mondi (On the InďŹ nite Universe and Worlds), a phenomenon that is now being documented by NASAâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Kepler Mission, which recently discovered several thousand planets outside our solar system. The Kepler Orrery, which shows a model of these planets and their systems, is included in Cosmigraphics. Second, the debates on life and water on Mars began in the nine-

teenth century with telescopic views by the astronomer Percival Lowell, depicted in drawings that Benson has also included. Inspired after reading a book by the astronomers Camille Flammarion and Giovanni Schiaparelli, who claimed the existence of a network of canals on the Martian surface, Lowell interpreted his observations as indications of the presence of water, and therefore intelligent life. NASAâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Mars missions were not designed with Lowell in mind, yet the question he raised was ďŹ nally settled scientiďŹ cally when the rover Curiosity landed on the red planet on August 6, 2012. Drilling into an old Martian rock, instruments aboard Curiosity found both evidence for ancient water on Mars that has now dried up and the simple organic molecule methane, but no life. What Lowellâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s drawings did was to generate the question and deem it interesting. So images can propel us from the imagined to pursue and endeavor to construct what Benson calls â&#x20AC;&#x153;maps based on actual information.â&#x20AC;?


enson makes the case that his curated images are science and artâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;that is, they are scientiďŹ c arguments in visual form, although they are not always entirely accurate, and yet simultaneously they are also art. Here he borrows generously from the architectural theorist Dalibor Vesely. Images, according to Vesely and Benson, have their own power to launch interpretations. While this is not strictly the case, visual representations may serve as conduits for data that serve as proof of sharper and newer understandings. In science,

nowhere have images been more effectively used as persuasive vehicles of scientiďŹ c evidence recently than in making the case for human-induced climate change. It is not accidental that the crucial allies in making this case have been cameras. HadďŹ eldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s images show us the earth in ways we cannot otherwise see. Given the political and ideological obstacles to getting the public to understand the scientiďŹ c case and evidence for climate change caused by human activity, images might in fact offer a more powerful approach. HadďŹ eldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s photographs of the Arctic melt or of the shifting sand dunes in the Namibian desert, and another Benson project, a photo-essay that drew from NASA satellite photographs (an earlier installment of his engagement with astronomical images), including those from the satellites Aqua and Terra, have helped make the human impact on climate change more visible. Bensonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s 2013 New York Times photoessay â&#x20AC;&#x153;Gorgeous Glimpses of Calamityâ&#x20AC;? ends with the following powerful plea: Having constructed a civilization capable of observing our still paradisiacal world from objectivityinducing distances, we need to set aside our squabbles, recognize that we face a species-wide threat, and use our scientiďŹ c-technical genius to protect the only known home of life in the universe. Bensonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s photo-essay and HadďŹ eldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s photos of the morphing planet are perhaps more persuasive in making the case for believing the science of climate


Alex Parker

change than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that presents all the scientific data and results from measurements and mathematical modeling. Will these powerful images lead to action on climate change and to better stewardship of our planet and its resources? One can only hope.



A still from the planetary astronomer Alex Parker’s animated film Worlds: The Kepler Planet Candidates (2013), which depicts 2,299 possible planets detected by NASA’s Kepler orbiting space telescope. Parker shows them as orbiting a single star; as Michael Benson points out in Cosmigraphics, in fact they orbit a total of 1,770 stars.

fessor of astrophysics at Caltech. No other scientist, except Carl Sagan, has had such a pivotal part in a Hollywood science-fiction film, from developing the script to serving as executive producer to collaborating on the visual effects.* It was crucial to Thorne that “nothing in the film . . .violate the firmly established physical laws.” So everything you see in the film’s special effects and plot is scientifically possible, and some things are plausible, although occasionally they are highly improbable. As reported in Thorne’s new book on the making of the movie, The Science of Interstellar, the project sounds like a remarkable collaboration with the Nolan brothers (Christopher directed and his brother Jonathan wrote the script) and one that involved many master classes in general relativity from Thorne. Christopher Nolan has had a loyal following after directing Memento, the Batman trilogy, and Inception, and he’s known for his mind-bending plots that rely on future-oriented conceptions of science that hover on the edge of the believable. What he takes one step further in Interstellar, however, is the *The only other instance was Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan, who finished the script for the movie Contact in 1980, which did not actually get made until 1997. Unfortunately Sagan died seven months before it was released.

technical feats involved in making it. Its producers had to generate a total of about eight hundred terabytes of data, which is about half of the entire information content from all of the holdings in the Library of Congress.


horne concedes that the science in Interstellar is “at or just beyond today’s frontiers of human understanding.” This is precisely what adds the creative and imaginative edge to the film, a willful and slick blurring of the lines between “firm science, educated guesses, and speculation.” How scientifically plausible is the scenario of Interstellar? To inject a dose of reality, here are some facts: with the best current technology that we possess, an expedition to the environs of our nearest star, Proxima Alpha Centuri, 4.24 lightyears away, would take 100,000 years for a one-way trip. Even if we were to develop revolutionary new propulsion technologies that would permit travel at, say, one tenth the speed of light, it would still take forty-four years to get there. So we are talking about exploratory missions that exceed the human life span. These also come with many other asyet insurmountable barriers. An astronaut’s excessive exposure to radiation during the trip would be fatal—one of the many problems that remains to be solved. A wormhole would really come in handy. And this is where Thorne, Chris Hadfield/ NASA

What is the alternative? Failing to confront the danger of climate change collectively as a species will no doubt get us to the brink—the exact spot where the recent science-fiction film Interstellar by Christopher Nolan starts. Set in the future, Interstellar describes the journey of mankind to find other habitable planets, a journey driven not just by the human instinct to explore but also by climate change that, left unimpeded, made the earth inhospitable. At the beginning of the film, we find a depressing world in which blight has decimated all crops except corn, and dust bowls are growing rapidly. Our planet is in peril—while the human population desperately attempts to retain a sense of normalcy. Since our own solar system is not particularly promising, a former NASA pilot, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a widower who lives with his two children and father-in-law (John Lithgow), gets recruited by a now-underground NASA for a secret mission to seek other habitable planets. The portal to a system of potential new habitats is a “wormhole” near Saturn that transports Cooper and his fellow astronauts, including Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), to the vicinity of a super-massive black hole aptly named Gargantua. Scientists know that such monster black holes exist in the centers of the most luminous galaxies in the near and far universe. A wormhole can be thought of as a rip in the fabric of space-time that connects two extremely distant points in the universe. The wormhole in Interstellar, we are told by the senior Dr. Brand (Michael Caine), astrophysicist and leader of the NASA mission, has been created by an unknown alien intelligence. A couple of planets perilously close to this black hole (which is spinning close to the speed of light, 186,000 miles per second) are candidates for exploration. These candidate planets—Miller, Mann, and Edmunds—are named after the astronauts who set out to explore them. The weakest link in this otherwise enjoyable movie is the rather contrived emotional situation—the allegedly fraught relationships between fathers and daughters. Abandonment, aspiration, and transferred ambition from father to daughter are teased out very ineffectually in the relationship between Cooper and his young daughter Murph and between the senior Dr. Brand and his astronaut daughter. Neither nuanced nor textured nor even sophisticated, these relations seem to have been inserted merely to provide some human interest to a fantastic tale of an intergalactic voyage of discovery. Thus far it all sounds pretty standard for the space-science-fiction genre. But what makes Nolan’s Interstellar stand out is that one of its executive producers is Kip Thorne, a highly respected expert on general relativity and a pro-

The interconnected rivers of the Khulna district of Bangladesh, as seen from the International Space Station. Chris Hadfield writes in You Are Here that they ‘writhe . . . like so many strands of Medusa’s hair.’

who first proposed the idea of a wormhole to Sagan for his novel Contact in 1983, springs it again for Interstellar. By bridging two very distant locations in the universe, wormholes solve the problem of travel time between them. This theoretical construct, also known as the Einstein–Rosen (ER) Bridge, could exist in principle according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity; but no wormholes have been detected and none have even been inferred from any existing evidence. General relativity predicts some weird phenomena in the vicinity of strong gravitational fields—black holes, for example—but such phenomena are extremely counterintuitive. Two that Nolan deploys to great effect are the dilation of time and the bending of light. The immense gravitational pull of a black hole slows clocks down, causing time to lapse at a different rate for observers near it compared to those that are beyond its grip. This is at the heart of the famous twin paradox, in which one twin who remains on earth ages faster than the twin who returns to earth after traveling through deep space or near a black hole. In the movie, time dilation is dramatic near the black hole called Gargantua, and in its vicinity earth-time is slowed down by a factor of seven. General relativity also predicts strong deviations in the paths of light rays that stray close to black holes and wormholes. In the film, Gargantua and the wormhole both distort light in the most dramatic and breathtaking ways. And here is where Thorne’s collaboration with Nolan has produced remarkable effects. The visual rendering of the bending of light, or gravitational lensing, by the intense gravity of Gargantua and the wormhole portal has been exquisitely rendered with unprecedented accuracy. Every swirl and twirl of light rays that jump off the screen is scientifically correct. Thorne computed the mathematical equations that describe the bending of light as the basis for the film’s visual effects. To generate these effects, Paul Franklin and Eugenie von Tunzelmann and their team at the UKbased special effects company Double Negative had to develop ray-tracing software—a brand-new method of rendering was developed in order to capture the physics truthfully. The results are magnificent and a sight to behold. So much so that after seeing the astonishing visualizations, Thorne noticed several new features in the light bending by black holes that had eluded him and other scientists. The revolutionary new images calculated for special effects for Interstellar showed scientists something they have never seen before in the mathematical equations. In a recent article titled “How Building a Black Hole for Interstellar Led to an Amazing Scientific Discovery” in Wired magazine, Thorne recounts his excitement on seeing the visualization, and he reports that he is now writing up the new discoveries uncovered by the film’s visualization team as scientific papers for publication in peer-reviewed journals. So from Cosmigraphics to Interstellar we come full circle. It is not often that Hollywood supplies new data to scientists that provide insights and lead to new breakthroughs. Perhaps this is the closest we will ever get to Benson’s fantasy of images directly leading to discoveries. The New York Review



Taught by Professor Dorsey Armstrong








King Arthur: History and Legend




The Origins of King Arthur


An Arthur-Like Figure in Cornwall


King Arthur in the Latin Chronicles


King Arthur in Wales—The Mabinogion


Monmouth, Merlin, and Courtly Love


The Round Table—Arthur in Wace and Layamon


Chrétien de Troyes and Sir Lancelot


Arthurian Tales in Brittany and Burgundy


The Lancelot-Grail Cycle

10. The Early German Arthurian Tradition 11. King Arthur’s Other German Adaptations 12. The Arthurian Sagas of Scandinavia 13

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

14. The Alliterative Morte Arthure 15. Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur 16. Enriching the Legend—Tristan and Isolde 17. The Holy Grail from Chrétien to Dan Brown 18. Arthuriana in Medieval Art 19. Spenser, Milton, and the Renaissance Arthur 20. Idylls of the King—The Victorian Arthur

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How & How Not to Be Good John Gray preferences—Singer’s view—while for others it has been pleasure or happiness. What utilitarian thinkers are agreed on is that more of what is good is always better than less, and we should live so that we do as much good as possible. Some have maintained that maximizing the good is compatible with retaining much of generally accepted morality, while others (such as Bentham and Mill) have demanded radical revisions in prevailing moral beliefs. Singer’s version of utilitarianism is of the radical variety. He has little interest in squaring utilitarianism with prevailing moral

when considering buying a portion of ice cream “would constantly ask herself, ‘Do I need this ice cream as much as a woman living in poverty elsewhere in the world needs to get her child vaccinated?’” This “made grocery shopping a maddening experience,” until she and her husband decided how much they would give away, drew up a budget based on what was left, and Julia no longer had to scrimp on ice cream. Addressing Singer’s class, she confessed that “ice cream is really important to my happiness.” Similar reasoning led her to overcome her belief that it would

