• print • Dec/Jan 2018

    I Put a Spell on You

    Quaint to think that not even fifty years ago—when network TV reigned supreme, the underground press flourished, and El Topo invented the midnight movie—there was an amorphous thing called the Counterculture. Now, of course, there are hundreds.

    Back then dog-eared head-trips like Clans of the Alphane Moon by the still-unknown Philip K. Dick circulated among the cognoscenti. So did Richard Brautigan’s twee Trout Fishing in America and Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier’s blithely footnote-free The Morning of the Magicians.

    Morning’s first part concerned the secret society of the “Nine Unknown

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  • review • October 11, 2017

    Dix and Dix: On "In a Lonely Place"

    We first meet Dix Steele, the star of Nicholas Ray’s 1950 Hollywood noir In a Lonely Place, as he pulls his car up to a stoplight on a dark Los Angeles street. From the vehicle next to him, a blonde woman addresses him by name—she seems to know him, but Dix isn’t having it. When she tells Dix that she starred in the last picture he wrote, the screenwriter replies tartly, “I make it a point never to see pictures I write.” Because Dix is played by Humphrey Bogart, the line comes across with a wry charm, but because he’s played by late-career Bogie, it’s weighted with a certain weariness, a curdled

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2017

    The Liars’ Club

    “Are you a one or a zero?” demands Mr. Robot in the eponymous TV series. “That’s the question you have to ask yourself.” My answer: neither, goddamnit—my hopes and dreams aren’t regulated by a motherboard, not quite yet. Or am I deluding myself, and identity is so shaped by the technologies we use that effectively they’re using us? Some version of this query lurks at the edges of Andrew O’Hagan’s The Secret Life: Three True Stories of the Digital Age, a book dominated by secretive and truth-challenged men, among them WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2017

    Arrested Development

    The word totalitarianism has an ominous ring. At the height of the Cold War, in the 1950s and ’60s, Western social scientists began using it to describe the political structure of the USSR, as part of an ideological effort to equate the Soviet system in general, and Stalinism in particular, with Nazism. That effort was very successful. The “totalitarian model” gained such a powerful grip on people’s imaginations that when, in the ’80s, a new generation of scholars began poking holes in it, they took a pummeling, accused of being Communist sympathizers or apologists for Stalin’s crimes.

    As

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2017

    Empire Stakes

    In 2007, Suzy Hansen was a reporter at the New York Observer. Hansen was twenty-nine; she had grown up in a small town in New Jersey and moved to New York City after college. When she first arrived, New York seemed like the center of the world, but in the years after September 11 it began to feel increasingly provincial, both feverish and inward-looking. The liberal journalists she knew were “extremely arrogant,” convinced of their moral superiority to the Bush-era Republicans but strangely indifferent to the wars being fought in their names in Iraq and Afghanistan. Caught up in a narrow round

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2017

    Gray Area

    There is an essential arbitrariness to borders. Whether enforced by walls and fences or through less material means—visa requirements, travel bans—they are always at least partly abstract: imaginary lines. Kapka Kassabova’s travelogue Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe explores the spiritual, psychological, and emotional qualities of the area around the shared frontiers of Turkey, Greece, and Bulgaria, roaming this “back door to Europe” in an effort to find out, up close, what borders do to people, and vice versa. Her book is a deconstruction of the looming, nonspecific anxiety that comes

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2017

    Gen Vexed

    The most essential passage in Kids These Days, Malcolm Harris’s new book on the “making of millennials,” does not appear until its 113th page and is not really about millennials at all. “When history teachers talk about government policy decisions, they tend to use the progressive frame: The government improves things over time,” he writes.

    While liberals think conservatives slow down or rewind progress, and conservatives are only willing to accept government policy forty or fifty years after its implementation (at which point they want an equal share of the

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2017

    The Free and the Brave

    In the late 1940s, the poet Czesław Miłosz wrote to a Polish friend from the United States: “The spiritual poverty of millions of the inhabitants of this country is horrifying . . . The only living people—the ability to create art is a sign of living—are the Blacks and the Indians.” In contrast to the nation’s beleaguered minorities, it seemed to him, the “unfortunate American puppets move . . . with a depressing inner stupor.” Miłosz was then the cultural attaché of Communist Poland in New York. Within four years he would be persona non grata to the Stalin-installed regime in Warsaw, and he

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2017

    How to Lose Your Country

    It’s April 16, and Turkey is voting on a constitutional referendum that may allow its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to drastically increase his powers. It’s the most significant day in the modern history of my country, and I’m watching events unfold on my phone screen in Zagreb, Croatia, where I now live. (Rather than deal with the constant threat of imprisonment or of having my passport confiscated, I chose to get out a few months ago.) In Turkey, the streets are full: People know that this is, in effect, the last chance to prevent a dictatorship.

    Already, anyone critical of Erdoğan risks

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2017

    A Little Respect

    While reading Trita Parsi’s history of the US-Iran nuclear negotiations, it’s hard not to wonder with horror—at every complicated twist and turn of the proceedings—how Donald Trump would manage a similar ordeal. The sometimes excruciating detail of Parsi’s book reminds us of all the tiny acts of diplomacy—and anti-diplomacy—happening right this very second behind closed doors, ones that could, in the case of Iran, be leading to unnecessary war.

    One of the many eye-opening passages in Losing an Enemy comes midway through the book, when the Americans and the Iranians are still floundering for

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2017

    Cash Flow

    For most of us, money seems like the realest thing there is. It dictates what we eat, where we live, and how long we stay alive at all. Worse still, it seems there’s never enough of it to go around. But what is money, exactly? Where does it come from, and who controls how it’s made, spent, lent, disbursed, and denominated?

    In The Production of Money, political economist Ann Pettifor sets out to answer these questions and to examine how politics and class interests contribute to widely held assumptions about how money works. She emphasizes an obvious but frequently overlooked point: Money is

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2017

    The Evidence of Things Not Seen

    The hottest writer in America right now has been dead for thirty years, proving how so many people for so very long got James Baldwin so very wrong.

    When Baldwin died in 1987, at sixty-three, his importance as a literary voice for the civil-rights movement as well as his not-as-heralded-but-just-as-significant stature as a celebrated black and openly gay novelist was so widely acknowledged as to be almost taken for granted. Yet there were many book-chat pundits, especially in the years leading to Baldwin’s passing, who were ready to write him off as Yesterday’s News, someone whose artistic

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