Introduction

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 Ben McGrath is not like a piece by Jill Lepore, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Goodyear, or Filkins for Khatchadourian, or Bilger for Paumgarten. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

May 26, 2014 Issue


Notes on this week's issue:

1. I suppose the use of a 1950s Saul Steinberg baseball drawing for a cover on this week’s issue is meant as a homage to Steinberg, creator of perhaps The New Yorker’s most famous cover – the 1976 view of the world westward from Ninth Avenue. But the grayish, crudely sketched baseball cover, which shows a catcher crouched in front of an umpire, each with a masked head that looks like the caged top of a lighthouse, strikes me as somewhat dismal. For a much sunnier, more vivid, natural rendition of the summer game, see Richard Merkin’s great April 5, 1993 New Yorker cover, titled “The Changing of the Guard in the House That Ruth Built.”


2. Richard Brody’s syntax is delicious. Thought, in his pieces, flows in jazzy runs of blended description and perception joined with the adroit use of dashes, semi-colons, and brackets. This week’s GOAT contains three excellent examples:

With the bright colors of new urban landscapes (built up in the wake of wartime destruction) and the brazen clash of calmly assertive compositions, Ozu captures the ordinary desolation at the natural heart of things – and contemplates his own place on the edge of the precipice.

The cast and crew of a politicized costume drama are holed up in a Spanish villa while awaiting their star, their equipment, and their money; meanwhile, they drink joylessly and engage in provocative sexual escapades, subtly Machiavellian manipulations, and cruel displays of power that threaten the film with emotional sabotage.

The druggy and drunken parties, games of truth or dare, casual sex, and violent amusements are recklessness-by-number; the catalogue of petty derelictions and frustrated yearnings is anchored by no inner world, framed by no context, and there’s nothing distinctive in the twenty-six-year-old Gila Coppola’s direction.

3. Adam Gopnik has a piece in this week’s issue. But I didn’t read it. I’m boycotting his work in protest against his appallingly wrong-headed characterization of Duke Ellington’s compositional process as “theft” ("Two Bands," The New Yorker, December 23 & 30, 2013).

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