The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition of the works of the French painter Jean-Siméon Chardin continues through September. Many critics have expressed shock and amazement at one painting in particular: The Ray. Click here to view the picture. The New Republic’s Jed Perl writes that Chardin’s “arresting, almost perfervid vision … strikes me as being as finely orchestrated as any still life ever done. Chardin discovers a tremendous subject here. The gutted fish, which hangs on the stone wall, all pale white and blood-red, has a face whose eyes and mouth are as gargoyle-eerie as some of the tiny gremlins that Michelangelo carved on the mouldings of the Medici tombs.” For other images from the exhibition, click here.

A Philadelphia police chief, asked how he planned to cope with anti-capitalist demonstrators outside the Republican National Convention, quipped that he would re-deploy his forces from Dunkin Donuts to Starbucks. Jokes aside, anarchism is on the march: Anarchist cells are already planning to disrupt the Sydney Olympics in September. What’s it all about? Here’s an essay in the London Review of Books on disparate intellectual threads in the anarchist and anti-capitalist movements. In the New York Times, Walter Goodman explains why novelists who wrote about anarchism–Dostoevsky, Conrad, and Henry James–refused to be swayed by the doctrine. In Slate, David Plotz recently wrote about the anarchist demonstrations in Washington. To read Noam Chomsky’s “Notes on Anarchism,” which first appeared in the New York Review of Books in 1970, click here. Here’s the Anarchist Age Weekly Review and the Anarchist Yellow Pages.

Stanley Kunitz will succeed Robert Pinsky as the nation’s poet laureate. Writing in the Atlantic Monthly four years ago, David Barber assessed the work of Kunitz, who had then turned 90. “Most extraordinary of all,” Barber argued, “the Kunitz of the past forty years has been a measurably finer poet than he was in the first half of his life, amassing a body of such starkly powerful lyric poems as to make all that came before them seem an extended apprenticeship.” To read four poems by Kunitz—“Touch Me,” “King of the River,” “The Round,” and “The Quarrel”—click here. For an extended interview with the poet, click here. And to buy his books, click here.

ITALIAN CHARMER A film festival in Europe provides a further chance to evaluate the work of the attractive Marcello Mastroianni, who died in 1996 and who was the best Italian actor of the 20th century—Sophia Loren or Roberto Benigni notwithstanding. (Click here to read an obituary.) “He’s gentle, open and intelligent,” the director Federico Fellini once said of Mastroianni. “He enters his character on tiptoes and never asks a question.” When asked about his initial thoughts about his famous co-star in La Dolce Vita, Anita Ekberg, the former beauty queen from Sweden, Mastroianni said he had some doubts. She reminded him of “a Nazi soldier who arrested me during the war.” Last year, a documentary film about the actor appeared: Click here to read the Village Voice’s review.

TYNAN’S TASTES Inside this week’s New Yorker is an excerpt from the remarkable journals of Kenneth Tynan, the brilliant critic and great socialite who died 20 years ago. (For a summary, click here.) In an introduction to the journals, John Lahr, the magazine’s theater critic, describes Tynan as a “meteor” whose qualities as a critic were inspired by his “profound awareness of death. It fed both his voracity for pleasure—for food, for drink, for sex, for talk (’Talking to gifted and/or funny people,’ he wrote, ‘is evidence both of intense curiosity and of jaded palate’)—and his desire to memorialize it.” Sex is a significant feature of the journals, particularly of the sadomasochistic variety—though Tynan never disguised such proclivities while he lived. In her autobiography, Doris Lessing recalls a party sometime in the 1960s. “Ken is confronting a young actress, newly arrived on the London scene. He is trying to persuade her that her refusal to accept whips and associated delights was because she had been taught prejudice. ‘You have been conditioned,’ says Ken, his stammer reinforcing his pedagogical self. He towers over her while she smiles delightfully up at him. ‘But, Ken,’ she murmurs, ‘I don’t enjoy it.’ ” Writing in the New York Times, Wendy Lesser said of Tynan: “He peaked at the age of about 21, and as he grew older he abandoned one ambition after another … until all that remained was his reputation as a killer theater critic, the writer of some fine New Yorker profiles and the brains behind a wildly successful pornographic show.”

