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.

Friday, February 13, 2015

February 9, 2015 Issue


Notes on this week's issue:

1. I like a good argument. Kelefa Sanneh, in his absorbing "Don't Be Like That," takes issue with a new anthology called The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth, edited by Orlando Patterson (with Ethan Fosse), which faults black culture for, among other things, “suboptimal cultural traits,” such as devaluation of traditional coparenting and eschewal of mainstream styles of childrearing. Sanneh sees this as a form of “victim-blaming.” The real culprit, he says, is racism. He says of Patterson’s approach, “He contends that black culture can and must change while conceding, less loudly, that ‘thoroughly racist’ whites are likely to remain stubbornly the same.” In the aftermath of Ferguson, Sanneh’s conclusion – “If we want to learn more about black culture, we should study it. But, if we seek to answer the question of racial inequality in America, black culture won’t tell us what we want to know” – seems irrefutable.

2. Last year, Amelia Lester, in her review of Wallflower, wrote one of my favorite lines: “If you feel like eating a carrot-and-black-trumpet-mushroom salad with your second tequila cocktail, you’re in luck, and perhaps it’s the right call—the windows frame an obnoxiously bright Equinox gym, where Lululemoners reading Us Weekly on the elliptical pedal through the night in silent rebuke” ("Bar Tab: Wallflower," The New Yorker, March 31, 2014). This week, she scores another wonderful description, a representation of a Cosme dessert: “a corn-husk meringue with its own hashtag, possessed of an intensely milky taste from the mousse of mascarpone, cream, and corn purée that spills out like lava from its core.” "Tables For Two: Cosme is ravishing; every line surprises and delights.

3. Not to be outdone, Emma Allen, in her terrific "Bar Tab: Winnie's," constructs this verbal wunderkammern: “One evening in Chinatown, a young woman in a Nirvana T-shirt took a break from mixing Hawaiian punches—a juggling act involving eight kinds of liquor, pineapple juice, and grenadine—to pull out a giant laser disk, grab a mic, and perform ‘Santeria,’ by Sublime.” Her review features a great opening line, too: “The narrative arcs of nights spent drinking are sometimes self-imposed (pub crawl begins here, ends there), sometimes forced upon us (I woke up in Ronkonkoma!).”

4. Alex Ross’s "Eyes and Ears" describes a marvelous effect – the way seventeenth-century music played amid Caravaggios brings the paintings alive. He writes,

Throughout the evening, I couldn’t escape the uncanny feeling that the people in the paintings were listening in, as in some spooky Victorian tale of portraits come to life. In the presence of the music, their eyes possibly glowed a little brighter, their flesh a little warmer. In Gallery 621, the effect was all but electric: chaste religious figures seemed on the verge of jumping out of the chiaroscuro shadows and joining the women of TENET, who, in turn, looked ready to step through the frames into the other world. Then, with the applause, the spell was broken: the living walked away, and the pictures fell silent for the night.

Ross’s piece is accompanied by a luminous, delicately hued Riccardo Vecchio illustration, the newyorker.com version of which beautifully shimmers on my computer screen.

Illustration by Riccardo Vecchio

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