“Scholars have not always been the most objective students of populism, partly because their own interests are at stake, scholarship and expertise being so often numbered among the chief targets of populist abuse. Accordingly, scholars find populism to be too prone to ignorance, anti-intellectualism, and demagogy, and too vulnerable to capture by racial and ethnic and tribal bigotries, to serve as an authentic engine of positive social change.”
“We allow our great cultural institutions to fall into disrepair and disrepute because, as we strip them of their reverential traditions and their arduous canon, we also strip them of our reasons to cherish them. We call them before the tribunal of public opinion to justify their very existence, as if we can no longer see through the smog to the heights of Parnassus, lonelier than ever because we have forgotten that it is even there. We attempt to chain the Muses to the machinery of our modern malaise, as if we do not remember that they exist to show us the way to transcend that malaise, to find our way home again, by way of that steep and difficult climb, to the bosom of art and learning.”
“‘This isn’t some magic soup!’ says David Devan of the data-driven, meticulously engineered transformation of Opera Philadelphia. The once sleepy, old-school company has become one of the most progressive forces on the opera scene. Having spent more than $600,000 on market research over the past five years, the company is now poised to launch the most ambitious component of its master plan: ‘O17’ will be the first in a series of annual festivals designed to reinvent the urban opera experience. Spanning twelve days, from September 14 to 25, the festival will feature seven ‘operatic happenings’ at six venues across the city.
Kurt Andersen: “The American experiment, the original embodiment of the great Enlightenment idea of intellectual freedom, whereby every individual is welcome to believe anything she wishes, has metastasized out of control. … Mix epic individualism with extreme religion; mix show business with everything else; let all that ferment for a few centuries; then run it through the anything-goes ’60s and the internet age. The result is the America we inhabit today, with reality and fantasy weirdly and dangerously blurred and commingled.”
“Antoine Lilti’s The Invention of Celebrity is a book that does just that. A chronicle of the origins and development of our modern société du spectacle, it provides a genealogy of the media-driven world of celebrities and personalities who now dominate our headlines and crowd (out) our public debates. Far from being the product solely of 20th-century developments or the perversion of a less starstruck age, argues Lilti, the culture of celebrity has in fact been with us since the 18th century. ‘Celebrity’, Lilti writes, is ‘a characteristic trait of modern societies’. It was present at their birth.”
Arguments about whether and when music in church was uplifting or distracting go back to at least St. Augustine and St. Jerome – but, as Alexander Lee finds out, various Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist sages and authorities have hashed out similar disputes and come up with widely varying answers. (Do we take it Hindus and Confucians saw no such dilemmas?)
The playwright politely ducked the question about what might come next, saying that he was eternally on the hunt for material—in magazines, newspapers, science journals, monographs—but hadn’t yet located something that felt like a script. Brexit fascinated him, he added, as did the rise of Trump. He’d also considered writing a drama about cloning, and another on the Leveson inquiry. So far, though, nothing has quite stuck. “I like to think that something is marinating. I read out of a combination of normal interest and the hope that there will be a play in there, or the half-notion of a play.”