Recent links of note:
“In Love with Multiplicity”
Joseph Leo Koerner, The New York Review of Books
The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna recently put on the largest-ever exhibition of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s works in advance of the 450th anniversary of his death in 1569. Bruegel, a Netherlandish artist who deliberately painted in his native style instead of the popular Italianate one of his day, created encyclopedic works that captured his time in magnificent—and sometimes harrowing—detail. In an insightful essay, Joseph Leo Koerner describes an artist who was interested in portraying kings and peasants alike. For example, his Christ Carrying the Cross (1564), a huge, apparently pleasant scene of the Flemish countryside, features people from every stripe of society ignoring the painting’s subject in the middle of the canvas. Koerner believes that “there has never been a better painter than Bruegel.” True or not, Bruegel continues to inspire artists and writers to this day, from W. H. Auden’s 1939 “Musée des Beaux Arts” to Don DeLillo’s 1992 novella “Pafko at the Wall” (later the prologue to his panoramic and Bruegelesque 1997 novel, Underworld).
“The Hidden Harper Lee”
Casey N. Cep, The Paris Review
Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) was an immediate success, and her audience couldn’t wait to read what came next. But while she spent years on a true-crime novel (after her interviewing skills helped Truman Capote pull off 1965’s In Cold Blood), she published nothing. In the recently released Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, Casey N. Cep has unearthed Lee’s story, about an Alabama preacher-turned-serial-killer in the 1970s. Cep describes Lee’s perceptive prose—it “catches like a briar” and sticks to her subjects—and speculates on reasons for her decades of silence: “Writer’s block is a symptom, not a disease.” Look for an upcoming review of Furious Hours in our Dispatch section.
“The Last Call”
Julia Friedman, Athenaeum Review
Camille Paglia defies stereotypes. She’s a fierce feminist, but also a forceful defender of the dead white males in the literary canon. She aspires to the loftiest in art and literature in her scholarship and criticism, but she also believes that pop culture deserves an equal hearing. Her latest collection, Provocations, is “the printed equivalent of a cattle prod,” as Julia Friedman writes, but it also demands a respect for people and the works they create that she believes is missing in the contemporary academy, in gender politics (the victimization narrative of late feminism “appalls her,” Friedman writes), and in our cultural criticism. What holds these positions together, for Paglia, is the idea of “fluidity,” a willingness to adopt different views to gain a more subtle understanding of the world. For more on Paglia’s collection, read Carl Rollyson’s review in our November 2018 issue.
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