The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

Oct. 21 2000 12:00 AM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

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URBAN OUTFITTER The Guggenheim's exhibition of the clothes of Giorgio Armani opens today. To visit the Guggenheim's Web catalog, click here; for Armani's homepage, click here. The New York Times says of the exhibition: "Organized by Germano Celant and Harold Koda, 'Giorgio Armani' polishes up a familiar facet of urban life: the grand promenade through flattering reflections of ourselves (superimposed on fantasies of how much better we would look if we could afford nice clothes) that we take through the great shopping streets of Paris, Milan and New York. The show's pretext may be Mr. Armani, but its real subject is autoerotica, and the perverse generosity of which extreme narcissists are capable. And the show does it without mirrors."

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ART OF THE LONE STAR STATE George Bush's taste in art is appropriately conservative. The Republican presidential candidate tells ARTNews that his favorite artist is Tom Lea, a proudly Texan painter of profoundly Texan themes—ranchers, horses, and threatening skies. Among Lea's portrait subjects are General and Mrs. Chiang Kai-shek, which you can see at the Ransom Center's online catalog of Lea's work. Of Gov. Bush's views on the arts more generally, ARTNews says: "In government, the Bushes have promoted art more through personal involvement than through state policy. Laura Bush has turned her office into an informal art gallery featuring Texas artists she selects."

OFFICE PARK SOCIETY
Benjamin Franklin should be recognized as the true patron of the Internet age, according to David Brooks. "In America … the most dynamic individuals work in the most generic buildings: These office parks are mostly built on hillsides … and they all look just the same. [O]ne figure from the American pantheon who would be instantly at home in an office park … is Benjamin Franklin. Franklin lived much of his life at the intersection of science and commerce. He understood the process of getting rich from intellect, which is the chief occupation of the information age."

WATCHING THE DAYS GO BY
The philosopher and pacifist Bertrand Russell had happy days and gloomy days, and in a 1952 article he explained to readers of the Guardian his experience of both. "I see Latin America throwing off the yoke of the United States and reverting to barbarism. I see the United States shorn of power, surviving like the Byzantine Empire as the last fading glimmer of a more civilised age, endeavouring to survive behind defensive walls and living on old ideas which the rest of the world will regard as archaic. This is what I see on a gloomy day."

ALMOST IMMORTAL
Nature
reports on the discovery of the oldest-known organism—"a bacterium … trapped in a 250 million year old salt crystal recovered from a New Mexico salt pan." One of the scientists who conducted the tests tells the science journal "that conclusive proof … must await repetition of these results by another lab. The paper however forces one to pause when reaching for the condiments. 'The next time you sprinkle salt on your food, think what else you might be eating,' [the scientist] says."

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SMALL WORLD WITH NO VIEW ONTO A LAKE The writing of Raymond Carver has been compared to paintings of Edward Hopper—both men depicted despair and loneliness. An edition of the writer's uncollected fiction and prose, Call If You Need Me, makes this comparison all the more vivid. Frank Kermode says that "Carver's world is something like a room in which the television is always on, unless you happen to be subjecting the neighbors to home movies. The ashtrays are overflowing. There may be an alcoholic, active or reformed, lying on the living-room sofa. Is he thinking about the pint of whiskey he has hidden under the cushions; or has he just got home from an exhausting AA meeting?"Britannica.com's biography of Carver can be found here.

THE UNCERTAIN FUTURE OF ENGLISH-SPEAKING PEOPLES
By numbers alone, you are more likely to be prosperous and educated if you speak English, though Barbara Wallraff makes several cautionary observations about the future of the language in the Atlantic Monthly. "A … paradox is that the typical English-speaker's experience of the language is becoming increasingly simplified, even as English as a whole grows more complex. If these two trends are occurring, and they are, then the globalization of English will never deliver the tantalizing result we might hope for: that is, we monolingual English-speakers may never be able to communicate fluently with everyone everywhere."

