Prufrock

Why Books Remain, Overrated Wittgenstein, and the End of Christian Europe

Photo by Cécile Pallares Brzezinski, via Wikimedia Commons

Books have been declared dead since the nineteenth century. They’re still with us and will be for the foreseeable future: “In 1835, Théophile Gautier’s novel Mademoiselle de Maupin declared that ‘the newspaper is killing the book, as the book killed architecture.’ Gautier was one-upping Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, which depicted an archdeacon worrying that the book would kill the cathedral and a bookseller complaining that newfangled printing presses were killing scribes’ trade. This nineteenth-century historical novel is set a quarter century after Gutenberg’s first Bible, when a thriving industry of manuscript-on-demand was forced to readjust. In hindsight, we can see how rarely one technology supersedes another: the rise of the podcast makes clear that video didn’t doom audio any more than radio ended reading. Yet in 1913, a journalist interviewing Thomas Edison on the future of motion pictures recounted the inventor declaring confidently that ‘books … will soon be obsolete in the public schools.’ By 1927 a librarian could observe that ‘pessimistic defenders of the book … are wont to contrast the actual process of reading with the lazy and passive contemplation of the screen or listening to wireless, and to prophecy the death of the book.’ And in 1966, Marshall McLuhan stuck books into a list of outdated antiques: ‘clotheslines, seams in stockings, books and jobs—all are obsolete.’”

Speaking of books, do you want your kids to read more? Read more yourself.

In other news: Wittgenstein is overrated: “When he first met Wittgenstein, Russell called him ‘the most perfect example I have ever known of genius,’ despite or perhaps because he couldn’t understand what young Ludwig was saying. Writing to his lover Ottoline Morrell in 1913 about Wittgenstein’s attack on one of his logical doctrines, Russell confessed: ‘I couldn’t understand his objection—in fact he was very inarticulate—but I felt in my bones that he must be right.’ He added: ‘I saw that I could not hope ever again to do fundamental work in philosophy.’ That Wittgenstein’s mysterious charisma disabled a philosopher and logician as brilliant as Russell was among the first of its baleful effects, and Russell did in fact largely abandon logic at that moment. For a while, instead, he concentrated on spreading the Wittgenstein miasma, and his admiration turned Wittgenstein into an intellectual superstar. Ever since, Wittgenstein has been more of a cult than an argument, an irrationalist movement in a supposedly rational discipline. Like Russell, Wittgenstein’s followers know he is right; the only difficulty is knowing what he meant.”

The end of a Christian Europe: “This is not to say that there will be no one in Europe in 50 years’ time who prays or attends the Eucharist. It is, however, to recognise that in the next hundred years, the majority of practising Christians will live in Asia, Africa and perhaps South America, and in its strange way, perhaps the United States; whereas Europe will be ever more secular. “The Faith is Europe, and Europe is the Faith!” proclaimed Hilaire Belloc only two generations ago, and in the intervening years, readers of T.S. Eliot—The Idea of a Christian Society—or Jacques Maritain —L’Homme et l’Etat—might have been led to hope that the forces of secularism would not necessarily triumph . . . Paradoxically, today, it is the Muslims, on the whole, who keep alive what used to be Christian values in Europe—family virtue, and dread of usury.”

Why we need Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom today: “This month, Road to Serfdom celebrates its 75th anniversary. Dedicated “to the socialists of all parties,” over 350,000 copies were sold from its release in 1944 through 2007, and it reached Amazon’s bestseller rankings again at the height of the Tea Party movement in 2010. The shorter Reader’s Digest version was handed out by the millions and made Hayek an international phenom overnight. While prohibited even in West Germany up until 1947 for its anti-Soviet leanings, the book has been most successful in the U.S. In an age when conservatism is in many ways in disarray, there is no better time than now to return to The Road to Serfdom and see how it still resonates.”

Richard Wagner’s accomplishment: “Wagner set off to merge Shakespearean flesh-and-blood characters with Beethovenian orchestral expressivity – and a whole lot more. If Beethoven had called himself a ‘tone poet’, Wagner aspired to be a poet in the largest sense: a total artist creating drama out of all human art forms, from poetry and music to painting and architecture.”

Essay of the Day:

In The New York Times, Katherine Rosman surveys the world of private writing workshops for aspiring essayists:

“A boom in first-person essays of love, heartbreak and transcendence — including, yes, the popular Times column Modern Love, and amplified by the ease of spilling one’s guts online — has helped support a mini-industry for confessional writing seminars.

“For some 20 years, Joyce Maynard, the author of books including the memoir At Home in the World and the novel Labor Day, has hosted an eight-day seminar in the volcano-surrounded Mayan village of San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala, where both published and aspiring writers develop work.

“The cost is about $3,000 for what, according to the marketing copy, sounds a lot cushier than the proverbial garret: ‘Renowned chef Henry Lehr and a welcoming staff nurture you with over-the-top amazing food and massages, leaving you free to think only about your story.’

“Dani Shapiro, the author of the memoirs Inheritance and Devotion, hosts a two-day $3,500 retreat in Salisbury, Conn., that offers skill training, vocational advice and the sort of emotional calmness that few professional writers would describe as part of the job.

“‘We will write,’ her website says. ‘We’ll discuss the writing life. We will share our work and learn. We will revise. We will enjoy inspiration, camaraderie and quiet.’”

Read the rest.

Photo: Schloss Schönbühel

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A High and Angry Susan Sontag, the Pleasure of Reviews, and the Problem with the 1619 Project

John Rose, The Old Plantation (c. 1785), via Wikimedia Commons

The English translation of Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon narrowly survived the Second World War. French translations of the novel helped to undermine Communism in France, and it is regarded as “the pioneer publication denouncing Stalinist strategies.” For over 60 years, however, the original German version was thought lost, but it was discovered in 2016 by a German doctoral student. That version has now been translated into English again. Atish Taseer reviews: “I first read the Hardy translation at Amherst, where it was prescribed reading. I remember it as prescient but stilted—‘awfully wooden,’ to quote Scammell. Years later, when I discovered Koestler in English—he is one of those writers, like Conrad and Nabokov, who flowered in their adoptive language—I was staggered by the quality of his prose. Books such as The Lotus and the Robot (1960), Koestler’s marvelous comparison of tradition in India and modernity in Japan, seemed to have been written by a writer infinitely more gifted than the author of Darkness at Noon. Now we know why. There is nothing stilted about the new Darkness at Noon, deftly translated by Philip Boehm. It is a seamless, chilling book about the demands ideology makes on truth.”

Susan Sontag took herself “very seriously,” Philip Hensher writes in his review of Benjamin Moser’s Sontag: Her Life. “The surprising thing is that she persuaded her world to take her at her own estimation.”