For Peter Singer, “effective altruism” is “an emerging movement” with the potential of spreading to a point when “people all over the world” may be ready to commit themselves to “a new ethical ideal: to do the most good they can.” Singer is clear that applying this ideal will involve departures from normal practice, including choosing to live very modestly in order to be able to give a substantial part of one’s income to good causes, adopting a high-earning profession in order to give still more, and being ready to donate a part of oneself (blood, bone marrow, or a kidney, for example) so that others can live longer. Altruists may not feel that what they are doing is a sacrifice; they may find personal fulfillment in giving away much of their income and some of their body parts. This does not detract from their altruism, since “their overriding concern is to do the most good they can.” At present “there are still relatively few effective altruists”; but Singer believes this situation could change. He is associated with the Centre for Effective Altruism at Oxford University, which appears to be in the business of preparing people Peter Singer at Farm Sanctuary, a shelter for rescued farm animals, Watkins Glen, New York, 2006 for what Singer describes as “ethical careers.” Once the idea of devoting one’s life to doing the attitudes. Instead he views the morally be immoral to have children, which she most good no longer seems strange, he counterintuitive results of utilitarianstrongly wished to do: she decided that believes, effective altruism may “beism as signs of its superior rationality. if she could look forward to being a come mainstream.” If this happens, In The Most Good You Can Do, parent she would be “of more use to the Singer expects that the new ideal would Singer tells us that one of the sources world” than she would be “if she were “spread more rapidly.” of the movement for effective altruism ‘a broken-down altruist.’” Currently teaching at Princeton and was an article that he wrote in 1972 Aaron Moore, an Australian interthe University of Melbourne, Singer is while he was a junior lecturer in Oxford national aid worker and artist, on disknown for his attacks on “speciesism,” a called “Famine, Affluence and Moralcovering he was in the top one percent term he popularized. In his 1975 book, ity,” in which he argued that “given of the human species as measured by Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for the great suffering that occurs during income (though he didn’t own a house Our Treatment of Animals, Singer confamines and similar disasters, we ought or car), sold his possessions and dodemned speciesism as “a prejudice or to give large portions of our income nated those he believed would not sell attitude of bias in favor of the interto disaster relief funds.” In the article to the Salvation Army, so that he was ests of members of one’s own species he suggested that “there is no logical left with nothing but the clothes he was and against those of other species.” In stopping place” in giving away one’s inwearing. “Is it okay, he asked, for us to books and articles he has argued that it come for such a cause “until we reach be going to movies and drinking chai would be wrong to give greater weight the point of marginal utility—that is, lattes while 1.4 billion people are living to the interests of some profoundly disthe point at which by giving more, one in extreme poverty?” abled human beings than to normally would cause oneself and one’s family to Zell Kravinsky, another speaker at functioning dogs or chimpanzees. He lose as much as the recipients of one’s Singer’s class and a real estate multireiterates this view in The Most Good aid would gain.” Judged by the test of millionaire, gave almost his entire You Can Do, where he writes: “We marginal utility, Singer admits he may fortune to charity, but feeling he still wrong animals whenever we give less be failing to live ethically. He and his had not done enough to help others, weight to their interests than we would, wife, he tells us, were only giving away he arranged with a hospital to donate in the same circumstances, give to a “about ten percent of our modest inone of his kidneys to a stranger. Citing human with similar capacities.” come” when he wrote the article. Since scientific studies, Kravinsky reasoned Singer bases these views on a version then the percentage has increased, and that not making a donation of his kidof utilitarianism—the philosophy, asthey are now “giving away about oneney would mean he valued his life four sociated with nineteenth-century Britthird of what we earn and aiming to thousand times more than that of a ish thinkers such as Jeremy Bentham, get to half, but that still isn’t anywhere stranger. Singer writes approvingly that John Stuart Mill, and Henry Sidgwick, near the point of marginal utility.” Kravinsky “puts his altruism in mathaccording to which the purpose of moSinger goes on to describe the lives ematical terms.” rality is to maximize value wherever it of others who have taken up effective In a similar vein, Singer quotes from exists in the world. Utilitarian thinkers altruism. We learn of Julia Wise, who an e-mail he received from a student at have differed about what exactly it is that believes that “every dollar she spends is another university, who wrote: “Last has value. Some have believed the funtaken out of the hands of someone who Tuesday, I bit the utilitarian bullet: I damental good to be the satisfaction of needs it more than she does,” and who anonymously donated my right kidney 38

to whoever could use it the most. . . . The idea of donating a kidney popped into my head in an Ethics class.”


rom the tone of Singer’s descriptions of these and others he regards as effective altruists, it is clear that he expects his readers to share his admiration for them. Why Singer thinks these people are admirable is an interesting question. The reason is not that they have strong emotions of empathy for the people they benefit. In a chapter entitled “Is Love All We Need?,” Singer is explicit that effective altruism “does not require the kind of strong emotional empathy that people feel for identifiable individuals.” Indeed, in Singer’s view empathy can be an obstacle to effective altruism. Citing a study in which one group of people was shown a photograph of a single child who needed an expensive life-saving drug and another group was shown photographs of eight children all of whose lives could be saved for the same sum, he reports that those who were shown the photo of the single child gave more. Singer is indignant: Derek Goodwin

The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically by Peter Singer. Yale University Press, 211 pp., $25.00

To effective altruists, this is an absurd outcome, and if emotional empathy is responsible for it, then so much the worse for that kind of empathy. Effective altruists are sensitive to numbers and to cost per life saved or year of suffering prevented. For Singer, the appeal of altruism comes from the fact that in his view it is required by reason. When effective altruists feel empathy, it is because “their recognition of the importance of acting for the good of the whole brings about an emotional response within them.” In holding this rationalistic view Singer departs from earlier thinkers who have promoted altruism as a social movement. Though we hear nothing of its history in this book, the belief that organized altruism can be a means of improving human life is not new. The sociologist Pitirim Sorokin (1889–1968) founded the Center for Creative Altruism at Harvard University in the late 1940s, in the belief that altruism could be organized as a force for good. Unlike Singer, Sorokin thought of altruism as concern for others motivated by love and empathy, the study of which he termed “amitology.” Sorokin did not claim to be the first to have suggested that altruism could be turned into a social movement. Correctly, he credited the idea to the French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798–1857), who in fact invented the term “altruism” (from the Latin alteri, or “others”). An exponent of what he called positive philosophy—a system of ideas based on the belief that science alone can provide genuine knowledge—Comte created an influential movement, now largely forgotten, that in its heyday helped shape the thinking of figures such as the novelist George Eliot and The New York Review

the Social Darwinist theorist Herbert Spencer. Comte did not believe that altruism could be promoted simply, or even mainly, by an improvement in human powers of reasoning.1 A complex system of practices was needed, including daily rituals, which Comte propagated as part of a positivist church that he founded. Some of these practicesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;such as touching at regular intervals the parts of oneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s skull that were associated, according to theories of phrenology that were popular at the time, with altruistic impulsesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;may seem eccentric today. Singer makes no reference, here or so far as I know in any of his writings, to Comte, and he differs from the French thinker in suggesting that strong emotions of empathy may be detrimental to effective altruism. Yet there are some clear parallels between Comteâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s way of thinking and Singerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s version of utilitarianism. One of the central tenets of positivism was that ethics should become a branch of science. Ethical dilemmas were soluble problems like those found in chemistry and physics. By applying the methods of scienceâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;observation, experimentation, and measurementâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;moral quandaries could be resolved in ways that left no room for doubt. In this positivist view moral questions had objective answers, which could be discovered by anyone who possessed the necessary knowledge and powers of reasoning. Moral disagreement could only be a result of ignorance or irrationality. Singerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s view is not dissimilar. Considering how someone should donate $100,000, he maintains that â&#x20AC;&#x153;there are objective answers to the question, What is the best cause?â&#x20AC;? In a choice between donating funds to an art museum or using the funds to cure blindness among poor people in developing countries, he has no doubt that â&#x20AC;&#x153;giving them to art museums . . .would not do the most good.â&#x20AC;? He arrives at this conclusion by a process of computation: â&#x20AC;&#x153;Suppose [a] new museum wing will cost $50 million, and over the ďŹ fty years of its expected useful life one million people will enjoy seeing it each year, for a total of ďŹ fty million enhanced museum visits. Since you would contribute 1/500th of the cost, you could claim credit for the enhanced aesthetic experiences of one hundred thousand visitors.â&#x20AC;? He then goes on to argue that, if the cost of a cure for blindness is $100 per person, one thousand people could be cured of blindness. Having made this calculation, it seems to Singer incontrovertible that sparing a thousand people from blindness is better than enhancing the aesthetic experience of a hundred thousand museum visitors. It is not only in questions of charitable giving that Singer believes there

1 In his book The Ways and Powers of Love: Types, Factors, and Techniques of Moral Transformation (1954; republished by the Templeton Foundation Press, 2002), Sorokin stressed Comteâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s belief (which he shared) in the central importance of the emotions in the development of altruism as a social movement, writing: â&#x20AC;&#x153;An increase of altruistic love appeared in Comte as the main way out of chaos, towards a nobler and better social order. This goal could not be reached through the merely unconscious and conscious (intellectual) forces in manâ&#x20AC;? (p. 138).

May 21, 2015

are objectively right answers. He considers the question whether guards at Auschwitz could be justiďŹ ed in serving in this role if they believed correctly that refusing to do so â&#x20AC;&#x153;would have led only to their replacement by someone else, perhaps someone who would have been even more brutal.â&#x20AC;? After considering and rejecting some counterarguments, Singer concludes: Strictly utilitarian effective altruists could not accept these views and so would have to accept the implication that, on a plausible reading of the relevant facts, at least some of the guards at Auschwitz were not acting wrongly.

â&#x20AC;&#x153;an ultimate and fundamental contradiction in our apparent intuitions of what is Reasonable in conduct.â&#x20AC;?2 Sidgwick is important for Singer, since it is only when Singer discusses him that he presents anything resembling an extended defense of the utilitarian view that morality requires doing the most good. Unfortunately Singerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s account of Sidgwickâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s thinking is patchy and misleading. Correctly, he writes that Sidgwick â&#x20AC;&#x153;held that there are self-evident fundamental moral principles, or axioms, which we grasp through our reasoning capacityâ&#x20AC;?; but he omits to inform the reader that Sidgwick believed these principles to be irreconcilably at odds. About Sidgwick, Singer writes:

Anyone who thinks otherwise, Singer believes, is mistaken.

For our purposes the most relevant of these principles are as follows: â&#x20AC;&#x153;The good of any one individual is of no more importance, from the point of view (if I may say so) of the Universe, than the good of any other; unless, that is, there are special grounds for believing that more good is likely to be realised in the one case than in the other.â&#x20AC;?

