Thursday, August 20, 2020

The New Criterion, September 2020

The New Criterion September 2020 edition is available online. I want to highlight four articles, the first two behind a paywall, alas. If you’re interested in those articles, be sure to find access to a copy of the magazine. Also note, the other articles currently accessible may not stay available once the October edition is available online.

The first article is “True Lies” by Andrew Stuttaford, detailing the complicated career of Curzio Malaparte and focuses on his recently released Diary of a Foreigner in Paris (translated by Stephen Twilley) by New York Review Books Classics. I’ve been an admirer of Malaparte’s prose, if not his personal history.
Malaparte described the Diary as being, in part, “a portrait of a moment in the history of the French nation, of French civilization.” And so it is. Amid interminable rambling about the malign impact of Cartesian thinking on the French, a vivid picture emerges of a France still broken by the German occupation. Malaparte, referring to the foreign occupations of other peoples—including his own—over the centuries, sees this as an exercise in self-abasement: an unsympathetic observation so soon after the Panzers had been driven out, but a reflection, possibly, of the disappointment felt by this lifelong Francophile, and lifelong narcissist, that France appeared to be disappointed by him.

One more quote:
Even as he publicly moved to the left, Malaparte’s break with fascism never seemed entirely clear cut, an impression, if inadvertently, bolstered by the Diary. Malaparte stresses that his opposition to fascism predated the fall of Mussolini, a claim backed up by tales of imprisonment and exile that were at best exaggerated, at worst fictitious, and, with the exception of one failed intrigue, had little or nothing to do with politics. While the Diary is by no means a complete account of Malaparte’s time in Paris (it contains almost nothing on his literary or—a new detour—theatrical activities), it may be telling that there is nothing on his sending funds to Louis-Ferdinand Céline, a brilliant writer, disgraced by anti-Semitism and collaboration, then skulking in prudent, if impecunious, exile in Denmark. That said, Malaparte does reveal that at least some of his socializing was with individuals sullied by the war years.

As Stuttaford notes, this may not be the best place to start if you’re interested in reading Malaparte. “For the most part, this diary is a work for Malaparte completists who will pass over the fatuous philosophizing to savor again the dropping of aristocratic names, the wildly un-reliable gossip, the unexpected erotic tangents (armpits!), and of course the old lies, so many of them, sometimes with extra embellishment, sometimes pristine.” The notes I have on some of Malaparte’s books in translation can be found at these links: The second article is “Forests of Arden” by Paul Dean, a celebration of the completion of the Arden Shakespeare Third Series. The Arden series has long been my favorite “go to” for the plays and I enjoy their introductions. Dean goes through the history of each series, detailing the work involved as well as noting some of the changes in each series. He also provides an abundant amount of information (critical and praising) about some of the choices made.
Textual theories and critical fashions come and go, but annotation is probably the feature of the Ardens which students and actors have valued most highly. In this respect, too, there have been changes, notably in what earlier editors felt they could assume was general knowledge, and which they therefore left unremarked.

One more quote to highlight what the literary landscape looked like at the start of the first series, as well as the length of time each series took to complete and the time between each series' completion:
When Arden 1 began in 1899, the major critical authorities were still Dryden, Johnson, Lamb, Coleridge, and Hazlitt, and of these, only Coleridge went much beyond thinking of Shakespeare in terms of character and morality, to consider dramatic structure and poetic texture. Keats’s insights in his letters are irreplaceable, but they are not systematic. Swinburne, and one or two German scholars such as Gervinus, represented (then) contemporary criticism. By 1924, when Arden 1 came to an end—with Much Ado About Nothing, rather delightfully—there was little to add to the belles-lettrists, apart from A. C. Bradley and T. S. Eliot. By contrast, Arden 2, appearing from 1951 to 1982, could profit from the work of a galaxy of distinguished names on both sides of the Atlantic, following the rise of the New Criticism, the proliferation of academic writing (and academic journals), and the first phase of literary theory imported from continental Europe.

The third article is “Gray Mists & Ancient Stones,” an excerpt from the forthcoming translation of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s memoir Between Two Millstones, Book 2: Exile in America, 1978–1994. “These pages, written in 1987 but published here for the first time in English, describe portions of Solzhenitsyn’s 1983 trip to the United Kingdom: his visit to the western highlands of Scotland, speech at Eton, and meeting with Prince Charles and Princess Diana.”
I’m no confirmed monarchist, to sympathize wholeheartedly with each and every crown, and, in addition, I gravely reproach the British throne: frightened of public opinion, George V refused to offer basic shelter to his deposed cousin, Nikolai II. None of the past was forgotten, yet there prevailed in me that bittersweet sympathy for this amiable young couple [Charles and Diana] in the stifling calm before the storm.

The last article is “Hildebrand’s Aesthetics of the Universal” by Gerald J. Russello, a reflection on Dietrich von Hildebrand’s philosophy. This interested me because I have lined up his recently translated Aesthetics to read but haven’t worked up the courage to tackle it yet. Other books included in the discussion are Graven Images, My Battle with Hitler, and Morality and Situation Ethics.
In his monumental two-volume Aesthetics, the German philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889–1977) rejects the notion that beauty is unimportant to nurturing civilization or is somehow reserved only for the elite or privileged: “One should not make the mistake of assuming that because many people today apparently lack any sensitivity to beauty, beauty is not a fundamental source of happiness, even for the simplest people. . . . The atrophy of this sensitivity is a terrible loss, and this ought not to be interpreted as a progress that modern man has made in the industrialized world.” As a consequence of our rejection of beauty, we have confused our understanding of aesthetic experience. Now everything is “art” if it expresses some feeling, no matter how vulgar or ugly, and it seems we must promote—and pay for—anything designated as art.

One of Hildebrand’s quotes from Graven Images struck me as extremely relevant today, and heightens my interest in reading his writings:

Moral goodness is identified with broad-mindedness, desire of progress, tolerance. Several fundamental amoral values such as purity, reverence, humility are not included in morality. Other moral values such as justice, veracity, generosity are seen in the light of the open-minded liberalism, erroneously interpreted as consequences of this morality.


Richard said...

I was happy to be reminded of this journal since I used to check on it with semi-regularity and then forgot about it for some scatterbrained reason or other. The Malaparte piece alone sounds like it's worth the price of admission so to speak.

Dwight said...

It is, it is. And it's the main reason I posted this. I love his writing, and I kind of love the complicated relationship of him and the truth. You don't get one without the other.