The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

Richard Johnson’s “Page Six” takes up the case of Harold Bloom versus Terry Eagleton, a feud that began in August when Eagleton reviewed Bloom’s How to Read and Why.“Harold Bloom was once an interesting critic,” Eagleton wrote in his opening sentence. The Oxford professor went on to say that “Bloom may idolize Shakespeare with all the sticky sentiment of a teenage groupie, but his own language can be as cheap and threadbare as Jimmy Swaggart’s.” In an interview published by the Times on Nov. 28, Bloom replied to Eagleton’s observations. “The wretched Eagleton,” snaps Bloom. “The man can’t read or write, he is nothing but a pompom. He is wretched, he is not even to be pitied, but to be held in total contempt. … I loathe what I call his school of resentment or, as I once called them, the rabblement of lemmings, rushing down to the sea. Marxists? Ha! They are a very strange blend of pseudo Frenchy balls.”

“Yoko Ono is really one of the most original artists of the last half-century,”Arthur Danto argues in The Nation. “When she made the art for which her husband admired and loved her, it required a very developed avant-garde sensibility to see it as anything but ephemeral.” Much of Danto’s article is devoted to Fluxus, an obscure artistic movement of which Ono was a member. For more about Fluxus click here and here. “One of [Ono’s] works,” Danto writes, “which she achieved in collaboration with … Fluxus, consisted of a small round mirror which came in an envelope on which YOKO ono/self portrait was printed. It belonged in Fluxus I—a box of works by various Fluxus artists, assembled by the leader and presiding spirit of the movement, George Maciunas. But the contents of Fluxus I were themselves of the same modest order as Self Portrait. We are not talking about anything on the scale, say, of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. We are speaking of things one would not see as art unless one shared the values and ideologies of Fluxus.”

Do pet cats carry infections that can lead to schizophrenia in humans? According to E. Fuller Torrey, a professor at the Uniformed Services University of Health Science, they do. In a piece in the current issue of Lingua Franca, Stephen Mihm outlines Torrey’s theory. “Torrey often speaks in a self-deprecating manner of his ‘delusional’ notions, but he’s dead serious about the cat connection. He thinks ‘typhoid tabbies’ are passing along Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that causes brain lesions and, if Torrey is right, schizophrenia.” “My wife thinks I’m going to be assassinated by cat owners,” Torrey tells Mihm.

Merlin Holland is the grandson of Oscar Wilde, and in an interview to mark the 100th anniversary of Wilde’s death he speaks about the importance of his grandfather’s art. “He is a bridge between the Victorian world and our own, and people always think he lived more recently than he did. By the start of the 1990s people thought he had died in the 1920s and been a contemporary of Noël Coward. There’s an element of wanting to have him in the 20th century, as part of our century, because of his vibrant modernity.”

Auberon Waugh
, son of Evelyn, is a columnist for the Telegraph and the editor of the monthly Literary Review. Each year, his magazine awards a prize to the novelist whose description of sex, in the opinion of a number of judges, is truly awful and remarkably silly. The winner for 2000 is Sean Thomas, who collected his prize from a man well-known for his coital prowess, Mick Jagger. In Kissing England, Thomas writes: “Now. Yes. Brupt, he rises, turns her over, flips her white body. Her small white body. She is so small and so compact, and yet she has all the necessary features … Shall I compare thee to a Sony Walkman, thou are more compact and more … She is his own Toshiba, his dinky little JVC, his sweet Aiwa. ‘Aiwa,’ she say as he enters her, ‘Aiwa, aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwaaaaaaaahhh.’ ” “It’s an enormous honour and I’m gratified,” Thomas told journalists. “I knew I had a very good chance of winning it. I think mine was by far the most outrageous passage.”

