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Quite simply, the best cultural review in the world
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The Spiritual Home of the Hudson River School

by James Panero

Posted: Jul 22, 2014 05:00 PM

South Facade of the main house at Olana by Stan Ries 2009

South Facade of the main house at Olana. Photo: Stan Ries

The spiritual home of the Hudson River School is Olana, the homestead of Frederic Church, located on a 250-acre hilltop outside Hudson, New York. Thanks to the long-term efforts of the Olana Partnership, Church's theatrical house, designed by Church and Calvert Vaux in a colorful blend of Middle-Eastern styles, joins the grounds in a remarkable state of preservation. With sweeping views of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains, Olana is best appreciated in summer, when it feels like you are walking inside a lush nineteen-century landscape.

Bell Tower, south view of river from inside Bell Tower - Photo by Andy Wainwright

Bell Tower, south view of river from inside Bell Tower. Photo: Andy Wainwright

In the 1960s, after a two-year campaign to save it from developers, Olana passed from the Church family to the shared public-private stewardship of New York State and what is now The Olana Partnership. Church's art and artifacts remained in situ, making it one of the country's most well-preserved artist residences, and certainly the most singular. Since then the Olana Partnership has worked tirelessly to bring the ornate polychromed building back to its original splendor. It has also sought to restore the overgrown grounds and preserve the viewshed of this historical perspective on the Hudson.

Court Hall, Main House Olana - Photo by Andy Wainwright 2004

Court Hall, Main House Olana. Photo: Andy Wainright

The next steps for Olana will be to turn the house back into a home and working farm—a home for the ideals of Church, a living destination emerging from a relic, with all the living sights and smells. The Olana Partnership have done a remarkable job restoring and preserving the soul, the permanent collection, the house and grounds. Now the task is to reveal it as a living beacon of art, culture, and preservation. View of the Main House from Across the Lake photo by Melanie Hasbrook - Copy

View of the Main House from Across the Lake. Photo: Melanie Hasbrook

Some thoughts on the house and grounds: Today the building is approached from a parking lot at the top of the hill behind it. This gives the sense that you are visiting an artifact and not a home. The access road also has cars cutting across the property and through the viewshed. By depositing people at the top, in back, they are less likely to explore the grounds below. This current parking lot could be converted into a site for a much-needed respite and watering hole while car parking could be relocated down the hill, encouraging people to explore the grounds, walk up, and approach the main house from the front. Olana could also offer a trolly to the top, adding to the charm of the landscape. The house museum should also be arranged, if possible, to accommodate visitors who choose to experience it outside of the small, wonderful, but often sold-out docent-led tours (which now need to be booked in advance).  

View from Crown Hill, Olana photo by Melanie Hasbrook

View from Crown Hill, Olana. Photo: Melanie Hasbrook

Finally, I would love to see more involvement with contemporary artists. What a thrill it must be for artists to engage with these 250 acres. There could be residencies. I would be fascinated to see how artists working in a range of practices interpret the context of Olana: from the abstract artists of Bushwick to realist-revival painters to classical and modern dancers. They could mix on the hillsides with farmers, walkers, preservationists, children making crafts—a living tableau.

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Dispatches from Tanglewood: No.1

by Eric C. Simpson

Posted: Jul 22, 2014 03:01 PM

Edward Gardner, leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra on 7.18.14; photo by Hilary Scott, viaBSO

I was wary going into the Boston Symphony Orchestra's Friday night concert at Tanglewood, which featured Edward Gardner as the conductor and the baritone Thomas Hampson as the guest artist. Hampson has lately not been sounding as secure as he once did, and Gardner led some uninspired and even shaky performances in New York this past year.

Their collaboration, the first of Aaron Copland's two sets of Old American Songs confirmed those fears. In Hampson there were hints in places of a once-great baritone, but technical problems held him back. His diction was foggy, and he wasn't nimble enough to weave through the folksy filigree. His middle voice, though a little on the dry side, was solid and compact, but as he ranged higher he shied away from the sound. Gardner struggled to keep the ensemble united during several of the songs—“Simple gifts” was nowhere near together, and Hampson seemed inexplicably intent on shouting his way through it.

