The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

Sept. 9 2000 12:00 AM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

Scholars have discovered a vast Mayan palace in Guatemala. Arthur Demarest, who is charge of the excavation in Cancuén, which means "Place of the Serpents," "did not realize what his team had stumbled upon until two weeks into the excavation," the National Geographic Society reports. "He fell up to his armpits in what he thought was a snake's nest. Demarest remained frozen in place for about 30 minutes, not wanting to disturb any snakes. 'That's when I realized I had fallen into the third story of the palace—that each of the limestone platforms we had been investigating was a buried architectural site.' " Demarest told the New York Times that "[t]his site is very important because it changes some of the perspective on Mayan states." In the Washington Post, Demarest says that "the basis of royal power among the Maya was religion and warfare." But Cancuén "has no temples, no defense, no evidence of warfare, no evidence of important wars." Instead, hieroglyphs at the site suggest that the business of Cancuén was business and that the city prospered by making political alliances "on a Machiavellian scale."


THE WAR OF INSPIRATION Thomas Ricks writes about Fred Anderson's new history of the French and Indian War, The Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 in the Washington Monthly. (Click here to buy the book.) In his introduction (click here to read it in its entirety), Anderson writes: "Without the Seven Years' War, American independence would surely have been long delayed, and achieved (if at all) without a war of national liberation. Given such an interruption in the chain of causation, it would be difficult to imagine the French Revolution occurring as it did, when it did. … Why, then, have Americans seen the Seven Years' War as little more than a footnote?" In a foreword to Francis Parkman's classic book on the campaign, Montcalm and Wolfe, John Keegan says: "The story of the struggle between Britain and France to control the continent of North America is one of the great dramas of history." (Click here to buy the Modern Library's edition of Parkman's book.)

In the current issue of the New York Review of Books, Elaine Scarry, a professor of aesthetics at Harvard, revisits her controversial theory that electromagnetics causes airplane crashes. In a two-part article that appeared in 1998 (click here to read it), Scarry claimed that TWA Flight 800 was brought down by electromagnetic interference (EMI) from nearby military planes, ships, and installations. In her latest piece, Scarry says that Swissair Flight 111 was also brought down by EMI from military sources, that it was attacked by EMI at exactly the same time of day (8.31 p.m.), on the same day of the week (Wednesday), and at the same place as Flight 800 (East Morriches). Jim Hall, head of the National Transportation and Safety Board, responded to Scarry's 1998 articles at length (click here and here to view the exchange). Judith Shulevitz assessed the debate in Slate.


SONSHINE IN EDINBURGH James Murdoch, son of Rupert, delivered a lecture in the Scottish capital and reminded his audience of media types that just because they speak English doesn't mean the rest of the world does. It's time to for media execs to bone up their Chinese, Hindi, and Spanish, he said. "The audiences in these language groups don't necessarily care for what the BBC or America Online, or any other foreign media exporter, has provided them. ... If the existing global media giants won't provide it, there are dozens of smaller, enterprising companies that recognize the ... demands of the fastest-growing media markets in the world."


A SUMMER OMNIBUS Summer is over, but these are just a few of the subjects that have caught the eye of the compiler of this page since Memorial Day. Summer began as it ended—with CBS's "reality" show, Survivor. (Click here for's unusual appraisal of the series.) In early June, Kurt Andersen, in, said: "[ Survivor ] will be huge. This will be epochal. This will be the moment that 'convergence,' the wishful catchall buzzword for the interweaving of entertainment and the Internet, finally becomes real. This summer, the ground shifts." Hyperbolic, perhaps, but prophetic.


A serious dose of summer reality came in the form of an 800-page book by retired professor Jacques BarzunFrom Dawn to Decadence. This resolute history of Western civilization spent the entire season on the New York Times best-seller list. (Click here to read Judith Shulevitz and Andrew Delbanco's discussion in Slate's "Book Club.") In a more ideological era—the 1980s, say—Barzun's conclusions might have led to a disputation in the intellectual journals. But ideology isn't as compelling a subject in these years of wealth creation. Why argue when you can get rich—a theme of David Brooks' summer book, Bobos in Paradise—or debate whether Kelly or Rich should have won the million-dollar prize?

ABC was sportsmanlike and heeded Al Franken's plea not to make Rush Limbaugh a commentator for Monday Night Football. Tiger Woods thrilled everyone. His latest victory in near darkness suggests that the rules of the old Scottish game may need to be revised to ensure more equal competition. "Reality" golf, perhaps—a game no longer played on manicured fairways and greens, but across the wild fields and rough lawns of America, and in all conditions at all times of the day.


Oh, puhleeeze. There's nothing more to be said about J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. Let's just say that Brooks was premature when he said, "Novel-writing has become a little sect of people who go to creative-writing seminars and Iowa workshops." Once on welfare, now a multimillionaire, Rowling has probably inspired business-school administrators around the country to consider creative writing as a get-rich-fast program.

Let's see: Peter Singer predictably said animals have them. The novelist J.G. Ballard said they don't. And Ian Hacking looked at both sides of the argument in the New York Review of Books. Various members of the British government suggested that a pupil who wasn't awarded a place at Oxford had been wronged.

Yes, it was. The political scene was very serious (click here for an explanation), while various commentators—in these parts and overseas—suggested that people laugh too easily. Thankfully, Charles McGrath, editor of the New York Times Book Review, came to wit's rescue and cautioned against too much seriousness. Zoë Heller enjoyed herself immensely demolishing Marjorie Garber's Sex and Real Estate: Why We Love Houses. Garber's book, Heller said, is "so serenely silly—so untroubled by any whiff of a serious idea—as to invite a kind of awe." Rebecca Mead reported on a new game doing the rounds on the New York social scene. And Michael Levey, a renowned scholar of art and music, explained that hedonism is the key to a long life.

Hard to say, but you can predict plenty of reality anarchism on the streets of Sydney during the forthcoming Olympics. And the games, like the demonstrations, begin in just three weeks. Maybe there's a Situationist revival going on. In June, Jay Griffiths explained the Situationist influence on the anti-globalization movement. In his history of anarchism, Demanding the Impossible, Peter Marshall says of the Situationists: "At first, they were principally concerned with the 'suppression of art,' that is to say, they wished like the Dadaists and the Surrealists before them to supersede the categorization of art and culture as separate activities and to transform them into part of everyday life." There we are: back to that question of reality. Who would have thought that the viewers of Survivor and the anarchists who will shortly take to the streets of Sydney—as different as they are—could nevertheless share a common and determined interest: an insistent desire for greater reality. Take it away, Kurt.