From the poster for Obit.
Last week, I stayed up late every night reading the galleys of Stephen Greenblatt’s study The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve. I have already recommended it—at possibly tedious length—to my uncle, my shrink, our Southern Editor, and Sadie, who is reading it now. Greenblatt begins his history with the sensible, but to me startling, question of why the ancient Hebrews bothered to make up a creation story at all. (Really—wouldn’t it have made more sense to just start with Abraham?) He shows that, right from the beginning, people have found the story peculiar—that magical trees and talking snakes were by no means a thing, even during the Babylonian exile, and that lots of people wondered where exactly Moses was getting his facts. From the shaping of the Torah to early allegorical readings of the story, Jewish and Christian, to the radical reinterpretation of the Fall by Saint Augustine, Greenblatt shows how often the story of our first parents, and its meaning, have been up for debate—and how, as Adam and Eve became more and more familiar, more and more human, thanks partly to Renaissance art and Paradise Lost, they grew harder and harder to believe in. The story ends, inevitably, with Darwin, and with Greenblatt in Uganda observing chimpanzees. It is compelling at every turn, right down to the appendix, comprising legends of the fall, e.g., this, from the medieval theologian Duns Scotus: “Adam saw perfectly clearly that his wife had been deceived and that the serpent had lured her into a trap from which she could not now escape. She will have to die, he thought, and God will offer to create a new companion for me, either from another one of my ribs or from some other source. But I do not want a new companion. I want this one and only this one. There is but a single way in which I can remain with her, and that is by conjoining my fate to hers. We will live—and when the time comes, we will rot—together.” —Lorin Stein
At the time of his death, in 2005, the legendary curator Walter Hopps was at work on a memoir with Anne Doran and Deborah Treisman; he’d worked with both during a later phase of his career as art editor of Jean Stein’s quarterly, Grand Street. The memoir, The Dream Colony, will finally be published next month, shaped by Treisman but unfinished: Hopps left off in 1987, at his founding, with Dominique de Menil, of the Menil Collection in Houston. But the ground he managed to cover is considerable. It’s hard to overestimate Hopps’s influence on the shape of twentieth-century art: he championed the work of countless artists, among them Ed Ruscha, Jay DeFeo, Richard Diebenkorn, Anne Truitt, Robert Irwin, and Frank Lobdell as well as the Hairy Who and underground comix; he was an early supporter of Pop, and he found work produced in the middle of the country to be as worthy of consideration as that made on the coasts. But in his buoyant memoir, he often recounts the details of his many astounding accomplishments as a series of escapades. Among my favorites is Hopps’s narration of a concert given at the Pasadena Art Museum by John Cage, who ground vegetables in a micced blender and then drank the concoction (he was accompanied on piano by David Tudor). The painter Clyfford Still, an elder statesman at that point, listened to the “interesting concert” and then relayed a note: “Please convey my compliments to Mr. Cage, even though our aesthetics are committed to their mutual destruction.” —Nicole Rudick Read More