Recent links of note:
“An American Bard”
Kelly Scott Franklin, Claremont Review of Books
“Do not prettify me,” Walt Whitman instructed his biographer, Horace Traubel. “Include all the hells and damns.” Whitman was acutely interested, like any avant-garde artist worth his salt, in the preservation of tradition and its careful adaptation to new enterprises (under which heading the entire American experiment belongs, without doubt). Milton, with his iconoclastic Paradise Lost, earned praise as a model in the epic genre to which Whitman aspired; the more contemporary Edgar Allan Poe (“morbid, shadowy, lugubrious”) and Henry James (“only feathers to me”), perhaps not so much. In the latter half of the twentieth century, unsavory forces have done a great deal to “prettify” Whitman according to their own tastes, which in this case amounts to parading him around in historically inaccurate drag. Kelly Scott Franklin, a professor of literature at Hillsdale College, makes the argument that, although Whitman’s homosexuality and radical inclusivity make him a favorite on the Left, his reverence for the universal dignity of the human spirit as illuminated by history should earn him a place in the conservative canon as well.
“Without the Bayna We Would Perish Review: Sweat Like a Russian”
Gary Saul Morson, The Wall Street Journal
Reviewing Ethan Pollock’s new book on the history of the Russian bathhouse, the Slavist and critic Gary Saul Morson—who will be delivering The New Criterion’s first inaugural Circle Lecture on September 25—invokes Lenin on the importance of sanitation in the early days of the Soviet regime: “Either socialism will defeat the louse, or the louse will defeat socialism.” At the center of that struggle was the banya, or Russian bathhouse, a cultural standby whose origins likely predate Russian civilization itself. Typhoid was rampant behind the Iron Curtain in the early twentieth century; if the Soviets were to bring public health under control, they would have to do it through the banya, given the obvious impracticability of installing running, heated water in each Russian home. Morson states, flatly: “The louse won.” Soviet officials built new banya in the middle of nowhere, while the already-established ones—disease-ridden, rank with bodily musk, and sodden by excretions—remained. The banya will always remain.
“Nazi design exhibition at Dutch museum braces for protests”
Catherine Hickley, The Art Newspaper
Kudos to the Design Museum Den Bosch in ’s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, for sticking out its neck and taking a hard look at the little-explored relationship between design and architecture and the reprehensible practices of the Third Reich. The museum’s new exhibition, slated to open on September 8, sets out to examine “the huge contribution of design to the development of the evil Nazi ideology” and “design as an instrument in the hands of the ultimate forces of darkness.” Recall, for instance, that Gropius sought to erase the distinction between art and design—it’s not hard to see how the Nazi Party might have repurposed his expansive, utilitarian notion of craft as part of their brutal totalitarian ethic. And, of course, the heavy influence of classical art and architecture on Nazi design will figure in substantially. The exhibition, purportedly the first of its kind, has drawn protests from the likes of the Dutch Communist Youth Movement, as expected; it remains unclear whether they want the current exhibition dismantled, or a new one featuring Soviet design.
From the archive:
Hee-haw, brave wilderness!
by Alexander Suebsaeng
On history alive and dead in Zimbabwe.
Occasioned by Robert Mugabe’s recent death, we invite readers to revisit Alexander Suebsaeng’s piece (February 2018) on the autocrat and his country.