Evil Classical Music, The Art of Hayao Miyazaki, and Prophets of Tyrannical Equality

Arne List, via Wikimedia Commons

How did classical music become evil—in movies, that is? Theodore Gioia explains.

What theft takes: “Art’s backyard rock garden was his sanctuary. That’s where he sat and prayed for hours on end after the kids had left home and his wife had been moved to a nursing home. He painted the names of departed friends on smooth stones and sat on a bench in their midst to pray. Prayer was his salve for loneliness. Cheap yard statuettes kept him company. A stone rabbit. Plastic geese. A 15-inch-high concrete gnome. The gnome was his best friend. He’d put a knit cap on it when the weather turned cold. He’d check on it when going out to pick up the mail. Two years ago, something possessed Art to move the gnome to an old tree stump in his front yard. He’d been scared to do it for fear of vandalism from kids who regularly taunted him. His daughter believes he wanted to share his happiness in the gnome with the neighborhood. The gnome didn’t last long. Within days, a thief in the night had stolen it.”

The art of Hayao Miyazaki: “Miyazaki, a master of pencil, watercolor, and oil who has long resisted digital animation, is revolted—not only by the digital nature of the animation but by the broader contempt for life that the young animators express. He describes a disabled friend of his and says, ‘Thinking of him, I can’t watch this stuff and find it interesting. Whoever creates this stuff has no idea what pain is whatsoever. I am utterly disgusted. . . . I strongly feel that this is an insult to life itself.’ The programmers struggle to respond. The documentary cuts to Miyazaki sketching and mumbling to himself, ‘I feel like we are nearing the end times.’

The people who eat the same lunch every day: “Vern Loomis, a retired structural draftsman in West Bloomfield, Michigan, had a standard office lunch: a peanut-butter sandwich, with various fruit, vegetable, and dessert accompaniments. He ate this, he estimates, nearly every workday for about 25 years.”

Stuart Evers praises Helen Oyeyemi’s novel Gingerbread: “The great joy of Oyeyemi’s work is its sense of complete freedom: in her narratives, we rarely, if ever, end up in expected places. She follows nothing but her own instincts, leaves storylines when they have ceased to amuse her, introduces sub-plots and asides on a whim. It is disarming, sometimes disorientating, sometimes maddening, but when the quality of the writing — and the scope of the imagination — is this good, it’s hard not to be swept away.”

The mostly forgotten actor, Oscar Levant, was an accomplished classical pianist. Terry Teachout reviews a collection of his recordings that were recently released by Sony and explains how he ended up in radio and TV: “Beyond the mere fact of its existence, what is most remarkable about A Rhapsody in Blue is the nature of its contents. It includes all four of George Gershwin’s concert works for piano and orchestra, of which Levant was an admired interpreter, but the rest of the set is devoted to music by classical composers, including solo pieces by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Copland, Debussy, Liszt, Poulenc, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Schumann, and Shostakovich, as well as concerto performances that feature such noted conductors as Eugene Ormandy and Fritz Reiner. That Levant recorded so extensively as a classical pianist will startle anyone who knows only his films. It is likely to be just as startling, however, to those who also remember that he once appeared regularly on such radio and TV series as Information Please and the Jack Paar–hosted version of The Tonight Show, on which he ‘played’ a version of his real-life self, a wisecracking neurotic who bragged about his mental instability (‘I have seizures of momentary sanity’) and, later, his psychiatric hospitalizations.”

Essay of the Day:

In The New Criterion, Jacob Howland revisits Søren Kierkegaard’s prediction of a future “tyrannical equality”:

“The present age, he wrote in Two Ages (1846), is democratically ‘oriented to equality’ and marked not by ‘the happy infatuation of admiration but the unhappy infatuation of envy,’ a ‘censorious’ passion that wants to ‘stifle’ and ‘degrade’ individual excellence rather than to emulate it. A constant bane of human existence, envy is particularly destructive in the present age because ‘the abstraction of leveling is related to a higher negativity: pure humanity.’ Late-modern leveling, Kierkegaard predicted, would destroy all organic structures that mediate between living individuals and the bloodless abstraction of humanity as such. Nothing—no person, institution, or even ‘national individuality’—will be able to halt what he calls the ‘spontaneous combustion of the human race.’”

Read the rest.

Photo: Bled

Receive Prufrock in your inbox every weekday morning. Subscribe here.

Post a comment

The Real Cyrano de Bergerac, Why Ruskin Matters, and Where Eagles Fly

John Ruskin, The Kapellbrücke, Lucerne, via Wikimedia Commons

The real Cyrano de Bergerac was a dueling libertine with a wide-ranging imagination. He died at 36, either of fever or by Jesuits. 

Is it wrong for male critics to review the new Marvel movie, Captain Marvel, whose main character is a woman? Uh, no: “Critics review all sorts of material by and about people who don’t necessarily match their demographics. Quality is quality. Critics can, or at least should, be able to recognize it, regardless of whether they have a Y chromosome.”

Where eagles fly: “To get a sense of how much ground an eagle can cover in one day, a 2012 study by the group British Birds indicates that they can fly up to 220 miles (355 km) in one day and are constantly on the move between migration, breeding, and wintering.”

The Académie Française, founded in 1634 “to protect and promote the French language,” is composed of 40 “immortals”—novelists, professors, critics. Four vacancies opened in 2016, but they still haven’t been filled. In three separate votes, no one has received the majority necessary to be elected. Why?

The MacArthur Foundation has a new president.

Netflix will adapt Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude for the screen. Why not read about that time when Mario Vargas Llosa punched García Márquez, which seems to have a hundred different explanations.

