Recent stories of note:
“A Cloistered France”
John R. MacArthur, Harper’s Magazine
In Playtime (1967), a film by the French director Jacques Tati, one sees the Eiffel Tower many times—but never directly. The giant steel structure only appears fleetingly in glass reflections, and is otherwise obscured by monolithic Corbusierian architecture, crowds of oblivious tourists, and buses. The effect is to cast the great symbol of Paris, and therefore Paris itself, into the realm of distant memory: the Iron Lady becomes a ghost within her own home. Some fifty-odd years have passed since Tati’s opus, and yet the Parisian identity crisis seems only to have deepened. Years of protests and unrest recently prompted the construction of a ten-foot-tall transparent security barrier around the Eiffel Tower, which John R. MacArthur argues is a salient symbol of the nation’s festering insecurities; a new see-through fence cannot hide the fact that France no longer knows who or what it wants entering or exiting its body politic.
“Out of The Waste Land”
Algis Valiunas, Claremont Review of Books
The Waste Land will turn one hundred and one this year. There exist online a few recordings of T. S. Eliot himself reading the work. The first-time listener will be struck by two things: first, the unblinking force of the poem, and second, the bizarre, goofy accent of Eliot himself. The poet’s accent is neither American nor British nor Mid-Atlantic, and at times it sounds like he’s inventing pronunciations of words on the fly. Maybe this idiosyncratic handle on the spoken English language is fitting, however, for a poet who so thoroughly upended English poetry. Somehow, all the peculiarity does is make the poem more bewitching—but that’s not to suggest that it makes the work any easier to understand. For that, you will need a Charon like Algis Valiunas (or James Matthew Wilson), who provides a thorough primer on the work, in addition to the poet’s life and the many advances in Eliot scholarship made in recent years. Valiunas shows that the complexity of the poet’s work is only matched by the complexity of the poet’s life. Both are worth knowing about.
“Fast cars, minimalist design and en suite bathrooms: the real Rachmaninoff”
Richard Bratby, Spectator
Did Rachmaninoff have a little rock and roll in him? Did the great romantic have a thing for fast cars, speedboats, and late nights? It would seem so. David Dubal’s recent retrospective makes the case for the pianist’s residence in the pantheon, arguing convincingly that few approximate the seriousness with which Rachmaninoff approached his work—but just being in the pantheon doesn’t mean one has to turn down a good time. Richard Brabty found a glimpse into this more fast-paced side of the musician’s life when he paid a visit to Rachmaninoff’s Swiss home, Villa Senar, a far more cubist and modern affair than one might expect of this consummate romantic. Today, the house is a public space dedicated to the pianist and operates almost like a reliquary on a grand scale, still containing his photographs, notes, and piano in their original positions. The previous owner might be a relic, but he’s a timeless one.