Recent links of note:
“Why We Must Teach Western Civilization”
Andrew Roberts, National Review
Those defending the study of Western civilization generally take up one of two arguments. The first is that its achievements are without compare in the vast landscape of human history. The second is that, for those of us living in the West, it is the only way to understand ourselves. But rarely does one see both counts so forcefully elucidated in one essay as the historian Andrew Roberts has done in his latest for National Review. It is one thing to point out, from one’s armchair, where the censors and scolds have gone wrong, and quite another to mount the ramparts and demonstrate just why so many “dead white European males” are deserving of our special attention.
“What Happened to the Novel?”
Joseph Epstein, Commentary
In his review of Joseph Bottum’s Decline of the Novel, Joseph Epstein incidentally sums up the shambles of our modern artistic culture with a question. “Art, we know, is not on the same onward and upward progress curve as science and technology, but might it, in the novel, be demonstrably regressing?” The potential causes of that regression are the subject at hand here, and the evidence is manifold: the contraction of scope, in novel-writing, from broad experience to narrow epiphany; a limiting politics of belonging, in which subject matter is circumscribed by not just race and sex but also class and social position; and the replacement of “truths of the heart” with lofty and abstruse ideas (in the sense that T. S. Eliot said, of Henry James, that “he had a mind so fine no idea could violate it.”). The essay is not cause for great hope, but then again, no great problem was ever solved without its being recognized first.
Brooke Allen, Hudson Review
Many readers will remember the publication, about this time last year, of Leo Damrosch’s The Club, a biographical study of the relationships between those famous members of the “Literary Club” in the late eighteenth century: Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, James Boswell, Edward Gibbon, and the rest. In a recent essay for Hudson Review, Brooke Allen offers another way of looking at the Club: in terms of the “joint endeavors” among members that drove their respective “fields forward toward modernity.” Here, she examines the group’s profound influence on the way Shakespeare was performed and understood, an effort that involved no small degree of rehabilitation—after all, in the decades just after his death, the Bard was performed no more often than, say, Ben Jonson, and many of those performances adapted and repurposed their ostensible scripts so far as to render them nearly unrecognizable. Allen’s essay walks the reader through the early history of what we might call “Shakespeare studies” in an exceptional level of detail.
“The first four,” by Clayton Trutor. On The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution, by Lindsay M. Chervinsky.
From the archive:
“I swear by Apollo,” by Michael J. Lewis (December 2016). On the evolution of museum architecture.