But there are bad biographies that tell you nothing about their subject’s breakfast preferences, and The Whole Harmonium is one such. Stevens is one of those apparently fortunate, self-standing poets who are not greatly involved with the styles or personalities of their time, whose work sets no puzzles and makes a sufficiently vivid impression all by itself. It’s hard to disagree with Elsie, who after her husband’s death sold his books and artefacts, destroyed letters and wrote to an earlier would-be biographer: ‘I must say that a critical biography is not needed for the understanding of Mr Stevens’ poetry. Mr Stevens’ poetry was a distraction that he found delight in, and which he kept entirely separate from his home life, and his business life – neither of them suitable or relevant to an understanding of his poetry.’ In particular, Harmonium(1923), Stevens’s scintillating first volume, seems to leap fully formed like Athena from the brow of Zeus. What is there at the back of it, apart from the French dix-neuvièmeand Shakespeare (and all of Stevens is like a greatly expanded version of the drama and relations of The Tempest: the magic, the tropics, the search for a different earthly orientation or accommodation)? Maybe Browning or Henry James – the Master and onlie begetter, I am increasingly coming to think, of all the great modernist poets, of Pound and Eliot and Moore and Stevens?
Saturday, September 24, 2016
Michael Hofmann in the LRB:
The Soft Machine drummer, Robert Wyatt, his Cockney tenor cracking with fervour, once sang:
I’m nearly five foot seven tall
I like to smoke and drink and ball
I’ve got a yellow suit that’s made by Pam
and every day I like an egg and some tea
but most of all I like to talk about me.
The American poet Wallace Stevens liked his tea – he took to it in connoisseurship and prudence, ‘imported tea’ every afternoon, ‘with some little tea wafers’, partly in order to ease himself off martinis (Elsie, his ‘Pam’, disapproved of his drinking) – but otherwise everything is different. He was six feet two, 18 stone, got his identical elephant grey suits from a fellow in New Jersey and then from his son, hated talking about himself, didn’t smoke much after the cigars of middle age, and I don’t know about the balling, or the eggs, which Auden says are the test of bad biography.
Ryu Spaeth in TNR:
The English-language publication of the Algerian writer Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation in the summer of 2015 occasioned a wholesale reassessment of Camus’s reputation in the mainstream press. Daoud’s novel, which is told from the perspective of the brother of the nameless Arab that Meursault kills in The Stranger, became an instant classic of post-colonial literature, rendering vividly Camus’s blind spots and latent biases. The Moroccan-American novelistLaila Lalami suggested that whereas The Stranger had erased Algerians, Daoud made the country “more than just a setting for existential questions posed by a French novelist.” The Guardian reported that Daoud’s novel had revived criticisms of Camus’s “inability to see violence through a non-white, non-colonial prism.”
Camus’s complex relationship with Algeria is one of the central themes of Alice Kaplan’s new book, Looking for “The Stranger,” which attempts to reconcile Camus’s dueling legacies. It is a historical account of how Camus’s novel came into being, starting with the famous opening sentence—“Today, Maman died”—scrawled in a notebook marked “22” in the fall of 1938 in Algiers. But, like the characters in Daoud’s book, Kaplan is also conducting an investigation. She searches for the creative origins ofThe Stranger in the strained relationship between Arabs and Europeans in Algiers’s lower-class neighborhoods of Belcourt, where Camus grew up, and Bab-el-Oued. And as her investigation deepens, she is drawn into the real-life story behind the unnamed Arab who, like Camus’s shadow, lives on as a silent rebuke to his creator.
