The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

Aug. 26 2000 12:00 AM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument


AT A LOSS FOR WORDS Along with flora and fauna, many of the world's languages face extinction. There's a new book on the subject by Daniel Nettle and Suzanne Romaine, Vanishing Voices. (Click here to buy it.) A Salon review of the book wonders whether the concern about the shrinking number of languages is attributable to worries among linguists about having enough to do. In other linguistic news, the BBC reports on the findings of David Myers, an American professor who has a theory "that Germans are bad-tempered because pronouncing German sounds puts a frown on the face. Myers believes that the facial contortions needed to pronounce vowels modified by the umlaut may be getting the Germans down in the mouth."


The Washington Post reports on the peculiar life of Julian Nance Carsey, a former president of Charles County Community College "whose disappearance in 1982 prompted front-page news stories, articles by national magazines, television reports." Carey, who died a few days ago, would disappear for a second time. The New York Times' obituary quotes Carsey as saying, "It wasn't that I was leaving something, I always felt I was going to something, but I didn't know what it was." Jonathan Coleman wrote a book about Carsey's several acts of extreme reinvention: Exit the Rainmaker. Click here to buy it. 


THE BOYS OF SUMMER With exceptions of the inhuman brilliance of Tiger Woods and the dubious achievement of Survivor's Richard, it's not been the greatest of summer for men. The bad news began early: Christina Hoff Sommers came out with The War Against Boys, a book that argued, among other things, that contrary to popular belief, boys are doing worse at school than girls. Conservative commentators, such as Andrew Sullivan, seized on the book as an excuse to attack an alleged feminist stranglehold on education. Then there was the trouble in New York's Central Park in June. For William Saletan's assessment of the hazing of young women there, click here. And to cap it all, August brought news that women are more likely to use the Internet than men. Hells bells. Meanwhile, A.C. Grayling offered a glimmer of hope on the educational-equality front by proposing that schools give more weight to exams, which boys traditionally excel at.


POP GOES THE JUDGE In When Law Goes Pop, Richard Sherwin considers how the courtroom has affected popular culture. (Click here to buy the book.) Click here to read Sherwin on the famous 19th-century trial of Henry Ward Beecher, a case that tested the word of a well-known preacher. Richard Posner considers much the same question in an assessment of Peter Brooks'Troubling Confessions: Speaking Guilt in Law and Literature, which argues that the confession has contributed to an American malaise. "The use of confession," Posner writes, "encourages what is already a cultural drift toward making our inner selves public. … If we are transparent to each other, we become like the cells of a single organism; we have no private space for making our own plans and charting our own destinies." (Click here to buy Brooks' book.)


STAND UP FOR YOUR (COPY)RIGHTS Forget about e-books; book publishers have a new nemesis. In an interview with, Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (click here to buy it, click here to read a fine review) and publisher of the journal McSweeney's, explains how he will pay his writers. "The general deal with McSweeney's Books is that our authors receive 100 percent of the profits after the print bill is paid. … At a reading [an author] can sell the books himself and net, quite realistically, $12 each—in cash, which he can take home and blow on whisky, or new tires." (Click here to read Eggers'Slate"Diary.")


The New Republic is making excellent use of its extensive archive—on the Internet. Currently on display is Randolph Bourne's defense of John Dewey. "In all his psychology there is no place for the psychology of prestige. His democracy seems almost to take that extreme form of refusing to bring one's self or one's ideas to the attention of others." You can also find Henry Fairlie on Bourne: "He was the last man who believed in America." Rebecca West writes about the importance of art: "For only through art can we cultivate annoyance with inessentials, powerful and exasperated reactions against ugliness, a ravenous appetite for beauty; and these are the true guardians of the soul." And Virginia Woolf goes to the movies: "The cinema fell upon its prey with immense rapacity, and to this moment largely subsists upon the body of its unfortunate victim. But the results are disastrous to both. The alliance is unnatural. Eye and brain are torn asunder ruthlessly as they try vainly to work in couples."