In, Ivan Oransky raises his doubts about the medical writing of Andrew Sullivan, and in particular his New York Times article about testosterone. “The problems with Sullivan’s piece, detailed by Judith Shulevitz in Slate, are numerous. Its basic trouble is in equating the writer’s experience (that is, a study in which n=1) to real data. Sullivan then extrapolates from weak studies of social psychology—none of which show convincing cause and effect—to conclude that taking testosterone has real endocrinologic effects in men and women, unlike himself, with normal testosterone levels.”

One of Gore Vidal’s best essays is about L. Frank Baum’s Oz books. “I spent a good part of my youth in Baum’s Land of Oz,” Vidal writes. “I also remember that I could not stop reading and rereading the [The Emerald City of Oz]. But ‘reading’ is not the right word. In some mysterious way, I was translating myself to Oz, a place I was to inhabit for many years while, simultaneously, visiting other fictional worlds as well as maintaining my cover in that dangerous one known as ‘real.’ ” In the current issue of the New York Review of Books, Alison Lurie explains the radical imagination of Baum. “For one thing, the Oz books are far ahead of their time both scientifically and politically. They are full of inventions that would not appear on the market for most of the century, among them a robot man, an artificial heart and limbs, a television monitoring system, anti-gravity devices, and a computer-type news service. Oz is also, as several critics have noted, both a kind of socialist utopia and a deeply matriarchal and occasionally transsexual one.”

NEW CHOICES According to Martha Nussbaum, the authors of From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice“show that the new genetic possibilities should make it harder for people to hide behind the gene as a rationale for quietism. If we can alter genes, after all, then they become a part of the social environment like anything else, and we have to think seriously about environmental change and its relationship to justice, whether we are so inclined or not.” Toward the end of her essay on the impact genetic research will have on our sense of responsibility and our notions of choice, Nussbaum introduces a personal insight. Her daughter was born with “a perceptual and motor impairment. … It is an impairment severe enough that any decent mother would have opted, ex ante, for a genetic ‘fix.’ … Not only do I not wish that I had had some other different child, I do not even wish that she herself had been ‘fixed.’ Maternal love aside (if ever it is), I simply like this unusual contrarian person so much more than I would have liked (or so I believe) the cheerleading captain whom I might have produced. And I certainly do not desire a world in which parents will all ‘fix’ all their children so that nobody is an outlier, even though we all know that the lives of outliers are not easy.”

A ROOF OVER OUR HEADS It seems that domes are all the rage in London, though what with all the dreadful weather of recent months—the wettest fall in 300 years—this isn’t surprising. Perhaps the entire city should be placed under glass. Clive James writes about the lamentable Greenwich dome in the Spectator. In the Telegraph, Richard Dorment praises the stunning new glass roof at the British Museum. Designed by Norman Foster, it has created, Dorment believes, “the most surprising, and most sensationally beautiful, space in London.” To view various photographs of the new Great Court and the former British Library, click here. In the same paper, Giles Worsley says: “It will be a dull visitor who does not stop for a moment, transfixed by the looming image of the Reading Room and the oscillating curves of the new roof. Perhaps more importantly, for the first time since soon after it was built, the world’s most visited museum should actually work.”

The longest-running television series in Germany is Tatort (Scene of the Crime). As the {{Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung#2:{B1311FD3-FBFB-11D2-B228-00105A9CAF88}&doc={21E7A93A-C4BB-11D4-B99E-009027BA226C}}} says of the show: “The reputation of, and high regard for, the series is demonstrated by the fact that many well-known German directors made episodes, among them Wolfgang Petersen, who filmed the 1977 classic Das Reifezeugnis (For Your Love Only). In the three decades since its beginning, Tatort has been a mirror of the republic, of the changes in its values and social fabric and how it sees itself.” A TV critic who recently watched 80 old Tatorts told the newspaper that the criminals in the show provide “a highly focussed picture of a competitive society bent on advantage.”

