Leon Wieseltier

Excellent New Art

There are many ways to prop up a currency artificially. “We’re wrestling with the same stuff as Rilke,” Bono recently told The New York Times about Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the hapless Broadway wonder for which he collaborated on the music. More specifically, “Rilke, Blake, ‘Wings of Desire,’ Roy Lichtenstein, the Ramones.” I was not previously aware of the Rilkean elements in “Rockaway Beach.” Those elements Bono characterized as “the cost of feeling feelings,” which throws the Blakean dimension into question, but never mind. Precision is really not the point.


Check out TNR's new online feature, “At the Movies,” for all of our latest reviews and old classics in one convenient spot (just below “Citizen Cohn” on our blog roll). The New Republic has been reviewing movies for almost as long as there have been movies. It made noise about them before they made sound. For the last 53 years, Stanley Kauffmann has presided over our coverage of film, with all the strengths of judgment and temperament, and all the erudition, for which he is justly celebrated. His devotion to his calling is itself one of The New Republic’s central teachings.



Richard Holbrooke was a piece of work. He was a paradoxical man: a remarkably subtle thinker capable of the most egregious lack of subtlety, a brilliant diplomat with one of the least diplomatic temperaments anybody ever encountered. He was always cunning but never malevolent. Mentally, he was sleepless, relentlessly pondering the meanings of even the most trivial events and experiences. (An example: Decades ago Holbrooke was strolling down Madison Avenue with a friend. A man passed them and said “Hi, Dick”.


Eyeless in Cairo

Can one be for democracy in some states and against democracy in other states? As a matter of principle, of course not: democracy is universalism as a political order. It is premised on a certain conception of the individual and society, on an understanding of dignity and freedom that would be meaningless if it did not apply to all people. By bringing all people under a single philosophical description, it ignores, without regret, the social and economic and cultural distinctions among them. It equalizes.


The memory of Stephen Solarz, who died this week, should serve as a rude reminder of a time, not long ago but nonetheless ancient, when Capitol Hill was deeply immersed—when it led—in American foreign policy, and a congressman could become a significant figure on the world stage. The honorable gentleman from Brighton Beach had an impact upon the fate of nations.



Over a perfectly prepared bowl of cholent, the coarse stew to which all Galicianer souls are superstitiously attached, I sat in the kosher restaurant in Munich last week, on the gleaming modernist island of the city’s new Jewish institutions, and read the correspondence between Gershom Scholem and Hannah Arendt, which has just been published in Germany. The radio played American oldies of the 1960s, in a pernicious attempt to make me feel at home. The situation was emotionally impossible, of course.



“If you have ghosts, then you have everything.” Those are the words of a tender and demented rock legend of Austin, and they have stood me in good stead for years. Ghosts are a solution for loneliness. One needs someone to talk to. I mean about the old themes, if one believes that they are still the right themes. Ghosts are the natural companions of anybody in estrangement; the invisible officers of tradition, of all the valuable things that have been declared obsolete but, in some stubborn hearts, are not obsolete.


The Deal

Meanwhile, back at the war. “This is how you end these kinds of insurgencies,” General Petraeus said a few weeks ago, referring to the fact that senior officials of the Taliban had “sought to reach out” to senior officials of the Karzai government in Kabul. Pardon the impudence, but this is four-star spin.


The Higher Spleen

I have a friend who loves me, or so he recently told the Daily News; and I love him, too. We were incandescent young men at Columbia together, and he is now senior vice president for marketing and publicity at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, one of the honorable remnants of what used to be known as publishing. Insofar as my friend toils to keep his indispensable firm alive against the sick desire of a technologically intoxicated and economically panicked society to see its highbrow institutions hobbled or dead, he is a force for cultural good, a figure in the resistance.


In the Know

In Winesburg, Ohio, George Willard, “the Ohio village boy,” suddenly “crosses the line into manhood” when he is pierced by a sense of his own finitude. “The sadness of sophistication has come to the boy. With a little gasp he sees himself as merely a leaf blown by the wind through the streets of his village. He knows that in spite of all the stout talk of his fellows he must live and die in uncertainty, a thing blown by the winds, a thing destined like corn to wilt in the sun.” Sherwood Anderson’s understanding of sophistication was nothing like our own.