Lines stretched out the door as soon as the show Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937 opened at the Neue Galerie in New York in March. Seeing the exhibition, you can recover a sense of what was once radical and thrilling about pictures by Expressionists like Max Beckmann, George Grosz, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. A debased term, the avant-garde gets its jive back. Art matters again. The Nazis raised the stakes by stigmatizing modern art. As Genet once put it, fascism is theater. So modernism returns to its role as tragic hero in the show.
This new biography of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) begins by taking us to the scene of his funeral. We ascend the stairs of the Schwarzspanierhaus, just outside the city walls of Vienna, and enter a candle-lit room, where we see Beethoven in his coffin, arms folded over the front of his body, a wax cross and large lily in his hands. Pallbearers solemnly close the coffin and carry it down the steps into a bright courtyard, where nine priests offer blessings and Italian court singers intone a funeral ode as soldiers restrain an immense crowd of admiring citizens.
On a recent Thursday morning, I flew to Amsterdam to meet the writer and philosopher Alain de Botton. As I woke up and left the house, I couldn’t help noticing how much of the minute-by-minute experience of being alive that day had been described
Many people think of René Descartes as a philosopher who persuaded himself that he was aware only of his own ideas, a dualist who thought experience did not require a body, and as a metaphysician deeply preoccupied with the topics of substance, causation and the nature of God. How this imaginary figure emerged from the anti-scholastic student of animals, snowflakes, crystals, mathematics, music and optics, the mind–body theorist and inventor of the impressive hypothesis of the celestial vortices distinctly recognized in the eighteenth century, remains something of a mystery. Meanwhile, the two books under review leave no doubt that there is more to say about Descartes and more to learn.
Language! 500 Years of the Vulgar Tongue, by Jonathon Green, Atlantic, RRP£25, 432 pages Odd Job Man: Some Confessions of a Slang Lexicographer, by Jonathon Green, Jonathan Cape, RRP£17.99, 336 pages Simply English: An A to Z of Avoidable Errors, by
Crowds gather at the heart of Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, drawn to an artless home movie showing the master at work. He looks, and was, extremely unwell. Not even a rakish straw hat, part cowboy part Maurice Chevalier, can divest the scene of its pathos. There is a spot of time in the . . .
Bookshops are closing down like nobody’s business. So do they need rethinking for the electronic age? Rosanna de Lisle asks four firms of architects and designers to create the bookshop of their dreams
If John Cheever was the Chekhov of the suburbs, Paul Gauguin was the Cheever of the South Pacific. A nonconformist whose iconoclastic art would be used as a motif in the literary art of another artistic iconoclast (namely, Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus), the Parisian-born Gauguin gravitated to the South Pacific, most famously to Tahiti, where he lived during 1891-93, and again after 1895. He was fascinated by the primitive, and he desired to visit places he thought were unspoiled by civilization and Western culture.
Terry Teachout is a remarkable man of letters whose interest in the arts is multi-directed. Officially, he serves as drama critic for the Wall Street Journal and has reported on theater performances all over the country. He is also critic at large for Commentary, where he publishes a regular column covering the arts. He has shown his literary and biographical savvy in an excellent biography of H. L.
The paradox of racism is that at any given moment, the racism of the day seems reasonable and very possibly true, but the racism of the past always seems so ridiculous. I’ve been thinking about this recently after reading the new book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History...