It is evident from these examples that

effective altruism, as Singer understands it, requires some radical departures from common moral beliefs. For him this is not a weakness but a strength of the ideal he is advocating. But why should anyone give up their moral convictions in order to do the most good? For most human beings, living ethically is not about doing the most good. It has to do with holding to precepts of right conduct, such as those that enjoin them to discharge obligations to those for whom they are responsible; cultivating virtues and striving to avoid vices; and refusing to perform actions they believe are wrong in all circumstances. Living ethically may require careful reasoning; but the purpose of such reasoning is not normally to establish what will do the most good. Rather, it is to balance the claims of a variety of goods; to determine how different values are to be applied in the circumstances and decide which of them is most important in cases of conďŹ&#x201A;ict. In some cases there may be no single right answer to these questions. In the view of most people, a good life need not maximize anything. According to Singer, these peopleâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the great majority of human beings that have ever livedâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;are being irrational. But what reason is there to accept Singerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s view that a rational human being will aim to do the most good? After all, none of the canonical utilitarian thinkers has ever been able to explain why anyone should devote their lives to maximizing value in the world. Neither Bentham nor Mill was able to provide a convincing justiďŹ cation for the utilitarian principles that, in different ways, they both held to be fundamental in moral reasoning. Even the Cambridge philosopher Henry Sidgwick (1838â&#x20AC;&#x201C; 1900), who is generally, and rightly, considered to be the greatest utilitarian thinker, confessed that he could ďŹ nd no such justiďŹ cation. Two principles seemed to Sidgwick self-evident: a principle of rational egoism, which implied that selďŹ shness was as reasonable a basis for living as concern for others, and a principle of rational benevolence, requiring that one should aim not at the good of anyone in particular but at the good of all. Sidgwickâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s difďŹ culty, which he called â&#x20AC;&#x153;the dualism of practical reason,â&#x20AC;? came from the fact that these two principles are in conďŹ&#x201A;ict, and as far as he could determine this conďŹ&#x201A;ict was rationally insoluble. At the end of The Methods of Ethics, Sidgwick felt forced to admit

To this statement Sidgwick adds another claim, this time about what a rational being should aim at: â&#x20AC;&#x153;And it is evident to me that as a rational being I am bound to aim at good generallyâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;so far as it is attainable by my effortsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;not merely at a particular part of it.â&#x20AC;? From these two principles Sidgwick deduces what he calls â&#x20AC;&#x153;the maxim of benevolenceâ&#x20AC;? in an abstract form: â&#x20AC;&#x153;Each one is morally bound to regard the good of any other individual as much as his own, except in so far as he judges it to be less, when impartially viewed, or less certainly knowable or attainable by him.â&#x20AC;? Singer comments that this is â&#x20AC;&#x153;exactly the kind of principle that would guide receptive people to do the things that . . . effective altruists do.â&#x20AC;? If we were purely rational beings, he goes on, we would â&#x20AC;&#x153;see that it is more rational to aim at the good of all than the good of some smaller group.â&#x20AC;? Given that Sidgwick spent much of his life struggling to reconcile principles he believed to be rationally selfevident and in his own view failed to do so, pronouncing one of these principles â&#x20AC;&#x201D;â&#x20AC;&#x153;the maxim of benevolenceâ&#x20AC;?â&#x20AC;&#x201D;to be â&#x20AC;&#x153;the most relevantâ&#x20AC;? is question-begging and disingenuous. For Sidgwick, rational egoism and impartial benevolence could be reconciled only if â&#x20AC;&#x153;the moral order of the worldâ&#x20AC;? ensured that practicing such benevolence would be in everyoneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s long-term self-interest. This was a belief derived from religion for which Sidgwickâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;who resigned from his fellowship at Trinity College when he could no longer accept the tenets of the Church of England as was required of fellows of Cambridge colleges at the timeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;could ďŹ nd no rational basis. 3 But 2 The Methods of Ethics, seventh edition (Hackett, 1981), p. 508. 3

Sidgwick believed that the contradictions he had found in the foundations of ethics might be resolved if evidence could be produced showing that the human mind survives bodily death, and he spent several decades deeply involved in psychical research. Despite the fact that Sidgwick believed it was closely connected with his work in ethics, this aspect of his thought is barely mentioned in a study of him that Singer

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while he rejected Christianity, Sidgwick never wholly freed his thinking from theism. His reference to â&#x20AC;&#x153;the point of view . . . of the Universeâ&#x20AC;? is an example of this inďŹ&#x201A;uence. Unless some kind of presiding deity is assumed, the universe has no point of view.

That value should be maximized ap-

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THE DEATH OF NAPOLEON Simon Leys .+/)0"!#.,*0%"."+ %5 0%"10%,.+!0.& &)+ 5 &'!$%%!.  )/,5&*,+"5/ The Hall of Uselessness Collected Essays &'!$%%!. 

pears obvious to Singer. Nowhere in this book does he tell us why this should be so. As a result the claim that living ethically means doing the most good is left hanging in midair. Plausibly, the idea that practical rationality must mean maximizing something belongs in economics (if it belongs anywhere) rather than ethics. Those who believe it would be wrong to serve as a guard in a Nazi death camp even if doing so would prevent greater suffering are not guilty of any ďŹ&#x201A;aw in reasoning. They are refusing to be complicit in practices they believe to be categorically and intrinsically wrong. To surrender this belief for the sake of a utilitarian theory of â&#x20AC;&#x153;negative responsibilityâ&#x20AC;? (which asserts that one is responsible for evils that one could have prevented) would be a fundamental compromise of their moral integrity. If this is required by utilitarian ethics, so much the worse for utilitarianism. Singer considers the argument, made some forty years ago by the late Brit-

coauthored with Katarzyna de LazariRadek, The Point of View of the Universe (Oxford University Press, 2014). Discussing his â&#x20AC;&#x153;dualism of practical reason,â&#x20AC;? the authors acknowledge that Sidgwick â&#x20AC;&#x153;was unable to conclude that utilitarianism is the only rationally defensible way of deciding what we ought to doâ&#x20AC;?; they fail to discuss the fact that it was largely this failure that fueled his interest in psychical research. A full account can be found in Bart Schultzâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Henry Sidgwick: The Eye of the Universe: An Intellectual Biography (Cambridge University Press, 2004). I have examined the link between Sidgwickâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ethics and his involvement in psychical research in The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), pp. 22â&#x20AC;&#x201C;37.

ish philosopher Bernard Williams, according to which the utilitarian ideal of doing the most good requires people to step aside from the projects and attachments that give meaning to their lives. Adopting â&#x20AC;&#x153;the point of view of the universe,â&#x20AC;? Williams argued, is an impossibility4 ; but to the extent that universal benevolence is adopted as an overriding goal, it has the effect of alienating people from their convictions. Singer rejects this argument on the ground that effective altruists are, to a greater extent than most people, living in accord with their valuesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;that is, with their core conviction that we ought to live our lives so as to do the most good we can. Later Singer writes: Effective altruists seem to have achieved what Williams thought cannot be done. They are able to detach themselves from the more personal considerations that otherwise dominate the way in which we live. But such detachment illustrates the alienation that Williams criticizes. Whether or not they ďŹ nd fulďŹ llment in the way they live, effective altruists are bound to view their lives not as ends in themselves but as means to the greatest good. Not everyone will share Singerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s unqualiďŹ ed admiration for the people he describes. In the eyes of many, having a body part removed in order to â&#x20AC;&#x153;bite the utilitarian bulletâ&#x20AC;? or obsessing about the moral iniquity of ice cream will be seen as examples of lives deformed by a simple-minded and disputable theory. Nor will many accept that ordinary human attachments fall short of some higher ideal of rational impartiality. If people prefer to give priority to 4 Bernard Williams, â&#x20AC;&#x153;The Point of View of the Universe: Sidgwick and the Ambitions of Ethics,â&#x20AC;? in The Sense of the Past: Essays in the History of Philosophy, edited by Miles Burnyeat (Princeton University Press, 2006).

the needs of their own children over the needs of others living in poverty, or the well-being of a loved one with Alzheimerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s over that of a dog or chimpanzee, they are not backsliding from an ideal of universal benevolence; they are honoring the ethical understandings that shape their lives. In contrast, for effective altruists, whose â&#x20AC;&#x153;overriding concern is to do the most good they can,â&#x20AC;? any weight they give to â&#x20AC;&#x153;more personal considerationsâ&#x20AC;? can only be a moral lapse as well as a failure of rationality. It is true that a type of utilitarianism can be developed that takes account of these human frailtiesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;a split-level theory in which utilitarian reasoning applies when we are theorizing about the nature of value, while in practical ethics we rely on nonutilitarian motives and practices. But an indirect version of utilitarianism of this kind still implies that in giving special weight to our personal goals and relationships we are being irrational and less than fully moral. If we make allowances for our human frailties, it is in order to be â&#x20AC;&#x153;of more use to the world.â&#x20AC;? If we were â&#x20AC;&#x153;purely rational beings,â&#x20AC;? we would care only about â&#x20AC;&#x153;the good of the whole.â&#x20AC;? It may be that some good can come from effective altruism. Singer is right that some kinds of sufferingâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;that involved in factory farming of animals, for exampleâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;are given insufďŹ cient attention in current moral thinking. Even so, a life shaped by a thin universal benevolence is an unattractive prospect. For many of us a world in which our own projects and attachments were accorded value only insofar as they enabled us to maximize the general good, where human values were subject to a test of marginal utility and the relief of suffering given overriding priority over aesthetic pleasure, would be hardly worth living in. Happily there is no reason to suppose that any such world will come into being. If history is our guide we can expect Singerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s movement for effective altruism to go the way of Comteâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s church of positivism, which has passed into history as an example of the follies of philosophy.

DEAR READER Dear reader dearest inscrutable listener inscrutably harking or regrettably more likely not harking except in that chamber in me that posits you with me every moment Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m speaking or trying to speak Dear reader who may or may not be with me I still remember how once you werenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t here at all so Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d make up a mythical listener and there were good sides to that because I myself could choose the degree of your presence the level of your attention from zero to ďŹ fty but then before I knew it you were somehow actually with me though itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s still a mystery as to why you decided to join me but mystery or not in another before I knew it the make-believe between us suddenly altered to your not being with me because if I thought of you paying attention too closely youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d daunt me This far along though all thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s all over because if weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re together or not if youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re harking or not weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve had our good times and bad and with whom after all have I passed more intimate hours with whom communed more to whom given over more of the secrets I swore when they barbed me Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d keep to myself forever though I know now thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s never forever and know too dear reader here with me in one way or another that there arenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t any mysteries Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d still care to conceal and as long as youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re there nose in a book at your end of the page Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll keep scribbling at mine

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The New York Review



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May 21, 2015


The Very Tricky Trial of the Khmer Rouge Joshua Hammer


Cambodia for nearly three decades and who has always been wary of the tribunal, claimed in 2009 that expanding its mandate beyond the five principal defendants could set off a civil war. (Aside from Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, the five included Kaing Guek Eav (“Duch”), the former head of internal security, Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister, and his wife, Ieng Thirith.) The government has impeded investigations, and three years ago a

former Khmer Rouge strongholds, have ignored the tribunal’s repeated summonses to answer investigators’ questions; Ao An is the only one of the three who voluntarily appeared in court to answer the charges. On March 24 a spokesman for the Interior Ministry flatly stated that “we will not arrest” Meas Muth and Im Chaem, and so far Harmon has declined to issue an arrest warrant for the pair, apparently unwilling to risk—at least for the Samrang Pring/Reuters

