Culture

April 2014

  • April 22, 2014

    His parents were horrible people. He was sickly all his life, dying eventually of an excruciating bladder cancer at only 48. His emotional life was often ungovernable. His at first rapturous marriage to a beautiful young aristocrat far above his station was plagued by suspicion, jealousy and outright brutality. And he was frequently defrauded by his most prominent patrons.

  • April 15, 2014

    One hundred years ago today, Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States. His mark on the 20th century is writ so large that it does not seem that long ago. Perhaps that is because his major accomplishments still have a considerable effect on American life: the Federal Reserve system, the Federal Trade Commission and the Internal Revenue Service, all created in his first term; and universal suffrage and the ratification of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote, in his second term.

  • April 15, 2014

    Witold Gombrowicz (1904–69) began his monumental Diary, spanning the years 1953 to 1969, with the words “Monday / Me. // Tuesday / Me. // Wednesday / Me. // Thursday / Me.” While the statement might appear to be an expression of unbridled egocentrism, it also signals the author’s commitment to escape the role of the writer as a prophetic bard, a voice of the nation, which is so common to Polish literature. Gombrowicz will always remain himself.

  • April 15, 2014

    Is it blasphemous to say that the problem with Noah is the story? That it may not be substantial enough to float a star-driven, effects-laden, $125-million movie? Or that director Darren Aronofsky’s attempt to hang flesh, blood, human logic and nautical mechanics on a tale that takes up barely 2,500 metaphorical words of biblical text turns out to have been a crazier idea than collecting two of every species on a very big boat and waiting for the flood—a flood, by the way, that only you think is coming?

  • April 9, 2014

    After he finished reading an earlier biography of himself, Norman Mailer told me, with a mixture of rue and triumph, “He missed the twinkle.” His new biographer, J. Michael Lennon, does not miss the twinkle or much else about the writer who swaggered across a half century of American life, writing novels, plays, poems, essays, journalism, even some theological speculation along with directing movies.

  • April 9, 2014

    When John Maynard Keynes said that the world is ruled by the ideas of economists and political philosophers, “both when they are right and when they are wrong,” he left out that often it is not evidence or logic that determine which ideas “rule the roost”; it is Karl Marx’s dictum that the ruling ideas would be “nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships.”

  • April 9, 2014

    The achievements of John Henry Newman are staggering. He did nothing less than craft a language that enabled many 19th-century men and women to affirm the awe-inspiring mystery of God in not merely a conventional notional manner, but with a real apprehension that influenced and changed their lives (to use a distinction that permeates his work).

  • April 9, 2014

    A lapsed Catholic, Robert Stone considers his loss of religion one of the pivotal events of his life. If nothing else, it provides inspiration for his award-winning fiction and for the religious impulse behind his work. In his eighth novel, Death of the Black-Haired Girl, religion shapes the lives and aspirations of the main characters but not in ways one would expect.

  • April 1, 2014

    The respected Israeli journalist Ari Shavit has written a remarkable book about the deeds and misdeeds of his beloved country. My Promised Land offers a compelling, soul-searching mix of history, politics, culture and military strategy.

    The three most riveting chapters examine Israel’s brutal expulsion of Palestinians from the Lydda Valley in 1948, the controversial decision to build nuclear weapons and the ongoing occupation of the West Bank.

  • April 1, 2014

    Most of the poetry that came out of the Great War was ironical, as Paul Fussell showed in his brilliant and moving The Great War and Modern Memory, but none of its veteran unironical writers, whom he doesn’t mention or glances over, ever denied war’s shattering effects. J. R. R. Tolkein, for instance, spoke of “sheer animal horror,” and C. S.

  • April 1, 2014

    I once had a homiletics professor who said not to worry too much if it appears that members of the congregation are daydreaming during your homily. A homily, he pointed out, is not an act of persuasion. You’re not up there trying to prove some point. (Or if you are, God help the people.) A good homily is meant to break open the Word, that is, to draw people into a space where God is close and can speak to them directly. Once they’re there, your mission is accomplished (even if you still have a lot to say).  

  • April 1, 2014

    One delightful and certainly unintended consequence of Divergent—the fantasy novel by Veronica Roth, its sequels and the movies they are beginning to spawn—may be an improvement in teenage America’s vocabulary. In book form, Divergent was followed by Insurgent and Allegiant; the dystopic society in which the action takes place is divided into lofty sounding factions reflecting each citizen’s dominant trait: Dauntless (the brave); Abegnation (the self-less), Candor (the honest), Erudite (the knowledgeable) and Amity (the peaceful).

  • April 1, 2014

    When a character gives a speech in a play—whether it is a soul-searching soliloquy, a public testimony or a bona fide bit of chest-thumping oratory—it functions somewhat like a song in a musical. It takes us out of the realm of ordinary dialogue, to a place either inside a person’s deepest thoughts or hovering somewhere slightly above the action, commenting on it.

  • April 1, 2014

    More people now die in the United States by suicide than in automobile accidents. There were 28,364 deaths by suicide in 2010 (the most recent year for which data are available) and, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the rate is rising, particularly among middle-aged adults. Jennifer Michael Hecht’s book is a plea directed to both those who are considering taking their own lives and those who may be in a position to intervene.