The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

Sept. 30 2000 12:00 AM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument


HOUSE ON THE HARBOR In the latest issue of the London Review of Books, Murray Sayle writes about the Sydney Opera House."Some think of the Opera House as a superb example of Goethe's frozen music; others imagine a beached white whale, a galleon sailing off to Elfland, nine ears cocked to hear some heavenly aria, nine nuns playing football. 'A bunch of toenails clipped from a large albino dog,' the Sydney journalist Ron Saw once wrote. 'It looks like something that crawled up out of the harbour and died,' a hostile politician sneered, adding: 'you wouldn't sell pies out of it.' "


"Go on and bleed," Pierre Trudeau said of the "bleeding hearts after troops moved into the streets of Montreal, Quebec and Ottawa to deal with the [Quebec] crisis in 1970." The Toronto Globe and Mail continues: "And when a television journalist asked him how far he would go he replied, 'just watch me.' Days later he invoked the War Measures Act." The former Canadian prime minister died yesterday at the age of 80. The Montreal Gazette recalls his "citizen of the world phase." "Trudeau had such a knack for getting himself into exotic trouble that his curriculum vitae reads in parts like the lost pages of an Indiana Jones movie script: he was jailed in Palestine as a suspected Israeli spy … evacuated from China a whisker ahead of Mao's advancing Red Army; nicked in communist Russia in the act of pelting a statue of Lenin with snowballs; and picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard while trying to paddle a dinghy from Key West to Santa Clara at the height of the Cuban missile scare." For other obituaries, click here and here. For more on Trudeau's zestful marriage, click here.


SISTER ACT Elaine Showalter's examination of the novels of Lynne Cheney appears in the Chronicle of Higher Education. "Cheney lists The Body Politic on her vita, and the book is shortly to come out in paperback from St. Martin's Press. But she doesn't mention the two earlier novels [ Sisters and Executive Privilege ], and that's a shame, because they are skillful and fascinating—and also show Cheney as a feminist intellectual who is using popular literary genres to wrestle with serious ethical and political issues." To buy The Body Politic click here.

In relation to the size of its population, Slovenia is the most successful nation at this year's Olympic Games. A nation of 2 million has won two gold medals. Matt Twomey of the Tokyo Crier has compiled the full list. By his measure, the United States ranks 25th. That statistic may help us understand why the Games have been such a ratings disaster for NBC. For Inside's report on the audience figures, click here. But Tim Blair of the Online Journalism Review has a more damning theory. "Australia," he writes, "isn't a difficult place to understand. The population is just 19 million. It only has five large cities. People speak English, some of them in such a clear, neutral manner they are chosen to present CNN newscasts. So why do American journalists have such a tough time getting this place right?" If American viewers of the Games are bored by the trivializing view of Australia offered up by NBC, then the same may be true of the games themselves, which, in NBC's coverage, often seem like a one-nation event where the victors are always American. What about Slovenia?

Writing in Beliefnet, John Spalding recalls the launch of the original Exorcist (now being rereleased in a fuller version): "In a Newsweek cover story entitled 'The Exorcism Frenzy,' the manager of a United Artists cinema complained: 'My janitors are going bananas wiping up the vomit.' He also said he'd had to 'replace doors and curtains damaged by unruly crowds, and even re-landscape the McDonald's plaza across the street where moviegoers park their cars.' "


The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung now publishes an online English language edition, and for those who don't read German, a culture and a country is now more comprehensible. The paper's arts pages } are particularly good. Perhaps this English edition will help to lessen the instinctive dislike of Germany that crops up periodically in the British and American media. For example, soon after the crash of the Air France Concorde in July, with its preponderance of German victims, Auberon Waugh wrote, "An angry letter in Thursday's Guardian pointed out that there was a bad plane crash last week in northern India, with many killed, but the newspapers gave it very small coverage. Obviously the Concorde crash was more newsworthy, but dead Germans … are only slightly more interesting than dead Indians."


Salman Rushdie now lives in New York, and in a letter to a London newspaper he explains why he left Britain. "What got to me, in the end, was the belief … that I was to blame for the terrorist assault against my life and work. I had thought I was fighting for what I valued most—a great principle, an idea of freedom, and yes, a book—against what I most disliked—intolerance, bigotry, and violence. I am so sorry that the British have, for the most part, not been prepared to see it that way." It's the view of John Sutherland that "[t]he London literary world runs on bile. Competition for readers is part of the reason. There are 10 times as many book-page inches in London as in New York and fewer readers for them. As any reviewer knows, readers love the smell of fresh blood above all things. Write something slashing, and your friends will all tell you how much they enjoyed it."


