Hans Holbein the Younger, The Ambassadors, 1533.
- With Zero K out, Don DeLillo is doing that most un-DeLillo of things: giving interviews. He told Mark O’Connell, “The novel still exists. And to my mind it still can be called a flourishing form. There are so many good younger writers. It’s clear people are drawn towards the form—people who want to write are drawn toward the novel. It’s the most accommodating form, certainly within fiction, and the most challenging. And it’s very heartening to see so many good young writers. Don’t ask me for names. But I do know the work of some of them, and I do know the opinions of people I respect who read more than I do. So I don’t feel any dismay concerning the form itself … I find that being active as a fiction writer propels one toward the future, in a way.”
- While we’re on DeLillo: it’s comforting, in some small way, to know that Ben Rhodes, the nation’s deputy national-security adviser for strategic communications, has or has had DeLillo on his mind. “He saw the planes hit the towers, an unforgettable moment of sheer disbelief followed by panic and shock and lasting horror, a scene that eerily reminded him, in the aftermath, of the cover of the Don DeLillo novel Underworld … He was in the second year of the M.F.A. program at NYU, writing short stories about losers in garden apartments and imagining that soon he would be published in literary magazines, acquire an agent and produce a novel by the time he turned twenty-six. He saw the first tower go down, and after that he walked around for a while … ‘I immediately developed this idea that, you know, maybe I want to try to write about international affairs,’ he explained.”
- The Crucible is sixty-three years old, and for all its heavy-handedness it’s still a great way to rile yourself up about despotism, especially when it’s set, as a new production is, in a contemporary elementary school: “For viewers around the globe, the play evokes frustrations with tyrannical, violent political leaders. As election season engulfs us, Ivo van Hove’s production urges us to consider our country’s currently campaigning personalities … Times never really change, Van Hove suggests. We’re all still schoolchildren, feuding and petty and hesitant to admit our mistakes. There’s a thin line between theatrics and rabble-rousing and the human inclination to follow spectacular reasoning, regardless of its truth. What matters more is what’s being taught and what’s been learned.”
- Optical illusions can save your life, man. And your soul. India’s transport ministry has used some sleight of hand to make their crosswalks seem to levitate from the street, which reminds Kelly Grovier of a memento mori from the sixteenth century: “When it was unveiled in 1533, the double portrait The Ambassadors by the German and Swiss artist Hans Holbein the Younger must have struck observers as a road bump for the soul. Looked at straight on from the front, the huge oil-on-oak painting is enigmatic enough, presenting to the observer a pair of distinguished diplomats caught in a clutter of worldly amusements: musical instruments and scientific whatnots scattered about the shelves on which they lean … But pass by the painting at a shallow angle from the left, such that your eye catches the work by chance in the periphery of its vision, and a mystery tucked into the center of the painting stops you cold. Only from that askance vantage do you see the optical illusion Holbein has secretly positioned into the foreground of his work: the cracked cranium of a spooky skull grinning back you.”
- Today in correlations that seem absurd on the face of it, but then you give them a little thought and you’re like, Oh, yeah, that kind of makes sense: Ping-Pong-table sales are tethered to the fate of the tech industry. As goes tech, so goes Ping-Pong. “Is the tech bubble popping? Ping-Pong offers an answer, and the tables are turning … Table buying ‘tracks most closely with start-ups that hit that threshold where they’re taking out office space,’ says Russell Hancock, chief executive of think tank Joint Venture Silicon Valley, which follows economic trends. ‘That’s when you’re going to get your first Ping-Pong table.’ Table sellers seeing a decline include David Vannatta, sales team leader at Sports Authority in San Francisco. The store was getting a ‘good flow of tech companies’ buying tables, he says, but sales have fallen since Christmas.”