An orthodox Jewish reading of the Pentateuch: “Both Christian and Jewish readers will find Soloveitchik’s Pentateuch commentary accessible. This compilation of thousands of comments on the Five Books of Moses was curated from published writings, transcribed lectures, and classroom notes. Arnold Lustiger, a yeshiva-trained scientist who edited several volumes of Soloveitchik’s transcribed lectures as a labor of love, released the Genesis volume in 2013; Deuteronomy appeared in July 2018. Some of the material repeats traditional interpretations, but many annotations contain challenging, even disturbing insights that compel the reader to engage the deep implications of the human confrontation with the divine. Two leading themes recur throughout the commentary: God’s summoning of ‘majestic’ man to partnership in creation, and God’s consoling of ‘covenantal’ man in his humility and distress. These ideas are well grounded in Scripture and classic Jewish sources. Soloveitchik adds a new dimension—an original phenomenology of religious consciousness.”

Essay of the Day:

Does John Ruskin still matter? Alan Jacobs argues he does in Comment:

“The essential task of Ruskin’s life was the prophetic discernment of the right and wrong, the healthy and unhealthy, forms of human making, which for him was the most essential kind of human labour. Ruskin always thinks theologically, and what he most consistently thinks theologically about is what Thomas Hughes calls the ‘human-built world,’ which comprises both what we usually call technology and what we usually call art. Ruskin’s exploration of how humans respond to the given world through making, when properly understood, reveals him as a kind of predecessor to twentieth-century figures like the German philosopher Martin Heidegger—but with a warmth and a passion and an eloquence that set him quite apart from the notoriously inscrutable Heidegger.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Strasbourg

Poem: Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, “Flannery’s Quandary”   

Receive Prufrock in your inbox every weekday morning. Subscribe here.

Post a comment

Rick Pitino in Greece, the End of Recycling in America, and Democracy without Faith

Crushed cans recycled by Oregon State University, via Wikimedia Commons

The American Conservative’s founding maxim is “ideas over ideology; principles over party,” and it has certainly been true to this over the years—giving space to a wide variety of ideas and (at times) unfashionable but important principles. But it is also a bookish place. TAC was the first publication to support Prufrock back in 2013, and it stepped in earlier this year to support the blog and email once again. We also have some exciting things planned as far as book and arts coverage goes. Look for pieces by John Shelton Reed, John Wilson, Matthew Walther, and many others in the coming months, as well as a couple of big literary essays. Why not contribute to the work of the magazine by becoming a memberTAC is doing great work, but it can’t do it without the support of readers like you.

Now on to the literary news du jour: The Swedish Academy will award two Nobel prizes in literature this year to make up for skipping last year’s prize because of a sexual misconduct case. I tend to agree with my friend Robert Messenger that we’d be better off with no Nobel prize in literature at all.

In other news, Pete Townshend has written a novel. It will be published this fall. Rock opera and art installation to follow, he says.

Don’t buy cryptocurrencies: “What’s worse to lose – your keys or your wallet? That’s the question more than 100,000 angry investors who used the QuadrigaCX exchange to purchase cryptocurrency now contemplate. The apparent sudden death in December of Canadian Gerald Cotten, the exchange’s 30-year-old founder, has without warning left them in a $250 million-shaped hole.”

In praise of Pierre Reverdy: “‘My heart is in my / pocket, it is Poems by Reverdy’. So writes Frank O’Hara in, ‘A Step Away From Them.’ Pierre Reverdy was widely admired by New York poets in the mid 20th century, including O’Hara, Kenneth Rexroth, and John Ashbery. They loved his work. They translated it. Did they truly understand it? . . . In every description of Reverdy I’ve read, his Catholicism is either not mentioned or only mentioned in passing as a phase from which he quickly retreated in cynical alienation.”

Oops: Man leaves €10,000 Picasso jug on German train.

A history of modern Greece: “For a country of just eleven million people, whose population ranks eighty-fourth in the world, between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Greece has a large and imposing history. When many Anglo-Saxons think of Greece, they think of the ancients: the millennium of the Trojan War and Athens’s wars with Persia and Sparta, of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and of Alexander the Great’s Hellenic empire. Russians and the Eastern Orthodox tend to think of the age of Byzantium – another thousand years rich with incident. The modern Greek state, known since 1974 as the Hellenic Republic, is a toddler in comparison.”

The end of recycling in America? “For decades, we were sending the bulk of our recycling to China—tons and tons of it, sent over on ships to be made into goods like shoes and bags and new plastic products. But last year, the country restricted imports of certain recyclables, including mixed paper—magazines, office paper, junk mail—and most plastics. Waste-management companies across the country are telling towns, cities, and counties that there is no longer a market for their recycling. These municipalities have two choices: pay much higher rates to get rid of recycling, or throw it all away. Most are choosing the latter. ‘We are doing our best to be environmentally responsible, but we can’t afford it,’ said Judie Milner, the city manager of Franklin, New Hampshire.”

In This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom, Martin Hägglund argues that only secularists can build effective social democracies and, therefore, improve the world (the two, alas, being linked in his view). James G. Chappel is unconvinced: “For all of its laudable concern for democracy, there is something imperious in Hägglund’s dismissal of religious believers: specifically, his contention that, insofar as they are properly religious, they do not and cannot have any concern for the finite world. It is enormously provocative and counterintuitive to assert that religious traditions (all of them!) counsel believers to ignore finite beings in pursuit of eternal happiness. And yet this is his consistent claim. ‘If you truly believed in the existence of eternity,’ he argues, ‘there would be no reason to mourn the loss of a finite life.’ The most obvious objection to Hägglund’s thesis is simply that religious people care about the world, and other people, all of the time.”

