Rose’s essay goes deep on trans narratives.
From Napster to Spotify, the story of how music got “free.”
Julian Barnes on Vincent van Gogh, and the difficulties of seeing his well-known work with fresh eyes.
Lanchester takes us through the possibility of a robotified future that completely changes our economic landscape.
Writer Jenny Diski on coming to live with Doris Lessing during her teen years in London.
“I’m a writer. I’ve got cancer. Am I going to write about it? How am I not?”
Novelist Helen DeWitt on the harrowing experience of being stalked, and the ways in which the legal system failed her.
A physicist reflects on life at Los Alamos in the late 1950s.
I was about to enter the ‘need to know’ world. I decided that under no circumstances would I ask any questions. I had no legitimate need to know. I had no idea of our itinerary. I knew that we would have to get from Las Vegas to Mercury, Nevada, the location of the test site, some 65 miles north-west of Las Vegas. That nuclear weapons were being exploded above ground – dumping thousands of kilocuries of radiation into the atmosphere – so close to a major city shows the craziness of the time. I knew that blackjack was part of the Los Alamos culture. In 1956 four American soldiers stationed at the Aberdeen Proving Ground near Baltimore had published a paper in the Journal of the American Statistical Association entitled ‘The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack’. They explained how to optimise your chances by using the casino rules. The theorists at Los Alamos programmed the Maniac computer to run tens of thousands of hands to see if the strategy actually worked. They were satisfied that it did, and gave a little card showing how to play the game to Los Alamos people who went to Mercury. Francis had made a study of the method and concluded that if you were lucky you might match the federal minimum wage. After we landed at Las Vegas and were met by a small delegation of Los Alamos people in a government car, a casino was our first stop.
Andrew O’Hagan, in the London Review of Books, recounts the disastrous experience of trying to ghostwrite the autobiography of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. (The publisher later released an unauthorized early draft of the book):
I wrote through the night to assemble what we had. The thinness could become a kind of statement, I asserted; it could become a modernist autobiography. But the jokes wouldn’t hold and Julian, despite promising his publishers and me that he’d produce pages, paragraphs, even notes towards his book, produced nothing in all the months I was there. Not a single written sentence came from him in all that time. But at the end, from all those exhausting late night interviews, we assembled a rough draft of 70,000 words. It wasn’t by any means great, but it had a voice, a reasonable, even-tempered, slightly amused but moral voice, which was as invented as anything I’d ever produced in fiction. Yet it hadn’t felt like creating a character in a novel, so much as writing a voiceover for a real person who isn’t quite real. His vanity and the organisation’s need for money couldn’t resist the project, but he never really considered the outcome, that I’d be there, making marks on a page that would in some way represent this process. The issue of control never became real to Julian. He should have felt worried about what he was supplying, but he never did – he had in this, as in everything, a broad illusion of control. Only once did he turn to me and show a glint of understanding. ‘People think you’re helping me write my book,’ he said, ‘but actually I’m helping you write your novel.’
The writer visits a Zen temple in Japan, where he meets with a priest who has been exorcising the spirits of people who had drowned in the 2011 tsunami and taken possession of the living. A story about loss and Japan’s cult of ancestors:
Over the course of last summer, Reverend Kaneda exorcised 25 spirits from Rumiko Takahashi. They came and went at the rate of several a week. All of them, after the wartime sailor, were ghosts of the tsunami. For Kaneda, the days followed a relentless routine. The telephone call from Rumiko would come in the early evening; at nine o’clock her fiancé would pull up in front of the temple and carry her out of the car. As many as three spirits would appear in a single session. Kaneda talked to each personality in turn, sometimes over several hours: he established their circumstances, calmed their fears and politely but firmly enjoined them to follow him towards the light. Kaneda’s wife would sit with Rumiko; sometimes other priests were present to join in with the prayers. In the early hours of the morning, Rumiko would be driven home. ‘Each time she would feel better, and go back to Sendai, and go to work,’ Kaneda told me. ‘But then after a few days, she’d be overwhelmed again.’ Out among the living, surrounded by the city, she would become conscious of the dead, a thousand importunate spirits pressing in on her and trying to get inside.