Commentary Magazine


Topic: Terry Teachout

A Beautiful Tribute

COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large, Terry Teachout, has just written an extraordinarily moving blog post on the passing of his mother, Evelyn, that deserves to be read and circulated. A taste:

 In 1947 she married a dashing Army Air Corps vet, bore him two sons, and spent the greater part of the next half-century working for a string of Smalltown accountants. Hers, I suppose, was a nominally uneventful existence, at least when judged by the short-sighted standards of the world. Yet Evelyn Teachout, who died peacefully last night after a long illness, loved her life and made a deep impression on everyone who met her, for she was a quick-witted, thoroughly decent person whose kindness and generosity were self-evident.

In nurturing Terry and giving him the sense of possibility that led him from that small town to the center of American culture, Evelyn Teachout did us all a service. May her memory be for a blessing.

COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large, Terry Teachout, has just written an extraordinarily moving blog post on the passing of his mother, Evelyn, that deserves to be read and circulated. A taste:

 In 1947 she married a dashing Army Air Corps vet, bore him two sons, and spent the greater part of the next half-century working for a string of Smalltown accountants. Hers, I suppose, was a nominally uneventful existence, at least when judged by the short-sighted standards of the world. Yet Evelyn Teachout, who died peacefully last night after a long illness, loved her life and made a deep impression on everyone who met her, for she was a quick-witted, thoroughly decent person whose kindness and generosity were self-evident.

In nurturing Terry and giving him the sense of possibility that led him from that small town to the center of American culture, Evelyn Teachout did us all a service. May her memory be for a blessing.

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All “Best” Lists Are Now “Personal Inventories”

Yesterday Terry Teachout conducted a “purely personal inventory” of the ten American novels he “most wished” he had written, and this morning Patrick Kurp countered with his own list of ten. If you removed the alien and seditious titles from my own three-year-old list of the fifty best English-language novels published since the Victorians — a list originally compiled for students who kept pestering me for recommended readings — you’d be left with this roster of ten:

( 1) Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)
( 2) Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady (1881)
( 3) Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
( 4) F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)
( 5) Willa Cather, My Ántonia (1918)
( 6) Philip Roth, American Pastoral (1997)
( 7) Saul Bellow, Mr Sammler’s Planet (1970)
( 8) Janet Lewis, The Wife of Martin Guerre (1941)
( 9) William Faulkner, Light in August (1932)
(10) Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence (1920)

As one of Kurp’s commentators said, this is a “nifty parlor game.” But it also, I think, points to something serious.

“There are some works of literature that every civilized American should be familiar with,” Hugh Kenner wrote years ago. But no one believes that any more. It’s telling, don’t you think, that Teachout, Kurp, and I agree on just one writer — Cather — without even agreeing on which of her novels ought to be first read. I have tried to update Kenner’s apothegm (“There are some works of literature that every civilized American should be familiar with, although no one will ever agree on what they are”), but even this innocuous paradox is enough, in today’s English departments, to get me housed with the reactionaries, the racists, or worse.

All that’s left are parlor games, offered (as Teachout says he offered his) “apropos of absolutely nothing.” If literature is no longer a part of every civilized American’s cultural inheritance, you can thank your English teachers, who gladly coughed up their authority over it.

Yesterday Terry Teachout conducted a “purely personal inventory” of the ten American novels he “most wished” he had written, and this morning Patrick Kurp countered with his own list of ten. If you removed the alien and seditious titles from my own three-year-old list of the fifty best English-language novels published since the Victorians — a list originally compiled for students who kept pestering me for recommended readings — you’d be left with this roster of ten:

( 1) Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)
( 2) Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady (1881)
( 3) Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
( 4) F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)
( 5) Willa Cather, My Ántonia (1918)
( 6) Philip Roth, American Pastoral (1997)
( 7) Saul Bellow, Mr Sammler’s Planet (1970)
( 8) Janet Lewis, The Wife of Martin Guerre (1941)
( 9) William Faulkner, Light in August (1932)
(10) Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence (1920)

As one of Kurp’s commentators said, this is a “nifty parlor game.” But it also, I think, points to something serious.

“There are some works of literature that every civilized American should be familiar with,” Hugh Kenner wrote years ago. But no one believes that any more. It’s telling, don’t you think, that Teachout, Kurp, and I agree on just one writer — Cather — without even agreeing on which of her novels ought to be first read. I have tried to update Kenner’s apothegm (“There are some works of literature that every civilized American should be familiar with, although no one will ever agree on what they are”), but even this innocuous paradox is enough, in today’s English departments, to get me housed with the reactionaries, the racists, or worse.

All that’s left are parlor games, offered (as Teachout says he offered his) “apropos of absolutely nothing.” If literature is no longer a part of every civilized American’s cultural inheritance, you can thank your English teachers, who gladly coughed up their authority over it.

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Pops and Pale

I don’t usually link favorably to the New York Times, but all COMMENTARY readers should hie to Michiko Kakutani’s review of our chief culture critic Terry Teachout’s newly published biography of Louis Armstrong. Pops has been received ecstatically, and nowhere more than in Kakutani’s review today:

With “Pops,” his eloquent and important new biography of Armstrong, the critic and cultural historian Terry Teachout restores this jazzman to his deserved place in the pantheon of American artists…[he] writes with a deep appreciation of Armstrong’s artistic achievements, while situating his work and his life in a larger historical context. He draws on Armstrong’s wonderfully vivid writings and hours of tapes in which the musician recorded his thoughts and conversations with friends, and in doing so, creates an emotionally detailed portrait of Satchmo as a quick, funny, generous, observant and sometimes surprisingly acerbic man.

She’s right.

Also of note is the inclusion of “Beyond the Pale,” a stunning story by COMMENTARY’s longtime contributor Joseph Epstein, in the latest edition of The Best American Short Stories. “Beyond the Pale” was originally published in COMMENTARY’s March 2008 issue.

I don’t usually link favorably to the New York Times, but all COMMENTARY readers should hie to Michiko Kakutani’s review of our chief culture critic Terry Teachout’s newly published biography of Louis Armstrong. Pops has been received ecstatically, and nowhere more than in Kakutani’s review today:

With “Pops,” his eloquent and important new biography of Armstrong, the critic and cultural historian Terry Teachout restores this jazzman to his deserved place in the pantheon of American artists…[he] writes with a deep appreciation of Armstrong’s artistic achievements, while situating his work and his life in a larger historical context. He draws on Armstrong’s wonderfully vivid writings and hours of tapes in which the musician recorded his thoughts and conversations with friends, and in doing so, creates an emotionally detailed portrait of Satchmo as a quick, funny, generous, observant and sometimes surprisingly acerbic man.

She’s right.

Also of note is the inclusion of “Beyond the Pale,” a stunning story by COMMENTARY’s longtime contributor Joseph Epstein, in the latest edition of The Best American Short Stories. “Beyond the Pale” was originally published in COMMENTARY’s March 2008 issue.

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Teaching Moderate Islam

The New York Times features a fascinating story about how a Turkish Islamic scholar who lives in the United States is creating schools in Pakistan, Nigeria, and other countries that combine a secular Western curriculum with a moderate brand of Sufi Islam. The schools are the brainchild of Fethullah Gulen, and they are funded by Turkish businessmen. Times correspondent Sabrina Tavernise describes the schools as follows:

They prescribe a strong Western curriculum, with courses, taught in English, from math and science to English literature and Shakespeare. They do not teach religion beyond the one class in Islamic studies that is required by the [Pakistani] state. Unlike British-style private schools, however, they encourage Islam in their dormitories, where teachers set examples in lifestyle and prayer.

Tavernise also offers a great example of how these schools can spread moderation when she recounts this encounter between the Turkish school principal and some locals in the Pakistani city of Karachi:

When he prayed at a mosque, two young men followed him out and told him not to return wearing a tie because it was un-Islamic.

“I said, ‘Show me a verse in the Koran where it was forbidden,’ ” Mr. Kacmaz said, steering his car through tangled rush-hour traffic. The two men were wearing glasses, and he told them that scripturally, there was no difference between a tie and glasses.

“Behind their words there was no Hadith,” he said, referring to a set of Islamic texts, “only misunderstanding.”

This seems like exactly the kind of project that the United States should be promoting. Of course, as Terry Teachout noted in COMMENTARY in an article on the CIA’s Cold War activities, there is a stigma that comes with covert American funding if it is uncovered. Therefore we need to think about creative ways, perhaps using foundations, to fund moderate schools of the sort that Fethullah Gulen seems to be building. In the long run, such efforts can do more than cruise missiles or Predators to defeat our enemies-and the enemies of the vast majority of moderate Muslims.

The New York Times features a fascinating story about how a Turkish Islamic scholar who lives in the United States is creating schools in Pakistan, Nigeria, and other countries that combine a secular Western curriculum with a moderate brand of Sufi Islam. The schools are the brainchild of Fethullah Gulen, and they are funded by Turkish businessmen. Times correspondent Sabrina Tavernise describes the schools as follows:

They prescribe a strong Western curriculum, with courses, taught in English, from math and science to English literature and Shakespeare. They do not teach religion beyond the one class in Islamic studies that is required by the [Pakistani] state. Unlike British-style private schools, however, they encourage Islam in their dormitories, where teachers set examples in lifestyle and prayer.

Tavernise also offers a great example of how these schools can spread moderation when she recounts this encounter between the Turkish school principal and some locals in the Pakistani city of Karachi:

When he prayed at a mosque, two young men followed him out and told him not to return wearing a tie because it was un-Islamic.

“I said, ‘Show me a verse in the Koran where it was forbidden,’ ” Mr. Kacmaz said, steering his car through tangled rush-hour traffic. The two men were wearing glasses, and he told them that scripturally, there was no difference between a tie and glasses.

“Behind their words there was no Hadith,” he said, referring to a set of Islamic texts, “only misunderstanding.”

This seems like exactly the kind of project that the United States should be promoting. Of course, as Terry Teachout noted in COMMENTARY in an article on the CIA’s Cold War activities, there is a stigma that comes with covert American funding if it is uncovered. Therefore we need to think about creative ways, perhaps using foundations, to fund moderate schools of the sort that Fethullah Gulen seems to be building. In the long run, such efforts can do more than cruise missiles or Predators to defeat our enemies-and the enemies of the vast majority of moderate Muslims.

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The Philharmonic’s “Glass House”

The New York Philharmonic will be playing in Pyongyang next Tuesday. Lorin Maazel, its music director, notes in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal that the decision to take the Philharmonic to Communist North Korea has been greeted in some quarters with shock and dismay. Presumably, among those whom Mazaal is answering is Terry Teachout, who wrote this trenchant column, also for the Wall Street Journal

Mazaal lays out the case that, pace Teachout and others, the visit will do some good:

bringing peoples and their cultures together on common ground, where the roots of peaceful interchange can imperceptibly but irrevocably take hold. If all goes well, the presence of the New York Philharmonic in Pyongyang might gently influence the perception of our country there. If we are gradually to improve U.S.-Korean relations, such events have the potential to nudge open a door that has been closed too long.

I lived in Russia for a spell back when it was Communist country and am willing, by extrapolating from that experience, to grant Maazel a point on behalf of the concert that he could have made but does not. North Koreans, completely isolated from the outside world, are presented with a ubiquitous stream of propaganda that portrays the United States as a country full of avaricious militarists bent upon provoking a new war on the Korean peninsula. A concert in Pyongyang performed by American musicians, the very idea of which runs counter to the officially generated images of the past, is likely to evoke extreme curiosity in the North Korean populace, both about the visiting Americans and about what their visit portends for the future of their society.

But beyond that minimal effect of generating curiousity, let’s not get carried away by illusions and other political maladies, which is precisely what has happened to Maazel. “Human rights are an issue of profound relevance to us all,” he writes, noting that “[a]ny citizen, anywhere, can be deprived of them — brutally under tyrannical regimes, subtly in more open societies . . . . If we are to be effective in bringing succor to the oppressed, many languishing in foreign gulags, the U.S. must claim an authority based on an immaculate ethical record.”

Is that really so? What Maazel has done here is create the impression that when it comes to human rights, a country like North Korea and the United States are on the same continuum, the major difference between the two being that Pyongyang operates “brutally” while democratic societies like our own oppress “subtly.” “Woe to the people we are trying to help if we end up in a glass house,” he writes.

This is disgraceful. What does this “glass house” metaphor mean other than that we should be wary of criticizing North Korea because our own human-transgressions are on a par in some way with the most oppressive society on earth? Artists in the public arena, writes Maazel in the same op-ed, “must be totally apolitical, nonpartisan, and free of issue-specific agendas.” If only he would follow his own advice. 

Maazel recounts that in negotiating arrangements for the Philharmonic’s visit, “[w]e requested that the concert in Pyongyang be open to the average citizen.” The average citizen? The naivete on display here is record-setting. One thing is utterly certain: the average North Korean citizen will not be attending the Philharmonic’s concert next week. Maazel’s op-ed leaves the impression that he is completely incapable of imagining the nature of the society he will be visiting, a place where the lot of the average citizen is constant exposure to terror, lawlessness, a cradle-to-grave system of political indoctrination, and starvation.

The grim reality of Communist North Korea is that the average citizen is not a citizen at all but a slave.

The New York Philharmonic will be playing in Pyongyang next Tuesday. Lorin Maazel, its music director, notes in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal that the decision to take the Philharmonic to Communist North Korea has been greeted in some quarters with shock and dismay. Presumably, among those whom Mazaal is answering is Terry Teachout, who wrote this trenchant column, also for the Wall Street Journal

Mazaal lays out the case that, pace Teachout and others, the visit will do some good:

bringing peoples and their cultures together on common ground, where the roots of peaceful interchange can imperceptibly but irrevocably take hold. If all goes well, the presence of the New York Philharmonic in Pyongyang might gently influence the perception of our country there. If we are gradually to improve U.S.-Korean relations, such events have the potential to nudge open a door that has been closed too long.

I lived in Russia for a spell back when it was Communist country and am willing, by extrapolating from that experience, to grant Maazel a point on behalf of the concert that he could have made but does not. North Koreans, completely isolated from the outside world, are presented with a ubiquitous stream of propaganda that portrays the United States as a country full of avaricious militarists bent upon provoking a new war on the Korean peninsula. A concert in Pyongyang performed by American musicians, the very idea of which runs counter to the officially generated images of the past, is likely to evoke extreme curiosity in the North Korean populace, both about the visiting Americans and about what their visit portends for the future of their society.

But beyond that minimal effect of generating curiousity, let’s not get carried away by illusions and other political maladies, which is precisely what has happened to Maazel. “Human rights are an issue of profound relevance to us all,” he writes, noting that “[a]ny citizen, anywhere, can be deprived of them — brutally under tyrannical regimes, subtly in more open societies . . . . If we are to be effective in bringing succor to the oppressed, many languishing in foreign gulags, the U.S. must claim an authority based on an immaculate ethical record.”

Is that really so? What Maazel has done here is create the impression that when it comes to human rights, a country like North Korea and the United States are on the same continuum, the major difference between the two being that Pyongyang operates “brutally” while democratic societies like our own oppress “subtly.” “Woe to the people we are trying to help if we end up in a glass house,” he writes.

This is disgraceful. What does this “glass house” metaphor mean other than that we should be wary of criticizing North Korea because our own human-transgressions are on a par in some way with the most oppressive society on earth? Artists in the public arena, writes Maazel in the same op-ed, “must be totally apolitical, nonpartisan, and free of issue-specific agendas.” If only he would follow his own advice. 

Maazel recounts that in negotiating arrangements for the Philharmonic’s visit, “[w]e requested that the concert in Pyongyang be open to the average citizen.” The average citizen? The naivete on display here is record-setting. One thing is utterly certain: the average North Korean citizen will not be attending the Philharmonic’s concert next week. Maazel’s op-ed leaves the impression that he is completely incapable of imagining the nature of the society he will be visiting, a place where the lot of the average citizen is constant exposure to terror, lawlessness, a cradle-to-grave system of political indoctrination, and starvation.

The grim reality of Communist North Korea is that the average citizen is not a citizen at all but a slave.

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An Interview with Terry Teachout

In our December interview with Terry Teachout, the veteran contributor to COMMENTARY and horizon regular discusses the New York Philharmonic’s trip to North Korea and Peter Gay’s new book Modernism: The Lure of Heresy. He also takes readers on an absorbing outing to New York City’s historic Knoedler & Company, one of Manhattan’s premiere art galleries, to explore a show of paintings by the late Jules Olitski, one of the founders of the Color Field movement in American abstraction (and a longtime subscriber to COMMENTARY).

In our December interview with Terry Teachout, the veteran contributor to COMMENTARY and horizon regular discusses the New York Philharmonic’s trip to North Korea and Peter Gay’s new book Modernism: The Lure of Heresy. He also takes readers on an absorbing outing to New York City’s historic Knoedler & Company, one of Manhattan’s premiere art galleries, to explore a show of paintings by the late Jules Olitski, one of the founders of the Color Field movement in American abstraction (and a longtime subscriber to COMMENTARY).

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The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?

It’s official: the trip that Benjamin Ivry deemed “likely” to happen on this blog in October will indeed go forward. This coming February, the New York Philharmonic will visit North Korea.

About the trip to the land of Kim Jong Il, the New York Times reports U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill’s commenting, “‘I hope it will be looked back upon as an event that helped bring that country back into the world.'” Yet, as horizon blogger Terry Teachout, himself quoted in today’s Times article, noted in an October opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal,

What would you have thought if Franklin Roosevelt had encouraged the Philharmonic to accept an official invitation to play in Berlin in the spring of 1939? Do you think such a concert would have softened the hearts of the Nazis, any more than Jesse Owens’s victories in the 1936 Olympics changed their minds about racial equality? Or inspired the German people to rise up and revolt against Adolf Hilter? Or saved a single Jewish life?

Only at the end of today’s article does the Times reporter mention that “Some questions have been raised about the appropriateness of visiting a country run by one of the world’s most repressive governments”—a regime that has starved millions of its own people.

The formal announcement of the New York Phil’s trip will take place tomorrow at Avery Fisher Hall, when more details about the visit will be revealed. What we do already know is that the Philharmonic sought pre-conditions relating to the trip and that these conditions have been met. Among them: “that the orchestra could play The Star-Spangled Banner.” The Philharmonic should consider whether it’s brave to entertain a land that isn’t free.

It’s official: the trip that Benjamin Ivry deemed “likely” to happen on this blog in October will indeed go forward. This coming February, the New York Philharmonic will visit North Korea.

About the trip to the land of Kim Jong Il, the New York Times reports U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill’s commenting, “‘I hope it will be looked back upon as an event that helped bring that country back into the world.'” Yet, as horizon blogger Terry Teachout, himself quoted in today’s Times article, noted in an October opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal,

What would you have thought if Franklin Roosevelt had encouraged the Philharmonic to accept an official invitation to play in Berlin in the spring of 1939? Do you think such a concert would have softened the hearts of the Nazis, any more than Jesse Owens’s victories in the 1936 Olympics changed their minds about racial equality? Or inspired the German people to rise up and revolt against Adolf Hilter? Or saved a single Jewish life?

Only at the end of today’s article does the Times reporter mention that “Some questions have been raised about the appropriateness of visiting a country run by one of the world’s most repressive governments”—a regime that has starved millions of its own people.

The formal announcement of the New York Phil’s trip will take place tomorrow at Avery Fisher Hall, when more details about the visit will be revealed. What we do already know is that the Philharmonic sought pre-conditions relating to the trip and that these conditions have been met. Among them: “that the orchestra could play The Star-Spangled Banner.” The Philharmonic should consider whether it’s brave to entertain a land that isn’t free.

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Words, Words, Words

Here at the horizon, Dara Mandle wonders about the death of reading. Over at The New Republic, James Wolcott offers a lengthy and vastly entertaining piece on the decline of book reviewing (the piece itself is a review of Gail Pool’s Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America), a topic also explored recently by Steve Wasserman in the Columbia Journalism Review. All seem to agree that reading (and serious thinking on it) is in a state of flux, and probably on the wane. Mandle’s post, for example, ends with the question, “Do electronics like the Kindle have what it takes to save reading?” The underlying assumption is that reading needs saving, and that recent cultural and technological shifts are part of what’s killing it.

It’s an easy assumption to make, of course, but as Wolcott’s essay points out, it’s hardly a novel idea. Academics, intellectuals, and ordinary book lovers have been fretting over the decline of serious writing and serious thinking about writing for decades. As always, reactions vary. Many, like Adam Kirsch in The New York Sun, have simply given up, pronouncing the internet-dominated literary scene a total loss. Others, including critics like Terry Teachout and journalists like Megan McArdle (now of the Atlantic), are more enthusiastic.

I lean towards enthusiasm, but I think some of the worries and criticisms are valid, if somewhat misplaced. The danger to reading, it seems to me, is less of the lack of respect for books and book criticism, or the uninformed opinions of amateurs replacing the thoughtful screeds of professionals, or the diminishing number of book reviews in newspapers, but instead, the glut of written material fighting for our collective attention. Even the most robust literary scene would have difficulty keeping up with the truckloads of books published each year. And although newspapers may be publishing fewer book reviews, the internet, by giving free and easy access to all those with internet access, has actually expanded access to top-tier reviews for nearly everyone.

Book review pages in medium sized newspapers have fallen off in large part because they are unnecessary in a world where nearly everyone can easily browse the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the L.A. Times. Meanwhile, smaller publications, including blogs, but also established print journals, are flourishing on the web, creating a wealth of easy-to-access material for every niche. The difficulty with reading these days is not that there is too little being written, or that no one is doing it, or even that no one is doing it well. It’s that there’s too much to read, too much to process. We are not short for words. We are drowning in them.

Here at the horizon, Dara Mandle wonders about the death of reading. Over at The New Republic, James Wolcott offers a lengthy and vastly entertaining piece on the decline of book reviewing (the piece itself is a review of Gail Pool’s Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America), a topic also explored recently by Steve Wasserman in the Columbia Journalism Review. All seem to agree that reading (and serious thinking on it) is in a state of flux, and probably on the wane. Mandle’s post, for example, ends with the question, “Do electronics like the Kindle have what it takes to save reading?” The underlying assumption is that reading needs saving, and that recent cultural and technological shifts are part of what’s killing it.

It’s an easy assumption to make, of course, but as Wolcott’s essay points out, it’s hardly a novel idea. Academics, intellectuals, and ordinary book lovers have been fretting over the decline of serious writing and serious thinking about writing for decades. As always, reactions vary. Many, like Adam Kirsch in The New York Sun, have simply given up, pronouncing the internet-dominated literary scene a total loss. Others, including critics like Terry Teachout and journalists like Megan McArdle (now of the Atlantic), are more enthusiastic.

I lean towards enthusiasm, but I think some of the worries and criticisms are valid, if somewhat misplaced. The danger to reading, it seems to me, is less of the lack of respect for books and book criticism, or the uninformed opinions of amateurs replacing the thoughtful screeds of professionals, or the diminishing number of book reviews in newspapers, but instead, the glut of written material fighting for our collective attention. Even the most robust literary scene would have difficulty keeping up with the truckloads of books published each year. And although newspapers may be publishing fewer book reviews, the internet, by giving free and easy access to all those with internet access, has actually expanded access to top-tier reviews for nearly everyone.

Book review pages in medium sized newspapers have fallen off in large part because they are unnecessary in a world where nearly everyone can easily browse the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the L.A. Times. Meanwhile, smaller publications, including blogs, but also established print journals, are flourishing on the web, creating a wealth of easy-to-access material for every niche. The difficulty with reading these days is not that there is too little being written, or that no one is doing it, or even that no one is doing it well. It’s that there’s too much to read, too much to process. We are not short for words. We are drowning in them.

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An Interview with Jack O’Brien

Today, contentions presents an interview with theater director Jack O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien won the Tony Award this year for Best Director for his work on Tom Stoppard’s critically acclaimed play The Coast of Utopia, which received high marks from Terry Teachout in the April 2007 issue of COMMENTARY.

Mr. O’Brien made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in April, with Puccini’s il trittico. He has won two other Tony Awards for directing (Hairspray, Henry IV) and is the Artistic Director at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, California. His current project is a musical adaptation of the Steven Spielberg film, Catch Me if You Can.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2n8e8L78uI[/youtube]

Today, contentions presents an interview with theater director Jack O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien won the Tony Award this year for Best Director for his work on Tom Stoppard’s critically acclaimed play The Coast of Utopia, which received high marks from Terry Teachout in the April 2007 issue of COMMENTARY.

Mr. O’Brien made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in April, with Puccini’s il trittico. He has won two other Tony Awards for directing (Hairspray, Henry IV) and is the Artistic Director at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, California. His current project is a musical adaptation of the Steven Spielberg film, Catch Me if You Can.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2n8e8L78uI[/youtube]

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Terry Teachout, Take Two

In our second interview with him, Terry Teachout talks about “Selling Classical Music” (his article in the September issue of COMMENTARY), the status of “middlebrow” culture, the recent musical Xanadu, bossa nova crooner Luciana Souza, and more.

In our second interview with him, Terry Teachout talks about “Selling Classical Music” (his article in the September issue of COMMENTARY), the status of “middlebrow” culture, the recent musical Xanadu, bossa nova crooner Luciana Souza, and more.

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Weekend Reading

Last night, House Republicans walked out of a vote, the results of which they claimed to be in dispute. Partisan politics, and the clashing ideas that animate it, occupy a huge amount of media attention (almost as much as is devoted to the war in Iraq). COMMENTARY is a veteran observer of interparty conflict and of the ideologies at issue in those conflicts. For this weekend’s reading, we offer some of our keenest pieces on the American political divide.

Is Conservatism Finished?
Wilfred M. McClay—January 2007

How Divided Are We?
James Q. Wilson—February 2006

Why the Democrats Keep Losing
Joshua Muravchik—January 2005

Back to Politics as Usual?
Daniel Casse—March 2002

Republican Nation, Democratic Nation?
Terry Teachout—January 2001

Last night, House Republicans walked out of a vote, the results of which they claimed to be in dispute. Partisan politics, and the clashing ideas that animate it, occupy a huge amount of media attention (almost as much as is devoted to the war in Iraq). COMMENTARY is a veteran observer of interparty conflict and of the ideologies at issue in those conflicts. For this weekend’s reading, we offer some of our keenest pieces on the American political divide.

Is Conservatism Finished?
Wilfred M. McClay—January 2007

How Divided Are We?
James Q. Wilson—February 2006

Why the Democrats Keep Losing
Joshua Muravchik—January 2005

Back to Politics as Usual?
Daniel Casse—March 2002

Republican Nation, Democratic Nation?
Terry Teachout—January 2001

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COMMENTARY Onscreen: Terry Teachout

In the first of a series of monthly video interviews, Terry Teachout talks about “Our Creed and Our Character” (his article in the July/August issue of COMMENTARY), music, movies, John Marin, and much more.

Return to COMMENTARY.

In the first of a series of monthly video interviews, Terry Teachout talks about “Our Creed and Our Character” (his article in the July/August issue of COMMENTARY), music, movies, John Marin, and much more.

Return to COMMENTARY.

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Why We Remember Jerry Hadley

My fellow blogger Terry Teachout has already posted an apt expression of poignant regret at the news of the suicide of the American tenor Jerry Hadley, who shot himself at age 55. A career in music can be cruelly difficult, and many performers are worn down by the stresses and frustrations inherent to the profession. Yet classical musicians who commit suicide do so for different reasons, rarely linked to their choice of career.

Listeners to Metropolitan Opera broadcasts will recall how, in 1988, the Bulgarian-born singer and vocal coach Bantcho Bantchevsky (1906-1988), in failing health, threw himself off the balcony of the Met’s auditorium during an intermission between the 2nd and 3rd Acts of Verdi’s Macbeth, ending both that day’s performance and his own life. In 1994, the Duo Crommelynck—two married pianists, Patrick Crommelynck (1947-1994) and Taeko Kuwata (1945-1994)—committed double suicide after an apparent crisis in their relationship. A gifted Australian-born pianist, Noel Mewton-Wood (1922-1953), reportedly committed suicide after the death of his gay lover. The acclaimed Viennese-born conductor Georg Tintner (1917-1999), honored with a posthumous series of CD reissues from Naxos, leapt off the balcony of his apartment after a lengthy battle with cancer. Another conductor, Austria’s Oswald Kabasta (1896-1946), whose performances have been reprinted by Music & Arts, killed himself after World War II, supposedly because, as a Hitler supporter, he feared the aftermath of the Nazi defeat . Meanwhile, the suicide of the modern German composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-1970) is ascribed to depression and eye problems , and the impoverished Czech-American composer Jaromír Weinberger (1896-1967), whose opera Schwanda the Bagpiper is available on Naxos, ended his life after being afflicted with brain cancer.

Still, suicide is a human problem, not a peculiarly musical or artistic one. French Jewish sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), in his treatise On Suicide, now available in a new translation by Robin Buss, confirms this assertion. Reading Durkheim, we may conclude that it is not prudent to venture instant guesses about the motives of a suicide, whether the unfortunate subject is a singer in decline, or a disappointed Nazi conductor.

It is best to recall Jerry Hadley for his bright lyric tenor, featured in a 1992 Handel’s Messiah conducted by Sir Neville Marriner and available on Philips; or in a 1986 Schubert Mass No. 6 in E-Flat Major conducted by Claudio Abbado on Deutsche Grammophon. Singing in English, Hadley was particularly forceful and self-assured in such CD’s as Weill’s Street Scene on Decca; Mendelssohn’s Elijah on Telarc; and Jerome Kern’s Show Boat on EMI. These CD’s furnish evidence of why we should remember Hadley’s life, instead of merely his tragic way of leaving it.

My fellow blogger Terry Teachout has already posted an apt expression of poignant regret at the news of the suicide of the American tenor Jerry Hadley, who shot himself at age 55. A career in music can be cruelly difficult, and many performers are worn down by the stresses and frustrations inherent to the profession. Yet classical musicians who commit suicide do so for different reasons, rarely linked to their choice of career.

Listeners to Metropolitan Opera broadcasts will recall how, in 1988, the Bulgarian-born singer and vocal coach Bantcho Bantchevsky (1906-1988), in failing health, threw himself off the balcony of the Met’s auditorium during an intermission between the 2nd and 3rd Acts of Verdi’s Macbeth, ending both that day’s performance and his own life. In 1994, the Duo Crommelynck—two married pianists, Patrick Crommelynck (1947-1994) and Taeko Kuwata (1945-1994)—committed double suicide after an apparent crisis in their relationship. A gifted Australian-born pianist, Noel Mewton-Wood (1922-1953), reportedly committed suicide after the death of his gay lover. The acclaimed Viennese-born conductor Georg Tintner (1917-1999), honored with a posthumous series of CD reissues from Naxos, leapt off the balcony of his apartment after a lengthy battle with cancer. Another conductor, Austria’s Oswald Kabasta (1896-1946), whose performances have been reprinted by Music & Arts, killed himself after World War II, supposedly because, as a Hitler supporter, he feared the aftermath of the Nazi defeat . Meanwhile, the suicide of the modern German composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-1970) is ascribed to depression and eye problems , and the impoverished Czech-American composer Jaromír Weinberger (1896-1967), whose opera Schwanda the Bagpiper is available on Naxos, ended his life after being afflicted with brain cancer.

Still, suicide is a human problem, not a peculiarly musical or artistic one. French Jewish sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), in his treatise On Suicide, now available in a new translation by Robin Buss, confirms this assertion. Reading Durkheim, we may conclude that it is not prudent to venture instant guesses about the motives of a suicide, whether the unfortunate subject is a singer in decline, or a disappointed Nazi conductor.

It is best to recall Jerry Hadley for his bright lyric tenor, featured in a 1992 Handel’s Messiah conducted by Sir Neville Marriner and available on Philips; or in a 1986 Schubert Mass No. 6 in E-Flat Major conducted by Claudio Abbado on Deutsche Grammophon. Singing in English, Hadley was particularly forceful and self-assured in such CD’s as Weill’s Street Scene on Decca; Mendelssohn’s Elijah on Telarc; and Jerome Kern’s Show Boat on EMI. These CD’s furnish evidence of why we should remember Hadley’s life, instead of merely his tragic way of leaving it.

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Weekend Reading

American movies show, with a contrast and vividness perhaps unmatched in any other medium, the depths and the heights of our collective culture. This goes some distance toward explaining why movies exert such an enduring fascination on the American mind. COMMENTARY has, for more than fifty years, published some of the most incisive and provocative writing on American films. We offer some of the best of that writing for this weekend’s reading.

The Movie Camera and the American
Robert Warshow – March 1952

The Strangely Polite “Dr. Strangelove”
Midge Decter – May 1964

The Man Who Refused to Watch the Academy Awards
David Evanier – April 1977

Woody Allen on the American Character
Richard Grenier — November 1983

A Dissent on “Schindler’s List”
Philip Gourevitch – February 1994

Journalism, Hollywood-Style
Terry Teachout – December 2005

Spielberg’s “Munich”
Gabriel Schoenfeld – February 2006

American movies show, with a contrast and vividness perhaps unmatched in any other medium, the depths and the heights of our collective culture. This goes some distance toward explaining why movies exert such an enduring fascination on the American mind. COMMENTARY has, for more than fifty years, published some of the most incisive and provocative writing on American films. We offer some of the best of that writing for this weekend’s reading.

The Movie Camera and the American
Robert Warshow – March 1952

The Strangely Polite “Dr. Strangelove”
Midge Decter – May 1964

The Man Who Refused to Watch the Academy Awards
David Evanier – April 1977

Woody Allen on the American Character
Richard Grenier — November 1983

A Dissent on “Schindler’s List”
Philip Gourevitch – February 1994

Journalism, Hollywood-Style
Terry Teachout – December 2005

Spielberg’s “Munich”
Gabriel Schoenfeld – February 2006

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Weekend Reading

Reflections on the high promise and assorted problems of American nationhood have always been a regular feature of COMMENTARY. Since the magazine’s inception in 1945, we have published many of the country’s leading thinkers on the great questions of American purpose and practice, whether in our own culture and politics or in our relations with the rest of the world. This weekend we offer a few prime selections.

America the Beautiful
Mary McCarthy – September 1947

The Continuing American Ideal
Robert Gorham Davis – May 1958

A Fever of Ethnicity
Robert Alter – June 1972

The United States in Opposition
Daniel Patrick Moynihan – March 1975

American Values & American Foreign Policy
Nathan Glazer – July 1976

American Politics, Then & Now
James Q. Wilson – February 1979

Two Nations or Two Cultures?
Gertrude Himmelfarb – January 2001

Our Creed and Our Culture
Terry Teachout – July/August 2007

Reflections on the high promise and assorted problems of American nationhood have always been a regular feature of COMMENTARY. Since the magazine’s inception in 1945, we have published many of the country’s leading thinkers on the great questions of American purpose and practice, whether in our own culture and politics or in our relations with the rest of the world. This weekend we offer a few prime selections.

America the Beautiful
Mary McCarthy – September 1947

The Continuing American Ideal
Robert Gorham Davis – May 1958

A Fever of Ethnicity
Robert Alter – June 1972

The United States in Opposition
Daniel Patrick Moynihan – March 1975

American Values & American Foreign Policy
Nathan Glazer – July 1976

American Politics, Then & Now
James Q. Wilson – February 1979

Two Nations or Two Cultures?
Gertrude Himmelfarb – January 2001

Our Creed and Our Culture
Terry Teachout – July/August 2007

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Weekend Reading

Terry Teachout has contributed to COMMENTARY for over twenty years, the last ten years of them as our regular music critic. One of our most versatile and wide-ranging writers, he has addressed subjects ranging from Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau to Isaac Bashevis Singer, from Bruno Walter to Walt Disney—and everything in between. (He’s also written excellent biographies of H.L. Mencken and George Balanchine, and is now working on a life of Louis Armstrong.) This weekend, we offer a mere handful of some of his best work, while reminding you that Terry’s writings as deep as they are broad, and that you can browse all of them here.

Culture in the Age of Blogging
June 2005

I.B. Singer and Me
September 2004

Living with Art
February 2004

Taking Sinatra Seriously
September 1997

The Problem of Shostakovich
February 1995

Terry Teachout has contributed to COMMENTARY for over twenty years, the last ten years of them as our regular music critic. One of our most versatile and wide-ranging writers, he has addressed subjects ranging from Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau to Isaac Bashevis Singer, from Bruno Walter to Walt Disney—and everything in between. (He’s also written excellent biographies of H.L. Mencken and George Balanchine, and is now working on a life of Louis Armstrong.) This weekend, we offer a mere handful of some of his best work, while reminding you that Terry’s writings as deep as they are broad, and that you can browse all of them here.

Culture in the Age of Blogging
June 2005

I.B. Singer and Me
September 2004

Living with Art
February 2004

Taking Sinatra Seriously
September 1997

The Problem of Shostakovich
February 1995

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March Issue of COMMENTARY

COMMENTARY’s March issue is now out, featuring contributions from Hillel Halkin, Lisa Schiffren, Terry Teachout, and a whole host of other terrific writers. Read it at our newly redesigned online home!

COMMENTARY’s March issue is now out, featuring contributions from Hillel Halkin, Lisa Schiffren, Terry Teachout, and a whole host of other terrific writers. Read it at our newly redesigned online home!

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Bookshelf

Inspired by my fellow blogger Terry Teachout, I thought I would post a few remarks about some books I have been reading lately. Unlike Terry’s selections, these aren’t newly released—but they are for the most part new to me.

• Field Marshal Viscount Slim, Defeat Into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945 (1956): A British officer who rose from the ranks, Slim is practically unknown in the United States, but he was one of the Great Captains of World War II and a far more successful general than his American counterpart in the China-Burma-India theater, “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell. In fact he defeated more Japanese troops than any other ground commander of the war. His memoirs are generally considered, along with Ulysses Grant’s, to be among the best penned by any general since Caesar.

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Inspired by my fellow blogger Terry Teachout, I thought I would post a few remarks about some books I have been reading lately. Unlike Terry’s selections, these aren’t newly released—but they are for the most part new to me.

• Field Marshal Viscount Slim, Defeat Into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945 (1956): A British officer who rose from the ranks, Slim is practically unknown in the United States, but he was one of the Great Captains of World War II and a far more successful general than his American counterpart in the China-Burma-India theater, “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell. In fact he defeated more Japanese troops than any other ground commander of the war. His memoirs are generally considered, along with Ulysses Grant’s, to be among the best penned by any general since Caesar.

Great though it is, Defeat Into Victory is not quite as scintillating as the accounts of lower-ranking soldiers who were closer to the action. For my money, the best evocation of the Burma campaign remains The Road Past Mandalay, by John Masters, who served in Slim’s 14th Army but never advanced past brigade commander. The runner-up prize goes to Quartered Safe Out Here, by George MacDonald Fraser, a novelist who never advanced past corporal.

That said, Slim’s account is infinitely better than the bombastic, unreflective, self-congratulatory, ghost-written memoirs we have come to expect from our own generals. Slim is not afraid to admit when he was scared under fire—he was not one of those commanders who ostentatiously exposed himself to bullets or insisted on rushing to the front of the advance. Nor is he afraid to admit mistakes. Writing about the British retreat from Burma in 1942, he has no excuses to offer. Instead he bluntly writes: “For myself, I had little to be proud of; I could not rate my generalship high. The only test of generalship is success, and I had succeeded in nothing I had attempted.”

There are also flashes of political incorrectness that, however offensive to a modern sensibilities, add spice to the account—for instance when Slim writes, “The individual Japanese soldier remained, as I had always called him, the most formidable fighting insect in history.”

• Joseph Wambaugh, The Choirboys (1975): Having recently read Wambaugh’s latest novel, Hollywood Station, I went back and reread this earlier work. It has a lot in common with all of his cop books, which aren’t “mystery novels” in the conventional sense, insofar as there is no mystery to be solved. The plot always meanders, but interest never flags because Wambaugh, a former Los Angeles Police Department sergeant, has a great talent for telling vivid anecdotes involving his fellow LAPD cops. These aren’t the plaster saints of Adam 12 and Dragnet; nor are they the monsters of L.A. Confidential. Wambaugh’s cops are deeply flawed human beings—often drunk and lecherous, incorrigibly sexist and hopelessly racist, seldom able to pass up freebies and discounts they more or less extort from local merchants—but they are also intent on doing good to the best of their limited ability. Like soldiers away from home too long, they feel alienated from civilian society but reserve their real scorn for their superior officers, who are inevitably depicted as back-stabbing office politicians.

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