Essay of the Day:

What happened to Rick Pitino after he was fired as the head basketball coach of the Louisville Cardinals in 2017? After taking a year off, he moved to Greece to coach Panathinaikos and work “for a self-styled Bond villain”:

“‘He put a bounty on him.’ What do you mean? A bounty? ‘A bounty. 10,000 euros.’

“This was the first story Rick Pitino told me in Athens. It was a good one, and it foreshadowed the madness yet to come. Pitino has lots of stories and, these days, lots of time to tell them.

“Before he came to Greece, Pitino was out of coaching for more than a year—and thought he might be out of coaching forever. After a federal investigation into bribery and fraud in college basketball—Adidas was accused of funneling money to high-profile high school players to steer them to teams sponsored by the shoe company, including Pitino’s Cardinals—Louisville fired the Hall of Fame coach in October 2017 after 16 seasons. Pitino was never charged in the scandal and remains defiant about his innocence, as does his lawyer. He wrote a book about the saga and insists he’s never given so much as $5 to a player. But after Louisville fired him, he feared no one in the college game would offer another gig no matter how much he pleaded his case. He was right. No one came to his rescue. At least not a college, anyway.

“In December 2018, a friend of a friend called. There might be a job opening. In Greece. Coaching Panathinaikos, one of the two main teams in Athens. An official offer came on Christmas Eve. He took it and flew out on Christmas Day.

“It was hard not to notice that Pitino, in his Panathinaikos kelly-green scarf, clearly enjoyed the warm reception. Panathinaikos fans are passionate about their team and, now, their famous new coach. So is the owner. Dimitris Giannakopoulos has a bit of a reputation in Athens. Giannakopoulos took control of the team from his father, Pavlos, who ran it for decades and died about a year ago. There’s a banner with Pavlos’s visage that hangs in the rafters of Olympic Indoor Hall. Dimitri’s family owns Vianex, the largest pharmaceutical company in the country, and his media outlet, DPG Digital Media, partnered with CNN to bring to Greece.

“That’s the buttoned-up businessman side of Giannakopoulos, but it’s the 44-year-old’s off-hours reputation that’s made him a folk hero—or a villain, depending on whom you ask and their allegiances—in a country that has a healthy respect for rebellious behavior.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Two sharks in a wave (take that, Damien Hirst)

Poem: John A. Nieves, “Note to a Prospective Runaway at Bedtime”   

Receive Prufrock in your inbox every weekday morning. Subscribe here.

Post a comment

The Illiberal Arts, the Frailty of Humanity, and a History of Angels

Daderot, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts, via Wikimedia Commons

No one had discovered a previously unknown Rembrandt for over 40 years until Jan Six XI discovered two: “The discovery that upended Jan Six’s life occurred one day in November 2016. Six is a 40-year-old Dutch art dealer based in Amsterdam, who attracted worldwide attention last year with the news that he had unearthed a previously unknown painting by Rembrandt, the most revered of Dutch masters — the first unknown Rembrandt to come to light in 42 years. The find didn’t come about from scouring remote churches or picking through the attics of European country houses, but rather, as Six described it to me last May, while he was going through his mail.”

A short history of the Arts and Crafts Movement and the life of its founder: “I should have heard of William Simmonds. I must have read his name in connection with Rodmarton Manor, which I described for Country Life in 1978, and other Arts and Crafts undertakings at the turn of the twentieth century. But I confess that before opening this exceptional book I had no idea who he was. How ignorant I now feel. Simmonds emerges as an enthralling figure, remarkable not just as a puppeteer but as a witness to his age, to whom extraordinary things somehow simply happened.”

The story of the Frenchwoman who ran one of the Allies largest WWII spy networks: “Over the course of the conflict, Fourcade, the only woman to head a major resistance network in France, commanded some 3,000 agents, who infiltrated every major port and sizable town in the country. They came from all segments of society—military officers, architects, shopkeepers, fishermen, housewives, doctors, artists, students, bus drivers, priests, members of the aristocracy, and France’s most celebrated child actor.”

Who are the most politically intolerant people in America? Mostly white, highly educated, city-dwellers, according to a recent study. The most intolerant county in America is Suffolk County, which includes Boston. The most tolerant city is Watertown in Upstate New York, whose residents voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump.

“On Monday, 80 years after Pius XII’s election to the papacy, Pope Francis announced that the archives of the controversial wartime pontiff would be opened to scholars next March. The decision follows more than half a century of pressure. Pius XII—a hero of Catholic conservatives, who eagerly await his canonization as a saint, while denounced by his detractors for failing to condemn the Nazis’ genocidal campaign against Europe’s Jews—might well be the most controversial pope in Church history.” What do they contain?

Why do otherwise irreligious people believe in angels? “Today, though belief in God has waned, belief in angels is flying high. In a 2016 poll of 2,000 people, one in three Britons claimed to have a guardian angel and one in ten to have experienced an angel’s presence. Furthermore, though our established churches are reticent on the topic of angels, our bookshops have shelves devoted to them and the internet abounds with offers of angel therapy and retreats. Why?”

The illiberal arts: “For thousands of years, the liberal arts were not liberal, and that is why they are increasingly unwelcome in our time. An honest study of the past is unsettling in a liberal age, because a person who learns to venerate earlier cultural traditions, from Homer to the baroque, may come to venerate the values to which those traditions are devoted. And those values are a direct rebuke to the substance of liberalism.”

