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.

Monday, September 24, 2012

September 17, 2012 Issue

The pieces in this week’s issue I enjoyed most are:

Patricia Marx’s Talk story “Happy Hunting” (The bit about the six-year-old cupping “an oodgy-colored something” is inspired.)

The “Briefly Noted” review of Iain Sinclair’s Ghost Milk (Its description of Sinclair’s prose as “lacerating, off-kilter” is perfect. In my opinion, Sinclair is one of the greats. Maybe someday The New Yorker will do a longer piece on him. He merits fuller analysis.)

Anthony Gottlieb’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So” [Contains several witty lines, e.g., “We are, in short, all running apps from Fred Flintstone’s not-very-smartphone,” “American college kids, whatever their charms, are a laughable proxy for Homo sapiens." But Gottlieb’s mention of Stephen Jay Gould doesn’t do justice to Gould’s view on evolutionary psychology. For example, Gould would be vehemently opposed to the “snappy slogan” (“Our modern skulls house a Stone Age mind”) that Gottlieb says sums up the current line of post-Darwinian thinking. In his “Natural Selection and the Brain” (The Panda’s Thumb, 1980), Gould says, “The brain is vastly overdesigned for what it accomplished in primitive society; thus, natural selection could not have built it.” However, there’s at least this to be said for Gottlieb’s piece: it’s rekindled my interest in Gould’s writing. Gould wrote one of the most powerful book reviews ever to appear in The New Yorker. I’m referring to his extraordinary “Curveball” (November 28, 1994), an evisceration of Richard J. Hernstein and Charles Murray's The Bell Curve. The piece is a fit subject for a “Retrospective Review.” Maybe someday I’ll get around to writing it.]
Peter Schjeldahl’s “All Stripes” (Regarding Gerhard Richter’s “STRIPS,” Schjeldahl writes, “I like and don’t like the work.” But when he says earlier in the piece, “I can’t think of any other important art that has seemed to expect so little imaginative participation from a viewer,” I’m left wondering what there is to like about it.)

Anthony Lane’s “Sail Away” (I like reviews that proceed by raising questions, and this piece poses a beauty: “Here is frustration made flesh, with fearsome results; would it be heretical or ungrateful to say that there are times, when Phoenix is in full spate, and when Hoffman is revealing similar ruptures of rage in Dodd’s more genial façade, when there is just too much acting going on, perhaps with a capital ‘A’?”)

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