Books of Jewish Beauty

Sara Lipton

Since the late eighteenth century, Jews have often been viewed as contributing little to the visual arts. The idea began with Enlightenment thinkers, such as Kant, whose disdain for sensory experience led him to praise what he considered to be the admirably abstract, image-less, and therefore philosophical nature of ancient Hebrew religious thought. Since then, Jews’ alleged disregard for aesthetics has been variously attributed to the Second Commandment’s prohibition against graven images, or to a logocentric culture’s lack of interest in the visual realm. A new, gorgeously illustrated volume of Jewish manuscripts challenges all such assumptions.

Specters of a Civilization

Glenn H. Shepard Jr.

Martin Gusinde’s haunting photographs of the Selk’nam, Yamana and Kawésqar peoples—now collected and published in The Lost Tribes of Tierra del Fuego—present a way of life that was already on the brink of extinction when he visited the region in 1918–1924 and that has since ceased to exist. “The word ‘Selk’nam’ can mean ‘We are equal,’… though it can also mean ‘we are separate.’” Gusinde’s camera captures the essence of this fundamental enigma of the ethnographic encounter.

The Vanishing City

Alex Traub

Today in New York there are more than 1,300 individual landmarks, and 114 historic districts encompassing some 33,000 landmarked properties. Other landmarked sites include about a hundred lampposts, seven cast-iron sidewalk clocks, three Coney Island amusement park rides, and a Magnolia grandiflora tree planted in Brooklyn in 1885. How this came to be is shown by a revealing new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, “Saving Place: 50 Years of New York City Landmarks.”

The Prince of the Player Piano

Andrew Katzenstein

A month and a half after the opening of its new building, the Whitney Museum is now hosting an eleven-day festival celebrating the work of American expatriate composer Conlon Nancarrow, who is best known for his innovative studies for player piano. Even when you don’t understand what you’re hearing, the sheer energy of Nancarrow’s inventions can be delightful, and watching these piano rolls unfurl provides its own pleasure.

When Auden Met Britten

W.H. Auden

In the summer of 1935, Mr. John Grierson asked me to write a chorus for the conclusion of a G.P.O. documentary film called Coal-Face. My chorus, he told me, would be set by a brilliant young composer he had hired to work for him, called Benjamin Britten.