Essay of the Day:

Illness doesn’t make us human, but it does remind us of our frailty, and that’s a good thing, B. D. McClay argues in The Hedgehog Review:

“Books on lifestyle and health tap into our fear of our own frailty. Their theme is self-protection: how to shield yourself and those you love from the gunk of the world. And there is so much gunk in the world. ‘Your shoes have been places,’ warns Kasia Kines, before launching into a truly terrifying list of everything your shoes can possibly do to you: ‘Did you know that chemicals you bring indoors on your shoes may end up in your body? How about your children crawling on the floor on all fours and then putting their fingers in their mouths? Your companion animals? How about forced air that recirculates those toxins, so you breathe them in later? Did you know that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which are part of the coal tar sealant used to seal pavements, parking lots, and driveways all over the US, cause cancer?’

Why do I even leave my house? is the first question this prompts, followed by My dog is probably carrying one hundred thousand wicked little chemicals, followed by I live in an apartment building and everybody in this place is just a crawling filthy toxin vector that’s going to kill me, followed by not to mention the mice. Stepping outside or riding public transportation or just checking out a library book with some suspicious stains on it only reminds you that other people are here, shedding their disgusting detritus every which way, and there’s not a thing you can do about it.

“For the most part, we inhabit a gnostic universe that does not permit of a gnostic answer. The grand Valentinian framework is gone, leaving us only with a world that is clearly malicious and evil, threatening at every turn. No spiritual ascent remains. But to fight matter with matter, or even with positive thinking, is to try to beat the demiurge with the demiurge’s tools. This world is a mistake. Nothing can ever make it less of one.”

* * *

“Fragility is not a condition to which most of us aspire. It’s pleasant to help, or it can be; unpleasant, extremely, to need help. Declaring the world a mistake expresses a tragic aspect of reality, grasping for control an attempt at escape. But in abundance and devastation, what remains is our dependence on each other. So it is impossible for me not to think that our weakness isn’t, in the end, the best part of us: our capacity for desire, our ability to give and receive love, to heal and to harm. We can be afraid of each other or we can love each other. These are, in the end, our choices.” 

Read the rest.

Photo: Ginzan Onsen

Poem: Michael Spence, “The Last Shall Be First”

Receive Prufrock in your inbox every weekday morning. Subscribe here.


Post a comment

Overrated Hunter S. Thompson, a History of Opium, and Putting Science Back into Climate Science

Hannes Grobe, Transantarctic Mountains, via Wikimedia Commons

Does art produce empathy? Namwali Serpell argues it doesn’t and writes that we should stop concerning ourselves with this supposed “ethical” characteristic of art: “This idea is particularly prevalent when it comes to those works of art described as ‘narrative’: stories, novels, TV shows, movies, comics. We assume that works that depict characters in action over time must make us empathize with them, or as the saying goes, ‘walk a mile in their shoes.’ And we assume that this is a good thing. Why?”

It’s time to be scientific about climate science, says Judith Curry: “Curry is a true climatologist. She once headed the department of earth and atmospheric sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, until she gave up on the academy so that she could express herself independently. ‘Independence of mind and climatology have become incompatible,’ she says. Do you mean that global warming isn’t real? I ask. ‘There is warming, but we don’t really understand its causes,’ she says. ‘The human factor and carbon dioxide, in particular, contribute to warming, but how much is the subject of intense scientific debate.’” 

How opium became a commodity: “Although Milk of Paradise is presented as a ‘history of opium’ in its subtitle, there is more to it than just the history of the latex of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). Rather, as Inglis makes clear, opium has long been a substance of deep social, political, religious, and economic significance. It appears, Gump-like, throughout the highs and lows of civilization. In this story, the drugs have always had a dual nature. Opioids are essential to both modern medicine and modern criminal empires; they save lives and destroy them. This paradoxical nature, as both poison and cure, is at the center of Inglis’s history.”

Reconsidering Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus: “In From Bauhaus to Our House (1981), Tom Wolfe dismissed Gropius as a ‘Silver Prince’ whose socialist rhetoric masked an elitist world-view and a cold, impersonal aesthetic that had left a malign mark on America. Without fetishising his buildings, MacCarthy makes a compelling case for the architect as an impassioned idealist and romantic”

Hunter S. Thompson is good, but not great: “Discovering Thompson’s journalistic feats was a thrill. Decades after it was first committed to print, the hard-drinking, gun-toting ‘gonzo’ journalist’s jagged, violent prose couldn’t fail to excite. Hell’s Angels (1967) was a gory close-up of America’s most notorious bicycle gang. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) was a novelistic account of a drug-fuelled journey to Las Vegas in search of the American dream. His coverage of the 1972 presidential election for Rolling Stone was published as Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. In these books and scores of articles, Thompson brought scenes to life in an instantly recognisable style that was exaggerated, eccentric, breakneck and captivating. His work captured the mood and made him famous. That celebrity eventually evolved into a mythology that elevated the author of a clutch of very good books to the status of literary deity. And that change had less to do with the art than it did with the artist. His irascible nature, his ability to consume death-defying quantities of drink and drugs, his props—yellow-lensed aviators and a plastic cigarette-holder—became a persona that grew like a parasite on his work. Eventually it reached a size that the host body could not sustain.”

Sam Leith writes in praise of Mister Miracle, “the cheesiest of all superheroes.”

Essay of the Day:

In The New Criterion, Gary Saul Morson praises Tolstoy’s complexity and realism:

“Tolstoy’s amazing talent to see complexity and irregularities overlooked by others not only explains his astonishing realism but also serves as a counterargument to all the ‘simplifiers.’ Readers of Russian literature appreciate its psychological depth, but they are usually unaware that for Tolstoy, as for Dostoevsky and Chekhov, psychology served as an ideological weapon against prevailing ideology. Let me mention a few remarkable instances of how Tolstoy shows that our minds are much more complex than we imagine.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Lake Como and Alps

Poem: Amit Majmudar, “The Weathervanes”

Subscribe to The American Conservative’s newsletters to get the latest analysis from some of the sharpest writers on the Right.

