To celebrate The New York Review’s fifty-fifth anniversary, we are featuring one article from each year of the magazine’s history. Today’s selection, from the early Eighties, includes Renata Adler’s infamous critique of Pauline Kael, an essay by Ada Louise Huxtable on modern architecture, Robert Hughes on Andy Warhol, Nadine Gordimer on the dying white order of apartheid South Africa, and Stephen Jay Gould on the life and work of Barbara McClintock.
Over the years, Ms. Kael’s quirks, mannerisms, tactics, and excesses have not only taken over her work so thoroughly that hardly anything else, nothing certainly of intelligence or sensibility, remains; they have also proved contagious, so that the content and level of critical discussion, of movies but also of other forms, have been altered astonishingly for the worse.
Ada Louise Huxtable
Has modern architecture really failed? Or are we loading onto it our perceptions of another kind of failure—something far beyond the architect’s control? I believe that we are addressing a much larger theme: the failure of a moral vision and the breakdown of ideals of a society in transition. What we have lost is what sociologists and psychologists call our “belief systems”—those commonly held convictions that guide our acts and aspirations. No society can function without them.
The working-class kid who had spent so many thousands of hours gazing into the blue, anesthetizing glare of the TV screen, like Narcissus into his pool, realized that the cultural moment of the mid-Sixties favored a walking void. Television was producing an affectless culture. Warhol set out to become one of its affectless heroes.
I live at 6,000 feet in a society whirling, stamping, swaying with the force of revolutionary change. The vision is heady; the image of the demonic dance is accurate, not romantic: an image of actions springing from emotion, knocking deliberation aside. The city is Johannesburg, the country South Africa, and the time the last years of the colonial era in Africa.
Stephen Jay Gould
Barbara McClintock’s discovery of transposable elements in maize was, in retrospect, the beginning of modern molecular genetics. She suffered the fate of many pioneers—incomprehension and bewilderment from most colleagues who could not read her maps of terra incognita. But by tenacity, the blessings of long life, and continuous fruitful activity, she has avoided the maudlin ending of most tales in the annals of exploration, and has lived to savor her triumph in the midst of an active career.