Alex Preston in The Guardian:
JM Coetzee is my favourite living author. I need to say this at the outset to offer some context to the battle I fought with The Schooldays of Jesus, his 13th novel. I spent three happy years writing my PhD on Coetzee, and my love for his early work survived meeting the man in person (like a wet weekend in Grimsby) and a run of several baffling “novels” (since his Man Booker-winning Disgrace in 1999) which seemed bent on stripping away all of the satisfactions we look for in fiction. The Schooldays of Jesus follows on the heels of its predecessor, The Childhood of Jesus. In that novel, we met Davíd and Simón, arriving memory-less in a Spanish-speaking city named Novilla. Novilla was a vast refugee camp operated on the most enlightened and benevolent lines – people were fed, housed and found employment; children were educated (although Davíd fought all attempts to make him conform). With a subtle touch, Coetzee conveyed how sinister the passionless world of Novilla was, where humans were treated as objects to be measured, ordered and controlled. As Simón put it: “You know how the system works. The names we use are the names we were given there, but we might just as well have been given numbers. Numbers, names – they are equally arbitrary, equally unimportant.”
Eventually, Simón, Davíd and Davíd’s mother, Inés, fled Novilla, heading for a town called Estrella. It is here that we pick up the story in the second novel in the series, with Simón and Inés arguing over how best to educate the six-year-old Davíd. Finally, after the intercession of three wealthy sisters, Davíd is sent to the local Academy of Dance, run by a Juan Sebastián Arroyo and his elegant wife, Ana Magdalena (many of the names in the book are obscurely significant). The education at the Academy is unusual – students learn maths by “dancing down” numbers – and yet Davíd, who’s a precocious and exasperating child, appears to flourish, forming a particularly close bond with Ana Magdalena.
Henry Louis Gates Jr. in The New York Times:
With the ringing of a bell and a speech from President Obama, the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington is to officially open its extraordinary collection to the public on Saturday. But the museum can claim another, equally important achievement: helping resolve the protracted debate about the contributions of black people to American history and, indeed, about whether they had a history worth preserving at all. Those questions were at the heart of the nation’s original debate about whether, and how, black lives matter. For years, the issue was whether black people were fit to be more than slaves. “Never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration; never see even an elementary trait of painting or sculpture,” Thomas Jefferson wrote. “I advance it, therefore, as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” The connection between humanity and history was central to this debate, and in the estimation of some Enlightenment thinkers, blacks were without history and thus lacked humanity. The German philosopher Hegel argued that human beings are “human” in part because they have memory. History is written or collective memory. Written history is reliable, repeatable memory, and confers value. Without such texts, civilization cannot exist. “At this point we leave Africa,” he pontificated, “not to mention it again. For it is no historical part of the world; it has no movement or development to exhibit.”
...In contrast to the “post-racial” notion that history can or even should be waved away, the opening of the museum does something more vital. It reinscribes race at a symbolically central place in American culture, on the National Mall, where we celebrate our collective public histories, ensuring that a mountain of evidence about black contributions to America will be on permanent display. It does this on the same mall shared by those symbols of the founding fathers’ hypocritical slaveholding past, the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial, which the new museum, brilliantly designed by David Adjaye, complements and also deconstructs. “History,” James Baldwin wrote, “is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.”
Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) was a heroic figure of intellectual life in the second half of the 20th century, and she is nearly always instructive and cheering to read about.
On the page, she gave us “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (1961), a pioneering book that was a flaming arrow — it travels still, across the decades — through the heart of soulless and arrogant urban renewal projects.
Off the page, she fought against the worst of these schemes, including Robert Moses’s plan to run a 10-lane elevated superhighway through much of what is now SoHo, Little Italy, Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Without her, New York City might resemble Los Angeles.
Her Greenwich Village house, on Hudson Street, was her war room. So many people came in and out that Jacobs and her husband disconnected the ringer and left the door open at night. She offered guests what she called a West Village martini — gin and vermouth and ice and an olive in any mismatched glass that was handy. “You put your finger in it,” she wrote, “and go swish, swish, swish.”
David Constantine’s fiction is full of ghosts. Not the supernatural kind that lurk in gothic mansions or scare unwary visitors in graveyards; rather, his novels are haunted by people whose presence persists though they are absent, who are undead because they live on in memories or stories. Theirs is a quietly human, not divine or heroic, immortality: they have no fame, no public memorials, no grand accomplishments, only their own singular experience. In Constantine’s hands the poignancy of their passing is mitigated by their intangible persistence, which creates uncanny but often comforting continuities between past and present.
