Books and Arts

The sleeper sensation of the summer is “Dawn of Egyptian Art,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is one of those museum shows—they come along every few years—that most of us go to with no particular expectations and leave convinced we have experienced something we’ve never experienced before. I left knowing I was breathing a purer kind of air. Certain animals, carved in stone, are among the most radically eloquent simplifications of living form ever shaped by human hands.

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Each year, June 16 marks Bloomsday, a celebration where Dubliners, fans of James Joyce, and the hardy souls who count themselves among the few who have actually finished Ulysses commemorate the life of the great Irish novelist. It was this day in 1904 that Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Joyce’s magnum opus, spent wandering the streets of the Irish capital. In his authoritative review of the novel in TNR, Edmund Wilson reflects on the scale of the work, whose first edition weighed in at 730 pages.

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A few years before the Beach Boys made their first record, the three brothers who formed the original core of the group sang together in the bedroom they shared in a tract home in suburban Southern California. Close quarters fed close harmony, and Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson taught themselves to emulate the sound of the pre-rock vocal groups—the Four Freshman and the Hi-Lo's, in particular.

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 As I watch Poland-Greece, which is pretty good so far, it is time to make predictions for Euro 2012, thereby setting myself up for the undermining of my soccer authority  bound to occur toward the end. So: Winner: Germany In the final: Spain-Germany Semifinals: Spain-Holland; Germany: France Top scorers: Benzema (France), Lewandowski (who just scored for Poland) I would also like to note the consonant-cluster orgy taking place on the backs of players in the Poland-Greece game. The ESPN commentators, Macca and Ian Darke (I think) are doing a fine job of pronouncing the names.

The Need to Lead

Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global PowerBy Zbigniew Brzezinski (Basic Books, 208 pp., $26)  When it comes to offering a vision to guide American foreign policy, Zbigniew Brzezinski’s latest book, unlike so much other literature of this type, refuses to lament or exaggerate the alleged decline in American power and influence. Instead Strategic Vision offers a kind of blueprint—a path that Washington must take, in Brzezinski’s view, to ensure a secure international order, in which free markets and democratic principles can thrive.

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The enormous excitement that greeted the Rembrandt self-portrait from Kenwood House, recently on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has left me feeling a little sheepish, because my reaction was so much less enthusiastic than that of many people I know. In this extraordinarily famous painting, the artist stands before us in the clear light of day, his palette in his left hand, his face rumpled and pale, his small dark eyes uneasy. There is no presumption of personal attractiveness, only the blunt assertion of a man’s presence.

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Doc Watson, the guitarist and singer who died this week at 89, seemed the embodiment of traditional American rural values. He was a handsome mountain man, solid in body and temperament, and he comported himself on stage with courtly grace and gentle humor. Born in the hills of North Carolina, he lost his sight as young child (though he would always have limited perception of light), and found early that he had a knack for playing the mountain music he heard growing up—first on a banjo his father made with the skin of the family’s recently deceased pet cat, then on the harmonica and guitar.

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The worst time to see a museum is in the weeks when it’s just opening. That’s why, for the moment, I’ve opted to stay away from the Barnes Foundation’s new building in downtown Philadelphia, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. In the days before the public arrives, critics experience a totally artificial environment—a museum without museumgoers. When the doors are finally opened to the public, the mood in the galleries is likely to be so keyed up that it’s impossible to have a sense of what the place will feel like six months—or two years—later.

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Only the other day, Lena Dunham had her twenty-sixth birthday. I mention that not to play on your guilt about forgetting to send a card. But I do want to note that when she made her feature film Tiny Furniture, she can’t have been more than 23. That’s two years younger than Orson Welles when he made Citizen Kane. Now, don’t get me wrong. Citizen Kane is more interesting and more fun.

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True story: I’m on the sunny sidewalk outside Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator, and out of the theater saunters one of my fellow audience members, dressed in slacks and Islamic headscarf of a sort that is pretty conventional in south Brooklyn, and she doesn’t mind a casual exchange of views. “I have to tell you,” she says, “it was offensive to a lot of people.” She reflects a little more. “It was funny, though.” Her gaze falls on Court Street. “I laughed.” She laughs. “I loved it!”—and she breaks into a gloriously sheepish smile.

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