Last October the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) convened in Phnom Penh to resume what many regard as the most important international criminal prosecution since the Nuremberg trials. Currently on trial are the two highestranking surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge, Khieu Samphan, the onetime chief of state, and Nuon Chea, who made many important decisions and is known as Brother Number Two. They face charges of genocide, torture, murder, forced marriages, rapes, enslavement, and other atrocities dating back to the period, between April 1975 and January 1979, when the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia. During that time, 1.7 million Cambodians, a quarter of the population, were killed or died of starvation or disease. The first part of their trial concluded in October 2013 after 221 days of testimony from ninety-two witnesses. The octogenarian ex-leaders were found guilty of crimes against humanity and last August received sentences of life in prison. But those convictions covered only a narrow range of offenses—the executions of soldiers and officials from the Khmer Republic, the defeated USbacked regime, and the forced evacuations of hundreds of thousands from Phnom Penh and other urban centers in April 1975. Anticipating that the proceedings could drag on for years, the prosecutors decided to split the charges against them into two groups and save the most explosive ones, including genocide, torture, and murder, for last. “For many Cambodians, these are the crimes that defined the regime and affected them and their loved ones personally,” said Heather Ryan of George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, who has monitored both trials. Some observers believe this could be the last case to be heard by the ECCC — the final opportunity to pass judgment on the masterminds of the most brutal crimes of the second half of the twentieth century. A verdict is not expected until 2017, and the appeals process could drag on for another two years. As the trials of the Khmer Rouge leaders move forward in the Phnom Penh courtroom, an equally fascinating drama has been building elsewhere. Since 2009, investigators have been gathering evidence against five lower-ranking Khmer Rouge figures— district leaders and military commanders—who allegedly carried out purges, committed acts of genocide against minorities, and ran detention camps in which thousands were tortured and executed. UN officials say that these five suspects bear collective responsibility for the deaths of nearly 100,000 people. “The evidence against them,” I was told by a source close to the tribunal, “is horrific.” (One of them died of natural causes in 2013 before he could be brought to trial.) It is an open question whether the four surviving lower officials will ever have their day in court. Cambodia’s prime minister, Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge fighter who has ruled

Victims of the Khmer Rouge regime protesting outside the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia to demand individual reparations, Phnom Penh, October 2014

prominent Swiss jurist resigned in frustration at its delaying tactics. In February 2015, Hun Sen again insisted that pressing forward would send former Khmer Rouge foot soldiers—many of whom are in their sixties and seventies—back to the jungle to carry on fighting. “If a war occurred, how many people would be killed?” he asked. Now the prime minister is locked in a test of wills with the United Nations that is likely to come to a head by the end of this year. Defying Hun Sen’s wishes, International Investigating Judge Mark Brian Harmon—who was appointed to the court by the UN secretary-general and approved by Cambodia’s Supreme Council of Magistracy, a nine-member body presided over by the king—announced in early March that he was filing charges against two of the four surviving lower-ranking suspects. One is Meas Muth, the Khmer Rouge naval commander. Among a litany of crimes, Muth allegedly ordered the arrests of foreign sailors, including Australian, British, and American citizens, who had strayed into Cambodian waters, and had them delivered to Phnom Penh’s notorious S-21 prison, where they were tortured and executed. The second suspect is Im Chaem, a Khmer Rouge district leader who ran a rural commune and a detention center in which many thousands died. On March 27, Harmon filed charges against a third suspect, Ao An, a former Khmer Rouge official, for premeditated homicide and crimes against humanity, stemming from the murders at two detention centers and an execution site. Meas Muth and Im Chaem, who live openly in western Cambodia, in

moment—a direct confrontation with the Cambodian government. Instead, he charged the Khmer Rouge officials in absentia, giving him time to build cases against the two suspects while preparing his next move. Even more than the trial of Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, the showdown between Hun Sen and Harmon is emerging as a test of the international criminal justice system, and of the United Nations’ credibility.


he ECCC occupies a renovated auditorium at the Military High Command Headquarters compound on the western outskirts of Phnom Penh, ten miles from the city center. On a March morning I passed through a metal detector and took a seat in the second-floor gallery, separated from the courtroom by a wall of bulletproof plexiglass. Cambodian high school students took up almost all the other seats. They were there because of a program initiated by the tribunal’s public affairs office, which has bussed tens of thousands of citizens to the court since the trials began in February 2009. Five judges, three Cambodians and two from France and Austria, sat on a raised bench in the rear of the chamber, beneath the flags of the United Nations and Cambodia. To their left were the prosecutors, accompanied by the civil parties—victims who, under French law, to which the court subscribes, can confront the accused and claim reparations for the harm that they suffered under the Khmer Rouge. The prosecutors, like the judges, consist of both foreign experts and Cambodians. The

foreigners are nominated by the UN secretary-general and approved by Cambodia’s Supreme Council of Magistracy; the Cambodians are directly appointed by the supreme council. Facing them across the room were the defense lawyers and nurses and Khieu Samphan, eighty-three, a frail-looking figure who rarely looked up during the proceedings. During the week that I attended the trial, Nuon Chea, eightyeight, citing back pain and general poor health, remained in a detention cell located in a small house a minute’sgolf-cart ride from the courthouse. The building has a small garden, television, private bathrooms, and a kitchen with its own chef. In the center of the chamber sat Witness Number 381, Neang Ouch, alias Ta San, a trim, handsome figure of seventy-two. He is not himself charged with a crime but was subpoenaed by the international prosecutor, Nicholas Koumjian, to testify before the court and was free to leave when his testimony was finished. According to the testimony and affidavits of several survivors, he had been the chairman of Tram Kak district, west of Phnom Penh, between 1977 and 1978. Tram Kak had been the site of a notorious “model commune” where much brutality had taken place, and of a detention center in which 10,000 people had been executed. A high school physics teacher before the Communists seized power, Neang Ouch had allegedly been placed in his position by his brother-in-law, Ta Mok, a feared Khmer Rouge leader also known as both “Brother Number Five” and “The Butcher.” Neang Ouch denied all knowledge of Khmer Rouge crimes. In bland tones, the former teacher described the commune as “a simple, ordinary cooperative” where people lived in harmony and where those who failed to meet their production quotas were gently “reprimanded.” He had, he claimed, been a lowly “assistant” on dam-building and irrigation projects; his biggest responsibility was to escort foreign visitors, including Western journalists, on tours of the commune. (These were carefully stage-managed affairs that duped many visitors into believing that the Khmer Rouge was building a model agrarian society.) Koumjian, the American prosecutor, asked Ouch to corroborate an account by one survivor that the Khmer Rouge had ordered workers to put on fresh uniforms and bathe when foreign visitors arrived. Those who were not “washed clean,” the survivor testified, would be killed—or, as the survivor put it, employing a Khmer Rouge euphemism, “withdrawn.” “I did not know the details,” Ouch insisted. “I was in the rice fields, or digging canals. I was just an assistant to the district committee, assigned there by Ta Mok.” All those who identified him otherwise, he replied, were either “confused or made a mistake.” Koumjian asked a Cambodian colleague to read aloud Article 545 in Cambodia’s criminal code, which manThe New York Review

dates a ďŹ ve-year prison sentence for perjury. The prosecutorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s warning apparently had an effect. During the next dayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s testimony, Koumjian confronted Ouch with a letter in his own handwriting. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Take the [women] who are detained, and send the older children to the work units,â&#x20AC;? it read. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Keep the younger children with their mothers, and sweep them all clean.â&#x20AC;? Ouch admitted that this was an execution order, and acknowledged that he had written it. But he insisted that he had been obeying a superior. â&#x20AC;&#x153;If Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d refused . . . I would have been in danger.â&#x20AC;?


he campaign to create an international court to prosecute the Khmer

Rouge dates back to the mid-1990s. The Vietnamese army had driven the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979 and withdrawn from the country in 1991, but Khmer Rouge remnants were still waging a guerrilla war in the Cambodian countryside, and all the top leaders, including Pol Pot, Brother Number One, remained at large. In 1994, the US Congress passed the Cambodian Genocide Justice Act, which provided funding for Yale University to collect evidence of the Communist regimeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s atrocities. Yaleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Cambodian Genocide Program obtained access to the 100,000-page archive of the Khmer Rougeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s security policeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;a guide to the regimeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s record of arrests, purges, torture, and executions.

At the same time, Cambodiaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Documentation Center, run by Youk Chhang, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime who had lost many members of his family, tracked down reams of incriminating documents. He also located Khmer Rouge detention facilities, identiďŹ ed witnesses, and found dozens of mass graves, providing valuable forensic evidence and building a strong foundation for prosecutions. In June 1997, Cambodian Co-Prime Ministers Hun Sen and Norodom Ranariddh, the son of former King Sihanouk, wrote a joint letter to KoďŹ Annan, the UN secretary-general, requesting help in establishing a Khmer Rouge tribunal. Apparently they had several motives. They were eager to

establish their willingness to punish the monstrous behavior of the Khmer Rouge. They were also eager to have the aid money that would ďŹ nance a tribunal. They wanted to intimidate and demoralize the few remaining Khmer Rouge ďŹ ghters. Their letter â&#x20AC;&#x153;provided the diplomatic and legal basis for the US to move forward,â&#x20AC;? I was told by David Scheffer, who from August 1997 to 2001 was US ambassador-at-large for war crimes, and now serves as the UN secretary-generalâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s special expert on United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright pressed the Security Council to back a court, but France, Russia, and China vetoed the proposal, arguing that the Khmer










May 21, 2015






s the Duch trial got underway a new confrontation was taking place. Cambodia’s information minister announced in 2011 that if investigating judges—jurists who, under French law, are responsible for building criminal cases—wanted to pursue figures beyond Duch and the top leadership, “they should pack their bags and leave.” The government found a willing collaborator in Siegfried Blunk, a German investigative judge who, experts on the trial told me, colluded with his Cambodian counterpart, You Bunleng, to block investigations into 44

five additional suspects, all second-tier officials—so-called Cases 003 and 004. Blunk sidelined international investigators and handed their assignments to Cambodians, who compiled perfunctory reports, forged documents, and tampered with witnesses. When confronted by evidence of his obstruction, sources say, Blunk agreed to step down. In 2011 UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon chose Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, a respected Swiss jurist who had been a reserve judge at the tribunal, to replace Blunk. But Kasper-Ansermet’s tenure was troubled from the start. Cambodian officials mocked him as “the twitter judge”—he had tweeted about the court for years. They questioned his objectivity and refused to approve his appointment. Kasper-Ansermet had to delay his arrival in the country because

ally and benefactor, to shut down the tribunal. Investigators have been gathering statements about China’s relationship with the murderous regime, including its construction of the Kampong Chhnang Airport north of Phnom Penh. A second motive for Hun Sen’s interference may lie closer to home. It is no secret that top figures in both the government and in Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party had prominent parts in the government of the Khmer Rouge. National Assembly Chairman Heng Samrin served as the commander of the Fourth Division of the Eastern Zone— the region along the Vietnamese border—and is suspected of directing purges and mass killings during incursions into Vietnam in 1977. Chea Sim, the president of the Senate, was a sector leader inside the Eastern Zone. Both

cused, with plenty of evidence, of plundering forests, grabbing land from poor peasants, and lining their pockets with ill-gotten wealth. This record led to a near defeat of the Cambodian People’s Party in the July 2013 elections. The election result clearly alarmed Hun Sen and led to an even harsher crackdown on dissent. Last year police beat up antigovernment protesters who defied a ban on demonstrations and demanded a license for Cambodia’s first opposition television channel. Western governments largely ignored the beatings. “Hun Sen,” Virak Ou told me, “has been condemned for human rights violations, but never has he lost his donor funding. He thinks that if he can keep pushing back on the tribunal, the UN will ultimately back down.” Nhet Sokheng /ECCC

