May we remember it always.
- In an age of rising income inequality, there’s no real justification for coziness. To sit fireside in a pair of Smartwool socks is to reek of privilege—not even the most exquisite cup of hot cocoa can cover the smell. But fear not: this is why we have the Danes. Their culture comes with a word, hygge, whose venerable, old-world connotations of comfortable conviviality were just waiting to be bankrupted by American consumer culture. It’s okay to relax if the Scandinavians are doing it! As Anna Altman explains, “At least six books about hygge were published in the United States this year, with more to come in 2017 … Helen Russell, a British journalist who wrote The Year of Living Danishly, defines the term as ‘taking pleasure in the presence of gentle, soothing things,’ like a freshly brewed cup of coffee and cashmere socks … The most striking thing about hygge, though, might be how its proponents tend to take prosperity for granted. All the encouragements toward superior handicrafts and Scandinavian design, the accounts of daily fireside gatherings and freshly baked pastries assume a certain level of material wealth and an abundance of leisure time. As a life philosophy, hygge is unabashedly bourgeois … When transferred to the United States, the kind of understated luxury that Danes consider a shared national trait starts to seem like little more than a symbol of economic status—the very thing that Scandinavian countries have sought to jettison.”
- When it debuted in 1983, Chrysler’s minivan was so cutting edge that the New York Times insisted on dropping a hyphen between mini and van. (Nothing dampens the spirit of neologism quite like a copy department.) Back then, the original minivan—the urtext for the Dodge Caravan and a crucial component in the founding myth of soccer moms—was heralded as “one of the hot cars coming out of Detroit.” Today, it’s on the National Historic Vehicle Register. Nick Kurczewski writes, “Brandt Rosenbusch, an archives manager for more than 300 historic vehicles owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, is not shy about extolling the first minivan’s significance: ‘It did change everything. There was nothing like this when it came out in 1983. It was radical for its time, really … It’s a really popular vehicle,’ he said. ‘Whenever we take a minivan to a show, it’s just amazing the amount of stories there are. Everybody remembers their family had one. Everybody relates to the minivan.’ ”
- Tim Parks is translating Machiavelli—and learning, as he does, that everyone approaches the man with one bogus preconception or another: “Written, an English Cardinal claimed, ‘by Satan’s finger,’ and put on Pope Paul IV’s Index of Prohibited Books in 1559, Machiavelli’s little treatise would be blamed for more or less every act of political ruthlessness in Europe over the following two centuries … The result is that translators come to The Prince with prejudices; one is tempted to play to the reader’s expectations, laying on Machiavelli’s supposed cynicism at the expense of the text’s surprising subtlety … It is not that Machiavelli advocates or glorifies immoral behavior; it is that he ignores morality altogether. He is entirely focused on the simple question of how to achieve and hold power, by whatever method. So with The Prince more than with any other text I can remember, it was important never to bring in one’s own moral position, or reaction to Machiavelli’s refusal to assume a moral position, into the translation.”
- Vivian Gornick picked up Marriage as a Fine Art, a conversational vade mecum by the “celebrated French power couple” Julia Kristeva and Philippe Sollers. They have somehow remained married for fifty years, only to emerge into a world where no one really gives a hoot about a long-lived, monogamous, heterosexual union. Reading their book, Gornick says, doesn’t offer many clues on how they did it: “Both Kristeva and Sollers are incorrigible intellectuals, constitutionally incapable of a simple anything, much less a straightforward answer to a straightforward question. For each, theory is mother’s milk, abstraction the staff of life. To be sure, bits of concrete information—including the fact, mentioned on the book jacket, that Kristeva and Sollers do not actually live together—appear alongside abstract disquisitions on literature, social history, analysis, you name it. But while their book is characterized by intellectual elegance, not much of what they say has the feel of flesh-and-blood reality … It is my fervent belief that no reader could come away from this book with anything like a usable insight into the actualities of the Kristeva-Sollers marriage—or, for that matter, into the institution of marriage itself.”