Books and Arts

Scandal and Scholarship

I.In July 1958, La Scala, an Italian periodical devoted to news of Italian opera and musical life, published a polemical article by a young Australian musician named Denis Vaughan. Having become an assistant conductor to Sir Thomas Beecham four years earlier, Vaughan had grown fascinated by the asymmetries of phrasing, the subtle gradations of color and dynamics, the non-uniform use of staccato articulation that he felt characterized Beecham's interpretations and gave the music that passed under his baton an inner life of great power and variety.

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Radical political figures attract film-makers. Those figures seem the available equivalents of saints or idealistic heroes; and since a good number of them ended badly they have some of the aura of tragedy. But in most cases such figures are cinematic snares--not because of the character or the heroism, but because of the politics. Warren Beatty's Reds (1981) is the best film he has made, but it never became much more complex than a biography of John Reed's love life against a revolutionary background.

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Forty-eight years ago, James Watson and Francis Crick introduced DNA's elegant double helix to the world in the pages of Nature. With extravagant understatement, they began their report by noting that DNA's "structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest." Four months ago, with the publication of the sequence and the analysis of the human genome, scientists offered further evidence of just how considerable.

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Idiocy has a time-honored link to illumination. “The prophet is a fool,” warned Hosea, “the spiritual man is mad.” The uninhibited man (I mean the really uninhibited man), the man who is not governed by norms and manners, the ridiculous man, the tasteless man, the obscene man, the man who does not think reasonably and realistically, the man who never stops laughing: The figure has taken many forms, and one of them is the meshuggene. Civilization makes craziness look like a variety of courage, of intellectual elevation.

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The Dying Animal by Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin, 156 pp., $23) When first we met Professor David Kepesh in 1972, in Philip Roth's novella The Breast, he was a junior academic who had recently awoken to find himself transformed into a onehundred-fifty-five-pound female bosom. Later, Roth toyed with the notion of writing a sequel to The Breast, a book about Kepesh's experiences as a celebrity breast-at-large.

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Mario Vargas Llosa on the premature obituary of the book.

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Tablets to Books

Libraries in the Ancient World By Lionel Casson  (Yale University Press, 177 pp., $22.95) One of the inscribed clay tablets in the library of Ashurbanipal, who was the king of Assyria from 668 B.C.

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Homo Scriblerus

Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books by H.J. Jackson (Yale University Press, 324 pp., $27.95) A certain Cambridge classics teacher named Walter Whiter suddenly became fairly famous when a peculiar book of his, A Specimen of a Commentary on Shakespeare, originally published and scorned in 1794, was rediscovered and for a while admired in the twentieth century. The brief vogue of the Specimen prompted some research into its author, so we know that Whiter was for some years the close friend of Richard Porson, the great Greek scholar.

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Introduction to Animal Rights Your Child or the Dog?by Gary L. Francione(Temple University Press, 328 pp., $69.50)There are nearly 60 million domestic dogs in the United States, owned by over 36 million households. Over half of these households give Christmas presents to their dogs. Millions of them celebrate their dogs' birthdays. If a family's dog--say, a little black pug or a big Rhodesian Ridgeback--were somehow forced to live a short and painful life, the family would undoubtedly feel some combination of rage and grief.

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Carvin' the Bird

Leon Wieseltier: Ken Burns massacres the history of jazz.

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