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The Limits of Theory, Hollywood and China, and the Man Who Became Dr. Seuss

Thomas Nast, "Peace in Union" (1865), via Wikimedia Commons

John Poch gives literary theory a tad too much credit in this essay at America, but his overall argument that the primary value of literature is found in its beauty, which is the product of the expertise of the artist, is spot on: “At its worst, theory exposes dirty secrets, aiming to show the failings of the author, the text or the world around us. It tattles on bad behavior according to the current worldview. Theory can lead to a kind of false superiority (look how racist those other people were) or even schadenfreude, the morose delight in seeing others suffer. Sometimes, the critic or scholar may end up merely subverting the text for the sake of subverting the social order. This technique is valuable to some, a kind of religion made of tearing down institutions and canons. In some perverse way, the reader/critic becomes intellectually superior to the writer (which is hardly ever true of any young student of literature, that he or she is more astute than the authors they study.) . . . In the 21st century, human rights are more codified and recognized than ever. With these human rights come power to the individual and limits on authority. Civil disobedience is permitted, even championed. Ultimate authorities are checked and balanced, hopefully, to allow individuals freedom and mobility. Yet mere anarchy is a threat to the individual as well. Everyone needs protection. We must negotiate how authorities both defend and exploit us.”

The Simpsons is approaching the end of its 30th season. It should have ended twenty years ago.

Amazon wants to pay big American publishers who use “affiliate links” to expand overseas, Peter Kafka reports: “Amazon already pays internet publishers that refer shoppers to the company via ‘affiliate links’ embedded on their site, but it thinks that business could grow significantly if US publishers had more readers outside of America.” Over at National Review, Michael Auslin writes about Chinese pressure on America media companies to censor critical or unfavorable representations of China. Amazon hasn’t bowed to China yet, but if its Chinese market share increases, will it?

The man who became Dr. Seuss: “While it is a standard biography in general terms, Jones goes above and beyond to contextualize Geisel in the larger picture at every moment of his life. This makes Becoming Dr. Seuss a fascinating read that discusses the origin of the humorous, simple rhymes, bizarre creatures, and magic that characterized Geisel’s books while also showing the author’s more radical side as an unemployed wanderer who abandoned his doctoral studies, a successful advertising man, and a political cartoonist.”

A hidden Cupid in Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Windowwas discovered during restoration work on the painting. The “figure—which dominates the upper right section of the picture—was overpainted long after the artist’s death.”

The Bard and Bollywood: “Hindi cinema has a deep and abiding love affair with Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare’s tragedy of star-crossed lovers has been adapted in at least six Bollywood films in the last seven years, from 2012’s Love Rebels (Ishaqzaade) to 2018’s Heartbeat (Dhadak).  And audiences like them: A Play of Bullets: Ram-Leela (Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela) was India’s fifth highest-grossing film of 2013, and Wild in Love (Sairat) is still the highest-grossing film ever produced in the Marathi language. What has the Bard to do with Bollywood? And why the much ado about Romeo and Juliet?”

A Reader Recommends: Stephen Blair recommends Harriet Beecher Stowe’s lesser-known novel Oldtown Folks, “a coming of age tale about how religion in New England shortly after the Revolution created a society with little vice or crime.”

Essay of the Day:

Did Robert E. Lee commit treason? Allen C. Guelzo revisits Lee’s surrender and the events afterward in Athenaeum Review:

“Given Ulysses Grant’s reputation for demanding surrender without the offer of any mitigating conditions, Lee had every reason to worry that a surrender demand from Grant would be the prelude to a bloody purge which would make the Jacobins look spineless. Lee had plainly dreaded the possibility that Grant ‘would demand unconditional surrender; and sooner than that,’ he warned, ‘I am resolved to die. Indeed we must all determine to die at our posts.’ Great was the relief on all Confederate hands when Grant’s terms turned out to be surprisingly mild: ‘the officers and men surrendered to be paroled and disqualified from taking up arms again until properly exchanged, and all arms, ammunition and supplies to be delivered up as captured property.’ This was not because Grant was suffering from a burst of irrational generosity. Although Lee could not have known this, Grant’s headlong pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia from Petersburg had run out to the end of its supply tether, and if Grant could not convince Lee to surrender then, Lee might have easily taken the advice of his nephew, Fitzhugh Lee, and resumed the Confederate flight to Lynchburg and thus forced Grant to break off pursuit. ‘I was in a position of extreme difficulty,’ Grant admitted, ‘I was marching away from my supplies, while Lee was falling back on his supplies. If Lee had continued his flight another day I should have had to abandon the pursuit, fall back to Danville, build the railroad, and feed my army. So far as supplies were concerned, I was almost at my last gasp when the surrender took place.’

“Grant also had to bear in mind Lincoln’s anxiety about the political impact of a prolonged war. Although Lincoln had once referred in passing to Lee (along with John C. Breckenridge, Joseph E. Johnston, and Simon B. Buckner) as ‘well known to be traitors then as now,’ he was, in 1865, more interested in seeing traitors flee into exile than end up in courts where they could, like John Brown, make martyrs of themselves. Besides, ‘if Lee had escaped and joined Johnston in North Carolina, or reached the mountains,’ Grant admitted, ‘it would have imposed upon us continued armament and expense’ and Lincoln had specifically warned him that ‘the country would break down financially under the terrible strain on its resources.’ They might not have been the ideal terms, but they were, in Grant’s estimate, ‘the best and only terms.’ There would be no death-march to prisoner-of-war camps, no Roman triumphs, and above all, no treason trials – at least for Lee’s men.

“Or that, at least, was how it seemed until the night of April 14th, when Lincoln was assassinated in his box at Ford’s Theatre. Denunciations of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee as traitors, and fit subjects for treason proceedings, then ascended like shell-bursts. ‘What has General Robert Lee done to deserve mercy or forbearance from the people and the authorities of the North?’ the Boston Daily Advertiser shrilly demanded. ‘If any man in the United States—that is, any rebel or traitor—should suffer the severest punishment, Robert E. Lee Should be the man.’ Chief among those baying for blood was John Curtiss Underwood, who had been appointed a federal district judge for the Eastern District of Virginia in March, 1863, and who would become Robert E. Lee’s particular bête noire.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Farmhouse on the slopes Grmada Hill

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about the author

Micah Mattix is the literary editor of The American Conservative and an associate professor of English at Regent University. Follow him on Twitter.

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