The Spanish Stonehenge, the Last Botticelli, and FDR’s Faith
Good morning, everyone. First up, we have two stories on nature playing the archeologist. A drought in Spain has made visible a “circle of megaliths hidden beneath a reservoir”: “Angel Castaño, who lives near the reservoir and serves as the president of a Spanish cultural group, told the website The Local, ‘We grew up hearing about the legend of the treasure hidden beneath the lake and now we finally get to view them.’” Also, Dorian unearthed a few Civil War cannonballs in South Carolina.
In other news: Maybe Frank Lloyd Wright wasn’t a megalomaniac after all, but does it matter? “In 1957, while in New York supervising the construction of the Guggenheim Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright agreed to be interviewed on television by journalist Mike Wallace. By this time, Wright was 90 years old, the author of several hundred buildings, and a global celebrity—one who played the role of the uncompromising artist to the hilt. About 10 minutes in, Wallace noted that a younger Wright had proclaimed that he would be the greatest architect of the 20th century. Had he reached his goal? Wright denied that he had ever said such a thing. Wallace pointed out he had said it on the record, multiple times. Outflanked (for once), Wright partially backed down. ‘You know, I may not have said it, but I may have felt it,’ he told Wallace. ‘But it’s so unbecoming to say it that I should have been careful about it. I’m not as couth as I’m generally reported to be.’ Not as couth: was this a calculated note of false modesty, laid on to charm (as was Wright’s habit), or was it something closer to candor? In his new book, Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright, Paul Hendrickson pushes back against the idea that Wright’s famous arrogance crowded out all feelings of shame, regret, humility, or sadness. Behind the superstructure of his ego, vulnerability was always ‘ghosting at the edges,’ Hendrickson writes.”
Will “conservatives in government ever succeed in developing a cultural policy,” Roger Scruton asks, “and if so what form could it take?”? “There are those who say that culture is no business of the state. But in an era when the state has taken charge of education, so as to degrade it in the interests of its egalitarian agenda, it is no longer possible for conservatives to take that simple line. We need to develop our own urbanist curriculum, our own conception of what should be taught in schools of architecture, our own conception of how new settlements should be laid out, and of the ways in which the built environment should be adapted to the community that grows in it. We need to make a comparative study of the planning regimes that have produced places where people flourish, and of the regimes which produce places where they decline. And we should be bold enough to choose between them. In all this we should remember the most important fact, which is that towns, villages and cities are shared spaces. They contain buildings that are privately owned. But those buildings should be acceptable to everyone who has to live with them.”
FDR’s faith: Conrad Black reviews A Christian and a Democrat: A Religious Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Is a Botticelli to be sold next month at the Frieze Masters the last in private hands? “Billed, like that much-restored Leonardo, as the last fully-accepted painting by the artist left in private hands, Botticelli’s depiction of the Greek-born poet and soldier Michele Marullo Tarcaniota (1453-1500) will be offered by the London dealership Trinity Fine Art next month at the Frieze Masters fair. This austerely monochromatic head-and-shoulders portrait had been on loan to the Prado, Madrid, for some 12 years since 2004. It has been consigned for sale by the Spanish collector Dona Helena Cambo de Guardans and her family, who are hoping for a price of at least $30m, according to Carlo Orsi, the owner of Trinity Fine Art.”
Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesserevisited: “The hedonism and amorality of Bonjour Tristesse is of a most artistically proper kind. Morality, and its absence, is the novel’s defining theme: in this sense, Sagan is far more of a classicist than others of her existentialist brethren, such as Sartre and Camus. Certainly, she concerns herself with the twentieth-century problem of personal reality, of the self and its interaction with behavioral norms, but in Bonjour Tristesse those norms are as much psychic as they are societal. Cécile, a motherless seventeen-year-old whose permissive, feckless father has provided the only yardstick for her personal conduct, offers Sagan a particularly naked example of the human sensibility taking shape. Cécile’s encounters with questions of right and wrong, and with the way those questions cut across her physical and emotional desires, constitute an interrogation of morality that is difficult to credit as the work of an eighteen-year-old author. What is the moral sense? Where does it come from? Is it intrinsic? If not, does that discredit morality itself? These are the questions that lie at the heart of Sagan’s brief and disturbing novel.”
Essay of the Day:
In Nautilus, Julie Sedivy writes about losing her father and her first language:
“Several years ago, my father died as he had done most things throughout his life: without preparation and without consulting anyone. He simply went to bed one night, yielded his brain to a monstrous blood clot, and was found the next morning lying amidst the sheets like his own stone monument.
“It was hard for me not to take my father’s abrupt exit as a rebuke. For years, he’d been begging me to visit him in the Czech Republic, where I’d been born and where he’d gone back to live in 1992. Each year, I delayed. I was in that part of my life when the marriage-grad-school-children-career-divorce current was sweeping me along with breath-sucking force, and a leisurely trip to the fatherland seemed as plausible as pausing the flow of time.
“Now my dad was shrugging at me from beyond— ‘You see, you’ve run out of time.’
“His death underscored another loss, albeit a far more subtle one: that of my native tongue. Czech was the only language I knew until the age of 2, when my family began a migration westward, from what was then Czechoslovakia through Austria, then Italy, settling eventually in Montreal, Canada. Along the way, a clutter of languages introduced themselves into my life: German in preschool, Italian-speaking friends, the francophone streets of East Montreal. Linguistic experience congealed, though, once my siblings and I started school in English. As with many immigrants, this marked the time when English became, unofficially and over the grumbling of my parents (especially my father), our family language—the time when Czech began its slow retreat from my daily life.
“Many would applaud the efficiency with which we settled into English—it’s what exemplary immigrants do. But between then and now, research has shown the depth of the relationship all of us have with our native tongues—and how traumatic it can be when that relationship is ruptured. Spurred by my father’s death, I returned to the Czech Republic hoping to reconnect to him. In doing so, I also reconnected with my native tongue, and with parts of my identity that I had long ignored.
“While my father was still alive, I was, like most young people, more intent on hurtling myself into my future than on tending my ancestral roots—and that included speaking the language of my new country rather than my old one. The incentives for adopting the culturally dominant language are undeniable. Proficiency offers clear financial rewards, resulting in wage increases of 15 percent for immigrants who achieve it relative to those who don’t, according to economist Barry Chiswick. A child, who rarely calculates the return on investment for her linguistic efforts, feels the currency of the dominant language in other ways: the approval of teachers and the acceptance of peers. I was mortally offended when my first-grade teacher asked me on the first day of school if I knew ‘a little English’—‘I don’t know a little English,’ was my indignant and heavily accented retort. ‘I know a lot of English.’ In the schoolyard, I quickly learned that my Czech was seen as having little value by my friends, aside from the possibility of swearing in another language—a value I was unable to deliver, given that my parents were cursing teetotalers.
“But embracing the dominant language comes at a price. Like a household that welcomes a new child, a single mind can’t admit a new language without some impact on other languages already residing there. Languages can co-exist, but they tussle, as do siblings, over mental resources and attention. When a bilingual person tries to articulate a thought in one language, words and grammatical structures from the other language often clamor in the background, jostling for attention. The subconscious effort of suppressing this competition can slow the retrieval of words—and if the background language elbows its way to the forefront, the speaker may resort to code-switching, plunking down a word from one language into the sentence frame of another.
“Meanwhile, the weaker language is more likely to become swamped; when resources are scarce, as they are during mental exhaustion, the disadvantaged language may become nearly impossible to summon. Over time, neglecting an earlier language makes it harder and harder for it to compete for access.”
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