The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

Aug. 19 2000 12:00 AM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

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.


SEEKING SUSAN (BUT NOT DESPERATELY ENOUGH) Carl Rollyson and Lisa Paddock's Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon (click here to buy the book) fails to distinguish between celebrity and merit, says Vivian Gornick. This is because the authors don't appreciate the complexity of Sontag's work or personality. "Even when the impetus for the work is openly derived from her own experience (as in 'Illness as Metaphor'), she herself is not there on the page," Gornick argues. Sontag was, however, more candid in an interview in the Atlantic Monthly. Slate's Culturebox recently assessed allegations that passages in Sontag's novel In America made unattributed use of material from other books.

Archeologists have repaired (and, where necessary, reconstructed) the clothes once worn by the boy Pharaoh Tutankhamun. The Guardian reports that this painstaking effort has led the team to conclude "that Tutankhamun had a 31 inch chest, 29 inch waist and 43 inch hips, a distinctive "pear shape" apparently shared by other members of his family, if the art of the time is to be believed." For National Geographic's vivid report on the opening of Tutankhamun's tomb in February 1923, click here. For more on Ancient Egypt, click here, and for the Getty Conservation Institute's endeavors to restore Tutankhamun's tomb, click here. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the British Museum all have extensive Egyptian exhibitions. 


BUDDHAS OF SUBURBIA Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk are two of the most influential architects and urban theorists practicing in America. Their book, Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, (co-authored with Jeff Speck—click here to buy it) is, according to Andrew O'Hehir, "a furious jeremiad against a form of development that … is undermining the very nature of American citizenship." To read an excerpt and an interview, click here and here. But Alex Marshall says that their arguments are deceptive because they advocate more sprawl, not less. Moreover, Marshall writes: "Suburban Nation is … a dreamy, painless vision of how to solve suburban sprawl; a vision which, not incidentally, requires buying more of what Duany and Plater-Zyberk are selling." Fred Barnes wrote about the politics of suburbia for the Weekly Standard, Gregg Easterbrook for the New Republic, and Christopher Caldwell for the Atlantic Monthly. (The Atlantic's archive on sprawl and suburbia can be found here.) In the American Prospect, Michael Massing wrote about how suburban traffic has become a potent campaign issue. Henry Fairlie's memorable essay on the "lunacy of living in cities" first appeared in the New Republic. "Urban life today," Fairlie wrote, "is aggressively individualistic and atomized. Cities are not social places."

Why do Australia's best actors and writers emigrate to the United States or to Britain? Russell Crowe recently defended himself and other actors, such as Cate Blanchett, Mel Gibson, Nicole Kidman, and Geoffrey Rush, who have traversed the Pacific for Hollywood. "It simply amplifies the broad and infinite nature of Australian film culture," he said. But Feed's Mark Juddery is unconvinced by Crowe's argument. "So what's the most important thing an actor can learn [at Australia's National Institute of Dramatic Art]? Many alumni will give the same answer: an American accent." The writer Clive James, who left Australia for London, has written in the Times Literary Supplement: "In much of the world, the average cultural expatriate in the twentieth century took flight because if he had stayed where he was he would have faced death by violence. His average Australian equivalent has faced nothing except death from boredom." To read an interview with James, click here. The art critic Robert Hughes expressed a similar sense of disappointment. "The other thing of course about intellectuals in Australia is that they're almost self-appointed, you know, as if you were waiting for the Queen to come along and touch you on the shoulder and say, 'Pouf! You're an intellectual.' "


Now that Al Gore has selected Joseph Lieberman, the Jewish senator from Connecticut, to be his running mate, you can expect that the condition of contemporary American Jewry will be widely discussed. In his review of Samuel Freedman's Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry, David Brooks says that Freedman "concludes his brilliant book … by writing, 'In the struggle for the soul of American Jewry, the Orthodox model has triumphed.' In other words, the Torah, and not Zionism or Woody Allen or the Holocaust, henceforth will define Jewish life." In the New York Times, Freedman writes about the significance of the senator's September 1998 "Lewinsky" speech: "Mr. Lieberman's oration … offered proof that a Jew in modern America need not diminish his faith as the price of worldly achievement or consider such faith alone a replacement for the crucible of public life." (Click here to watch a clip of the speech. Click here to read it.)