Jean Moulin, was the leader of the French Resistance until his death in 1943. As the Economist recently said, Moulin “pulled together all the diverse movements [of the Resistance] and died a hero’s death at the hands of the Nazis.” How he died, however, remains “one of the biggest mysteries of Vichy France.” Patrick Marnham’s The Death of Jean Moulin (to buy the book, click here) tries to resolve some of the confusion, though it seems unlikely that a full explanation will be available until 2090, when the French Government finally releases the papers relating to Moulin’s execution. It’s clear that Moulin was captured by Klaus Barbie, the infamous S.S. officer who deported thousands of French Jews to Auschwitz. It also seems likely that Moulin was betrayed by Lydie Bastien, the lover of one of his closest associates. But as Will Self suggests in the New Statesman, it’s not at all clear what motivated Bastien to do so. “Was Moulin, a Gaullist fellow-traveller acting as a double agent … betrayed to the Gestapo by his communist comrades?” The Museum of Bordeaux presides over the Jean Moulin Center.

SYLVIA PLATH’S BIGGEST FAN The newly published letters of the poet Ted Hughes reveal a further level of complexity to the poet’s marriage to Sylvia Plath, the National Post reports. (To read excerpts from the letters, click here.) In one letter, Hughes says that he has fallen in love “with an American poetess. As a result of her influence, I have written continually and every day better since I met her. She is a fine critic of my work.” In another, he writes about how Plath transformed his life. “One night I dreamed I caught the grandfather pike. The next day I sold my first poem and got married. Sylvia is my luck completely.” Plath’s journals were published earlier this year—click here to read an excerpt. In May, Ian Hamilton defended Hughes’ role as executor of Plath’s estate. “Accounts of the Plath/Hughes relationship will forever need to touch on his function as the keeper of Plath’s flame. This does not seem unfair. In life, Hughes’s predicament was unenviable; now that he is dead, one has to hope that people will be more prepared to see things from his point of view.”

A number of reports on last week’s Concorde crash refer to the supersonic airplane as “ a symbol of French national pride” (the New York Times) or “ the pride of French technology” (Time magazine)—much as the airship Hindenburg symbolized Germany and the Space Shuttle Challenger symbolized America. The plane, however, was (and is) a joint venture between France and Britain, and if it is symbolic of anything it is, like the Channel Tunnel, a symbol of Anglo-French cooperation—the entente cordiale. You can understand why the French might want to describe the plane as theirs. One of the greatest 19th-century engineers, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who built the first iron ship and, with his father, the first tunnel to pass under water, is forever portrayed by the British as an icon of their Victorian age. Nevertheless, Brunel was as much French as he was British, though his Gallic roots are almost entirely forgotten.

“The best thing about being a statistician,” John Tukey, the mathematician who won the National Medal of Science in 1973, once remarked, “is that you get to play in everyone’s backyard.” Few people have played in as many backyards as Tukey: Elections, telecommunications, the environment, mathematics, sex research, the U2 spy plane, computer programming, and census reform among them. He also invented an important new word. As the New York Times says in its obituary: “Three decades before the founding of Microsoft, Mr. Tukey saw that ‘software,’ as he called it, was gaining prominence. ‘Today,’ he wrote at the time, it is ‘at least as important’ as the ’ “hardware” of tubes, transistors, wires, tapes and the like.’ ” Tukey died on July 26.

July 28 is the 250th anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach’s death. The Washington Post asks: “It would be nice to report that … scholars have fleshed out the man. … But Bach, the private genius, known to us from the driest of documentary evidence, remains as he ever was: unquestionably great and maddeningly opaque.”

