The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘The New Yorker’

Lonely Thinking: Hannah Arendt on Film

May 30, 2013 | by

hannah_large

In 1963, The New Yorker published five articles on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi chief of Bureau IV-B-4, a Gestapo division in charge of “Jewish Affairs.” Written by political thinker and Jewish activist Hannah Arendt, the articles and ensuing book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, unleashed what Irving Howe called a “civil war” among New York intellectuals. While some reviews cursed Arendt as a self-hating Jew and Nazi lover, the Jewish Daily Forward accusing her of “polemical vulgarity,” Robert Lowell termed her portrayal of Eichmann a “masterpiece,” and Bruno Bettelheim said it was the best protection against “dehumanizing totalitarianism.” Across the city, Arendt’s friends chose sides. When Dissent sponsored a meeting at the Hotel Diplomat, a crowd gathered to shout down Alfred Kazin and Raul Hilberg—then the world’s preeminent Holocaust scholar—for defending Arendt, while in The Partisan Review Lionel Abel opined that Eichmann “comes off so much better in [Arendt’s] book than do his victims.”

In the years since that fiery time, Eichmann in Jerusalem has remained something to condemn or defend rather than a book to be read and understood. I therefore had some fears when I heard that German director Margarethe von Trotta was making a film about Arendt’s coverage of the trial. But Hannah Arendt accomplishes something rare in any biopic and unheard of in a half century of critical hyperbole over all things Arendt: it actually brings Arendt’s work back into believable—and accessible—focus.

The movie opens with two wordless scenes. The first depicts the Mossad’s abduction of Eichmann. The second follows a silent Hannah Arendt as she lights, and then smokes, a cigarette. Around her, all is darkness, and for a full two minutes, we watch her smoke. Played with passionate intensity by Barbara Sukowa (who won a Lola, the German Oscar), Arendt ambles. She lies down. She inhales. But above all, we see the cigarette’s ash flare brilliantly in the dark. Hannah Arendt, we are to understand, is thinking.

Although Arendt’s work follows numerous byways, one theme is clear: in modern bureaucratic societies, human evil originates from a failure not of goodness but of thinking. Read More »

15 COMMENTS

What We’re Loving: Underwater Photography, Semicolons, Rimbaud

March 8, 2013 | by

SilverSpring_may08_6When I was a teenager, I had a series of dreams in which I would attempt to do the most banal tasks underwater: eat breakfast, cut my toenails, read a book whose waterlogged pages would always stick together. I never really thought much about the dream’s implications—Was I suffocating under life’s demands? Or was it just something I ate?—until I stumbled on Bruce Mozert’s 1950s underwater photography. Using a self-constructed underwater camera, Mozert spent his career shooting underwater portraits for numerous lifestyle magazines—entirely without digital manipulation. (One Mozert trick was “using baking powder to create the powdery ‘smoke’ coming out of the underwater barbecue.”) Why would a photographer devote his life to such a niche? Some things (like the genesis of my dreams) are better left unanswered. —Justin Alvarez

I’m impressed by a twenty-eight-page examination of “The Endangered Semicolon” in the debut issue of Apology, Jesse Pearson’s new quarterly. It’s disheartening, though, to read that the semicolon is in decline, not least because it is my favorite punctuation mark—a fact that displeased Matt Sumell, who cheerfully rejected the suggested use of semicolons in his story for issue 200 (save two) and who wrote me recently with the sole purpose of informing me that he still doesn’t use semicolons. I pity him and Alexander Theroux, who bemoans in Apology the semicolon’s typographical imbalance (neither a colon nor a period) and its existence as a tentative mark, an “illicit and uneasy compromise.” Let others have the em dash, the period, the showy exclamation point. I’ll keep the semicolon, so adept at capturing a particular cadence, a curt melody. —Nicole Rudick Read More »

4 COMMENTS

Edith Wharton by Design

January 24, 2013 | by

800px-The_Mount,_view_from_Edith_Wharton_bedroom

The Mount, Lenox, Massachusetts. View from Edith Wharton’s bedroom. Photograph: Magicpiano.

