Books, Banks, Popes, Koons, Bibles

Godzilla And Cultural Success

Cosma Shalizi | Three-Toed Sloth | 3rd February 2019

Great works of art endure because new generations find new ways to interpret them — that much is almost a cliché of criticism. But what signals to a new generation that a work is worthy of fresh interpretation, that it contains some message of enduring value? For a work to have this power it must surely be ambiguous in a particularly suggestive way. It must suggest the presence of a specific, compelling message, without actually being reducible to that message. Great works outlast their ages “precisely because they simultaneously promise and lack such messages” (1,100 words)

Central Banks And Folk Tales Of Money

Pierre Ortlieb | Economic Questions | 3rd February 2019

Where does money come from? Text books typically describe a process whereby the central bank prints money for use by the private sector; savers make deposits with private banks; private banks lend this money out for investment. But in most countries the reality is radically different. Private banks create money out of nothing, by deciding to make loans, and the central bank serves mainly as a clearing house between these private banks. Why is this latter version of events not more widely known? Is it for fear that too much transparency would undermine public trust in money?  (1,140 words)

Popes, Power, And Unrestrained Lust

Barbara Tuchman | Delancey Street | 5th February 2018

Brief life of Sixtus IV, pioneer of nepotism and plunderer of the papacy. “Upon taking office in 1471, he appointed as Cardinals two of his eleven nephews, Pietro and Girolamo Riario, both in their twenties, who rapidly became notorious for mad and spendthrift be­haviour. Before he had finished, Sixtus had conferred the red hat on three more nephews and a grandnephew. Riario’s excesses reached a peak at a Saturnalian banquet featuring orgiastic behaviour appropriate to the ancient Roman model” (805 words)

Wow! $91 Million!

Hadley Freeman | Guardian | 4th February 2019

Entertaining conversation with Jeff Koons, who “looks like Pee Wee Herman and talks like Mister Rogers”. Interviewed at his New York studio, Koons maintains the “calm, unruffled air generally only found in the heavily medicated“, while “young people in white coats skitter around doing what looks like most of the work: painting, sculpting, blowtorching”.  Each sculpture still counts as his own work, says Koons: “Maybe I’m not on each piece labouring over it, but I’m overseeing each one tremendously” (2,250 words)

The Alter Bible

Adam Kirsch | Tablet | 30th January 2019

In praise of Robert Alter’s newly completed translation of the Hebrew Bible into English, the fruit of twenty years’ work, “a scholarly and literary feat that puts Alter in the company of Jerome and Martin Luther”. Alter’s Bible “preserves the simplicity and directness of Hebrew grammar”, staying close to the “concrete language” of the biblical writers, and thus restoring the Bible’s “internal diversity”. The Bible is not “one big book”, but rather an anthology of work by dozens of authors over at least five centuries (3,600 words)

Video: Gimme Some of That Ol’ Atonal Music. A country singer reminisces about his late father, a composer of atonal music in the style of Schoenberg (3m 31s)

Audio: PowerPointless | Seriously. Ian Sansom attempts the seemingly impossible, a PowerPoint presentation for radio  (32m 58s)

“We are inclined to believe those whom we do not know, because they have never deceived us”
— Samuel Johnson

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