WHEN DO AIRPLANES CRASH? Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Matt Ridley explains some new theories about risk and airplane travel. As a consequence of Tuesday’s crash, the Concorde, he says, “jumps from no fatal accidents in 30 years to one in fewer than 100,000 flights, which takes it statistically from the safest aircraft in the world to one of the most dangerous. Yet that figure is absurd. The objective risk of air travel … has not been changed by yesterday’s accident.” A more detailed discussion of the risk involved in airplane travel can be found in Why Airplanes Crash: Aviation in a Changing World (click here to buy it). Some useful aviation Web sites include Aviation Safety Network, Aviation Now (the Internet version of Aviation Week), and For accident reports and statistics on air travel in America, click here; for France, click here; and for Great Britain, click here.

In a letter to the New York Times, Woody Allen expresses his concern for New York University’s plans to demolish the Greenwich Village house where Edgar Allan Poe once lived. “No one is questioning the need for the university’s law school to expand,” Allen says, “but surely it can be worked out in a way that does not destroy yet another piece of this fast-vanishing area. It is hard for me to believe that a great institution like N.Y.U., which had the foresight and good taste to expel me many years ago, would be insensitive to this situation.” Slate’s Chatterbox once lived in the Poe house. Click here and here to read his reports on NYU’s plans to tear it down.

Robin Blackburn
argues that Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, came to power because of a “debacle of the ruling order in Venezuela. … The key to [his] victory lay in a promise to reject the failed prescriptions of the IMF, and to ensure that national wealth was used to better the condition of the majority.” In this respect, Blackburn suggests, Chavez is following the example of Latin America’s great liberator, Simón Bolívar. Not everyone is impressed with Chavez’s prognosis for a Venezuelan economic revival, however. Earlier this year, James Surowiecki wrote in Slate’s “Moneybox” that one of the reasons for rising oil prices was that Venezuela—OPEC’s second-largest producer—was “the key player in the output cutbacks.” Surowiecki goes on to explain how Chavez’s shortsighted oil policy might dash hopes of economic improvement. Washington Post recently reported that in the forthcoming Venezuelan elections (July 30), “voters will select national legislators, governors and mayors. Approved in a December [1999] referendum … [these elections have] been held up by Chavez as a Magna Carta for his grandiose plans to remedy social inequities.”

AN AUTHOR’S COMPLAINT It’s not often that an author writes a letter to complain about a good review of his or her book. Nevertheless, this was the course taken by Stuart Hampshire, whose Justice Is Conflict was described by Mark Lilla in the New York Review of Books as both important and stimulating. Click here to read Lilla’s article; click here to buy the book. “I am grateful to Mr. Lilla,” Hampshire writes, “for the friendly tone of his review of Justice is Conflict. Unfortunately he seems wholly uninterested in philosophy and Justice is Conflict is a philosophical argument, not a political thesis, and this argument he largely ignores in his review.” Hampshire then responds to a Lilla’s charge of “exasperating gentility”: “I learned from Spinoza that rant and rhetoric, and even talk about the Enlightenment, are not needed in philosophy. But not to exasperate Mr. Lilla, perhaps I shall try to be rather more raucous in the future.” Hardly a poor ambition for a distinguished philosopher well into in his 90s.


Stoked by the popular D-day books of Stephen Ambrose and moved by Steven Spielberg’s movie Saving Private Ryan, Washington, D.C., seems on the verge of losing its sense of proportion about the Second World War. Few dispute that WWII was the good fight, but does it require a new monument on the Mall?  Already there’s the FDR monument, which is as much a tribute to a single man as it is a memorial to a entire generation. Also, as Slate’s Scott Shuger points out (scroll down), there’s the Iwo Jima monument, a symbol of collective military endeavor. Moreover, there’s the monument to the unsung dead: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

Photographs of: Stanley J. Kunitz © Bettmann/Corbis; Marcello Mastroianni by Federico Patellani, © Studio Patellani/Corbis; Kenneth Tynan © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis; Sylvia Plath © Bettmann/Corbis; Ted Hughes © AFP; the Concorde by Paul Bates/Reuters; Pentagon building by Don S., USN (Ret.) Montgomery, © Corbis.Illustration by Nina Frenkel.