August Kleinzahler discusses the letters and minds of Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner in the latest issue of The London Review of Books: “I was already in touch with Davenport when I visited Basil Bunting at his house near Newcastle in 1978. Bunting knew Kenner and admired his writings on poetry: he was one of only two critics Bunting thought any use, the other being Kenneth Cox. Bunting thought I should be in touch with Kenner. ‘But bear in mind, August, he’s an antisemite and quite deaf, but not so deaf now with his second wife as he was with his first.’ I never got any response from Kenner when I sent him this book or that over the years. Davenport and I corresponded infrequently for 25 years. His letters were always memorable, encouraging, full of observations and enthusiasms, and sometimes included small drawings of tiny, almost hieroglyphic figures. I honestly believe I might well not have had the courage to persist during those lean early years were it not for his letters.”

John Wilson talks about what makes for a good review, the problem with “gush,” and more at Forma Review: “When there’s so much hyperbolic praise floating around, how do you single out a genuinely exceptional book in a way that will hold the attention of good readers weary of the relentless oversell?”

The longlist for National Book Award for Poetry has been announced. Among the nominees is one of Elizabeth Warren’s strategists. 

Artnet News reports that an Italian artist “been arrested under suspicion of painting a fake El Greco connected to the Old Master forgery ring.” Also, a man who stole over 7,000 books from local universities in Edinburgh has been arrested.

Essay of the Day:

In New York, Andrew Sullivan puts his finger on the incoherence of The New York Times’s 1619 Project:

“In a NYT town hall recently leaked to the press, a reporter asked the executive editor, Dean Baquet, why the Times doesn’t integrate the message of the 1619 Project into every single subject the paper covers: ‘I’m wondering to what extent you think that the fact of racism and white supremacy being sort of the foundation of this country should play into our reporting … I just feel like racism is in everything. It should be considered in our science reporting, in our culture reporting, in our national reporting. And so, to me, it’s less about the individual instances of racism, and sort of how we’re thinking about racism and white supremacy as the foundation of all of the systems in the country.’

“It’s a good point, isn’t it? If you don’t believe in a liberal view of the world, if you hold the doctrines of critical race theory, and believe that ‘all of the systems in the country’ whatever they may be, are defined by a belief in the sub-humanity of black Americans, why isn’t every issue covered that way? Baquet had no answer to this contradiction, except to say that the 1619 Project was a good start: ‘One reason we all signed off on the 1619 Project and made it so ambitious and expansive was to teach our readers to think a little bit more like that.’ In other words, the objective was to get liberal readers to think a little bit more like neo-Marxists.

The New York Times, by its executive editor’s own admission, is increasingly engaged in a project of reporting everything through the prism of white supremacy and critical race theory, in order to ‘teach’ its readers to think in these crudely reductionist and racial terms. That’s why this issue wasn’t called, say, ‘special issue’, but a ‘project’. It’s as much activism as journalism. And that’s the reason I’m dwelling on this a few weeks later. I’m constantly told that critical race theory is secluded on college campuses, and has no impact outside of them … and yet the newspaper of record, in a dizzyingly short space of time, is now captive to it. Its magazine covers the legacy of slavery not with a variety of scholars, or a diversity of views, but with critical race theory, espoused almost exclusively by black writers, as its sole interpretative mechanism.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Zoebigker Harbor

Poem: Ange Mlinko, “Watteau”

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Dictionary Wars, William Blake Gets His Due, and the Blackest Black

Via Wikimedia Commons

After a bookseller erroneously marked Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments as the winner of the Booker Prize, the committee noted that a winner has not yet been selected. I’ll say more later, but it shouldn’t have even been put on the Booker’s shortlist.

In other news: Merriam-Webster has added a “non-binary” definition of “they,” and the Oxford Dictionaries are reviewing its definitions after receiving a petition demanding it eliminate all entries that “patronize” women. (A word with an interesting history, by the way.) The dictionary is also being asked to “enlarge the dictionary’s entry for ‘woman’.” You see, the word “man” has 25 different usages, whereas “woman” only has five, and the petitioners, who apparently have no idea how language or dictionaries work, are asking Oxford to increase the number of usages for “woman.”

Michael Pye reviews Stella Tillyard’s novel Call Upon the Water: “The English fenlands are a gift for a writer. Full of risk, they’re marshes where islands form out of silt and reeds, drift and then break apart, where the boundaries between land and water can’t be drawn for sure. One push and “a man can disappear here in an instant.” Aside from bird calls and nighttime lantern lights on the water, the most recognizable evidence of life is the tangle of glinting eels that swarm under boats as they slip out with the tide. The fenlands also have their tragedy, which begins the moment man starts changing them. Stella Tillyard’s sometimes lovely, sometimes infuriating new novel, Call Upon the Water, starts in the middle of the 17th century with the draining of the Great Level, the marshland around the Wash on the east coast of England. ‘Gentlemen adventurers’ want to take the land to make rich plantations.”

William Blake gets his due at the Tate: “The show is chronological and delights in . . . detail.”

A blacker black has been created at MIT. It captures 99.99% of light.

Adam Weinstein reviews Edward Snowden’s new memoir, Permanent Record: “Despite Macmillan’s black op to keep the book under wraps, over the past year, New York literary circles have buzzed with the news that novelist (and a contributor to The New Republic) Joshua Cohen had signed on as the famed whistle-blower’s literary interlocutor, traveling to Russia over the course of eight months to help Snowden, now 36, organize and improve his narrative. As book gossip goes, it all seemed a bit amusing; to cover his tracks, Cohen took to telling friends that he was ghostwriting a memoir for Elizabeth Warren. Cohen confirmed those rumors—over an encrypted phone app—to The New Republic in August, not that anyone expected his participation to be much of a secret after publication: Snowden thanks Cohen in the book’s acknowledgments. Enlisting a noted fiction writer to tell his life story might strike casual observers as odd, but Snowden and Cohen are both obsessed with the ways in which tech has transformed self and society.”

The physical demands of chess: “At 5-foot-6, Caruana has a lean frame, his legs angular and toned. He also has a packed schedule for the day: a 5-mile run, an hour of tennis, half an hour of basketball and at least an hour of swimming. As he’s jogging, it’s easy to mistake him for a soccer player. But he is not. This body he has put together is not an accident. Caruana is, in fact, an American grandmaster in chess, the No. 2 player in the world. His training partner, Chirila? A Romanian grandmaster. And they’re doing it all to prepare for the physical demands of … chess? Yes, chess.”

