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

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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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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