You Think You Know About Puritanism, and Other News


On the Shelf

A still from The Witch.

  • Since I began working at the Review, I’ve asked repeatedly for one simple thing that would propel this magazine to new heights: limited-edition designer-made cashmere Paris Review socks. They’re now a reality, and guests at our Spring Revel will walk away with a pair of them. (Maybe they’ll even walk away wearing them.) As Women’s Wear Daily reports, “Editor Lorin Stein has enlisted the talents of Gabriela Hearst and Peter Miles to design signature socks as a parting gift for attendees at the April 5 gala at Cipriani 42nd Street. The fashion designer Hearst and art director Miles, whose portfolio includes work for Céline, took into consideration some of the cover art from the literary journal. The women’s design borrows from Derek Boshier’s art on the spring 1966 issue’s cover, and the men’s version drew from Günter Fruhtrunk’s handiwork on the summer 1969 one. Hearst teamed with the Italian sock specialist Maria La Rosa to produce the women’s socks.”
  • Dan Chiasson looks at Robyn Schiff’s new collection, A Woman of Property, which seems to emerge from the anxious mist of a stress dream: “Schiff’s poems, with their Hitchcock-like distrust of appearances, their alertness to hidden binds and snares, offer something few poets ever discover: a vision of the whole world. It’s a paranoid vision, often an unsettling one, but a huge variety of phenomena enter the poems. From H1N1 to supermarket carnations and the petrified rictus of a lobster (“like a terrible crack / in a wall something worse is coming through”), these poems are interested in everything, possessing a capaciousness that, paradoxically, requires tight control. If you had a houseful of wild animals, you would need cages. Schiff, like Marianne Moore—a profound and not entirely metabolized antecedent—has, instead, stanzas: rigid, cratelike stanzas, which often employ regular patterns of syllables per line.”
  • If you go to the movies and see The Witch, you may think, Hey, I know a ton about Puritanism now! I’m, like, an expert in Puritanism! Michael Robbins is here to remind you that you’re not: “Twice we see Thomasin’s brother Caleb steal a peek down her shirt and then feel guilty about it, and we’re supposed to infer that religion leads to shame, which leads to repression, which leads to making out with a witch disguised as a grown-up Red Riding Hood … To be blunt, most reviewers appear not to know much about Puritanism … No doubt many Puritans, like many film critics, were self-righteous. But Jonathan Edwards articulated a core theme of Calvinism when he wrote that ‘The deceitfulness of the heart of man appears in no one thing so much, as this of spiritual pride and self righteousness.’ It is one thing to strive to recognize and overcome self-righteousness and fail; it is another to see it only in those to whom you feel superior.”
  • Charlotte Moorman is widely known as “the topless cellist,” because she once played the cello with her top off. But she did other things, too. Two new exhibitions aim to tell us more about her career as an avant-garde performer: “The formidable eleven-person curatorial team at the Block has used the opportunity to refurbish Moorman’s unfortunately limited reputation as Nam June Paik’s topless prop … The exhibition begins by positing Moorman’s version of John Cage’s 26’1.1499″ for a String Player as the centerpiece of her experimental performances … Her elaborately annotated copy of the score is displayed under glass … Explained in handwritten notes, her additions include playing a giant bomb outfitted with strings, smashing lightbulbs with hammers, kicking cowbells, and frying an egg. These actions, combined with the already rigorous timing, ultimately made the piece impossible to complete in the prescribed twenty-six minutes. Cage publically dismissed Moorman’s interpretation as ‘murdering’ his score, but she performed it on the Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas shows anyway.”
  • What if JFK’s most stirring bit of rhetoric—“Ask not what your country” et cetera—was lifted from Kahlil Gibran? The poet, whom the New York Times memorably (and accurately) discussed as a “candy metaphysician,” once wrote a letter to the Lebanese parliament with this little zinger in it: “Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country?” Kennedy’s advisor Ted Sorensen is aware of the similarity: “The Khalil Gibran Society telephoned and wrote me asking whether either Kennedy or I had read the piece, even though it had not been translated into English by January 20, 1961. Did either of us read Arabic or any of the Middle Eastern languages in which it had appeared? I was asked. No, we did not.”