50 Years from T. S. Eliot

From Web Exclusives

Much already has been and will be said about T. S. Eliot this year, which marks a half-century since his death. Attempts to map his posthumous critical fortunes inevitably convey a downright Biblical pattern—the uniform literary “Hosanna!” of the 1960’s morphing, by the 1990’s, into a collective “Crucify him!” The turnabout is well expressed by literary maven Cynthia Ozick, who displayed something of both attitudes in an exquisite essay entitled T. S. Eliot at 101. Continue Reading »

Our Death Mounds

From Web Exclusives

As the Western suburbs of Chicago go, it’s a spectacular view. To the distant north is the angular, imposing steeple of Wheaton Bible Church. To the south looms the imperious tower of Fermilab, guarding its unnaturally circular particle accelerator. Continue Reading »

Advent for Artists

From Web Exclusives

After years of premature Christmas celebrations, even evangelicals are learning to reclaim Advent, the season of preparation. Might the enclaves of high culture do the same? What follow are a few suggestions.

 Among the holiday specials on offer at the Museum of Modern Art right now is the Robert Gober retrospective, The Heart is Not a Metaphor. But it unfurls far too quickly. Art-loving audiences are confronted all at once with a decapitated Jesus, a trash-can baptismal font, genitally themed wallpaper, cryptic sinks, decontextualized fragments of Hieronymous Bosch paintings and androgenized body parts roasting in a fireplace. Why not mete these gallery features out slowly, over four weeks?

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The Five Stages of Grieving the Art of Jeff Koons

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It is Sunday night, and the Whitney Museum of American Art has been open for thirty-some hours straight. The line for this last chance to see the Jeff Koons retrospective wraps around the block. Fittingly, these are also the last hours of the Whitney Museum itself, at least in its upper East Side manifestation (their new building opens in Chelsea next year). Visiting the hideous structure one last time is like reaching out to pet the old family dog before he gets put to sleep—only to have your hand bitten. The inverted ziggurat architecture has always been an exercise in anti-effort with the art to match. A longstanding top floor feature was Marcel Duchamp’s In Advance of the Broken Arma snow shovel the artist purchased and declared art by fiat. Once elusive, the meaning is now clear. Here is the tool that has authorized the Whitney to pile it high. Koons’s towering mound of polychrome aluminum Play-Doh, the highlight of the show, is the simply the crest of the heap. Continue Reading »

Protestantism in the Desert

From Web Exclusives

I admit to having experienced perverse enjoyment when first hearing the story Episcopal Bishop James Pike. The cautionary tale is featured in Joan Didion’s The White Album, and more recently, in two sobering chronicles of Protestant decline, Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion and Joseph Bottum’s AnAnxious Age. Following an impressive revisionist binge, Pike finally cast off Christianity completely. In pursuit of some kind of Gnosis, he drove into the Jordanian desert in a Ford Cortina with two Cokes and his third wife, where he lost his way and died. Such a fitting illustration of the Protestant condition, I once thought: an ill-equipped Ford Cortina hurtling to desert doom. Continue Reading »

Not So Secular Sweden

From the June/July 2014 Print Edition

It’s 4 a.m. and I’m in an eighteenth-century Swedish castle that has been transformed into an ecumenical monastic community run by Pentecostals. I gather my bags and descend a grand staircase, past family portraits going back generations, past neo-­classical statues, past Coptic, Russian, and . . . . Continue Reading »

ArtHistoryGate

From Web Exclusives

It is a bipartisan moment to be cherished. Rick Santorum called the President a snob for wanting everyone in America to go to college, and now Obama has come around to Santorum’s side. As the President said to a General Electric plant in Wisconsin this year: “I promise you, folks can . . . . Continue Reading »

Living Offering

From the February 2014 Print Edition

When your child is wrapped up in her own umbilical cord, the further the labor progresses, the worse off she is. One learns this when accompanying one’s wife through a day, a night, and then another full day and night of labor.Yards of heart monitor printouts are puzzled over by shift-swapping . . . . Continue Reading »

Our Lady of Wheaton

From the October 2013 Print Edition

Mary, it seems, is a hot Evangelical topic. As a new professor at Wheaton College, I proposed a course focusing on the Virgin Mary and braced for resistance, but intrigued approval was all that came my way. Nor was I alone. I learned that another course on the Virgin was being offered in a . . . . Continue Reading »