Rouge were no longer a security threat and the council had no jurisdiction. Hun Sen ousted Ranariddh in a coup d’état in the summer of 1997. Pol Pot died the following year, and shortly after that the last Khmer Rouge guerrillas surrendered and Cambodia’s two-decade-long civil war came to an end. In 1999 UN officials from the secretary-general’s staff and the Cambodian government, taking account of the Security Council’s veto, began negotiations to set up an alternative to a tribunal held under Security Council auspices. This would be a Cambodian court that would have the cooperation of Hun Sen, while the prosecution would be conducted by both Cambodians and an international staff. The Cambodian supreme court would have to approve prosecutors. In 2003, after four years of deadlocks and objections, the UN General Assembly, the secretary-general’s office, and the Cambodian government approved the agreement that established the ECCC. But there was one major sticking point: the number of Khmer Rouge criminals who would be tried. The United Nations proposed an initial number of thirty, and the Hun Sen government wanted far fewer. The court settled on a vague number of “ten to fifteen.” The mandate would be limited to “senior leaders” and those held “most responsible” for the Khmer Rouge atrocities. One court official says that Hun Sen had a “limited vision of accountability.” He was after all a member of the Khmer Rouge between 1970 and 1977, when he fled to Vietnam. In February 2009 the tribunal at last brought its first suspect to the dock: Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, the former head of internal security and the overseer of the Tuol Sleng S-21 prison in Phnom Penh, where 18,000 people were tortured and killed. Duch was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to life in prison. He is being held in isolation at Kandal Prison, built thanks to financial aid from the Australian government on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The efficiency of the Duch trial, however, may have distracted observers from shortcomings of the judicial process. Because of bureaucratic delays, the top Khmer Rouge leaders died before they could be brought to court. Pol Pot and his deputies, Ke Pauk and Ta Mok, the Butcher, were all dead before the Duch trial began. Ieng Sary, the Khmer Rouge’s foreign minister, died in 2013 at the age of eighty-seven in detention while awaiting trial; his wife, Ieng Thirith, was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial. And all but some 10,000 of the killings carried out by the Khmer Rouge could not be tried as genocide under international law, because the victims belonged to the Khmer majority.

Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch—who oversaw Tuol Sleng prison during the Khmer Rouge regime, where thousands of people were tortured and killed—upon receiving his sentence to life in prison, Phnom Penh, February 2012

of fears that he would be detained at the border. You Bunleng, apparently following the wishes of Hun Sen and his top leaders, declared Cases 003 and 004 closed. He refused to provide Ansermet’s field investigators with vehicles, drivers, and interpreters. “It was a total boycott,” a source close to him told me. In March 2012, citing “egregious dysfunctions” at the court, Kasper-Ansermet resigned. Harmon, who took over in October 2012, reinvigorated the judicial process. Unlike Kasper-Ansermet, he went out of his way to befriend You Bunleng, taking him out on a pleasure cruise on the Mekong River. The two men drank together and brought their staffs together for office parties. Ultimately You Bunleng agreed not to stand in Harmon’s way. Though the Cambodian investigators remain sidelined, as Hun Sen would want, Harmon’s international team of investigators has worked without interference across the country. They can make use of cars, drivers, interpreters, and stenographers, and have conducted one hundred field missions and four hundred interviews.


Sen broke a six-year silence about the investigations in February 2015 when he warned that the tribunal would provoke the remaining supporters of the Khmer Rouge and lead to civil war. Scheffer dismisses his statement as inflammatory rhetoric. “I am not aware of any . . . basis for the view that hostilities would erupt in Cambodia if the mandate of the court is fully completed,” he says. Tribunal insiders believe that Hun Sen is facing pressure from China, the onetime Khmer Rouge

men have refused to testify in the trials of Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, and are said to be fearful, a source told me, that they could be “shamed” by information divulged during the trials of the lower-ranking officials. “The patronage system can only be secure when you have absolute loyalty,” says Virak Ou, a leading human rights activist in Phnom Penh. “Hun Sen relies on these guys to keep him propped up.” Until now Hun Sen has been willing to tolerate the tribunal, which confers on him a measure of international legitimacy and provides a reliable source of cash. Japan, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, the US, and other donors have spent nearly $200 million to keep the court running in Cambodia over the past decade. Some of that money, human rights officials in Cambodia allege, has ended up in the pockets of Hun Sen’s cronies. But with the threat of further trials ahead, the prime minister may believe that the damage will be greater than any possible advantage. And shutting it down seems unlikely to create a backlash at home. In the first years the tribunal forced a reckoning with Cambodia’s past. But Virak Ou told me that after six years of trials, “There is a feeling that it has gone on too long. I think most Cambodians, including myself, ignore the court. It is off the radar screen.” Hun Sen may feel that he has nothing to fear from his donors either. During his thirty years in power, he has tightly controlled all of Cambodia’s government institutions, as well as the media, and brutally attacked members of the opposition—with few strong protests from other countries. Moreover, Hun Sen and his inner circle have been ac-

Tribunal officials told me that Harmon

is likely to have an indictment ready against Im Chaem, Meas Muth, and Ao An by late this year. Even if Harmon’s coinvestigating judge, the Cambodian lawyer You Bunleng, votes against the indictment, the trials still have a good chance of going forward. The final decision would then be made by the Pretrial Chamber, consisting of three Cambodian and two international judges. By ECCC rules, at least one international judge would have to join all three Cambodian judges to block an indictment, which is seen as unlikely. At that point, Harmon will have to issue an arrest warrant—a move that could place him in direct confrontation with Hun Sen. Investigators in the field are also compiling dossiers against another Khmer Rouge suspect in Case 004, who is accused of carrying out purges of the party ranks in which thousands were executed. In An Long Veng, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold near the Thai border, Im Chaem, seventy-two, maintains her innocence. “Why should I be worried about the charges against me?” she told a journalist who tracked her down soon after the tribunal filed charges. “I am not wrong, the person who charged me is wrong.” Meas Muth, the former naval chief, stands accused of responsibility for “forced labor, inhumane living conditions, unlawful arrest and detention, physical and mental abuse, torture and killing . . .which resulted in at least thousands and quite probably tens of thousands of deaths.” He lives openly in Samlot, another former Khmer Rouge sanctuary, where Duch was captured in 1999. During the late 1970s, Meas Muth attended many gatherings of top Khmer Rouge officials, including Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, where murderous policies were set into motion. “When I came to those meetings, it was only to discuss rice production,” Muth told a reporter from the Englishlanguage Phnom Penh Post during an interview in 2001. He also made a familiar defense of the lower-ranking Khmer Rouge officials who carried out atrocities. “The low ranks had to respect the orders. It was like under Hitler,” he said. “Like [former S-21 chief] Mr Duch, he was ordered to kill people and if he did not kill them, he would have been killed.” At this point, it remains unclear whether Meas Muth, Im Chaem, and the other Khmer Rouge murderers will have the opportunity to test that argument in court. The Hun Sen regime may step in once again to sabotage the pursuit of justice. The New York Review

The Weird and Instructive Story of Eduard Limonov Masha Gessen

Eduard Limonov’s first book, published as a “fictional memoir” back in 1983, showed the rarest of talents: the ability to laugh at one’s own insecure, obnoxious, angry, and overbearing self. It’s Me, Eddie begins with a rant describing the main character living in squalor—we first see him eating sour cabbage soup (shchi in Russian), halfnaked on the balcony of a disreputable New York City hotel. By the fifth paragraph the novel stumbles as it tries to distance the narrator from himself: I think it’s clear to you by now what a character I am, even though I forgot to introduce myself. I started running on without announcing who I was; I forgot. Overjoyed at the opportunity to drown you in my voice at last, I got carried away and never announced whose voice it was. My fault, forgive me, we’ll straighten it out right now. I am on welfare. I live at your expense, you pay taxes and I don’t do a fucking thing. Twice a month I go to the clean, spacious welfare office at 1515 Broadway and receive my checks. I consider myself to be scum, the dregs of society, I have no shame or conscience, therefore my conscience doesn’t bother me and I don’t plan to look for work, I want to receive your money to the end of my days. And my name is Edichka, “Eddie-baby.” The author has by now made it clear that he is from Russia, and he anticipates the inevitable question: Who was I over there? What’s the difference, what would it change? I hate the past, as I always have, in the name of the present. Well, I was a poet, if you must know, a poet was I, an unofficial, underground poet. That’s over forever, and now I am one of yours, I am scum, I’m the one to whom you feed shchi and rotten cheap California wine—$3.59 a gallon—and yet I scorn you. Not all of you, but many. Because you lead dull lives, sell yourselves into the slavery of work, because of your vulgar plaid pants, because you make money and have never seen the world. You’re shit! Going from underground poet to scum was just the first chapter or two of Limonov’s adventures. More precisely, it was the first of dozens of books that Limonov would write about his own life, all of them “fictional memoirs.” (He’s now seventy-two, living in Moscow.) Sometime relatively early on, certainly by book twelve (A Foreigner in May 21, 2015

Troubled Times, published in Russian in 1991), he lost the ability to avoid taking himself too seriously—or dropped the pretense of not doing so. He also gradually lost his foreign-language publishers. Now the French writer Emmanuel Carrère has condensed the first sixtysix years of Limonov’s life into a book called Limonov: The Outrageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, a Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero

transformed flows as though someone with immediate knowledge of the events were telling it.


he jacket copy calls Carrère’s Limonov a “pseudobiography.” But the book does what most biographies do: it repackages stories that have been rehearsed over and over, losing details, acquiring embellishments, and stringing themselves into sequences more logical than life itself can proDenis Sinyakov/Reuters

Limonov: The Outrageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, a Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero in Russia by Emmanuel Carrère, translated from the French by John Lambert. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 340 pp., $30.00

