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New writers approaching creative work are often told that “landscape should be a character,” or, even worse, “landscape is a character.” To the extent this means anything, it’s well-intentioned enough. Landscape should be vivid, is how the phrase breaks down, and it should be important to the plot. But I’ve long wondered whether saying “landscape should be a character” is to misunderstand the nature of both character and landscape. More… “Landscape is Action”

John Cotter’s first novel Under the Small Lights appeared in 2010 from Miami University Press. A founding editor at the review site Open Letters Monthly, John’s published critical work in Sculpture, Bookforum, and The The Poetry Foundation. Say hi at John [at] JohnCotter [dot] net.
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Moving away from the melting pot? Maybe.
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We live in an era of identity wars. On both sides of the Atlantic, old partisan loyalties are being reshuffled as a new national populist right battles over immigration with an open-borders, multicultural left. Beyond the West, the most dynamic leaders are seeking to root their legitimacy in historic national and religious traditions — Russian Orthodoxy and Eurasianism in Putin’s Russia, Hindu nationalism in Modi’s India, Chinese nationalism in Xi’s China, and post-secular Islamic Turkish nationalism in Erdoğan’s Turkey. The most extreme form of identity politics is that of the Islamic State that has risen from the wreckage of Iraq and Syria. Its adherents seek to recreate a version of the early Muslim caliphate.
More… “The Age of Identity Wars”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.
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No, its minister of justice!

 

 

If you were to go looking for evidence of France’s huge North African population, you’d find it in the grim public housing projects of the suburban cités, in the gritty peripheral neighborhoods of Paris, and near my home in the relatively privileged 5th arrondissement, where the Great Mosque draws enormous crowds on Fridays and during Ramadan. You would be hard pressed, however, to find many North Africans in the corridors of French business or political power, where they are close to invisible.

And yet, for the last year and a half, a woman of Moroccan-Algerian descent has become famous as one of the most influential and glamorous figures in France. Rachida Dati is the minister of justice, and until recently one of President Sarkozy’s closest confidants. She is a self-made success story who radiates chutzpah, for lack… More…

Softer, more playful, openly seductive (Vincente Wolf Photography Collection)

 

It’s The Look that gets to you. Frida Kahlo took up a variety of subject matter and dabbled in a number of styles. All of it worth seeing. But in the end it is the self-portraits that endure and that fuel her ever-increasing stature in 20th century art. That’s because in the portraits you get The Look. The Look is the Frida Kahlo stare. If you’ve seen any of her self-portraits then you have seen it. It is an expression that barely changes throughout a lifetime of paintings. Costumes change, parrots flutter into the frame, monkeys come and go. The Look never wavers. Walking through the major exhibit currently hanging at the Philadelphia Museum of Art or flipping through the catalog, it’s clear that The Look starts in about 1930 with the Self-Portrait of that year and keeps… More…

"I drove a Corolla; he rode a bike."

Once I had a boyfriend, and when he got into my car for the first time he said, “Oh, it’s dirty.” I could tell he was concerned, because it was not just cluttered — it was strange messy. I looked around and tried to imagine what I would think of the owner of a car like that if it wasn’t mine. I moved things out of the passenger seat — shoes, rackets, books, orange rinds, glasses of dried smoothie — but then I thought there was no use in pretending. “It’s just like this normally,” I said. “It just is.” It was a time when I was too worn out to lead anyone on. “Hey, you know I ride a bike,” Sean said.

He said sometimes people flipped him off while he was riding, or threw drive-thru drinks at him from their car for no reason. I told him the… More…

I’ve long been inclined to read stores the way I read texts. The nature and display of merchandise, the style of salesmanship, even the pricing are all signifiers in what, at its best, is an esthetic as well as a commercial spectacle. Some stores create a kind of embrace that is both familiar and strange — rather like a good poem.

In recent weeks, I find myself returning to a store called the Painted Cottage. It’s a furniture store that sells armoires, vanities, ottomans, and armchairs. The pieces are not expensive — rarely does even a large piece exceed $1,000. This is because all the furniture is secondhand, found in junkyards or purchased from estates, then refurbished by the store’s staff. Despite the humble origins of the pieces, the results are delightful: Nails, whitewash, and hand-painted flowers transform a broken-down dresser into a Country French chiffarobe; chintz upholstery turns a… More…