Post a comment

The Continual YA Fiction Twitter Mob, the Real Lives of Nannies, and Ivo Andrić’s Last Novel

Albrecht Anker, The Crèche (1890), via Wikimedia Commons

The young eat the young: Kosoko Jackson, who was part of the Twitter mob that got Amélie Zhao to cancel the publication of her novel, Blood Heir, because of what some readers thought was cultural appropriation, now withdraws his own debut novel from publication. Jesse Singal: “The Twitter community surrounding the genre, one in which authors, editors, agents, and adult readers and reviewers outnumber youthful readers, has become a cesspool of toxicity. ‘Young-adult books are being targeted in intense social media callouts, draggings, and pile-ons—sometimes before anybody’s even read them,’ Vulture’s Kat Rosenfield wrote in the definitive must-read piece on this strange and angry internet community. The call-outs, draggings, and pile-ons almost always involve claims that books are insensitive with regard to their treatment of some marginalized group, and the specific charges, as Rosenfield showed convincingly, often don’t seem to warrant the blowups they spark—when they make any sense at all. But surely Jackson, an enforcer of social justice norms and a gay black man writing about gay black protagonist should have been safe, right? Instead, it all came crashing down quite quickly.”

The real lives of nannies: “From Roma to Mary Poppins Returns, fictional portraits of nannies are more popular than ever. Yet the reality of their lives—and the dysfunction of our public policy on care work—is too often obscured.”

Ivo Andrić’s last novel: “When the Yugoslav writer Ivo Andrić was a young man, he was arrested under suspicion of involvement in the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. He ended up spending most of the catastrophic war precipitated by that assassination under house arrest. By the Second World War, Andrić had become a diplomat, and he served as ambassador to Germany up until 1941, when Yugoslavia was invaded. He then wrote the work for which he is best known, The Bridge on the Drina (Na Drini Ćuprija), followed by many more novels, short stories, and essays. He won the Nobel Prize in 1961 and died in 1975—perhaps mercifully, before the death of Tito and the splintering of Yugoslavia. It was a splintering that would have devastated him . . . I mention all this because the themes you see threaded through Andrić’s life—the great, wasting, forces of history, the ruin wreaked by the passage of time, the devastation wrought under both Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian occupation, and the precious ideal of a unified Yugoslavia—are also prominent in his work, particularly in his last, unfinished novel.”

With over 2,000 journal titles in its catalog and institutional rates in the thousands of dollars per journal, Elsevier makes a pretty penny by selling articles it received for free from university scholars and scientists back to the institutions that supported the research in the first place. The University of California has had enough. 

A.E. Stallings’ translation of Hesiod’s Works and Days is both ancient (and alien) and very much of our time: “The Hesiod whose existence she goes so far to persuade us of would certainly approve of the work here – of its difficulty, but also its successful accomplishment. As for Marcus Argentarius, even his dislike of work (and of Works) might be overcome by this learned, humane, and skilful treatment of the ‘old man’. No reader of the best poetry should miss this Works and Days: not even for Pyrrha.”

A Silicon Valley billionaire is the new sponsor of the Booker Prize: “Silicon Valley billionaire, philanthropist and author Michael Moritz and his wife Harriet Heyman’s charitable foundation has been announced as the new sponsor of the Booker prize, a month after the Man Group revealed it was ending its 18-year sponsorship of the prestigious award for literary fiction. Moritz and Heyman’s foundation, Crankstart, has committed to an initial five-year exclusive funding term for the Booker, with an option to renew for a further five years. It will not give its name to the award.” That’s too bad. I’d be all for a prize called the Crankstart Booker.

Jonah Goldberg and Steve Hayes to start a new conservative media company, Mike Allen reports: “Goldberg and Hayes tell me they plan a reporting-driven, Trump-skeptical company that will begin with newsletters as soon as this summer, then add a website in September, and perhaps ultimately a print magazine.”

Essay of the Day:

In GQ, Michael Finkel writes about the “world’s greatest art thief,” Stéphane Breitwieser, who “robbed nearly 200 museums” and “amassed a collection of treasures worth more than $1.4 billion.” How did he do it?

“‘Don’t worry about parking the car,’ says the art thief. ‘Anywhere near the museum is fine.’ When it comes to stealing from museums, Stéphane Breitwieser is virtually peerless. He is one of the most prolific and successful art thieves who have ever lived. Done right, his technique—daytime, no violence, performed like a magic trick, sometimes with guards in the room—never involves a dash to a getaway car. And done wrong, a parking spot is the least of his worries.

“Just make sure to get there at lunchtime, Breitwieser stresses, when the visitors thin and the security staff rotates shorthanded to eat. Dress sharply, shoes to shirt, topped by a jacket that’s tailored a little too roomy, with a Swiss Army knife stashed in a pocket.

“Be friendly at the front desk. Buy your ticket, say hello. Once inside, Breitwieser adds, it’s essential to focus. Note the flow of visitor traffic and memorize the exits. Count the guards. Are they sitting or patrolling? Check for security cameras and see if each has a wire—sometimes they’re fake.

“When it comes to museum flooring, creaky old wood is ideal, so even with his back turned, Breitwieser can hear footsteps two rooms away. Carpeting is the worst. Here, at the Rubens House, in Antwerp, Belgium, it’s somewhere in between: marble. For this theft, Breitwieser has arrived with his girlfriend and frequent travel companion, Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus, who positions herself near the only doorway to a ground-floor exhibition room and coughs softly when anyone approaches.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Beached cargo ship

Poem: Aaron Poochigian, “The Living Will”

Receive Prufrock in your inbox every weekday morning. Subscribe here.

