The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

Aug. 11 2000 11:30 PM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

FRENCH PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
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."

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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.

ANCIENT CLOTHES HORSE
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. 

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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."

AUSSIE RULES
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.' "

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NEW DEFINITION
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.)

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WHAT IS IRONY? Charles McGrath, the editor of the New York Times Book Review, joins the debate about irony, which began last year with the publication of Jedediah Purdy's For Common Things. "Irony in this latter-day incarnation," McGrath writes, "consists largely of indicating that you are in fact being ironic. It's a way of putting invisible quotation marks around speech or action. ... This kind of irony also relies heavily on repetition and allusion. The first time Chevy Chase fell down, on the original 'Saturday Night Live,' it was slapstick; every week thereafter it was ironic."

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THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT ON THE BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI Alec Guinness, the star of numerous movies, died on Saturday. As part of an 80th birthday tribute to the actor, John Le Carré said: "Alec loathes flattery and mistrusts praise. ... If you are incurably fond of him, as I am, you do best to keep your feelings to yourself." A New York Times obit of Guinness describes the actor's World War II years. "In the invasion of Sicily, the actor-turned-landing-craft-skipper was actually the first person ashore … When the admiral in charge blustered his way ashore at last, the young Mr. Guinness is said to have blandly assured him that such tardy timing of an entrance would never be tolerated in the theater."

SHOCKING FISH
The Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition of the works of the French painter Jean-Siméon Chardin continues through September. Many critics have expressed shock and amazement at one painting in particular: The Ray. Click here to view the picture. The New Republic's Jed Perl writes that Chardin's "arresting, almost perfervid vision … strikes me as being as finely orchestrated as any still life ever done. Chardin discovers a tremendous subject here. The gutted fish, which hangs on the stone wall, all pale white and blood-red, has a face whose eyes and mouth are as gargoyle-eerie as some of the tiny gremlins that Michelangelo carved on the mouldings of the Medici tombs." For other images from the exhibition, click here.

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ANARCHY IN THE U.S. (AND ELSEWHERE)
A Philadelphia police chief, asked how he planned to cope with anti-capitalist demonstrators outside the Republican National Convention, quipped that he would re-deploy his forces from Dunkin Donuts to Starbucks. Jokes aside, anarchism is on the march: Anarchist cells are already planning to disrupt the Sydney Olympics in September. What's it all about? Here's an essay in the London Review of Books on disparate intellectual threads in the anarchist and anti-capitalist movements. In the New York Times, Walter Goodman explains why novelists who wrote about anarchism--Dostoevsky, Conrad, and Henry James--refused to be swayed by the doctrine. In Slate, David Plotz recently wrote about the anarchist demonstrations in Washington. To read Noam Chomsky's "Notes on Anarchism," which first appeared in the New York Review of Books in 1970, click here. Here's the Anarchist Age Weekly Review and the Anarchist Yellow Pages.

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POETRY AND THE NATION
Stanley Kunitz will succeed Robert Pinsky as the nation's poet laureate. Writing in the Atlantic Monthly four years ago, David Barber assessed the work of Kunitz, who had then turned 90. "Most extraordinary of all," Barber argued, "the Kunitz of the past forty years has been a measurably finer poet than he was in the first half of his life, amassing a body of such starkly powerful lyric poems as to make all that came before them seem an extended apprenticeship." To read four poems by Kunitz—"Touch Me," "King of the River," "The Round," and "The Quarrel"—click here. For an extended interview with the poet, click here. And to buy his books, click here.

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ITALIAN CHARMER A film festival in Europe provides a further chance to evaluate the work of the attractive Marcello Mastroianni, who died in 1996 and who was the best Italian actor of the 20th century—Sophia Loren or Roberto Benigni notwithstanding. (Click here to read an obituary.) "He's gentle, open and intelligent," the director Federico Fellini once said of Mastroianni. "He enters his character on tiptoes and never asks a question." When asked about his initial thoughts about his famous co-star in La Dolce Vita, Anita Ekberg, the former beauty queen from Sweden, Mastroianni said he had some doubts. She reminded him of "a Nazi soldier who arrested me during the war." Last year, a documentary film about the actor appeared: Click here to read the Village Voice's review.