“Born in Russia, Andrei [the hero of Keith Gessen’s novel A Terrible Country] is returning to a country that he left as a small child, a place now changed beyond recognition. Gone are the late-socialist stagnation and the post-Soviet poverty; in their place is something familiar to Western readers: a hip capitalist carnival for trend-chasing urban consumers side by side with economic insecurity and political malaise.” Gregory Afinogenov examines Keith Gessen’s fictionalized nostos, and what it reveals about the constraints that capitalism places upon politics, both in that terrible country and in this one (The Nation).
“One of my professors crossed out that line with the comment, ‘STUDYING LITERATURE IS NOT FUN!!’” Timothy Aubry looks into how and why the disavowal of aesthetic pleasure came to be the paramount sign of professionalism in the academic study of literature (Chronicle of Higher Ed).
“We are reminded of two axiomatic truths: that Aretha Franklin makes secular music sound sacred and vice versa, and that no matter how good the originals, her covers are invariably better.” Melissa Anderson praises a new Aretha Franklin documentary (4 Columns).
In the 1930s, Philip Johnson designed a speaker’s platform for the pro-fascist American politician Father Coughlin and subsidized a pro-Nazi pamphlet. He socialized with Nazi leaders in Germany until as late as 1940, and narrowly avoided being charged with sedition. And then, after the war, he started designing synagogues in New York State and nuclear reactors in Israel. “A nearly sociopathic ability to tune out every voice but one’s own can lead to Nuremberg or Jerusalem, and in Johnson’s case it led to both,” writes Armin Rosen, in a review of Mark Lamster’s new biography (Tablet).
“What [Hugh] Grant brings out is the self-delight, and eventually the perplexity, of a man who is also somehow acting himself, a confected chancer in double-breasted waistcoats, watch chains, and a trilby hat.” Alan Hollinghurst is entertained by Russell T. Davies’s and Stephen Frears’s television adaptation of the real-life story of a British member of Parliament who conspired to silence his gay lover by having him killed (NYRB).
“The struggle to find out what’s really going on in the world isn’t as wearying as the realisation that on the rare occasions you do find out, not everyone is waiting eagerly to hear about it.” Reviewing Alan Rusbridger’s new memoir of running the Guardian, James Meek explains the demoralization that has accompanied the undermining of print journalism’s business model (LRB).