In his encore Hampson did his best singing of the night, snatching a beautiful performance of “At the river” from Copland's second set. Here was the voice that late we knew—full, even, smooth, with mellow tone, sensitive phrasing, and crisp diction

Beethoven's Seventh has always seemed to me a brilliantly peculiar piece. In its introduction there is no hint of the glorious heroicism nor of the raucous play that is to follow. The opening is a vision of entropy: constantly expanding energies, beginning with spacious chords scored for full orchestra and followed by cascades of ascending scales, rushing to fill infinite space.

And then out of nowhere comes the movement's main theme, first a coy strain from an oboe, but then a full-forced, heroic gallop. All of this needed more energy, more momentum than Gardner gave it. Taken a little faster, the introduction actually tends to breathe more, growing out of itself more naturally. Still, this was a commendable effort that captured the piece's boisterous glee.

The second movement, the most familiar from this symphony, is another peculiarity. It's the most sober of the four and serves de facto as the piece's “slow movement” —but it's marked “Allegretto” (not that that marking is often obeyed). Gardner's tempo was middle-of-the-road, but his interpretation was not dull for that. He achieved somber simplicity, enveloping the listener in sound and pacing the music so that it grew slowly but inexorably.  The finale, too, was finely wrought, with a constant sense of forward drive. Personally, I like the coda to feel as though it might fly off the rails at any moment, but Gardner kept his hand on the rein—his ending thrilled nonetheless.


The young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons will become the BSO's Music Director with the start of the 2014-15 season, ending the long and trying interregnum created by James Levine's illness and subsequent departure. Nelsons pulled a Stokowski on Saturday night—he put the marquee piece, Brahms's Symphony No. 3, on the first half. There was no clear reason for doing so, and if the odd ordering didn't make the program top-heavy, it was only because Nelsons's Brahms left something to be desired.

The snags that dragged the piece down were all most present in the opening Allegro con brio. The piece opens with cascading chords, suggesting massive waves breaking over rocks. The orchestra had plenty of volume, but a sense of awe was missing. The playing was sleepy, and thinly textured, to boot—what we heard was barely allegro, and distinctly lacking in the prescribed brio.

Fortunately, all parties sprung to life for the second half. The Swedish composer Rolf Martinsson's Trumpet Concerto No. 1, “Bridge,” got a first-rate performance from Håkan Hardenberger, who premiered the piece in 1999.

This is a fascinating and riveting concerto. It has a strong voice, and its influences are hard to pinpoint—at one moment you think it sounds Russian, and at the next you'll swear you heard a snatch of Ravel. The writing is stunningly vivid, venturing in places towards gooey Romanticism in the strings, while virtuosic, jazzy licks pepper the solo trumpet part.


I'm going to have to borrow a phrase from a friend to describe Sunday afternoon's concerto, Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole: “violin-music.” That is, showy or trifling pieces for the violin that are perfectly enjoyable but lack artistic depth, surviving mainly on the star appeal of the performer. Put into this category the works of Pablo de Sarasate, Henryk Wieniawski, and Henri Vieuxtemps. It's the sort of technically demanding, flashy repertoire on which many young violinists cut their teeth before moving on to material that has a respected place outside of the world of the violin.

Joshua Bell is the sort of violin rock-star who can sell out a hall performing pieces like this. In fact, I have often found in the past that his particular style of flamboyant playing, replete with rubato and portamento, is more suited to violin-music than it is to the works of the masters. He should be—and usually is—a perfect fit for this five-movement show-concerto.

Well, on Sunday Bell just didn't seem himself. He started off in his regular fiery vein, gnashing his way through the opening statement and running away from the orchestra early in the first movement. He was a cool customer thereafter, the one time I've ever found myself wishing that he would take another liberty or three. The third movement, a seductive little number that used to be cut in most performances (“Because it is vulgar,” as the late, great violin teacher Ivan Galamian once put it), seemed downright stiff.

Beethoven's fifth seemed an odd choice for a sunny Sunday afternoon, but no matter—Any chance to hear this piece is a gift. It's a work so masterful that it can withstand any over-interpretation a conductor might throw at it; or, as was the case with Nelsons (again on the podium), under-interpretation. That's not to say that this was not a considered and formidable performance—it was both. But I couldn't help wanting “more.”

The first movement needed to be more explosive to achieve its arresting, terrifying effect. The same went for the third movement, that wonderfully odd scherzo, and for the finale, which could have gone a few clicks faster.

