Irving Penn was assured a high place in the canon of photography well before his death, on October 7 at the age of ninety-two. Yet for those of us who came of age during the 1960s, he seemed the Apollonian counterpart of his Dionysian contemporary and principal competitor, the younger and groovier Richard Avedon, who died five years before Penn almost to the day. They were the twin gods who ruled high-fashion photography after the postwar resurrection of the Paris haute couture, when they brought unprecedented formal power and graphic impact to what had been dismissed as an intractably insipid genre—“visions of loveliness,” in the sneering phrase of Penn’s mentor and tormentor, Alexander Liberman, longtime editorial director of Condé Nast Publications.
The Swedish Academy’s selection of Romanian-German writer Herta Müller for this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature occasioned surprise in the United States, where Müller is little known. But in Romania, reactions have been strong—and ambivalent.
Vicente Molina Foix is one of those cultured Spaniards who seems more French than Iberian. A distinguished novelist, he knows everything about everything though he’s jokey and not at all pedantic and has the exquisite manners of an old-fashioned French aristocrat (come to think of it during the late Middle Ages there were French Counts of Foix in an independent fiefdom in the Pyranees just north of Aragon). He has written poetry, translated Shakespeare, taught for three years at Oxford, worked as a film critic and published a score of novels; his best known work is El Abrecartas, an epistolary novel that covers the twentieth century in Spain and includes among its many characters the Nobel prizewinning poet Vicente Aleixandre (who late in life was a friend to Molina Foix). There are also letters back and forth from Aleixandre and Lorca.
On October 13, a sold-out crowd at New York’s Cooper Union listened for an hour and a half to readings by such prominent writers as Art Spiegelman, Don DeLillo, Susanna Moore, Eve Ensler, A.M. Holmes, George Saunders, and Paul Auster. Convened by PEN American Center and the ACLU, these writers came together to read not their own work, but the words of CIA bureaucrats, FBI agents, torture victims, former President George W. Bush, Army interrogators, Guantanamo detainees, former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, and coroners’ reports on the homicides of suspects killed in US military and CIA interrogations.
Someone really needs to write a “History of the Improvised Explosive Device”—the IED—covering the period since September 11. This seems like a much-neglected aspect of the Long War—or whatever you want to call it—that hasn’t really gotten its due. Take some of the ominous reports that have cropped up in the news over the past few weeks:
Hatoyama Yukio, the new prime minister of Japan, is no great thrill. His wife, Miyuki, an ex music review actress, is more interesting: she claims to have met Tom Cruise in a former life. And yet Hatoyama, wealthy scion of a political dynasty that goes back to the 19th century (his grandfather was also prime minister), has presided over a victory that is, in its way, as revolutionary as Obama’s in the US.
I have read that more books in the United States are now sold online than in bookstores, and have noticed—and assume a causal connection—that there are less books on the shelves of stores. Since I almost never want to buy a book until I have held it in my hands and riffled through the pages, this means that I shall be purchasing fewer books in the future. Just as well, I suppose, as there is no space on my shelves.
The newly postponed completion dates for New York City’s beleaguered and laggard World Trade Center reconstruction project have an unexpected but telling parallel in Bernard Tschumi’s much-delayed New Acropolis Museum in Athens. When the museum finally opened this summer, few commentators noted that it was to have been completed in time for the city’s 2004 Olympics. Some blamed the lapse on Hellenic inefficiency. Santiago Calatrava’s flamboyant and technically complicated Olympic Stadium was barely ready for the games, an athletic extravaganza that burdened the Greek government with a $7 billion debt.
Over the last few days a consensus has formed, on both the left and the right, that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama was too much, too soon. Even the President’s warmest admirers were embarrassed by the honor’s prematurity, while his domestic critics seized on it much the way they had reacted to the international adulation Obama received as a candidate, when, for example, he brought more than 200,000 people onto the streets of Berlin: they saw it as evidence both of the wide-eyed, teenybopper crush foreigners have on Obama and, somehow, of the President’s own hubris. But on closer examination, the award is not the stunning surprise it first seemed. And, at least from the point of view of those who gave it, it’s not so daft either.