Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Art under Trump

A strange forum

Good morning. The Drift asks this terrible question: “In 2016, grand predictions were issued about the fate of art under the new regime. The culture would suffer, dragged into the morass of Trump’s gaudy, ’80s flair . . . Four(ish) years later, it’s time to prematurely diagnose the cultural impact of the Trump presidency. Did anyone manage to eke out great art? Or did our collective single-minded attention to White House comings and goings collapse the field of imagination?”

Thankfully, Merve Emre responds: “Speaking truthfully, there is something irritating to me about the desire to make ‘art and culture under Trump’ into a coherent and important category. I left New York with my family in June 2016 — first for Montréal, then Oxford, finally Berlin — and the deep, unassuming provincialism of American literary culture has never seemed starker to me. It goes hand-in-hand with a desire for books to ‘speak to the moment,’ an imperative that weds an inflated sense of literature’s political urgency to a tried-and-true marketing strategy.”

She goes on to write that one way out of this provincialism is to “advocate” for “a criticism whose objects are produced through different economic and aesthetic configurations.” Reading works in translation from other countries (for this is what she means, dear reader) is always a good idea, but don’t do it as some sort of moralistic, critical “move.” Just do it because you want to do it, and because good writing doesn’t require any justification other than that.

In other news: Freelancer accuses The Atlantic of stealing his work: “In a Sunday post on his personal website titled, ‘The Atlantic Stole My Work,’ Jones said editors at the publication have ‘refused’ to give him byline credit in spite of the inclusion of ‘whole sentences and paragraphs from a freelance pitch’ he sent then-reporter Natasha Bertrand.”

The internet’s Cassandra: “Michael Goldhaber is the internet prophet you’ve never heard of. Here’s a short list of things he saw coming: the complete dominance of the internet, increased shamelessness in politics, terrorists co-opting social media, the rise of reality television, personal websites, oversharing, personal essay, fandoms and online influencer culture — along with the near destruction of our ability to focus. Most of this came to him in the mid-1980s, when Mr. Goldhaber, a former theoretical physicist, had a revelation. He was obsessed at the time with what he felt was an information glut — that there was simply more access to news, opinion and forms of entertainment than one could handle. His epiphany was this: One of the most finite resources in the world is human attention. To describe its scarcity, he latched onto what was then an obscure term, coined by a psychologist, Herbert A. Simon: ‘the attention economy.’”

Martin Pengelly previews Ken Burns’s Hemingway documentary: “Edna O’Brien lights up the film. In episode one, the great Irish novelist defends Hemingway from a common charge: that he hated women. ‘Of Up in Michigan,’ an early short story which describes a rape, O’Brien says: ‘I would ask his detractors, female or male, just to read that story. And could you in all honor say that this was a writer who didn’t understand women’s emotions and who hated women? You couldn’t. Nobody could.’ O’Brien also says A Farewell to Arms, the novel of the first world war which ends with a death in childbirth, “could have been written by a woman. I regard that as a compliment. Hemingway might regard it as an insult. But I don’t.’”

Van talks with Guido Frackers, the man who moves orchestras for a living (or did until the pandemic hit): “It’s like a mix of taking care of a two-year-old toddler and a 92-year-old grandmother. Combine their worst travel possibilities, and take care of that.”

“Stop defacing quotes with brackets!” Tom Scocca says.

John Wilson reviews A.G. Mojtabai’s Thirst: “It is not merely ‘good,’ not merely worth the time and commitment required for you to acquire and read it; it is one of the most memorable works of fiction I’ve read in the last decade.”

The perils of fame and the poetry of Sylvia Plath and Seamus Heaney: “One could argue that Sylvia Plath was destroyed by fame even before she became famous, though her most enduring fame was achieved after she committed suicide on February 11, 1963. She became famous not for herself, not even for the fierce, exacting beauty of her best poems, but as a figure easily misread by what she had called ‘The peanut-crunching crowd’—a martyr, an icon for feminists, a cautionary tale, a bitch-goddess. None of these judgments has touched the reality of her person or the reasons her poetry stands out in comparison to the writing of others.”

Photo: Annecy

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