Post a comment

W. H. Auden Against No-Platforming, the Quiet Sorrow of Instagram, and the Market for Hitler’s Art

Adolf Hitler, The Courtyard of the Old Residency in Munich (1914), via Wikimedia Commons

In 1945, the publisher Bennett Cerf cut Ezra Pound’s poems from An Anthology of Famous English and American Poetry, which was being prepared for the Modern Library series. His reasoning? Pound was a fascist and should not be printed: “Every time you parade the work of a man who represents such ideas, especially while he still lives, you are in a sense glorifying him, and giving tacit approval to his point of view.” W. H. Auden disagreed. He wrote Cerf that “the issue is far more serious than it appears at first sight; the relation of an author to his work is only one out of many, and once you accept the idea that one thing to which a man stands related shares in his guilt, you will presently extend it to others; begin by banning his poems not because you object to them but because you object to him, and you will end, as the nazis did, by slaughtering his wife and children.”

Before Solzhenitsyn, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon led the way in “the intellectual discrediting of communism.” David Pryce-Jones remembers the man and the work: “The English edition of Darkness at Noon is a translation from its original German, and it was published shortly after Dunkirk. As if that wasn’t handicap enough, most of the edition was destroyed in the blitz. After the war, Calmann-Levy, most venerable of firms, brought it out in French as Zéro et l’infini, François Mauriac wrote a review and by the end of 1946 half a million copies had been sold. Cassandra all over again, Koestler was in the position of an insider privy to secrets that the Party imagined would never be exposed but which now gave him authority to go against fellow-travellers and the current Left Bank attitudinising about Stalin and communism.”

The market for Hitler’s art: “Despite the failure of five of the dictator-to-be’s watercolours to sell at auction last month, a market for his works—both real and forged—remains.”

The medieval pattern poems of Rabanus Maurus: “Accusations have long been levelled against pattern poetry as an art form. Ben Johnson dismissed it as ‘a pair of scissor and a comb in verse’, as the crude prioritisation of form over content. One cannot, however, lay this accusation against the pages of De laudibus sanctae crucis, in terms of its beauty, its devotional care, and the many woven layers of its textual and visual interplay.”

Where Millennials really go for jobs: “Contrary to media hype, tech firms and young workers aren’t flocking to ‘superstar’ cities.”

The many lives of Sammy Davis Jr.: “Imagine what it must be like to star in a Broadway musical. Then imagine you have to perform ten songs, four of them solos. How about we give you a meticulously choreographed fight for the finale? Oh, and while you’re doing eight shows a week (including two on Wednesdays and Saturdays), you’re recording albums, doing charity benefits, and, to top it off, smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. But wait, as the saying goes, there’s more: You’re collaborating with a pair of biographers on your memoirs every night into the wee small hours. This was the life of Sammy Davis Jr., beginning in the spring of 1964 when he took on the lead in a musical update of Clifford Odets’s Depression-era drama Golden Boy.

Essay of the Day:

In Spectator, Caroline McCarthy writes about the “quiet sorrow of the Instagram blogger”:

“A quick scroll through Chicago-based Kelly Larkin’s Instagram account or lifestyle blog, Kelly in the City, is enough to put anyone in a good mood. It’s a blend of bright patterns, fresh and clean interior spaces, and high-quality photos of Larkin, her husband, their toddler daughter, and Noodle the dachshund. The Larkins are aspirational yet accessible, and Kelly Larkin herself, a former journalist and public school teacher, is funny and quick-witted about life and parenting.

“So when in 2016 Larkin opened up about how difficult it had been for her to get pregnant, and when in 2018 she wrote in-depth about her repeat struggles with depression, it could easily have seemed jarring to anyone who had been following her Instagram feed of pastel gingham prints and cheery home renovations. And it followed an emotional dilemma for Larkin herself.

“‘I admittedly did feel a little dishonest,’ Larkin said in an interview. ‘Over the years, depression and infertility have played major, often all-consuming roles in my life, and blogging about pretty shoes and other frivolous things during those times made me feel inauthentic and as though I was leading a double life.’ She said, ultimately, what pushed her to write about it was advice from a friend that perhaps if she was open about her personal struggles, she might provide solace and hope to others who were going through the same — even if she had no idea who those people are.

“Larkin had found herself in a strange new place that digital media has brought upon us: the zone of uncertainty where you don’t quite know you you might be talking to online, where the line between truth and deception is frequently obfuscated, and where we’re simultaneously pulled toward unprecedented ‘transparency’ and the desire to carefully craft our personas to the point of dishonesty. We all now inhabit a world where the idea of the ‘truth’ has completely changed, and as a population of internet users, we aren’t yet on a level where we can process it.”

Read the rest.

Photos: Yosemite firefall

Poem: Daniel Brown, “Standing”

Receive Prufrock in your inbox every weekday morning. Subscribe here.

Post a comment

A History of the Rectangle, Van Gogh’s Last Painting, and the Robert Penn Warren Option

Van Gogh, Tree Roots (1890), via Wikimedia Commons.

What was Van Gogh’s last painting? Most people think it was Wheatfield With Crows, but according to scholars at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, that is unlikely. “According to their research, a more obscure painting named Tree Roots (1890) is the likeliest final painting made by the artist.”

Verse outlaws: A notebook containing poems by notorious bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow has been put up for auction. “According to Heritage Auctions, the ‘year book’ was used by Parker and Barrow to write poetry about ‘their life of crime and doomed efforts to elude capture’.”

Alex J. Pollock writes about how banking has changed—and hasn’t changed—in 50 years. There are fewer banks and many more failures today than in the 1950s, but one thing hasn’t changed: “the tight connection between banking and the government. As banking scholar Charles Calomiris has convincingly summed it up, all banking systems are a deal between the politicians and the bankers.”