Policemen detaining Eduard Limonov at an unauthorized opposition rally in central Moscow, December 2009

in Russia. If the subtitle reflected the contents of the book fully, it would include at least two more items: “a fellow traveler of Serbian forces in the Balkan wars who also achieved nirvana.” Even this expanded catalog would fall short of describing all of Limonov’s incarnations, at least a couple of which came after the period described in Carrère’s book. Limonov called most of his autobiographical books “novels.” Carrère, who has written novels and biographies, and at least one book that was both at the same time (a fictionalized biography of Philip K. Dick), has decided for the purposes of writing Limonov that Limonov’s novels were factual memoirs. Without supplying much, if any, evidence for saying so, Carrère states that Limonov never lies. He asks the reader to take Limonov’s veracity on faith— a questionable proposition if only because Limonov himself never claimed to be telling the truth in his novels. Carrère has read Limonov’s autobiographical books and retells them, indicating which book he used for each chapter (for descriptions of historical events, he also uses several other books about Russia, some with attribution and some without). Captivating as Limonov’s early writing was, few people would have the time and patience to read ten or more books about a single person’s life. It is therefore useful to have the remarkable life story condensed into a single book by a storyteller as smooth as Carrère. The translation from French into English, by John Lambert, is one of the most colloquial and fluid I have ever read. The result is seamless: a story twice

vide, conflating and reshuffling dates in the process. What makes Limonov unusual is that using the written record one can trace some of the changes that have been made in the stories along the way. Carrère takes liberties with some of Limonov’s recollections. For example, when Limonov visits his parents in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkov after fifteen years in exile—a visit described in A Foreigner in Troubled Times—Carrère brings his protagonist straight from the train station to the apartment door, with a moment’s reflection on whether his father might die of a heart attack from the shock of unexpectedly seeing his son; he then rings the bell. In the original Limonov suffered misgivings and minor mishaps; he called from the station, and he took a few pages to make his way to the family home. At the same time, Carrère preserves the fibs and the factual errors of Limonov’s writing and adds many of his own. He has Andrei Sakharov exiled to Gorky for fifteen years in 1973—in fact, the Russian dissident was exiled in 1980 and was allowed to return home to Moscow in 1986. This is just one of dozens of inaccuracies: generally speaking, dates and figures in the book are more likely to be wrong than right. In addition, Carrère, the descendant of Russian émigrés and the son of a Kremlinologist, offers a variety of interpretations of Russian culture and language that bear the imprint of generations of distortion. Some are innocuous: he claims, for example, that “in the period following [World War II], cities aren’t called cities but ‘population concentrations’”—when in fact “population con-

centration” is simple bureaucratese for all cities, towns, and villages. Some of his renditions are almost comically wrong. Carrère, for example, writes that Limonov’s father worked as a “nacht-kluba, which you could translate as ‘nightclub manager,’ but which here means organizing leisure and cultural activities for the soldiers.” In fact, Limonov’s father worked on an army base as a nachalnik kluba, which is unrelated to any sinister German-sounding word for “night,” and translates simply as “club director.” In a detailed passage, he invents a convoluted version of the collective drinking binge, which he says is called zapoi—but that is simply the Russian word for “drinking binge,” which can be engaged in alone or in a group and has no attendant rituals other than the drinking itself. A Russian-speaking reader could spend hours criticizing Carrère’s translations of Russian words: improbably, he manages to misuse just about every Russian term he includes in the book. Add the anachronisms and misstated dates, and you are faced with a most uneasy question: How much do facts matter? Throughout the first half of Limonov, vivid and perceptive descriptions of people and events consistently emerge from the mess of scrambled facts. Carrère, for example, supplies an accurate summary of the Brezhnev era, also known as the Era of Stagnation, and its meaning in the post-Soviet period: Practically all Russians old enough to have known this leaden, resigned, and in a way comfortable stability think back on it with nostalgia today, when they’re condemned to swim and often drown in the icy waters of self-serving calculation. A popular saying of this period was “We pretend to work, they pretend to pay us.” It’s not a particularly stimulating way to live, but it’s all right. You get by, and provided you don’t screw up completely you don’t risk much. No need to care about anything; just adapt as best you can to a world that, as long as you’re not named Solzhenitsyn, will remain as it is for centuries because it only exists thanks to inertia. Limonov was born during World War II; his young father was a soldier who never saw battle because he served in the secret police. Limonov was both a hoodlum and a poet during Nikita Khrushchev’s short-lived Thaw; he made a living as a black-market tailor during Brezhnev’s endless Stagnation, and finally got into enough trouble, through his writing and his friendships, to be thrown out of the country. Carrère supplies an incisive summary of Limonov’s personality as defined by history: The son of a subordinate Chekist [i.e., secret police] officer, raised in a family that was spared the major convulsions of history and that, having never experienced absolute arbitrariness, thought that if people were arrested, well 45


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In the mid-1970s Limonov landed in

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New Yorkâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;badly. His own story enabled him to meet such Russian-ĂŠmigrĂŠ luminaries as the poet Joseph Brodsky and the dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, both of whom he envied and therefore despised; he never became a part of their circle, or any circle. He lived in squalor. His wife left him. He had sex with a homeless man. Then he wrote his own story of hitting bottom and called it Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Me, Eddie. During the next few years, a small number of Russian-speakers read the manuscript, and most of them liked it. But in New York, being an underground writer admired by a handful of people who have read your workâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;virtually the deďŹ nition of being a living legend in Moscow in the 1970sâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;did not add any dignity to the life of a welfare recipient in an SRO hotel. Limonovâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s unlikely climb began with a love affair with the housekeeper of a New York multimillionaire who also happened to be a Russophile. When the young woman quit her job, Limonov took her place. He would later describe that period of his lifeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and disgrace his employerâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;in the book His Butlerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Story. Meanwhile, his ďŹ rst manuscript kept circulating, collecting praise but no moneyâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;until he ďŹ nally got a publishing contract in France. Limonov then moved to Paris and began the life of a writer: he was controversial, which he liked; he was not rich, but he was no longer destitute; he was invited to parties and to contribute comments on literary and political matters, but his fame was not nearly what he felt he deserved. Back in the Soviet Union, the Era of Stagnation ended; then dawned an era in which old, inďŹ rm apparatchiks came to power and soon dropped dead, which quickly ended; and something new began. Carrère supplies another telling summary: Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m not going to start lecturing about perestroika, but Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve got to insist on one point: the extraordinary thing that happened in the Soviet Union during these six years, the thing that swept away everything in its path, was that people were free to write their history as they saw ďŹ t. Indeed, it would appear, practically anyone could write the history of what used to be the Soviet Blocâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and this includes Carrère. He once again gets the chronology wrong, and replaces fact with ďŹ ctionâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;he claims, for example, that the secession of the Baltic states from the USSR (which he misdates) was casual, peaceful, and bloodless. It was not. He condenses the process of the dissolution of both the Eastern Bloc and the Soviet Union into a single year, which, he writes, ended as follows: â&#x20AC;&#x153;The entire petit bourgeois population of Western Europe, myself included, went to spend New Yearâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s in Prague or Berlin.â&#x20AC;? Throughout the book, Carrère returns his gaze to himself in order to

compare his own history and views to his heroâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s. He has used this device in his previous books, most notably in Other Lives but Mine, a story of human tragedies he witnessedâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and there it worked beautifully. His selfexamination in that book is by turns ruthless and pitying, and the effect is one of witnessing a grown manâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s forcing himself to claim maturity. But about halfway through Limonov, this high-wire act fails Carrère: after one too many reminders of the authorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s petit bourgeoisie roots, his voice begins to sound cloying. At this point, too, the historical narrative becomes egregiously false, perhaps because Carrère begins to rely on his own recollections, which, it would seem, are even less accurate than Limonovâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s. Eduard Limonov

This is also the point where Limonovâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s trajectory took another sharp turn, in ways that make his biographer distinctly uncomfortable. Limonov could not be idle while others rewrote and remade his countryâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s history: he wanted to throw himself into the middle of it. He began taking frequent trips to Moscow, inserting himself into skirmishes on the fringes of Soviet political life. His other destination was Yugoslavia. Limonov spent time with the Serbian forces in the contested areas of both Croatia and Bosnia. Carrère writes: What he likes are the armed soldiers, the tanks, the sandbags, the gray-green uniforms that stand out against the snow, the mortar ďŹ re that they start to hear from a distance. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s crossing villages whose ruins are still smoking. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s being able to think, in this frozen corner of the Balkans, that itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s 1941 instead of 1991. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s war, real war, the kind his father missed out on, and heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s in it. Like many Western intellectuals, Carrère was making his own reporting trips to Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He never became an expert on the region, but he met people who were unlike anyone he had seen before. He calls them â&#x20AC;&#x153;subtle minds.â&#x20AC;? These are intellectuals who can talk a good line under any regimeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and are in particular demand in times of crisis and in times of crackdownâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;because they will invariably claim that â&#x20AC;&#x153;things are more complicated than they seem.â&#x20AC;? French intellectuals of Carrèreâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s circleâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;he quotes Bernard-Henri LĂŠvy in particularâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;claim that things are in fact â&#x20AC;&#x153;tragically simple,â&#x20AC;? but the author

himself confesses, â&#x20AC;&#x153;I can also imagine, perhaps too readily, the reasons or circumstances that might have pushed me in other times toward Nazi collaboration, Stalinism, or the Chinese Cultural Revolution.â&#x20AC;?

While Carrère might only imagine it,

Limonov did it. He managed to get himself ďŹ lmed chatting (in heavily accented English) with Radovan KaradĹžiĂž, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs. He was then photographed kneeling behind a machine gun and ďŹ ring at the besieged city of Sarajevo. Carrère tries, halfheartedly, to justify his hero: I didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t see the ďŹ lm when it was shown on French TV, but the rumor quickly got around that it showed Limonov shooting people on the streets of Sarajevo. When heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s asked about it ďŹ fteen years later, he shrugs his shoulders and says no, he wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t aiming at people. In the direction of the city, yes. But at nothing in particular, or at the sky. What the footage shows is a Bosnian Serb soldier shooting at the city and then Limonov putting on one of the hats worn by KaradĹžiĂžâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s men and taking over the machine gun without changing aim. But the passage supplies a perfect description of both writers: one man goes through life spraying bullets at nothing in particular; the other is fascinated and repelled but can be relied upon to give the ďŹ rst one a pass. Early on, when Limonov has done nothing worse than rage against those who have more money or success in life than he does, Carrère ďŹ rst makes the claim that Limonov is not as bad as he seems. The passage begins with Limonovâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s own description, in His Butlerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Story, of a conversation at his employer Steveâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s kitchen table; the multimillionaire is grieving for a friendâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s son, a ďŹ ve-year-old who is dying of leukemia. Limonov exults: â&#x20AC;&#x153;Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m not moved, I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t sympathize, and Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m not sorry! My own lifeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;my real life, the only oneâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;is held down by all these fuckers. Go ahead, die, doomed boy!â&#x20AC;? Carrère imagines the former employer reading this passage in Limonovâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s book: What an asshole! Steve thinks, and I think the same thing, and no doubt you do too, reader. But I also think that if anything could have been done to save the little boy, especially if that something was hard or dangerous, Eduard would have been the ďŹ rst to attempt it, and he would have given it everything he had. Perhapsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;if he thought it would make him famous, or give him an opportunity to ďŹ re a gun. There is nothing in this book, or in any of Limonovâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s own books, that would provide justiďŹ cation for Carrèreâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s assertion that his hero is basically good at heart. As the book progresses to describe Limonovâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s transformation from a Western literary rebel into a militant panSlavic nationalist, Carrère tries to prove that the man is not as bad as he seems. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t think Eduard is either vile or a liar,â&#x20AC;? he writes. â&#x20AC;&#x153;But who is to say?â&#x20AC;? A biographer might be expected to. Instead, in a rare rambling passage in the middle of the book, Carrère brings up Werner Herzog and Friedrich Nietzsche The New York Review

in order to assert that a man has no right to judge another man, even for being a fascist. Limonov began to identify himself as a fascist in the early 1990s when he moved back to Moscow permanently and cofounded a new political party, called the National Bolsheviks. Carrèreâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s stubborn belief that Limonov is not â&#x20AC;&#x153;vileâ&#x20AC;? is more than an attempt to justify his fascination with and sympathy for his subject: it is an expression of fear of the void in Limonovâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s character. Carrèreâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s world is populated with Parisian literary and academic types who hold strong political and moral convictions, so strong, in fact, that they sometimes make Carrère uncomfortable. In Eastern Europe, he discovers what he calls â&#x20AC;&#x153;subtle minds,â&#x20AC;? people whose convictions are more ďŹ&#x201A;exible. But Limonov is neither set in his beliefs nor ďŹ&#x201A;exible: he has no convictions whatever. He likes having a position from which to confront the world. As a result, his positions often change, but can seem inďŹ&#x201A;exible at any given time. As he wrote at the beginning of Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Me, Eddie, â&#x20AC;&#x153;I have no shame or conscience, therefore my conscience doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t bother me.â&#x20AC;? His lack of convictions is typical of people who grew up in the Soviet Union, where survival depended on being ďŹ nely attuned to the everchanging Party line. The difference is that most people in the USSR, and in Putinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Russia, change their views in order to ďŹ t in while Limonov generally changed them so as to differ from the majority position at the moment.

