The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

On Dec. 14, 1900, Max Planck, the German physicist, announced the results of his latest research. As Graham Farmelo puts it: “Scientific revolutions happen when scientists change the way they think about the world—when they fashion new tools to do their job. These revolutions don’t happen overnight. They take time. … All this is certainly true of quantum theory … [which] gave rise to hundreds of new lines of research and is today the basis of fundamental physics and semiconductor technology.” Farmelo cautions against wild celebrations of the anniversary. “I’m willing to bet that we’ll be hearing a lot this week about how the revolutionary Max Planck single-handedly founded quantum theory. This is a myth. Planck was no revolutionary, but a profoundly conservative scientist deeply respectful of the classical laws of physics.” For more about the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science, Germany’s scientific research institute, click here.

Martin Edlund of the New Republic writes about the real impact of the Internet on this year’s elections. “A study released yesterday by George Washington University’s Democracy Online Project found that e-mailing political jokes tops the list of online political activities this election season. Joke-sharing may seem like an odd addition to traditional political acts like donating money or contacting campaigns, but the phenomenon is serious. The study found that 54 percent of the U.S. Internet population, some 62 million people, sent or received election jokes by e-mail this year. This compares to only 24.7 percent who used the Internet to research campaigns and 1.4 percent who donated to candidates online.”

“Where would the History Channel be without the Nazis?” Julie Salamon  asks. Where indeed. What with all the programming devoted to Nazi destruction, you would think that the “H” symbol seen on this channel at all times stands for Hitler. At 8 tonight, ABC will take some of the wind from the History Channel’s sails by airing a two-hour documentary about the directors and photographers who captured the ravages of World War II on film. Tom Hanks (who else?) narrates. As Salamon writes, “The images are almost necessarily riveting; how can you not be compelled by the sight of death and destruction? Corpses float in water, others lie disemboweled in fields. We see Mussolini hanging upside down, and then, cut from the gallows, posed, his face contorted in death like a grotesque Halloween mask. We see piles of victims of Nazi camps and piles of dead fascists. We see shadows burned into pavement in Nagasaki, imprints of the annihilated.” After the program ends, tune into the History Channel’s hourlong appreciation of the tank.

It’s not surprising that a contributor to ARTNews’ yearly roundup of over- and underrated artists says that Rembrandt’s reputation has been exaggerated. Many of the Dutch master’s paintings are now considered copies or forgeries. As {{ Gary Schwartz #2:{B1311FD3-FBFB-11D2-B228-00105A9CAF88}&doc={73E761F9-C087-11D4-B99E-009027BA226C}&width=1011&height=741&agt=explorer&ver=4&svr=4}} writes in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: “Rembrandts were first forged in the 17th century and have continued to be copied ever since. [In the early 1980s], a large-scale investigation [was] set up in search of ‘The True Rembrandt,’ as one Dutch paper put it. The uncertainty this engendered was compounded in 1986 when … the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin announced that the most famous Rembrandt painting in its collection, ‘The Man With the Golden Helmet’ was not by the master.” Schwartz argues that the skepticism about the authenticity of Rembrandt’s painting is a “welcome sign of responsibility in the attitude of museums toward their audience[s]. It shows the path away from the bluff and bullying that too often pass for connoisseurship. It does not, however, mean that everything in art history is open to reasonable doubt. Fortunately, there are things we really can know, even about Rembrandt.”

Ken Russell has made many movies and been married to three women. Some of his films have been very successful; his marriages have all been failures, though he’s on good terms with his former wives. Bored by “the ghosts of [his] three ex-wives for company,” the film director turned to a dating agency and in an article published by the Telegraph he relays the result. “One morning, there was an item [on TV] from America about a multi-millionaire who had advertised for a wife on the Internet. Now there’s an idea—only I don’t have a website. But I know someone who does: a young Scots lad called Iain living in Holland who has a spectacular website, called Savage Messiah, devoted entirely to me and my work. I sought Iain’s advice. His reply was guarded: beware of gold diggers. I knew exactly what he meant and spelt out my message cautiously. ‘Unbankable film director Ken Russell seeks soulmate—mad about movies, music and Moet et Chandon Champagne.’ I sat back and awaited the deluge of replies.” Russell would find his happiness in an old acquaintance.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan is about to retire, though some people hope the senator from New York will remain an advocate for architectural improvement—in Manhattan and elsewhere. In Metropolis Benjamin Forgey assesses Moynihan’s influence on the appearance of public buildings. “In nearly four decades in Washington, Moynihan, now 73, has instituted guidelines for federal architecture; spearheaded the rebuilding of Pennsylvania Avenue, including the Federal Triangle; pushed the new Penn Station project relentlessly forward; and secured funding and built coalitions for numerous preservation projects. Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy … says she has been closing all her recent letters to the senator with the plaintive query, ‘What are we going to do without you?’ ” In the New York Times, Barbara Stewart wonders what will now happen to Mayor Giuliani and Gov. Pataki’s plan to acquire Governor’s Island from the U.S. Coast Guard. “Trying to acquire the island after [Moynihan and President Clinton retire—the president was also keen on the plan] will be difficult, said Tony Bullock, an aide to Mr. Moynihan. ‘This place [Washington, D.C.] works on favors,’ he said. ‘A lot of favors are owed to Pat Moynihan, and you won’t have the same situation next year. It can still be done, but it’s going to take some lifting.’

