Southern Barbecue Today, Brexit Novels, and Murder in American Fiction
The descendants of Kaiser Wilhelm II are suing the state to reclaim palaces and artworks: “The biggest prize up for grabs is the right of residence in Cecilienhof Palace near Berlin, site of the 1945 Potsdam Conference. The Tudor-style mansion, which boasts 176 rooms, six courtyards and 55 fireplaces, was the last Prussian palace built by the Hohenzollerns. It was there that the victorious Allied leaders, US president Harry Truman, British prime minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, decided the shape of a post-war world . . . Family representatives and cultural foundations have held secret negotiations on their compensation and restitution demands since 2013, sometimes in Angela Merkel’s chancellery building.” I like pulling for the underdog. I hope they get everything back.
John Shelton Reed surveys Southern barbecue today. Can “folk” barbecue survive haute fusionism? “In a 1953 essay in Diogenes, Dwight Macdonald wrote about folk culture, high culture, and popular culture. I suggest that there are now corresponding sorts of barbecue.”
Brexlit—mostly novels that deal with Britain’s leaving the European Union—has one distinguishing feature: self-indulgent indignation. “Thus, Times best-selling author and Guardian columnist Olivia Laing’s Crudo introduces the reader to her alter ego, Kathy, engaging in an apocalyptic rant about the state of the post-Brexit world . . . Laing’s Kathy is ‘avant-garde, middle-class-in-flight’, but she ‘did not like the bourgeoisie’. Now a forty-something successful but impeccably progressive writer, she commutes between London, Rome and New York, attending literary conferences. Although living the literary high life, Kathy hates ‘living at the end of the world’. Anticipating the coming apocalypse: ‘she was fairly certain that by the time she was an old lady they’d be eating out of rubbish dumps, sheltering from a broiling impossible sun. It was all done, it was over, there wasn’t any hope.’ Like liberals everywhere, ‘she missed Obama. Everyone missed Obama. She missed the sense of time as something serious and diminishing. She didn’t like living in the permanent present of the id’, despite the fact that Kathy serves up nothing but the angry id of liberal narcissism.”
Midge Goldberg reviews Rhina Espaillat’s latest collection of poetry, And After All: “‘Without you,’ Rhina Espaillat says, ‘all of time is cut in two.’ The best poems in Espaillat’s new book, And AfterAll, are about grief. Espaillat lost her husband, Alfred Moskowitz, in 2016, and in many of these poems grief permeates the varied aspects of life. It’s easy for poems about loss to be sentimental, overwrought, or overly personal, but these poems draw us in through their natural, conversational language [and] exquisite, restrained formal poetic craft.”
Is modernism disenchantment? Like many folks, Gabriel Josipovici thinks so: “Pinpointing exactly when this disenchantment occurred is a complex, almost impossible task. Josipovici suggests that the Marburg debate between Luther and Zwingli over the substantial presence of Christ in the Sacrament might be a milestone of creeping secularization. Luther, despite being such a firebrand in certain matters, was a solid denizen of the old world, in which God worked directly upon reality turning the bread and wine of the Eucharist literally into the flesh and blood of Christ. Zwingli found the notion laughable. By Josipovici’s definition, Zwingli was a modernist, at least in spirit. Luther was not. In literature the earliest expressions of the modernist impulse come from Cervantes and Rabelais, whose awareness of the absence of cosmic authority force their writing into comical self-referentiality.” Well, maybe. Or maybe disenchantment has always been with us, and there is no milestone. Still, Josipovici’s latest novel sounds interesting. Read the rest of Scott Beauchamp’s review here.
In praise of Decca Records: “Decca’s history is inextricably bound up with that of its founding director, Sir Edward Lewis, who persuaded a successful gramophone manufacturer of that name to move into the record business. Shares in the new company began trading in February 1929, and that they survived the subsequent Depression and went on to establish a formidable artist roster in the 1930s was in no small part due to Lewis’s abilities and perseverance. In January 1980, weeks before his death, he sold the company to the Dutch conglomerate PolyGram, after which its historic studio in West Hampstead was closed and its pressing plant and head office building disposed of. Although the Decca name has since been retained through several corporate buyouts, some might argue that the real story ended with Sir Edward.”
Essay of the Day:
What do murders in American fiction tells us about murder in America—and how Americans think about guilt and innocence, agency and fate? Algis Valiunas risks an answer in National Affairs:
“We Americans are fascinated by murder. It leads every local newscast; it fills hour after hour of television entertainment and packs them in at the movies. It has been the subject of novels and plays by important writers — a way into understanding our national temperament and state of mind.
“Where does this fascination come from? Ours is essentially a middle-class country, and Hegel and Rousseau wrote that the bourgeois is defined by his fear of death, especially violent death. We have grown accustomed to living peaceable and comfortable lives. And as the world remains a dangerous place, we naturally fear losing our peace, our comfort, and our lives.
“The nature of the danger — the direction from which unexpected death comes — has changed over time, or at least the work of some of our best writers suggests it has. That change has affected how we think and feel about chance, fate, desire, individual responsibility, and the general condition of our civilization. It would appear our vulnerabilities as a people are laid most bare in the tales we tell about murder, and the evolution of our best-drawn fictional murderers may have much to tell us about the direction in which American life is headed.”
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