I do not need to explain why I’ve been thinking about Pandora’s box. The Greek legend of a beautiful woman the gods send to earth with a box containing unimaginable evils has long been associated with the dangers of nuclear energy, an association difficult to overlook in light of the catastrophe in Japan. But what precisely did Pandora do? It was in hopes of answering this question that I took off the shelf a famous art historical study, Pandora’s Box: The Changing Aspects of a Mythical Symbol, by Dora and Erwin Panofsky.
There are some rather dumb—but in a way brilliant—gimmicks that have a strong, and it would almost seem a perennial, public appeal. Books or plays or movies based on them don’t even have to be especially well done to be popular: readers and audiences respond to the gimmick. Sometimes this kind of trick idea is so primitive that it’s particularly attractive to educated people—perhaps because they’re puzzled by why they’re drawn to it and so take it to be a much more complex idea than it is. Frankenstein is one of these fantastic, lucrative “ideas”; The Pawnbroker is almost one.
The Iraq War was a strange moment in American political discourse. The debate surrounding the invasion was heavily skewed toward the pro-war side, and dissenting voices were often marginalized.
After only a few days of allied military action, the Libyan nightmare has been averted, and the rebels are now marching westward again. Like the invincible Serbian juggernaut of yore, the power of Muammar Qaddafi, which frightened Secretary Gates, has been shaken. President Obama has done an admirable thing. On March 18, he gave a speech explaining his decision. The speech was both ringing and baffling: as the poet said, I wish he would explain his explanation. What follows is a commentary on some of the president’s statements.
1. An article by David Kirkpatrick in The New York Times reported that three volumes of Muammar Qaddafi’s heavy thoughts had over the years become mandatory reading for Libyans. I don’t know whether Hitler’s Mein Kampf or Mao Zedong’s Red Book is the more apt analogy for this sort of brain-washing. But I do remember from decades ago when many of my fellow graduate students were reading the Mao bible at least as much to absorb the great ideas as for scholarly purposes. Some of these are now full professors at serious American universities.
The old order has crumbled in the Middle East, and it will never be the same again. But what made it crumble? The experts who had been arguing that the youth in the region constituted a listless generation that did not care about freedom and democracy, that, if it was politically active at all, tended to follow the lead of the Islamists, have been proved wrong.
In the era of the last presidential administration, Randy Newman, the distinguished elder of pop-song irony, wrote a tune called “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country,” in which he gave George W. Bush credit for doing no more harm than the Caesars, Hitler, or Stalin. “Now, the leaders we have,” he sang, “while they’re the worst that we’ve had, are hardly the worst that this poor world has seen.” In the same spirit, I’d like to offer a defense of “We Belong Together,” the Newman song from Toy Story 3 that just won the Academy Award for Best Song.
History and the Enlightenment By Hugh Trevor-Roper (Yale University Press, 314 pp., $40) Letters from Oxford: Hugh Trevor-Roper to Bernard Berenson Edited by Richard Davenport-Hines (Orion Publishing, 326 pp., $25) Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography By Adam Sisman (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 598 pp., £25) At the beginning of July 1973, my wife and I arrived in London from Chicago to spend a year doing research in the British Library.
And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris By Alan Riding (Alfred A. Knopf, 399 pp., $28.95) By the ghastly standards of World War II, the history of France from 1939 to 1944 was a sideshow. Poland, with a smaller pre-war population, suffered at least ten times as many wartime deaths. The Soviet Union, four times larger in 1939, had fully forty times more losses. French cities, in comparison with Polish or Soviet or German cities, survived the war relatively unscathed.
Will Hollywood stand up to William Randolph Hearst over the matter of Orson Welles’s film, Citizen Kane? RKO, the distributor, announces that it is going ahead with plans to show the picture. It has been booked into the number-one movie house of the nation, the Radio City Music Hall in New York City, and many other places.