Essay of the Day:

In Commentary, Terry Teachout tells the story of Django Reinhardt, the only “European-born . . . full-fledged giant of jazz”:

“Born in Belgium in 1910 and raised in a horse-drawn Gypsy caravan, Reinhardt did not learn to read or write until adulthood and never learned how to read music. Sensitive about his lack of education, he concealed his self-consciousness by affecting a casual attitude toward his career, showing up at gigs and recording sessions whenever it suited him to do so, if he bothered to come at all. Philip Larkin, a staunch admirer, described him as ‘fond of gambling, too proud to carry his guitar, and almost entirely unreliable.’

“The only thing about Reinhardt on which it was possible to rely was his iron determination to play the guitar as well as it could be played. A child prodigy who started performing at the age of 12, he permanently damaged the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand in a 1928 fire. This forced him to reconstruct his technique from scratch, which he did with awe-inspiring completeness.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Capo Caccia

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Milton’s Copy of Shakespeare, “Bartleby” Today, and the Future of a Crazy Horse Monument

Illustration by Gustave Doré, via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s kick things off this morning with a couple of items from the Milton desk. First, and this is big, scholars believe they have found John Milton’s annotated copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio: “The astonishing find, which academics say could be one of the most important literary discoveries of modern times, was made by Cambridge University fellow Jason Scott-Warren when he was reading an article about the anonymous annotator by Pennsylvania State University English professor Claire Bourne. Bourne’s study of this copy, which has been housed in the Free Library of Philadelphia since 1944, dated the annotator to the mid-17th century, finding them alive to ‘the sense, accuracy, and interpretative possibility of the dialogue’. She also provided many images of the handwritten notes, which struck Scott-Warren as looking oddly similar to Milton’s hand.” Also, a student at Tufts has identified what she thinks is an acrostic section of Paradise Lost. In Book 9, “at a point when Eve is arguing with Adam – the lines read FFAALL (‘fall’ twice) from top to bottom, with another FALL spelled out from the bottom of the passage upwards.” Was this intentional on Milton’s part? Maybe. Maybe not.

Why do we need Herman Melville’s “Bartleby” today? Colin Fleming: “We talk now about ‘living your best life,’ a silly notion that usually means, ‘do as you please, because the world will make allowances for you.’ In Melville’s time, there was something called prudence. In fact, this was the era of ‘new prudence,’ which was an over-extension of humane treatments to the point that they became patronizing, and people conflated being patronized with respect.”

Talk to your friends on the phone again, Amanda Mull says, instead of texting them, and I agree, unless you’re the lady sitting across from me in Amtrak’s quiet car chatting away with a husband or boyfriend. She should definitely hang up.

The Far Side returns . . . online: “A new era of The Far Side, the newspaper strip by Gary Larson, is coming. Fans noticed over the weekend that the strip’s official website had been updated with a new cartoon and a message: ‘Uncommon, unreal, and (soon-to-be) unfrozen. A new online era of The Far Side is coming!’”

Fraser Nelson talks about his 10 years at the helm of Spectator and what’s next for the magazine: “‘Roughly speaking we’re at 80,000’, Nelson announces. ‘There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors that the industry uses but the figure I’ve given you is a clean figure… print plus digital.’ He has the air of a man who can’t quite believe his luck. ‘It does feel incredibly strange’, he says, looking about his office, sitting in the chair from which he conducts editorial conferences, one foot propped up on the PM’s old green Chesterfield. ‘I sometimes feel as if I’m going to wake up…’ The rest of the country is pretty equally startled. Overnight, denizens of the Spectator have seized power.”

Essay of the Day:

In 1947, Korczak Ziolkowski began acquiring land in the Black Hills to build a monument—the world’s largest—of Crazy Horse. It is still unfinished and some wonder if it should have been started in the first place:

“There are many Lakota who praise the memorial. Charles (Bamm) Brewer, who organizes an annual tribute to Crazy Horse on the Pine Ridge Reservation, joked that his only problem with the carving is that ‘they didn’t make it big enough—he was a bigger man than that to our people!’ I spoke with one Oglala who had named her son for Korczak, and others who had scattered family members’ ashes atop the carving. Some are grateful that the face offers an unmissable reminder of the frequently ignored Native history of the hills, and a counterpoint to the four white faces on Mt. Rushmore. ‘It’s the one large carving that they can’t tear down,’ Amber Two Bulls, a twenty-six-year-old Lakota woman, told me.

“But others argue that a mountain-size sculpture is a singularly ill-chosen tribute. When Crazy Horse was alive, he was known for his humility, which is considered a key virtue in Lakota culture. He never dressed elaborately or allowed his picture to be taken. (He is said to have responded, ‘Would you steal my shadow, too?’) Before he died, he asked his family to bury him in an unmarked grave.

“There’s also the problem of the location. The Black Hills are known, in the Lakota language, as He Sapa or Paha Sapa—names that are sometimes translated as ‘the heart of everything that is.’ A ninety-nine-year-old elder in the Sicongu Rosebud Sioux Tribe named Marie Brush Breaker-Randall told me that the mountains are ‘the foundation of the Lakota Nation.’ In Lakota stories, people lived beneath them while the world was created. Nick Tilsen, an Oglala who runs an activism collective in Rapid City, told me that Crazy Horse was ‘a man who fought his entire life’ to protect the Black Hills. ‘To literally blow up a mountain on these sacred lands feels like a massive insult to what he actually stood for,’ he said. In 2001, the Lakota activist Russell Means likened the project to ‘carving up the mountain of Zion.’ Charmaine White Face, a spokesperson for the Sioux Nation Treaty Council, called the memorial a disgrace. ‘Many, many of us, especially those of us who are more traditional, totally abhor it,’ she told me. ‘It’s a sacrilege. It’s wrong.’”

Read the rest.

Photo: Cinque Terre

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A Trip to Dark Mofo, a Novel Account of the Bosnian War, and How Walmart Helps Art Travel

Monument for the victims of the Bosnian War in Goražde. Photo by Julian Nyča, via Wikimedia Commons

It has taken 15 years to translate and publish the first book of former Bosnian soldier and writer Faruk Šehić into English. Under Pressure, Michael Tate writes, is a “breathtaking” work from one of Europe’s most original voices.

Michael Connor attends the predictably controversial Dark Mofo festival in Hobart, Australia, where “international hipsters” think dangerous thoughts while dressed in red and black.

Joseph Bottum reviews Duncan White’s Cold Warriors: “When he fled Spain in the summer of 1937, one step ahead of the secret police, George Orwell lost his personal copy of a pamphlet by Stalin with the ominous title Defects in Party Work and Measures for Liquidating Trotskyite and Other Double Dealers. Agents of the Spanish Loyalist government (by this point, wholly under the thumb of the Soviets) suspected the Englishman of being a Trotskyite. Which naturally meant they needed to liquidate him. What else is one to do with double dealers? So they raided his wife Eileen’s room in Barcelona, confiscating Orwell’s diaries, photographs, and books, which oddly included both a French translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf and an English translation of Stalin’s work. Fortunately Eileen Blair’s room did not contain Orwell himself.”

How a Walmart heir is helping art travel across America: “Arts Bridges is an incubator. It’s doing a show called ‘Cross Pollination’ with the Thomas Cole National Historical Site and Olana, Frederic Church’s house, both in upstate New York. They’re two of my favorite places. The Cole site — his home and studio — has just been restored. Olana, one of the great Hudson River houses, has a brilliant new curator. Art Bridges is helping these two superb but offbeat places to develop a new show connecting Martin Johnson Heade’s gemlike paintings of hummingbirds and work by Cole and Church with art and science today. It’s going to Crystal Bridges, Olana, the Cummer in Jacksonville, Fla., and Reynolda House in Winston-Salem, N.C.”

A visit to a restored 1790 Creole home along Bayou Chenal near Baton Rouge: “Its wide-open rooms and its size, much larger than typical homes in the area, hint that it might once have been part of a 1700s fort at Pointe Coupee. A pair of lizards two-step through the grass as Pat approaches LaCour. Beneath an expansive hipped roof, bousillage, an early building material of dried earth and moss, fills the timber framing.”

Donald Rayfield reviews Orlando Figes’s “broad canvas” book The Europeans: Three Lives and the Making of a Cosmopolitan Culture: “Economic and technological developments were of course important factors in the emergence of a new cosmopolitan culture. But one misses in this study any insight into less tangible factors (for instance, the decline of religion or advances in medical knowledge) in forming a pan-European outlook. Nor does Figes explore in any depth Turgenev’s genius as a writer. We learn a lot about his income (or penury, because of his ineptitude and generosity) . . . We learn where Turgenev went and whom he met, and we hear about his periods of creativity and barrenness, his charm and eccentricities, but Figes is less interested in what made his work so powerful. No other Russian writer has conveyed so convincingly the ability of erotic attraction to overwhelm a perfectly decent person’s life; no other Russian writer was able to look at radicals to the left and conservatives to the right and either show the good in both sides (as in Fathers and Sons) or pronounce a pox on both their houses (as in Smoke). Like Chekhov after him, Turgenev could distill in twenty pages what Dostoevsky or Tolstoy took two hundred to say, and he did so in prose as refined and musical as Flaubert’s.”

Essay of the Day:

In First Things, Matthew Rose writes about the man who predicted Donald Trump’s rise 20 years before it happened. Who was he?

“‘I want to read something to you. I want you to really listen to this.’ Rush Limbaugh opened his radio show on January 20, 2016, in the tone he normally reserves for breaking Clinton scandals. But his topic that afternoon was less sensational, and he would spend the next thirty minutes reading passages from a five-thousand-word magazine essay. It warned of globalist ‘elites’ who ‘manage the delegitimization of our own culture, and the dispossession of our people.’ It complained of leaders who ‘drag the country into conflicts’ and ‘preside over the economic pastoralization of the United States.’ It encouraged Republicans to campaign on limiting immigration, saving blue-collar jobs, and restoring Middle Americans to their central place in the nation’s life.

The essay was titled ‘Principalities & Powers,’ and Limbaugh hailed it as the Trumpist manifesto that no one, including the candidate, had been able to formulate. It described a voting base, misunderstood and exploited for decades, that more resembled a ‘proletariat’ than a propertied middle class. ‘Nationalism and populism,’ as Limbaugh put it, not free-market orthodoxy, represented the Republican party’s best way forward. Yet the essay, despite anticipating the presidential ­inauguration exactly one year later, had not been written by an observer of the 2016 primary season. It had been published in 1996, and its author was not available for interview, because he had been dead for more than a decade.

“When he died in 2005, Samuel Francis was nobody’s idea of the most prescient observer of American politics. He had arrived in Washington twenty-eight years earlier, one of many young conservative thinkers and activists drawn to the capital by the election of Ronald Reagan. But he had been constantly and irritatingly out of step: arguing against free trade in the heyday of globalism, defending entitlements in an era of tax cuts, protesting foreign wars in the face of bipartisan agreement, and questioning Christian influence at the apogee of the religious right. His career began promisingly, with early positions at the Heritage Foundation and on Capitol Hill, followed by years as a columnist at the Washington Times. But Francis could not conceal his growing contempt for a movement that he believed failed to understand, let alone challenge, the institutional power of American liberalism. He considered First Things and its founder among the organs of the collaborationist American right.

“Francis was a pathologist of American conservatism, a movement he considered terminally ill even during its years of seeming health. As Republicans won five of seven presidential elections and took control of Congress for the first time in four decades, Francis saw a movement being assimilated slowly into the structures of power it professed to reject. His contrarianism won him admirers on the paleoconservative right, who read his essays in small-circulation journals and applauded his attacks on globalism and his defenses of those he called, without irony, ‘real Americans.’ But he won almost no access to major conservative outlets, where his views were denounced, with varying degrees of accuracy, as racist, chauvinist, and unpatriotic. Francis spent his last decade as an editor of far-right newsletters, having been fired by the Washington Times in 1995 for defending the morality of slavery. At the end of his life, his defenders included Patrick Buchanan, whose presidential campaigns he advised, and Jared ­Taylor, a white nationalist who eulogized Francis as the ‘premier philosopher of white racial consciousness.’

“Purged and marginalized in life, Francis has attained extraordinary prominence since his death. Journalists seeking the elusive source code of Trumpism have looked to his books and essays for insight. This new interest will not issue in his redemption—his views on race and religion seem to ensure lasting condemnation—but his work, including the massive Leviathan and Its Enemies, a manuscript discovered only recently, can help us better understand our populist moment and its political logic. Francis points to a conservatism no longer devoted to lower taxes at home and democracy promotion abroad. He envisions a revolutionary politics, one in which the liberal elite and its conservative lackeys are overthrown by members of the historic core of the nation. More ominously, his investment in racial biopolitics demonstrates the cruel incoherence of a populism based on human differences rather than shared loves. ‘The real masters of the house,’ vowed Francis, ‘are ready to repossess it and drive out the usurpers.’”

Read the rest.

Photo: Lake Misurina

Poem: Paul Mariani, “Mitzvah”

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The Spanish Stonehenge, the Last Botticelli, and FDR’s Faith

Dolmen de Guadalperal, via Wikimedia Commons

Good morning, everyone. First up, we have two stories on nature playing the archeologist. A drought in Spain has made visible a “circle of megaliths hidden beneath a reservoir”: “Angel Castaño, who lives near the reservoir and serves as the president of a Spanish cultural group, told the website The Local, ‘We grew up hearing about the legend of the treasure hidden beneath the lake and now we finally get to view them.’” Also, Dorian unearthed a few Civil War cannonballs in South Carolina.

In other news: Maybe Frank Lloyd Wright wasn’t a megalomaniac after all, but does it matter? “In 1957, while in New York supervising the construction of the Guggenheim Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright agreed to be interviewed on television by journalist Mike Wallace. By this time, Wright was 90 years old, the author of several hundred buildings, and a global celebrity—one who played the role of the uncompromising artist to the hilt. About 10 minutes in, Wallace noted that a younger Wright had proclaimed that he would be the greatest architect of the 20th century. Had he reached his goal? Wright denied that he had ever said such a thing. Wallace pointed out he had said it on the record, multiple times. Outflanked (for once), Wright partially backed down. ‘You know, I may not have said it, but I may have felt it,’ he told Wallace. ‘But it’s so unbecoming to say it that I should have been careful about it. I’m not as couth as I’m generally reported to be.’ Not as couth: was this a calculated note of false modesty, laid on to charm (as was Wright’s habit), or was it something closer to candor? In his new book, Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright, Paul Hendrickson pushes back against the idea that Wright’s famous arrogance crowded out all feelings of shame, regret, humility, or sadness. Behind the superstructure of his ego, vulnerability was always ‘ghosting at the edges,’ Hendrickson writes.”

Will “conservatives in government ever succeed in developing a cultural policy,” Roger Scruton asks, “and if so what form could it take?”? “There are those who say that culture is no business of the state. But in an era when the state has taken charge of education, so as to degrade it in the interests of its egalitarian agenda, it is no longer possible for conservatives to take that simple line. We need to develop our own urbanist curriculum, our own conception of what should be taught in schools of architecture, our own conception of how new settlements should be laid out, and of the ways in which the built environment should be adapted to the community that grows in it. We need to make a comparative study of the planning regimes that have produced places where people flourish, and of the regimes which produce places where they decline. And we should be bold enough to choose between them. In all this we should remember the most important fact, which is that towns, villages and cities are shared spaces. They contain buildings that are privately owned. But those buildings should be acceptable to everyone who has to live with them.”

FDR’s faith: Conrad Black reviews A Christian and a Democrat: A Religious Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Is a Botticelli to be sold next month at the Frieze Masters the last in private hands? “Billed, like that much-restored Leonardo, as the last fully-accepted painting by the artist left in private hands, Botticelli’s depiction of the Greek-born poet and soldier Michele Marullo Tarcaniota (1453-1500) will be offered by the London dealership Trinity Fine Art next month at the Frieze Masters fair. This austerely monochromatic head-and-shoulders portrait had been on loan to the Prado, Madrid, for some 12 years since 2004. It has been consigned for sale by the Spanish collector Dona Helena Cambo de Guardans and her family, who are hoping for a price of at least $30m, according to Carlo Orsi, the owner of Trinity Fine Art.”

Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse revisited: “The hedonism and amorality of Bonjour Tristesse is of a most artistically proper kind. Morality, and its absence, is the novel’s defining theme: in this sense, Sagan is far more of a classicist than others of her existentialist brethren, such as Sartre and Camus. Certainly, she concerns herself with the twentieth-century problem of personal reality, of the self and its interaction with behavioral norms, but in Bonjour Tristesse those norms are as much psychic as they are societal. Cécile, a motherless seventeen-year-old whose permissive, feckless father has provided the only yardstick for her personal conduct, offers Sagan a particularly naked example of the human sensibility taking shape. Cécile’s encounters with questions of right and wrong, and with the way those questions cut across her physical and emotional desires, constitute an interrogation of morality that is difficult to credit as the work of an eighteen-year-old author. What is the moral sense? Where does it come from? Is it intrinsic? If not, does that discredit morality itself? These are the questions that lie at the heart of Sagan’s brief and disturbing novel.”

Essay of the Day:

In Nautilus, Julie Sedivy writes about losing her father and her first language:

“Several years ago, my father died as he had done most things throughout his life: without preparation and without consulting anyone. He simply went to bed one night, yielded his brain to a monstrous blood clot, and was found the next morning lying amidst the sheets like his own stone monument.

“It was hard for me not to take my father’s abrupt exit as a rebuke. For years, he’d been begging me to visit him in the Czech Republic, where I’d been born and where he’d gone back to live in 1992. Each year, I delayed. I was in that part of my life when the marriage-grad-school-children-career-divorce current was sweeping me along with breath-sucking force, and a leisurely trip to the fatherland seemed as plausible as pausing the flow of time.

“Now my dad was shrugging at me from beyond— ‘You see, you’ve run out of time.’

“His death underscored another loss, albeit a far more subtle one: that of my native tongue. Czech was the only language I knew until the age of 2, when my family began a migration westward, from what was then Czechoslovakia through Austria, then Italy, settling eventually in Montreal, Canada. Along the way, a clutter of languages introduced themselves into my life: German in preschool, Italian-speaking friends, the francophone streets of East Montreal. Linguistic experience congealed, though, once my siblings and I started school in English. As with many immigrants, this marked the time when English became, unofficially and over the grumbling of my parents (especially my father), our family language—the time when Czech began its slow retreat from my daily life.

“Many would applaud the efficiency with which we settled into English—it’s what exemplary immigrants do. But between then and now, research has shown the depth of the relationship all of us have with our native tongues—and how traumatic it can be when that relationship is ruptured. Spurred by my father’s death, I returned to the Czech Republic hoping to reconnect to him. In doing so, I also reconnected with my native tongue, and with parts of my identity that I had long ignored.

“While my father was still alive, I was, like most young people, more intent on hurtling myself into my future than on tending my ancestral roots—and that included speaking the language of my new country rather than my old one. The incentives for adopting the culturally dominant language are undeniable. Proficiency offers clear financial rewards, resulting in wage increases of 15 percent for immigrants who achieve it relative to those who don’t, according to economist Barry Chiswick. A child, who rarely calculates the return on investment for her linguistic efforts, feels the currency of the dominant language in other ways: the approval of teachers and the acceptance of peers. I was mortally offended when my first-grade teacher asked me on the first day of school if I knew ‘a little English’—‘I don’t know a little English,’ was my indignant and heavily accented retort. ‘I know a lot of English.’ In the schoolyard, I quickly learned that my Czech was seen as having little value by my friends, aside from the possibility of swearing in another language—a value I was unable to deliver, given that my parents were cursing teetotalers.