The jewel of this performance was the Andante. Beethoven didn't always come up with the most inspired melodies (his genius was in what he could do with form), but the tune that serves as the first of this movement's themes might just be his loveliest. Nelsons showed masterful control here, keeping a meticulous balance that allowed supporting voices to make their presence clearly felt. Perhaps most importantly, the orchestra sounds absolutely gorgeous under his baton—a welcome sign for a group that has been in sore need of strong leadership.

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Critic's Notebook for July 21, 2014

by Brian P. Kelly

Posted: Jul 21, 2014 08:08 AM

Sign up to receive “Critic's Notebook” in your inbox every Monday—it only takes a few seconds and it's completely free! “Critic's Notebook” is a weekly preview of the best to read, see, and hear in culture, compiled by the editors of The New Criterion.

This week: A fresh look at Dickens’s London, a website decodes Dante, and a visit to Frederic Edwin Church’s home.

Fiction: Life Drawing by Robin Black (Random House): Owen and Augusta have recently moved to a farmhouse far from the hustle and bustle of Philadelphia. When Allison moves in next door, Augusta quickly befriends her. Tensions arise, however, when Allison’s twenty-year-old daughter returns home and instantly takes an interest in Owen. Augusta’s past infidelities and the reappearance of Allison’s abusive ex-husband escalate the situation as the families search for the peace and tranquility they hoped to find by moving to the countryside.  BPK

Nonfiction: The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London by Judith Flanders (Thomas Dunne Books): The life and work of Charles Dickens are cast in a new light in this overview of Victorian London. Diving into the history and composition of a variety of neighborhoods, Flanders examines everything from water systems to cemetaries to eplore Dickens’s life in London and the city’s influence on his writing. BPK

Poetry: The Princeton Dante Project: Here is one of the best poetry resources on the web: The Princeton Dante Project. Created by the Dante scholar Robert Hollander, it offers the complete works of Dante in Italian and English, audio of the entire Comedia read in Italian, and an extensive critical apparatus, including commentary dating back to Boccaccio. And it’s free!  DY

Art: Olana: At the spiritual heart of the Hudson River School is Olana, the homestead of Frederic Church, located on a 250-acre hilltop outside Hudson, New York. Thanks to the long-term efforts of the Olana Partnership, Chuch's theatrical house, designed in a colorful blend of Middle-Eastern styles, joins the grounds in a remarkable state of preservation. With sweeping views of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains, Olana is best appreciated in summer, when it feels like you are walking inside a lush nineteen-century landscape.  JP

Music: Mostly Mozart’s free preview concert (Saturday): The Mostly Mozart Festival returns to Lincoln Center and will begin in earnest next week. This Saturday, though, you can catch their annual "free preview concert" at Avery Fisher Hall. Louis Langrée leads the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra in Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique and the final scene from Gluck's Don Juan. The program opens with the unforgettable overture to Mozart's Don Giovanni. Ticket's will be distributed at the Avery Fisher Hall box office on a first-come, first served basis beginning at 10:00 AM on Saturday. ECS

Other: Jacob’s Pillow: Jacob's Pillow, the legendary summer dance festival founded in Becket, Massachusetts by Ted Shawn in 1933, has had a steller start to 2014. In "Ballet 2014," directed by principal dancer Daniel Ulbricht, several stars of the New York City Ballet explored the romance of pas de deux in contemporary works, followed by the "three to two" of Jerome Robbins's "Fancy Free." This week Dorrance Dance continues its sold-out run of tap as the Mark Morris Dance Group arrives on the main stage at the Ted Shawn Theatre.  JP

From the archive: The anatomy of murder by Theodore Dalrymple, February 2003: Considering murder in literature and life.

From our latest issue: Down the Rabbit hole by Carl Rollyson: A review of Adam Begley’s new John Updike bio.

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In Case You Missed It

by Christine Emba

Posted: Jul 18, 2014 11:50 AM

Links of interest from the past week:

Books are alive
Ned Resnikoff, The Baffler

Carter Cleveland says art in the future will be for everyone
Carter Cleveland, Wall Street Journal

School for a scoundrel
Bettany Hughes, The New York Times

Wagner’s Anti-Semitism Still Matters
James Loeffler, The New Republic

Virginia Woolf's idea of privacy
Joshua Rothman, The New Yorker

From our pages:

To encroach upon a mockingbird
Jasmine Horsey

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Don’t forget the music (Tchaikovsky didn’t)

by Jay Nordlinger

Posted: Jul 17, 2014 12:06 PM

Ruslan Skvorstsov and Maria Alexandrova of the Bolshoi Ballet; Source: Ian Gavan/Getty Images Europe 

This month, the Bolshoi is a guest of the Lincoln Center Festival. When I say “the Bolshoi,” I mean the opera and ballet companies, complete with orchestra and chorus. Last night, the appropriate forces performed Swan Lake at the Koch Theater.