GEHRY ON THE EAST RIVER Manhattan will have another museum. “The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has won the right, and the financial backing of the city, to build a curvilinear outpost on the East River,” the New York Times reports. Designed by Frank Gehry, who also created the Guggenheim’s Bilbao beachhead, the building will be erected in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. Click here to view Gehry’s creation. The Times goes on to say that city officials believe the “$678 million proposal [is] crucial to an effort to revitalize a large swath of Lower Manhattan,” though the exact whereabouts of this swath of New York, and the nature of the revitalization, are somewhat mysterious. Wall Street?

ACADEMIC QUESTIONS David Lodge’s satirical novels about petty squabbling within academia are reasonably well known and much admired by his more devoted readers. It’s less well known in the United States that the man who created the genre was Malcolm Bradbury, who died yesterday at the age of 68. The History Man, which appeared in 1975, and soon became a classic, was about a Marxist sociologist whose main interest in class struggle is to promote himself at everyone else’s expense. “I feel quite an extraordinary sense of loss personally,”Lodge told the Guardian. “He was something of an inspiration to me when I was starting out.” Chief among Bradbury’s achievements was the School of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Ian McEwan was the school’s first student; Kazuo Ishiguro and Rose Tremain were other graduates. (Click here, and scroll down, to read Ishiguro’s appreciation of his teacher.) Bradbury was also an admirer of 20th-century American literature. He did much to promote the work of American writers in a country that until relatively recently resisted the idea that American literature was anything more than an offshoot of English letters.

Jorge G. Castañeda, a prominent Mexican political scientist and a professor at New York University, will become his country’s new foreign secretary. (For news reports on the appointment, click here and here.) The son of a former Mexican foreign minister, Castañeda is best known in the United States for three books: Limits to Friendship: The United States and Mexico; Utopia Unarmed: The Latin American Left after the Cold War; and Compañero, a 1997 biography of Che Guevara. Last year, Castañeda wrote The Inheritance: Archaeology of the Presidential Succession in Mexico, a book that found an enormous readership. As a reviewer for Foreign Policy said: “150,000 copies have sold in a mere two months—and [it] seems destined to become the most important political book of the decade. After years of being left in the dark, Mexicans apparently feel a morbid need to understand the hearts and souls of the presidents who have wreaked havoc on the country.” To read various articles by Castañeda, click here and here. Hempnews republished Castañeda’s piece about the folly of the U.S.-sponsored drug wars in Latin America. The article was sharply critical of Gov. George W. Bush. “What is the purpose of investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the fight against drugs, plunging countries into civil war, strengthening guerrilla groups, and unleashing enormous violence and corruption upon entire societies, if American leaders can simply brush off questions about drug use in their youth? Either cocaine and marijuana are terribly dangerous substances, and breaking the law by consuming them is a major offense that should be severely punished, or these are minor, personal matters that do not really count in the big picture of a man’s life. If the latter is the case, then the rationale for a bloody, costly, and futile war against drugs simply disappears.”

In the last few days, the European reaction to the mad cow disease crisis has reached hysterical proportions—click here for the latest news. At the end of last week, the {{German government#2:{B1311FCC-FBFB-11D2-B228-00105A9CAF88}&doc={2471312E-C32F-11D4-B99E-009027BA226C}}}, which had previously boasted that its cattle were BSE-free, admitted that two cows had contracted the disease. Mark Purdey, a farmer-turned-scientist, has challenged the notion that cattle first contracted the disease after eating a nutrient already contaminated with bovine spongiform encephalopathy. As George Monbiot explains, Purdey was initially dismissed as a crank. Now, with European governments desperate to placate an alarmed and suspicious public and unable to develop their own theory of causation, Purdey’s arguments have found an audience. Monbiot writes: “Prions, the brain proteins whose alteration seems to be responsible for BSE, are designed to protect the brain from the oxidizing properties of chemicals activated by dangerous agents such as ultra-violet light, Purdey argues. When, he suggests, the prion proteins are exposed to too little copper and too much manganese, the manganese takes the place of the copper the prion normally binds to. This means that the protein becomes distorted and loses its function. BSE arose in British herds during the 1980s, [he] asserts, because the Ministry of Agriculture started forcing all cattle farmers to treat their animals with an organophosphate pesticide called phosmet, at far higher doses than are used elsewhere in the world. At the same time, cattle feed was being supplemented with chicken manure, from birds dosed with manganese to increase their egg yield. The prion proteins in the cows’ brains were both deprived of copper and dosed with manganese.”

