The annotated table of contents below offers a sneak peek at what’s in issue 31. To get the issue delivered straight to your door, subscribe now.
Note from the Editors
On Humility and Power
Those who genuinely wish to effect change must begin their work with an honest assessment of what the change they wish to see would require and how their actions, let alone their public statements, are meant to bring it about.
After October 7th
A conversation with Israeli and Palestinian activists
What I’m asking for is to not let blood be blood. Those of us in both societies are trying not to go crazy with all that we’ve seen. These two failed national projects are now basically Siamese twins, and I’d like for us to come out of this with sanity and with something that all of us can be proud of.
Zadie Smith and the condition of the social novel
Smith, anxious about the legacy of the social novel and its reformist instincts, seems determined to find another way. Instead of trying to write from within our endlessly discussed, kaleidoscopic moment, The Fraud would deploy historical distance to look at History itself. It would refute Dickensian triumphalism about moral and economic progress. She would, finally, go a step further, and identify the institution of slavery as the foundation upon which modern prosperity has been built. Where to begin?
James Redfield and me
I came to know what the other James Redfield looked like because I got a picture of him with a request that I sign it. One woman sent him a long letter telling him the difference he had made to her; when I sent my more-or-less standard explanatory reply, with apologies that I had no idea where she could find the James Redfield she was looking for, she responded with an even longer letter saying that I sounded like a nice person and telling me more about her life. I realized that being another James Redfield could become a career in itself.
Within the Pretense of No Pretense
A gradual realization: niceness to everyone does not permit niceness to anyone.
A gradual realization: niceness isn’t directed at the object of niceness but at the purveyor of niceness, in particular her career.
A gradual realization: to like everything is to like nothing.
A suspicion: niceness is, in fact, a form of hatred.
Ruins upon Ruins
Following Rushdie to Victory City
My journey to Victory City was partly a morbid exercise in cultural exhumation provoked by Salman Rushdie’s latest novel, which narrates the rise and fall of the Vijayanagara empire as a fable about the fragility of tolerance in a world naturally prone to fanaticism. And it was partly an attempt to determine for myself if things were really as grim as the headlines suggested, to discover whether it was still possible to walk through the ruins of Vijayanagara and dream of another subcontinent, one less consumed by hate. But it was also a pilgrimage.
Darkness over Donbas
Nine stories about war
translated by Sean Gasper Bye
When I first heard that neither-advice-nor-salutation, “listen to the air,” I thought it was a poetic metaphor. Only later did I see there was no poetry in it at all—you listen to the air to know what is flying from where and to where. You listen to the air in order to live.
[John Michael Colón]
A writer is a creature of solitude: Has there ever been a bigger lie?
translated by Samantha Schnee
Anyone quick enough could have snapped handsome Ovid ambling through Madrid’s old town, or Hemingway bragging about being Hemingway in his booming voice, or Drieu La Rochelle walking by himself, or Sylvia Plath in high spirits, arm in arm with an attractive man who wasn’t Ted Hughes, free of all melancholy. Others took advantage of their time in Madrid to do what they had been unable to in life, especially the women: Sor Juana donned jeans to go drink wine with George Sand at a table in the Platerías plaza, both of them talking a mile a minute; Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen and Carson McCullers exploded in laughter when Clarice Lispector translated the word chulas (what the waiter had just called them): cuties.
translated by Natasha Lehrer
I am not seeking to establish any kind of order—I know full well there isn’t any, just as there is no logic in family stories, they are not meant to be told, life being nothing more than a nonsensical succession of events and actions—and I have to confess (I’m probably repeating myself, because I still find it hard to believe I can write like this) that I don’t have any overarching theme, I am simply following the tangle of silken thread, woven through my thick, dark hair by the spiders in the basement of the apartment block where I slept after my mother threw me out, that I find myself, 35 years on, still tugging on without quite understanding why.
The Last Days of Bohemia
Their wide, white throats bore down like swans to small breasts. With great deliberation, they lit cigarettes they pulled from brand-new packs. Her understanding was that they were artists.
“Wild and mysterious regions”—that’s the territory I felt I had been treading in trying to conceive, and my own incredulity was slipping away each day. On Instagram, I browsed infertility accounts where “IVF warriors” shared their individual struggles, chronicling each step of their fertility treatments to offer encouragement, community and, sometimes, promo codes for supplements or other merchandise. But Frankenstein offered something altogether different.
Venice Architecture Biennale
I counted 119 digital videos or projection screens; fifteen piles of dirt or minerals; three digital videos projected onto piles of dirt or minerals; sixteen maps with inscrutable diagrammatic markings; 29 abstract-architectural art installations. As for architectural models, I counted a grand total of fourteen.
Cormac McCarthy’s Last Novels
The “when” is coming for each of us—and perhaps eventually for all of us, collectively. But until it arrives, the two books seem to say, its presence on the horizon should heighten the sense that there is something—or many things that are all ultimately one thing—that we must desperately try to understand, and that this desperation can sustain us.