“But embracing the dominant language comes at a price. Like a household that welcomes a new child, a single mind can’t admit a new language without some impact on other languages already residing there. Languages can co-exist, but they tussle, as do siblings, over mental resources and attention. When a bilingual person tries to articulate a thought in one language, words and grammatical structures from the other language often clamor in the background, jostling for attention. The subconscious effort of suppressing this competition can slow the retrieval of words—and if the background language elbows its way to the forefront, the speaker may resort to code-switching, plunking down a word from one language into the sentence frame of another.

“Meanwhile, the weaker language is more likely to become swamped; when resources are scarce, as they are during mental exhaustion, the disadvantaged language may become nearly impossible to summon. Over time, neglecting an earlier language makes it harder and harder for it to compete for access.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Moon and Jupiter over the Alps

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When Pianos Went to War, Literary Baths, and the English Country House Today

Via Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to hell, you might decide, after reading a few ambiguous passages out of context from the Bible, that there is a possibility that all people, however evil, will be spared eternal damnation. Or you could be like David Bentley Hart, who has “no great interest in waiting upon God, to see if in the end he will prove to be better or worse than I might have hoped,” and decide that God will do exactly what you want him to do: save everyone.

Is STEM ruining American education? Jared Woodard thinks so: “STEM ideologues and real educators are pursuing very different goals. The purpose of edu­cation in the sciences is to cultivate children as knowers in and of the world. The purpose of STEM programs is just to create more of a certain kind of worker.”

The many faces of Martin Heidegger: “Heidegger’s thought cannot be confined to a single idea or interpretation. He pined for a lost harmony and simplicity, but left one of the most divisive and complex oeuvres in the history of philosophy. He was a nature lover and a Nazi philosopher; an anti-Semite and an almost rabbinical thinker (some Nazis were suspicious of his avid Jewish readers and wanted to ban his work because of a perceived ‘Talmudic-Kabbalist’ quality). He was obsessed with the West and is adored by its self-appointed defenders. But he was also influenced by Eastern philosophy and, convinced that the West had lost its way, he became central to anti-Western thought, inspiring the 1979 Iranian Revolution’s idea of ‘Westoxification’. Meanwhile, his more spiritual musings circulate innocently on social media, as life advice for the lost at heart.”

A short history of baths in literature: “Baths are very comforting: gentler, calmer than showers. The slow clean. For a while, though, across a patch of nervous books in the mid-twentieth century, baths were troublesome. They were prone to intrusion and disorder. They were too hot, too small, too crowded with litanies of junk: newspapers, cigarettes, alcohol, razors.”

When pianos went to war: “During the war, the U.S. government essentially shut down the production of musical instruments in order to divert vital resources such as iron, copper, brass, and other materials to the war effort. Yet the government also determined that the war effort ought to include entertainment that could lift soldiers’ spirits. But just any old piano wouldn’t do.”

The longlist for the 2019 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction has been announced.

Essay of the Day:

In The New Criterion, Clive Aslet surveys the English country house today:

“The ways of these places are sometimes esoteric. Their values do not in every respect accord with those of today. The fortunes that built them came from dubious sources, often involving peculation on a grand scale or selfish exploitation of the earth’s resources. Industry polluted; the hugely profitable sugar economy of the West Indies ran on slavery; the corruption of the East India Company was legendary. Too much of the life supported by these ill-gotten gains was spent gambling, drinking, fox-hunting, and whoring. Of course, I write of past times. Gone are figures like the Fifteenth Lord Saye and Sele, whose profligacy, in the first half of the nineteenth century, caused every stick of furniture to be sold from Broughton Castle; when a new servant asked if he had any orders, he was told, as his lordship went in to dinner: ‘Place two bottles of sherry by my bedside, and call me the day after tomorrow.’ In this fallen age, there are fewer butlers and the substance of choice would not be sherry.

“Gone—but the country houses remain. The world at large now knows more about them than might have been the case before the first season of Downton Abbey was broadcast in 2010. I have a friend who has done quite well from introducing rich Asian businessmen to dukes; they want to have dinner in white tie (because dukes always wear white tie) and have a selfie taken with His Grace. While their historical or cultural interest in the stately surroundings is limited, they know their dukes from their earls and viscounts, and they pay accordingly.

“But then, for those who have been brought up in one of these mega-dwellings, they are also homes.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Turin

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What Do You Do after You Have Free Soloed El Cap?

Via Wikimedia Commons

Oh, dear. Alex Ross thinks the installation of the shy, gifted, seemingly selfless Kirill Petrenko who now leads the Berlin Philharmonic in performances of popular scores (Beethoven’s Ninth, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth) with “straight-ahead rightness” is problematic because he’s not “eccentric” and exercises too much “control.” You see, Petrenko is not like Polina Korobkova, for example, who apparently alluded to a hand gesture in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks while conducting the “restlessly experimental” E-lec-tri-ci-ty: mystical thriller for ears. Get with the program, Kirill. What else is dear Mr. Ross supposed to write about if you don’t “reshape the repertory” and “attract new audiences” by making political statements or predictably blurring the distinction between high and low culture?

Here’s a wonderfully wry review of Shaun Bythell’s Confessions of a Bookseller, which is a follow-up to his popular Diary of a Bookseller: “There are risks, of course, to having strong opinions about the books you sell. A bookshop owner is unqualified to be a literary critic. It’s more useful to know the distinguishing features of the first edition of The Pickwick Papers than to have read the bloody thing, and it’s always best not to bandy lit crit across the counter. Bythell keeps his commentaries light. Deciding to read Martin Amis for the first time, he tries Time’s Arrow. Impressed by the narrative device of time going backwards, he is inspired to tackle something by Kingsley next. Now Bythell’s first book is to become a television series, his publisher claims, and ironies abound. No doubt a team of writers will be working to beef up Bythell’s on-again-off-again relationship with his American girlfriend and praying that he overcomes his fear of commitment. Hardy folk in cagoules will make pilgrimages to see the fabled proprietor in action. Meanwhile Amazon, which Bythell rails against, continues to provide him with a virtual platform to market his wares (including his ‘Death to Kindle’ mugs) and promote his writing. What Bythell may dislike most is the fact that his book, with its conventional structure and short daily entries, is pretty much perfect for reading on a Kindle.”

Edward Feser reviews Gary Smith’s The AI Delusion: “Sensitivity to pixel arrangements no more amounts to visual perception than detecting the word “betrayal” amounts to possessing the concept of betrayal. The implications of AI’s shortcomings, Smith shows, are not merely philosophical. Failure to see how computers merely manipulate symbols without understanding them can have serious economic, medical, and other practical consequences.”

