Not only have I not been blogging, I haven’t even been reading blogs (at least not very much), so I dived into the deep end of the pool last night and regaled myself after a month-long layoff. Here’s some of what I found, out there in the ‘sphere:
– Via Jolly Days, these wise words from a 1972 interview with Isaac Bashevis Singer:
I really don’t believe that literature can influence life to any great degree. Art is a force, but without a vector. Like the waves of the sea it flows forward and backward, but the net result is static. While I believe that fiction requires a story and should appear dynamic, it actually describes human character and personality, which remains almost constant.
I’d say that art stirs the mind but never moves it far in one direction or another. Admirers of Dostoevsky and Goethe were Nazis who played with the skulls of childrren. The hope that great literature can bring peace or make the human race better is without basis. When readers ask me about the message of my works I tell them that the greatest message we’ve got is the Ten Commandments. They are short, precise, clear. We don’t need new messages, and they will certainly not be found in novels, good or bad.
– Sarah reports on a tiny factual error Lawrence Block made in his latest mystery novel–and the hundreds and hundreds of readers who’ve written to tell him about it. A funny, depressing, thoroughly cautionary tale. (He is, of course, going nuts, poor man.)
– Via Arts & Letters Daily, Walter Laqueur reviews a new collection of essays by Sir Isaiah Berlin about culture under the Soviets. Berlin visited Russia in 1945, where he met with a number of writers and intellectuals:
It could not have been easy to gain their confidence, for they had not the faintest idea about the identity of this visitor from another world and whether he could be trusted. But once such trust was established, they did not go back. They wanted to know the fate of literary figures in the West — they were aware that Marcel Proust and James Joyce were no longer alive, but were less sure about Virginia Woolf. Both Akhmatova and Pasternak had no doubts about their place in the history of Russian culture, certain in the ’40s and ’50s that they were the greatest living Russian poets. Living in isolation, they occasionally developed beliefs that were more than a little bizarre. Akhmatova thought that Berlin’s visit to her in 1945 had made Stalin so furious that he launched the Cold War. Or the famous story of Stalin’s (only ever) phone call to Pasternak — the dictator wanted to know whether Osip Mandelstam was a truly great poet, the corollary being that his life might be spared. Pasternak defended Mandelstam, albeit not wholeheartedly, but said that the truly crucial issue was that he, Pasternak, be given an early opportunity to meet Comrade Stalin to discuss some philosophical-spiritual problems of world-shaking importance. Stalin must have thought Pasternak a holy fool….
– Via artsjournal.com, our invaluable host, Boston Globe reports on the NEA’s “Shakespeare in American Communities” tour, in the process suggesting that those journalists (and bloggers) who can’t believe the NEA could possibly do anything good nowadays should take a second look:
After the curtain came down on a touring production of “Othello” in South Bend, Ind., a middle-age woman approached a cast member.
“I came a Shakespeare virgin,” she confided, “and am going home a blushing bride.”
This little anecdote tickles Joe Dowling, the artistic director of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, which is putting on the “Othello” tour. It tells him that what he’s trying to do — help people break through their preconceptions that the Bard is “too hard” or “too boring” — is working….
– Says The Forager in a month-old posting with which I just caught up:
When tastemakers grab onto something, it’s not enough for them merely to champion it or talk about why they like it or explain why it’s worth seeing-reading-listening to-exploring-etc. In order to justify their own existence, tastemakers have to convince an audience that said work is of vital importance to anyone who considers themselves culturally literate.
The Sopranos becomes a legitimate target for backlash not so much because it’s overvalued as a TV show (it’s not–it remains one of the best TV shows ever), but because tastemakers started talking about the show in terms that made it seem far more important than a TV show could ever be. (Exemplified by the slogan “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.” Actually, it is TV, i.e. just as important and significant as Friends and The Apprentice.)…
Now, I like The Sopranos, but my life wouldn’t be different if I stopped watching it or even if it never existed at all. Backlash, by attacking the critical consensus, reminds us how artificial and insignificant that consensus really is. It reminds us that our personal choices about what we like to watch or what we like to listen to aren’t as important as we’d like to think.
– How “grammatically sound” am I? According to this quiz, it seems I am a Grammar God, which is a nice thing to find out after a lifetime spent at the typewriter and its successor technologies, especially since I’m strictly a play-by-ear man when it comes to the finer points of English (I know how, but not why).
– I caught only one new movie during my Balanchine-related hiatus, The Ladykillers, which I saw purely for professional reasons. My review hasn’t been published yet, but until then, our beloved Cinetrix says all that needs to be said:
The Ladykillers feels like a summer stock version of a Coen Brothers movie. Forget asking how well the remake stands up to the original Ealing comedy. There is no joy, no sense of getting away with anything here….
I have now added the Coen brothers to my permanent do-not-review list. Ars longa, vita brevis.