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The annotated table of contents below offers a sneak peek at what’s in issue 17. To get the issue delivered straight to your door, subscribe now.

Letter

 On Justice

As in so many of Kafka’s stories, we may see ourselves, at various moments, as any of the characters in “In the Penal Colony.” But there is a reason the story is told by the Traveler from the West.

Etymology

Surveillance State

The term first appeared in English during the Terror in France, in reference to comités de surveillance. These “surveillance committees” were formed in every French municipality in March 1793 to monitor dissidents and others, in order to root out counterrevolutionary activity.

Essays

Singing Against the Grain
Playing Beethoven in the #BlackLivesMatter era
[Kira Thurman]

I do not believe that the answer to critics’ questioning of blackness and classical music is for black people to stop playing it. Such an argument allows only white people the freedom to enjoy a musical work for its own sake, and it dictates to black people not only what their social responsibilities are as artists, but the terms by which they are to fight against their own oppression.

Regarding Joan Miró
The worker and the artwork
[Sophie Beck]

Miró watched many of his contemporaries cease to produce. He wrote that young artists know how to struggle while they are poor, then are undone by success, losing their drive to work when it is no longer the difference between a meal and hunger, between artistic respect and being just another striver full of talk. He called this dropping away a “shameful decline” and it is clear to what standard he would hold himself as he lauded those who “continue to struggle until their last breath.” It is something he must have considered carefully, as he found his only relief through work.”

Ante Up
The scales of power seen through Norman Podhoretz’s eyes
[Frank Guan]

No one loves the Family like Podhoretz does. He idealizes them, and they, flattered by his worship and impressed by his skill, are willing to entrust him with all they have: respect, invitations, essays, gossip, success. But they can’t grant him what they no longer have, and what they no longer have, by the time he joins them, is their ideals of a different world.

Symposium: What is prison for?

Socializing Punishment
[Benjamin Ewing]

If we cannot treat everyone with equal humanity—regardless of their backgrounds and those of their victims and victimizers— is equal degradation the most for which we can hope?

Rehabilitative Faith
[Jacob Abolafia]

Earlier reformers often had very clear ideas about what prison was for. The gap between their certainty and our confusion has been explained in terms of an expanding judicial bureaucracy, toxic racial politics and the socioeconomic realities of decimated urban minority communities. But if we want to understand how two hundred years of soul-craft came to disappear in what seems like an instant, we need to think above all about religious faith.

Only Once I Thought of Suicide
[Reginald Dwayne Betts]

They tossed me in a cell with a door so thick that no sound escaped. I was sixteen years old. Each morning they took my mattress from me so that I could not sleep during the day. How do I explain this?

Go Directly to Jail
[Kaya Naomi Williams]

Every day a person spends in jail is a day they risk losing their job, their housing and custody of their children. Every day is a day they are likely to either be harmed or bear witness to harm.

Performing to Survive
[Edyson Julio]

The real tragedy isn’t that these men are dangerous. It’s that they feel they have no choice but to be dangerous. Survival trumps civility in jail, even among the most civil.

Survey

Living in Prison

What has been the most surprising thing to you about being in prison?

“Actually, justice surprises me because we do not get much of that here.”

Dialogues

Another Justice
A conversation with James Forman Jr.
[Mychal Denzel Smith]

In our society, we’ve taught people that the only option, the only way you get justice, is through prison. And once we’ve done that, that’s what people demand.

Character and Deed
A conversation with John J. Lennon on writing from prison
[Phil Christman]

For the most part, most people writing about people in prison just understand their character from their deed. They’re not really next to the subject, so they don’t fully understand their character. For example, I’ve had fascinating conversations with a guy who was part of a robbery in which a police officer was killed. But he’s made a true transformation.

Correspondence

A Lost Thing Finding Itself
Jazz at Lincoln Center
[Matthew McKnight]

By looking for signs of vitality in measures of jazz’s popularity, it becomes easier to ignore what the music, according to Marsalis’s definition, is: a refinement of empathic listening, a model for improvisation, and an embodiment of meaningful time perception. If this is right, then the supposition that jazz is dead carries meaning beyond itself. What if we are witnessing the death, or suffocation, of a society that values careful listening, serendipity and, like a jazz ensemble, the dedication to finding common ground?

Reviews

These Truths
[Scott Spillman]

There are lessons to be learned from the late nineteenth-century years when an older idea of liberalism ran aground against problems similar to those we face today: immigration, increasing social diversity, environmental degradation, political sclerosis, technological disruption, newly powerful corporations, income inequality and bitter class conflict. But These Truths is not the book where we will find those lessons. Instead, even in its approach to the past, it remains sadly trapped in the Age of Trump.

Balanchine Liberalism
[Ana Isabel Keilson]

Agon’s title evokes the ancient Athenian arena of athletic competition and political debate and is, according to its stock description, “an ideal contest, in which there are no winners or losers.” Yet the dance displays the tensions beneath this outward show of balance, cohesion and rational order. A group of freely moving individuals celebrate their collective harmony. At the same time, they engage in forms of conflict and negotiation that threaten to undermine it.

Denis Johnson’s God
[Aaron Thier]

Whatever “God” meant to Johnson in his private life, “God” in Johnson’s fiction is a way of referring to those aspects of human experience that seem excessive or out of scale. It is the extra something—the charge that passes between a human being and the universe. At the same time, this “God”is an aspect of reality. Eternity, in Johnson’s work, is a thing you can hold in your hands or throw against the wall. It’s also a thing that can throw
you against the wall.

 

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