A few weeks ago, I reported that a French law requiring Notre-Dame to be rebuilt to look as it did before the fire was passed. That law has created a new agency, The Art Newspaper reports, that will oversee the construction: “The law has created a new agency with vast and wide-ranging powers to be in charge of coordinating and managing the entire operation. It will also receive all the funds raised by national and international subscriptions; manage all work to the immediate surroundings of the cathedral; establish training programmes for the restorers; implement information programmes to educate the public about the conservation process, and establish a scientific council to advise on the key choices that will have to be made. Half of the new agency’s board will be representatives of the French government, but the City of Paris and the Church will also be represented. The main decision-making figure will be its chairman, appointed by decree, who is most likely to be General Jean-Louis Georgelin, a battle-hardened veteran, former head of the joint chiefs of staff of the French armies, and, until 2016, in the powerful position of chancellor of the order of the Légion d’Honneur, the top French order of merit. General Georgelin will report directly to the president and supervise the entire operation.”
Jay Parini reviews Ian Sansom’s “difficult-to-classify” biography of W. H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939”: “When he turns periodically to the poem at hand, he’s remarkably good at describing the verse in technical (but not too technical) terms, and he gives us a broad sense of the kind of man behind the poem, dipping into biography again and again, but never systematically. There is nothing systematic about his book, which consists of bits and pieces, quotes from other authors, reflections on Sansom’s own life in relation to Auden’s, as well as fiercely intelligent readings of individual lines and stanzas. For me, the book’s best moments are when Sansom is most critical of Auden: ‘Auden had a tendency throughout his career to reflect upon and attempt to solve and explain problems using the simplifying logic of the child.’ That is bold but accurate, though it also points to a strength in Auden that has always struck me: his ability to speak in abstract terms in a way that seems memorable in part because it has a childlike simplicity, one that can seem naive but nevertheless strikes at truth.”
Charles Fain Lehman reviews Katherine Eban’s Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom: “It is rare that adjectives like ‘fast-paced’ or ‘thrilling’ describe a nonfiction book about the regulation of generic drugs. But these are appropriate descriptors for Bottle of Lies, the latest from investigative journalist Katherine Eban. Released in May, Bottle of Lies is a globally sourced, immaculately reported look at the effects of offshoring America’s generic drug supply. In it, Eban documents the rise and fall of one India-based pharmaceutical firm, Ranbaxy Laboratories; the whistleblower who brought them down, former Ranbaxy employee Dinesh Thakur; and the Food and Drug Administration investigators who fought both Indian and American bureaucracy to hold Ranbaxy accountable for fraud on a global scale.”
Work ruined email. Can Yahoo—yes, Yahoo—save it? Ian Bogost reports: “Most popular email software, including Gmail and Outlook, is built for enterprise use first, which infects home email with the Sisyphean despair of the office. That’s finally changing, thanks in part to Yahoo and AOL, two old-school internet icons sold off for parts after newer tech darlings overtook them. Harnessing a legacy as consumer companies, they hope to wrest email from work’s oppressive grip by redesigning it for use at home.”
“80% of books published 1924-63 never had their copyrights renewed and are now in the public domain.” More.
Mary Anne Carter confirmed as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts: “Prior to her appointment, Carter had little experience in the arts. She was a chief policy adviser to Florida Senator Rick Scott when he was serving as governor and is the founder and president of MAC Research, Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in political and public affairs.”
Arshile Gorky in Venice: “He’s better than Pollack, and the Ca’ Pesaro exhibit of his mystical work makes for a nice break from the Biennale on the other side of town.”
The Thinker’s right foot: “In one of his two major statements on The Thinker, when he recalled moving from his original concept of Dante in earflaps to something more universal, Rodin wrote: ‘I conceived another thinker, a naked man; seated upon a rock, his feet drawn under him, his fist against his teeth, he dreams.’ The sequence here—the rock, the feet, the fist, the teeth, the dream—implies that thinking, as Rodin conceived of it, emerges from the feet and moves upward and inward. I looked carefully at The Thinker’s right foot, how the big toe slides under the adjacent, sheltering toe to get a better grip.”
Essay of the Day:
In The Hudson Review, Kevin Honold writes a long, meandering, but lovely essay on the value of history and accounts of the Huron Nation:
“History is not an American pastime. This is partly due, I think, to the fact that history has long been presented to schoolchildren as a thing from which they are meant to draw ‘lessons,’ as though history were a series of unfortunate incidents involving hot skillets and monkey cages, which, in some ways, I suppose it is. The past is something that maladjusted people ‘dwell on,’ after all. ‘The belief that history has a present use when properly read,’ wrote Jacques Barzun in From Dawn to Decadence, ‘is a mark of the modern temper; whole periods and peoples have done quite well without it,’ and that seems true enough. Remembrance is morbid, unprofitable. It’s impractical, impolite in certain company. And plainly, we survive whether we record our deeds and disasters for posterity, or we don’t.”
* * *
“Scattered up and down the Ohio, Scioto, and Miami river valleys, the sites of historical significance were long ago effaced by tractor and leveler. Here and there, a roadside marker bears the name of a trading post or a treaty site or a vanished Shawnee town. Beyond the sign may be an onion field or a deserted lot or a busy street corner, and the passerby who bothers to read the sign might try to reimagine the scene. It’s difficult to do. Modern society has re-created the land in its image, and the land seems to have turned inward, like a prisoner that’s been tormented and beaten but still refuses to talk.
“Heraclitus made the curious observation that Nature loves to hide. History, too, loves to hide. The closer you look at the land, the more it conceals, and so the past becomes an unlikely, semi-mythical, at times unintelligible place. Only shadows and erasures and faint prints remain of the life that this land’s first inhabitants knew.
“When I was a kid, I was aware of the presence of ghosts. I had an inborn talent for paying attention, which compensated in a small way for my ignorance. Then, sorrow and love were indistinguishable, and together these constituted a kind of key to a passing knowledge. I mean to say that, innocent of judgment, I was permitted to listen and to look. Things lay unconcealed to me then that are now hidden in plain view. I’m older, lazy, judgmental; the key is lost.
“When I was a kid, history books had this in common with the moon at two in the morning: both had a way of making me feel as though I were the only soul in the world who was watching.”
Poem: David Mason, “The Birthday Boy”
Receive Prufrock in your inbox every weekday morning. Subscribe here.