People who live in New York might agree that there is very little reason to find yourself between Fourteenth and Forty-Second Streets unless you absolutely have to. Go past Union Square, and you’re liable to bump into everything from confused tourists to people selling knockoff Louis Vuitton and Fendi bags worse than the ones you can purchase on Canal Street in Chinatown. The twenties into the thirties can look like a never-ending row of scaffolding at certain stretches, with C-grade delis and fast food chains hidden beneath, leading you finally to the terrifyingly bright lights of Times Square.

For the better part of the decade in which I’ve lived in New York, this experience is probably what has kept me from the middle of the city. But when I moved from Brooklyn into Manhattan, and started taking daily walks up the various avenues from the West Village to an office on Twenty-Eighth,  I began to learn the history of certain buildings I passed along my way: admiring the townhouse at 28 E. Twentieth Street where President Theodore Roosevelt was born; the splendor and history of Gramercy Park; the row of buildings in the Flower District that seems unremarkable, until you realize that this block of Twenty-Eighth between Fifth and Sixth was once known as Tin Pan Alley, and filled the American Songbook. With each block, the twenties became more and more magical, especially on the days when I managed to avoid the crowds scuttling down the sidewalks—those less hectic New York days when I could look up and admire the various gargoyles and the golden dome of the Sohmer Piano Building. The architecture of the twenties distracted me from my daily grind, but it was on an evening trip to the grocery store that the area I once shunned suddenly took on an entirely new meaning. That night I noticed the red plaque on a doorway next to a Starbucks at 14 W. Twenty-Third Street that read, “This was the childhood home of Edith Jones Wharton, one of America’s most important authors.” Read More »

13 COMMENTS

What We’re Loving: Comfort Reads, Evil Santas

January 4, 2013 | by

On the train down to Washington I read “Stage Mothers,” Elif Batuman’s article about a women’s theater troupe in rural Turkey, and kept pretending to have a cold so the guy sitting next to me wouldn’t think I was crying over the international issue of The New Yorker. Even by Batuman standards, it’s a knockout. If you missed it, go fish it out of the recycling. (Then read her conversation with J. J. Sullivan in the current issue of the Review.) —Lorin Stein

In her introduction to Monica Dickens’s Mariana, recently rereleased by the unimpeachable Persephone Press, Harriet Lane describes it as a “‘hot-water bottle’ novel, one to curl up with on the sofa on a wet Sunday afternoon.” And this story of a young girl growing up in England in the 1930s is certainly comfort-reading at its finest. While dated at points (the moments of casual anti-Semitism are certainly jarring), it’s a fun read, breezy and funny and often touching, with beautifully observed bits of everyday life throughout. Dickens, the great-granddaughter of Charles, was a prolific and popular author; for anyone with multiple winter Sundays to fill, I’d also recommend her 1939 memoir One Pair Of Hands, which details her stint, much to her family’s chagrin, as a cook-general in some of London’s wealthiest households. —Sadie O. Stein

Before the holiday break, I had some time to explore my Netflix account and found, to my excitement, a hidden gem entitled Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. “This unusual Christmas story is set in the frozen beauty of Finland,” the description reads, “where local reindeer herders race to capture an ancient evil: Santa Claus.” What more could you ask for, to prepare yourself for holiday travel and awkward family soirees, than an R-rated horror film that has more in common with Die Hard than It’s A Wonderful Life? Filled with dry Scandinavian wit and reindeer slaughter, while this isn’t a film for the whole family, it’s one that’ll be playing in the Alvarez household for many Christmases to come. —Justin Alvarez

In a bout of plain old mean-spiritedness, I’ve been relishing the bad reviews of the film Les Misérables. Hugo’s book is among my all-time favorites—there’s just something about those sweeping nineteenth-century social novels—so much so that I wanted to change my name to Jean Valjean after reading it (a confession that brought ridicule from my colleagues here; I stand by my dream). The casting of the film is so absurd, as is the excessive emotion. Oh, the drama! Oddly enough, I inadvertently took David Denby’s advice to those who liked the film to watch Singin’ in the Rain as an example of what good musical theater can be. And he’s right: I loved it. —Nicole Rudick