Once Limonov refashioned himself

as a party leader, he discovered he could always have a following. There were times when the National Bolshevik Party counted tens of thousands of young people across Russia among its members. They generally shaved their heads, wore leather jackets and combat boots, and worshiped Limonov. They also collected signatures to get their party and their leader on ballots and staged protests against the Russian government. In 2001, Limonov was arrested on charges of illegal arms possession and organizing an illegal armed unit. He was sentenced to four years in prison but was released early. In prison he meditated while performing menial tasks and once, while cleaning an aquarium in the wardenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ofďŹ ce, he achieved nirvana. Upon his release in 2003, he became a hero to tens of thousands more young men with shaved heads. Soon after, Carrère began drafting a biography of Limonov on the basis of his books. A few years later, Carrère went to see Limonov with the intention of interviewing him in order to ďŹ ll out or correct the draft of his book. He discovered that, while Limonov apparently remembered him from the passing acquaintance they had had in Limonovâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s former life in Paris, and while he was willing to cooperate, he was not in any way drawn to Carrère: No doubt heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d be interested in me if he met me in prison, guilty of a beautiful, bloody crime, but thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not how it is. The fact is that Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m his biographer: I ask him questions, he answers and when heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ďŹ nished answering he says nothing, looks at his rings, waits for the next question. I think to myself that thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s no way I can spend several hours May 21, 2015

on an interview like this, Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll get along ďŹ ne with what Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve got. I get up and thank him for the coffee and his time. This seems a bizarrely lazy ending to a fascinating story that could also have been illuminating. In fact Carrère gets cold feet earlier, around the time Limonov begins to take himself seriously as a politician. Carrère writes: At this point Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m not sure my readers really want to hear any more of the exhilarating epic about the beginnings of a neofascist party and its ofďŹ cial rag. And Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m not sure I want to tell it, either. Nevertheless, things are more complicated than they seem. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m sorry. I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t like that sentence. I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t like the way the subtle minds use it. The problem is that itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s often true. Here, for example. Things are more complicated than they seem. Perhaps more accurately, things are more difďŹ cult to understand than a conventional Western view of morals and politics would suggest. Like its leader, Limonovâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s neofascist party seemed to have no clear political program. In the early 2000s, it became the ďŹ rst political force to sound the alarm about the repressive, authoritarian, and fundamentally inhuman practices of the Putin regime. The National Bolsheviks staged marches and small but militant protests and were frequently arrested. Members of the party became Putinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ďŹ rst political prisoners. Limonov formed an alliance with the chess champion turned anti-Putin politician Garry Kasparov and, later, with Lyudmila Alexeyeva, an elderly former dissident with impeccable human rights credentials. If Carrère had tried to tell Limonovâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s story up to around 2005, he could have stopped there, secure in his assertion that his hero was ultimately a force for good. But a few years later Limonov moved on to a very different position: almost as soon as mass protests began in Russia, when it brieďŹ&#x201A;y seemed that the anti-Putin movement was becoming the mainstream, Limonov sided with the Russian president. And since his president unleashed a war in Ukraine, Limonov has given him his enthusiastic, fervent support. Most recently, he has come out in favor of the arrest, on charges of high treason, of Svetlana Davydova, a mother of seven who allegedly called the Ukrainian embassy with information she had overheard on a public bus. In what would perhaps be the saddest and most ďŹ tting afterword to Carrèreâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Limonov, the real-life Limonov wrote the following reaction to the Paris massacre in January: I personally have also been attacked by Charlie Hebdo. In issue 56, dated 21.07.1993, they published a disgusting article directed against me, titled Limonov: Lâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;intellectuel arracheur de couilles (â&#x20AC;&#x153;Limonov: An Intellectual Who Will Rip Your Balls Offâ&#x20AC;?), and it was accompanied by caricatures that would beďŹ t the title. So seventeen dead bodies are their punishment for moral debasement. Oh, well.


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‘At the Peak of the Terror’ Verlyn Klinkenborg

Redeployment is a collection of twelve brutally effective first-person stories about the uselessness of stories. They are fictions from the Iraq war, but they draw on many conversations between soldiers and the author, Phil Klay, an ex-marine. Who tells them? Among the narrators are a military chaplain, a soldier in Mortuary Affairs, an artilleryman, a Green Zone contractor, an adjutant, and a number of combat marines who find themselves surveying the demolition of their inner lives. Some carried rifles or manned machine guns in Iraq, some commanded men, some merely paved the roads, which got them blown up anyway. War stories, in short, or at least stories gathered in war-like places—Fallujah, Ramadi, Haditha, and Baghdad around the year 2004. War stories: souvenirs for some, nightmares for others, all of them useless. “That was that for me telling people stories,” says the Mortuary Affairs marine in the fourth story of this collection. “I don’t trust my memories,” thinks another marine, a pothole-fixer. “I trust the vehicle, burnt and twisted and torn. Like Jenks. No stories. Things. Bodies.” Make a list of what stories are supposed to do, and Phil Klay’s narrators will show you the ways they fail to do them. In Redeployment, a story can get you laid but teach you to hate the woman you leave the bar with. A story transposes nothing, not guilt, not hatred, not suffering, no matter how true or false the story may be. It can’t shift the burden of the combatant’s experience. It can’t even begin to convey it. And woe to the listener who tries to sympathize. With perhaps one exception—the contractor in “Money as a Weapons System”—the narrators in this book, young as they may be, are ancient mariners, and we are all wedding guests, finely attired in our innocence, uncomprehending. What the war story cannot do here, above all, is heal or offer balm of any kind. Communalize the trauma—that’s what Jonathan Shay advises in Achilles in Vietnam (1996), his poignant study of soldiers and combat trauma in the Trojan War and Vietnam. Shay, a highly regarded psychiatrist for the Veterans Administration, encourages soldiers “to talk about the traumatic event, to express to other people emotions about the event and those involved in it, or to experience the presence of socially connected others who will not let one go through it alone.” To which Klay seems to be saying no. Talk to other vets, perhaps. Other people, not a chance. Your buddies may have been with you when the story happened, but you’ll carry the story forward into life alone. Klay taps into a deep cultural uncertainty about the nature and significance of the stories that combat heaps upon soldiers. Are they the vestiges of trauma? Relics of a higher awareness? The chemical traces of fear? Do they capture a sacred knowledge unavailable to civilians? Or do they savage the brain that bears them? To tell a war story, from 48

almost any war, in almost any generation, is to witness the incomprehension of the civilian, who is trying to make all the right noises with no idea what a right noise would sound like. The story won’t even stay true to itself as it’s being told. In Redeployment, it gets told and retold, with different emphases for different audiences, depending on whether you want laughter or tears, solidarity or sex, or simply to come home from a year in Baghdad with more to talk about than “the soft-serve ice-cream machine at the embassy cafeteria.” War stories—at least the ones told

they’re all too aware of the effects their stories produce, and they can’t hide that knowledge from themselves. They know how to manipulate them, how to twist the listener, but they don’t know how to ward off the hostility—just one bad feeling among many—that rises in the act of telling. (As one character says, “Talking with anybody who thought they had a clear view of Iraq tended to make me want to rub shit in their eyes.”) Part of Klay’s artfulness is to dramatize this awareness, to show the story biting the teller who knows all too well Peter van Agtmael/Red Hook Editions

Redeployment by Phil Klay. Penguin, 291 pp., $26.95

Iraqi policemen and American soldiers waiting while their commanders plan a joint patrol of southern Baghdad, 2010; photograph by Peter van Agtmael from his book Disco Night Sept. 11, published by Red Hook Editions

within this collection—simply fail to make sense of the reality of war: the pervasive boredom, the time-wasting struggle to fall asleep, the hard training that resides, like a hidden code, within these men and boys. Perhaps because there’s no sense to be made. It’s an old, vital theme, the void between soldier and listener. Take, for example, a moment early in a very different book: Dispatches (1977), Michael Herr’s extraordinary Vietnam memoir. From a LURP—a long-range reconnaissance patroller—Herr hears a story “as one-pointed and resonant as any war story I ever heard.” The LURP says, “Patrol went up the mountain. One man came back. He died before he could tell us what happened.” Somehow Herr can’t stop himself from asking what happened anyway. The LURP “just looked like he felt sorry for me, fucked if he’d waste time telling stories to anyone dumb as I was.” After reading Klay, you wonder whether it was sorrow on the LURP’s face or some feeling far more alien and remote. Looking him in the eyes, Herr says, “was like looking at the floor of an ocean.” The adjutant in one of Klay’s stories says something similar of a Marine Corps captain, with an interesting twist. He had “eyes that looked out from the bottom of an ocean.” How do you judge the expression in eyes that distant? How, both Herr and Klay ask, can you even bear to look into them?

What bothers the young men who tell the tales in Redeployment is this:

the sensation of being bitten. The surface of these dozen stories, looking at them from the outside, has a simplicity, a directness, that’s no longer available to any of Klay’s narrators within. If soldiers refuse to tell their stories, as they do again and again in Redeployment, they’re also refusing to be the person they become in the telling, and for good reason. “I learned very quickly that talking about the war wasn’t just pointless but actually damaging in its own right.” So writes David J. Morris, another ex-marine, in The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.* Or as one of Klay’s marines puts it, “You don’t talk about some of the shit that happened.” And what happens in Redeployment? A former marine—black, Coptic, enrolled at Amherst—tries to lay his tale upon a young, black, newly Muslim female student. Another marine nearly confesses something—no saying what—to a chaplain, who tries to take the worry this causes him up the chain of command. In the heat of action, a marine kills a young Iraqi while his mother watches, and because he can’t bear the thought of it, his buddy agrees to say that he was the one who shot the boy. An artillery man tries to calculate, to a fraction, the kills he should be credited with after a morning on the firing line. Burnt and twisted and torn, reconstructed after dozens of surgeries, a marine named Jenks agrees to tell his story to a hard young woman *Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.

named Sarah—“to talk Iraq to a total stranger,” as his friend says. An adjutant writes a Medal of Honor commendation for a soldier named Deme and wonders, “Without the rare stories like Deme’s, who’d sign up?” Like Herr’s LURP, a marine fails to “hack it back in the World.” Preparing to shoot his dying dog, he recalls his training: “Focus on the iron sights, not the target. The target should be blurry.” And focus on the iron sights is what Klay does all through Redeployment. Iraq—beyond the sights—is blurry. So is America. So is any kind of backstory. Beyond the sights, it all blurs into one. What falls away, as a result, is any sense of nostalgic distance between the theater of war and the home front, if you can call the United States in 2004 a home front. Klay vaporizes the distance between them. Not for these soldiers the profound ellipsis you often feel in the fiction of Tim O’Brien, for instance—the almost dreamlike longing for the faraway ordinary world. Redeployment is defined by a sense of geographical compression that mirrors the psychological compression inside these men. What they feel is profoundly disorienting: nostalgia for the war rather than nostalgia for the world that preceded the war and that seems, somehow, to go on existing despite the war. They come home and look around and go shopping and soon enough, “I started feeling like I wanted to go back. Because fuck all this.” One of the differences between the Iraq war and any earlier war was the ease of connection with the world back home via the Internet. It’s reflected in the immediate back and forth that occurs in these stories, which move about as if time and space were nothing. (Though to skillful narrators, time and space are always nothing.) But what Klay portrays isn’t just a technological shift. Nor is it merely the quickness of the mind as it shuttles in and out of memory. He’s showing us the continuity of the mind’s affect, the blank, harsh light that shines equally on the desert and the mall, on the exgirlfriend at home and on the body, seen through a thermal scope, giving up its vital heat. He gives us mirror images—the marine’s dying dog and an Iraqi dog lapping up human blood— and he reminds us that humans are too fragile to contain both images with impunity. “You held up your hand,” the Coptic vet thinks, “and said, ‘I’m willing to die for these worthless civilians.’” You had to live with both the apparent nobility of the gesture and the cruelty of that merciless assessment and somehow figure out how you felt about yourself.


