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.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

July 29, 2013 Issue

New Yorker pieces never live alone; they’re branches of a tree that can be traced backwards and forwards. Reading Vince Aletti’s absorbing “Critic’s Notebook” piece on Walker Evans, in this week’s issue, I recalled Anthony Lane’s wonderful “Eye of the Land” (The New Yorker, March 13, 2000), about a Walker Evans retrospective at the Met. Rereading Lane’s piece, I noticed a link with his witty capsule review of “Only God Forgives,” also in this week’s issue. In “Eye of the Land,” Lane says, “Evans was literate, difficult, and furtive, and you can hardly hope to scratch the surface of his achievement without steeping yourself in the following….” He then unfurls a multiplicity of considerations (“upper-middle-class society in the Midwest at the turn of the century,” the early technology of the penny picture and the Kodak folding camera,” etc.). But then, in his next paragraph, he impishly undercuts his point, saying, “Just kidding. In fact, the procedure could not be simpler. You walk to the Met, pay your ten dollars, go to the second floor, and look at the photographs.” I laughed when I read that - it’s such a delightful, surprising reversal. Lane pulls a similar stunt in his “Only God Forgives” review. He opens with “Ryan Gosling and Nicolas Winding Refn, the star and director of ‘Drive,’ team up once more, this time for a charming comedy of manners set in an English village, in springtime.” Then he quickly says, “Just kidding. In fact, we are in Bangkok, in the company of kickboxers, drug dealers, and killers without a conscience.” It’s a great line, one that isn’t in the long version of Lane’s review (see “Grim Tidings,” The New Yorker, July 22, 2013).

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