Holidays are certainly the best time to try out new recipes; most people are pleasantly surprised by an unfamiliar dish amongst the old family standards. My sisters and I have a Twelve Days of Christmas party each December and always aim to have a few things on the buffet that weren’t there the year before. This time around, my older sister’s wassail was the hit of the night, not in the least because it comes with a great history that necessarily involves the host singing one (or more) of the many carols about drink. Seeing as it’s Christmas until Sunday, I’m planning on enjoying another batch of wassail before the season ends. —Clare Fentress

Perhaps few will share my excitement about the following: there is an audiobook of The Golden Bough, and it is free, and you can download it here. —S.O.S.

2 COMMENTS

Power Lunches

August 27, 2012 | by

As a penny-pinching undergraduate in New York, my idea of a power lunch was saving up for the Friday whitefish sandwich special at B&H Dairy on Second Avenue. Sitting alone on a vinyl swivel stool, I’d daydream about my boho-intellectual fantasy life, which involved large groups of opinionated writerly types laughing and arguing over exotic communal meals and bottomless tumblers of whisky, which I did not actually drink.

If my luncheonette-fueled fantasy was a bit overstuffed, at least it was rooted in historical accuracy: power lunches are an institution in New York, so much so that they warrant their own section in the New York Public Library’s new exhibit, “Lunch Hour NYC,” a retrospective of 150 years of lunch history and culture in the city. While the term power lunch didn’t officially appear in print until a 1979 Esquire article about the Grill Room at the Four Seasons (unfortunately, “America’s Most Powerful Lunch” is nowhere to be found online), the ritual itself has been an important part of the city’s lunch landscape for well over a century.

Lunch helped shape the rhythm of life in a rapidly industrializing New York at the turn of the last century: lunch breaks were hurried affairs, with rushed stops at quick-lunch counters in the early 1900s and Horn & Hardart automats a few years later. Time was a luxury, and leisurely midday meals were reserved for those wielding considerably political, financial, or social power. “Power lunches weren’t necessarily about exchanging money,” explains Lunch Hour cocurator Rebecca Federman. “They were about connecting with each other and exchanging thoughts, and there can be great power in ideas,” she says.

The earliest power lunches likely took place in the 1830s at Delmonico’s, whose culinary wizardry (Lobster Newburg, Baked Alaska) and prime location in the financial district made it popular with well-heeled suits. Apart from the occasional visit from such authors as Charles Dickens or Mark Twain, Delmonico’s remained largely populated by business and finance moguls. Other powerful groups gathered at different locales over the years: playwrights and actors descended upon Sardi’s in the theater district in the forties, while wealthy socialites clustered at Le Cirque, Le Pavillion, and La Grenouille in the fifties and sixties, earning the not-entirely-flattering nickname “ladies who lunched.”

For literary types, the lunch venue of choice was the Algonquin Hotel on West 44th Street. What would later come to be known as the Algonquin Round Table (or, as its members preferred, “The Vicious Circle,”) began in June of 1919, when Vanity Fair writers Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and Robert E. Sherwood joined like-minded pals for a midday soiree to welcome back famously sharp-penned New York Times drama critic Alexander Wollcott from a stint as a World War I correspondent overseas. Theater agent John Peter Toohey had organized the lunch as a practical joke, ostensibly as a welcome home, but instead used the opportunity to roast Wollcott for failing to include one of his clients in a column. Legend has it that all attendees—Wollcott included—enjoyed the gathering so much they decided to do it again the next day, and the next, and the one after that.

Dining upon free popovers and celery sticks, or, in flush times, chicken hash with pancakes, the aforementioned writers—along with an ever-evolving cast that included playwrights George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly, columnist Heywood Broun, and author Edna Ferber—bantered and gossiped, played endless games of cribbage and poker, and devised elaborate practical jokes to deceive one another. Conversation was fast, clever and biting—hence the “vicious” nickname, though the Round Table moniker was widely used after a Brooklyn Eagle caricature depicted the group draped in armor around a circular table. (Not all were fans of the club: Groucho Marx, whose brother Harpo occasionally joined the group, distanced himself from the table, claiming “the price of admission is a serpent’s tongue and a half-concealed stiletto.”)

