The Cartooning Crusader

by Hasan Altaf The title of Joe Sacco's Journalism (Metropolitan Books, 2012) ostensibly refers simply to the book's contents, the collection of the author's shorter reported pieces. Filed from the Hague, from Chechnya and Palestine, from Iraq, they have been published over the past few years in various magazines and newspapers, including Details, Harper's and…

Pitying the Nation

by Hasan Altaf One of the few reliable characteristics of the institutions of the government of Pakistan is that they will only rarely stick to their mandates, that they will only occasionally consider themselves bound to fulfill their theoretical functions – the idea of the “public servant,” for example, seems to have passed ours by…

Shaking England

by Hasan Altaf Let England Shake (2011), the eighth album by the English singer PJ Harvey, was by itself already high concept: In the music industry in the twenty-first century, releasing an album that focuses so explicitly on history – on war, on England, on England and its wars – seems like a particularly dangerous…

Please Read Responsibly

by Hasan AltafOne of the main differences between fiction and nonfiction might be, to use the phrase of writing workshops, between showing and telling: Fiction shows us other lives, what those other lives are like, how it might feel to be living those lives; the other tells us, laying out the context, the backstory, the…

As the Wheel Turns

by Hasan Altaf The set design of Mariano Pensotti's El pasado es un animal grotesco (“The Past is a Grotesque Animal” — the title comes, according to Pensotti, from a song by the band Of Montreal) seems at first just a conceit, one of those clever tricks that make a play experimental or avant-garde: The…

Melpomene and Me

by Hasan Altaf Looking back, I'm not sure how I got through my entire education, studying literature and writing, without ever really reading Greek drama; there was of course Shakespeare; Chaucer, at one point; I even have a vague memory of the Jataka tales, but no teacher or professor ever had me read or think…

Movie Meringues

by Hasan Altaf It seems like everyone I speak to has loved Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, and the reviews have also been generally glowing. My search for someone who shared my less rapturous feeling has so far been largely fruitless, and at this point I am beginning to think that there might be something…

Listening to History

by Hasan Altaf If I were to describe David Lester’s The Listener (Arbeiter Ring, 2011) as “a graphic novel about the Holocaust,” the immediate correlation drawn would be with Maus, by Art Spiegelman, an urtext of both the genre and the subject. The comparison would be unfair, and a disservice to Lester’s work; the description…

The Land Before Time

by Hasan Altaf When we talk about Pakistan, generally what we talk about is change. Most conversations will involve headshaking and sighs and riffs on the idea that things – take your pick: security, economy, culture, education, health – are “getting worse”; most conversations also will have one person to point out all the things…

New World In My View

by Hasan Altaf Lately it seems we have revolution on the brain, so in that sense, Icíar Bollaín’s new film, También la lluvia (Even the Rain), came out in the US at the perfect moment. The context is different, the struggle and the outcomes are different, the actors and powers are different, but those differences…

Watching Star Plus in Lahore

by Hasan Altaf Several years ago now, in one of those brown-meets-white movies whose titles are as impossible to keep straight as their plots are predictable, the brown girl attempted to explain Bollywood movies to her white boyfriend. He asked, “So they’re like soap operas?” and she replied, “Basically… just with bigger bubbles.” I’ve forgotten…

Stories We Tell

by Hasan Altaf Reading about Pakistan has become, for me, a fraught experience. Every time I see the country mentioned in a headline, my first reaction – the news or analysis being so unending, and so uniformly disheartening – is to hold my breath. I don’t know how other people interpret our current ticking-time-bomb situation,…