Paris

The Embroiderer

Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin Selected and edited by Elizabeth Chatwin and Nicholas Shakespeare (Viking, 554 pp., $35) The expression “to embroider the truth” was already current when Sir Walter Raleigh—no mean embroiderer himself—complained about the exaggerations of Greek travelers such as Herodotus. But it could have been invented for the English writer and self-styled nomad Bruce Chatwin instead.

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A generation of male movie-goers may have gulped when they saw the obituaries for Maria Schneider and that picture of her from 2003 when she was 50—tense, not quite well, anxious about being looked at. How can we read so much into one picture? Well, how did we assume so much in 1972 when the breathtaking Schneider rolled across the screen in Last Tango in Paris like a bowling ball and took part in all those scenes with such aplomb?  In 1972, we told ourselves, we were watching the most candid mainstream film we were ever likely to see.

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Only fools would predict the unpredictable, and thus with the course of the Egyptian revolution. Imagine yourself as a pundit in Paris at the start of the French Revolution, the mother of them all. In August of 1789, you would have celebrated the “General Declaration of Human Rights,” an ur-document of democracy, as the dawn of “liberty, equality and fraternity.” Yet, four years later, the Terreur erupted, claiming anywhere between 16,000 and 40,000 lives. In 1804, one-man despotism was back.

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Confounding Faces

Giuseppe Arcimboldo National Gallery Franz Xaver Messerschmidt Neue Galerie When artists of earlier eras become subjects of renewed interest, you can be sure that big changes are in the air. All too often relegated to specialized studies in the history of taste, such shifts in an artist’s fortunes are among our most reliable guides to current attitudes and values, a look into the dark glass of the past that can also function as a mirror in which we see reflected some aspect of ourselves.

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The night I lost my digital virginity, I was sixteen, visiting family in Paris. One evening, my cousin and I decided to go to a movie. Before I could reach for the newspaper listings, he switched on a box the size of a small television that sat on a living room shelf, unnoticed by me until that moment. The screen glowed blue as he typed in a sequence of numbers. Voilà! The desired information appeared in a flash of light that seemed nothing less than magical.

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Hadewijch IFC Films When We Leave Olive Films If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle Film Movement The films of the French director Bruno Dumont have earned him, besides two Cannes Festival prizes, a reputation for brutality. He has often used his manifest talent to burrow into moral darkness. But the new work that he has written and directed, Hadewijch, is a spiritual odyssey—the travails of Céline, a twenty-year-old theology student, in her search for further envelopment in God.

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My Novel, My Novel

Mourning Diary By Roland Barthes Translated by Richard Howard (Hill and Wang, 261 pp., $25) The Preparation of the Novel By Roland Barthes Translated by Kate Briggs (Columbia University Press, 463 pp., $29.50)   I. In retrospect, Roland Barthes once observed, his career as an intellectual began with the modest aim of revolution: It seemed to me (around 1954) that a science of signs might stimulate social criticism, and that Sartre, Brecht, and Saussure could concur in this project.

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Seventy years ago, in the summer and fall of 1940, Western civilization teetered in the balance as Britain stood alone against Nazi-controlled Europe. Other major world powers did not lend aid; Russia supported Germany, and the United States remained neutral. After Britain resisted the assault of Nazi bombers, in what was dubbed the “Battle of Britain,” the country was saved and German momentum stymied. The whole course of the war then radically shifted.

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The Opportunist

Leo and His Circle: The Life of Leo Castelli By Annie Cohen-Solal (Alfred A. Knopf, 540 pp., $35) I. Annie Cohen-Solal’s new biography of Leo Castelli, the art dealer who will forever be associated with the meteoric rise of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg in the years around 1960, has set me to thinking about the interest that men and women who run galleries inspire among a fairly wide public.

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No More Arcs

Can history come to an end? Arthur Danto has written of art entering a “post-historical” phase; he believes that the history of modern art as moving toward a state of abstraction has been fulfilled—indeed, internally exhausted. Since the 1960s, this particular “narrative,” as he calls it, has come to an end, even as the art world continues to exist, even to flourish. Although I don't like the phrase “post-historical,” I think Danto is right. I had not, however, considered this idea in relation to history understood in its traditional sense as the actions of great men and nation building.

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