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What Do You Do after You Have Free Soloed El Cap?

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Oh, dear. Alex Ross thinks the installation of the shy, gifted, seemingly selfless Kirill Petrenko who now leads the Berlin Philharmonic in performances of popular scores (Beethoven’s Ninth, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth) with “straight-ahead rightness” is problematic because he’s not “eccentric” and exercises too much “control.” You see, Petrenko is not like Polina Korobkova, for example, who apparently alluded to a hand gesture in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks while conducting the “restlessly experimental” E-lec-tri-ci-ty: mystical thriller for ears. Get with the program, Kirill. What else is dear Mr. Ross supposed to write about if you don’t “reshape the repertory” and “attract new audiences” by making political statements or predictably blurring the distinction between high and low culture?

Here’s a wonderfully wry review of Shaun Bythell’s Confessions of a Bookseller, which is a follow-up to his popular Diary of a Bookseller: “There are risks, of course, to having strong opinions about the books you sell. A bookshop owner is unqualified to be a literary critic. It’s more useful to know the distinguishing features of the first edition of The Pickwick Papers than to have read the bloody thing, and it’s always best not to bandy lit crit across the counter. Bythell keeps his commentaries light. Deciding to read Martin Amis for the first time, he tries Time’s Arrow. Impressed by the narrative device of time going backwards, he is inspired to tackle something by Kingsley next. Now Bythell’s first book is to become a television series, his publisher claims, and ironies abound. No doubt a team of writers will be working to beef up Bythell’s on-again-off-again relationship with his American girlfriend and praying that he overcomes his fear of commitment. Hardy folk in cagoules will make pilgrimages to see the fabled proprietor in action. Meanwhile Amazon, which Bythell rails against, continues to provide him with a virtual platform to market his wares (including his ‘Death to Kindle’ mugs) and promote his writing. What Bythell may dislike most is the fact that his book, with its conventional structure and short daily entries, is pretty much perfect for reading on a Kindle.”

Edward Feser reviews Gary Smith’s The AI Delusion: “Sensitivity to pixel arrangements no more amounts to visual perception than detecting the word “betrayal” amounts to possessing the concept of betrayal. The implications of AI’s shortcomings, Smith shows, are not merely philosophical. Failure to see how computers merely manipulate symbols without understanding them can have serious economic, medical, and other practical consequences.”

In praise of Bartolomé Bermejo: “Despite being the most imaginative Spanish painter of the 15th century, and the only one to master the illusionistic techniques pioneered by Jan Van Eyck, Bartolomé Bermejo’s small but spectacular body of work is little known.”

I will be at The American Conservative’s upcoming conversation about the future of the Cathedral of Notre Dame (and the West generally) on September 17th in New York. Hope to see some of you there.

Essay of the Day:

Alex Honnold was the first—and remains the only—person to have climbed El Capitan free solo. What’s next? Life:

“Any great athlete will tell you the urge to redefine your limits doesn’t wane with age. It gets worse, and so conspires against future happiness. Legacies fade, talent diminishes, but the drive to do something great remains. Extreme climbers are so hardwired for the quest that for many, the only way forward is to die on a mountain. Everything else is prelude. In the book The Impossible Climb, Tommy Caldwell, one of Honnold’s childhood heroes who later helped him train for El Cap, tells author Mark Synnott, ‘It’s hard to say this, but I think Alex will probably just continue doing this until he dies.’

“Today Honnold is alive and 34 years old. After Free Solo‘s release, he went on a seven-month victory lap. At the Oscars, Bradley Cooper sought him out to chat. At an after-party, Alex and Sanni saw Mahershala Ali heading their way. Sanni was so eager to meet the actor that she tossed her hors d’oeuvres on the floor to shake his hand. Honnold toured the country, hit the late-night talk shows, gave speeches, chatted with Julian Edelman about training, spent months in hotel rooms, rode the New York subway, retained his unkempt look — charcoal hair uncombed and angular and subtly punk — and again and again tried to answer honestly when asked, ‘What’s next?’

“The answer, for Honnold, might be more difficult and mysterious than holding himself thousands of feet off the ground. What’s next is to begin a life. A real life, with Sanni and all the blessings and trappings that will give him more to lose on a rock than just his own existence — a life that in some ways begins the orange July morning I arrive in Tahoe, when Honnold has finally moved out of the van and woken up for the first time in his new house.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Matera

Poem: Cheryl Follon, “Mud”

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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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