This week: Reviving the West, a new play by J. C. Scharl, Jacques Villeglé, Liszt’s etudes & more.
How to Save the West: Ancient Wisdom for 5 Modern Crises, by Spencer Klavan (Regnery): In our harried, hyperventilated age, it can be easy to forget that the West has always been “on the verge of collapse,” as Spencer Klavan reminds us in his new book on the subject: “Look closely, and you can see the beginnings of destruction in even the best of times.” The error made by so many doomsdayers, he explains, “is to mistake our daily battles for omens of the end times. The West does not die when nations do.” So How to Save the West does not tout some drastic, silver-bullet cure for the ills of the modern era, but sets them against similar crises in Western history: thus the “metaverse” runs back to Plato’s cave, and Faucian techno-authoritarianism was seeded by the thought of Sir Francis Bacon, who was in turn responding to Aristotle. One lesson of Klavan’s lively, wide-ranging overview is that where we’re going is not so different from where we’ve been. —RE
Jacques Villeglé and the Streets of Paris, by Barnaby Conrad III (Inkshares): French culture has a particular reverence for the found object. Long before Marcel Duchamp, Jean-François Millet memorialized the gleaners of the fields, those peasants in search of objets trouvés in the grain left over after harvest. More recently, Agnès Varda honored this tradition in her 2000 documentary The Gleaners and I. For French artists of the mid-twentieth century, the streets of Paris offered up their own objects to find. Jacques Villeglé, who died last year at age ninety-six, was one of the last surviving members of these Nouveaux realistes, a group that included Raymond Hains, François Dufrêne, Daniel Spoerri, Martial Raysse, Jean Tinguely, Pierre Restany, Yves Klein, and Arman. Starting in 1949, in a process called décollage, Villeglé began collecting poster fragments from the walls of Paris, mounting these objects on canvas and noting the streets where they were found. The results were both records of time and synthetic abstract compositions. Now out from Inkshares, Jacques Villeglé and the Streets of Paris presents this body of work in a large-format monograph with hundreds of color reproductions and archival photographs. The book also documents the unexpected friendship that developed between the artist and its author, Barnaby Conrad III, as another surprise found in the streets of Paris. —JP
“24 Liszt Etudes,” performed by Asiya Korepanova at Merkin Hall (February 21): Franz Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes, that Matterhorn of the piano repertoire, is only half complete: Liszt had originally planned a set of twenty-four, one for each of the major and minor keys. It was still a good day’s work: these twelve pieces—most of which he gave evocative names like “Wild Hunt,” “Eroica,” and “Mazeppa” (after an eighteenth-century Ukrainian warlord)—have confounded and delighted recitalists and piano students ever since their publication. Tonight at Merkin Hall, the Russian pianist Asiya Korepanova will perform the set together with Liszt’s twelve other unrelated etudes from his mature period, which should prove to be an impressive feat of endurance and dexterity and, in a way, a tribute to what might have been. —IS
Sonnez Les Matines: A Play, by Jane Clark Scharl (Wiseblood Books): “Plato would never/ have allowed dialogue like this,” complains Rabelais in J. C. Scharl’s new verse play Sonnez Les Matines. As he says to his stagemates, the haughty Ignatius of Loyola and the tortured, self-conscious Jean Calvin, “The danger/ of a three-way conversation’s too acute./ The dialectic loses all its force.” He’s right, which is why Sonnez Les Matines goes past dusty exegesis to give us a real play of ideas: as the trio marvel at a dead body in their midst, it’s in the realm of action, not words, that their philosophical differences are teased out. Set during Shrovetide revels in 1520s Paris, blending the sacred and profane, this ribald play takes itself just seriously enough. Showings this week and next have sold out, but there will be a third on March 8, by popular demand. —RE
“Music for a While #71: Music in the life of Paul Johnson.” Jay Nordlinger, The New Criterion’s music critic, talks music—but, more important, plays music.
From the Archives:
“Sideshadows: The determination of free will,” by Gary Saul Morson (May 2005). On the complexities of the human experience.
“The FBI missteps—again,” by James Piereson. On the agency’s targeting of “traditionalist” Catholics.