The Guggenhiem has museums in New York, Bilbao, Berlin, and Venice. Currently on show in New York is "Amazons of the Avant-Garde," an exhibition of paintings by six Russian woman. Natalia Goncharova, according to the catalog, was a hothead who "shocked the Moscow bourgeoisie with her casual cross-dressing."New York magazine's Michael Brenson writes, "The strength of woman artists in Russia between 1905 and 1920 has been recognized for some time. … The confidence, readiness, and zest in their paintings are astonishing and a reminder of why the Russian avant-garde inspired and haunted artists throughout the twentieth century."

Voyeurism is nothing new, no matter what the critics say about reality TV. When Paris threw open its morgues to the public in the early 19th century, visiting the dead soon became a more popular way to pass a Sunday afternoon than viewing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Scott McLemee suggests that the precursor of reality TV is the Panopticon, dreamed up by the Enlightenment thinker Jeremy Bentham. This contraption, designed for prisons, "was to be used not for entertainment but for punishment and social control. ... The cells would be illuminated night and day, so a guard, seated at the center of the building, could monitor a whole floor with minimal effort. At the same time the windows of this 'lodge' would be designed so that someone outside could not see in."


Oscar Wilde died 100 years ago. Various sites commemorate the occasion, and the World-Wide Wilde Web has links to many of them. A curious piece by David Jays in the New Statesman argues that Wilde was a disappointment. "One hundred years after his death, Wilde's ability to disappoint us is his great legacy and enduring fascination. … He was the first modern celebrity, but also the first Irish joke. … We expect so many irreconcilable things of him … popular entertainer and harbinger of the avant-garde." For a Wildean biography in words and pictures, visit Oscariana. For UCLA's collection of photographic portraits of Wilde, click here.

Writing in the New Republic, Adam Baer assesses the impact of the Internet on the careers of classical musicians. "If music-industry executives begin to pay more attention to online performance, we may see talented newcomers make names for themselves more quickly." Two sites in particular, Web Concert Hall and Global Music Network, offer concerts by young talent. To hear a performance given by the youthful cellist Edward Aaron and Yo-Yo Ma at the Caramoor International Music Festival, click here.

The appeals judges presiding over the case between the Maltese parents of Siamese twins and a British hospital have made their ruling. They favor the hospital over the parents. In their judgment (click on the case dated Sept. 22, 2000, to read the ruling in full), the judges said: "The parents cannot bring themselves to consent to the operation. The twins are equal in their eyes and they cannot agree to kill one even to save the other. As devout Roman Catholics they sincerely believe that it is God's will that their children are afflicted as they are and they must be left in God's hands. The doctors are convinced they can carry out the operation so as to give [one of the twins] a life which will be worthwhile." has much useful information on cases of conjoined twins. "[T]he most famous pair … were Eng and Chang Bunker, who were born in Siam (now Thailand) … in 1811. … The Bunker Twins fathered 21 children between them and were successful businessmen and ranchers in Wilkes County, North Carolina."


Germaine Greer
attacks liberals who defend pornography. "Pornography has nothing to do with freedom of expression: it is primarily a business, a ruthless impersonal industry based on the sound maxims that a) there is [a sucker] born every minute; and b) you should never give [one] an even break. It uses and abuses not only the boys and girls who provide the imagery, but also the fantasy-ridden sub-potent public, mostly male, that pays for its product." The National Review reports on the Internet Adult Expo, recently held in New Orleans. "Paul Cambrio, an adult-industry attorney, urged Internet purveyors of porn to 'get the message out' about 'all the years of Republican prosecution and persecution of people in the adult [entertainment] industry. [T]he web as we know it, if the wrong party is elected, will come under the most severe scrutiny.' The election of that wrong party, he said, will mean 'a political regime designed to eliminate the transmission of adult material to adults.' "


For years, Russians and Americans dominated international piano competitions. At the recently held Leeds competition, these old adversaries made way for a group of very brilliant Italians. A Sunday Times article reports on the plight of the piano accompanist. "[T]o make things even more difficult … there is the current vogue for singers to further their careers by choosing—and being chosen by—'real' solo pianists of stature. András Schiff, Alfred Brendel, Imogen Cooper, and Vladimir Ashkenazy are just a few of the dangerous names. How does [an accompanist] respond to all this? 'There is a perception that the meeting of a great pianist with a great singer is going to yield something extra-great. I would just like to put in a word for the meeting of a great accompanist with a great singer as being potentially even greater.' " A book that appeared earlier this year, Three Hundred Years of Life With the Piano by James Parakilas, charts the piano's influence on Western culture.


