by James Panero
THE NEW CRITERION’S PRECIS FOR JANUARY, 2003:
He is an intellectual has-been, a radical historian, an unrepentant Communist in post-Cold-War Europe. Yet for his new memoir INTERESTING TIMES, Eric Hobsbawm has received near unanimous acclaim across the pond. One might wonder why.
In the January issue of The New Criterion, David Pryce-Jones exposes the Continent’s latest folly. (For details on how to download an advance PDF of this important article, "Eric Hobsbawm: lying to the credulous," see below.) Contributors to the January number also include Brooke Allen on Samuel Pepys, Roger Kimball on Roger Scruton and the West, Jeffrey Meyers on Lionel Trilling, Hilton Kramer on H. L. Mencken, Anthony Daniels on Ivan Illich? and much, much more. Read on!
* "Notes & Comments" (page 1): "Annals of transgression," on the case of a suicide mistaken for performance art; "Brave new world watch" on gender-benders and the latest front in identity politics; "Stuck in the 1960s" on the "Borking" of Henry Kissinger.
* "Why the West?" (page 4): Upon the publication of Roger Scruton’s THE WEST AND THE REST, Roger Kimball discusses the recent horrors of Nigeria’s Miss World Pageant, the clash of civilizations, and the pleonasm of enraged Muslims: "Of course, this seems like--indeed, it is--business as usual these days. Rampaging Muslims, fatwas, and denunciations of the West as ’the Great Satan’ aare a familiar fact of life. They have been at least since the late 1980s when the Ayatollah Khomeini ventured into literary criticism and pronounced a death sentence on Salman Rushdie because someone told him that THE SATANIC VERSES was blasphemous. What is odd, what is significant, is how normal this deeply abnormal state of affairs seems to us now."
(On a different note, from today’s WALL STREET JOURNAL, we include at the bottom of this post a copy of Roger’s article on Christo’s papering of New York’s Central Park?)
* "Eric Hobsbawm: lying to the credulous" (page 9). David Pryce-Jones explains the history behind the historian: "Eric Hobsbawm is no doubt intelligent and industrious, and he might well have made a notable contribution as a historian. Unfortunately, lifelong devotion to Communism destroyed him as a thinker or interpreter of events. Such original work as he did concerned bandits and outlaws. But even here there is bias, for he rescued them from obscurity not for their own sake but as precursors of Communist revolution."
(We have placed an advance, full-text PDF file of David Pryce-Jones’s article at a special address on our website. We invite you to download it now [315K-case sensitive]: http://www.newcriterion.com/HOBSBAWM.pdf)
* "The irrepressible Samuel Pepys" (page 14). Following the lead of Claire Tomalin’s new book SAMUEL PEPYS: THE UNEQUALLED SELF, in this charming article Brooke Allen rescues the culture’s primogenitor memoirist (Pepys’s DIARY was written between 1660 and 1669) from the dustbins of postmodern history: "What prompted this obscure but rising young clerk to undertake this odd project? Why did he write, and for whom? For himself alone? For posterity? Though he wrote it in shorthand and kept its existence a secret during his lifetime, he must have believed that the DIARY would be read after his death, for he didn’t destroy it, as he did many other papers and documents; indeed he took good care of its six volumes, binding them expensively and leaving them, along with his other books, to Magdalen College, Cambridge."
* "Lionel Trilling & the crisis at Columbia" (page 23). Drawing from an unpublished interview made with Trilling in the heady days of May 1968, Jeffrey Meyers redeems Lionel in the ashes of the Columbia riots and the riotous fulminations of his wife Diana: "During the most important political engagement of his life, he tested his ideas in the cauldron of reality. Diana Trilling, in her long account of the crisis called ’On the Steps of Low Library’ (1968), focused on her own reaction, ignored Lionel’s role in these events, and said:’my husband was still at the University, doing whatever it was that the faculty was then doing, or trying to do.’ The unpublished Oral History interview explains what he did."
* A new poem by Mary Jo Salter (page 29).
* Theater: "Running on empty" (page 35). Mark Steyn goes to Caryl Churchill’s FAR AWAY ("Is Miss Churchill the first absurdist with ADHD?") and visits the revival of OUR TOWN.
* Art: Karen Wilkin jets between Barcelona and New York and finds greatness in the late work of Anthony Caro (page 40).
