Reviews

Getting Past 270

Getting Past 270

On Jon Favreau’s The Wilderness

If The Wilderness doesn’t ultimately sugarcoat where the Democratic Party finds itself, neither is there a sense of truly deep foreboding. We live in a 50-50 country, the show argues, and we can win elections in that country and make it not quite a 50-50 country anymore, and so overcome the limits in the Madisonian system. But partisan control is what ultimately matters. Unsurprisingly for an Obama alum, Favreau steers clear of vast arenas in the American state that are supposedly apolitical, from the Federal Reserve to the FBI and the CIA and the NSA to, critically, the Supreme Court. Donald Trump has no interest in leaving them as separate citadels of neutral competence. Democrats should think hard about what it would mean to go beyond the platitude about letting the professionals do their work, and formulate a vision to expand the ambit of popular control.

Corruptions and Duplicates of Form

Corruptions and Duplicates of Form

He looks near-homeless at times, a street creature in a movie where pizza rat meets Pizzagate.

This post-Wonka kids’ movie about future video-game competition in dystopian cyberspace contains every pop 1980s reference imaginable, including “Blue Monday,” and stuffs them by the handful into a recycling bag like cans worth five cents each. The movie is cynical and manipulative because the ’80s it exploits means nothing to Spielberg. He uses items from that decade because he noticed that’s what kids are into, even though the movie takes place three decades from now. To Spielberg, the digitized fodder of Ready Player One is not truly classic, and can therefore be further trivialized for any reason. If money can be squeezed out of it from an undiscerning audience of nerds, so it should be and must be. Here, Spielberg has truly become Disney.

Ghost World

Ghost World

Images have become not only animate, but incarnate.

Seemingly insincere, jokey phrases flip and become the nexus of an argument. Concomitance carries weight. A border of an image can be like the border of a nation-state; tension accumulates at an edge. For an image, the tension lies in the difference between the logics created within the picture plane and outside it. For nation-states, it is often the same—tension between colliding desires, incompatible ways of understanding, communicating, and seeing.

Money, Power, Gay Shenanigans

Money, Power, Gay Shenanigans

On Alan Hollinghurst

At this point, you might be wondering what the plot of this book is, and that’s a fair question. “My old friend the novelist Lawrence Norfolk used to say, ‘You write marvelous descriptions, but why do you have these terrible plots?’” Hollinghurst noted in The Paris Review, in 2011. “I like evoking atmospheres and analyzing relationships and feelings, but plot I feel faintly embarrassed by.” If I try to explain the wider plot of The Sparsholt Affair, and the half-tangled lives of a cast of supporting characters who flit in and about without too much consequence, it all begins to fall apart. In the fourth section, as the book begins—very slowly—to wind down, Johnny is living a relatively untroubled life in London as a moderately successful portrait painter. He’s a vegetarian. He fathers a child with a lesbian couple. He has a long-term partner called Pat, of whom we only really glimpse his “broad back and hairy thighs and long fat member, retiring now after a hard half-hour’s work,” and who later dies, of cancer, essentially in a footnote.

Not the Backward-Glancing Comrade

Not the Backward-Glancing Comrade

On Ece Temelkuran

Temelkuran, a generation removed from Gürbılek, represents something else: not the backward-glancing comrade but the daughter of one, born in 1973, raised in Izmir by a social-democrat father and Maoist mother. It’d be hard to think of a more consummate figure of what a true Turkish “new left” would look like: democratic socialist, feminist, with books on the legacies of the Armenian genocide, on the Arab Spring, on the Latin American pink tide (untranslated), chapters and articles on Kurdish politics, nearly three million Twitter followers and a vast, sui generis facility with the media. A New Left Review essay one day—a TED talk the next.

Sanctuaries of Trust and Caring

Sanctuaries of Trust and Caring

On Oscar Movies

Back in the 1990s, I predicted — maybe it was after I saw Happiness — that sound design would soon get so extreme that there would be a movie in which we heard not just the sound of salt leaving a saltshaker, but also the sound of it hitting the food. With Phantom Thread, that day has come.

Both Sides Now

Both Sides Now

On Zadie Smith

Swing Time is the first of Smith’s books to abandon the omniscient third person and restrict itself to a single first-person narrator, a shift that has a seismic effect on the novel. As in Smith’s previous novels, the narrator is responsible for harmonizing a multiplicity of disparate voices and positions. But by assigning this mediating function to a flesh-and-blood character, Swing Time presents it in a new light. Rather than an all-seeing eye, the narrator is now a fallible individual with a necessarily limited perspective. The opposing voices she holds in suspension are no longer abstract — instead, they are attached to specific people, namely her estranged parents. The insistence on seeing both sides, previously a transcendent principle in Smith’s work, here looks more like the survival mechanism of a child of divorce trying to reconcile her parents’ competing claims on her affection.