Today, if there's traffic in the area and you want to follow the law, you need to find a crosswalk. And if there's a traffic light, you need to wait for it to change to green.
To most people, this seems part of the basic nature of roads. But it's actually the result of an aggressive, forgotten 1920s campaign led by auto groups and manufacturers that redefined who owned the city streets.
"In the early days of the automobile, it was drivers' job to avoid you, not your job to avoid them," says Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia and author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. "But under the new model, streets became a place for cars — and as a pedestrian, it's your fault if you get hit."
“The New Colossus” emerges at a pivotal moment in history. The year before Lazarus’s poem was read at the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund Art Loan Exhibition in New York, in 1883, the Chinese Exclusion Act became the first Federal law that limited immigration from a particular group. Though set to last for 10 years, various extensions and additions made the law permanent until 1943. The year after Lazarus’s poem was read, the European countries met in Berlin to divide up the African continent into colonies. “The New Colossus” stands at the intersection of U.S. immigration policy and European colonialism, well before the physical Statue of Liberty was dedicated. The liberal sentiments of Lazarus’s sonnet cannot be separated from these developments in geopolitics and capitalism.
The poem’s peculiar power comes not only from its themes of hospitality, but also from the Italian sonnet form that contains them. A Petrarchan sonnet is an awkward vehicle for defenses of American greatness. Historically, the epic poem has been the type of poetry best suited to nationalist projects, since its narrative establishes a “storied pomp” in literature that has yet to exist in the world. The sonnet, in contrast, is a flexible, traveling form, one that moved from Italy to England. It is more at home in the conversations, translations, and negotiations between national literatures than in the creation or renewal of national eminence.
The question of how to make a living as a writer is at its surface very simple. The answer is, you write whenever you’re not doing your real, proper job. The proper job, where you earn your proper living. The answer is, you feel grateful to have a job at all. The answer is, you tuck your writing away, like a cyclist rolling up one trouser leg so the cuff doesn’t get caught up in the chain. The answer is, you have reasons to write other than to make any money—some of them banal and maybe even embarrassing, like wanting to be seen, wanting to be someone. Some of them grander and easier to own up to, like trying to understand what it means to be in this world when so many of us feel we are outside of it. Whatever your reasons, they push you forward.
Why did Sidney Lumet in 1974 and Kenneth Branagh in 2017 go to the trouble of assembling star-studded casts to revisit Agatha Christie’s ingenious but very creaky novel of the 1930s, Murder on the Orient Express? One try was understandable. After all, the novel draws on at least two compelling genres: 12 suspects confined to their elegant sleeping and dining cars on a train delayed by a snow drift offers not just the bafflement of the closed room mystery, but also the inescapable microcosm of the “ship of fools” (Narrenschiff), which goes back to the Middle Ages and leaves traces on the masterpieces of Boccaccio and Chaucer. Christie’s fools, too, are obliged to tell stories that we may or may not accept at face value. Even before Christie’s novel, both genres were made popular in star-studded films like Grand Hotel (1932) and The Kennel Murder Case (1933). But why did Branagh try what Lumet had tried already? Yes, remakes offer a certain kind of artistic challenge, and there are lots of remakes. And the choice of this Christie novel is peculiar for any form of ambition that expects to be taken seriously.
Of course, even the permanent sabbatical must come to an end. There was a time when I feared that I would not make it. Now I am distressed that I will have to give it all up. Better not to linger on the thought. According to Freud, we are really unable to believe that we are mortal, for we cannot conceive of ourselves as being absent.
The arts of dying well and ceremoniously, the artes moriendi, were cultivated when there was a commonly held belief in the afterlife. These so-called arts were part of a larger religious mystery. To an unbeliever, the ineluctable moment is a mystery of another kind: When and where will the grim terrorist strike?
Child prodigies are exotic creatures, each unique and inexplicable. But they have a couple of things in common, as Ann Hulbert’s meticulous new book, “Off the Charts,” makes clear: First, most wunderkinds eventually experience some kind of schism with a devoted and sometimes domineering parent. “After all, no matter how richly collaborative a bond children forge with grown-up guides, some version of divorce is inevitable,” Hulbert writes. “It’s what modern experts would call developmentally appropriate.” Second, most prodigies grow up to be thoroughly unremarkable on paper. They do not, by and large, sustain their genius into adulthood.