Of course, New Yorkers get Swan Lake a lot, courtesy of the American Ballet Theatre. And those Swan Lakes are mainly very good. It’s sometimes easy to overlook your home company, and thrill to the foreign visitor. This applies to other spheres as well.

Think of a university—where an assistant professor may have little chance of promotion, because he’s just “good ol’ Tom.” He may be very attractive to another campus, however. And think of the girl next door, lissome—who may be overlooked in favor of the temptress from an exotic locale.

A Swan Lake from the Bolshoi ought to be good, yes? This is the storied Moscow company, performing the core of the core repertory—by Tchaikovsky, the core ballet composer, and a Russian, of course. Much of art can be an expectations game.

I touched on this subject in my “Salzburg Chronicle” last October. I said that a Verdi Requiem, conducted by Muti, with a top orchestra, a top chorus, and top soloists, ought to be good. And this performance was in the Verdi bicentennial year, to boot. The audience was primed for a great, or even historic, experience. Did they get one? No, they got a flop. But I could understand if they weren’t quite willing to accept this.

In my chronicle, I wrote,

Bear with me a second: In the next few days, I came upon a display of gingerbread men at an open-air market. Austria is known for its gingerbread. The cookies looked fantastic. I picked the best-looking one and bit into it. It was stale. No good. But, for a split second, I could see how I might will it good. It was supposed to be good. The expectations game is very important, too important, in music and other spheres of life.

Well, I will not keep you in suspense: Last night’s Swan Lake from the Bolshoi was, in fact, very good.

Ballet is primarily a dance experience, not a musical experience. But I should leave the dancing in more expert hands and comment on the music—which is not unimportant, after all. It is very important.

The quality of the orchestra makes a big difference in a ballet, I think. Would you rather have good dancers and a poor orchestra than poor dancers and a good orchestra? I’m sure. But some nights, I'm not so sure. Bad playing can easily mar a night of ballet.

Here in New York, our ballet orchestras are often snickered at. This snickering is not entirely fair: The orchestras can do themselves proud (and the conductor is a factor). But on many a night, the snickerers have a point.

The Bolshoi Orchestra is what you might call a real orchestra—not a ballet orchestra, but an orchestra orchestra. Last night, they were conducted by Pavel Sorokin, who was accomplished. And the first thing you noticed about the orchestra, or I noticed, was that they were loud. Confident, unafraid, present. The ballet orchestras I’m familiar with tend to be reticent, muted. They accompany rather than play.

Swan Lake is one of the great Romantic scores, and it is not mere accompaniment. An orchestra should feast on it, along with the dancers. There are many excellent solo opportunities in the orchestra, especially for woodwinds (which is typical of Tchaikovsky). A Swan Lake needs a good Odette/Odile, but what about the oboist?

The Bolshoi Orchestra was not immaculate, far from it. Many entrances were poor—beyond poor, wretched. As the dancers are expected to be precise and unified, so should the players. There was some unfortunate splatting in the brass. Etc.

Some of the graceful, flitting, pliant sections should have been more graceful, flitting, and pliant. There was a bias toward the blunt. The Pas de quatre—those four cygnets—was a little heavy. By the way, do you know Earl Wild’s piano transcription of this piece? It is one of his best—to hear him play it, go here.

Continuing with last night: Grand, noble sections could have been grander and nobler. These sections tended to be too fast, unsavored. But I remind myself: A ballet conductor does not necessarily have a free hand. There are balletic restrictions. On a concert podium, the conductor (if he can) rules.

The orchestra was never better than in the “foreign dances”: the Hungarian dance, the Spanish dance, and so on. These were really distinctive—set apart from the score at large. And there was genuine menace in the black swan’s music.

From first act to last, this Swan Lake had its underlying musicality and vitality. The orchestra surely has an effect on the dancers, for good or ill. Music, dancing, scenario, choreography—they blend into one experience.

I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the better Swan Lake gets—the more brilliant Tchaikovsky gets. Age cannot wither this work, not custom stale her. Did you notice, above, that I called Swan Lake “one of the great Romantic scores”? That was a stupid hedge. A weaselly qualification. Swan Lake is one of the great scores, period.