In an interview with Ms. magazine, Jean Kilbourne, author of Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel, explains her views about commerce and culture and where these two worlds meet. “I’m not saying that people are brainwashed. I’m not saying that advertisers have absolute control or anything like that. I’m just saying it is a powerful influence and we need to take it seriously. It’s a powerful influence that’s increasing in the culture. … I had done some modeling after I graduated from college—those were the days when it was very hard for women to get work. … I really hated modeling. At that time, there were no words like objectification and sexual harassment, but I knew that was what was happening to me. That left me with a real interest in the power of beauty.” In other ad news—and proof that advertising is indeed encroaching on culture in substantive ways—the Coca-Cola Co. has donated its old TV and film ads to the Library of Congress.

On Oct. 19, Friedrich Merz, leader of the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union in the German Bundestag, spoke of a “Leitkultur von Deutschland,” which can be translated as “leading, or hegemonic, culture of Germany.” Merz deployed the term to describe “what immigrants coming to Germany might aspire to.” Two weeks later, Paul Spiegel, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, addressed a vast anti-Merz demonstration in Berlin. “What’s all this talk of Leitkultur? Does German Leitkultur include hunting down foreigners, burning synagogues, and killing the homeless?”

Once upon a time, Jacques Derrida could draw large crowds to his lectures. Today, the French intellectual can spy empty seats from the lectern. In a recent speech, Derrida “called for, in no uncertain terms (which, if you’re familiar with Derrida, is saying a lot), the reassertion of academic independence by the nation’s humanities departments. In less uncertain terms, he even suggested that the humanities should resolve the culture wars, once and for all. … Only then can the academy hope to have, once again, relevance for the world outside the campus gates.”

While researching a novel about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Phillip Kerr came across a largely forgotten plot to kill the president-elect before his inauguration in January 1961. “Richard Pavlick … who had a history of psychiatric problems … was also a prolific writer of letters to newspapers and his favorite subject was that Joe Kennedy was trying to buy the presidency for his son. There was nothing Pavlick could do to prevent Kennedy being elected, but he decided he could stop him from being inaugurated. … [H]e decided that Palm Beach provided him with the best opportunity. … At some point towards the end of November, Pavlick set out, in his station wagon, to kill the 43-year-old president-elect. … In West Palm Beach he checked into a motel. … On December 11 he drove to the house on North Ocean Boulevard. His plan was simple: to wait for Kennedy to come out of the house and crash into the presidential limousine before detonating the car bomb, killing Kennedy and himself.”

Two letter-writers   to the New York Times argue that the both the city authorities and Guggenheim Museum trustees should reconsider the location of the new museum. Roy Strickland, a research scientist at MIT, says, “Better to put the Guggenheim in a neighborhood like Red Hook in Brooklyn, where it may perform the kind of cultural and economic transformation of a Bilbao, or on Governors Island, where it may turn a languishing asset into a destination point—and allow Mr. Gehry’s forms to sweep free.” Patricia Scharlin, a consultant on international environmental policy, is worried about consequences of global warming—higher tides and more frequent storm surges might swamp Gehry’s museum. “Increased hurricanes and windstorms could play havoc with the spectacular titanium exterior that Mr. Gehry has proposed.”

An extract from Sam Sifton’s Field Guide to the Yettie: America’s Young Entrepreneurial Technocrats appears in the Industry Standard. (Click here   to buy the book.) “These Internet Economy people are yetties,” Sifton explains. “Yetties are young. They are entrepreneurial. And they are technocrats. A yettie is an employee of an Internet company who cannot explain to his mother exactly what he does for a living. A yettie might be a product-development tech for Amazon in its lawn and patio division. Or a campaign execution specialist for Internet marketing platforms at Oracle. He might be a VP for e-presence. Or a temp. He risks burnout in the hope of a great return on his investment.”

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.”