The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

April 20 2001 11:30 PM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

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FAILING UPWARD As Johnny Rotten famously said of the Sex Pistols, "the crown and the glory of the [band] is that we've always managed to disappoint on big occasions. When the chips were down, we never came through." Now, with Joey Ramone's death, certain Punk fans have come through big time. In the gloom of the late '70s, with its power shortages, blackouts, and economic downturns, who would have believed that the op-ed page of the New York Times would someday remark on the passing of Joey Ramone? Or that nostalgia for a form a music that was anything but nostalgic would become the prevailing mood of the day? Will there now be flowers at CBGBs? On Tuesday in Slate, Douglas Wolk cautioned against teary outbursts, though Jonathan Lethem, writing in the Times, appears to be unable to help himself. "The outpouring of grief at the passing of Joey Ramone on Sunday is partly evidence of the still frustrated cultural identity of a slice of listeners, those of us who will never have an oldies station to call our own." Spare us, Mr Lethem. If possession of an unfrustrated cultural identity is to have one's own oldies station, then it's time to throw out the radio. ( Alex Abramovitch writes about the Ramones in Feed and Michael Tedder in Ironminds.)

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CHILDCARE
In addition to her success as an author—90 million Harry Potter books sold in 42 different languages—J.K. Rowling is also a parent and raises her child on her own. In an interview published by the Guardian, Rowling talks about parenting. "If we demonise [single parents], we don't have to help them. It's much easier for certain sections of society to say, 'You've brought this on yourself by your fecklessness; you sort it out,' than to say, 'You've been a victim of circumstances,' or 'Hey, marriages break up ... but how are we going to help you help yourself?' I never set out to be a lone parent—and there I was. It's undeniable: there's a stigma attached. But I was the most unashamed lone parent you were ever going to meet. I was, like, 'And what is your problem? I'm doing a great job.' I'm very impatient with the idea that any of us should be ashamed about it." The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which issued a new study on child development today, should be impressed with Rowling's notion of motherhood. As the New York Times reports, the authors of the study "found a direct correlation between time spent in child care and traits like aggression, defiance and disobedience. … [T]wo of its lead researchers said the findings held true regardless of the type or quality of care, the sex of the child, the family's socioeconomic status or whether mothers themselves provided sensitive care."

WOLCOTT'S WORLD
As a friend insists, Michael Lind and James Wolcott can, when the light falls in the right places, resemble one another. Now, in the course of a New York Press interview, Wolcott offers his version of Lind's Up From Conservatism, which (after the next phase of his spiritual development, as career changes are now euphemistically known) could appear as a memoir entitled "Up From Vanity Fair." For Wolcott's admirers and enemies, much of what he relays to the editors of the N.Y. Press confirms his position as the Anne Robinson of literary journalism. "There's certain things I don't read right away," he tells the paper. "For example, when I read Salman Rushdie, I was shocked. Because this was so bad. It's bad in a totally bombastic way, and I could see why it would fool people, but don't tell me it's great writing." Some years ago, in a review of Sabbath's Theater, Wolcott described Philip Roth in his dust-jacket photo as "distinguished and debonair, like a Dewar's Profile of the man of letters at leisure." In a dismissal of William Gass' novel The Tunnel, Wolcott wrote that the novelist "began writing this book in 1966 … 1966—the year the Beatles recorded Revolver, Michelangelo Antonioni released Blow-Up, and Twiggy was fashion's favorite Q-Tip. … Now the psychedelic skies are gray. … The Tunnel reflects the loosy-goosy period in which it was begun and the overriding sense of mission needed to span nearly thirty years of hard mental labor. It isn't so much a novel as a Sisyphean labor, the uphill climb of a downhill life." Other Wolcott targets include Susan Faludi and Gore Vidal, though his treatment of Frank Rich's memoir was more sympathetic.

