At the Fringe

‘Will we be safe here?’ asked a German man sitting next to me in the front row. We were about to see Leave. To Remain (An Aristophanic Brexit Tale), a Fringe production modelled on Aristophanes’ Acharnians, whose protagonist, Dikaiopolis, makes a private peace treaty with Sparta while the rest of Athens remains at war. My neighbour was worried we’d be expected to take part in the show. It’s set in a not too distant, post-Brexit future, where the British equivalent of Athenian direct democracy is interactive TV programmes. More »

Rugged Investors Only

The result of the presidential election in Zimbabwe, held on 30 July, was announced after a brief period of turmoil, on 3 August. Victory went to the Zanu-PF incumbent, Emmerson Mnangagwa, with roughly 2.4 million votes. Nelson Chamisa, the candidate of the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance, got 2.1 million. The rapid shifts in the political landscape that we’ve witnessed since Robert Mugabe was removed last November felt exhilarating, but the outcome of the vote leaves big questions unresolved. More »

Where is Rahile Dawut?

When I met Professor Rahile Dawut in Urumqi in 2013, we didn’t talk about the soldiers and armoured vehicles patrolling the streets of the Uighur neighbourhoods. I didn’t ask her about the transformation of Xinjiang’s capital into an intensively policed space, or the government’s spurious claims that the region was under threat from Islamist terrorists, in part because discussing such topics, even in private, seemed too dangerous for any Chinese citizen. It was far safer to confine our talk to her extensive, brilliant ethnographic research into Xinjiang’s rich and plural cultural traditions, most notably her work on mazâr, the shrines of local saints dotted around the region, most of them in remote desert locations. She was funny, modest about her work, and gracious enough to listen to my anecdotes about visiting shrines in other parts of Xinjiang.

Last week, Dawut’s family announced that she has been missing since December. More »

At Good Chance Paris

Lycée Jean Quarré is an abandoned cookery school in Paris’s 19th arrondissement, near the Place des Fêtes. In October 2015, a reported 1000 refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers squatting there were evicted by the police. The NGO Emmaüs Solidarité now manages the building as a Centre d’Hébergement d’Urgence, or CHU, for around 150 refugees and asylum-seekers. Most of the current residents are young men from Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Eritrea and Libya. More »

Mr Ford’s Hacienda

V.S. Naipaul never saw himself as just another face in the mural of 20th-century literature. The mural was, in any case, not his favourite art form. He loved and possessed a very fine collection of Persian and Indian miniatures. But this wasn’t a frame in which he saw himself either. Long before the knighthood and the Nobel Prize, it was the mirror that excited him. Destiny stared him in the face every morning. He believed in himself. The Trinidadian was to become a very fine writer of English prose. More »

Roe v. Kavanaugh

Last month, President Trump announced his nominee to succeed the retiring Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy. Brett Kavanaugh is currently a judge on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. He has not been an outspoken opponent of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that the right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman’s choice to have an abortion. But he is almost certain to support a dramatic narrowing of Roe’s application, allowing states to impose significant restrictions on a woman’s ability to access abortion. More »

My Hogs, and Other Animals

‘It is probably best not to take advice direct and unfiltered from the animal kingdom,’ Katherine Rundell wrote recently in the LRB – ‘but lemurs may be an exception.’ And so may rats, dogs, snakes, primates, wolves, sheep, pigs, cows, crows, ravens, double-crested cormorants, salmon, sharks and octopuses, according to the contributors to our second app-only special edition of the London Review (the 15 pieces are drawn from the paper’s archive), published to fill the four-week summer break between issues, and give those who’ve signed up to our sale of two cities (with the Paris Review) something to read, right away. More »

Airtime for Hitler

In 2008, a Newsnight producer called me to ask if I would appear in the studio with the British National Party leader, Nick Griffin, to debate ‘the white working class’. The BNP had been gaining seats on local councils since the mid-2000s, and Griffin was engaged in a campaign to make it seem a respectable electoral choice.

I told the producer he had to be joking. What was he doing even thinking of having a fascist on the programme? He seemed mystified by my response. Wasn’t it a good thing that the BBC were listening to the concerns of ‘the white working class’? And shouldn’t we have these debates so the fascists won’t win? No, I said: fascists belong under stones, not on national television. Griffin didn’t appear on Newsnight that time; perhaps they couldn’t find anyone on the left willing to go on with him. More »

Where the Wild Things Weren’t

The LRB spent the weekend at Wilderness Festival. The Talking Politics podcast was there too. On Friday, Kate Devlin, who teaches at Goldsmiths, tweeted: ‘Gotta say, calling the festival Wilderness is a bit of a misnomer. It’s essentially Borough Market in a field.’ Gavin Francis, on Sunday afternoon, talked about the body as a wild place, and what it might take to map it. He quoted some of Kathleen Jamie’s reflections on nature writing and the cult of the wild. More »

In Voltaire’s Garden

The château at Ferney recently reopened to the public after three years of restoration and refurbishment. Except for the planes high above the lawns, flying in and out of Geneva airport, not much has changed at the château since Voltaire lived here between 1760 and his death in 1778. It’s easy to imagine him taking an afternoon stroll among the plane trees, Mont Blanc in the background, after a morning in bed dictating his voluminous correspondence to his private secretary. During his twenty years at Ferney, he wrote 6000 letters. More »

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