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SIGNS OF THE TIMES The publication of James Atlas' biography of Saul Bellow (click here to read to Slate's "Book Club" discussion of the portrait) leads Philip Weiss to reflect on what's missing from American Jewish life. "Something's been lost—a romance, an openness, a raffishness. I understand the reasons. Jews are so historically wary of success they're scared to say a word about it now, but the result is a terrible guardedness about their experience. Where are the great Jewish loudmouths of yesteryear?" In the same publication, James Kaplan makes a similar assertion. "Mr. Bellow seems, according to Mr. Atlas' big, exuberantly well-documented book, never to have had a boring day in his life." To live life like Bellow doesn't "even appear to be possible anymore."

RESTORATION
Hugh Hardy is in charge of the restoration of Manhattan's Central Synagogue, much of the landmark building having been destroyed in a 1998 fire. Hardy, as Ken Shulman explains, was an unusual choice because his restoration techniques are far from conventional. "Hardy had recently put his theory into practice in Times Square at the New Amsterdam Theatre, and at Radio City Music Hall, with spectacular results. 'It's not possible to do a perfect historical restoration,' he says. ... 'This synagogue is a national historic landmark. But it's also an incredibly personal structure for each of the 1400 families of the congregation, each with their own idea of what the building's history was, and what that history should look like.' "

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WORLD WITHOUT COVERS
Jason Epstein, who introduced the paperback book to America in the 1950s and co-founded the New York Review of Books in 1963, has strong opinions about the future of books and of publishing more generally. In the current issue of the NYR, Epstein welcomes the introduction of ebooks but laments the end of traditional bookstores. "A world without retail booksellers, devoted to their inventories, their customers, and their craft, is hideous to contemplate, but the inevitability of electronic technologies forces the issue. The Internet, with its unmediated and instantaneous transactions, its indifference to time and distance, and its negligible cost per unit of transmission, abhors middlemen." Earlier this year, Epstein wrote about the wonders of book publishing in the electronic age. In Feed, the publishers André Schiffrin and John Donatich as well as the author Dave Eggers debate the merits of ebooks.

MIND EXPANSION
The editors of the New Scientist online introduce a comprehensive science links page—pointers to over 1,200 well-selected institutions, research centers, professional magazines, and general science Web sites.

POLAND'S HOME-GROWN FASCISTS
In the early 1950s, while living under Soviet rule, the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz was surprised to learn that George Orwell had never lived in a totalitarian country. ("Oh, but he had," says Christopher Hitchens. "In a hermetic and nasty school, and in the precincts of a colonial jail, and in the curfewed streets of Barcelona.") In his new {{book#2:http://www.faz.com/IN/INtemplates/eFAZ/docmain.asp?rub={B1311FFE-FBFB-11D2-B228-00105A9CAF88}&doc={59A4B46F-A33D-11D4-A3B2-009027BA22E4}&width=1024&height=740&agt=explorer&ver=4&svr=4}}, Journey Into Two Decades, an Orwellian portrait of Poland's inter-war years, Milosz explains how his country drifted toward totalitarianism before the Nazi invasion of 1939. According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, "he documents Poland's seemingly unstoppable development toward 'home-grown fascism.' … Today, minorities hardly play a role in Poland, but this has silenced neither the nationalistic voices nor 'the obsessions of Polish anti-Semitism.' "

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THE VOGUE FOR MCLUHAN
Long forgotten, though seen in reruns of Woody Allen's Annie Hall, Marshall McLuhan has become fashionable again. Writing in the New York Times, Alexander Stille says that McLuhan "predicted the coming of 'the global village' and insisted that electronic technology would decentralize power and information, allowing people to live in smaller clusters far from major urban centers while having the same access to information. 'My main theme is the extension of the nervous system in the electric age, and thus, the complete break with 5,000 years of mechanical technology,' he wrote in 1964." To buy Paul Levinson's book Digital McLuhan, click here. To visit the Marshall McLuhan Center on Global Communications, click here.

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SMOKE STORM
Researchers
 at the National Institute on Drug Abuse say that cannabis is as addictive as heroin, reporting on a finding that gives credence to the anti-legalization lobby. Alexander Chancellor traveled to Holland last week for the Sunday Telegraph to experiment with cannabis for the first time. On his way to the Grasshopper, one of Amsterdam's many coffee shops, Chancellor found himself "feeling rather giddy and tottering a bit. It was like being pleasantly tipsy without the sensual gratification that alcohol can afford. I would have preferred to have achieved this merry state with a few glasses of good wine." (Chancellor's article is not on the Web.)

