This week: the “Death of Truth,” Tennessee Williams at the Morgan & more from the world of culture.
The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump by Michiko Kakutani (Tim Duggan Books): In the great contest for the season’s most preposterous and pretentious book, there are many candidates. Really to qualify, a book must be by someone who is someone—not anyone really, just someone whose position in the world accords him a measure of respect far in excess of what his accomplishments or talents deserve. Then again, any title that is going to be a serious contender must be seriously, obviously, even ostentatiously meretricious. It helps, though it is not strictly necessarily, that it be surrounded by a cushion of fatuousness, wildly overstated praise and patently unctuous commendation. There are, as I say, many candidates for this palm, but a small volume that came into our offices unbidden today—and will promptly be placed on the remainder shelf—surely merits at least honorable mention in the absurdity sweepstakes. I mean The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump by Michiko Kakutani, the low-wattage former chief book critic for The New York Times, a former newspaper. Back in the day, what the Times wrote about books and culture had considerable influence, and that influence accounts for whatever residual reputation that Ms. Kakutani enjoys. I am not sure what David Grann owes or hopes to owe Ms. Kakutani, but his judgment that this book “is destined to become the defining treatise of our age” certainly qualifies it for some sort of award of its own. This book is not a “treatise.” It is barely even a book. It pretends to be a disquisition about the demise of “truth and reason.” Really, it is a petulant little squeal of political correctitude against Donald Trump, whom Ms. Kakutani pretends to see as a Satanic figure, a sort of modern-day “Father of Lies,” who incarnates mendacity and falsehood. “Trump’s ridiculousness,” she writes, “his narcissistic ability to make everything about himself, the outrageousness of his lies, and the profundity of his ignorance . . . .” etc., etc. Back in the real world, policies are made, the economy prospers, peace appears to be nigh on the Korean peninsula, the US embassy in Israel is moving to Jerusalem, and the United States is once again a country with borders. All of this is left completely out of account in this silly and hysterical little tome, whose only value is as a sort of cautionary tale. —RK
“Tennessee Williams: No Refuge but Writing,” at the Morgan Library & Museum (through May 13): Though hindsight has proven Tennessee Williams one of the great playwrights of the American mid-century, his career was not without its own considerable peaks and valleys. Williams labored for many years as a young man, writing plays and short stories without getting published or produced in any serious way. Then, in 1944, his “memory play,” The Glass Menagerie, became an overnight hit in Chicago, continuing on to a long and successful run on Broadway. Williams followed this production with legendary triumphs such as A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955). But with the 1960s came a change in audience taste that spelled commercial failure for Williams, and though the playwright continued to work tirelessly until his death in 1983, he never again achieved the creative or popular heights of his earlier efforts. Now at the Morgan Library & Museum comes an exhibition that sheds light onto Williams’s creative process and involvement with the theatrical productions of his plays. Bringing his personal letters, diaries, and original monographs together with paintings, photographs, and other visual objects, “Tennessee Williams: No Refuge but Writing” promises to “tell the story of one man’s ongoing struggle for self-expression and how it forever changed the landscape of American drama.” The exhibition continues through May 13. —AS
“LES YES!” at The Storefront Project, New York (May 3–June 3): The photographer Meryl Meisler arrived in New York City in the mid-1970s. Surrounded by decadence and decay, she looked for the humanizing touch in the wreckage, the sleaze, and the schmaltz of the struggling city. Through a 1978 CETA Artist grant to photograph Jewish life for the American Jewish Congress, she turned her lens on the Lower East Side. Continuing our rediscovery of Meisler’s rich body of work, these photographs are now the subject of “LES YES!,” an exhibition opening this Thursday at The Storefront Project, a gallery on Orchard Street at the heart of a neighborhood that has transformed in the four decades since Meisler preserved it in black and white. —JP
The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, and Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor at the Metropolitan Opera: We’ve reached the last great flurry of performances before the quiet of summer, and this week is a busy one in New York’s cultural calendar. At Carnegie Hall, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra visits for a set of performances with its legendary chief conductor, Mariss Jansons. I’ve got my eye on the Friday program, which includes Beethoven’s seminal “Eroica” Symphony and Prokofiev’s achingly lyrical Violin Concerto No. 1, with soloist Frank Peter Zimmermann. And at the Met, the second cast of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor is a must-see ending to the season: the South African soprano Pretty Yende, a rising coloratura superstar, tries out the touchstone title role for the first time with the company, opposite Michael Fabiano as Edgardo. Quinn Kelsey, whose season included a marvelous turn as the Count di Luna in Trovatore, appears as Enrico, and Roberto Abbado conducts. —ECS
“The Old Gamester: General John Burgoyne,” with Andrew J. O’Shaughnessy, at the Frick Collection (May 2): Joshua Reynolds famously declared, in Discourse No. 7 (1776), that “What has pleased, and continues to please, is likely to please again: hence are derived the rules of art, and on this immoveable foundation must they ever stand.” A year later, General John Burgoyne, the commander of the British forces, surrendered to the Americans at Saratoga. He had ceased to please in the ten years since Reynolds had painted his beguiling portrait, which is one of the stalwarts of the Frick’s collection. On Wednesday Andrew J. O’Shaughnessy of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation will limn the character of the cheeky Burgoyne, who was famed in his day for his dilettantish behavior. —BR
From the archive: “A monumental shame” by Bruce Cole (December 2014). Plans for an Eisenhower memorial on the National Mall have taken a shameful turn.
From the current issue: “Four poems by Giosuè Carducci” by David Yezzi.