These continuities are at the heart of Constantine’s novel The Life-Writer, published in the U.K. in 2015 and just released in North America by Biblioasis. It begins abruptly, as Eric is dying—his identity and circumstances only gradually come into focus. Eric’s is a good death, as far as that is possible; he and his wife Katrin are able to spend the necessary time focusing “on where and who they were and what they were doing in the present tense.”
The man who for decades has been Israel’s best known literary voice is proclaiming his “deep love” for “one of the greatest Jews who ever lived”. Amos Oz recalls falling for “this Jew” many years ago, when, as a teenage kibbutznik, he became enchanted by “his poetry, his humour, his compassion, his warmth, his simplicity”. Oz’s sweet hymn of praise is addressed to Jesus Christ.
If that comes as a surprise, it’s not only because Oz is an Israeli Jew. It’s also because he’s written often – and fiercely – of the role centuries of Christian persecution played in nurturing the Jewish longing for a homeland. But whatever anger he harbours toward Christian Europe, for Jesus, Oz expresses only fond admiration. Even if, the writer adds with a smile, “he and I disagree on many things – like any two Israelis”.
Now aged 77, his spectacles attached to a cord around his neck, he is still blessed with the rugged good looks and spellbinding English that have made international literary audiences swoon since the 1970s. This autumn cinemagoers might join them, thanks to the release of Natalie Portman’s film adaptation of A Tale of Love and Darkness, Oz’s bestselling memoir-cum-novel. But for now he is in London to promote his latest novel, the first for more than a decade: Judas in English, it was published in Hebrew as The Gospel According to Judas.
The Power of Maples
If you want to live in the country you have to understand the power of maples.
You have to see them sink their teeth into the roots of the old locusts.
You have to see them force the sycamore to grasp for air.
You have to see them move their thick hair into the cellar.
And when you cut your great green shad pole
you have to be ready for it to start sprouting in your hands;
you have to stick it in the ground like a piece of willow;
you have to plant your table under its leaves and begin eating.
by Gerald Stern
from News of the Universe
Sierra Club Books, 1995
Friday, September 23, 2016
Sam Kean in The New Yorker:
The drawers at the Making and Knowing Lab, at Columbia University, have labels rarely seen outside a Harry Potter novel: “Ox Gall,” “Spiderwebs,” “Powder for Hourglasses,” “Dragon’s Blood.” The denizens of the lab re-create old recipes from alchemy-era texts—primarily of the sixteenth century—and this brings them into contact with some unusual ingredients. On a recent Monday morning, Joel Klein, a redheaded history-of-science postdoc who studies Isaac Newton’s alchemical work, sniffed a bag of flakes labelled “Rabbit-Skin Glue.” “It smells like skin,” he said. Another sniff. “Although I’m not sure what a sommelier would say.”
The Making and Knowing Lab is run by Columbia’s Center for Science and Society. Its recipe re-creations take place in an old chemistry lab and are supported by $436,000 from the National Science Foundation. The goal is to help science historians understand the materials that craftsmen used centuries ago, as well as the technologies and techniques that were available at the dawn of the scientific revolution. Elsewhere in the lab, a dozen students in white coats bustled about. Siddhartha Shah, an art-history graduate student, was making counterfeit emeralds. The recipe involved mixing red lead, copper, and other ingredients in a ceramic crucible, then melting everything with a blowtorch in a small furnace, which he’d constructed from bricks and wire.
Although his first attempts had flopped—the “emerald” looked like a nub of coal—Shah wasn’t discouraged. “It was fascinating to watch the color change from red to green to black,” he said. “Then our crucible exploded.”
If one were to make a list of English literature’s great comfort books, those that generations of readers have returned to again and again for intelligent amusement, it would almost certainly include Boswell’s “Life of Samuel Johnson,” Jane Austen’s novels and the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. These are the old reliables that we discover in youth and are still happily rereading at 70.
