This week: Discussing Joyce, Roger Scruton, Master Drawings & more.
Where We Are: The State of Britain Now, by Roger Scruton (Bloomsbury Continuum): Sir Roger Scruton is an international treasure. He is the author of some fifty books on subjects ranging from architecture and hunting to philosophy, sexual desire, and wine. His reformulation of Descartes, “I drink, therefore I am” (to doff the cap to his book on that subject), gives a salubrious new life to the ontological, or at least the oenological, argument. Scruton is also a novelist, a composer of operas, a passionate fighter for liberty—his efforts on behalf of various Eastern Europeans laboring under the jackboot of Communism in the 1980s are the stuff of legend—and a controversialist of Ciceronian persuasiveness. He is also a cultural critic of rare penetration, and it is with that last hat on that he offers the world his new book, Where We Are: The State of Britain Now. Readers familiar with Scruton’s earlier work The Meaning of Conservatism will know that the idea of the first person plural—the “We” that defines us as a community, a people, a nation—looms large in his political philosophy. That idea makes a return appearance in this book about Britain after Brexit. Roger Scruton made his first reputation partly as a philosopher of rare clarity and dispatch, partly as a polemicist of withering, gimlet-eyed riposte. On view in this book is a more accommodating figure: just as clear-sighted, but eager to emphasize what binds us together rather than what separates us. “Who are we, where are we, and what holds us together in a shared political order?” These are the questions with which he conjures in this book, and they are questions that have exigent pertinence far beyond Britain. “Western democracies—all of them without exception—are suffering from a crisis of identity,” he notes in his first chapter. “The ‘we’ that is the foundation of trust and the sine qua non of representative government has been jeopardized not only by the global economy and the rapid decline of indigenous ways of life, but also by the mass immigration of people with other languages, other customs, other religions, and other and competing loyalties.” This brief but blazingly intelligent book is a profound meditation on this suite of problems, to which there is no simple answer but also no escape. Roger Scruton has done us all a service by looking unflinchingly at the most divisive issues of our time: the issue of who governs us and, behind that, who we are. —RK
Master Drawings New York 2018, Upper East Side galleries (through February 3): Since 2006, “Master Drawings New York” has assembled many of New York’s best galleries into a week of exhibitions timed to the Old Master auctions. With “Old Master & British Drawings” on the auction block at Christie’s on January 30, and “The Otto Naumann Sale” a day later at Sotheby’s, the galleries participating in “Master Drawings New York 2018” offer twenty-one good reasons to visit Upper East Side galleries in this important week on the auction calendar. —JP
Wagner’s Parsifal at the Metropolitan Opera (February 5–27): Throughout the fall and winter, I’ve been telling anyone who asks: the number one thing to see at the Metropolitan Opera this year is Parsifal. Wagner’s final opera, an epic of Christian myth, features perhaps his most entrancing score: from the exhilarating prelude to the deep grief of Amfortas’s lamentations in the final act, it is a work that amazes with both its imaginative genius and its sheer size. Next Monday, the Met opens a revival of François Girard’s stark 2013 production, with a superb cast that includes Klaus Florian Vogt in the title role, Evelyn Herlitzius as Kundry, Peter Mattei as Amfortas, Evgeny Nikitin as Klingsor, and René Pape as Gurnemanz. In particular, this will be the biggest test yet for Music Director–elect Yannick Nézet-Séguin. His experience with Wagner thus far has been limited, but his stunning successes with other large scores—including a memorable Don Carlo several seasons ago—promise a rich reading of this most complex of masterpieces. —ECS
The Artistic Country House: The Work of Harrie T. Lindeberg, with Peter Pennoyer and Anne Walker (January 31): Though mostly forgotten now, Harrie T. Lindeberg was a leading American country house designer of the early twentieth century. Beginning as a draftsman in the office of McKim, Mead & White, Lindeberg later established a successful solo practice, earning the complimentary sobriquet “the American Lutyens” for his skillful incorporation of classical and vernacular elements into single designs. Following the Monacelli Press’s publication of a new monograph by Peter Pennoyer and Anne Walker, Lindeberg’s name should be rescued from obscurity. The pair, whose previous books on Delano & Aldrich, Warren & Wetmore, Grosvenor Atterbury, and Cross & Cross serve as primers on some of the finest American architecture of the twentieth century, will speak on their new project Wednesday at the General Society Library, under the auspices of the Institute for Classical Architecture and Art. For an exclusive excerpt from Pennoyer and Walker’s new book, see this piece from the December 2017 issue of The New Criterion. —BR
A Celebration of James Joyce with Robert J. Seidman at McNally Jackson (January 31): There are few better than Robert J. Seidman to help celebrate James Joyce’s 136th birthday, and the literary legacy he left us. Seidman, along with his professor at Williams College, the late Don Gifford, compiled one of the most comprehensive annotations of Ulysses in 1974. Though there is enormous pleasure in reading and wrestling with Joyce’s works on one’s own, the Gifford and Seidman guide facilitates a fuller appreciation of the extent of Joyce’s genius. See him at McNally Jackson this Wednesday. —RH
From the archive: “Art & its institutions: notes on the culture war,” by Hilton Kramer (September 1993): On the M.I.T. symposium The Public Patron: Drafting a Mandate for a Federal Arts Agency & related matters.
From the current issue: “How should conservatives respond to the populist challenge?,” by George H. Nash: On populism’s challenge to the conservative movement.