Two years ago, I wrote a little piece called “Up with Tutus: Ballet music—one man’s evolution.” It concluded,

Some ballet music, I still contend, is beyond hope. During its recent season here, the American Ballet Theatre put on Le Corsaire, whose score is cobbled together from five composers . . . Act I is like a parody of ballet music, invented by ballet-haters. But Swan Lake? Honestly, I could see and hear it once a week. Probably twice.

Well, how about The Nutcracker, that silly seasonal standard? Let me quote another piece—about Rodion Shchedrin, the Russian composer:

Once, he was asked what he was prepared to listen to, right that second. He replied that he was always prepared to listen to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker—“because each and every section of the score is a masterpiece.” That is a very rare declaration for a modern composer to make. Even those who believe it—who know it’s true—would shrink from saying it.

As long as I am quoting, I’m going to quote Thomas P. Griesa—not an arts-world figure but a judge. A federal judge here in New York, and a longtime friend of The New Criterion. For many years, he has been going to the opera and the ballet. His wife, Chris, is an ex-ballerina (though still graceful). I have heard him say, “A mediocre night at the opera is better than a mediocre night at the ballet. But a great night at the ballet—that beats everything.”

In my view, we had such a night last night.

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To Encroach Upon a Mockingbird

by Jasmine Horsey

Posted: Jul 16, 2014 03:37 PM

Harper Lee; Photo Credit: Katy Winn/Corbis, via

The release of The Mockingbird Next Door, a long-awaited biography of celebrated novelist Harper Lee, was clouded on July 14th when Lee issued the following statement: “Rest assured, as long as I am alive any book purporting to be with my cooperation is a falsehood.” Lee’s words came despite author Marja Mills’s assertion that the biography was written with the full support of Lee and her sister, Alice. 

Though Lee is notoriously media-shy and never published again after her 1960 masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird, Penguin Press has repeatedly defended the authenticity of the biography. “After decades of silence the sisters were ready to share their stories with a trusted listener,” the dust jacket reads. “Mills was given an astounding gift when Alice and Nelle invited her into their lives.”

The emphasis is on consent. With a comforting narrative voice, Mills paints herself as the opposite of an investigative journalist. She is self-effacing, venerating the Lees for their erudition, and recalls the year she spent living next door to the sisters with humility and respect. Yet in a public rebuff, Lee said that when she discovered Mills’s intention to write a biography, she “[left] town whenever [Mills] headed this way.”

Public opinion will surely jump to Lee’s defense: the eighty-eight-year-old author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that is often cited as the pinnacle of the American literary canon, Lee has gained admiration for her reluctance to step into the media fray. This most recent statement is also not the first time she has denied involvement with the biography. Back in 2011, when Penguin first announced they had acquired the rights to publish Mills’s book, Lee denied any involvement. In response, Mills produced a letter signed by Lee’s sister Alice assuring the book had been written with their compliance. It is difficult to find any sort of transparency in the case—whether Lee gave consent and then decided to retract it, whether Lee’s sister Alice gave consent in her place, whether Alice at 100 years old was not in a position to give this consent, or whether Marja Mills is truly crafting an elaborate lie.

Usually it isn’t particularly eyebrow-raising for a biography to be written without the subject’s explicit consent. Society has become accustomed to knowing the minutiae of celebrities’ lives both through traditional biographies and now, thanks to the Internet, short-form pieces and viral rumours that can be easily accessed online. Yet the way Penguin and Marja Mills have marketed this book, which is to claim it is an intimate portrait of a woman who willingly invited the author into her life, is problematic. Now, without Lee’s consent, accounts of morning coffee chats at McDonalds and trips to feed the ducks read a bit as though Mills preying on the vulnerability of two aged women. Given that the premise of the book is based on domesticity, the possibility that the friend next door was in fact an underhanded member of the press is unsettling.

Perhaps we should ignore the controversy, and focus instead on what critics have praised as a well-crafted, sensitive, and non-invasive biography of the author. The biography’s homely presentation has certainly been tainted by Lee’s statement, resulting in what the Boston Globe called “a sad denouement to an otherwise charmed relationship.” But it will surely sell and, with or without the consent of Lee, whet the appetites of readers who have waited decades to hear about the woman behind the masterpiece. 

