All posts by LARB Blog

A Middle Class Childhood in the Middle East: Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim’s Poppies of Iraq

By Nathan Scott McNamara

Illustrations of old radios fill one sequence of Brigitte Findakly’s graphic memoir Poppies of Iraq. Findakly writes that after the fall of the monarchy, when Iraq was declared a republic, the people of her country often tuned into an Arabic radio show broadcast from Israel, the only source of uncensored news about the Iraqi government. The program ran for over 20 years and was strictly banned: “Those who listened to it ran the risk of stiff prison sentence,” Findakly writes. “The show was a favorite and everybody tuned in.” But Findakly, at 11 years old in 1970, wasn’t everybody; an illustration depicts her sweetly smiling in bed with a radio on the pillow beside her, listening to Voice of America for English pop songs. Continue reading

The end of The Cambodia Daily: A Strongman Can Shut a Newspaper but Can’t Shut Up a Reporter

By Susannah Luthi

The last issue of the Cambodia Daily — “News Without Fear or Favor” — appeared September 4 with the headline: “Descent Into Outright Dictatorship” and a photograph of government opposition leader Kem Sokha in handcuffs and the grip of a policeman. Kem Sokha looks disgusted. The newspaper sold rapidly, people massed to get their copies all over the streets of Phnom Penh. And then there were none. Kem Sokha is locked up in a high security prison in an eastern province of the country. Continue reading

A Two-Way Street: Talking to Josiah Ober

By Andy Fitch 

This conversation focuses on Josiah Ober’s books The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece, Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens, and Political Dissent in Democratic Athens: Intellectual Critics of Popular Rule. Ober, Mitsotakis Professor of Political Science and Classics at Stanford University, focuses on the contemporary relevance of the political thought and practice of the ancient Greek world. From probing the complicated (and intellectually generative) social status of economically powerful yet politically marginalized elites, to prioritizing democratic-tending Athens’s distinct capacities for producing/sharing both practical and specialized fields of knowledge, to reconceptualizing the commercial prowess and relatively egalitarian distribution of wealth across ancient Greece’s diversified macro-ecology, Ober consistently has prompted new methods for rethinking when, how, and why dialogue might open up eudaimonic possibilities within the lives of its participants. And even as these methods have received praise across numerous academic disciplines, Ober never has lost his deft touch for showing why our own ever-provisional democratic culture (both inside and outside the academy) ought continually to look to classical precedent as one practical means for engaging the most pressing social questions of the present. Ober’s latest book Demopolis: Democracy before Liberalism in Theory and Practice, recently published by Cambridge University Press, will be the subject of a sequent conversation. Continue reading

Free Speech Year

By Joshua Clover

While few would dispute that there has been renaissance of open white nationalism since Donald Trump’s election, it has proved difficult for many to narrate the white nationalist movement as a movement. Repeatedly over the last year, people — people in positions of significant power — have treated each rally, gathering, or other event as if it had arisen from nowhere, or from some subterranean roil, singular, independent of previous events. The treatment of each event as discrete, rather than as part of a sustained political project, is a political problem itself, one that has already cost and continues to risk more lives. Continue reading

Meet the LARB China Channel Team, Part 6 — A Q&A With Advising Editor Jason Y. Ng

This interview, like the previous one in this series with Eileen Cheng-yin Chow, is with someone who wears many hats.  Jason Y. Ng is a lawyer, a columnist, an adjunct professor of law, and the President of PEN Hong Kong, as well as the author of books such as Umbrellas in Bloom: Hong Kong’s Occupy Movement Uncovered.  He is also someone who has been quoted extensively in the press on various issues.  Often, journalists ask him to comment on the latest protests or acts of repression in Hong Kong, as they know how eloquent and informed he can be speaking on those sorts of topics.  Here, though, befitting the fact that he has made time in his busy life to serve as an advising editor to the LARB China Channel, I’ve posed questions to him about books and films, variations on things I’ve asked others in this series. Continue reading

In Sable and Black Robes

By Colson Lin


One of the most striking features of the modern public ritual initiated when a candidate is named by the President to the Supreme Court is the celerity with which all of the relevant actors snap into place. A general spirit of merriment and free-wheeling parlor speculation mutes one day, quite suddenly, into an aperient tremor across the Beltway papers that that the vetting is now “closed,” that a decision “has been made,” that a nomination is “imminent,” culminating finally in a colorless statement issued by the White House establishing a date and time for the coming-out ceremony: fumata bianca. As the clock strikes the hour of coronation, through Cross Hall and into the East Room will walk the President and the triangulated product of what has for weeks been referred to inevitably by the national press as a “tricky political calculus,” often alongside a beaming wife or husband or mother. And so begins the nominee’s elevation out of obscurity—at least briefly—into the highest reaches of celebrity our political media has to offer. We call this showering of attention the “Supreme Court nomination process,” and it is perhaps, with the exception of our presidential elections, our democracy’s single most elaborate exercise in self-deception. Continue reading

Almost Everyone Was Mistaken: On Secrets, Light, and the Lyric Imagination

By Kristina Marie Darling

In his essay collection Ozone Journal, Peter Balakian defines “shadow” as a “force that follows something with fidelity” only to “cast a dark light” on that person, object, view, or perspective. For Balakian, this fraught proximity — a closeness that blocks the line of vision — is one of the most essential characteristics of a work of art. After all, it is what we sense, but do not yet see, that beckons us farther into a half-lit room. The careful architecture of a poem — a space that is gradually illuminated for the reader — depends upon all that is hidden as a necessary condition, much more so than the visible beauty or significance of a particular image. Continue reading