* Music: "New York Chronicle" (page 46). Jay Nordlinger is variously astonished by the performances of three violinists: Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Maxim Vengerov, and Hilary Hahn. Then he’s off to the Met’s AIDA. "Concert Notes" (page 50). Patrick J. Smith takes a look at the San Francisco Opera’s performance of Messiaen’s SAINT FRANCOIS D’ASSISE and at Osvaldo Golijob’s PASION SEGUN SAN MARCO.
* The media: "`Media bias’ revisited" (page 54). James Bowman casts an amused glance on institutional claims of unbiased reporting of the Augusta Nationals, and then some.
* Books: Terry Teachout THE SKEPTIC: A LIFE OF H. L. MENCKEN reviewed by Hilton Kramer (page 59);
--Norman Podhoretz THE PROPHETS reviewed by Hadley Arkes (page 62);
--Charles Baudelaire COMPLETE POEMS reviewed by Eric Ormsby (page 67);
--Niklas Holzberg OVID: THE POET AND HIS WORK reviewed by Gerald J. Russello (page 71);
--Stephen Wolfram A NEW KIND OF SCIENCE reviewed by James Franklin (page 73);
--Wilfred Blunt LINNAEUS: THE COMPLEAT NATURALIST reviewed by Guy Davenport (page 76).
* Notebook: Anthony Daniels remembers the life and work of Ivan Illich (1926-2002) (page 78).
FORTHCOMING IN THE NEW CRITERION:
Why I became a conservative, by Roger Scruton; The achievement of Aldous Huxley, by John Derbyshire; Stephan George, by John Simon; "Matisse Picasso" at MOMA, by Karen Wilkin; Simon Raven, by Brooke Allen; and new poems by Daniel Mark Epstein.
* A thank you to everyone who has contributed already to The New Criterion end-of-year fundraising drive. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, The New Criterion relies on your support. If you have yet to receive our fundraising letter, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* The Editors of The New Criterion are pleased to announce that Charles Tomlinson is the winner of the third annual New Criterion Poetry Prize. His book SKY-WRITING AND OTHER POEMS will be published by Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, in the fall of 2003.
* The New Criterion collection SURVIVAL OF CULTURE (Ivan R. Dee) is now available. Orders for the book and the accompanying video may be placed online at www.newcriterion.com.
* For a free digital look at portions of the January issue, please do not forget to visit the website at http://www.newcriterion.com. The January issue will post on the first of the month.
* As Charles Dickens writes in "Doctor Marigold’s Prescriptions": "My best wishes for your merry Christmases and your happy New Years, your long lives and your true prosperities. Worth twenty pound good if they are delivered as I send them. Remember? Here’s a final prescription added, ’To be taken for life.’ " Might we offer another prescription? How about a year’s subscription to The New Criterion! The magazine makes a great gift. Subscription orders and gift orders can now be placed on the website at www.newcriterion.com/constant/scrib.htm
* And... from today’s WALL STREET JOURNAL:
"It’s a Wrap: Husband And Wife Bamboozle NYC"
By ROGER KIMBALL
In some ways, Christo Javacheff is the ideal artist for the Christmas season. At least, he is the ideal artist for the Christmas season in the postmodern age. The fellow wraps things, you see. It’s almost as if he were presenting a gift (the Christmas part), but it always turns out that the gift is a joke -- a joke on the viewer (the postmodern part).
It’s nice work if you can get it. Christo (like certain pop figures, he is known by a single name) started off in the heyday of pop art wrapping bottles and other small objects. That was in the 1960s. By the 1980s, he had graduated to wrapping bridges, buildings, even stretches of coastline.
Any Joe can wrap a couple of bottles, trot down to Chelsea, and find a gullible, or avaricious, art dealer willing to hawk ’em as art. It takes a kind of genius to wrap the Pont Neuf in Paris or the Reichstag in Berlin -- not artistic genius, but genius nonetheless.
That is where Christo’s wife and partner Jeanne-Claude comes in. She is the entrepreneurial and organizational brains of the team that identifies itself as "Christo and Jeanne-Claude." Her great triumph has been in getting her own activities baptized as an integral part of the artistic process. She haggles with French bureaucrats, it’s art; she negotiates with German politicians, it’s art; she pays a bill, it’s art. It’s one thing to tell a mere manager or businessman that his latest scheme is pure banana oil, completely ridiculous, in fact, and a public nuisance to boot. Who wants to be caught talking to an artist that way?
