What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

January 2, 2012 Issue

This week’s issue serves up a rare treat: Peter Schjeldahl, in a piece called “The Reign In Spain,” reviewing a book about Diego Velázquez, titled Velázquez and the Surrender of Breda: The Making of a Masterpiece, written by long-time New Yorker contributor Anthony Bailey. Reading it, I experienced triple bliss. The piece brims with inspired writing. Regarding Velázquez’s Las Meninas, Schjeldahl says:

To behold it, transfixed by the eyes of the devastatingly pretty Infanta, as she accepts a little red jug from a gracefully bending maid, while a departing courtier pauses to look back, and a boy kicks a dog, is to ride a whirlwind of fact and conjecture into metaphysical infinity.

That “whirlwind of fact and conjecture” is very fine. Schjeldahl is unfailingly generous in his praise of Bailey’s book. This is as it should be; Bailey is one of The New Yorker’s greatest writers (see my “Interesting Emendations: Anthony Bailey’s ‘Outer Banks,’” January 13, 2011). Schjeldahl deliciously quotes Bailey as follows:

Bailey’s description is a tour de force of visual gourmandise, lingering on such passages as “the recess, barely a dimple, under her right shoulder blade” and identifying a zone of her lower back “painted with such skill that words fall away, useless.”

Schjeldahl is, as I am, a Bailey fan. In one of my favorite Schjeldahl pieces, a review of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition “Vermeer and the Delft School” (“The Sphinx,” The New Yorker, April 16, 2001; included in Schjeldah’s wonderful 2008 collection Let’s See), he refers to Bailey’s Vermeer Then and Now: A View of Delft, saying that it “perfectly complements” the Met’s show. I would say the same about Schjeldhal and Bailey: they perfectly complement each other. What a pleasure it is to see their work combined in one piece. What a great start to the new year!

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