WHO'S WHO IN THE RED AND THE BLACK Al Gore told Oprah Winfrey that his favorite novel was by Stendhal, and for sheer debauchery The Red and the Black outdoes anything that has happened in Washington over the last five years. Daniel Mendelsohn summarizes the novel like so: "The Red and the Black follows the career of one Julien Sorel, a French peasant boy who has a sharp mind, a cute face and a talent for worming his way into the affections of powerful men and into the boudoirs of their voluptuous female relatives." For David Frum, Sorel's chief weakness is that he lacks "the audacity to be sincere." In both of these descriptions of Sorel, isn't there more than a passing resemblance to the current occupant of the Maison Blanc? Should Al Gore now tell us WHY The Red and the Black is his favorite novel?


SCRIPTING HOLLYWOOD LIVES Bertolt Brecht, Erich Maria Remarque, Thomas Mann, his brother Heinrich—these were just some of the writers and artists who fled Hitler's Germany for Hollywood where they were spied upon by Hoover's FBI. Alexander Stephan's new book, Communazis, is an account of the FBI's surveillance of these German émigrés. (Click here to read more about it and here to buy it.) As Martin Kettle explains, the agency "called these exiles 'Communazis' because they believed that though they were refugees from one form of tyranny, they might also be in league with [another]. … Everything from the way the writers lived— their conversations, their friends, their private lives and loves, and even the details of the books they were writing—formed part of [a] steady stream of information."

Colm Tóibín is a novelist, essayist, and the editor of the Penguin Book of Irish Writing. In his famous 1993 essay 'In Two Minds About Ireland,' published by the London Review (not on the Web), Tóibín wrote about the need to appreciate the ambiguities of Irish life. The nationalist interpretation of the past, he said, should be rejected in favor of a more ambivalent view of Irish history. His latest novel, The Blackwater Lightship—praised by Margaret Elizabeth Williams (click here to buy it)—is, like his earlier works, an exploration of some of these ambiguities. What is it like to live a gay life (and to have AIDS) in a country and culture that has traditionally outlawed all things homosexual? If you are gay, how "Irish" are you? To read Tóibín's essay on why gay literature is so dark, click here. Tóibín is currently a fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library.

In the Telegraph, novelist and biographer A.N. Wilson welcomes the death of the automobile—heralded, he believes, by a worldwide gas crisis. "All the things we would lose, if we simply stopped using [internal combustion] engines, would be bad things. … If a majority want more cars, more planes, more fumes, more filth, more noise, then the majority should be ignored. Oh for a strong government which taxed [gas] and its guzzlers out of existence." In Audobon magazine, both presidential candidates are asked about energy conservation—timely interviews because the United States has failed to meet international fuel emission targets. Former editor of the Financial Times Geoffrey Owen writes about the oil trade and the legacy of imperialism. A New York Times editorial argues that Amtrak should receive more government money so that it can construct high-speed rail links in the nation's most congested travel corridors.


OBJECT OR SUBJECT?"As I am supposed to be remembering myself, I am central to these memories," Gore Vidal declared in his memoir Palimpsest. "I am, however, happier to be at the edge, as one is in an essay, studying someone else or what someone else has made art of." Fred Kaplan, author of Vidal's biography, tells the readers of Lingua Franca how the essayist and novelist was forever at the edge of his life while he was writing the book, scrutinizing what he, Kaplan, had made of Vidal's life and art. Vidal's new novel, The Golden Age, is the subject of this week's Slate Book Club. Click here to read what Erik Tarloff, James Fallows, and A.O. Scott have to say about the book; click here to buy the novel.

In an interview with Feed's Stephen Johnson, Internet legend Brewster Kahle, head of Alexa, talks about the massive electronic library he and his company have constructed. "We now have about thirty terabytes of archival material … and that's 1.5 times the size of all of the books in the Library of Congress. … [W]e're now beyond the largest collection of information ever accumulated by humans. We've gotten somewhere!"