Christo and Jeanne-Claude make quite a team. They claim to have been born on the same day in June 1935. They live in New York now, but they met in Paris, he a refugee from Bulgaria, she "the socialite daughter of a French general," as their press releases invariably put it.
I am told that about two million people will read this newspaper. The fact that most readers will know who Christo is, will know that he wrapped the Pont Neuf and the Reichstag, is a testimony to the effectiveness of Jeanne-Claude’s public-relations machine. It is formidable. One of Christo’s projects involved placing thousands of 20-foot-tall umbrellas in a picturesque spot in California. When a strong wind uprooted one and it smashed into a tourist and killed her, the artist’s grief at the news was somehow woven into the artwork, absolving him, in the sophisticated precincts of elite opinion, of any taint or responsibility.
Back in the early 1980s, Christo and Jeanne-Claude approached New York with the idea of planting along the walkways of Central Park some 15,000 metal gates, each with a swath of translucent saffron-colored fabric.
After a long and bitter fight, "The Gates" was defeated. The original budget for the scheme was about $5 million. Xto and J-C (the artists’ logo) pay for their projects themselves, recouping the costs, and then some, through the sale of Christo’s drawings and models. Still, some observers thought it obscene that the project would cost about $1 million more than the entire maintenance budget for Central Park. And why, after all, should the pair be allowed to capitalize on a public space for private profit? Then there were the environmental concerns: What would all that material do to the trees and landscaping of the park? And what about the public? Perhaps it wanted to be able to enjoy Central Park straight, unmolested by the massive intrusion of Christo’s "statement."
Good luck. In 1981, when "The Gates" looked dead, Christo said "The park is not going anywhere. . . . I intend to do this project." He knows how to bide his time. None of the original objections have really been answered. Nonetheless, earlier this month a scaled-down version of "The Gates" -- 7,500 gates instead of 15,000 -- was approved by the Central Park Conservancy. The project awaits approval by the parks deppartment, but that is considered a done deal since Michael Bloomberg, New York’s mayor, is keen on the idea. Mr. Bloomberg does not want you to smoke. He wants another hefty chunk of your income in taxes. But he plans to compensate with lots of public art. It’s a 21st-century version of "Let them eat cake."
So look for Christo’s latest extravaganza come February. You won’t have to look hard: 7,500 saffron-colored banners will be hard to miss. The good news is that "The Gates" will be littering Central Park for only two weeks. Andy Warhol once remarked that "Art is what you can get away with." Christo shows how right he was.
by James Panero
E-mail to friend
by James Panero
THE NEW CRITERION’S PRECIS FOR DECEMBER, 2002:
A cold snap hits town. Seasons greetings are here. And The New Criterion delivers a special gift for the holidays: a greatly expanded section on art. Contributors to this important issue include Alex Katz, Hilton Kramer, E.V. Thaw, Michael J. Lewis, Roger Kimball, James Panero, Karen Wilkin, Eric Gibson, Daniel Kunitz, and Mario Naves? But first, some words of encouragement from Roger Scruton (writing in today’s Wall Street Journal):
"... It is one of the great merits of America’s conservative movement that it has seen the need to define its philosophy at the highest intellectual level. British conservatism has always been suspicious of ideas, and the only great modern conservative thinker in my country who has tried to disseminate his ideas through a journal -- T.S. Eliot -- was in fact an American. The title of his journal (the Criterion) was borrowed by Hilton Kramer, when he founnded what is surely the only contemporary conservative journal that is devoted entirely to ideas. Under the editorship of Mr. Kramer and Roger Kimball, the New Criterion has tried to break the cultural monopoly of the liberal establishment, and is consequently read in our British universities with amazement, anger and (I like to think) self-doubt."
Thanks Roger! In the spirit of St. Augustine: "Tolle lege! Tolle lege!"
* Notes & Comments (page 1): "Tenured adolescents" on Professor Peter N. Kirstein versus the United States Air Force Academy; "Meanwhile, at Cornell?" on the university’s health service consideration of whether to sell vibrators in its dispensary.
* Special art section--
--"Starting out" (page 4). Alex Katz looks back on becoming a painter: "The challenge for me has been to paint a painting thatt could elicit the impact of art I received looking at great paintings. To response I experienced looking at great paintings. To engage in primary structures of novelty art was, for me, a cop-out."