Of course, the Round Tablers also wrote—Kaufman, Connelly, and Sherwood all won Pulitzers for their work, and the Table’s wit was made famous nationwide in columns by Broun and Franklin Pierce Adams, who dutifully reported Tableside gossip in his “Conning Tower” column in the New York Tribune. Ernest Hemingway wrote his infamous “Baby Shoes” short story during a visit to the Round Table, collecting ten dollars apiece from the other writers who dared to bet he couldn’t write a complete tale in only six words.

But the most enduring legacy of the Algonquin Round Table was undoubtedly the creation of The New Yorker in 1925, the masterwork of editor and Round Table regular Harold Ross, who secured funding for the magazine at the hotel (to this day, Algonquin guests receive a complimentary copy of the magazine). Many Round Tablers contributed to the magazine, whose urbane, sophisticated tone mirrored the conversations at the Algonquin’s power lunches.

Over the course of the twenties, as its founding members moved on and away from New York, the Vicious Circle gradually disbanded (the hotel had long since stopped serving free popovers). The legacy of the Round Table has remained strong, however, in the generations since: in 1987 the Algonquin was designated as a New York City Historic Landmark, and in 1996 it was declared a National Literary Landmark by the Friends of Libraries USA.

And the history of the power lunch, too, continues today, albeit in less ostentatious incarnations: Federman suggests Union Square Café as a modern-day haunt for literary agents and authors, while Michael’s in Midtown has long been a favorite for publishing-world honchos. The perennially hip Momofuku restaurant empire—which last year launched its own food-lit magazine, Lucky Peach, in conjunction with McSweeney’s—now hosts a series of lunchtime discussions at its Midtown outpost, Ma Peche. Called the “56th Street Round Tables,” the forums are billed as “lunch and lively discussion, in the spirit of the Algonquin Round Table.” This month’s discussion, presented in conjunction with the library, concerned the history and legacy of street food in New York, with insight from Federman; Robert La Valva, the founder of the New Amsterdam Market; Jane Ziegelman, the curator of the Tenement Museum’s Culinary Conversations; and Zach Brooks, the founder of the blog Midtown Lunch.

The New Yorker’s midday meal, it seems, will continue its reign as the quintessential venue for the exchange of thoughts, ideas and power; to say nothing of the fare consumed. Perhaps for my next trip to B&H, I’ll split the sandwich with company.

Visit NYPL’s “Lunch Hour NYC” through February 17, 2013.

Jamie Feldmar is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor focused mainly on food, both professionally and personally.

[tweetbutton]

[facebook_ilike]

11 COMMENTS

Books and Bodies: On Organs and Literary Estates

August 22, 2012 | by

The New Yorker made headlines this month by publishing “new” work by F. Scott Fitzgerald. “Thank You for the Light” had been rejected by the magazine in 1936 when Fitzgerald first submitted it, but editorial judgments—like love, pain, and kitchen knives—have a way of dulling over time.

“We’re afraid that this Fitzgerald story is altogether out of the question,” read the original note spurning the story. “It seems to us so curious and so unlike the kind of thing we associate with him, and really too fantastic.”

Resubmitted by Fitzgerald’s grandchildren, “Thank You for the Light” was, at least by Fitzgerald’s own standards, ready for publication. Its condition differs greatly from his final work, tentatively titled The Love of the Last Tycoon but published as The Last Tycoon in 1941. Fitzgerald died of a heart attack before he could finish the novel, so what went to press was a version of his incomplete draft, notes, and outlines pieced together by the literary critic Edmund Wilson. In his preface to the novel, Wilson wrote, “It has been possible to supplement this unfinished draft with an outline of the rest of the story as Fitzgerald intended to develop it.”

Read More »

7 COMMENTS