To this select company I would not only add John Aubrey’s“Brief Lives,” but also now include Ruth Scurr’s innovative biography of its author, perhaps the most endearing figure of 17th century England. As a committed antiquary, collector and preservationist, as well as an inveterate scribbler, Aubrey (1626-1697) left a huge mass of papers about everything that interested him, from the natural history of his home county of Wiltshire to the stone circles at Avebury to tales of ghosts and fairies. Not just studious, he was moreover always eager for “ingenious conversation,” so that his learned friends soon included philosopher Thomas Hobbes, architect Christopher Wren, scientists Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke and William Harvey, diarist and gardener John Evelyn, mapmaker Wenceslaus Hollar, collector Elias Ashmole (after whom the Ashmolean Museum is named) and even William Penn, who would emigrate to America. Eventually Aubrey drafted fact-filled and anecdote-rich pen portraits of all his friends and many other eminences of the era, though the “Brief Lives” were never quite completed and were only published long after his death. Even now, a fair amount of this curious polymath’s more specialized writing remains in manuscript.
Colin Barrett at Granta:
On Sunday evening, 28 August 2016, in their home near the small rural town of in County Cavan, Alan Hawe put a knife through the throat of his wife Clodagh before going upstairs to strangle and stab to death his three sons, Liam, Niall and Ryan. The three boys’ beds were distributed between two upstairs rooms, which means two of the boys were sharing: the children were discovered in their bedclothes and early reports, more in hope than with any kind of verifiable accuracy, insisted they would have been sleeping when the attacks took place. The implication, in an attempt to soothe our gut-level instincts otherwise, is that the boys did not suffer, or did not suffer much, or extensively. Certainly Clodagh did – she tried to fight him off – but Hawe was armed and intent. ‘Alan was meticulous in everything he did,’ says an unnamed neighbour interviewed in the Daily Mirror the following Wednesday, ‘what he started, he finished.’ And it must indeed take a gruelling physical and mental conviction, a blazing adherence to your own ferocity, to overpower and kill four human beings – even if they were only a woman, even if they were only children – in such quick and unceasing succession. Hawe then went back downstairs and, permitting himself the one relatively lenient fate amid this paroxysm of physical atrocity, put a rope around his neck and let gravity do the rest.
The first newspaper reports referred to the event as a ‘family tragedy’, a euphemism that concealed as much as it revealed, and one that prefigured the national media’s subsequent selectivity when it came to what aspects of the story it would deem fit to speculate upon and what perspectives it would pass over in silence.
In 1998, I wrote music for a production of Friedrich Schiller’s play Mary Stuart at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. The director was my friend Carey Perloff, the music was sung by the spectacular men’s vocal ensemble Chanticleer, and the translation of the text was by the writer and Village Voice theater critic Michael Feingold. There can be a lot of down time for a composer and a translator during theater rehearsals so Michael and I passed the time telling each other stories about books we should be reading, and Michael suggested I read Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser. So I did. As soon as I got back to New York I picked up a copy and I was immediately hooked by the power of the novel, especially the psycho energy of the narrator. Written in the first person as a continuous stream of jumbled information — one giant paragraph — and changing its focus and time and location and perspective and subject matter with almost every other sentence, it really felt like a rant to me — a condescending, angry, smart, rich, witty, not very nice man ranting about his life. I couldn’t read it silently. I ended up yelling the entire book to my reflection in the mirror in my bathroom, from start to finish, which was very exciting. And that day I started imagining what it would be like to add music to it.
I was drawn to the tightness of the language, the intensity of the character and to the self consciously indirect way the story is told, but most of all I was drawn by the subject matter. The novel tells the story of a man, never named in the book, who wanted to be a concert pianist when he was young.
RIP Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Dallas police
officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith,
Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa—and all
their families. And to all those injured.
