The Pernicious Talk of Decline In the Arts
February 15, 2012

Is it possible to report honestly on troubling developments in the arts without becoming a prophet of doom? I’ve found myself wondering about this in the past week or so, as I prepared to say a few words on a panel with the title: “The Decline of the Arts?” Having published more than my fair share of takedowns of various artists and art world institutions, I was in no doubt as to why I’d been invited to participate. And yet I felt more than a little uncomfortable about being associated with the word decline.

Why Curators Matter
January 18, 2012

Going through “The Renaissance Portrait: From Donatello to Bellini,” a survey of fifteenth-century Italian paintings, sculptures, and drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, visitors are likely to feel they are in the hands of an inspired storyteller. They are. The storyteller is Keith Christiansen, who heads the European painting department at the Metropolitan, and who organized the exhibition together with Stefan Weppelmann of the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin.

The Lure of the Peak
January 11, 2012

Before 2013 begins, catch up on the best of 2012. From now until the New Year, we will be re-posting some of The New Republic’s most thought-provoking pieces of the year. Enjoy. On What Matters: Volume I By Derek Parfit (Oxford University Press, 540 pp., $35) On What Matters: Volume II By Derek Parfit (Oxford University Press, 825 pp., $35)   I. The idea that ethics is the province of religion lingers even in relatively secular societies.

Granite-Faced Pragmatism -- And Concession
January 05, 2012

I'm soon headed to New Hampshire for the final days before the primary, but I figured I'd weigh in with a quick thought to add to Walter Shapiro's comprehensive assessment of the situation on the ground there, and Noam's argument that Tuesday's election does matter after all. Here it is: I'm having a hard time seeing how Rick Santorum substantially closes the gap with Mitt Romney with so little time to spare.

The Playful Modernist Ceramics of an American Master
January 04, 2012

Eva Zeisel, who designed some of the most beautiful ceramics of the twentieth century, died on December 30. She was 105, working on new designs almost to the end. I met her nearly forty years ago, when I responded to an advertisement for a part-time job on a bulletin board at Columbia. I was in my early twenties, recently graduated from the college.

When Did David Brooks Turn Into My Grandmother?
December 27, 2011

My paternal grandmother was the most determinedly pessimistic person I ever met. She witnessed during her lifetime a Great Depression and (from her perch in the Bronx) two world wars, but had she been born into a thousand-year reign of peace and prosperity I doubt she would have been a more hopeful person. On Nov. 10, 1989, I happened to be visiting my parents in California. Nana, then approaching 90 and in failing health, was sitting at the breakfast table when I came downstairs.

Strategist and Scourge
December 14, 2011

George F. Kennan: An American Life By John Lewis Gaddis (Penguin, 784 pp., $39.95) I. George F. Keenan, who was born in 1904 and died in 2005, and served under presidents from Calvin Coolidge to John F. Kennedy, left as deep an imprint on American geopolitics as any intellectual of the twentieth century. But the exact nature of his achievement continues to elude full or even coherent description. One reason is that most of his very long life was spent in comparative obscurity.

Lou Reed Meets Metallica
November 11, 2011

Lou Reed earned the prestige he holds as an arty badass of rock’s senior order. His best albums—Berlin and Metal Machine Music, chief among them—endure as testaments to the value of an ill temperament, intelligently applied. Once an undergraduate student of Delmore Schwartz, Reed has always hid a literate sensibility beneath the leathery surfaces of both his music and his public image. Still, the legitimacy of his standing as a canonical figure in rock does not legitimize something as feeble and malformed as Lulu, the new concept album he made with Metallica.

The Hermaphrodite
November 09, 2011

The Marriage Plot By Jeffrey Eugenides (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 406 pp., $28) Women write about love and marriage; men write about everything else. Like all truisms, this one is best served with a heaping spoonful of caveats, but they don’t alter its essential flavor. Just “look at all the books,” as Jeffrey Eugenides’s new novel exhorts the reader in its very first line.

Should Novels and Politics Mix?
November 02, 2011

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in events honoring Irmgard Keun and Amos Oz—two writers who, on the surface, would seem to have little in common. Keun (1905-1982), born in Berlin, was a literary darling of Weimar Germany who promptly found her works blacklisted after the Nazis came to power. She spent the late 1930s in exile—for a time as the companion of the Austrian-Jewish writer Joseph Roth—before returning to Germany, where she lived out the rest of her life in relative obscurity.