Books and Arts
"September 11 was a wake-up call." No, it was not. It was a hellish lullaby--a brutal sedative. Five years ago, the most powerful nation on earth fell into a slumber. It became a sleepwalking giant only half aware of its surroundings and oblivious to itself. When Hermann Broch wrote The Sleepwalkers, modern Europe had just been shaken from its Biedermeier trance by the guns of August 1914, and it was about to slip into new nightmares.
"Remember, remember the fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and plot," a voiceover intones at the opening of V for Vendetta. "I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot." The popular British rhyme--which the film generously repeats again less than ten minutes later for those stuck in the concession line the first time around--refers, of course, to Guy Fawkes's unsuccessful plot to blow up the British Parliament in 1605.
A FRIEND RECENTLY TOLD me that his most important pedagogical tool as an architect is this maxim: the architect's primary ethical responsibility is to be the guardian of the public realm, in contrast to the myriad others who currently configure our built landscape— clients, politicians, contractors, developers, and NIMBY-driven "community action" committees.
Reading Leo Strauss: Politics, Philosophy, Judaism By Steven B. Smith (University of Chicago Press, 256 pp., $32.50) Leo Strauss and the Theologico-Political Problem By Heinrich Meier (Cambridge University Press, 183 pp., $60) I. Of the many emigre scholars to leave a mark on American intellectual life in the latter half of the twentieth century, none has sparked greater controversy than Leo Strauss. In the years since his death, in 1973, he has repeatedly been accused of exercising a sinister influence on the country.
Black Swan Green By David Mitchell (Random House, 294 pp., $23.95) I. 'I liked it." Is there anything less interesting to say about a book? Every negative piece is negative in its own way: we remember with a grim chuckle Mark Twain's enumeration of James Fenimore Cooper's literary offenses ("There have been daring people in the world who claimed that Cooper could write English, but they are all dead now"), or Nabokov's epistolary rebuke of Edmund Wilson ("A patient confidant of his long and hopeless infatuation with the Russian language, I have always done my best to explain to him his mistake
TERRORIST By John Updike Alfred A. Knopf, 310 pp. I. John Updike's new novel, which is about a Muslim teenager tempted to become a suicide bomber, is surely a harbinger: in the next few years, one of the central novelistic subjects will be religious fundamentalism and its relation to Western secular society. Dostoevsky and Conrad will cast large, provoking shadows over the writers who approach the subject. Those two writers, along with Nietzsche, were the great analysts of the "underground," seeking out the psychological and ideological sources of resentment and impotence.
Caché, the fascinating, frustrating existential thriller by Austrian director Michael Haneke, opens with a stationary shot of a nondescript townhouse in Paris. The movie titles, in small white type, slowly appear against this backdrop as if printing on a teletype machine. The only sounds are the occasional bird chirp and the momentary footsteps of a passerby. After about two minutes, the completed titles fade from view. A woman comes out of the townhouse but the camera, rooted as an obstinate child, does not follow her as she exits the frame.
I.Suppose a philosophical scholar--let us call this scholar S--with high standards, trained in and fond of the works of Plato and Aristotle, wished to investigate, for a contemporary American audience, the concept of "manliness," a concept closely related to the one that Plato and Aristotle called andreia, for which the usual English rendering is "courage." (Harvey Mansfield himself tells us that andreia is his subject.) How would this scholar go about it?
In the 1950 introduction to his collection of stories Trouble Is My Business, Raymond Chandler explained the difference between the classic murder mystery and the hard-boiled detective genre he helped invent. In the former, the conclusion--when the sleuth explains whodunit and how--was everything; what led up to it was mere "passagework," a careful alignment of plot elements to enable that final, big revelation.