There must be a word—it’s probably German—for the sensation when you read something written in a voice so distinctive that it seeps into your brain, and you find yourself thinking in that voice after you put the book down. It is as if the prose is contagious. You read Hemingway and think in short sentences, Nabokov in tumbling long ones. When you catch the voice in Kea Wilson’s We Eat Our Own it feels like catching a fever.
“Oh! We’re in a whale,” said my friend as we walked into the theater to see David Catlin’s adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
The stage is set with a white skeletal structure that suggests the great ribcage and jawbones of the massive sea monster, with us inside. From the time we start, we are an audience of Jonahs, waiting for deliverance in the dark belly.
One does not have to struggle to find a polemic about cultural decline that focuses on the art world. However, Sohrab Ahmari’s The New Philistines stands apart because it examines these questions on serious, philosophic grounds, avoiding the complaining tone of similar works.
Ahmari (who is a London-based editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal) has written a finely argued volume that does not focus so much on the rote messaging inherent in most modern art today. Rather, he shows how the left’s increasingly strict demands for ideological orthodoxy has led to a dearth of creativity and dynamism.
Alan Paul’s Romeo & Juliet, now playing at the Lansburgh Theater, is well worth seeing. Although this production has its problems, Ayana Workman is the loveliest Juliet I’ve ever seen. From the moment she enters, Workman is so sweet and artless and spirited that your heart aches for her; you want so badly to protect her from all of the pain you know is coming. And you really want to protect her from Romeo.
It seems unintentional, but Andrew Veenstra’s Romeo reminded me of the unemployed twenty-somethings who used to hang out at the food court offering to buy vodka for girls too young to drive. With his sleeveless hoodie, dark sunglasses, and Miley Cyrus haircut, Romeo looks a lot like Justin Bieber. Maybe that explains some of his appeal to Juliet, who is, after all, supposed to be thirteen or fourteen.
Dustin Sebell’s The Socratic Turn seeks to rescue political philosophy from the ignominy it suffers, both in political science departments and in society generally. Can political philosophy (also known by its more respectable title, political theory) ever meet the scientific criteria for truth? Or is it more like literary criticism—subjective and full of vagaries?
As good citizens of modernity, we are skeptical that answers to the questions of political philosophy (like, “How should we live?” or “What is justice?”) are possible. And so the study of politics today takes place largely under the mantle of political science, an increasingly descriptive field of study that avoids the ought at all costs.