NOTORIOUS Few would disagree with the view that Aleister Crowley was a wicked man. It's one reason novelists, such as Anthony Powell, found the cabalist, Satanist, and mason who died in 1947 so intriguing. (Click here for Christopher Hitchens' brief assessment of Crowley's influence on Powell—scroll down.) In an experiment to prove that cats don't have nine lives, Crowley, according to his most recent biographer, Martin Booth, "dosed [a cat] with arsenic, chloroformed it, gassed it, stabbed it, caved its skull in, slit its throat, set light to it, drowned it and dropped it from a window." (Click here to buy Booth's A Magick Life.) Peter Ackroyd says that this is an example of "the length to which Crowley would go in order to complete an experiment. He abused himself with the same injurious, if not exactly fatal, results." For books by Crowley—and an astonishing number of his volumes are in print—click here. Web sites devoted to Crowley are too numerous to list—there are almost 3,000, according to Ackroyd. To read one account of the evil affects of reading Crowley's Magick, click here.

Writing in the New Republic, Jackson Lears attacks those critics, such as David Brooks (author of Bobos in Paradise—click here for an interview, here for an excerpt, and here for a discussion of the book in Slate's "Book Club"), who reduce "bohemianism to a set of aesthetic gestures: living poor with style becomes merely living with style. … The result," Lears says, "is all too often a flat, monochromatic picture of 20th-century American cultural history, in which the conflict between bourgeois and bohemian is reduced to a meaningless pas de deux, and a voracious consumer ethos swallows all who attempt to dissent from it." The occasion for Lears' remarks is a review of Christine Stansell's history of turn-of-the-20th-century intellectuals, American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century. (Click here to buy it.) Stansell, Lears says, "rightly recognizes the courage involved in the bohemians' effort to blend personal life and political life … and to infuse policy debate with a new sense of emotional vitality."


SUMMER SCARE New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said that his greatest achievement in 1999 was halting the spread of West Nile virus. Now, in the summer of 2000, the mosquito-borne disease is back. (For the latest news, click here; to view a map that charts the cases of the virus, click here; for how crows act as sentinels for the disease, click here; and for the dangers associated with pesticide used to kill the mosquitoes, click here.) Will the mayor make a similar boast this year? Perhaps not. Along with Lyme disease, it would seem that the West Nile virus is here to stay. That said, it is extremely unlikely that you will become infected. By numbers alone, you are more likely to be infected by E. coli, which preys on the young and the infirm. (Upstate New York has seen a surge in E. coli cases this year—to view Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report's E. coli statistics, click here.) So, why the panic about the West Nile virus? Here are four reasons: 1) It's alarming precisely because it's rare. 2) It has an exotic name—the virus sounds as if it's a renegade germ from the tomb of a long-dead pharaoh. 3) Like the human form of mad-cow disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, it affects the brain. 4) It's popular among politicians such as Giuliani because they can point to the effective methods they've used to combat the disease. Just how many people would become infected if the city stopped spraying pesticide is hard to determine. For the city's spraying schedule, click here.


"My appeal wouldn't have been to the intellectuals or the neurotics," Loretta Young once said. "Nor to the shop girls and secretaries—that would have been Joan Crawford's market. But there were an awful lot of women out there who were like me—who were willing to play by the rules, didn't sleep around and were very aggressive. A Loretta Young movie had a happy ending." The actress died on Saturday. The Washington Post's obituary referred to Young's Catholicism. "She insisted on propriety on her movie sets, and even enforced a kitty for her charities, to which set workers contributed a coin every time they swore."


Mike Figgis explains why he's quitting Hollywood. "Everyone's over-familiar with the way films are edited. You can come into virtually any movie half an hour late, and within five minutes know exactly what the plot is, who the good guy and the bad guy are, and where your sympathies are supposed to lie."

Is the French government's hounding of Yahoo just another example of anti-American posturing, or is it a genuine test case for Internet law? A bit of both, perhaps. As the New York Times reports, a French judge has ruled that Yahoo's auction of Nazi memorabilia (bayonets, medals, swastikas, and the like) in France is "an offense against the collective memory of a country profoundly wounded by the atrocities committed by and in the name of the Nazi criminal enterprise." (Wait a minute: Why, then, won't the French government release all papers and documents relating to French collaboration with the Nazis until 2090?) Yahoo will be fined $100,000 a day until it removes the items from its auction site. But a lawyer acting on Yahoo's behalf questions the court's opinion. "If anybody in France feels that they don't want to view Nazi artifacts, they don't have to." Thomas Vartanian tells the Guardian that the case highlights the increasing complexity of Internet law. "It's a little bit as if we've all been transported to Mars and now have to figure out new rules of engagement." For an update on the case, click here.