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The ‘Obvious and Commonsense Conclusion’ about the IRS Scandal

by Roger Kimball | from PJ Media

Posted: Jul 14, 2014 05:26 PM

Even as Establishment Washington, Republican as well as Democrat, does it’s ostrich imitation and pretends that there is Nothing To See Here, Move Along, two organizations, and two courageous judge’s, are beginning to peel back layer after layer from the fetid onion of corruption that is the scandal of the IRS’s “lost” emails.  As the […]

go to PJ Media

Critic's Notebook for July 14, 2014

by Brian P. Kelly

Posted: Jul 14, 2014 04:50 PM

Sign up to receive “Critic's Notebook” in your inbox every Monday—it only takes a few seconds and it's completely free! “Critic's Notebook” is a weekly preview of the best to read, see, and hear in culture, compiled by the editors of The New Criterion.

This week: The Bolshoi Ballet at Lincoln Center, the Clark Institute reopens, and William T. Vollmann's final book. 

Fiction: The Symmetry Teacher by Andrei Bitov, translated by Polly Gannon (Farrar, Straus and Giroux): Andrei Bitov reflects on a novel by an obscure English author named A. Tired-Boffin that he translated into Russian long ago. Now, however, he can find neither the original book nor his translation. What follows is Bitov’s attempt to recreate the book entirely from memory—complete with his own asides, embellishments, and diversions—in this Nabokovian novel-within-a-novel.  BPK

Last Stories and Other Stories by William T. Vollmann (Viking): Vollmann, the author of such works as Europe Central and The Rainbow Stories, is a divisive writer: He’s been called a hack journalist and admitted to publishing certain work purely for the money, but has also won the National Book Award and been praised by outlets ranging from the TLS to Vice. This collection of thirty-two stories will be Vollmann’s final book (or so he claims in a note to the reader), and is an overview of his career in miniature, peppered with political drama, international locales, and dark undertones. BPK

Nonfiction: My Two Italies by Joseph Luzzi (Farrar, Straus and Giroux): In this memoir, Joseph Luzzi, a child of Italian immigrants and a scholar of Italian culture, looks at the often contradictory qualities that have come to define Italy. He explores the complicated relationship between Italian Americans and the old world, the country’s division between northern and southern regions, and the paradox of Italy’s role as a cultural and artistic titan despite political corruption and historical fragmentation. By examining his immigrant upbringing, his family’s history, and Italy’s global influence, Luzzi sketches a portrait of his complex relationship with a unique country. BPK

Poetry: On Accepting the Disaster: Adam Kirsch reviews Joshua Mehigan in The New Republic: "A poem is like a rocket: Either it achieves liftoff or it falls to the ground. And since contemporary poets have largely discarded the tools that have traditionally helped poems aloft—meter and rhyme—it’s not surprising that they rarely take flight. Joshua Mehigan’s Accepting the Disaster is the rare new book of poetry that is entirely alive, entirely aloft.” Read Mehigan's work in TNC here. DY

Art: The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute reopens: The Clark Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts is now bigger and better thanks to the latest steps it has taken towards completing its 2001 master plan. The most recent projects in the redesign, headed by the Japanese architect Tadao Ando(who was later joined by the architects Annabell Selldorf and Reed Hilderbrand), added two new buildings, refurbished the two existing structures, and overhauled the Clark’s landscape with a reflecting pool. Roberta Smith has a glowing review in the Times, and Lee Rosenbaum breaks down the entire project in the Journal. Look for full coverage in the forthcoming issue of The New Criterion.  JP

Music: BSO’s Berkshire Night, Introducing Andris Nelsons (Saturday): Andris Nelsons will make his first Tanglewood appearance as the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Music Director. Saturday’s rich program is anchored by Brahms’s Symphony No. 3, the most popular of the composer’s four. Also featured are Rolf Martinsson’s 1998 Trumpet Concerto No. 1 (Bridge), with Hàkan Hardenberger, and Tchaikovsky’s playful Capriccio Italien. One thousand free tickets will be distributed to year-round Berkshire residents before the concert. ECS

Other: The Bolshoi Ballet at Lincoln Center: The Bolshoi Ballet’s limited run at the David H. Koch Theater begins this week as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. The renowned Moscow company will perform Yuri Grigorovich’s Swan Lake (July 15–20), Alexei Fadeyechev’s staging of Don Quixote (July 22–23), and Grigorovich’s 1968 version of Spartacus (25–27).  BPK

“Summer Night: Enlightenment and Beauty” at the Frick (Friday): The Frick Collection is hosting two free program-filled nights this summer. The first, this Friday, highlights the importance of classical imagery in the arts and will include a solo performance by New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Amar Ramasar, as well as commentary on the exhibition "Enlightenment and Beauty: Sculptures by Houdon and Clodion" by a museum educator. CE

From the archive: Wordless secrets: the cinema of Ingmar Bergman by Jeremy Murray-Brown, April 1994: Auteur Ingmar Bergman discusses his life and work in a collection of interviews.

