False Gods

In The Good Apprentice, Iris Murdoch’s twenty-second novel, the hero learns one of life’s most painful lessons: how the gods of youth turn out to be false. Real gods never make an appearance in The Good Apprentice but we are provided with several self-styled magicians deluded into believing they might …

Street Moves

I first saw Merce Cunningham in a dance class at Bennington College in the summer of 1941, a period that now seems to me as remote as that of the Napoleonic wars. Martha Graham (in whose company he then danced) kindly allowed me to watch classes. I was at the …

A Night at the Palace

After I’d checked in at the hotel and got to my room, I was surprised to find the Queen of the Palace, Leona M. Helmsley, dressed up as Whistler’s mother, esconced in a rocker and watching TV. Alarmed, I reached for the phone, but she said, with a smile. “I …

Spoils of War

Wars have a momentum of their own and a tendency to destroy the very thing they set out to preserve or to gain. Each starts out as something vast—a reflection of the society that concocts it—only to become a vastness in itself. Masterpieces have been written that illustrate the point, …

An Interview with Ricardo

“Maynard Keynes [is]…with Smith, Marx, and possibly Ricardo, one of the three or four greatest economists who ever lived.” —John Kenneth Galbraith, The New York Review of Books, November 22, 1984 SCENE: A dressing room at the Teatro Galicia in Barcelona, scantily furnished with a couch, a few chairs, …

Balanchine after Balanchine

When Balanchine died last year, the question of what would happen to the vast repertory that bears his name became a matter of immediate concern. No one doubted the great pieces would still be danced—but how often, how well, and by whom? And what would happen to the important work …

Real Guys

Historic evenings of dance exist in the imagination—Nijinsky’s Faun, Ulanova’s Swan, the première of Le Sacre…were they really as extraordinary, as breathtaking, as scandalous as legend would have us believe? I attended one such occasion on the evening of May 14, 1959, when Martha Graham and George Balanchine “collaborated” for …

The Rites of Martha Graham

To produce a version of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring at the age of ninety is so unlikely a prospect that Martha Graham’s life has taken on an aspect of her work—triumph wrested against odds, whether of time or fate. Graham seems more and more like her chosen heroines, more …

The Miracle of Chekhov

Our view of Chekhov as a fiction writer has been a matter of luck—haphazard glimpses proffered at the whim of this or that translator and publisher. Chekhov wrote 588 stories; the mature work—some sixty pieces—appeared between 1888 and 1904. That leaves “528 items” (according to the introduction to this book) …

Venice: Still Life

At one of the tourist traps in Venice, Alone for lunch, I watch a guide’s Innocuous school of fish swim by, Back up, swirl in, to nibble a bit, Awash among the famous paintings Before they head out for the icons— Shrines whose outlines …

Fingerprints

Does the café table bear the fingerprints Of Victor, his transmuted fires gone, And one more vodka on the waiter’s tray? The trees here smell of zinc. The setting sun Is dragging its copyright down the sky— I’m at the bay where nothing ever happens.

Good Poems, Sad Lives

Memoirs that commemorate the dead belong to a genre that requires more trust than any other; self-interested justification, the need for revenge, and the risk of exploitation are real. Worse is the possibility of subtle distortion; memoirs are not objective accounts but the case as presented by so-and-so. Eileen Simpson’s …

The Long Island Night

Nothing as miserable has happened before. The Long Island night has refused its moon. La belle dame sans merci’s next door. The Prince of Darkness is on the phone. Certain famous phrases of our time Have taken on the glitter of poems, Like …