Breaking the Ten Commandments (Literally), and Other News


On the Shelf

In 2014, Reed ran his car into a monument at the Oklahoma capitol.


  • Your car can get you from point A to point B, but if you’re willing to destroy it, it can do much more than that: it can serve as a mighty metaphor for the sanctity of the constitution. As the Washington Post reports, a man named Michael Tate Reed is “a serial destroyer of Ten Commandments monuments.” This week he plowed his car straight into a three-ton granite sculpture of the Commandments outside the Arkansas state capitol in Little Rock; in 2014, he did the same in Oklahoma. Reed, a devout man, seems to believe that it’s his God-given mission to uphold the boundary between church and state. I don’t mean to mock Reed, who is mentally unstable—but there’s something fascinating in his determination to reduce monuments to rubble. Cleve R. Wootson Jr. writes: “He sent a rambling letter to the newspaper apologizing and describing the voices in his head and his attempts to recover from mental health issues. He also detailed one incident where voices told him to crash his car into other vehicles, but instead he wrecked on a highway median. In the past, he’s walked into federal buildings to spit on portraits, made threats against former president Barack Obama and set money on fire … Reed appears to allude to the Oklahoma toppling incident in a Facebook post before the Arkansas statue was rammed. ‘I’m a firm believer that for our salvation we not only have faith in Jesus Christ … But one thing I do not support is the violation of our constitutional right to have the freedom that’s guaranteed to us, that guarantees us the separation of church and state, because no one religion should the government represent.’ Later, he says he’s ‘back at it again,’ and asks for people to donate money to help repair his car.”

  • Our managing editor, Nicole Rudick, takes a second look at The Parable of the Blind, a 1985 novel by Gert Hofmann: “It is told solely through dialogue and sets the reader adrift amid unreliable accounts. Reissued this month, with a new afterword by the author’s son, the poet and translator Michael Hofmann, Parable offers sly, strikingly contemporary commentary on the precariousness of language and facts, and, in particular, on the need to negotiate unstable ground—literally, but also socially and politically—afresh each day. The Parable of the Blind gives narrative form to Pieter Bruegel’s eponymous 1568 painting, in which six blind men have begun to tumble, like dominoes, into a ditch, illustrating the old maxim concerning the dangers of the blind leading the blind … The world beyond their sightless eyes seems prankish and spurious by turns—there to trick them, or not really there at all. ‘Every move is an ontological pratfall, a philosophical banana peel,’ Michael Hofmann writes in his afterword. The slipperiness of vision, sight, and appearance is a readymade joke for both the blind and the sighted.”
  • Andrew Crofts on those unsung heroes, ghostwriters: “The hiring of a ghostwriter is a mutually seductive process. Those who are ghosted know that their reputations are going to be channeled through our eyes, and they are eager to make the right impression while at the same time maintaining the upper hand. They tend to like to meet in their palatial homes or in hotels that they think will reflect well on them … You can expect that they will entertain you royally while they are telling you their secrets, but once the job is over, so is your relationship … You want to encourage them to open up and tell you more, not clam up and become defensive. You are producing the book that they would write if they could, so any views expressed in it are theirs and not yours. You are writing in their voices, taking on their characters, pleading their case for them more eloquently than they are able to do for themselves.”
  • “Environmental Exposure,” an exhibition at Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center, looks back to the landscape photography of the seventies, when a raft of environmental concerns began to shape the medium. Matthew Harrison Tedford writes that a “desire to avoid romanticizing the landscape is fundamental to the shifts in landscape photography that occurred in the late 1960s and 1970sFrank Gohlke’s Landscape, Albuquerque (1974) takes this iconoclasm to its natural conclusion. Confidently asserting with its title that we are looking at a landscape, the image offers nothing natural except for the cloudy New Mexico sky and a fraction of a hill in the distance. A smooth concrete embankment occupies a third of the image, and the horizon line is populated with cars and billboards. Even the mud at the bottom of the embankment is branded by tire tracks.”