When she sits down to talk, Emily Molnar begins by remembering one of her first acts as Ballet BC’s artistic director: brainstorming with the dancers about how to go forward with a shared vision. It was a bold way to launch the changing of the guard—one that stressed values of trust, support, and collaboration. The fact that it took place in a boardroom, instead of sprawled on the floor in the more familiar studio environment, was significant. It meant they sat as equals around a table, where the baggage of ballet hierarchy—in which dancers have traditionally not been encouraged to speak up—could be more easily left behind.
When younger generations emerge to challenge the bygone revolutions of their forebears, it’s said to be in the service of a grand teleological arc, an earnest desire to do things better. But this has always struck me as an incomplete picture of how culture works. Sometimes brinksmanship tips toward true disdain, and desires to merely show someone up descend into fantasies of destruction. Can dark, trifling feelings produce uplifting art?
Lewis Lapham: “The operatic protest blowing through the country’s internet portals raises the question as to whether the sound and fury signifies something or nothing, the telling of “mischief-making,” fairy-tale lies that is the life of our good and great consumer economy, or the voicing of competitive truth that is the vitality of a democratic republic. It’s hard to know which is which because over the past forty years we’ve become accustomed to pretending that democracy is a peaceful idea, something civil, orderly, quiet, and safe. It isn’t.”
Self-help—the enemy of the uncalm—is, unsurprisingly, an American phenomenon. It evinces a sensibility well suited to a country where the self has always been the most relevant unit.
For that we can credit (if that’s the word) one William C. Bullitt, friend and former patient of the Herr Doktor and a journalist, author, off-and-on diplomat, lecturer and inveterate schemer whom Ben Yagoda, in this article, likens to a real-life Zelig.
The idea that historians could use their knowledge of the past to advise useful courses of action for the future goes all the way back to Thucydides. “In recent decades, however, things have changed. The longstanding view of the historian as being, in modern jargon, ‘policy-relevant’, has fallen out of favour and often arouses suspicion” – within the discipline as well as outside it. Robert Crowcroft makes the case for a widespread revival of the approach now called “applied history.”
Caitlin Flanagan: “Lolita is a novel about a man who kidnaps and repeatedly rapes a 12-year-old girl, holding her captive until she escapes at 14. No one can blame the people who won’t read it. But then there are the rest of us. The book is about obsession, and its uncanny feat is to create that very same emotional state in the successive generations of readers who defend it. Moreover, many who have loved it most ardently are young women — the ones whom we might imagine being its most furious critics.”
“Skim the table of contents of the major literary journals, … and even general-interest weeklies with vast reach such as The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine. Scan the recipients of the prestigious and sometimes lucrative fellowships, awards, and lectureships … The face of poetry in the United States looks very different today than it did even a decade ago, and far more like the demographics of Millennial America. … These outsiders find themselves, at the very start of their careers, on the inside — and not just of a hermetic realm of poetry … At literary festivals, many of these poets are drawing big crowds.”
Before he died, Kafka had written a letter to Max Brod, who found it when he went to clear out Kafka’s desk. In this “last will,” Kafka instructed Brod to burn all his manuscripts, including his letters and diaries. But Brod, who admired Kafka to the point of idolatry, refused to carry out his friend’s wishes. Instead, he devoted the rest of his life to editing, publishing, and promoting Kafka’s work—even writing a novel about him, in which Kafka was thinly disguised as a character named Richard Garta. In this way, Brod ensured not only Kafka’s immortality, but his own. Though Brod himself was a successful and prolific writer, today he is remembered almost exclusively for his role in Kafka’s story.