Category Archives: Essays

Berlin Scenes

By Alex Cocotas

Berlin is a waiting room. Last week we went to a dinner party. There were Syrians, Israelis, Somalis, Germans, a Croat, a Greek, and, myself, an American. At times it was a Danse Macabre of sorts. Syrians and Israelis commiserated about overcoming preconceptions. A Somali interjected that five years of war was nothing — see what fifteen years of war does to your reputation. Two Somalis argued about the security situation of their country. One insisted it was getting better; there is a boom in the Mogadishu real estate market. The other said she was just there. She spent three nights sleeping under her bed, the sound of gunshots ringing out in the distance. There’s a government now, he countered. Who elected them? She retorted. Are there hospitals, public schools? The Greek exclaimed: That’s the key! Continue reading

A Book of the Bible Even an Atheist Can Love: Secular Inspiration in Ecclesiastes

By Jeffrey Tayler

“Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity,” announces Ecclesiastes, a book of the Old Testament that I, an atheist with an ardent distaste for religion, find consoling, calming, and wise. As the years pass and cares mount, as pleasures fade with repetition, and as the senescence and deaths of family members bear down relentlessly, I find myself turning to Ecclesiastes for comfort, inspiration, and, despite its melancholy tidings, cheer. Continue reading

A Vision of San Francisco: SFMOMA Expansion and the Rise of a City

By Mimi Zeiger

In 1990, several years before the San Francisco Museum of Art (SFMOMA) would move into its new building on Third Street, William Gibson wrote the short story “Skinner’s Room” for the architecture exhibition Visionary San Francisco. Commissioned by the museum’s first architecture and design curator Paolo Polledri, Gibson’s sci-fi dystopia depicted the city’s homeless population squatting on a defunct Bay Bridge while wealthy urbanites made their homes in 60-storey solar-powered towers. Continue reading

The Elenic Question

By Merve Emre and Len Gutkin

The revelation of Elena Ferrante’s real identity — she is, allegedly, the Italian translator Anita Raja — by the Italian investigative reporter Claudio Gatti has provoked outrage and dismay from journalists and literary critics. Many feel that Gatti’s violation of Raja’s pseudonymity is an unethical attack on her privacy. We agree. Whatever Raja’s reasons for desiring to remain pseudonymous, her wishes should have been respected, at least during her lifetime. The “exposure” of Raja as Ferrante did not serve the sort of compelling public interests that might have justified the invasion of her privacy. Continue reading

Echoing Anti-Semitic Imagery

By Sara Lipton

One of the more disturbing aspects of the current presidential campaign has been the proliferation of anti-Semitic imagery on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and other social media platforms. While such imagery has long been a staple of alt-right and neo-Nazi publications and chat-rooms, in the past year symbols associated with Jewishness have spread far beyond extremist sites. They are now tweeted or retweeted by individuals apparently unaffiliated with fringe groups, including elected officials and members of the Trump campaign, and are often directed against journalists perceived to be critical of Donald Trump or his family. On July 2nd, 2016, for example, Donald Trump tweeted an image featuring Hillary Clinton’s face and a red six-pointed star inscribed with the words, “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” superimposed against a background of hundred-dollar bills; many critics considered this image anti-Semitic. Some of these symbols — such as the Star of David and the hook-nosed caricature — can be traced back hundreds of years. Others are of more recent vintage, such as the cartoon character Pepe the Frog, newly endowed with hooked nose, yarmulke, or Nazi uniform; or the “echo” symbol (three sets of parentheses surrounding the name of someone assumed to be Jewish), a symbol which has been traced back to an anti-Semitic podcast in 2014. Continue reading

Elegantly Wrapped Dung: or, A Polish Journalist’s Posthumous Victory

By Louise Steinman

Maciej Ziembinski and Louise Steinman. Photo by Tomasz Cebulski.

Maciej Ziembinski and Louise Steinman. Photo by Tomasz Cebulski.

A few weeks ago, I received an email message from one Ronan Ó Fathaigh, a researcher from the University of Amsterdam. This euphoniously named gentleman wrote to tactfully inquire if the late Maciej Ziembinski, whom I’d written about on my Crooked Mirror blog, had been the plaintiff in a case he was writing up for the European Court for Human Rights: ZIEMBIŃSKI v. Poland (No. 2).

Yes! I wrote back; one and the same! Continue reading

Nell Zink, Member of the Tribe

By Sam Jaffe Goldstein

Mark my words: it is no coincidence that Private Novelist’s publication coincides with the second day of Rosh Hashanah, when we Jews celebrate the new year and look towards Yom Kippur, when we will ask our old-testament-God for forgiveness. Nell Zink may or may not have dreamed up, planned out, and been the mastermind behind this non-coincidence. That Private Novelist is being released alongside her new novel Nicotine perhaps points to a larger conspiracy orchestrated by Ecco and HarperCollins’ — a collusion, if you will, designed to sell more books. But why give all the credit to some marketing department, when it might be Judaism we have to thank? Continue reading

Reading Plays

By Ian MacAllister-McDonald

The first time script I ever read was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as adapted by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. I played the role of the Count himself in my Catholic high school production back in 2001. The production was about what you would expect out of a group of American teenagers pretending to be European adults. I was mortified when, as I stood on stage during the final dress rehearsal in my dopey cape and fangs and white face paint, watching as the actress playing Mina asked — as politely as she could — if we could please change the scene at the end of Act One where Dracula kisses Mina on the lips. We’d rehearsed it a dozen times already, always stopping just short of the kiss, which, as a bookish teenager in the theater club was about as close to girls as I generally got. The director looked at my co-star, registering her shame and terror, and conceded. Perhaps, he suggested, Dracula could kiss her on the neck? No, that wouldn’t work. Perhaps bite her neck….? She hadn’t even stopped shaking her head. “Okay, he can start to bite your neck, but we’ll drop the curtain before he makes contact. How’s that?” The actress winced, then gave a deep shuddery sigh and nodded, eyes locked in a thousand-yard stare. A true professional. In the end, the scene played out much as Mr. Stoker had surely imagined it, with a 17-year-old Count Dracula almost maybe probably going to bite the neck of a noticeably grossed-out Mina. The scene was taught, real, and very powerful. Continue reading