This week: Shakespeare, Giorgio Morandi, agricultural autobiography & more.
Red Rag to a Bull, by Jamie Blackett (Quiller): Presumably the title of Jamie Blackett’s entertaining new memoir refers to the way perfidious EU bureaucrats and Scottish National Party minders make him feel. Blackett, a British ex-military man now trying his hand at agriculture, is not shy. His rage at the apparatchiks who both enable him to farm (through subsidies) and ensure that his activities are highly circumscribed (through onerous regulation) is unconcealed in this diverting book, subtitled “Rural Life in an Urban Age.” But Blackett never loses his sense of humor, even when describing his painful interactions with what he terms the “Big State” (he also introduces the reader to a useful distinction regarding “limes” and “watermelons”: the limes are green to the core while watermelons use environmentalism as a cover for Marxism). Along the way we are treated to four seasons on a Scottish farm, with memorable vignettes about the attempted rescue of a stubborn lamb, dealings with deadbeat tenants, snipe shooting, and hound breeding, among others. Incidentally, I once witnessed the author dropping off copies of his previous book (The Enigma of Kidson, about a renowned Eton schoolmaster) for a signing at John Sandoe, the wondrous bookstore in London. Blackett might say that, as farming is more than crop rotations, the job of the writer goes far beyond the writing itself. —BR
“Kindred Wayfarers: William Cullen Bryant and Walt Whitman,” at the Bryant Park Reading Room, presented by the New-York Historical Society (August 28): The slight chill trickling through the air this past weekend served as a reminder that summer is nearing its close and, with it, much of the reliable programming that fills the season’s dead time. Among these stalwarts is a series with a particularly promising finale this week. The New-York Historical Society concludes its tenth annual “Non-Fiction at the Bryant Park Reading Room” series, which we have highlighted before, this Wednesday, August 28, at 7 p.m. The topic is the celebrated poets Walt Whitman and William Cullen Bryant, the park’s namesake; a panel of scholars will be on hand to discuss the formidable legacy that the two contemporaries left behind. —RE
“Giorgio Morandi: Linear Impulse,” at Simon Dickinson (through September 10): When I look at most paintings by Giorgio Morandi, the hermetic twentieth-century artist from Bologna, Italy, I am first struck by their muted color palette and their restricted tonal sensitivity. The paintings, especially the still lifes for which he is best known, don’t “strike fast,” so to speak—their compositions look awkward at first, and the countertop kitchen utensils Morandi returned to endlessly as subjects sometimes appear as if made of jelly. But with focused and prolonged engagement with his best works, an ethereal, glowing sort of light begins to manifest, as if emanating mysteriously from the oil itself. To look, then, at Morandi’s etchings and his drawings on paper, as an ongoing exhibition at the Upper East Side’s Simon Dickinson does, is an enlightening experience, because they emphasize by material necessity altogether different aspects of Morandi’s craft. The show’s subtitle comes from a passage in Karen Wilkin’s 2008 monograph on the artist, wherein she describes how Morandi’s tonal use of cross-hatching on the copper plate indicates that the works “appear to be driven entirely by linear impulse.” On view through September 10, the exhibition is a welcome exception to the dormancy of these final summer days in New York’s gallery scene. —AS
Othello, at Bryant Park’s Picnic Performance Series (August 30–31 and September 1): If you haven’t yet taken the time to let all your social media followers know that you attended a play in a public park at some point this summer, this could be your last chance to do so. This Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (as well as a handful of days next week), The Drilling Company will be staging performances of Othello from 7 to 9 p.m. in Bryant Park. Admission is free to the public, and attendees are invited to borrow blankets from the park or to bring their own. And once the show starts, I’m told, even the city’s subterranean backdrafts begin to evoke the tepid siroccos of sixteenth-century Venice. —RE
Upcoming at The New Criterion:
“Leninthink: On the pernicious legacy of Vladimir Lenin,” featuring Gary Saul Morson (September 25). Presenting The New Criterion's First Annual Circle Lecture.
From the Archive:
“Written to last,” by Joseph Epstein (September 2006). On the trials of literary longevity.
From our pages:
“How the great truth dawned,” by Gary Saul Morson. On the Soviet virtue of cruelty.
“Decline & fall in a Welsh town,” by Anthony Daniels. Fortune and misfortune on the waterfront.
“Experiments against reality,” featuring Roger Kimball. The publisher and editor of The New Criterion introduces the September issue.