On Background
August 12, 2010

Europe’s cathedrals, churches, monasteries, and baptisteries cover the countryside like Veronica’s veil. They comprise the continent’s landmarks and focal attractions and, for centuries, have been integral to its culture. It is curious, then, that, in the history of art, architecture has been a relatively infrequent subject—in Western painting before 1900, only scattered examples come to mind, such as the Dutch seventeenth-century church interiors by Emanuel de Witte (pictured here) or the panoramas of Venice by Canaletto.

The Idolatry of Light
June 05, 2010

Tiepolo Pink By Roberto Calasso Translated by Alastair McEwen (Knopf, 288 pp., $40) Giambattista Tiepolo was not the last of the old masters—that dubious distinction is usually conferred on Goya—but it is surely safe to say that he was the last great painter of the Italian Renaissance.

Venice in Texas
March 02, 2010

Paolo Veronese: The Petrobelli Altarpiece Blanton Museum of Art Combine a mystery and a masterpiece and what do you have? You have “Paolo Veronese: The Petrobelli Altarpiece,” a small, perfectly focused exhibition recently at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin.

Humanities and Inhumanities
February 17, 2010

The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in The American University By Louis Menand (W.W. Norton, 174 pp., $24.95) The last hour has come, the times are very bad. As it was in the twelfth century, when Bernard of Cluny began his bitter satire On Contempt of the World with those words, so it is now, in the halls of the humanities. Our space is shrinking: only one-third of American undergraduates still major in the arts and sciences, and less than a third of them in the humanities.

Hard Times--And How You Can Help
December 30, 2009

The economists tell us that the recession is over or, at least, nearly over.  A California woman named Claudia Bruce might not agree: Claudia Bruce was laid off from her well-paying job 13 months ago after the economy fell. Now, Bruce is among a growing number of people who, in what seemed like an instant, went from middle class incomes to relying on public assistance. Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties fed a record-breaking 272,000 people in November.

December 25, 2009

The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future By Robert Darnton (Public Affairs, 218 pp., $23.95)   On the Commerce of Thinking: Of Books & Bookstores By Jean-Luc Nancy Translated by David Wills (Fordham University Press, 59 pp., $16)   I. The airplane rises from the runway. Bent, folded, and spindled into the last seat in coach class--the one that doesn’t really recline--I pull my Kindle out of the seat pocket in front of me, slide the little switch, and lose myself in Matthew Crawford’s story of his passage from policy wonk to motorcycle mechanic.

The Best Fiction of 2009
December 22, 2009

The Thing Around Your Neck, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A worthy follow-up to Adichie’s magnificent novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, this collection of short stories explores the lives of African women, at home and abroad.  Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, by Geoff Dyer. The title sounds like a bad joke, but Dyer’s novel-in-two-parts, like his standout book of essays, demonstrates how deeply innovative a writer he is.  Every Man Dies Alone, by Hans Fallada, translated by Michael Hoffman.

Matters of Fact
October 24, 2009

Chris & Don: A Love Story (Zeitgeist) My Winnipeg (IFC) 19th Annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival   In 1964 Christopher Isherwood published A Single Man, a novel about a homosexual man and his state of spirit after his lover dies. Now comes Chris & Don, a documentary film about Isherwood's lover and his state of spirit since Chris's death. The subtitle of the film is "A Love Story." The picture makes the worn term fresh, moving. The principal place is the couple's home in Santa Monica, where Don Bachardy still lives.

From the Inside of a Tank: Israeli Film Wins Venice Grand Prize. The Film that Haughty Jane Fonda Wants No One To See
September 12, 2009

The Venice Film Festival is the oldest celluloid gala in the world. Not as vaunted and haunted by the publicity machines but intellectually more serious than Cannes. The Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica di Venezia, a most prestigious element of the Venice Biennale, bestowed its Golden Lion award, its top honor, on an Israeli film called Lebanon. It is a relentlessly honest film about war itself but also specifically about Israel's first real war in Lebanon.

The Morning or the Night
November 05, 2008

Giordano Bruno: Philosopher/Heretic By Ingrid D. Rowland (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 352 pp., $29) I. 'To philosophize is to learn to die": seven words, and an epoch in Western thought.