Friday, March 6, 2009

An Afternoon's Notes

In “Between Critical Rationalism and Eastern Wisdom,” an essay on the web pages of, Alessandro Topa considers Iranian philosophical tradition (March 5, 2009). There are articles at the online magazine there, as well, on Gaza, Iraq, and Turkey.

This past Wednesday in New York began a nineteen day “Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy,” at Carnegie Hall and other sites, curated by opera singer Jessye Norman, featuring a wide range of African American music, from classical to hip-hop.

A spirited tribute to Stevie Wonder took place at the White House, and was broadcast by PBS recently, with the first lady introducing the program and the president presenting the performer with an award for his music. Performers such as Esperanza Spalding, Tony Bennett, India Arie, Martina McBride, Anita Johnson, and Paul Simon were there. Bennett's roughened voice was commanding and I didn't like Diana Krall's voice (too low and oddly accented), the duo of Mary, Mary did a funky version of "Higher Ground" and McBride's "You and I" was very good (she gave it jazz and country aspects), and I liked Paul Simon's singing and guitar playing. Stevie Wonder's performance of his own work was quite good.

Responding to Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal’s criticism of the Obama stimulus package allowing a $50 million funding increase for the National Endowment for the Arts, Jane Alexander, in an interview with CNN, argued that the NEA has been underfunded for years and that increased funding is going to people (artists) who are workers and family providers and consumers of various goods and services in the larger economy(March 4, 2009).

“In More Than Just Race, the Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson recaps his own important research over the past 20 years as well as some of the best urban sociology of his peers to make a convincing case that both institutional and systemic impediments and cultural deficiencies keep poor blacks from escaping poverty and the ghetto,” writes Richard Thompson Ford in a review of Wilson’s book More Than Just Race (the article is called “Why the Poor Stay Poor” in the New York Times Sunday book review section, in print March 8; online March 6). It is hard not to wonder why such an obvious point must be made again and again: is prejudice that resistant to fact?

On writer John Cheever's legacy: “Cheever’s novels, like his journals, belong to his lewdness and his pain, and it is easy to see why they have never been as popular as his stories. They are blunter instruments than the polished scalpels of his short fiction; they can be sloppy, challenging, even inscrutable, but they hit the reader with great force. In his stories, Cheever tried to make sense of the world and of other people; in his novels, he mostly tried to make sense of himself. Naturally, the world was more interested in reading about itself, but it would do well to revisit John Cheever’s patient, determined attempt to understand and make peace with John Cheever,” writes Stefan Beck near the end of his review-essay on the collected works of John Cheever and a new Cheever biography, appearing in The New Criterion, March 2009.

Performer Chris Brown has been charged with two felonies, involving an altercation with his girlfriend, the singer Rihanna. These two have had, before this terrible incident, the most innocent and glamorous images of today's performers. It is an irony that people who represented the sunniest aspects of human experience are now, in their own lives rather than in their work, associated with the darkest facts of life: aggression, conflict, pain, violence. It seems impossible to escape the more troubling inclinations of human nature and it seems better to be aware of those conflicting traits and to acknowledge them, as the repressed seems to return always.

There was a good profile of film critic Armond White by Marc Jacobson in New York magazine, February 15. (White is known for his odd and insistent responses to film and film culture, responses that are sometimes thought of as brilliant and other times thought of as perverse.) Armond White reviewed with praise Molly Haskell's book on the film Gone With the Wind, a book from Yale University Press, Frankly, My Dear, in the March 1 Sunday New York Times book review (online Feb. 26).

Scheduled: On March 7th, in New Iberia, Louisiana, is a Shadows-on-the-Teche arts and crafts festival; and there will be a Cinema on the Bayou Film Festival March 25 through March 29 in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Yesterday, I saw a snake in the backyard, near my mother's house, a black and gold snake. I prodded it with a long pole to dissuade it from coming nearer and that worked for a short time, but I suspect it may approach again...It was six months ago that I began this log, "City and Country, Boy and Man," documenting aspects of New York life and my planned travel to Louisiana; and since then it has included short fiction and excerpts from a proposed novel, poetry, film reviews, political comment, descriptions of Louisiana, observations about family, theatrical play excerpts, a glossary of values, notes on the election of Barack Obama, articles on African culture, music comment, book criticism, and questions and answers featuring a few excerpts such as film critic Alex Kent and historian Aram Goudsouzian on Sidney Poitier. The move south has helped me to survive a little longer, but it has involved an iteration of things I cannot get away from, certain facts: I prefer life in the city to life in the country; I am interested most in work involving intellect and culture; I am not inclined toward unconditional love of anyone (particular character and qualities engage me); and I am inclined to withdraw and be withholding when I am uncomfortable (when I cannot be my preferred self, I'd rather not be any self); and time is passing, passing, passing...