@ the Crossroad —a Sudden American Poem
Let us celebrate the lives of all
As we reflect & pray & meditate on their brutal deaths
Let us celebrate those who marched at night who spoke of peace
& chanted Black Lives Matter
Let us celebrate the officers dressed in Blues ready to protect
Let us know the departed as we did not know them before—their faces,
Bodies, names—what they loved, their words, the stories they often spoke
Before we return to the usual business of our days, let us know their lives intimately
Let us take this moment & impossible as this may sound—let us find
The beauty in their lives in the midst of their sudden & never imagined vanishing
Let us consider the Dallas shooter—what made him
what happened in Afghanistan
flames burned inside
(Who was that man in Baton Rouge with a red shirt selling CDs in the parking lot
Who was that man in Minnesota toppled on the car seat with a perforated arm
& a continent-shaped flood of blood on his white T who was
That man prone & gone by the night pillar of El Centro College in Dallas)
This could be the first step
in the new evaluation of our society This could be
the first step of all of our lives
by Juan Felipe Herrera.
Originally published in Poem-a-Day
by the Academy of American Poets
James Fallows in The Atlantic:
The most famous story about modern presidential campaigning now has a quaint old-world tone. It’s about the showdown between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in the first debate of their 1960 campaign, which was also the very first nationally televised general-election debate in the United States. The story is that Kennedy looked great, which is true, and Nixon looked terrible, which is also true—and that this visual difference had an unexpected electoral effect. As Theodore H. White described it in his hugely influential book The Making of the President 1960, which has set the model for campaign coverage ever since, “sample surveys” after the debate found that people who had only heard Kennedy and Nixon talking, over the radio, thought that the debate had been a tie. But those who saw the two men on television were much more likely to think that Kennedy—handsome, tanned, non-sweaty, poised—had won.
... Who Will Win the Presidential Debates Between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? - The Atlantic Never has the dominance of the image over the word seemed more significant than this year, as the parties and the public prepare for the three general-election debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump that are scheduled to begin September 26 (as it happens, the anniversary of that first Kennedy-Nixon debate) and the one vice-presidential debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence, scheduled for October 4.The word scheduled is necessary because of the element of the unforeseeable that Donald Trump has brought to this entire campaign cycle. The Commission on Presidential Debates, an independent organization that has run the general-election debates since 1988, ultimately relies on reputational rather than legal leverage to get candidates to appear. If one candidate were to back out on short notice—just hypothetically, let’s say Donald Trump—it could not force a normal debate to take place. In late July, Trump appeared to be setting the stage for not debating, or changing the terms of engagement. Just after the Democratic convention ended, he sent out a tweet saying, “As usual, Hillary & the Dems are trying to rig the debates so 2 are up against major NFL games. Same as last time w/ Bernie. Unacceptable!” At the Republican convention in Cleveland, the longtime Republican activist and current Trump ally Roger Stone told me that Trump would appear as planned and “debate circles around Hillary Clinton,” as he had with his opponents in the primaries. A month later, news reports said that the ousted founder of Fox News, Roger Ailes, would be helping Trump prepare for the debates. Obviously, everything about the Trump campaign has been improvisational, and he may recalculate until the last minute as to whether he has more to gain or lose by showing up.
Fighting the aging process at a cellular level It was about 400 BC when Hippocrates astutely observed that gluttony and early death seemed to go hand in hand. Too much food appeared to 'extinguish' life in much the same way as putting too much wood on a fire smothers its flames. If obesity led to disease and death, he thought, then perhaps restraint was the secret to a longer life? It would be a couple of millennia before science confirmed, in 1935, a link between reducing calorie intake and living longer. This discovery was just the beginning. In the 21st century, further advances have led to an extraordinary leap in life expectancy; a child born in Australia today can expect to live at least 25 years longer than a child born a century ago. Yet longer life has also unleashed a cocktail of diseases and chronic conditions, attacking us in tandem, to blight our final years.