--"Does abstract art have a future?" (page 9). Hilton Kramer considers the fate of abstraction: "I think there is a reason whyy the place occupied by abstract art is now so radically diminished not only on the contemporary art scene but in cultural life generally. At least I have an hypothesis as to the cause or causes of the diminished power and influence that abstraction has suffered since the acclaim it met with and the spell it cast in the 1960s."
--"The art of collecting" (page 13). With two of collections on view at major New York institutions this season (The Metropoliitan Museum and the Morgan Library), E. V. Thaw states his defense: "But what to do or to say about the sadly diminished reputation of the art collector, both private ones and museums as collectors, in our peculiar times? What was once a prestigious and admired activity, thought to have public benefits for education and aesthetic pleasure, has now become a dirty word, joining the denigration of both ’connoisseurship’ in the study of art history, and the concept of ’quality’ as applied to the art of the present?. If the collector is seen to spend a large sum on a Degas or a Pollock, somewhere criticism is likely to flow that the money would have been better spent on a neighborhood youth center or the battle against AIDS."
--"Art History, Oxford style" (page 17). Jean-Baptiste Greuze? Never heard of him. William Hogarth? Barely worth mentioning. MMichael J. Lewis explicates the bizarre Oxford History of Art: "In appearance and format these books are as conventional as can be. The casual reader, flipping through the 150 or so photographs, would have little inkling that the series represents a defiant challenge to ’the elitist, connoisseurial approach of the past.’ But this becomes abundantly clear at the table of contents, which radically rejects chronology as a basis for ordering information. Instead, chapters are arranged thematically, according to such collective abstractions as nature, community, and money (in Dell Upton’s ’Architecture in the United States’) or gender, aesthetics, and deconstruction (in Donald Preziosi’s ’Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology’). Here is no opportunity for ’grand narrative,’ or indeed for any narrative at all."
--"Architecture & ideology" (page 22). If architecture is a one-party system, Roger Kimball enters central headquarters. At thhe invitation of Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the Yale University School of Architecture, Kimball delivers the keynote address for the symposium "Eisenman, Krier: Two Ideologies." He sees the blueprints for disaster: "There is a mocking quality to some of the images on view in this exhibition; there is certainly a mocking quality in some of the architectural visions that the exhibition represents; but it is a mockery directed outward, toward the viewer, toward the public, not inward toward the maker. The great social theorist Phineas Taylor Barnum is alleged to have remarked that ’There’s a sucker born every minute.’ Although a proof of this proposition awaits definitive formulation, ’Eisenman, Krier: Two Ideologies’ deserves an honored place in the annals of corroborative incident."
--"Bonnard’s butterflies" (page 32). From "hideous" to "the greatest among us," for one hundred years Pierre Bonnard has confoounded the world of art. On the occasion of a new exhibition at The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, James Panero considers the great painter’s slow metamorphosis: "Few artists from the first half of the twentieth century have created such a stir in the second. His reversal of fortune from obscurity and critical disdain to the ranks of one of France’s great masters in the eyes of some and an artist with undeniable mass appeal speaks to the strength and longevity of his work. It also points to a slow evolution in the history of taste, a shift in cultural priorities that only now may be coming to light."
--"Adolph Gottlieb" (page 36). On the occasion of "Adolph Gottlieb: A Survey Exhibition" at the Jewish Museum, New York, Karenn Wilkin explores the new show and remembers her own relationship to the artist: "Gottlieb’s loft in a former bank building on the Bowery was the first important downtown artist’s studio I ever visited. It made a big impression on a teenager raised on the Upper West Side, even more than his next, more luxurious, two-floor living-studio on West Broadway, which I visited as an adult. Gottlieb was notably kind and generous to me, first when I was a student, and later, a fledgling curator. I had the privilege of going around his last New York show with him, when he was confined to a wheelchair after suffering a stroke in 1970, and listening to his diffident comments on a group of sensuous, ambitious paintings that showed no sign of debility."
--"The writings of Henry Moore" (page 41). Drawing on HENRY MOORE: WRITINGS AND COVERSATIONS, by Alan Wilkinson (University off California Press), Eric Gibson appreciates the "down-to-earth" approach and "workmanlike" prose of the great sculptor’s commentaries on art: "’It is a mistake for a sculptor or painter to speak or write very often about his job,’ cautioned Henry Moore in 1937, relatively early in his career. ’It releases tension needed for his work.’ Strange, then, that over the next fifty years (he died in 1986 at eighty-eight) Moore was to prove one of the most voluble of artists."
