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.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

May 11, 2015 Issue

Of the many pleasures in this week’s issue – Richard Brody’s capsule review of Elaine May’s 1976 gangster movie Mikey and Nicky  (“Cassavetes, his head down, his forehead like the prow of a near-wreck, and Falk, with his canny nervousness, blaze a trail of trouble that, in its emotional extremes, distills a lifetime of frustrated energy into a single deadly night”); Peter Canby’s description of sleeping out in Central African Republic’s Dzanga-Ndoki National Park (“I spent a long, cold night on an underinflated air mattress with only a thin sheet covering me, my sleep repeatedly interrupted by trumpeting elephants close by, louder than any Manhattan garbage truck”); Dan Chiasson’s review of Terrance Hayes’s new poetry collection How to Be Drawn (“I have no idea how he works, but the poems give the impression of spontaneity; even if he labors over them, the result is a wild ride without an off switch, an unbroken verbal arc propelled by his accelerating actions of mind”) – the most piquant, for me, is Mark Singer’s superb Talk story, "All-Nighter," an irreverent account of Singer’s attendance at “A Night of Philosophy,” a marathon series of “twenty-minute lectures by academics, mostly French and American, who are addressing such topics as Can You Decide to Believe in God?’ and ‘Must Intellectual Life Be Boring?’ and ‘Will This Be Worthwhile?’” The event causes Singer to question the meaning of “philosophy”:

Does it connote great ideas by celebrated thinkers who, by their elegance of presentation, illuminate for us the most profound questions? Or does it refer to stuff that’s really, really hard to follow, especially when certain brainiacs insist on reading their turgid prose in a monotone that makes us doubt our very existence, because, Jesus, why doesn’t this guy in the gray turtleneck occasionally look up and, you know, smile?

That “because, Jesus, why doesn’t this guy in the gray turtleneck occasionally look up and, you know, smile?” made me smile. I enjoyed “All-Nighter” immensely.

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