Is it time for an Agrarian Option? Mary Cuff makes the case: “For Warren, looking back on what had united the various beasts in that tent, the dominant concern had been ‘the disintegration of the notion of the individual in that society we’re living in . . . and the relation of that to democracy. It’s the machine of power in this so-called democratic state; the machines disintegrate individuals, so you have no individual sense of responsibility and no awareness that the individual has a past and a place. He’s simply the voting machine; he’s everything you pull the lever on if there’s any voting at all.’ He proposed that the agrarian program had been ‘trying to find a notion of democracy’ that saved individuals and society from such a fate. Warren’s reaffirmation of agrarianism in these terms can be a valuable model for conservatives today who approve of the agrarian diagnosis yet remain unconvinced by recent popular and popularizing versions of its solutions.”

Love in the abstract: Barton Swaim reviews Daniel J. Mahoney’s The Idol of Our Age: How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity: “Humanitarianism in this sense holds that the Christian’s highest and, perhaps, only duty is to exhibit compassion and fellow-feeling toward humanity as a whole. The humanitarian’s chief concern is with humanity in the abstract, the supposed plight of faraway peoples of whom the humanitarian likely has little or no direct knowledge. Humanitarianism looks with suspicion on any attitude or religion that treats one’s own family, church, neighborhood, city, or country with special affection . . . That may sound like a merely stupid failing—an obsession, say, with injustices done to illegal immigrants thousands of miles away but hatred for one’s neighbor who takes a different view—but Mahoney contends that religious humanitarianism is much worse than that. As the citizen’s love and loyalty attach less and less to those nearest to him and more and more to an abstract and idealized agglomeration of ‘humanity,’ social bonds loosen and politics itself becomes meaningless.”

Deborah Warren writes about the poetry of William Baer: “Robert Frost said, ‘Poetry is what gets lost in translation.’ More than on an idea or a story line, poetry depends on idiom and nuance. It plays and plies the language by using unexpected words, imagery, voice, irony. By this definition, Baer is one of today’s top poets.”

Essay of the Day:

In Cabinet, Amy Knight Powell tells the history of the rectangle and explains how it became so popular in the West:

“This is about the dominance of the rectangular format in a certain tradition of picture making, a dominance that still holds today and extends well beyond the medium of painting. The book, the photographic print, the screen, and the museum—which has tended to favor this format—all guarantee that we encounter most pictures in rectangular frames.

“A picture that comprises figure and ground requires an enclosed field. Without an enclosure, the space around its figure(s) will not necessarily read as part of the picture; enclosure is, therefore, the originary act that gives rise to the picture but also limits it. Nothing says this enclosure needs to take the shape of a rectangle, but the history of Western art, at least, makes the rectangle look like a virtually inescapable anatomical limit. What follows are three episodes in the longue durée of this rectangle, each a moment in which the rectangular format moves into an ascendant position over one curvilinear format or another.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Sakrisoy

Poem: Rachel Hadas, “Departure”

Receive Prufrock in your inbox every weekday morning. Subscribe here.

Post a comment

The Beauty of Invisibility, the Problem with Moral Outrage, and the NBA Ref Who Fixed His Games

“What! Your father wants you to learn the Church Catechism in a school built by the Church of England? How dare he?” (via Wikimedia Commons)

The New York Review of Books has named two editors to replace Ian Buruma (remember him). They are Emily Greenhouse, 32, and Gabriel Winslow-Yost, 33. Daniel Mendelsohn, a longtime contributor, “will assume the newly created role of editor at large.” One of the goals of the duo is to increase the number of pieces written by women for the review, naturally.

The beauty of invisibility: “Akiko Busch is a writer and a swimmer. She teaches environmental writing at Bennington College and seems to live as off the grid as one can in 2019. Much of her writing feels drawn from understated encounters with nature and the pastoral sublime, such as observing water eels in a brook or chopping vegetables in a Hudson Valley home. Her 2009 book The Uncommon Life of Common Objects has an entire chapter devoted to vegetable-peelers. So when her new essay collection, How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency, touches on things like Barbie dolls that can connect to WiFi and smart refrigerators, the reader begins to worry that no one, not even Aniko Busch, can order a new vegetable-peeler online without worrying who’s tracking her and why. In How to Disappear, Busch contemplates how government surveillance, smart technology, and our own desire to be seen have all contributed to a perhaps irrevocable loss of personal privacy. She does this circuitously, eschewing the alarmist and Luddite tropes that encumber many studies of our technology-dependent culture.”

The problem with moral outrage: “Moral outrage is the powerful impulse we feel to condemn bad behavior, and it serves the important role of holding wrongdoers accountable and reinforcing social norms. Yet moral outrage, at least on Twitter and other similar platforms, appears no more effective at reinforcing social norms than it is at driving people to theatrically overreact to the behavior of strangers.”

The internationalist farmers of the American heartland: “The conceit of Kristin Hoganson’s The Heartland: An American History is that Americans have bought into a myth about the middle of their continent: namely, ‘that there is a stone-solid core at the center of the nation. Local, insulated, exceptional, isolationist, and provincial; the America of America First, the home of homeland security, the defining essence at the center of the land.’ A professor of history at the University of Illinois, Hoganson aims to unpack and deconstruct the myth. She does so by telling the story of Champaign County—her own backyard, so to speak—and revealing the myriad ways in which its people and economy, roughly equidistant from Chicago, St. Louis, and Indianapolis, have been anything but local, insulated, isolated, and provincial.”

In praise of America’s new football league: “The Alliance of American Football is great for the not-so-complicated reason that, dorky rule changes or not, it means more football. I can’t think of a better argument than that.”