Woody Allen has loyal fans well beyond Manhattan’s Upper West Side, though Allen enthusiasts here in New York and elsewhere will be curious to learn that the director doesn’t consider himself much of an actor. In an interview with the Guardian, Allen says: “I can’t act; I can only play two things. I can play a bookworm, an intellectual—though of course I’m not—because I look it, I have an eyeglasses look, like I’ve worn my eyes out reading. And I can play a lowlife. The funny part of it is, that’s closer to me. … I would have made a good housewife. I like the idea of getting up in the morning, making breakfast, watching television.”

Should exceptionally intelligent children be sent to special schools? Teachers at Mirman, a Californian private school founded by Norman Mirman in 1962, say they should. According to the Los Angeles Times, “only the highly gifted—children with an IQ of 145 and above—may apply. … Mirman won’t even hand out an application packet until a prospective student has aced an IQ test called the Stanford-Binet.” Critics of Mirman, such as Susan Bonhoff, argue: “The whole world is not highly gifted. Being in that environment completely, without seeing a real person, in my mind is kind of stifling.” Barry Ziff, the school’s principal, defends the elitism of his establishment. “Average people don’t change the world,” he says. The L.A. Times continues: “The ‘severely gifted,’ as students like those at Mirman are sometimes called, constitute about 1 percent of the 2 percent to 3 percent of the population who have above-average intelligence. That is, the gifted represent about three out of 100 people, the highly gifted one out of 10,000.”

The historian Nathalie Zemon Davis is best known for her book The Return of Martin Guerre. Her latest, The Gift in Sixteenth Century France, challenges some traditional assumptions about gift-giving and capitalism in the early modern era. As Susannah Herbert writes, “gifts came into everything: the small rituals of open-ended exchange reaffirmed the social order, leaving room for the grace-notes of gratitude and generosity in all transactions. This world of open-handed tenants and benevolent feudal lords sounds perfectly Arcadian—so where did we go wrong? Davis disagrees with those, like Claude Levi-Strauss, who reckon the gift-economy simply fell victim to the market-place, where transactions are built on laws and contracts instead of trust and tradition: instead, she shows that the two kinds of exchange have always been intimately intertwined.”

A.C. Grayling’s new biography about William Hazlitt, The Quarrel of the Age, asks why the great essayist was both revered and detested by his contemporaries. To read an extract published by the Guardian, click here. Thomas De Quincey was one of Hazlitt’s enemies, and his depiction of the writer is particularly vehement. “His inveterate misanthropy was constitutional. Exasperated it certainly had been by accidents of life, by disappointments, by mortifications, by insults, and still more by having willfully placed himself in collision from the first with all the interests that were in the sunshine of the world, and of all the persons that were then powerful in England. … A friend of his it was who told me that involuntarily, when Hazlitt put his hand within his waistcoat (as a mere unconscious trick of habit), he himself felt a sudden recoil of fear, as from one who was searching for a hidden dagger.”

James Ryerson’s portrait of Richard Rorty appears in latest issue of Lingua Franca. In the course of the article, Rorty defends himself from his critics, while some critics continue their attacks. As Ryerson writes: “Daniel Dennett, who feels that Rorty’s philosophy of mind is ‘just about perfect,’ nonetheless has qualms about Rorty’s unwillingness to consider science a privileged form of inquiry and about his willingness to take seriously the philosophical views of thinkers like Derrida and Michel Foucault: ‘Dick Rorty has failed to discourage a lot of nonsense that I wish he had discouraged. It’s an obligation of us in the field to grit our teeth and discourage the people who do the things that give philosophy a bad name. I don’t think he does that enough.’ “