Monday, September 05, 2005

New Yorker clips and quips
Catching up on my summer reading... First, two items of literary criticism by the excellent Anthony Lane that nonetheless make me scratch my head:

As so often with Kees, the most needling line is the plainest: “I did not know them then.” What a fine balance it strikes, implying both “my childhood was happy, since you ask, kept away from such mortal things,” and also, “how little I knew of the world—a world we ought to know—and of the damage it can wreak.” ...

More than half the poems falter and fail, either because they try too hard (“Can you hear the worthless morning’s mirth?”) or because they lunge disastrously at the surreal (“Impromptu unicorns enact ballets, / Applauded by bourgeoisie in negligĂ©e”). Still more of them are so profoundly in hock to the work of Kees’s masters that they barely evince any vital signs of their own. The wistful imperative of “Put on your hat, put on your gloves. / But there isn’t any love, there isn’t any love” could be issued only by someone whose bedside table creaked with too much Auden and MacNeice, while the debt to Eliot collapses into blatant homage... continued...

From Louis Menand's informative and provocative essay on Cold War nuclear weapons guru Herman Kahn:

[Kahn] explains that “despite a widespread belief to the contrary, objective studies indicate that even though the amount of human tragedy would be greatly increased in the postwar world, the increase would not preclude normal and happy lives for the majority of survivors and their descendants.” For many readers, this has seemed pathologically insensitive. But these readers are missing Kahn’s point. His point is that unless Americans really do believe that nuclear war is survivable, and survivable under conditions that, although hardly desirable, are acceptable and manageable, then deterrence has no meaning. You can’t advertise your readiness to initiate a nuclear exchange if you are unwilling to accept the consequences.

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