In praise of Bartolomé Bermejo: “Despite being the most imaginative Spanish painter of the 15th century, and the only one to master the illusionistic techniques pioneered by Jan Van Eyck, Bartolomé Bermejo’s small but spectacular body of work is little known.”

I will be at The American Conservative’s upcoming conversation about the future of the Cathedral of Notre Dame (and the West generally) on September 17th in New York. Hope to see some of you there.

Essay of the Day:

Alex Honnold was the first—and remains the only—person to have climbed El Capitan free solo. What’s next? Life:

“Any great athlete will tell you the urge to redefine your limits doesn’t wane with age. It gets worse, and so conspires against future happiness. Legacies fade, talent diminishes, but the drive to do something great remains. Extreme climbers are so hardwired for the quest that for many, the only way forward is to die on a mountain. Everything else is prelude. In the book The Impossible Climb, Tommy Caldwell, one of Honnold’s childhood heroes who later helped him train for El Cap, tells author Mark Synnott, ‘It’s hard to say this, but I think Alex will probably just continue doing this until he dies.’

“Today Honnold is alive and 34 years old. After Free Solo‘s release, he went on a seven-month victory lap. At the Oscars, Bradley Cooper sought him out to chat. At an after-party, Alex and Sanni saw Mahershala Ali heading their way. Sanni was so eager to meet the actor that she tossed her hors d’oeuvres on the floor to shake his hand. Honnold toured the country, hit the late-night talk shows, gave speeches, chatted with Julian Edelman about training, spent months in hotel rooms, rode the New York subway, retained his unkempt look — charcoal hair uncombed and angular and subtly punk — and again and again tried to answer honestly when asked, ‘What’s next?’

“The answer, for Honnold, might be more difficult and mysterious than holding himself thousands of feet off the ground. What’s next is to begin a life. A real life, with Sanni and all the blessings and trappings that will give him more to lose on a rock than just his own existence — a life that in some ways begins the orange July morning I arrive in Tahoe, when Honnold has finally moved out of the van and woken up for the first time in his new house.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Matera

Poem: Cheryl Follon, “Mud”

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The Other ‘Mona Lisa’, the Complexity of Colonization, and the Plot to Assassinate Orwell

Eugène Delacroix, The Women of Algiers in Their Apartment (1834), via Wikimedia Commons

First up this morning, Andrew Ferguson reviews Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers: “It’s a bit embarrassing to finish a book by Malcolm Gladwell—master of the let-me-take-you-by-the-hand prose style, dealer in the simple and unmistakable thesis—and realize you don’t quite know what he’s driving at. Gladwell’s method is well established and, you would think, failsafe. It’s one of the reasons his books have sold millions of copies. Among his other talents, he’s one of those ‘professional communicators’ that public-speaking coaches always say we should emulate: First he tells his audience what he’s about to tell them, then he tells them, and then he tells them what he just told them. He should be impossible to misunderstand. I must be an idiot. Another possibility is that nearly 20 years after The Tipping Point, his bestselling debut, the Gladwell formula is at last exhausted.”

Did you know there was another Mona Lisa? “With her straight dark hair and beguiling smile, the so-called Isleworth Mona Lisa bears an uncanny resemblance to her namesake in the Louvre. To some experts, these similarities suggest the painting is a mere copy, though a handful of art historians believe it to be an earlier, unfinished version by Leonardo da Vinci himself. This debate has raged for decades. But now the portrait stands at the center of a new dispute: an impending legal battle over its ownership. And if 2017’s record-breaking sale of another disputed Leonardo — the Salvator Mundi, whose authentication is still hotly debated — is anything to go by, there could be millions of dollars at stake. Known to some as the Earlier Mona Lisa, the painting has spent much of the past five decades hidden in a Swiss bank vault. Acquired by a secretive consortium in 2008, the painting has since been shown in a number of galleries, most notably in Singapore in 2014 and Shanghai two years later.”

The complexity of colonization: “We always imagine that the current of colonisation runs one way, west to east, but there are frequent reminders in Algeria that history is a little more complicated than this.”

How a Dominican friar created a new type of painting: “As well as knowledge of the latest architectural advances, he had a botanical understanding, gleaned from printed herbariums (and perhaps the monastery’s own garden) to ensure that the plants in the garden were seasonal; he knew which pigments and binders were required to obtain a variety of shades of green for foliage, and he had the ability to create flesh tones using different types of verdaccio, a thin green underpaint. The layering of red lake pigment over silver leaf to create the lustrous, velvety quality of roses and carnations seems to be an entirely new technique invented by Angelico.”

Branko Milanovic reviews Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital and Ideology: “While I am somewhat skeptical about that first part of the book, I am not skeptical about the second. In this part, we find the Piketty who plays to his strength: bold and innovative use of data which produces a new way of looking at phenomena that we all observe but were unable to define so precisely. Here, Piketty is ‘playing’ on the familiar Western economic history ‘terrain’ that he knows well, probably better than any other economist. This part of the book looks empirically at the reasons that left-wing, or social democratic parties have gradually transformed themselves from being the parties of the less-educated and poorer classes to become the parties of the educated and affluent middle and upper-middle classes.”

A new Elena Ferrante novel to be published in November: “Ferrante’s Italian publisher, Edizioni E/O, made the announcement with a terse tweet on Monday morning. Her English-language publisher, Europa Editions, followed suit, with a short extract indicating that the story was set in Naples. Neither publisher has revealed the new novel’s title.”

Are governmental social services to blame, at least partly, for the decline of moral norms in American society? Howard Husock argues they are in his new book, Who Killed Civil Society? “One never gets the sense that Husock disdains social workers themselves — indeed, he readily acknowledges good work done by some in the field — but he does abhor what he calls the ‘scaling of the social service state,’ where charity devolved from a personal act to one marred by bureaucracy and mechanization. Husock details the life of health, education, and welfare secretary Wilbur Cohen, the man who he claims ‘did more to steer the expansion of the social service state’ than almost any public official in history. Cohen was ‘the consummate federal bureaucrat,’ one who, unlike the other reformers that Husock details, spent most of his life in government, removed from the actual delivery of services to the poor. ‘Wilbur Cohen’s legacy,’ Husock charges, ‘is based on public policy for the poor, not personal involvement with them.’ Cohen was one of the principal actors involved in the passage of the 1962 amendments to the Social Security Act, a series of ambitious expansions of federal power that would, in effect, usurp services ‘once funded and delivered locally, and overseen by local citizens on local boards of directors who were accountable for the results.’ And as governmental actors, the ‘formative’ services of Charles Loring Brace were inevitably to be delivered in a supposedly ‘value-neutral’ fashion. What, then, would happen to norms?”

