Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

The Religion of Sociology, the Code of the Western, and a Literary Map of the UK

Also: Max Weber today, salt mines, and more.

Max Weber today: “Max Weber (1864–1920) is out of style. To the Left, his apologia for Western civilization makes him a worthy artillery target. To political scientists, he is the architect of ‘modernization theory’: the notion, now discredited by the rise of China, that the growth of a middle class brings democracy. And to the Right, Weber is a carrier of moral wasting disease, the importer-in-chief of cultural relativism to America. It is about time for a reappraisal, and an excellent opportunity has been provided in the form of Keith Tribe’s new translation of Weber’s masterpiece, Economy and Society  (Harvard University Press)…Weber’s nightmare America is the opposite of the daydream we find in Tocqueville. There is plenty here in the way of ammunition for the new populists of the Right: the notion that regimes depend on more than economics, for example, or the critique of American officialdom and the politics of the city. But there is also much that should give these thinkers pause. It should not surprise us that Weber doubted that an upstart figure could return politics to the people.”

Warning: If you click on this link, you may not get any work done today: A literary map of the United Kingdom. “In the early morning of November 16, 1940, a German air raid laid waste to great parts of Bournemouth, killing fifty-three people and damaging more than 2,000 properties in three separate areas of the city. One of the houses that fell to the German bombs was Skerryvore. From 1885–7, this house was owned by Robert Louis Stevenson, who relocated to the Victorian coastal town in the hope of restoring his health.”

Knausgaard meets Munch: “George Bernard Shaw on Henrik Ibsen, Vladimir Nabokov on Nikolai Gogol, Henry Miller on Arthur Rimbaud, Nicholson Baker on John Updike: we are familiar with the genre in which authors write appreciatively about an admired predecessor, usually another writer but sometimes, as in So Much Longing in So Little Space, an artist of a different kind. We expect such books to be at least as much about the author as the subject, and Karl Ove Knausgaard does not disappoint here. What he gives us in essence is an account of what it is like to be a man writing a book about being a man who – somewhat to his own surprise, one suspects – has been invited to curate an exhibition of paintings by one of the world’s most famous artists.”

The limitations of Paul Gauguin’s late work: “Even without the myth of a man scorning bourgeois comfort and wealth to pursue his aesthetic vision all the way to the exotic climes of French Polynesia, Paul Gauguin may still have become an important artist who influenced the course of Modernism. But would he have become quite so famous? Gauguin is inextricably joined to those final island years in Tahiti and the Marquesas, with his flat but brightly colored portrayals of the free-love paradise he claimed to have found. The brilliance of Gauguin’s legend is in no small part that he created it himself, carefully crafting and diligently maintaining it with the 19th century equivalent of a well-caressed social media presence. That a factual basis behind the myth is thin doesn’t deter curators, since the man’s art justly remains a big draw at museums. San Francisco’s de Young Museum is showing Gauguin: A Spiritual Journey, through June 23, 2019. It is the first major Gauguin showing in that city and is almost entirely made up of works from Copenhagen’s Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, which needed to clear space for a major exhibition of their own. Rather than put their collection into storage, the Copenhagen curators sent it to San Francisco, to the great benefit of West Coast art-lovers. Calling the exhibition ‘A Spiritual Journey’ is a bit of a stretch, but the visitor does have a chance to see a chronicle of a very good painter determined to reinvent himself until something worked.”

Sociology has become a religion, and it “venerates the victim of oppression,” Alexander Riley argues.

Essay of the Day:

In Commentary, Terry Teachout explains why the Western is so resilient:

“An important reason for the survival of the Western is that it has proved to be unusually adaptable to changing times and sensibilities. Younger filmmakers continue to find fresh ways to make their traditional plots reflect modern attitudes and concerns, and younger viewers continue to embrace the genre with the same relish as did their parents and grandparents.

“One of the most significant examples of creative adaptation in the history of Western movies was the release of Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, a 1969 film that appeared to break decisively with tradition both in its graphic portrayals of violence and in its setting and subject matter. It takes place not in the 19th century but in 1913, long after the closing of the American frontier, and it portrays a gang of aging outlaws who are attempting—without success—to grapple with the coming of modernity. In The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, a Revolution in Hollywood, and the Making of a Legendary Film, W.K. Stratton tells how it came to be made and how it fit into the ‘new wave’ of Hollywood moviemaking that began two years earlier with Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate. Stratton provides a casually written but carefully researched account of the making of one of the key films of its time. In so doing, he also helps to show how Westerns have managed to maintain their firm hold on the imaginations of American moviegoers.”

Read the rest.

Photos: Salt mines

Poem: Hailey Leithauser, “I’ve Been Busy”

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