...Australian and international researchers are focusing on two key processes. One promising approach is to target naturally occurring 'senescent' cells, the label given to any type of cell as it acquires age-related damage or loss of function. Our immune systems should clear out these cells, but as we age this housekeeping function becomes less and less effective. This means senescent cells accumulate rather than divide, and in turn, they secrete inflammatory agents that can damage adjacent cells, causing the kind of chronic inflammation associated with age-related diseases. Dr Darren Baker, of the US Mayo Clinic, who was in Australia for the Biology of Ageing conference, and colleagues, recently published their breakthrough results in Nature. Their study demonstrated the elimination of senescent cells in mice not only extended their lives but improved their general health, curiosity and energy levels, with no apparent ill effects.
Richard King in the Sydney Review of Books:
In October 1976 an aged Austrian economist assumed the podium in a Melbourne hotel and delivered, extempore, a speech that set libertarian hearts racing. The economist was Friedrich Hayek and the occasion was the Annual General Meeting of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), which was then in the process of transforming itself into a radical free-market think-tank of the kind we now associate with neoliberal economics. Still buzzing from Milton Friedman’s visit to Australia in 1975, the IPA’s members lapped it up. A standing ovation followed Hayek’s address. So too did an effusive editorial in the next edition of IPA Review:
Professor Hayek came to Australia at a peculiarly appropriate time. It is clear that this country has reached a grand climacteric, a fateful parting of the ways so far as its political and economic future is concerned. The momentous question is whether, in the years ahead, libertarian values are to prevail, enterprise, both corporate and individual, is to be properly rewarded, and the market is to be allowed to perform its traditional function of allocating the resources of the community in the most effective manner in the interests of all; or whether Government as such is to assume an even larger role in the distribution of resources and income, in the provision of so-called Welfare and in the general direction of the lives of the people. In short, what is ultimately at stake is the survival of individual freedom.
There you have the libertarian critique – or right-libertarian critique – in a nutshell: the free market as the guarantor, not just of an efficient economy, but of human freedom and flourishing. It’s a long way from the traditional conservative worldview, in which family, nation, religion and community form the key components of the desirable life; and, as we’ll see, its effects on the right more broadly have been problematic. But one has to admire, even if only grudgingly, its boldness and simplicity.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Prudence Peiffer in Bookforum:
IF EVERY BIOGRAPHY PEDDLES the aura of the unknown with a promise of revelation, Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer acknowledges a darker obfuscation from the start. As his book’s fitting epigraph, Arthur Lubow chooses the artist’s cryptic challenge to anyone attempting to uncover the meaning behind her work: “A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.” Arbus wrings out the cliché that a photograph doesn’t lie and rehangs it as a riddle. What is the relationship between a secret and knowledge? How well can we understand someone, even with access to her confidences? And does this information help us see her art better, too? Or, in a Derridean twist, does knowing a secret reveal the very impossibility of its existence in the first place?
Lubow confronts an extreme instance of this problem within the first twenty pages of his seven-hundred-plus tome. He reveals, without fanfare, the ultimate secret of Arbus’s life: According to her psychiatrist, Arbus had a sexual relationship with her older brother, the onetime US poet laureate Howard Nemerov, beginning in childhood, and she last slept with him just a few weeks before her suicide. I was shocked to encounter this claim so early on (and that her therapist would have shared this still feels wrong). But in detonating the taboo at the beginning, Lubow defuses it, too. (No spoiler alert here.) It is not the climax of the book, but one more beveled pane of the window onto its subject.
Adam Shatz in the NY Review of Books:
In 1975, Miles Davis put down his trumpet and retired. Davis was famous for his dramatic silences in performance: the notes he chose not to play were almost as meaningful as those he did. But this silence would last for nearly five years, during which he all but disappeared into his Upper West Side brownstone. Visitors evoked a macabre dungeon swarming with prostitutes, drug dealers, hangers-on, and corpulent roaches. Davis, who styled himself as jazz’s “Prince of Darkness,” later confirmed the rumors with unabashed relish in his 1989 autobiography, Miles, written with the poet Quincy Troupe.
