Where Do We Come From?
February 08, 2012
Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights, 1750-1790 By Jonathan I. Israel (Oxford University Press, 1,066 pp., $45) I. There’s something about the Enlightenment. Today, few educated men and women spend much time debating whether Western civilization took a disastrously wrong turn in the High Middle Ages. They do not blame all manner of political ills on Romanticism, or insist that non-Western immigrants adopt Renaissance values. But the Enlightenment is different. It has been held responsible for everything from the American Constitution to the Holocaust.
March 22, 2011
The crazed colonel on the move in Chad.
Low Life, High Art
December 08, 2010
I. Some years ago I watched Derek Jarman’s film Caravaggio, starring Nigel Terry in the title role. As entertainment I am sure it has its fans, but I cannot recommend it to anyone interested in an art-historical shortcut, a crash course on this most popular Old Master. Jarman’s view of life in Rome in the seventeenth century is a combination of Fellini’s Satyricon and the soap opera Days of Our Lives, and his sense of artistic life must have derived from his personal knowledge of the scenes in London and New York in the 1980s. I did a lot of fast-forwarding.
The Fortunate Journey
September 13, 2010
The Escorial: Art and Power in the Renaissance By Henry Kamen (Yale University Press, 291 pp., $35) The historian Henry Kamen has spent a distinguished career presenting what he calls a “revisionist” history of early modern Spain.
The Wild Heart
April 17, 2010
Why This World: A Biography of Clarice LispectorBy Benjamin Moser (Oxford University Press, 479 pp., $29.95) No one has ever known quite how to understand Clarice Lispector. Though she considered herself fully a Brazilian, having lived in the country since infancy, both her critics and her admirers often described her accent and her diction as “foreign”—perhaps unsure how else to characterize her unconventional wrestlings with the Portuguese language.
March 17, 2010
Recently I was rummaging through the living mess of papers in my office--my nachlass, however hard-driven, will not be a hard drive--when I discovered a fading sheet I had not seen in decades. It was a copy of a letter that was given to me by a little man in the municipal hall in Hebron in 1980. I had traveled to Hebron to look into an incident that occurred a few days earlier on Purim, a triumphalist holiday on which Jews are enjoined to revel in inversions and to drink themselves out of their capacity to distinguish between good and evil.
March 17, 2010
Vincere IFC Films Mid-August Lunch Zeitgeist Films Here, remarkably and remarkable, is a new film by Marco Bellocchio, a survivor of the Italian post-World War II directing galaxy. His first two films, Fist in His Pocket (1965) and China Is Near (1967), announced the arrival of a talented troublemaker. His subject was the bourgeois family in relation to a changing society--“the connection between the family and the wider political universe,” the film historian Peter Bondanella said.
A Responding Sensibility
March 03, 2010
Meyer Schapiro Abroad: Letters to Lillian and Travel Notebooks Edited by Daniel Esterman (Getty Research Institute, 243 pp., $39.95) I. Meyer Schapiro Abroad is an astonishing book. It consists of seemingly commonplace materials--the love letters that a graduate student wrote while traveling to work on his dissertation, plus a selection of sheets from his research notebooks. Yet taken together these pages present something extraordinary and nearly unique: an intensely evocative account of the process and the experience of historical discovery.
A Riot in Calabria
February 01, 2010
Images of African immigrants rioting in the streets of a small southern Italian city, throwing rocks, blocking roads, and breaking store and car windows, briefly exposed a shocking reality: the existence of Italy’s growing migrant-labor population, mostly Africans, an estimated 20,000 of them working under inhuman conditions, living in abandoned buildings or improvised structures without heat or working toilets, sleeping four (even five) to a mattress while laboring off the books for about $30 a day. Early January’s revolt was sparked by an incident in which a couple of local residents from a
Please Don't Provoke the Supervolcano
November 16, 2009
Earlier today I was nodding along to Chris Orr's good-humored critique of 2012, but, you know, news like this makes me think more people really need to see the movie and learn not to antagonize supervolcanoes: To ancient Romans the Phlegraean Fields hosted the entrance to Hades. In modern times it is better known as the site of a "supercolossal" volcanic eruption 39,000 years ago. Will we see the next disaster coming? That's one of the questions an ambitious drilling project hopes to answer by sinking boreholes into Campi Flegrei, as the giant collapsed volcanic crater is now called.