Prufrock: Obama’s Not-So-Great Speeches, the Stradivarius Myth, and Damien Hirst’s Disastrous Show

Reviews and News:

Barton Swaim reviews President Obama’s speeches: “Were his speeches as good as we thought? It can be a tricky thing to judge the quality of an oration, so much of it depending on the occasion in which it occurred—tone, circumstance, timing, the audience’s mood. It’s especially tricky to judge the speeches of politicians whose views we dislike, and I confess to disliking Barack Obama’s views a great deal. Even so, the twenty-seven speeches collected in We Are the Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama, edited by E. J. Dionne Jr. and Joy-Ann Reid, are neither better nor worse, for the most part, than any other American politician’s speeches: often muddled, consistently unmemorable, and boring.”

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The Stradivarius myth: “For two centuries, artists and audiences have passively accepted the received truth that Antonio Stradivari and a handful of other 16th-century masters made violins and cellos that have yet to be improved upon. French researcher Claudia Fritz has been gradually debunking this notion. In a 2014 experiment, she found 10 world-class violinists who blind-tested old and new instruments and could not reliably tell them apart—and, when pressed, tended to prefer the newer ones.”

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Damien Hirst bombs in Venice: “This should have been a triumph. Hirst loves a grand occasion, and the prospect of taking over collector François Pinault’s palatial spaces in the Most Serene Republic, the Palazzo Grassi and the Punta della Dogana, would seem like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to let it rip. I was looking forward to an extravagant bit of Hirst nihilism, betting that the artist could at least deliver something so truly bad that it would be delightfully good. Instead, Hirst choked. It is bad show, and a depressing one.” (h/t: Richard Bledsoe)

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The price of feminizing boyhood: “Our society is unlearning masculinity, it’s feminizing every stage of male life, and boys are paying a steep price. Consider the feminization of the home — occurring on two fronts simultaneously. First, and most important, the dissolution of the family brings increased fatherlessness, and for all of our culture’s single-mom worship (and moms’ sometimes — but not always — heroic efforts to fill the gap), boys need dads. It’s that simple. Men and women in general have different roles to play in their kids’ lives, and a boy sees in a good dad the fruits of properly channeled and properly lived masculinity. He has a model, often a hero, who lives in the closest possible proximity. But beyond fatherlessness is the increasing feminization of even the intact, two-parent household. Models of domestic life intentionally crafted to break old stereotypes and cultural norms increasingly treat parents not as ‘mom and dad’ but as ‘Parent 1 and Parent 2.’ Kids aren’t brother and sister, but ‘Child 1 and Child 2.’ There are no longer different paths for boys and girls but instead unique paths for special snowflakes. Who’s to say what’s masculine? Who’s to say what’s feminine? The one thing we do know, however, is that stereotypically male characteristics of aggression, risk-taking, and high-energy work and play are ‘toxic’ and need to be medicated or educated right out of the home.”

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Eighty-five-year-old mountaineer dies trying to become the oldest climber to top Everest again.

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William E. Carroll on the shortcomings of evolutionary explanations of the mind: “Rather than think that all things (including minds) must evolve because they are exclusively material and thus subject to natural selection, we might begin by questioning whether materialism itself offers an adequate account of nature.”

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Richard Pevear revisits Andrei Sinyavsky’s Strolls with Pushkin: “Strolls with Pushkin was written while Sinyavsky was serving a seven-year term for anti-Soviet activity—specifically for writing what were deemed “anti-Soviet” works and publishing them abroad—in the Dubrovlag forced labor camp in Mordovia. Prisoners were not allowed to write books in the camp, of course, but they were allowed to write letters twice a month to their immediate family, and no limit was set to the length of the letters. In this way, during the nearly six years that he served (1966–1971) before his early release, Sinyavsky managed to write two books as letters to his wife, Marya Rozanova… For Sinyavsky, Pushkin is the embodiment of poetic freedom and of a more essential human freedom.”

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Agatha Christie went missing for 10 days in 1926. No one knows why she disappeared, but that hasn’t stopped people from speculating over the years.

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Essay of the Day:

In First Things, Dana Gioia writes about the power of singing hymns you don’t understand:

“When I was a child in parochial school, we began each morning with daily Mass. My mother worked nights, and no one in my family was an early riser. I inevitably arrived late to church. The nuns stared disapprovingly as I slipped in among my more punctual classmates in our assigned pews. This daily dose of shame was good training for later life. It made me immune to peer pressure.

“The Mass, which was conducted entirely in Latin, meant little to me. I endured it respectfully as a mandatory exercise. I was relieved when the service ended and we filed off to our classrooms across the street. What impressed me was the church itself. St. Joseph’s was larger than the old Los Angeles cathedral. It was one of only two buildings in my hometown of Hawthorne, California, that might have been called beautiful. (The other was the Plaza, an old movie palace—now torn down.) I liked being inside St. Joseph’s lofty, cool interior, which was illuminated by tall stained-glass windows depicting the saints and apostles.

“On the first Friday of each month, however, there was another ceremony called the Benediction. Having already attended Mass in the morning, we were marched into church again in the afternoon to participate in a short but elaborate ritual in honor of the Eucharist.

“The priest, wearing a special mantle over his robes, entered accompanied by several altar boys. Candles were lit, and great suffocating clouds of incense dispersed. As the priest approached the altar, we sang a Latin hymn called O Salutaris Hostia. We read the verses from little laminated cards. I didn’t know what the words meant. (I assumed hostia meant the communion host, which, of course, it didn’t.) I liked singing the hymn, but it wasn’t my favorite.

“American Catholics have a different sense of sacred music from Protestants. Singing is less central to our traditions of worship. The gap was especially wide before the Second Vatican Council. Catholics then rarely sang in church. There was no music at ordinary Mass, even on Sundays. Music was reserved for high Mass on special feast days, and then the singing was mostly Latin chant. In my Los Angeles parish, 1960 didn’t sound much different from 1660.

“At Benediction, however, hymns played a central role. The music endowed the service with a sense of special occasion. Hearing St. Joseph’s mighty organ fill the capacious church gave me a physical thrill. It was the most powerful live music I had ever heard. Add to that titanic rumbling the voices of seven hundred parochial school kids singing in Latin, led by a dozen Sisters of Providence, and you will divine my wonderment and awe.”

Read the rest.

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Photo: Undulatus asperatus clouds over Paris

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Poem: Elise Paschen, “My Mother Descends”

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This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard

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