Yet for all this decadence, there was a noble, almost monastic aura to Davis’s retirement at forty-nine, after one of the most extraordinary careers in postwar music. Davis had taken part in almost every phase in jazz’s evolution since the mid-1940s. Born in 1926 into a prosperous black family just outside East St. Louis, he arrived in late 1944 in New York. His official reason was to attend Juilliard, but this was a smokescreen to placate his father, an oral surgeon who owned a three-hundred-acre farm. His real reason was to follow his idols, the alto saxophonist Charlie Parker and the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, who were revolutionizing jazz at clubs in Harlem and on West 52nd Street. Parker, whose appetite for music was exceeded only by his appetite for heroin, taught Davis bebop, a form of small-group improvisation characterized by extreme velocity and complex chord progressions, and warned him to stay away from the needle—advice Davis ignored to his lasting regret. He was a classic bohemian rebel, irresistibly drawn to the sound, and the forbidden pleasures, of the street.
Davis, who died of a stroke in 1991, played on some of Parker’s finest sessions, but he was a somewhat tentative, even ambivalent bopper, because he couldn’t play as high or as fast as Gillespie. He was searching for a mellower, less frenetic approach to bop, and found it in “cool” jazz, a style he developed in the late 1940s with the Canadian-born orchestrator Gil Evans. So fervently did he believe in his own vision that, at twenty-three, he turned down an offer from Duke Ellington.
Damon Young and Graham Priest in Aeon:
Commentators often highlight the influence of Fountain on conceptual art, and this most ‘aggressive’ readymade, as Robert Hughes put it, has certainly had an enduring legacy. In 2004, it was voted the most important 20th-century work by hundreds of art experts. From Andy Warhol to Joseph Beuys to Tracey Emin, this urinal inspired artists to reconsider the traditional artwork. Instead of paintings and sculptures, art was suddenly Brillo boxes, an unmade bed, or a light-bulb plugged into a lemon: ordinary objects, some readymade, removed from their original contexts and placed on display in art galleries. The art critic Roberta Smith sums it up this way: ‘[Duchamp] reduced the creative act to a stunningly rudimentary level: to the single, intellectual, largely random decision to name this or that object or activity “art”.’ As we will see, Duchamp’s choice was not random at all, but Smith’s description points to the broader shock that Duchamp’s work prompted: if this can be art, then anything can.
Since then, scholars have discussed Fountain to demonstrate a shift away from aesthetics to thought. As the philosopher Noël Carroll notes, it’s possible to enjoy thinking about Duchamp’s work without actually looking at it, which cannot be said for Henri Matisse’s vivid paintings or Barbara Hepworth’s dignified stone sculptures.
These traditional ideas, as we will see, are all important to Fountain. But they do not go far enough. They treat Fountain as art, but of a mocking sort: a kind of intellectual heckling that nudged artists to taunt and scoff more academically at their own field. Our explanation of the artwork’s power is much more controversial: we believe that Fountain isart only insofar as it is not art. It is what it is not – and this is why it is what it is. In other words, the artwork delivers a true contradiction, what’s called a dialetheia. Fountain did not simply usher in conceptual art – it afforded us an unusual and intriguing concept to consider: a work of art that isn’t really a work of art, an everyday object that is not just an everyday object.
Jonathan Basile in 3:AM Magazine:
After beginning with the end, we have ended up at the beginning. The newest of Jacques Derrida’s seminars is the oldest yet published, Heidegger: The Question of Being & History,which pre-dates the philosopher’s 1967 debut, the year he published three of the twentieth century’s most influential works of philosophy. Derrida died in 2004 and left behind more than 14,000 pages of lectures and notes from a half-century of teaching. Thanks to the critical work of the editors of the French editions and the Derrida Seminar Translation Project, five of his seminars have now appeared in book form in French and four in English translation. The editors began with the last seminars before his death, The Beast and the Sovereign andThe Death Penalty, courses taught from 1999-2003, before returning to 1964-5, to a young scholar’s inchoate reflections on Heidegger, who would endure as a focus of Derrida’s career and the frequent subject of his close reading practice, which came to be known as deconstruction.
