Why history and the humanities are also a form of knowledge
Science and the humanities aren't in conflict—they need each other.
Louis D. Brandeis: A Life By Melvin I. Urofsky (Pantheon, 955 pp., $40) I. In 1916, Herbert Croly, the founder and editor of The New Republic, wrote to Willard Straight, the owner of the magazine, about the Supreme Court nomination of Louis Brandeis. Croly enclosed a draft editorial called “The Motive of Class Consciousness,” and also a chart prepared by a lawyer in Brandeis’s office showing the overlapping financial interests, social and business connections, and directorships of fifty-two prominent Bostonians who had signed a petition opposing Brandeis’s nomination.
The Bars of Atlantis: Selected EssaysBy Durs Grünbein Translated by John Crutchfield, Michael Hofmann, and Andrew Shields (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 323 pp., $35) Descartes’ Devil: Three MeditationsBy Durs Grünbein Translated by Anthea Bell (Upper West Side Philosophers, 136 pp., $25.95) Durs Grünbein’s scintillating essays flare up off the page in extravagant fashion, displaying here a philosopher (Seneca, Nietzsche), there the natural world (deep-sea fishes); here a poet (Hölderlin, Rilke), there an obsession (addictive diving).
Adam Mickiewicz: The Life of a Romantic By Roman Koropeckyj (Cornell University Press, 549 pp., $45) It was Poland’s peculiar luck to receive its literary matrix, its cultural subtext, the source of its national mythology, from the hands of a provincial genius, a Romantic poet and mystic, in the first half of the nineteenth century. Imagine the creative possibilities, and the inevitable perils, of such a provenance.
I. In 2000, I was asked by the Israel Defense Forces to join a group of philosophers, lawyers, and generals for the purpose of drafting the army’s ethics code. Since then, I have been deeply involved in the analysis of the moral issues that Israel faces in its war on terrorism. I have spent many hours in discussions with soldiers and officers in order to better grasp the dilemmas that they tackle in the field, and in an attempt to help facilitate the internalization of the code of ethics in war.
Ashes for Breakfast: Selected Poems By Durs Gr ünbein Translated by Michael Hofmann (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 298 pp., $16) Although some poems by Durs Gr ünbein had been published in journals here and in England, it was not until the appearance of this volume, crisply and colloquially translated by Michael Hofmann, that an English-speaking reader could approach Gr ünbein's coruscating writing. Gr ünbein was born in Dresden, in East Germany, in 1962, and moved to East Berlin as a young adult.
The other day, as I was walking to the grocery store, I strategically moved toward the far edge of the sidewalk to put distance between myself and a pile of large, black trash bags haphazardly stacked against the side of a building. This sight is common in downtown Manhattan, as was the rustling I heard among the bags, which nevertheless made me start. Rats or mice, I thought, as I instinctively crossed the street to avoid them, but it was still light out, too early, it seemed to me, for these nocturnal creatures to be rummaging for food.
The Invisible Masterpiece By Hans Belting Translated by Helen Atkins (University of Chicago Press, 480 pp., $45) Never was there more optimistic nonsense written about abstract art than in Germany after World War II. Abstraction, many artists and critics hoped, would guide the German public back to universal spiritual ideals and reconcile them with European civilization. The Germans were discovering abstract art anew after long years of National Socialist philistinism.
When I took a college course in Wagner, our professor told us on the first day that the final exam would consist of one question: Who was Wagner? On exam day he wrote that question on the blackboard, then left the room. At the end of the three-hour exam period, some of us were still writing. So when I heard recently of a nine-hour film that attempted to answer our exam question, it didn't strike me as grotesque. I looked forward to it as eagerly as one can possibly anticipate spending nine hours in one seat from noon to something past 11 p.m.