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AT THE EXECUTION
Attorney General John Ashcroft will allow relatives of those who died in the Oklahoma City bombing to watch the execution of Timothy McVeigh on closed-circuit television. Commenting on the attorney general's decision in Writ, Edward Lazarus says that "the real reason the United States (in contrast to every other western nation) insists on having a death penalty is the all-too-human desire for vengeance. Why else provide closed circuit television viewing of McVeigh's execution? And why else grant access only to his victims' families (who may want to exact retribution), and not to all of us (including possible future criminals who might theoretically be deterred)?" Executions were of considerable interest to Michel Foucault. In a review of a new collection of Foucault's essays and lectures, Power: The Essential Works Volume 3, Peter Conrad writes: "One of the best pieces here is a short, impassioned assault on [President] Georges Pompidou's guillotining of two prisoners in 1971. Their abrupt end demonstrates that the whole penal system is impelled by 'the desire for death, the fascination with death;' and that lust—symbolized by the rearing, phallic, blood-stained shape of the guillotine—was grounded, for Foucault, in a fatal sexual curiosity. This complicity between sex and death revealed to him 'the fascism in us all', just as it provoked Genet's sexual rhapsodies about the Nazis." ( Christopher Hitchens' introduction to Charles Duff's A Handbook on Hanging recently appeared in the Los Angeles Times"Book Review.")

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DEATH ON THE LEFT BANK
The death of the Jérôme Lindon last week became a French national event, prompting even President Jacques Chirac to remark on the achievements of the editor, as Alan Riding reports in today's Times. " 'Jérôme Lindon never ceased to defend free and critical thought,'Le Monde said in an editorial. 'He made rebellion—against fashion, conformity, power—a rule of his life.' " Riding continues: "In the mid-1950's Mr. Lindon emerged as a central figure in a literary movement known as the Nouveau Roman when he published novelists like Nathalie Sarraute, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Robert Pinget, Michel Butor and Claude Simon. Éditions de Minuit also published Marguerite Duras's most famous novel, 'The Lover'. … In 1950 Mr. Lindon absorbed a literary review, Critique. … In the decades that followed, association with this review led several prominent philosophers to publish with Éditions de Minuit, among them Jacques Derrida, Michel Serres and Pierre Bourdieu. At the same time Mr. Lindon became a fervent defender of authors' rights and independent booksellers." Samuel Beckett was another of Lindon's many authors.

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THE PUNK The death of Joey Ramone has yet to elicit a response from the White House, though if Press Secretary Ari Fleischer were to make a statement, one suspects that neither admirers nor detractors of the punk rocker would be especially pleased. Surprised, perhaps. As the Los Angles Times observes, the Ramones "got [their] start playing at CBGB, a club that spawned such contemporaries on the New York scene as the Talking Heads and Blondie. The Ramones never cracked the Top 40. In fact, they never even cracked the top 60. The band released more than a dozen albums, of which only two—1977's 'Rocket to Russia' and 1980's 'End of the Century'—even broke the Top 100." ... According to the Washington Post's obituary, "Punk originally was characterized by its rock-and-roll generated criticism of conventional culture. Almost everything about it, from the performers' attitudes to their attire, suggested rejection of society and rejection by society. 'The Ramones are there for all the outcasts,' Mr. Ramone told an interviewer. 'Alienation was definitely a feeling we went through in the early stage.' Onstage, Mr. Ramone was a manic figure in a leather jacket. Black fingerless gloves were part of his image, along with the suggestion that he was one tough cookie, out, like his listeners, for a night of fun."