There’s an intuitive sense to this distribution. The seminars served as a sort of laboratory for Derrida’s published work, often presaging and developing the themes that would appear there. The final seminars, however, had not yet been elaborated in book form. The Beast and the Sovereign, begun in November of 2001 after the attacks of September 11th, dealt in particular with political themes that Peggy Kamuf, member of both the French editorial team and the translation project, described as “most pressing.”
Marx’s crucial premiss is that work constitutes man’s essence: we are truly human only when we are engaged in self-chosen, purposeful activity. But how precisely were menial tasks to be de-alienated under socialism? How indeed were they to be allocated? When asked who would polish the shoes after the revolution, Marx snapped back, “you should”. In any case, that dismissal of man’s “animal function” throws away three-quarters of what makes life worthwhile for most of us – love and family and home. And what precisely is the nature of the harm that alienation does to us? Marx was not alone at the time in his assumption that the backbreaking grind of factory work degraded men to the condition of animals, and this is what you would expect from the central Marxist doctrine that “social being determines consciousness”. Something of the sort is to be seen in Disraeli’s description of Woodgate in Sybil. Yet Stedman Jones points out that Marx had scarcely met any flesh-and-blood workers until he arrived in Paris in 1843. And then he was highly impressed: “the brotherhood of man is no empty phrase but a reality, and the nobility of man shines forth upon us from their toilworn bodies”. Twenty years later, when he attended a trade union meeting chaired by John Bright, he recorded with a note of surprise, “the working men themselves spoke very well indeed without a trace of bourgeois rhetoric”. Nineteenth- century working-class culture was, after all, remarkably rich, as more recent historians such as E. P. Thompson and Jonathan Rose have reminded us. If this is alienation, one is tempted to say, it can’t be all bad.
Jane Jacobs’s aura was so powerful that it made her, precisely, the St. Joan of the small scale. Her name still summons an entire city vision—the much watched corner, the mixed-use neighborhood—and her holy tale is all the stronger for including a nemesis of equal stature: Robert Moses, the Sauron of the street corner. The New York planning dictator wanted to drive an expressway through lower Manhattan, and was defeated, the legend runs, by this ordinary mom.
Even after the halo above the saint’s head fades, however, we have to make sense of the ideas that rattled around inside. I. F. Stone’s independence remains thrilling to every blogger, or should, but his attempts in retirement to reconcile Jefferson and Marx seem less inspiring than impossible. Now, in the year of Jane Jacobs’s centenary, with the biography out there, along with a new collection of her uncollected writings, “Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs” (Random House), and an anthology of conversations between her and various friends, “Jane Jacobs: The Last Interview and Other Conversations” (Melville House), it seems fair to pay her the compliment of taking her seriously—to ask what exactly she argued for, and what exactly we should think about those arguments now.
Haider Shahbaz in Jadaliyya:
Interest in Islamic art—a label that became popular in Western museums after World War II—has substantially increased since 11 September 2001. Some of the biggest and wealthiest museums in Europe and North America, including The Louvre, Benaki Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, British Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, have expanded, renovated, and highlighted their collections of Islamic art. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s collection of Islamic art, which began purchasing works in 1973, has seen major acquisitions since 9/11. Middle Eastern museums have also joined the race. The Kuwait National Museum and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha have become major competitors in this market. The controversial openings of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Louvre Abu Dhabi are scheduled for the next few years.
All these museums hope to boost profits in the tourism and culture industries by playing on a renewed fascination with Islam. Moreover, they hope to introduce visitors to a softer, more tolerant side of Muslims by educating them about the history and culture of regions that have become associated with war and religious fundamentalism. As Sophie Makariou, head of the Louvre's Islamic art department, said, “I like the idea of showing the other side of the coin.”
Unfortunately, such gestures are still unable to move beyond two sides: the inevitable binary of the good, cultured Muslim and the bad, terrorist Muslim.