June 1, 2004

What's in the Times Arts section today?

1. A Princeton student (Kathleen L. Milkman) gets a big article, with a big picture of herself, all about her senior thesis, on the first page of the Arts section. How does one pull off such a thing? She did a statistical analysis of the content of the stories in The New Yorker. (Hmmm .... sounds like a job I used to have.)
The study was long on statistics and short on epiphanies: one main conclusion was that male editors generally publish male authors who write about male characters who are supported by female characters.

The study's confirmation of the obvious left some wondering why Ms. Milkman, who graduates this morning from Princeton with high honors, went about constructing such an intricate wristwatch in order to tell the time, but others admire her pluck and willingness to cross disciplines in a way that wraps the left and right brain neatly into one project.
... and left others wondering why the NYT put a big article about her on the first page of the Arts section. Standard reader response: What about my plucky graduate? The answer must be: we all care about the short stories in The New Yorker. ... Don't we?

2. New Oprah's Book Club choice: Anna Karenina. (The nice Pevear/Volokhonsky translation.) Can't say anything against that, can you?

3. Stanley Kubrick's crazy archive has been transformed into a huge museum exhibit. I want to see it, but--right now at least--it's in Frankfurt, at the Deutsches Filmmuseum.

4. There's going to be a big fundraising concert for John Kerry at Radio City Music Hall on June 10th. It has a name: "A Change Is Going to Come." That title is based on the beautiful song "A Change Is Gonna Come," which was written by Sam Cooke after witnessing a civil rights demonstration in 1963 ("I was born by the river/In a little tent, and just like that river I've been running ever since"). I guess "Gonna" had to be changed to "Going to." But that is one of the best songs ever, and it never hurts to stop and think about how great Sam Cooke was. Go to that first link and see the list of artists who have covered that song. Artists appearing at the June 10th concert are: Jon Bon Jovi, Whoopi Goldberg, Wyclef Jean, John Mellencamp, Bette Midler, James Taylor, and Robin Williams.

5. David Foster Wallace has a new book of short stories and Michiko Kakutani is not being very nice about it.
Unfortunately for the reader, such tiresome, whiny passages predominate in this volume. There are moments in "Oblivion" when we catch glimpses of Mr. Wallace's exceptional gifts: his ability to conjure both the ordinary (a Midwest motel room with a television stuck on the motel's welcome page) and the extraordinary (a Spider-Man-like figure, who may or may not be a terrorist, scaling the slippery side of a skyscraper); his ability to map the bumpy interface between the banal and the absurd.

These moments, sadly, are engulfed by reams and reams of stream-of-consciousness musings that may be intermittently amusing or disturbing but that in the end feel more like the sort of free-associative ramblings served up in an analyst's office than between the covers of a book.
"Reams and reams of stream-of-consciousness musings ... free-associative ramblings ..." -- sounds like a blog!

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