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VISIONARY AT THE MET
Among the many painters William Blake } disliked Correggio } figured prominently, as Michael Kimmelman points out in the New York Times. Exhibitions of both artists are currently on show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, though the Blake, which made its first appearance at the Tate Gallery last fall, is the more ambitious of the two. As Hilton Kramer writes, Blake "was a radical and a mystic in his every interest and endeavor—in his politics and his theology as well as in his poetry and painting—and he was radically original, too, in the principal ambition of his life, which was to combine the resources of poetry, painting and printing in a single medium, the illustrated printed book, which would address the mind as a spiritual revelation." For pursuing this ambition, Blake has always been a revered figure for radicals—and for Internet gurus, who wish the World Wide Web to become, if not necessarily a spiritual revelation, then at least a medium combining visual, written, and aural dimensions. Writing about Blake last year, the British novelist Iain Sinclair said: "There is no reason on earth why Blake, his poetry or his art, should be of any use. It was never his business to be useful. Shovels are useful. Paper clips are useful. Blake astounds, terrifies, delights. He gives us a richer sense of ourselves ..." In Brian Sewell's view, the exhibition allows its visitors to "sense something of the man and the time and place in which he worked, his religious fervor, his political fear and, above all, [to be made] aware of a driving, careless courage."

MELVILLE IN GERMANY
The leaders of the Baader-Meinhof Group, the German terrorist gang of the 1970s, committed suicide while in prison, though just how two members were able to shoot themselves to death is to this day a mystery. No gun was ever discovered. In the London Review, Peter Wollen writes about the group's enthusiasm for Melville's Moby Dick. "In 1972 [Ulrike] Meinhof was already recommending the novel to her children and Gudrun Ensslin, always practical-minded, used it to provide cover names for the [Baader-Meinhof] prisoners in their clandestine communications—Baader was Ahab, Meins was Starbuck, the group's lawyer, Horst Mahler, was Bildad and Ensslin was the ship's cook. … In the book the whale is finally killed, but so too, of course, are all the crew, from captain to cook, with the single exception of Ishmael, to whom the closest surviving equivalent is perhaps Astrid Proll, the author and editor of Baader-Meinhof: Pictures on the Run, 67-77..."

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WOODY ALLEN'S NEW YORK
John Tierney says it is hypocritical of Woody Allen to object to Mayor Rudy Giuliani's decorum in art campaign and then to complain about a building that may be constructed next to his Manhattan home that it would desecrate the neighborhood. "The chattering classes here are famous for their eagerness to regulate other industries," Tierney writes, "but they insist that their jobs and products be completely free of government intervention—except, of course, for government money, which must be given unconditionally. For the public good, their artistic and political views must remain as unobstructed as the views from Mr. Allen's town house." That's unfair, Mr. Tierney: One can visit an art show, such as "Sensation" at the Brooklyn Museum of Art (the exhibition that did so much to ruffle the mayor), or not. Buildings, however, tend to be more permanent, are rather less avoidable, and many new ones—especially apartment buildings—are shockingly ugly and will stay ugly until, many years later, they are torn down.

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A FRICK ON THE HUDSON
Wave Hill, briefly the Bronx home of Mark Twain and the attractive setting for Woody Allen's movie Interiors, is losing its gardener, Marco Polo Stufano, to retirement. As the Times reports: "Wave Hill, [Stefano] likes to say, drawing as always on his sense of art history, is to its far larger botanical neighbor in the Bronx as the Frick Collection is to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 'This is about providing someplace beautiful for the people of the city,' he said.' It's not about a collection of plants. It's about making pictures, putting things together in a way that's pleasing.' " Now, if only Mayor Giuliani would turn the eye of his decency commission toward the house at Wave Hill, currently the shambolic office of a publicly funded environmental and educational center. The beautiful house with remarkable views of the Hudson River, the George Washington Bridge, and the New Jersey Palisades, is crying out to be converted into a museum. The Bronx would then have its very own Frick and Mr. Stufano's garden a more proper neighbor.

