The first time you appear on television, the producers tell you, “Be brief!” Keep it to the point, and keep it simple. If you need more than five to ten seconds to make your point, it is likely boring, and the host will cut in and ask another question. Nuance is frowned upon; qualification is uninteresting and footnotes tedious. Even the most serious, in-depth news report is partially entertainment. It is the nature of television.
At times, it seemed that the Headlong Theatre Company’s production of 1984 used all the tricks of a horror movie to unsettle its audience. The play was set in a musty den with bookshelves and a plain wooden table. The protagonist—the victim—wandered blankly around this set, haunted by the feeling that he was being watched. And he was. The walls had eyes. Rooms full of people turned in unison to fixate on him with blank stares. A girl in a dress recited a nursery rhyme in a dead voice.
He hasn’t won a Pulitzer—yet—but make no mistake about it: Dana Gioia is one of the best American poets writing today, and his latest volume proves it.
Organized topically (“Mystery,” “Place,” “Love,” to name three of seven) rather than by previously published collections, 99 Poems: New and Selected is a book for readers, not scholars. Fifteen of the poems are new. The rest have been selected from his previous four collections. All of them show a master at work.
He somehow joined the inclinations of an architect to the impulses of an arsonist. He wanted to build grand systems of thought and great palaces of intellect. But they nearly all managed to displease him after their completion, and within a few years of the controversies he caused, he would join his detractors in savaging his own work. Over the course of his long career, the philosopher Hilary Putnam worked happily to erect the ideal mansions of philosophy—only to dance, just as happily, in the bright flames of their destruction as he burned them to the ground.
How did World War I lead to World War II? That is the central question historian Ian Kershaw asks in To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949, the first of an ambitious two-volume work covering the history of Europe in the twentieth century. Why did “the war to end war” instead bring about a far more devastating conflagration that took the continent into what Kershaw calls “an assault on humanity unprecedented in history … a descent into the abyss never previously encountered, a veritable hell on earth in which Europe came close to destroying itself.”