From our latest issue: Civil power by William Logan: Reviews of contemporary poetry, including Caribou by Charles Wright, Directing Herbert White by James Franco, The Road to Emmaus by Spencer Reece, Roget’s Illusion by Linda Bierds, and Broken Hierarchies: Poems, 1952–2012 by Geoffrey Hill, edited by Kenneth Haynes.

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Cherchez la tribu

by James Bowman

Posted: Jul 11, 2014 04:34 PM

Reporting on a new poll about the fact that most Americans, even in these days of unpopular political parties, still identify themselves with one party or the other, Jaime Fuller of the Washington Post explains the matter thus: “So why do voters stick with political parties even when they aggravate them? The same reason we stick with our families — because it’s not like there’s a real alternative. . . So basically: Can’t live with ‘em, can't live without ‘em.” It’s a persuasive argument, but I think it needs a slight amendment. Political parties are not so much like families as they are like tribes — something that hardly exists anywhere else in Western society. In fact, it is only in politics as currently practiced that we can acquire any insight, these days, into what it’s like to live in a tribal society, as most of the world still does. 

Of course that may not be important to you if you are already engaged in the tribal conflict of present-day politics, as so many of us are, but we ought at least to be aware of how, as tribal warriors, we differ from people engaged in the sort of rational debate that was once thought to be vital to democracy. See, for instance, Jessica Valenti’s columns in The Guardian. A day or two ago she was attacking some friends of mine, in particular Charlotte Hays and Christina Hoff-Sommers, as “anti-feminist women.” She had nothing at all to say about the arguments these women had made, respectively, in favor of the Hobby Lobby decision or the proposition that, in Ms Valenti’s paraphrase, “feminism was hurting men” — only that both women had, by giving voice to such arguments, become renegades from the feminist tribe and, ipso facto, could have nothing of any interest or relevance to say against her anathematization of them.

More recently, Ms Valenti has gone after Hillary Clinton for repeating that old and long-since discredited Clinton mantra about abortion’s being “safe, legal and rare.” But her point is not that legalized abortion has never been and is not now rare at all. Rather, she takes the former First Lady to task because the word “rare” implies that she might just be thinking that there could be something less than totally awesome about a woman’s aborting her children and so might be giving aid and comfort to feminism’s enemies, as the tribal mind sees them, who have long tried to persuade women that there is something wrong with abortion. To the extent that they might be allowed to think it even possible for anyone to believe such a thing without being an oppressor of women, the unanimity of outrage about the Hobby Lobby decision would be diluted — and, worse, the tribe’s Democratic allies in Congress might suffer in the upcoming congressional elections.

Interestingly, tribal conflict is historically pretty much a masculine preserve. You could even argue that the improvement in the status of women in Western countries has proceeded pari passu with, even if it were not a primary cause of, the decline of tribalism. Women, having been historically seen as not always bound by the same honorable obligations as men, have also sometimes taken this partial exemption from masculine tribalism as a potential avenue to pacification in such tribal conflicts as Northern Ireland, where Mairead Corrigan, now Mairead Corrigan Maguire, and Betty Williams won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977. Now, just as feminists seek to emulate men’s proclivity for sexual promiscuity, as Ms Valenti insists they do in yet another column, they are also supposed enthusiastically to adopt their tribal love of fighting. At least they will if they know what’s good for them. And this enslavement to ideology is what they used to call “liberation.”


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In Case You Missed It

by Christine Emba

Posted: Jul 11, 2014 12:29 PM

Links of interest from the past week:

The tea party's new front in the American culture wars: literature
Adam Kirsch, Tablet

In defense of Fanny Price
Tara Isabella Burton, The Paris Review

Rebuild Penn Station!
R. R. Reno, First Things

This is not a VermeerTM
Rex Sorgatz, Medium

Money cubicle's the beast
Brad Phillips, The Enemy

From our pages:

Gatsby meets Macomber
Jeffrey Meyers

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The New Criterion

About ArmaVirumque


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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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