There’s also a familiarity to the lesser-known works adorning the walls of “America’s Cool Modernism: O’Keeffe to Hopper.” Not because British audiences have seen them before; they haven’t—nearly half of the eighty-odd paintings, photographs, and prints in this relatively small, three-room show have never previously been exhibited in the UK. All the same, we know exactly what we’re looking at: representations of the mythologies of an “America” that has long inhabited the popular global imagination, from the towering structures of the archetypal modern metropolis to the rustic barns, uniform fields of corn, and white picket fences of prairie farmland.
In 1887, Tolstoy went back to fiction and wrote The Kreutzer Sonata. In that novella, a man who holds exactly Tolstoy’s extreme views on sex (that it is utterly disgusting), and whose courtship and marriage in every way described corresponds to the author’s own biography, kills his wife in a fit of jealousy when he assumes (probably wrongly) that she is betraying him with her handsome violin teacher. Was this wishful thinking? Was it a warning to himself of what he might be capable of? Was it an exploration of the relation of his extreme views to real behavior?
Teaching a course on “Facts/Alternative Facts: Media in America from Tocqueville to Trump,” I created an exercise I called “Tweeting Nietzsche.” It would be our touchstone throughout the term, a reminder that to speak of facts is to speak of language—Nietzsche’s “mobile army of metaphor, metonym, and anthropomorphism”—and that journalists who intend to write factually in today’s hostile climate for news media must learn how to deploy that mobile army effectively. I wish I’d had a trumpet to sound the charge.
The rattled breathlessness of Lesley Manville’s delivery as Mary in BAM’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, as if half a second’s interruption would bring everything crashing down, established the state of things in the Tyrone household with no delay: the masks are already off. Manville’s Mary is not merely distracted but positively a junkie with screaming nerves. The play is a work that mercilessly tests each actor’s ability to inhabit roles that are not characters but beings, summoned by an authorial process that can only be conceived as an occult attempt to restore speech to the dead.
A life in literary criticism: how Review writers read and responded to the novels of Philip Roth (1933–2018).
From 1985, Al Alvarez: What excites Roth’s verbal life—and provokes his readers—is, he seems to suggest, the opportunity fiction provides to be everything he himself is not: raging, whining, destructive, permanently inflamed, unstoppable. Irony, detachment, and wisdom are given unfailingly to other people. Even Diana, Zuckerman’s punchy twenty-year-old mistress who will try anything for a dare, sounds sane and bored and grown-up when Zuckerman is in the grip of his obsession. The truly convincing yet outlandish caricature in Roth’s repertoire is of himself.
The Seventh Cross is an example of something rare in the literature of the German language: a brilliantly written novel that keeps alive one of the most important chapters of German history—though I can still see why as a student I thought the book was old-fashioned. The grammar is complex, the language at times curious, its female characters oddly passive. So what gives The Seventh Cross its literary quality? First, something quite simple: Anna Seghers, it turns out, was a veritable master of suspense.
Watching Sri Lankans parade the Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s mutilated corpse, Rahul Gandhi wondered, “Why they are humiliating this man in this way?” It was this merciful vision that Gandhi, after years of grief and righteous rage, expressed recently as he forgave those who killed his father, Rajiv. Rahul Gandhi may turn out to be another self-seeking dynast. But there is dignity in his dissent today from a worldwide culture of cruelty; and it is a rare reminder that many frozen seas of pity will have to melt before we regain a semblance of civil society.
Drawing borders around people might give us a more orderly and predictable world. But for all the promised benefits of a frictionless experience of journeying, it may not be a more humane one. Passports might disappear in the next decade, but they’ll be replaced by something much more invasive: a digital shadow representing our bodies, our families, and our pasts, following us like little rainclouds everywhere we go.
“Counter Investigations,” an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, details the work of an investigative agency called Forensic Architecture. The group, founded by the Israeli architect Eyal Weizman in 2010, seeks to use forensic methods of evidence-gathering and presentation against the nation states that developed them. Weizman believes that architects, who are skilled at computer modeling, presenting complex technical information to lay audiences, and coordinating projects made up of many different experts and specialists, are uniquely suited to this kind of investigation. But there’s another, simpler explanation for their involvement: “Most people dying in contemporary conflicts die in buildings.”
The gripping and dramatic show “All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life” merits its title: it is “all too human” in the tender, painful works that form its core. But “a century of painting life” promises something wider—does it smack of marketing, a lure to bring people in? In fact, the heart of the show is narrower and more interesting, illustrating the competing and overlapping streams of painterly obsession in London in the second half of the twentieth century. It shows us how, in their different ways, painters such as Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach, R.B. Kitaj and Paula Rego redefined realism.