This week: Zurbarán at the Frick, Verdi at the Met, antiques at the Park Avenue Armory & more.
The Hatred of Literature, by William Marx, translated by Nicholas Elliott (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press): William Marx opens his new book with what may seem at first to be a startling claim: “Literature is a source of scandal. It always has been. This is what defines it.” What follows is an in-depth history of literature as it is understood by its most virulent detractors—the age-old purveyors of “anti-literature.” From Plato’s condemnation of poetry to contemporary attempts to ban “triggering” books, literature has long been subjected to intellectual assault by philistines and philosophers alike. The svelte volume is organized according to what Marx calls the four principle and enduring critiques of literature: that it endangers the “order” of totalitarian authority; that it holds no legitimate claim to “truth”; that it frequently runs against the ever-changing moral norms of the day; and that it has no functional use within society. In regards to this contest between “literature” and “anti-literature,” Marx unfailingly sides with the former, but notes that study of the latter can help us come to a better understanding of what literature is and can be, despite its adamant rejection of stable definition. Returning to the idea that literature is bound to scandal, Marx concludes his study with the excellent, but grave, line: “Far worse indeed than the hatred of literature would be indifference: may the gods prevent that day from ever arriving.” In an age in which the study of literature, and the arts in general, seems particularly vulnerable, Marx’s book is exceedingly relevant. —AS
The Winter Antiques Show at the Park Avenue Armory (through January 28): When everyone seems focused on the present, there may be no better time to look to the past. The sixty-fourth Winter Antiques Show brings the past together under one roof, with seventy exhibitors from the world of fine and decorative arts displaying objects vetted for this esteemed institution at the Park Avenue Armory. Look for works by Grandma Moses and Leonard Baskin at Galerie St. Etienne, John Singer Sargent at Adelson Galleries, and a scalloped Queen Anne Slant Top Desk, probably by Ebenezer Hubbell of Stratford, Connecticut at Jeffrey Tillou Antiques. —JP
Verdi’s Il Trovatore at the Metropolitan Opera (through February 15): One of the surprise hits of the 2016–17 musical season in New York was a short run of Franco Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac at the Metropolitan Opera in the season’s final weeks. The breakout star of those performances was the American soprano Jennifer Rowley, bright-voiced and emotionally alive as the romantic heroine Roxane. This week, she takes on her next star role in a revival of the Verdi staple Il Trovatore at the Met. Hear her as Leonora alongside Yonghoon Lee as Manrico, Quinn Kelsey as Di Luna, and the rising mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili as the witch Azucena. —ECS
Philippe de Montebello in Conversation with Jonathan Ruffer, at the Frick Collection (January 31): Next week marks the opening of the Frick’s major spring exhibition, “Zurbarán’s Jacob and His Twelve Sons: Paintings from Auckland Castle,” which Karen Wilkin will review for our April issue. To celebrate the opening, the Frick brings together in conversation Philippe de Montebello, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the 2017 honoree of The New Criterion’s Edmund Burke Award, and Jonathan Ruffer, the chair of the Auckland Project, an organization tasked with reimagining Auckland Castle—an episcopal residence in County Durham, England—as a museum and cultural center. The Auckland Project has graciously lent Zurbarán’s masterful cycle to the Frick for what promises to be the exhibition of the season. —BR
From the archive: “‘The Two Cultures’ today,” by Roger Kimball (February 1994): On the C. P. Snow–F. R. Leavis controversy.
From the current issue: “The killers among us,” by Paul Hollander. A review of Perpetrators: The World of the Holocaust Killers by Guenter Lewy.