Everyone hates Jonathan Franzen, Kevin Power writes in The Dublin Review of Books, and does so with impunity. “Jonathan Franzen is arrogant. He is privileged. He is mediocre. He is also – to step backwards in time and quote the author of a lengthy Medium essay (‘Jonathan Franzen: The Great American Misogynist’, 2015) – a misogynist: ‘For years,’ this author writes, Franzen has ‘slathered his white maleness across the pages of such venerable publications as Harper’s and The New Yorker,’ and his books – the products of a ‘rich male life’ (perhaps not quite les mots justes, but never mind) – deserve only to be caricatured.” The problem is that the “opprobrium heaped on Franzen by the online literati” has “very little to do with his actual work.”
Velvet Buzzsaw’s satire of the contemporary art world is not nearly absurd enough.
David Mamet’s new play, Bitter Wheat, about Harvey Weinstein and starring John Malkovich will run in London’s Garrick Theatre from June 7 to September 14.
John Stuart Mill, a not so secular saint: “To both his progressivist heirs and his conservative critics, John Stuart Mill is a secular saint, a priest of the triumphant modern moral order. Whether he is being celebrated or vilified, the 19th-century philosopher is portrayed as a paragon of rational enlightenment who, paradoxically, inspires ardent devotion to the sacred autonomy of the individual. The real story of this Victorian character turns out to be more complicated, and Timothy Larsen’s brief new biography challenges such caricatures without devolving into polemics.”
Simon Critchley visits Plato’s Academy in Athens: “Plato’s Academy is now a public park in a not particularly nice part of town. It is just next to Colonus, Sophocles’ birthplace and, according to the legend he helped to invent, the final resting place of Oedipus. The day was cool and sunny, but the previous 48 hours had been filled with storms, strong winds and intense rain. As I entered the park from the south, the ground was muddy with large puddles. My boots slipped and slid underfoot as I made my way past a man talking loudly on a cellphone in what I think was Bengali. A couple were playing in the distance with their dog. There was an empty playground and a rather nice gravel area for playing pétanque, which is apparently popular with the locals. It was also deserted.”
Swansea University announces “decolonized” English course: “In tune with calls to study fewer dead white males, university announces new module focused on ‘hyper-contemporary’ International Dylan Thomas prize.” How about we get rid of universities, too, which were all built by dead white males?
Mark Skousen reviews Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge’s Capitalism in America.
Emily Esfahani Smith reviews a new translation of Theophrastus’s Characters: “Civilization may be 2,400 years older, but human nature is apparently much the same.”
Essay of the Day:
In Longreads, Brian J. Boeck writes about the rise of the writer Mikhail Sholokhov in Stalin’s Russia:
“Between April of 1926 and September of 1927 Mikhail Sholokhov performed a literary miracle. Never before — and never again — would a similar feat be accomplished. During those incredible months he managed to generate hundreds of typed pages of some of the most engaging prose ever to appear in Russia, a country blessed with Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, and numerous other gifted writers. On an epic scale he narrated events that occurred in far-flung trenches of World War I, distant centers of power, and revolutionary meetings. He described multiple historical figures he had never met, and he painted vivid verbal pictures of battles that took place when he was still a boy. Brief periods of mad, feverish writing were sandwiched between moves, multiple trips to Moscow to meet with editors, and the birth of his first child.
“His literary output during those months exponentially exceeded the accomplishments of his whole career up to that point and most decades of his career afterward. The improvement in quality was incredible. None of his colleagues wept with rapture when they read his early, formulaic, communist short stories. Early editors sometimes had to apply a heavy, corrective hand just to get some of them into print. Suddenly seasoned editors were in awe of his prose. Even more mind-boggling is the fact that this rapid, unexpected literary metamorphosis occurred at the age of twenty-two.”
Photo: Devil’s Bridge
Poem: Frederick Turner, From “A Japan Journal”
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