Books, arts and culture

  • The American Cincinnatus

    How artists depicted George Washington and the idea of the presidency

    by L.K. | NEW YORK

    GEORGE WASHINGTON stares down from the rotunda of the Capitol Building, his sword pointed menacingly to earth. Painted in 1865, at the end of the civil war, by Constantino Brumidi, “The Apotheosis of Washington” (pictured) depicts the first president as a god in modern dress, flanked by 13 goddesses representing the colonies that would become the first states of the union. He is the nation’s heavenly protector: a rainbow arcs at his feet and encircles the goddess Athena, who thrusts her shield of stars and stripes at the president and vice president of the Confederacy.

  • Fur-reaching consequences

    What does it mean to be Métis?

    by A.V.

    JUNE 21ST is National Indigenous Peoples Day, an occasion for Canada to celebrate the cultures and achievements of its aboriginal inhabitants. Two of the three groups honoured—First Nation peoples and Inuit—have lived in Canada for thousands of years. But for around 450,000 Canadian Métis things are different: they emerged later, when European settlers married aboriginal women. This history continues to be important: it shapes contemporary Métis culture as well as arguments about what it means in modern Canada.

  • Apposite plots

    Why Turkish students are turning to speculative fiction

    by B.C.C. | ISTANBUL

    IN CAFES outside Istanbul University, students pore over a glossy leaflet. It is not one of the many political pamphlets being distributed ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24th; inside are not campaign promises, but stories of fantasy fiction set in supernatural or imaginary worlds. 

    Since the attempted military coup in July 2016, the suppression of freedom of expression has swept through Turkey’s universities. Nearly 5,000 academics were dismissed; books, many written by prominent political journalists, were confiscated.

  • Neologisms

    At a loss for words? Join the Bureau of Linguistical Reality


    CASAPERDIDA, noun: A feeling of anxiety that your house will be lost as a result of a torrential storm or event related to climate change. You might say, for instance, “I am unable to sleep at night as I am overwhelmed by a nagging sense of casaperdida.” This was an example provided by the Florida resident who submitted the word to The Bureau of Linguistical Reality (BLR). The word was approved and thus “created”.

    Founded in 2014 by Heidi Quante and Alicia Escott, the BLR is a participatory dictionary and conceptual art project.

  • Transformative television

    In “Queer Eye”, wardrobes and world-views are made over

    by R.L.

    “OH SHIT.” Karamo Brown, a black American, is driving with his colleagues in Winder, Georgia, when blue lights begin to flash in the rear-view window. The passengers make a few jokes—about who should have driven, the racial makeup of the party—but the unease is palpable. The officer asks Mr Brown to step out of the vehicle, drawing protests from the group. But the cop reveals that it is a stitch-up: he knows they are filming a television show, and the producers were in on the traffic stop. “You can’t do that to brown people!”, one of the hosts cries. 

    “Queer Eye” is a makeover show, but one which brings contemporary issues to the fore in almost every episode.

  • Difficult mothers

    “Hereditary” is an accomplished horror film—but not a masterpiece

    by N.B.

    AT THE very start of “Hereditary”, the camera glides across an artist’s studio full of meticulously constructed miniature rooms and houses. With a soundtrack of ominous violin shivers and double-bass groans, the camera approaches one of those miniature rooms, getting closer and closer until the viewer is somehow peering into an actual full-sized bedroom in which an actual boy is sleeping. This directorial sleight-of-hand does two things. First, it hints that the characters themselves live in a kind of doll’s house, as playthings of some powerful unseen force. Second, it promises that “Hereditary” is going to be pretty damn stylish compared to most Friday-night horror films.

  • Fantastic beasts and how to decipher them

    Studying the Middle Ages through its monsters

    by A.H.B | NEW YORK

    YOU CAN learn a lot about a society by examining who or what it reveres. You can learn even more by studying what it is afraid of, as a new exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York proves. “Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders” takes the visitor on a jaunt through Europe’s Middle Ages via its beasties. Artefacts such as illuminated manuscripts and tapestries are adorned with unicorns, dragons, antelopes with forked tails, blemmyes—humanoids with no heads, their faces instead on their chests—and more.

  • The Jazz Standard

    Lorraine Gordon, queen of the Village Vanguard

    by P.C. | NEW YORK

    IF YOU were to ask Lorraine Gordon to draw a map of the jazz universe, she wouldn’t focus on New Orleans or Chicago or Memphis. No: the Village Vanguard in New York, one of the city’s oldest jazz clubs, would be at the centre for her. Shaped like a pie slice and blessed with perfect acoustics, the Vanguard hosted jazz’s most influential and renowned musicians. Rising stars and legends alike chose the venue to capture their jazz live; more than 100 recordings were produced there, some of which won Grammys. Presiding over all this was Ms Gordon, who died on June 9th. She treated the basement-level club on Seventh Avenue South as something between a shrine and a public music salon.

