Reviews and News:
Renée Radell was a realist painter, a Catholic existentialist, and one of Russell Kirk’s favorite artists. Gregory Wolfe reviews a new book on her life and work: “Raised in the Catholic faith, Radell and her sculptor-professor husband Lloyd were actively engaged with some of the major philosophical thinkers of mid-century, including the French Neo-Thomist Jacques Maritain. (An early painting of hers is named Existence and the Existent, after a book by Maritain.) She and Lloyd raised five children together and she painted them frequently with the sort of tenderness that reminds one of painters like Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot. But the domestic world was only one of her subjects: she has been equally interested in the larger cultural and spiritual questions.”
How a book series has preserved Appalachian culture for nearly 50 years: “Foxfire started as a class project at a Georgia high school — students interviewed neighbors and wrote a series of articles, which turned into a quarterly magazine and then a book, in 1972, with other books to follow soon after. (The name of the series comes from a term for a local form of bioluminescence caused by fungi on decaying wood.) Within the first decade, more than 9 million copies of Foxfire were sold. Today, there are specialized Foxfire books that focus on cooking, winemaking, religion and music.
The New York Times launches a literary advice column.
Why do some writers invent languages? It’s risky and seemingly unnecessary.
Kyle Smith reviews a new play on Paul de Man, champion of deconstruction and Nazi-sympathizer: “Leaf does a public service in exhuming de Man and reminding us of how something monstrous can begin as a cavalier disregard for truth.”
Norman Podhoretz’s Making It at 50: “When it first appeared, Making It met with a publishing equivalent of a lynch mob.” Why?
How colors make us feel: “Interior designers know that yellow makes people angry, while in the US Naval Correctional Center in Seattle, what’s known as Baker-Miller Pink (after the officers who created it) has been found to pacify stroppy recidivists.”
Joseph Bottum reviews Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology: “A literary genius who has devoted perhaps too much of his genius to showmanship and celebrity, Neil Gaiman is seeking in Norse Mythology a prose that can express all this with the simplicity of the people who first told the old stories to one another. ‘Odin gave the Gjallerhorn to Heimdall, watchman of the gods,’ he writes. ‘On the day the Gjallerhorn is blown, it will wake the gods, no matter where they are, no matter how deeply they sleep. Heimdall will blow the Gjallerhorn only once, at the end of all things, at Ragnarók.’ To put the point another way, Gaiman is good enough to know that the old stories require an immediacy, even at their strangest.”
Essay of the Day:
In The New York Times, John Leland talks with Norman Podhoretz about how New York’s literary circles have changed over the years. “Nobody cares that much anymore” about art or ideas:
“‘These parties I mentioned,’ Norman Podhoretz said the other day, ‘everybody gave parties. And there was a lot of drinking. Some visiting literary celebrity would show up, Partisan Review would make a party or I would make a party. Everybody came. And it was a really passionate intellectual life. It’s hard to imagine today, but people actually came to blows over literary disagreements.’
“It was a cold morning, and Mr. Podhoretz, 87, was recently back from the hospital after minor surgery, recuperating in his Upper East Side apartment, recalling a time in the middle of the last century when a small group of New York intellectuals held the public attention like well-read Kardashians.
“‘In the case of The Adventures of Augie March, I was the one who nearly came to blows,’ he said, referring to a 1953 critical review he wrote of Saul Bellow’s breakthrough novel. ‘Bellow wouldn’t speak to me for years. It was only when he decided he couldn’t stand Alfred Kazin anymore that we became sort of friendly.'”
* * *
“Feuds simmered and festered. Everyone published books and reviewed one another in Partisan Review, Commentary and The New York Review of Books. A negative review in one begot a retaliatory review in another, as well a snub at a party — all very public, especially once Mrs. Kennedy started cultivating the Family. Mr. Podhoretz’s status at Commentary earned him a place at her soirees and an invitation to Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball in 1966, often called the party of the century.
“When Mr. Podhoretz had a falling out with Jason Epstein, a founder of The New York Review, The New York Times Magazine ran a 1972 article, ‘Why Norman and Jason Aren’t Talking,’ that stretched over 10 pages.
“Mr. Podhoretz by then was swinging politically to the right, repelled by what he saw as an anti-American strain within the counterculture. ‘They started spelling America with a K,’ Mr. Podhoretz said. Kristol, Moynihan, Bell and a few others had already moved right, arguing that the war on poverty and social welfare programs were hurting the poor. To their domestic neoconservatism, Mr. Podhoretz brought an emphasis on strong foreign policy and military interventionism.
“Others hewed steadfastly to the left. By the mid-1970s, this split, which played out in the same magazines that had earlier sealed their friendships, divided Mr. Podhoretz from nearly all of his old companions. To this day, he said, he has not spoken with Mr. Epstein in nearly 40 years.”
Poem: Ernest Hilbert, “Fool’s Fire”
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This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard