House and the Kiss of Death

HouseTen minutes into last night’s House, one of the famed doctor’s underlings gave their gravely ill patient a couple of pills and said: “Take these, you’ll be better within an hour.”

I turned to my daughter, a major House junkie.

“He’s a dead man,” I said, and so he was, but not for another 48 minutes, a time punctuated by the kind of medical madness that would cause the closure of House’s hospital even in less-regulated states than New Jersey. House is yet another occasionally brilliant show done in by its premise – by which to say, its formula. In year three, it’s clearly run its course and not even Hugh Laurie’s convincing portrayal of an American can save it. Continue reading

Defending Edward Hopper

It’s not that Holland Cotter is routinely deranged; the Times art critics wrote a wonderful piece debunking the common myths surrounding Islamic art a while back, and maintains a healthy distrust of the invesstment-fueled “art market” as a driver of real taste and value. No, Cotter is solid. He did, however, become conspicuously unhinged and scatter his critical parts like some culturally-disjointed Mr. Potato Head all over the Times‘ art section last Friday.

Holland Cotter, it seems, reveres not the accomplishments of Edward Hopper.

Hopper Tourist Rooms

Ostensibly, Cotter was criticizing a retrospective at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, but his real target was Hopper’s reputation as a master of American art. Cotter attempts to tear Hopper down, remove that master tag, and relegate him to the dreaded status of “clever.”

To some of us, Hopper was an illustrator from first to last, a just-O.K. brush technician, limited in his themes. His main gift was for narrative paintings with graphic punch and quasi-Modernist additives: Manet touches, de Chirico props. And like any shrewd storyteller, he knew the value of suspense. Reveal just so much of a plot — no more. Mystery keeps an audience hanging on.

Get the hint? Hopper was “shrewd” and did a lot with a little talent, by using cinematic suspense; he borrowed the flourishes of others like some velvet-Elvis-painting crafts show salesman moving twenty-dollar units out of the back of his minivan at the flea market. Sniff-sniff, not real art at all.

Continue reading

Green Beer and English: The Actors and Poets of St. Patrick

LeprechaunThe recent news that the Irish and the English come from the same ancient genetic stock, by and large, should be no shock to anyone who contemplates the greatest contribution of the cultural Irish diaspora: the language of their sometime enemies across the narrow Irish Sea. Now that the mitochondrial mystery has been solved at Oxford, we may as well be honest about the great irony of the grand old land.

English and its artistic advancement is the great cultural achievement of the Irish.

It all makes sense that today we’ll swill German beer with a green food dye additive in franchise “Irish” pubs licensed to Italians and Greeks, while paying tribute to a Roman born in Britain. And we’ll grow teary-eyed at brief passages of Joyce and Yeats, while gobbling soda bread around the big flat screen as John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara cavort in John Ford’s mythic Ireland of our dreams. All in English, of course – wonderful English, blissfully enunciated, emotional, profane, onomatopoetic English. Yes, English, the great gift of the Irish.

`A beautiful, pure, sweet, mellow English tenor,’ said Aunt Kate in Joyce’s sublime The Dead, arguably the greatest short-form prose employment of modern English. Written, of course, by an exile who gave to the world his gift beautiful, pure, sweet, mellow English. Continue reading

This Anomalous Experiment

New Criticism was a movement among early 20th century writers and critics of English that argued a strict adherence to a series of absolute truths, the most important of which was that everything that can be known about a work of literature can be found in its published text. Almost a century later, technology and media distribution have changed the mean of the most important word in that description – “text.” These days, the text is never finished and it goes far beyond the written word. Further, criticism, once the province of a few well-educated, semi-cloistered academics, is now the work of the masses. Critics today must either wade into the crowd, or be left on a remote shore.

In this WordPress-powered “anomalous experiment” – TS Eliot’s description – we do not adopt the principles of close reading so favored by the New Critics of old. But there is one element of the namesake school that is the key to this group blog – ambiguity. Different critics see different books, films, television shows, music, poetry, performances in vastly different ways. Further, the best works about human life are far from absolute, even the most moralistic of tales. Here, many different voices explore iconoclastic reactions to media – and the rest of us react to those reactions. That’s the goal; we’ll see how it works out.

Continue reading

Overlooked Calvin Baker

A great post from the always inventive, eminently book-worthy Maud Newton, the famed literary blogger – read it all but here’s a taste:

Calvin Baker’s strangely neglected Dominion is one of the books I admired most this year. I understand that a novel so allusive, in which invocations of myth abound and the richness of language recalls the King James, isn’t going to appeal to everyone. But I look at some of the hyped-up claptrap that has critics pulling out their trumpets this year, and am amazed that a story this good hasn’t garnered so much as a review in a major newspaper.