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FIGHTING ANTI-SEMITISM
As Ian Buruma acutely points out in this week's New Yorker, David Irving, the Holocaust denier and vengeful snob, "seems to be absolutely serious only in his hatreds—most of all, in his hatred of 'our traditional enemies' (that is to say, 'Jewish fraudsters'), of professional historians, and of anyone else he takes to represent the establishment." In a review of D.D. Guttenplan's book about the Irving trial, Martin Bright says: "Guttenplan's final chapter is a call for solidarity among his fellow Jews in the fight against prejudice. In Britain, he suggests this might mean Jewish leaders speaking out more against police brutality and the treatment of asylum-seekers. 'What does it say when the two recent Home Secretaries—one Conservative, one Labor—who have done more to restrict the rights of refugees are themselves respectively the son and grandson of Jewish refugees?' " As Graham Turner's article about Jewish life in the United States and Britain suggests, perhaps it says something about assimilation. "The statistics certainly look ominous. In America, six out of 10 Jews are marrying out. In Britain … it is as many as two thirds. The consequences for the future of the community in both countries are dire. … To the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, the rate of marrying out spells 'massive demographic devastation and confusion.' In Britain, the Jewish community has fallen from 450,000 in the Fifties to 260,000 today. In America, where the birth rate among all Jews is the lowest of any ethnic community, Jews now make up only two per cent of the population, half what it was 40 years ago. Israel Lau, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, says the Jews have lost more to 'attrition' than they did to the Holocaust."

LEAVING CHINA
Now that President Bush has issued an apology to China (the Telegraph explains the complexities of saying sorry in Chinese), the 24 U.S. reconnaissance personnel can soon expect to be whisked across the Atlantic and greeted as heroes as their feet meet American tarmac. ( Christopher Hitchens writes about the recent history of Sino-American relations in the London Review.) Meantime, while the bugles play, U.S. immigration officials, like their Canadian counterparts, will scour the Pacific horizon, on the look out for next tramp steamer or cargo boat with a secret cargo of Chinese men, women, and children attempting to emigrate to North America. As the National Post reports, these immigrants' arrival is unlikely to be pleasant, and many will be deported back to China—even if the journeys they endured to reach what they hoped would become their promised land are as heroic as they are tragic.

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PAPER TRAIL
Last year, Nicholson Baker acquired 7,500 bound volumes of newspapers for his American Newspaper Repository. He told the Telegraph: "[T]hese volumes are physical objects that represent history, the raw store of history that we have—the chief, the main, the principal urban record of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, rarer than most of the stuff that libraries keep in their rare book collections." In a review of Baker's new book, Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, Robert Darnton questions the novelist's conception of history—evidence, in itself, is not history—but believes Baker's recommendations for the protection of books and newspapers are very important. "Unlike bison and forests, [newspapers] cannot be revived. The moral of the tale stands as a corrective to the lore of the journalists: Nothing is more dead than yesterday's newspaper, except yesterday's destroyed newspaper. P.S. The Council on Library and Information Resources … has just issued a draft report recommending a nationwide effort … to save original copies of books and newspapers. It also proposes steps to be taken toward a national preservation policy that would include audiovisual and digital materials, which are even more endangered than print on paper."

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SAVINGS AND LOANS
According to Sheryl Garratt, the Japanese can't stop shopping, but as Murray Sayle points out, one of the big challenges for Japanese treasury officials is to persuade people to spend more of their savings. "The Japanese are the world's keenest savers; they spend so little on themselves that the Government has to do it for them in order to keep the national economy, and the world's, ticking over. The Japanese Finance Ministry estimates that in the financial year to March 2001, central and local government debt will exceed 140 per cent of GDP; the authorities in the world's second largest economy will, in other words, have laid out almost a year and a half's income before a single yen has come in. On what? … The gleaming 512-foot monster that towers over our local trout stream, for instance, barely generates enough electricity to run its own lavish PR show, much less to light the mountain village where I live, or earn anything to repay the four billion dollars it has cost."

