‘Essentially Bohemian’

In October 1963, Sir Herbert Stanley Marchant, the outgoing British ambassador to Cuba, sent the Foreign Office a six-page confidential profile of Fidel Castro, now held in the National Archives at Kew. Marchant joked that if it didn’t fit the Foreign Office’s purposes he would sell it to Life magazine when he retired, to keep himself ‘in beer money for a month or so’. He had been ambassador since 1960. For most of that time, he writes, Castro had had ‘nothing whatever to do with Western diplomats’, but the policy changed suddenly after he returned from a trip to the Soviet Union in 1963. Marchant had since spent eleven hours with Castro at close quarters, including ‘two lunches and a farewell interview’.

The ambassador couldn’t help but be impressed by Castro’s presence: ‘However much you hear about the Grand Canyon it still turns out to be much bigger than you expected. So it is with Castro – and I do not mean merely his physique. He is in fact a good six feet four inches and he must weigh sixteen stone.’ More »

Boosting

Not long after the Second World War, the scientists at Los Alamos realised that they could vastly improve the design of a nuclear bomb, making it light enough to fly on a rocket. More »

Unexpected Stories

Short fiction isn’t really something that the LRB publishes, except when it does. In the latest issue, for example, there’s a 274-word work by Diane Williams, the 99th item that we’ve tagged in our online archive as a story, though it could just as well be categorised as prose poetry. The same goes for Anne Carson’s ‘Euripides to the Audience’ (2002). In 1980 we carried an extract from an unpublished play by Noël Coward. More »

At Mount Rushmore

On Sunday evening I took my son to see Mount Rushmore. He is 13, born and raised in Britain, but with an American father and, as he put it, not enough of a British accent to impress the locals in South Dakota. Unexpected pride welled up in me when we climbed the stairs from the car park and he gasped at his first glimpse of the giant, granite-carved faces of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt staring down at him. ‘Wow’ isn’t a word you often hear when touring with teens.

Then we got distracted by a flat-bed trailer parked in the access road between us and the visitor centre, the walkway decorated with the 50 state flags, and the outdoor theatre facing the monument. Martial music was blaring from speakers attached to the trailer’s sides, and built up from its bed, like a float in a holiday parade, were large letters spelling out TRUMP. More »

Trump set them free

In late July, HBO unveiled plans for a new show set in an alternative reality, in which the Confederate South, led by General Robert E. Lee, has successfully seceded from the Union. D.B. Weiss, one of the producers of Confederate, explained the thinking behind the series: ‘What would the world have looked like if Lee had sacked DC, if the South had won – that just always fascinated me.’

Last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, Weiss got his answer, with the ‘Unite the Right’ demonstration against the planned removal of Lee’s statue in Emancipation Park (formerly known as Lee Park). This ‘pastoral scene of the gallant South’, as Billie Holiday might have described it, was open to anyone who hated black people and Jews (‘Jews will not replace us’ was one of the cries), from members of the Ku Klux Klan to neo-Nazis. Emboldened by having an ally in the highest office in the land, they came with Confederate flags, swastikas, medieval-looking wooden shields, torches and, of course, guns. They came to fight. One young woman in the counter-demonstration was murdered by a man who rammed his car into her, weaponising his vehicle just as jihadists have done in Nice and London. A helicopter surveilling the event crashed, killing the two officers inside. Dozens were injured.

For the next two days, the world waited for Trump to denounce those responsible for the pogrom. The week before, he threatened North Korea with nuclear incineration (‘fire and fury’). Trump is so hollow a person, so impulsive a leader, that it’s easy to miss the great paradox of his presidency: that a cipher of a man has revealed the hidden depths, the ugly unmastered history, of the country he claims to lead. More »

John Sturrock

John Sturrock died yesterday. He wrote his first piece for the LRB, on Sherry Turkle’s Psychoanalytic Politics, in its third issue, and was the paper’s consulting editor from 1993. He will be greatly missed.

His dozens of pieces include:

From May 2007: Blair’s Convictions
From March 2007: How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read
From March 2002: Robbe-Grillet’s Return
From September 2000: Eighteenth-Century Cricket
From April 1999: Homage to the Oulipo
From July 1998: Taking on Alan Sokal
From November 1997: Victor Hugo
From December 1992: Althusser, the Paris Strangler
From February 1986: Jakobson and Bakhtin
From March 1981: Proust Regained

At the Fringe

In the queue for Flying Pig Theatre’s new production of Euripides’ Bacchae, I overheard a man talking to his female companions about the prospect of sitting in the front row: ‘What if there’s audience participation?’ I was reminded of Dionysus in 69, Richard Schechner’s adaptation of the play. In one of its scenes, Schechner writes in Performance Theory: More »

Waterlogged

Perhaps we have only ourselves to blame. By awarding last year’s top prize to an underwater entry, and then publishing a watery cover one week into the contest, we were asking for it. There have been an unprecedented number of entries to this year’s #readeverywhere competition that feature pools, streams, rivers, lakes and seas. These readers seem to be forgetting something important: the London Review of Books isn’t waterproof. More »

Who are you calling Mycenaean?

The photograph on the front page of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn’s website last week was a collage by the photographer Nelly’s, produced as propaganda for the Metaxas regime and displayed in the Greek Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. There’s a ruined temple in the background, and in the foreground the ancient bronze statue known as the Artemision Zeus or Poseidon, next to an elderly modern Greek shepherd who looks remarkably like the classical god. The message of racial continuity between ancient and modern Greeks that the regime was keen to project, alongside its tourism campaign, could not have been more obvious.

The Golden Dawn headline above the picture claims that ‘the 4000-year racial continuity of the Greeks has been proved’. The article is based on a study published in Nature, ‘Genetic origins of Minoans and Mycenaeans’, by Iosif Laziridis et al. It was reported in the international as well as the Greek press, and the emphasis in most headlines was on the genetic continuity between people in the Bronze Age Aegean and contemporary Greeks: ‘Minos, our grandfather’, for example. More »

Ruskin Dines Out

On 10 April 1845, the young John Ruskin wrote home to his father describing a meal that he had recently enjoyed at Champagnole: two trout ‘just out of the river, of the richest flavour’, a woodcock ‘on delicate toast’, and a ‘small perfectly compounded’ soufflé, all washed down with a bottle of Sillery mousseux champagne. As the sun set, ‘glowing over the pinewoods and far up into the sky’, making the champagne ‘suddenly become rose’, he wrote that he ‘felt sad at thinking how few were capable of having such enjoyment, and very doubtful whether it were at all proper in me to have it all to myself.’ More »

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