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TERROR IN JAPAN Just over five years ago, the Tokyo subway system was attacked by Japanese terrorists using sarin nerve gas. In Underground (click here to buy it), the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami attempts to make sense of an incident that killed 12 but injured thousands. Writing about the book, Ian Hacking says: "What would make sense if your [subway] stop was the subject of a sarin gas attack? Haruki Murakami thinks the events … can teach us something about the Japanese psyche. … [He is] just the man to examine the … attack: not just because of his fascination with the underground, but also because he takes seriously both alternative realities and the end of the world, possibly a major feature in the thinking of the leaders of Aum Shinrikyo."

ARCHITECT OF THE FLOATING WORLD
Renzo Piano is famous for his museums, for a skyscraper in Sydney, and for Kansai International Airport, built on an artificial island off the coast of Japan. Now the Italian will build the new Manhattan headquarters of the New York Times. As the paper said: "Mr. Piano was chosen yesterday in a competition, most unusual for a commercial real estate project, that involved some of the best-known names in architecture: Norman Foster, Cesar Pelli, Frank O. Gehry and David M. Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Although cultural institutions reach outside the New York architectural establishment in search of innovative design, office developers rarely take a chance on outsiders, no matter how renowned."

CANN DO SPIRIT
Among the new directors of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ( ICANN) is Andy Müller-Maguhn. "For the United States," the {{Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung#2:http://www.faz.com/IN/INtemplates/eFAZ/docmain.asp?rub={B1311FFE-FBFB-11D2-B228-00105A9CAF88}&doc={C54E7BFD-9F8C-11D4-B997-009027BA226C}}} says, "his election is a worst-case scenario." Why? As Wired's Declan McCullagh explains, "[Müller-Maguhn] has been a member of the legendary Chaos Computer Club since 1986 and an officer since 1990. The hacker-affiliated group organizes events such as Defcon-esque lock-picking demonstrations and a massive outdoor camp for 1,400 aspiring geeks." In the National Post, another new director, Karl Auerbach, an engineer with Cisco Systems, said that the vote reflected dissatisfaction with ICANN's leadership.

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GOSSIP'S CURE
Walter Winchell invented the modern gossip column. He also founded the Cancer Research Fund of the Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Foundation and thereby "helped bankroll some of the most far-sighted, esoteric, and ultimately successful cancer research of the last half-century," as Praxis Post's Jane Salodof MacNeil explains. "Name a cancer gene or treatment or institution and chances are that at least one key player is a former 'Damon Runyon'—which is what the fellows call themselves."

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DEATH RIGHTS
In a review of two books about the death penalty, Thomas Laqueur says it all goes back to the work of an 18th-century Italian thinker named Cesare Beccaria and his Essay on Crimes and Punishments. "The debates today [about the death penalty] are often only thinly veiled rehearsals of arguments—and counter-arguments—[Beccaria] inspired. … Civil government, [he] argued, as did the Founding Fathers, was based on a social contract under whose terms human beings had not ceded their rights in their lives and bodies to the State. Citizens or their representatives might consent to go to war—risking death to defend the State against those who would injure it—but not, Beccaria concluded, to being hanged."

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PRIZE WINNER
A Nobel Prize for Literature   has been awarded to Gao Xingjian, a "playwright whose works have not been performed in China since his work The Other Shore was banned in 1986." (To view the Web cast of the announcement, click here.) According to the New York Times, Xingjian left China a year later and currently lives in Paris. The Age wrote about the playwright in August: "In 1982, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, a diagnosis that was later proved mistaken. The following year, the Communist Party criticized Gao's works as 'spiritual pollution'. The double shock of public condemnation and the experience of confronting his own mortality inspired him to embark on a journey that would take him five months and 15,000 kilometers into the heart of China, and which resulted in the epic Soul Mountain." To visit the Nobel e-Museum, click here.