Red Pill, Blue Pill

James Meek

Conspiracists describe epiphanies where they start to see the big picture, the universal meta-conspiracy that explains and links everything. But the picture isn’t big. It’s small. It’s the result of an effort to shrink the answer to every mystery until it can fit whatever doll’s house furniture version of that answer the conspiracist is capable of holding in their head. Maybe it’s better to see conspiracy theories as lots of small things, a box of McNuggets of folksy pseudo-information. The cure for any flaw in a conspiracy theory is to add to it. Conspiracy theories rely on sheer quantity, on feeding a limitless dole of small stimulations to whatever part of the brain hungers for secret knowledge. The appetite is never satisfied, but the plate is always full. The phrase William Cooper uses to describe the conspirators’ silent weapon – ‘it shoots situations, instead of bullets’ – nicely describes conspiracist discourse, including his own. 


Goldfish are my homies

John Lahr

Isurround myself​ with fish: the brown and white aboriginal angel fish in my bathroom, the carved turquoise and yellow Zuni salmon in my study, trout decoys in the conservatory, at the bottom of my garden a pond filled with tangerine-coloured koi. In the unbearable holiday of lockdown, I spent a lot of time by the pond, sitting in the dappled light, letting the burble of the artificial...


Squares are best

Susannah Clapp

Ifyou live in London, squares are best. They have a plot. They tilt the natives away from secrecy and hoarding – from their hidden back gardens – towards a shared space. One end isn’t grander than the other; indeed, unless you are a postwoman, it won’t be clear where they start and finish. Ideal for snoopers, snipers, novelists, cartoonists and daydreamers, squares...

From the blog


Adewale Maja-Pearce

19 October 2020

I am far from alone in admiring the protesters’ growing sense of their own inherent power, gaining in confidence with every passing day. Their dignity and self-possession mock the shamelessness of those who have so carelessly squandered their future; and at the same time they are asking how we could have allowed this state of affairs to prevail, six decades after Nigeria’s independence.


In Conakry

Fleur Macdonald

Presidential​ elections in Guinea are scheduled for 18 October. The 82-year-old incumbent, Alpha Condé, has been in office since 2010. I travelled with him earlier this year, during his campaign for a new constitution. Since Guinea gained independence from France in 1958, when its first constitution was ratified, there has been a series of further constitutions, revisions and...

Close Readings


Close Readings

Seamus Perry and Mark Ford’s ‘revolutionary … ★★★★★’ (The Times) podcast about British and American poets from the long 20th century.


Marilynne Robinson’s Perfect Paradox

Anne Enright

In​ the fourth novel in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead sequence, the eponymous Jack spends a long night alone with his thoughts. ‘After a while,’ he observes, ‘light will reveal itself in a very dark room, not quite as a mist, as something more particulate, as if the slightest breath had lifted the finest dust into the stillest air.’ This recalls Milton’s...

Short Cuts

Black Forest Thinking

Andrew O’Hagan

Iopened​ the window to let in some air. Hotel windows can’t always be opened. Some hotels don’t believe in fresh air, or they believe it’s too expensive, if the price of having it is accepting the risk of people smoking (or jumping). On the fourth floor of the Hotel Adlon in Berlin, windows open over a secret courtyard, and I could hear what sounded like an old TV...


Eliot’s Letters

Paul Keegan

When​ T.S. Eliot asked John Hayward in February 1938 to act as his literary executor (‘in case some unexpected calamity cuts me down like a flower’), he told him to prevent publication of his literary remains – including ‘any letters at all of any intimacy to anybody’. ‘In fact,’ he added, ‘I have a mania for posthumous privacy.’ Eliot...

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