The Spanish novelist Enrique Vila-Matas talks about meeting Jean Miró, the work of Dalí, and the relationship between fiction and reality: “During lunch (and his silences were legendary), Miró did not say a single word . . . At one point, he stopped to fixedly stare at a small bone of the chicken he was eating, and he looked as if he had just discovered a painting from the caves of Altamira. When we got to dessert, he announced that he would have a glass of wine (he only had one a day). He elevated the glass slowly, tracing with a Gaudian gesture the flight trajectory of a bird ascending and then, suddenly, acting as if a vision had descended on his eyes — perhaps something akin to a blast of sunlight — he looked up to the ceiling and said in a loud and joyful voice, ‘¡Viva la Pepa!’”

Essay of the Day:

In LitHub, Duncan White tells the story of the Communist plot to assassinate George Orwell:

“When George Orwell returned to Barcelona for the third time, on June 20th, 1937, he discovered that the Spanish secret police were after him. He had been forced to return to the front in order to have his discharge papers countersigned and, in his absence, the Communists had initiated a purge of their perceived enemies. Orwell was on the list. As he arrived in the lobby of the Hotel Continental, Eileen approached him calmly, placed her arm around his neck, and smiled for the benefit of anyone watching. Once they were close enough she hissed in his ear: ‘Get out!’ ‘What?’ ‘Get out at once.’”

Read the rest.

Photo: Naranjo de Bulnes

Poem: Rhina P. Espaillat, “This House”

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Mapping Rome, the Golden Era of American Chess, and Cheap Friends

Hong Kong Christian Churches Union Pok Fu Lam Road Cemetery, via Wikimedia Commons

The recent passing of Pal Benko and Shelby Lyman, Peter Nicholas argues in The Atlantic, ends the “Golden Era” of American chess: “The loss of Benko and Lyman draws the curtain on an era in American chess that produced some of the game’s richest personalities and most sparkling play. The players and teachers who dominated the firmament in the mid-20th century were the game’s greatest generation. They bested a Soviet pipeline of grand masters who once had a stranglehold on the title. One by one, they’re dying out.”

The real Huey Long: “Long controlled everything in Louisiana public life, from using the Louisiana National Guard as his personal police force to coaching LSU’s football team. When the media wouldn’t do his bidding, Long created and distributed his own newspaper. In it, he mocked his political adversaries and smeared anyone who spoke against him, endangering their livelihoods and the safety of their families. To maintain his schemes, Long demanded unwavering allegiance from everyone, ranging from elected officials to low-level civil servants. If you resisted, you paid dearly.”

Berthe Morisot’s “necessary talent”: “The template for a potential artist’s career is often: enthusiastic family (especially mother) overpraises the slightest sketch, the haziest verse, the whisper of a tune; then the world – teacher, grown-up artist or writer or musician, and later the critical press – examines that talent with sterner eyes or ears, and stomps on it. With Berthe Morisot, this paradigm was reversed. It was her mother who doubted her talent, who urged her to quit, who wrote of her to Edma: ‘She has perhaps the necessary talent – I shall be delighted if such is the case – but she has not the kind of talent that has commercial value or wins public recognition; she will never sell anything done in her present manner, and she is incapable of painting differently.’ This wasn’t the objection of a philistine parent: Mme Morisot was a cultivated woman, on warm social terms with painters and composers (Rossini had picked out a piano for Berthe, and even signed it). She just wasn’t able to believe her daughter was good enough. Not even when assured of the fact by established artists: ‘Puvis [de Chavannes],’ she reports to Edma, ‘has told her that her work has such subtlety and distinction that it makes others miserable, and that he was returning home disgusted with himself. Frankly, is it as good as all that?’ Further: ‘M. Degas dropped in for a moment yesterday. He uttered some compliments, though he looked at nothing – he just had an impulse to be amiable for a change. To believe these great men, she has become an artist!’”

Yet another White House book: “Sarah Huckabee Sanders, one of the most recognizable faces of the Trump administration, is writing a book that is expected to be published next fall, St. Martin’s Press said Thursday. In a news release, George Witte, the editor in chief of St. Martin’s Press, said the book would cover the former White House press secretary’s years working for President Trump and offer ‘a unique perspective on the most important issues, events and both public and behind-the-scenes conversations inside the White House.’”

The promise of mapping Rome: “Carandini’s team has built the most comprehensive model, to date, of an ancient city . . . The intricate relationships between infrastructure, streets, squares, monuments, temples, baths, marketplaces, and private realms are depicted at a level never before seen. A close parallel might be found in the early-20th-century Sanborn Fire Insurance maps that show the granular forms of American industrial urbanism in the period before zoning. The Atlas depicts the original case of large-scale, traditional Western urbanism (including its customs, patterns, and evolution) in similar relief.”

Essay of the Day:

Wilfred M. McClay surveys the cheapening of the word “friend” for The Hedgehog Review:

“[T]he noble term friend has already been so diluted and cheapened in our times, like so many of our most important words of personal and social connection, that it has become like the Platte River, a mile wide and an inch deep. Such cheapening has occurred not only in our personal usage but in public discourse. When Abraham Lincoln concluded his First Inaugural Address with a heartfelt plea to the seceding Southern states to recall that ‘we are not enemies, but friends,’ the word had great emotive power, describing the very bonds of public affection that were being sundered. Such earnest usage has all but disappeared. Friend as we now use it embraces a particularly large portfolio of evasions and line-blurring maneuvers, especially useful in the hands of diffident teenagers, as in this familiar exchange: Mother: ‘Who was that on the phone?’ Daughter: ‘A friend.’

“As this example illustrates, friend can designate anything from a mysterious or otherwise uncategorizable love interest to a study-group classmate to a business associate to a helpful neighbor to the ‘friends’ who accumulate on people’s social media accounts, where they are as plentiful and enduring as the daily harvest of low-tide sea shells on a beach. The television series Friends (1994–2004) became one of the most successful sitcoms in TV history by depicting a collection of very attractive twenty- and thirtysomethings ‘hanging out’ together as a kind of quasi-family, a light and frothy fantasy that transposed the social life of the college dorm to not-quite-adult life in implausibly toney Manhattan apartments. For its characters, friendship was that relatively flexible and easygoing state of social relations before the hardening categories of adulthood come along.

“This resonated with American audiences, including aging boomers who were nostalgic for the friendships of their college days. But when we’re confronted with the far profounder ideas about friendship put forward by Aristotle, the greatest of all writers on the subject, or by C.S. Lewis in his splendid account in The Four Loves, we tend to be nonplussed.”

Read the rest.

Photos: Hong Kong’s “Vertical Graveyards”

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