• print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Revolution Nine

    At first glance, The Oath seems to be a curious title for Jeffrey Toobin’s battlefield account of the current state of constitutional combat in the United States. Toobin opens his book with Greg Craig, President Obama’s first White House counsel, spending his first full day in office fretting whether it really mattered that US Supreme Court chief justice John Roberts had slightly misstated the presidential oath of office at the inauguration the day before. To those who knew the oath—as Roberts manifestly did—something did sound wrong when he stumbled over the proper placement of the word “

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Look Out Below

    I opened Twilight of the Elites with some skepticism—not so much out of any quarrel I had with its argument as from worries that stemmed from the conditions of its production. It’s certainly true, as Nation correspondent Chris Hayes argues here, that growing numbers of Americans who’ve worked hard and played by the rules, as Bill Clinton put it, are deciding that the rules have been rigged—by Clinton as well as others—and that something’s wrong with the game itself. But we’re rarely driven to develop such thoughts further, in large part because our income, support networks, cultural tastes,

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Organ Solo

    In 2007, Naomi Wolf warned us that the specter of fascism was haunting America. The radical Right was set to become a homegrown American version of the brownshirts. The free press was withering under a steady stream of disinformation and newspeak. A craven cabal of political elites was bullying the voting public into submission with cries for endless war. There were only a handful of patriots, in Wolf’s estimation, actively stemming the authoritarian tide. To increase their numbers and bolster the democratic cause, she published Give Me Liberty in 2008. The subtitle was A Handbook for American

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    American Imperiled

    So much of what we know about actor Henry Fonda derives from the authority of his body on-screen: a long, taut, calibrated instrument, most expressive when restrained—as it nearly always was. A lean six feet one, he had the height and physique of a movie aristocrat, but could play a proletarian or a president. Most of all, he always conveyed that, at heart, he was a homegrown American, Nebraska born, in touch with social proprieties but also with the urge to light out for the territory. He perfected an understated style that might be called precisionist, his performances akin to the sharp lines

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Burning Man

    Trying to make art creates a host of problems. One of the best ways of handling these, as John Baldessari seems to have realized in the mid-1960s, is to let the problems be someone else's. Then art becomes like the news. "I just read it and laugh," Baldessari once reflected, "say, what the hell is going on?" Not everyone reads the news with such aloofness, of course (or then again maybe we do, since we manage to down our breakfasts while perusing the latest in war, murder, and economic collapse). And probably few artists read the discourses of art—practical, critical, theoretical—with the

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Oh, the Posthumanity

    Not long ago I had a very foolish dream. I was sitting alone in a house when the phone began to ring in another room, a room in which my girlfriend, in turn, was asleep. I didn’t get to it before she awoke and answered it, annoyed, and of course it was for me. The woman on the line said something about something that needed to be done right away, but I couldn’t quite make out what she was saying. She seemed to know me and expected me to know her, and it all seemed quite serious, but I simply didn’t feel up to the double bother of asking her to both introduce and repeat herself. So I did an odd

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Flamboyancy Test

    Among the course offerings announced by the University of Michigan in the fall of 2000 was an undergraduate English seminar titled “How to Be Gay.” Led by professor David M. Halperin, a well-known figure in queer studies, the class proposed to examine the Lavender Canon in all its mincing flamboyance: Judy and Liza, opera and Broadway, divas and drag, muscle queens and Mommie Dearest. “Are there,” Halperin asked, “a number of classically ‘gay’ works such that, despite changing tastes and generations, ALL gay men, of whatever class, race, or ethnicity, need to know them, in order to be gay?”

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Sports Authority

    When I was eleven years old, my room was a shrine to the New York City sports stars of the 1980s. The posters on my wall included the Giants’ fearsome linebacker Lawrence Taylor, the Knicks’ quicksilver forward Bernard King, and the Mets’ triumvirate of awesomeness: first baseman Keith Hernandez, outfielder Darryl Strawberry, and their phenomenal nineteen-year-old pitcher Dwight Gooden. I imitated their every move on the field, and fantasized—in an elementary-school-boy fashion—about their lives off the field. What I didn’t know was that all of these athletes had serious love affairs with

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  • print • Apr/May 2011

    Without a Savior

    I.

    The central problem of writing about South Africa is that it is almost impossible to explain the country’s slow-motion catastrophe in terms that make sense to foreigners. Consider these headlines, culled from just a fortnight’s newspapers. Johannesburg’s City Press reports that the head of the ruling party’s Political School—set up to nurture “revolutionary morality” among thieving civil servants—is declining to explain how he has come to own two new BMWs and a Maserati. South Africa’s Sunday Times alleges rampant corruption in the administration of Northern Cape province. The same paper

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  • print • Apr/May 2011

    Into the Darkness

    A natural response to depravity or evil is to eject it from the human circle, to make of the perpetrator something inhuman. This response is understandable—we do it to protect ourselves from too painful an exposure to the unthinkable—but it doesn’t lead to any greater understanding of the issue or person at hand. Demonizing Hitler, for instance, doesn’t take away from the fact that he had two eyes, a nose, and a mouth like the rest of us. When it comes to malfeasance involving children, we are even more bent on distancing ourselves—from the mother who murders her offspring or the teacher who

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  • print • Apr/May 2011

    The Good Fight

    There's not much good that reform-minded liberals can take away from the First World War. If the American Civil War was the first modern "total war," World War I greatly accelerated the West's passage into such conflict, involving fully mobilized home fronts and new modes of technological combat that produced unprecedented casualties. The Great War also proved a major setback to the European left, which was helpless as the international socialist movement's working-class constituencies fanned out in support of their home countries' nationalist causes.

    For Adam Hochschild, author of two

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  • print • Apr/May 2011

    Troublesome Dream

    Chris Adrian’s prose is so alive with sweet and quirky phrasing, so comfortable with the sexual and the theological, and so optimistic in the face of putative certainties that readers may find cause for gratitude even in a novel that is foolish in conception and inept in structure. Such grateful moments are certainly rarer in The Great Night, Adrian’s latest, than in Gob’s Grief (2001) and The Children’s Hospital (2006), and they become rarer as the novel progresses. The Great Night is hampered by technical decisions rather than Adrian’s sentence-by-sentence conduct; there are flaws of narrative

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