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 Matthew Trammell is not like a piece by James Wood, and neither is like a piece by Peter Schjeldahl. One could not mistake Finnegan for Frazier, or Lepore for Paumgarten, or Goodyear 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, November 3, 2016

October 31, 2016, Issue

Political writing rarely affords aesthetic bliss, unless you get your kicks from sentences like “Clinton would increase the tax rate on short-term capital gains for high earners, with lower rates for longer-term holdings; close the 'carried-interest' tax loophole that favors hedge-fund managers; and levy fees on banks with high debt levels.” This week’s issue – The Political Issue – is filled with that sort of thing. Fortunately, the magazine provides a few tonic alternatives. For example: the coconut tapioca pudding in Jiayang Fan’s delectable “Tables For Two: The Lucky Bee (“Beneath a cloud of golden-crusted marshmallows were banana-toffee gems, tapioca pearls, and an exquisite layer of liquid honey”); the Turnstile music video “Drop,” in Matthew Trammell’s terrific “Night Life: Bring It Back” (“filmed in black-and-white and hand-painted, frame by frame, in shades of turquoise, goldenrod, and salmon, the clip features a toothless ten-year-old flashing peace signs, and at least one puppy”), and the Met’s “Fragonard: Drawing Triumphant,” in Peter Schjeldahl’s wonderful “Art: Plus Ça Change” (“The show ravishes, close-up and quietly, in flurries of ink, red chalk, and brown wash that impart waking dreams of neo-baroque heroes, wild but not too wild nature, and meltingly pretty women”). Is it decadent of me to prefer coconut tapioca pudding to Clinton’s tax rates or Trump’s crazy Mexican-border wall? Probably. But I’m solaced by an observation that Elizabeth Kolbert makes in the Introduction to her The Prophet of Love (2004), a collection of her New Yorker political pieces: “If there is any particular theory that informs the pieces assembled in this book it is that the sense of political life is often indistinguishable from nonsense.” More coconut tapioca, please.

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