Recent links of note:
Jonathan Rubin, Aeon
In 1099, Christian armies took over Jerusalem. It is commonly thought that in the Crusader state of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, where Christians ruled for two hundred years, this group of mostly soldiers and merchants contributed little or nothing of intellectual value to their culture back home in the West. But Jonathan Rubin aims to correct this false, or incomplete, narrative in Learning in a Crusader City(Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, 2018), his book on Crusader society in Acre, the port city that served for a time as the capital of the Latin East. Part of the cultural desert around the Kingdom of Jerusalem can be blamed on the sands of time, Rubin claims. Many texts have simply been lost or buried. Rubin presents two examples of little-known but impressive works from the Latin East: a 1281 codex of French translations of Cicero’s rhetorical treatises by John of Antioch and the Notitia de Machometo (“Information about Muhammed”), the Dominican William of Tripoli’s 1271 study of Muslim religion and culture, presented as a gift to Teobaldo Visconti—the future Pope Gregory X. Even out in Acre, Crusaders studied within their own tradition and looked into the ones around them in the East. The accepted story of the Crusades, then, is oversimplified. Although the Crusaders failed to bridge the gap between East and West, Rubin argues, it was not entirely for lack of trying.
Kenneth Baker, The Art Newspaper
Jasper Johns’s catalogue raisonné clocks in at twelve volumes, more than 3,500 pages, and costs almost as many dollars. The catalogue, the final volume of which was published last month, includes many works never before seen in public along with in-depth essays on the eighty-eight-year-old’s art. Johns’s work falls somewhere between Dada and Pop, experimenting with repetition of figures and themes, such as his signature flags. One of the catalogue essays examines a typical example of his penchant for allusion: in a 1988 work, Johns depicts a melting Picasso in a bathroom—alluding to both the Spanish artist and de Kooning, whose work was once offhandedly called a “melted Picasso” by the man himself. But Jed Perl, in a review of Johns’s Seasons series in the June 1987 issue of TheNew Criterion, suggested that mere reference does not entail meaningful engagement with the artistic canon: “he seems not to be borrowing from Picasso so much as he’s suffocating him.” James Panero’s May 2018 gallery chronicle, which includes a review of a Johns exhibition at The Broad in Los Angeles, offers a few alternative adjectives for this article’s title. Johns’s work is perhaps less “ingenious” than “bankable,” less “complex” than self-referential in its endless reiterations of flags and “fondness for quotes of quotes of quotes ad infinitum.” Stay tuned for next year’s two-part retrospective, which will be jointly hosted by the Whitney and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, The Wall Street Journal
It’s old news that Amazon has a monopoly on the bookselling market, but now the world’s largest book retailer is also becoming one of its most influential publishers. Amazon’s best-seller lists affect sales for all books, whether published under an Amazon imprint or simply sold on their website. With fifteen imprints, eighteen brick-and-mortar stores, and a self-publishing service for authors, Amazon skews the publishing system in its favor by promoting its own books and burying others with a slew of self-advertising, largely for low-quality adult fiction novels. Although a few authors have found success with self-publishing services like Kindle Select, its methods seem demeaning, if not slavish: authors are paid by how many pages a reader finishes. As physical bookstores continue to disappear and Amazon becomes inundated with cheap romance novels of its own devising, here’s a bit of advice: get to know not only your favorite authors but also your favorite publishers and imprints, especially the small ones that can’t compete with Amazon’s advertising, and search their websites directly for a better sense of what’s new and worth reading.
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Brian T. Allen