Not once, not twice, but three times in the course of the 86-minute running time of the extravagantly praised Frances Ha is the title character shown running through Manhattan. Once, we see her running with her best friend. Another time we see her running to find an ATM. Then we see her running while improvising dance moves.
When John Henry Newman died in 1890, English papers around the world singled out different aspects of his life and work for praise or censure, but on one point they were unanimous. As the obituarist of the Colonies and India put it, “We question whether there is a living writer who had a command of the English tongue at once so eloquent and incisive, though often ironical.” The force of Newman’s style may have been universally acknowledged, but the content of the writing was rarely paid the attention it deserves.
I met him once. Well, met in the loosest sense: I was introduced to Ray Manzarek at a Los Angeles restaurant in the 1980s and got to shake his hand. No more than that, but even at the time it felt like an encounter with passing greatness, a brush with the fading mythology of the age, and down through the years, I’ve never forgotten it.
Henry Wallace, Franklin Roosevelt’s second vice president and the Progressive party candidate for president in 1948, was once again in the news earlier this year. Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick produced a multipart Showtime series and large book blaming the Cold War on his removal from the Democratic ticket in 1944. If only Wallace, and not Harry Truman, had succeeded FDR, the world would have been a better and more peaceful place. Conservative (Ronald Radosh) and liberal (Sean Wilentz) historians have skewered Stone and Kuznick’s tenuous grasp of history.
Replete with stunning horror stories, as one would expect, this remarkable collection of antislavery writing astonishes nonetheless. For example: “Our first black President was a man of such distinguished talents, that none chose to risk their own reputation for discernment by not acknowledging it”—which is from an anonymous short story, not contemporary media fawning, published in William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator on April 2, 1831.
Nothing has been left unsaid about Franz Kafka (1883-1924), the Jewish insurance lawyer from Prague who conducted his work life in Czech, his personal life in German, and his nocturnal writer’s life in a highly condensed metaphoric language whose striking images reveal the absurd core in the human struggle for justice or happiness.
Last night, President Barack Obama honored singer Carole King with the the 2013 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The celebration took the form of a concert, featuring James Taylor, Gloria Estefan, Billy Joel, Jesse McCartney, Emeli Sande, and Trisha Yearwood. It will air next week on PBS stations across the nation.
But the White House has released President Obama's speech to honor King:
Normally I blog about each week's Mad Men episode here. I avoid Slate and Esquire and everywhere else that offers analysis and simply try to reflect on the more interesting aspects of the show. Then I'll go over to the other sites and realize I know nothing. I am reminded of Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor explaining to Otis that "some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it's a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe." Consider me the former.
Demetrius of Phaleron, the eccentric tyrant of Athens in the last years of the fourth century b.c., was the proud owner of a giant mechanical snail. This wonder of artifice led the religious processions for which Athens was famous, spitting up saliva, spritzing (we may guess) the squealing onlookers with cooling water, and leaving a deliciously repellent slimy trail behind to settle the dust.
Of the generation of American poets born in the 1920s, three are preeminent: Richard Wilbur (b. 1921), Anthony Hecht (b. 1923), and James Merrill (b. 1926). This judgment will, of course, be contested by those who are most excited by the high nonsense of a John Ashbery, the manic improvisations of an Allen Ginsberg, or the solemn proclamations of an Adrienne Rich. But for those admiring of “formal” verse—of meter, rhyme, and stanza—the trio named above (one of whom, Wilbur, is still alive and writing) are master practitioners.