Recent stories of note:
“The Other Napoleon”
Aidan Harte, Law & Liberty
At least since Tatiana tiptoed her way into Eugene Onegin’s library, the specter of Napoleon could be found haunting the chambers of art. In the two centuries since the Little Corporal’s death, his ghost has made itself at home in every medium, sometimes as a demigod, other times a buffoon. His career as a soldier began almost simultaneously with his career as an art-wielding propagandist—in his first campaigns as a general, he founded multiple newspapers dedicated entirely to recounting his never-ending series of triumphs and heroic exploits. But counter-propaganda was there from the beginning as well: artists and writers in Britain were just as keen to deride the general as his acolytes were to deify him. This two-sided tradition, one dedicated to Napoleon’s beclowning, the other to his apotheosis, makes for one of art history’s most interesting tales. Aidan Harte connects the dots of that tale in Law & Liberty, from its roots in Antoine-Jean Gros all the way through to Danny DeVito.
“Resistance in the Arts: Why Substack won’t save us”
Alan Jacobs, The New Atlantis
Physics tells us that while friction is the force that keeps us from being able to move mountains, it’s also the thing enabling us to walk in the first place. Without it, everything would devolve into a sort of formless jelly. The same goes, according to Alan Jacobs, for art. Countering the notion that the removal of all mediating forces—be they editors, limiting technologies, or stubborn bandmates—is what makes art possible, Jacobs makes the case for resistance as a prerequisite to the creation of great art. Its existence, he argues, creates the conditions for real motion. Put simply: Melville needed his whale, and St. Paul needed his jail cell.
“The South’s Jewish Proust”
Blake Smith, Tablet
America has its own Proust, though his home wasn’t some cosmopolitan capital, but rather Mississippi, and his subject wasn’t Parisian society, but rather the Civil War. So goes the story told by Blake Smith, who describes in Tablet the life and work of the novelist and historian Shelby Foote. Foote began his career as a second-rate Faulkner, but when he died, he left behind a work more evocative of In Search of Lost Time than The Sound and the Fury. Instead of a madeleine, Foote begins at Fort Sumter, and the work that flowed amounted to The Civil War trilogy, a three-thousand page narrative piling up over a million words taking twenty years to compose. Smith details the many similarities in style and biography between Proust and Foote, and in doing so illuminates elements of the latter’s life hitherto neglected.