What I’m Reading: Apples, Private Actors and Marina Abramovic | Court Practice News


If I’m honest, what I’ve read most avidly this week were the search results for queries like “what to do with too many apples,” “apple harvester extra tall” and “oh god, so many apples, help.”

My tiny backyard is almost entirely taken up by a giant apple tree, left unpruned and unsupervised for many years before we moved in. After a season of dormancy last year that I now recognize as some sort of horticultural long con, it has suddenly stirred into open rebellion, producing truly unreasonable quantities of small, tart fruit. Going outside is like walking into the orchard scene in “The Wizard of Oz,” but with more flies. (If you have any beloved family recipes that call for a wheelbarrow full of apples, please send them to interpreter@nytimes.com.)

I have managed to read and watch a few other things:

  • Watching the third season of “The Great,” a Hulu comedy series about Catherine II, has been a good match for my mood. Catherine had to deal with fractious nobles and rebellious serfs; I have to deal with a mutinous tree — it’s basically the same thing.

  • Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman’s “Underground Empire: How America Weaponized the World Economy,” which published earlier this year, made for a useful companion piece to “Beijing Rules,” Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian’s book on China that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. Both explore how governments are increasingly using private companies and infrastructure as channels of power and influence.

    Over the last decade or two, there has been a growing sense that the expanding wealth and power of for-profit corporations has diluted the role of governments. (Depending on your political stance, that might be a good or a bad thing.) But these books complicate that narrative, showing how in many cases private infrastructure acts as a force multiplier for anyone who can harness and manipulate it. For governments, outsourcing to private actors has the additional advantage of removing the oversight and transparency that direct state action might involve.

  • Marina Abramovic’s retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts in London featured performances of some of her most famous pieces. But the part of the show that had the greatest impact on me was a video installation showing footage of “Rhythm 0,” the infamous 1974 performance in a gallery in Naples, Italy. Though not live, it captured a boundary being violently tested and redrawn — in ways that still feel disturbingly relevant today, nearly 50 years later.

    I often think about how the burden of protecting themselves from male violence is a tax on women’s lives and energy. Abramovic’s performance felt like a controlled, artificial experiment into what happens if they put down that burden for even a short amount of time.

    For six hours, Abramovic stood motionless next to a table of 72 objects, including whips, knives, a rose and a loaded gun, along with a sign inviting audience members to use them on her as they desired. Footage from the original performance showed the audience members confronting the permission she had given them, with no boundaries except the public’s observation of their actions. As the show went on, the mostly male onlookers seemed increasingly keen to test how much violence they could perpetrate. Eventually, attendees stripped her nude to the waist, cut her skin and held a loaded gun to her neck.

    The performance continued until, after six hours, the gallerist said it was over, and Abramovic walked toward the audience. The artist later recounted, “Everybody ran away.” The performance was so traumatic, she said, that her hair turned partially white.


Denise Finn, a reader, recommends “South” by Mario Fortunato, translated by Julia MacGibbon:

This multigenerational family saga set in Calabria, Italy, is a fascinating read that illuminates the history of this region throughout the 20th century. Having read much historical fiction about Italy, but never about Calabria, I found it very enlightening. Political tumult, cultural shifts and family dynamics are all interwoven in the chronicle of two families living in this remote land at the tip of Italy’s boot. The nascent Cosa Nostra movement is part of the story, as it begins to develop and spread throughout Italy.

Elena Lionnet, a reader in Paris recommends “The Day of the Owl” by Leonardo Sciascia:

As I am Italian, I advise everyone who wishes to feel what Mafia is to read this novel by Sciascia. Published in 1960, it’s a gripping narrative of the brutal assassination of a labor representative by the local Mafia. Sciascia wanted to show that this organization was real (in the ’60s people said that the Mafia didn’t exist), and its corruption went to the highest level of the state.


Thank you to everyone who wrote in to tell me about what you’re reading. Please keep the submissions coming!

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