Roving thoughts and provocations

Slide Show: Houdon’s Sensuous Sculpture

Michael Shae

In “The Best Faces of the Enlightenment,” from the April 8 issue of The New York Review, Willibald Sauerländer writes about a new exhibition of the work of Jean-Antoine Houdon, whom he calls “the last and probably greatest French sculptor of the eighteenth century.” In his works—a selection of which can be seen in this slide show—the “panegyric rhetoric of the baroque” and the “flounces and wigs of the rococo” give way to “an unadorned naturalism.” “Jean-Antoine Houdon: Sensuous Sculpture” was organized by the Liebieghaus in Frankfurt, Germany, and is on view at the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, France, until June 27. It includes nineteen works by Houdon (1741–1828); it also includes works by some of his most important contemporaries, including Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, Augustin Pajou, and Jean-Baptiste II Lemoyne.

Blogging, Now and Then

Robert Darnton

Blogging brings out the hit-and-run element in communication. Bloggers tend to be punchy. They often hit below the belt; and when they land a blow, they dash off to another target. Pow! The idea is to provoke, to score points, to vent opinions, and frequently to gossip.

The Blustering Blast

Charles Simic


For someone like me who lives in New Hampshire, cold and snow are things I take in stride, the way I fancy the inhabitants of the tropics barely take notice of the hot muggy days they have there. It’s the howling wind that discombobulates me, the one a neighbor calls “Labrador Express,” conjuring up for me visions of the bleak landscape of that great peninsula in eastern Canada that once I surveyed in horror from a low-flying plane.

Slide Show: The Indiana Jones of Ants

In her review of Harvard entomologist E.O. Wilson’s first novel, Anthill, in the April 8 issue of The New York Review, Margaret Atwood encourages anyone interested in ants to “take a look at the daring eco-adventurer Mark Moffett’s spectacular new ant book, Adventures Among Ants.” Moffett—who studied evolutionary biology under Wilson—has been tracking ants for decades; his research has taken him all over the world, including as a photographer for National Geographic magazine, earning him the nickname “the Indiana Jones of entomology.” These photographs come from his book, which will be published by University of California Press in May.

Lenten Thoughts

Garry Wills

The second mystery is the scourging of Jesus. This was a prescribed part of Roman execution by crucifixion. The convict was stripped naked and beaten with rods. This was done to break his spirit, so there would be no undignified scuffle when the man was led to the execution site and affixed to the cross. It was to demean him ahead of time, to degrade his manhood, so he would be cowed and submissive when taken to his death.

Girls! Girls! Girls!

Tony Judt

In 1992 I was chairman of the History Department at New York University—where I was also the only unmarried straight male under sixty. A combustible blend: prominently displayed on the board outside my office was the location and phone number of the university’s Sexual Harassment Center. History was a fast-feminizing profession, with a graduate community primed for signs of discrimination—or worse. Physical contact constituted a presumption of malevolent intention; a closed door was proof positive.

They Did Authorize Torture, But …

David Cole

Whatever else you might say about John Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who drafted several memos in 2002 authorizing the CIA to commit torture, you have to admit that he’s not in the least embarrassed by the condemnation of his peers. On February 19, the Justice Department released a set of previously confidential reports by its Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) excoriating Yoo’s legal work—but stopped short of referring him for professional discipline by his state bar association. Since then Yoo has written Op-Eds for The Wall Street Journal and The Philadelphia Inquirer trumpeting his “victory.” In the Wall Street Journal piece, entitled “My Gift to the Obama Presidency,” Yoo argued that President Obama owes him a debt of gratitude for “winning a drawn-out fight to protect his powers as commander in chief to wage war and keep Americans safe.” Four days later, in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Yoo called the decision not to refer him for bar discipline “a victory for the people fighting the war on terror.”

The New Tower of London

Martin Filler

One of the most well-intentioned artistic initiatives ever undertaken by the United States government has turned out to be among its least successful: the embassy design program meant to present America’s best architectural face abroad. The latest evidence of this effort’s often dispiriting outcome is the selection of the little-known Philadelphia firm of KieranTimberlake to create a new US embassy in London.