John Burnside reviews Marlon James’s Black Leopard Red Wolf: “The overall feel is earthy, ribald and very funny, more Rabelais than Tarantino, and this suits the underlying impetus of the novel perfectly. But what is that impetus? Is there some grand moral edifice concealed beneath the myth-making, as in Tolkien’s hierarchical and drearily undemocratic world, or is the aim simply to entertain and provoke some new thinking about what we mean when we talk about Africa?”

Essay of the Day:

In 2007, NBA referee Tim Donaghy resigned after he admitted to betting on games he officiated. But did he also fix them? At ESPN, Scott Eden argues he did:

“James ‘Jimmy’ ‘Bah-Bah’ ‘The Sheep’ Battista was a stressed-out, overweight, Oxy-addicted 41-year-old, in the hole to some underground gamblers for sums he’d sort of lost track of, when he settled in to watch an NBA game for which he believed he’d just put in the fix. It was January 2007. A month or so back, not long before Christmas, he’d done something audacious: He’d sat down and cut a deal with an NBA referee. Now he feared the scheme had become too obvious.

“‘You wanna get paid?’ Battista had said to the ref. ‘Then you gotta cover the f—ing spread.’ The bribe was only two dimes, $2,000 per game — an outrageous bargain. If the pick won, the ref got his two dimes. If the pick missed, the ref owed nothing; Battista would eat the loss. A ‘free roll,’ as they call it. But this referee didn’t lose much. His picks were winning at an 88 percent clip, totally unheard of in sports betting for any sustained period of time. They were now entering the sixth week of the scheme—what you might call a sustained period of time.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Sea foam

Poem: Amit Majmudar, “The Musical Aphasia of Maurice Ravel”

Receive Prufrock in your inbox every weekday morning. Subscribe here.

Post a comment

When Dickens Tried to Institutionalize His Wife, Traffic and Stonehenge, and a Defense of Federal Arts Funding

Via Wikimedia Commons

In case you were wondering: Computers can’t—and will never be able to—create art. “Human creative achievement, because of the way it is socially embedded, will not succumb to advances in artificial intelligence. To say otherwise is to misunderstand both what human beings are and what our creativity amounts to. This claim is not absolute: it depends on the norms that we allow to govern our culture and our expectations of technology. Human beings have, in the past, attributed great power and genius even to lifeless totems. It is entirely possible that we will come to treat artificially intelligent machines as so vastly superior to us that we will naturally attribute creativity to them. Should that happen, it will not be because machines have outstripped us. It will be because we will have denigrated ourselves.”

Stonehenge is one of Britain’s most popular tourist destinations, but the traffic is hell. What to do about it? “What could be a 10-minute ride through the 6,500-acre UNESCO world heritage site in which Stonehenge sits is at peak times an hour-long, bad-tempered grind – a torture to holidaymakers making for Devon and Cornwall, a drag on the economy of the south-west of England and a bane to locals. According to David Bullock, who works for the national road-building agency, Highways England: ‘On Fridays, for a person living in Amesbury, it is quite a torrid affair, if you want to go anywhere.’ But this gridlock is not easily resolved.”

The return of the cassette tape? “Sales are soaring and current stars are releasing tracks on the format… but is anyone actually listening to them?”

In defense of federal arts funding: “Libertarians don’t think the federal government should give money to culture. Conventional conservatives believe that the NEA funds porn, sacrilege, and Communism. Both views are spurious.”

Barry Spurr is named literary editor of Quadrant following Les Murray’s retirement from the post in December.

Essay of the Day:

Did you know that Charles Dickens tried to have his wife institutionalized? In The Times Literary Supplement, John Bowen explains what recently discovered letters reveal about how badly Dickens treated Catherine Dickens:

“The ninety-eight surviving letters by Dutton Cook to his friend and fellow journalist William Moy Thomas (1828–1910), sold at auction and acquired by the Houghton Library in 2014, give a vivid picture of literary life in the 1870s and early 80s. Thomas had worked as a staff writer on Dickens’s journal, Household Words, and like Cook knew the Dickens family well. Cook tells him all sorts of theatrical and literary gossip, of writing for Charles Dickens Jr, and of meetings with Dickens’s daughters Mamie and Katey, from whom he commissioned a painting of his daughter Sylvie. Most importantly, he writes about Catherine, recording a visit she makes to her sister Helen in Cheltenham, giving updates on her illness, and a moving first-hand account of Helen’s funeral, which took place in heavy snow. Cook is there when she receives the telegram with the news of the death of John Forster, Dickens’s closest friend and biographer: ‘She hates him bitterly . . . for he was Dickens’ adviser and agent in all the dirty work of the separation’.

“Above all, the letters give a convincing account of the break-up of the Dickens marriage, evidently directly from Catherine herself, an account that is full of detailed information about Dickens, about Catherine, and about Ellen Ternan. This is surprising, because Catherine had always been exceptionally discreet about what had happened to force her to leave her marital home. But during the final year of her life, she became much more frank about those long terrible months of marital strife in 1857–8. Knowing that she was dying, Catherine felt she had to tell her side of the story. Katey Dickens told George Bernard Shaw that ‘During almost every day of that time she spoke to me, whenever I was alone with her, of my father. All her grievances against him came out’. Katey kept secret much of what she had learned, but she told a little to Shaw and more to her friend Gladys Storey, who eventually published some, after Katey’s death, in Dickens and Daughter (1939). Cook takes us much nearer to the horse’s mouth.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Cortina d’Ampezzo

Receive Prufrock in your inbox every weekday morning. Subscribe here.

Post a comment
← Older posts Newer posts →