Category Archives: Essays

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

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

In Sable and Black Robes

By Colson Lin

I.

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

The House in and as Contemporary Art

By Farrah Karapetian

On April 8, 2017, Rosa Parks’ home was unveiled to the German public. American ex-pat Ryan Mendoza moved it there and put it back together, without fetishizing its façade, in a garden behind a 1960s-era apartment building in a Berlin neighborhood called Wedding. Passersby can at times hear Parks’ voice recordings playing from within the house, and see the lights lit behind curtained windows; they can spend time in Mendoza’s family’s garden, although they cannot enter the house — partly due to liability, and also out of respect for Parks. Rhea McCauley, Ms. Parks’ niece, had not been able to find any other way to save the house from demolition, despite the iconicity of its former occupant. Parks’ actions inspired many in the Civil Rights Movement, but death threats forced her to leave Alabama for Detroit, and her life remained difficult, as evidenced by the condition of her house. The house is an unvarnished monument to a networked idea of individual agency in the battle for equality – and yet of course it broadcasts this notion in Germany, a country that has spent 70 years confronting its past and regulating neo-Nazi behavior. After the pro-Confederate, pro-Nazi rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, Mendoza is trying to move the house back to the US. He is convinced that it should stand testament to Parks’ leadership as a balance to the preponderance of uncontextualized 20th century monuments to the failed Confederacy that remain in the American South. Continue reading