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WASTING TIME
According to Parkinson's Law, work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. But as Jim Holt points out in Lingua Franca, there are occasions when a well-developed sense of procrastination may help you make better choices. There is, of course, no better way of wasting time these days than flying to or from La Guardia, and the delays at the New York airport affect air travel throughout the United States. Not that you have much choice in the matter, nor has anyone proved conclusively that wasting time in Queens, New York, is a good thing. As a New York Times editorial explains, inefficient use of bad runways (too many planes of the wrong size taking off and landing on a field designed in the age of the prop, not the jet) is chiefly to blame. The solution, it seems, is an auction scheme. As the Times puts it, "the Port Authority and the F.A.A. would agree on the airport's ideal capacity and the highest bidders would win those slots not already grandfathered. … The alternative would be to raise and restructure La Guardia's landing fees so that airlines adjust their behavior—say by flying fewer but larger aircraft on a given route. At present, aircraft pay according to their weight, so private planes and regional jets pay far less than a 767 crammed with more than 200 passengers. This makes no sense. Slower both on the runway and in flight, smaller regional airliners and private jets strain the airport's capacity a great deal more, not less, than bigger planes."

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MISSING As Andrew O'Hagan writes in the New York Review of Books, Lord Lucan, a subject of Muriel Spark's new book, is a figure for the Internet age—at least, for that part of the Internet obsessed with conspiracy and the supernatural. "The kinds of people who seek information on these things … are people who used to subscribe to weird magazines, used to meet in pool bars or in fields on weekends, and who can now be found in Inter-net chat-rooms at three o'clock in the morning. It is becoming possible to understand these groups as new international tribes: the People of the Grassy Knoll, the Clan Roswell, the Global Fraternity of Boys Who Love Pamela Anderson, the Elvises, the Hitlers, the Worldwide Believers in the Sanctity of the Meteorite. Every classroom in the New World used to have one or two of these types; every mall had a dozen or so; but now, thanks to the glories of the World Wide Web, these odd twos and dozens can link hands across time zones and space, making of each contingent, from Dundee, Scotland, to Delmar, Iowa, a brotherhood of cranks the size of Katmandu."

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WHEN YOU ARE OLD AND GREY
Where will you live when you get old? The nature of retirement facilities in America is changing to match older citizens' developing needs—and growing numbers. Designers are looking for plans that stress activity and interaction—and are eschewing colonial-style furniture. Baby-boomers will become seniors virtually in one fell swoop. According to Hubble Smith in the Las Vegas Review Journal, "the population of people 55 to 69 will increase by more than 6 million in the next five years," and "[d]emand for new active adult housing is expected to rise to 700,000 units in 2002, compared with 400,000 unites in 1999." (Las Vegas did not make it onto the list of "hip" places to live when you're aged.) Anne Eisenberg in the New York Times profiles a new kind of "smart house" for the elderly that uses tracking-type devices to detect changes in rate of motion (which might signal an emergency) and can also prompt old folks to remember indispensables like taking pills or even eating or drinking water. Though cameras are used, designers stress that there is no "Big Brother" feeling to the homes. Dr. Irfan A. Essa, a developer of the tracking systems, insists, "our intention isn't to spy."—Sian Gibby

FOUR- (OR MORE) LEGGED FRIENDS
The relations between humans and animals are manifold and complex. We have been sharing the planet for so long they could hardly be otherwise. In the 21st century we find ourselves more inextricably linked than ever. On one hand, we are constantly discovering new connections. For example, according to a piece by {{Frank Shirrmacher#2:http://www.faz.com/IN/INtemplates/eFAZ/docinfocus.asp?rub={B1312000-FBFB-11D2-B228-00105A9CAF88}&sub={05125C1D-0263-11D5-A3B3-009027BA22E4}&doc={263CF17E-3A21-11D4-B98C-009027BA226C}&width=1024&height=740&agt=explorer&ver=4&svr=4}} from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, it seems possible that fruit flies share not only our liking of sweet fruits, but also possibly our tendency toward depression. Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent Ray Moseley reports from Britain that we humans find our misery almost symbiotically bonded to that of hoofed animals, as foot-and-mouth continues to ravage the lives of humans in the tourism industry there. And in more intimate spheres, some writers have resurrected, inexplicably, the notion of bestiality. Peter Singer writes an article putting forward the case for; Slate's Timothy Noah takes a bewildered look at the issue, and William Saletan examines the logic of bestiality and finds it lacking.—Sian Gibby