* New poems by Chelsea Rathburn (page 41).
* Theater: "No vital sparks" (page 50). Mark Steyn sees the New York theater season go out with a whimper: "A gloomy OKLAHOMA!, an unfunny BOYS FROM SYRACUSE, a kitsch FLOWER DRUM SONG: even Rodgers’ many enemies would not wish him a centenary year like this."
* Dance: "Fight club" (page 55). Baryshnikov by Tharp? Tharp by Jacobs? New Criterion dance critic Laura Jacobs goes after Tharp for MOVIN’ OUT--and finds the choreographer bow-legged.
* Art: "Gallery chronicle" (page 58). Daniel Kunitz reviews "Robert Ryman: New Paintings" at PaceWildenstein, Elmer Bischoff: Paintings" and "Paul Resika: Paintings" at Salander-O’Reilly, and "Jeff Wall: New Work" at Marian Goodman Gallery. "Exhibition note" (page 62) Mario Naves takes delight in "Masterpieces of European Painting from the Toledo Museum of Art," now on view at The Frick Collection, New York.
* Music: "New York chronicle" (page 64). Jay Nordlinger appreciates the glamour of Anne-Sophie Mutter more than her music. Also, reviews of the Guarneri String Quartet, Jose van Dam at Alice Tully Hall, and Berlioz’s DAMNATION DE FAUST by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.
* The media: "They still don’t get it" (page 69). James Bowman takes in the positive gloss on the Washington sniper case. Read one headline: "5 Shooting Victims. Reflect Mongomery [County]’s Growing Diversity."
* Verse chronicle: "The real language of men" (page 73). William Logan reviews BOOK OF MY NIGHTS by Li-Young Lee, NOW THE GREEN BLADE RISES by Elizabeth Spires, SOURCE by Mark Doty, EARLY OCCULT MEMORY SYSTEMS OF THE LOWER MIDWEST by B.H. Fairchild, THE NERVE by Glyn Maxwell, and MOY SAND AND GRAVEL by Paul Muldoon.
* Books: Gordon Corrigan WELLINGTON: A MILITARY LIFE and Andrew Roberts NAPOLEON & WELLINGTON: THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO AND THE GREAT COMMANDERS WHO FOUGHT IT reviewed by Victor Davis Hanson;
--B.R. Myers READER’S MANIFESTO: AN ATTACK ON THE GROWING PRETENTIOUSNESS IN AMERICAN LITERARY PROSE reviewed by Mark Bauerlein;
--Constance Brown Kuriyama CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE: A RENAISSANCE LIFE reviewed by Paul Dean;
--W. S. Merwin SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT: A NEW VERSE TRANSLATION reviewed by John J. Miller;
--Dave Eggers YOU SHALL KNOW OUR VELOCITY reviewed by Max Watman
FORTHCOMING IN THE NEW CRITERION
* Why I became a conservative, by Roger Scruton; Who reads H. L. Mencken now? By Hilton Kramer; The achievement of Stephan George, by John Simon; Anthony Caro, by Karen Wilkin; The world of Samuel Pepys, by Brooke Allen; Does Eric Hobsbawm write history? By David Pryce-Jones; A new kind of Science? By James Frankin; Ovid today, by Gerald Rusello; Paul Valery, by Joseph Epstein.
* For a free digital look at portions of the December issue, please do not forget to visit the website at www.newcriterion.com. The December issue has just posted.
* The New Criterion collection SURVIVAL OF CULTURE (Ivan R. Dee) is now available. Orders for the book and the accompanying video may be placed online at www.newcriterion.com.
* Michael Dirda names Roger Kimball’s new book LIVES OF THE MIND a top-ten book for the holidays! From The Wasington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A48792-2002Nov27.html).
( AHR-mah wih-ROOM-kweh)
In the Aeneid, the Roman poet Virgil sang of "arms and a man" (Arma virumque cano). Month in and month out, The New Criterion expounds with great clarity and wit on the art, culture, and political controversies of our times. With postings of reviews, essays, links, recs, and news, Armavirumque seeks to continue this mission in accordance with the timetable of the digital age.
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