  • Living history

    Portraits of the “Windrush generation”

    by I.W.

    “IT’S NOT me, it’s my shadow!” Alford Gardner says with a chuckle, looking across the OXO gallery in London at a large photograph of himself. In it he wears an azure shirt and stands in front of a studio backdrop that is a brighter blue than a British sky could ever be. Mr Gardner is 92 years old, laughs often, and is quick to say that he has enjoyed his life, “every day of it”. Born in Jamaica, he served as a Royal Air Force motor mechanic before moving to England on the HMT Empire Windrush. Around 800 Caribbean migrants made the trip on that boat; he is one of only 12 still alive. “I wasn’t expecting to live here this long,” he says.

  • The Art of the Deal

    The G7 photograph has the dynamism of Caravaggio at his best

    by M.U.

    IT HAS become an instant classic, a picture of political drama that captures the power struggle of an age in a single image. Once upon a time there were the unnamed sculptors who carved the “Colossi of Memnon”, proclaiming the pomp of the pharaoh in statues 18 metres high. Then came Titian, portraying the Emperor Charles V on horseback, distilling the essence of imperial splendour in oils. Later Jacques-Louis David commemorated the passions of the French revolution in his “Oath of the Tennis Court” (before selling his republican soul by glorifying the coronation of Napoleon).

  • Carnal pleasures

    A new exhibition fleshes out man’s relationship with meat

    by J.T-J. | BERLIN

    GERMANS’ love of meat is well-known. The country has one of the highest per capita meat-consumption figures in the world, with the average citizen chomping down 59kg a year in 2016. In Berlin there’s a museum dedicated solely to the Currywurst, the classic sausage dish served everywhere in the Hauptstadt on crimped paper plates. Human-sized, grinning sausage mascots can be spotted all over the city outside fast-food stands. Many in Germany consider eating meat, and pork in particular, a key part of national identity.

  • The fall of man

    The problem of masculinity, in men’s words

    by S.W.

    “FATHERLAND”, a new play, arrives at the Lyric Hammersmith in London against a backdrop of awful deeds perpetrated by men. Allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Harvey Weinstein, a film producer, triggered the #MeToo movement; last week Mr Weinstein was indicted on charges of rape. In April, an “incel” (“involuntary celibate”) murdered ten people in Toronto. School shootings in America are usually committed by boys, with one shooter recently targeting an ex-girlfriend. On press night, even local traffic was affected by the problem of man. Roads were closed after a stabbing the night before, the latest in a spate of murders in London.

  • Staring down the barrel

    #TankMen2018, a global work of protest art

    by R.M.L.

    IN 1989 Fengsuo Zhou was a student at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Like many of his classmates, he went to Tiananmen Square on the morning of June 3rd to participate in peaceful demonstrations calling for a more democratic government. There he witnessed one of the darkest moments in China’s history: he was within spitting distance of the tanks that crushed young demonstrators. His role as a student leader earned him fifth position on China’s most-wanted list. Now, nearly 30 years from the day that would change his life forever, he wants to find a new way to memorialise it.

  • A quixotic film

    Was “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” really worth it?

    by N.B.

    AT LEAST it’s finished. Viewers may well be perplexed by Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”, but they can take comfort in knowing that the 77-year-old director has got it out of his system at long, long last, after enduring struggles and setbacks which would have killed most of us. The film’s catastrophic production history is the stuff of legend—or the stuff of cautionary tale. 

    Having thought of adapting Cervantes’s classic novel back in 1989, Mr Gilliam began shooting it in 2000, with Johnny Depp and Jean Rochefort in the lead roles. That attempt lasted a week.

  • Why adaptations fail

    The hazards of updating classic texts

    by J.W.S.W

    THE Theatre Royal Haymarket’s production looked so promising on paper. “Tartuffe”, Molière’s masterly lampoon of courtly vanity and hypocrisy, seemed fit for relocation to 21st-century Los Angeles. A satire involving an evangelical impostor who infiltrates the household of a gullible nobleman, the plot neatly transposes to a place where “a vulnerability to strange and rapacious belief systems” remains “endemic”, as Christopher Hampton, the translator, puts it in the programme notes.

About Prospero

An enchanting mix of literary insight and cultural commentary, in the spirit of the hero of “The Tempest”


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