- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ahead of his time

“‘Link,’ as it happens, is not a bad word to have in mind as you make your way through a text that is at once compellingly linear and disorientingly tangential.

“[Herodotus] pauses to give you information, however remotely related, about everything he mentions, and that information can take the form of a three-thousand-word narrative or a one-line summary. It only looks confusing or ‘digressive’ because Herodotus, far from being an old fuddy-duddy, not nearly as sophisticated as (say) Thucydides, was two and a half millennia ahead of the technology that would have ideally suited his mentality and style.

“It occurs to you, as you read ‘The Landmark Herodotus’ - with its very Herodotean footnotes, maps, charts, and illustrations - that a truly adventurous new edition of the Histories would take the digressive bits and turn them into what Herodotus would have done if only they’d existed: hyperlinks.”

-Daniel Mendelsohn, writing on “Arms and the Man,” in the Aug. 10 issue of the New Yorker

Poseurs

“However, one genre of popular music, rap, is hugely popular while simultaneously boasting that it is about social change and revolution. … Rap, in fact, is about - to steal a line from Madonna - striking a pose. It is a pose, as [John] McWhorter notes, of ‘the upturned middle finger,’ the angry toe-to-toe facedown, the predatory bully. It has much more to do with 1960s street theater than with any kind of realistic social change. …

“A great jazz critic once referred to the great black musical traditions as giving the audience the ability ‘to deal with adversity with grace.’ Rap teaches the very opposite, to deal with adversity with resentment, misogyny, and street theater left over from the 1960s. But it’s probably here to stay, or at least as long as human beings are sinful creatures who hope for quick fixes and utopian solutions.”

-Mark Gauvreau Judge, writing on “The Rap on Hip-Hop,” on Aug. 1 at the American Spectator

Opposites attract

“As David Lebedoff demonstrates in ‘The Same Man: George Orwell & Evelyn Waugh in Love and War,’ these two great writers, though seemingly incompatible, were more alike than either realized. …

“Both considered ‘modern life a terrible enemy,’ as Mr. Lebedoff nicely puts it. ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Brideshead Revisited,’ published in the same year of 1945, might seem worlds apart, and yet both are biting parables of disenchantment. In their prose, too, each was a rare master. ‘Good prose is like a window pane,’ Orwell wrote; Waugh was more lyrical, as well as funnier, than Orwell (who pretty much lacked a sense of humor), but he too knew the virtues of transparency. …

“By presenting Waugh’s and Orwell’s lives in parallel, [Mr. Lebedoff] casts them in a new and sometimes surprising light. Their differences come to seem strangely complementary, as though they divided the world between them with an equally savage eye.”

-Eric Ormsby, writing on “Against the Day: David Lebedoff on Orwell and Waugh,” on July 30 in the New York Sun

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