Cool Manifesto, Bro, and Other News


On the Shelf

Cate Blanchett in Manifesto.


  • Everyone loves a manifesto—in theory, anyway. Throwing down the gauntlet, beating one’s chest, issuing a reverberating cri de coeur about the one path of the true artist … it’s a time-honored way for young people to pass a Friday night. But most manifestoes make for boring reading, their vim notwithstanding. They’re full of pretensions and straw men and hollow self-congratulation. Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto, a series of thirteen videos featuring Cate Blanchett, asks us to reconsider the self-serving ambitions of such texts. Blanchett inhabits various rhetorical stereotypes—a conservative mom, a homeless person, a eulogizer—to perform some of the greatest hits of the manifesto canon, including the futurists, the situationists, and the minimalists. Liza Batkin writes, “Having each of the manifestos spoken by a female character … serves to remind us that almost all of the manifestos cited in the exhibition catalogue were written by men (forty-three out of the fifty); they are, as Rosefeldt observes, ‘just bursting with testosterone. Art historians,’ he says, ‘tend to regard everything created and written by artists with reverence and respect, as if, from day one, the artists themselves intended their work to become part of art history. But we shouldn’t forget that these texts were usually written by very young men who had barely left their parents’ house when they reached for the pen.’ ”
  • So let’s not call this next bit a manifesto: In 1960, Denise Levertov contributed a piece about the power and responsibility of poetry to an anthology, The New American Poetry. Maria Popova has just rediscovered Levertov’s words: “I do not believe that a violent imitation of the horrors of our times is the concern of poetry. Horrors are taken for granted. Disorder is ordinary. People in general take more and more ‘in their stride’—the hides grow thicker. I long for poems of an inner harmony in utter contrast to the chaos in which they exist. Insofar as poetry has a social function it is to awaken sleepers by other means than shock.”

  • As you’ve probably heard by now, Mariah Carey had a rough go of it on New Year’s Eve. Her performance on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest—probably the best name for any television show in history—devolved into a gripping combination of technical difficulties and inspired preening. Amanda Petrusich sees it as the perfect capstone for 2016, and I couldn’t agree more: “In my favorite moment of the nearly six-minute performance, Carey yelled, ‘Bring the feathers on!’ The dancers were already in place. ‘Yes!’ she added, as they fell into perfect alignment around her. ‘It just don’t get any better.’ For anyone who might have endured an especially draining 2016, it was not hard to find this coda—defeated, bewildered, sarcastic—cosmically apt. It felt like a startlingly on-the-nose metaphor for the strange act of going about routine tasks while the world dissembles … That this has inspired outrage—that people felt fundamentally cheated or bamboozled by a forty-six-year-old woman fudging the high notes while wearing no pants, in freezing temperatures, on a temporary stage erected in the middle of Broadway—feels silly, but telling. In an era in which so much of what we are promised is true is in fact manipulated, if not faked, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that we are all now confused about where to direct our bubbling ire.”
  • The Times Literary Supplement has resurfaced this scathing 1972 Anthony Burgess piece about being a book reviewer. It’s all still true: “Of ordinary reviews—those one finds in the Sundays or weeklies—it is hard to say anything good. Even when they praise, they cannot resist cleverness at the expense of the reviewed: they approve, but from a height: they imply that their own prescription for a good piece of writing seems to have been fulfilled: this patient is fit enough but, of course, he will have to watch his health. When they dispraise, they neither damage the sale of the book—whose quality the reader must find out for himself anyway—nor help the writer to reform his faults. Usually the writer knows far better than the reviewer what his faults are, and if he could get rid of them he would … If you want good reviews, it is best—if you can afford it—to be like Alroy Kear in Cakes and Ale and invite the reviewer out to luncheon. You do not explain your artistic aims, you merely feed him well, and then he associates your next book with a remembered physical pleasure.”
  • It feels great to solve an eighty-year-old mystery. I don’t say that from experience; I’m just hazarding a guess. But a man from Brooklyn has recovered a tattered, 180-page booklet by Luis de Carvajal, a secret Jew from the sixteenth century who was burned at the stake by the Inquisition in Spain’s colony of Mexico. Joseph Berger explains: “Almost nothing was heard about the document for more than eighty years—until it showed up thirteen months ago at a London auction house. The manuscript was on sale for $1,500, because the house had little sense of its value. Last year the relic caught the eye of a prominent collector of Judaica, Leonard Milberg, when it showed up for resale at the Swann Galleries in Manhattan. It was now priced at more than fifty times what it had sold for just a few months earlier in England. Mr. Milberg consulted a variety of experts, who told him it might be the actual manuscript, and worth as much as $500,000. They also warned him to be careful — the original had been reported stolen.”