o the reader sits, Redeployment in hand, watching these terrible relics of combat, the scattering of narrative, the apparent death of healing. The only ceremony left intact in Klay’s abrupt, unceremonious world is shown in a work party of marines stopping to salute a flag-draped litter in the distance or the gesture of respect paid to the dancers in a not-quite whorehouse. As the storytellers show us the way their The New York Review

stories fracture, it raises a question. What kind of act are we engaged inâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; civilians reading these merciless stories by a former marine? The question is more complicated than it seems, for we witness again and again within this book an almost universal failure to comprehend the soldierâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s experience. And yet Klay offers us the nearly documentary illusion of comprehension, the feeling that weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve seen deep inside the wounds that have been inďŹ&#x201A;icted on these young men and women. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s an old narrative trickâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;giving readers the illusion that weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re hearing a story the narrator has promised not to tell, a story the narrator, even as heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s telling it, would like to deny telling. One of our proxies in this book is the chaplain in the story called â&#x20AC;&#x153;Prayer in the Furnace.â&#x20AC;? The chaplain is, of course, a noncombatant in a combat zone, and to illustrate his predicament, he feels called upon to quote Saint Augustine â&#x20AC;&#x153;sermonizing from safety about the sack of his beloved Rome.â&#x20AC;? But whom do we quote to account for our own predicamentâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;our inďŹ nite distance from the ďŹ ghting in Iraq, the doubly safe safety of the civilian reader? The allusion to Augustine is interesting because of the way it conďŹ&#x201A;ates his contemporaneous response to the sack of Rome by Visigoths in 410. The chaplain quotes Augustine in order to capture the pathos of watching fellow sufferers from a distance. But for Augustine, the story goes much deeper. In his sermons that touch on Rome, and in The City of God, heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s speaking to a mixed audience, both pagan and Christian, living in a Roman province of North Africa. And what he fastens on, quite apart from the cruelty of the invaders, is their unexpected kindness. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Whatever devastation, slaughter, looting, burning and afďŹ&#x201A;iction was committed during that most recent calamity at Rome,â&#x20AC;? he writes in The City of God, â&#x20AC;&#x153;all this was at any rate done according to the customs of war. What set a new and unprecedented standard in such affairs, however, was that the savage barbarians appeared under an aspect so gentle that the most capacious churches were chosen and set aside by them to be ďŹ lled with the people who were spared.â&#x20AC;? This gentleness Augustine ascribes to â&#x20AC;&#x153;the name of Christ.â&#x20AC;? Opening Augustine like this takes us well beyond Klayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s road map in â&#x20AC;&#x153;Prayer in the Furnace.â&#x20AC;? But in this story we can feel the narrator grasping for a richer setting in which to understand the invasion of Iraq and its human consequences. You can almost imagine the chaplain applying Augustine and wondering, who are the barbarians? What has become of the customs of war? The richer allusiveness of this storyâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the chaplain also quotes an astonishing passage from Wilfred Owenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s lettersâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; helps us grasp how stripped down the rest of Klayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s stories really are. They are as close to the spoken bone as possible. In military terms, they are operational storiesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;they give us no glimpse of the larger mission in Iraq or of the strategy that should have deďŹ ned it. They give us, especially, no glimpse of the political backdrop that made that feckless war possible. It is entirely up to the reader to supply the background to these stories. Here is the bomb crater, the stories seem to say, and here are the wounded in mind and body. Here is the shell of Fallujah and the obscene May 21, 2015

notion of Americanization that prevailed in the Green Zone. Now, why do these things exist? That question is up to the reader to answer. That question is always up to the reader.

Novels by Kingsley Amis, one of the greatest satirical writers of the twentieth-century


he soldiers in Redeployment distrust meaning as much as they distrust stories themselves. The narrators come to sharp, short conclusions that sound almost antithetical to any larger signiďŹ cance. The chaplain notes in his journal that Iraq seems somehow holier than â&#x20AC;&#x153;gluttonous, fat, oversexed, overconsuming, materialist home,â&#x20AC;? but heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s almost the only one talking like that. â&#x20AC;&#x153;If the Marine Corps was any indication,â&#x20AC;? one soldier thinks, â&#x20AC;&#x153;idealism-based jobs didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t save you from wanting to shoot yourself in the head.â&#x20AC;? It all comes down to the bitter, double-edged joke in the story called â&#x20AC;&#x153;After Action Reportâ&#x20AC;?: A liberal pussy journalist is trying to get the touchy-feely side of war and he asks a Marine sniper, â&#x20AC;&#x153;What is it like to kill a man? What do you feel when you pull the trigger?â&#x20AC;? The Marine looks at him and says one word: â&#x20AC;&#x153;Recoil.â&#x20AC;? The upshot? â&#x20AC;&#x153;What happened in Iraq was just what happened, nothing more,â&#x20AC;? says the Mortuary Affairs marine in â&#x20AC;&#x153;Bodies.â&#x20AC;? No meaning, no message, no moral. In the land of war stories, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a conclusion you hear again and again, in one version or another, coming out of Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. It may be good enough for the marine whoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s telling this storyâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;in fact, it may be essential for him. But it canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t be good enough for the reader. In the story called â&#x20AC;&#x153;War Stories,â&#x20AC;? a soldier says, â&#x20AC;&#x153;Nothingâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s an antiwar ďŹ lm. . . . Thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s no such thing.â&#x20AC;? In other words, you canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t portray war without portraying its seductions. And yet, as Tim Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Brien says, â&#x20AC;&#x153;A true war story is never moral.��&#x20AC;? Any apparent discrepancy between those two statements is only that: apparent. The lure of Redeployment, the lure of reading stories about warâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and perhaps especially the reading that feels, like Redeployment, both the truest and the coarsestâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;is to edge up to the trauma, to the abyss, to the awareness buried in what one of Klayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s soldiers calls the â&#x20AC;&#x153;veteran mystiqueâ&#x20AC;?: knowing â&#x20AC;&#x153;just how nasty and awful humans are.â&#x20AC;? The lure is trying to understand the wicked oscillation that takes place in combat. This is how one of Klayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s soldiers describes it. At the peak of terror, â&#x20AC;&#x153;youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re just an animal, doing what youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve been trained to do. And then you go back to normal terror, and you go back to being a human, and you go back to thinking.â&#x20AC;? Some make it all the way back. Many donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t. The stories in Redeployment feel as though theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve just surfaced from a decade ago, when Fallujah was in the headlines every day. And yet they feel immediate, as caustic as the aftertaste of the way we went about that war. As I read them, I kept hearing in my head two quotations. The ďŹ rst is from The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstamâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s book about the origins of the Vietnam War. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Westerners,â&#x20AC;? he wrote, â&#x20AC;&#x153;always learned the hard way in Indochina; respect for the enemy always came when it was too late.â&#x20AC;? Such is the




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power of Klayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s focus in Redeployment, the accuracy with which he captures a moment in American blindness, political and military, that we see in these stories no respect for the enemy whatsoever. And the other quotation? It comes from The Assassinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Gate, George Packerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s book about the Iraq war. He

is quoting the father of a young soldier named Kurt Frosheiser, who died there. After years of struggle, Frosheiserâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s father ďŹ nds what is perhaps the one good way past the emptiness of meaning, the barrenness, you hear again and again in stories of war. â&#x20AC;&#x153;What does it all mean?â&#x20AC;? he asks. â&#x20AC;&#x153;It means nothing. How we respond is what it means.â&#x20AC;?

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LETTERS THE PASSIONS OF JOHN QUINCY ADAMS To the Editors: John Quincy Adams was indeed intellectual and austere, if not haughty and cold, and certainly clueless about his neglected and needy wife Louisa, as Susan Dunn points out [â&#x20AC;&#x153;Angry, Icy, Enlightened Adams,â&#x20AC;? NYR, June 5, 2014]. But a poem written in the hand of the former president, found in the Library of Congress, shows the â&#x20AC;&#x153;Angry, Icy, Enlightened Adamsâ&#x20AC;? was also capable of personal passionâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;though he kept it private. Adamsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s muse was Anna Maria Thornton, the widow of William Thornton, the English polymath who designed the US Capitol. Adams did not think much of Mr. Thornton, the first superintendent of the US Patent Office. With typically severe precision, he regarded Thornton, who was admittedly eccentric, as a jackass. â&#x20AC;&#x153;He is a man of some learning and much ingenuity; of quick conception and lively wit,â&#x20AC;? Adams wrote in his diary. And also â&#x20AC;&#x153;entirely destitute of Judgment, discretion and common sense.â&#x20AC;? Anna Thornton was something else entirely. When Adams returned to Washington as a congressman, he and Louisa took a house on F Street between 13th and 14th Streets, then one of the more respectable addresses in the city. Anna Thornton, widowed since the death of William in March 1828, lived next door. With the help of her servant Maria Bowen, Anna kept up a lively social life with her many friends from her thirty years in the nationâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s capital. Anna Thorntonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s diary, found at the Library of Congress, shows that she spent many social evenings with the Adamses. In 1832, Anna made a list of her principal companions: John and Louisa topped the list. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not hard to see why Adams might have taken a shine to Anna Thornton. In an 1804 portrait by Gilbert Stuart, she looked to be an uncertain but perceptive and graceful young woman. She knew her husbandâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s faults better than anyone but was staunchly loyal to him. After his death, she paid off his gambling debts and ran a large household and country farm in Bethesda with the help of Maria and six other enslaved people. In affairs of business, Anna was said to be â&#x20AC;&#x153;the equal of a man.â&#x20AC;? She knew many people of consequence in Washington, and she also read novels and popular histories. She was the rare woman who could hold her own in conversation with the imperious Adams. At some point, the workaholic statesman fell hard for her. In 1844, Adams wrote a poem to Anna addressed To my friend, intellectual and benevolent friend And next door neighbor at Washington Mrs. Thornton The poem began: Oh! If the fastings of the heart In Words could find expression; When dearest friends are doomâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d to part; And Truth transcends profession; Then should my tuneful Lyre awake The fondest of the slumbers; And thrilling strains thy spirit shake With more than magic numbers.


But what are Wordsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;a breath of air From human lips exported In which the Heart has oft no shareâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; With falsehood oft assortedâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; Not all of Adamâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s handwriting is legible to the untrained eye but his passion is unmistakable: Words! Never! Never can they tell The soulâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s intense emotion! Can never break the bosomâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s swell The faithful heartâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s devotion. Then Lady! Let this [illegible] lay Until again I meet thee; For there a Silent Blessing [illegible] And still in Silence greet thee Their friendship was beyond words, the stuff of music, swelling bosoms, and faithful hearts. Icy Adams had a bit of warmth after all.

Jefferson Morley Washington, D.C.

Susan Dunn replies:

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*Paul Nagel, John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life (Knopf, 1997), p. 65.

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