Recent links of note:
“Melancholy of obsolete futures”
Alexander Adams, The Critic
I have spent a fair bit of time crawling around and photographing abandoned Soviet buildings in Eastern Europe. The scale and prevalence of these ruins would likely come as a surprise to many Americans—we have our fair share of harrowed inner cities and ghost towns, but hardly to this extent. Interesting buildings I have explored of late include an archaeological museum of the Bronze Age, pictured above, and a ruined cinema at an old spa resort that now houses refugees. One feels in such spaces that he is exploring a ghost town, but what has occurred here is a different phenomenon from the economic realities that created now-abandoned boomtowns in the Californian desert or the shattered downtown of Detroit. In America, even very ruined buildings and neighborhoods hold within them some hope of renewal; the “fixer-upper” mentality has been thoroughly ingrained in our cultural consciousness at this point. Yet it is eerie how carcass-like these old Soviet buildings can seem; they are orphans of a defunct government and an expelled ideology that will not return, and one can sense it in the very air as one walks about. In the ruined cinema, I saw hundreds of feet of Soviet films unspooled like Theseus’s ball of thread across the floor, stretching down hallway after hallway into dusty bedrooms and graffitied spa chambers, never to be seen again.
“The Binding of Isaac Stern”
Terry Teachout, Commentary
Isaac Stern was America’s first homegrown violin virtuoso, the bridge between the great “imported” talents such as Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifetz and the young mavericks of the 1960s such as Pinchas Zukerman and Itzhak Perlman. In the thin years of World War II when European talent was scarce, Stern stepped to the fore on the stages of American concert halls, later finding great success in post-war Europe as well. After years of the Russian violin school’s dominance, Stern’s success was proof that the American school had itself reached maturity; his triumph in Europe had an equivalent effect for legitimizing American violinists as Bobby Fischer’s defeat of the Soviets did for chess players several decades later. Writing for Commentary, Terry Teachout tracks the maestro’s posthumous reputation and seeks to explain why for modern listeners the details of his biography tend to overshadow the music itself.
“The Medieval University Monopoly”
William Whyte, History Today
One of the greatest reflections of our nation’s commitment to free speech and thought is in the continuous proliferation and flourishing of American universities ever since our founding. Indeed, the ideal of an American university is something of a microcosm of the country itself, at its healthiest: a place for the free, open exchange of ideas, some good and some bad, in an empirical search for the very best. It may come as little surprise to readers today, however, that the university can also be a tool for ideological conformity and control. The English monarchs of the middle ages and early modern era sensed this duality of spirit all too well. As William Whyte explains in History Today, this was one of the Crown’s motivations behind mandating the status of Oxford and Cambridge by oath as England’s sole institutions of higher education until 1826.
“A classical illness”
James Panero, the Executive Editor of The New Criterion, discusses the pathology of recent protests.
“Pax Ottomanica,” by Clayton Trutor. A review of “God’s Shadow”: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World by Alan Mikhail.