A wonderful thought occurred to me, though. What about finding the collected letters of people like Baudelaire and Mallarmé (who supposedly spoke and read English fluently) and sit in judgment of them? I can’t judge Johnson’s French, but I can definitely judge, say, Cavafy’s English. Or Freud’s.
Yet, look what happens.
With an act of unspeakable violence at its heart, “Idaho,” Emily Ruskovich’s debut novel, is about not only loss, grief and redemption, but also, most interestingly, the brutal disruptions of memory.
As writer-for-hire on “Steven Spielberg: A Life in Films,” the pioneering feminist movie critic Molly Haskell is such a counterintuitive choice of contract employee that she acknowledges the weirdness of the situation upfront, confessing her qualms about taking on the project.
The pairing is the work of imps, apparently, who preside over the Jewish Lives series, billed as “interpretive” biographies, now rolling out steadily from Yale University Press. A publisher’s note alongside the robust catalog explains that the editorial matchmaking is done based on the ability “to elicit lively, deeply informed books that explore the range and depth of Jewish experience from antiquity through the present.” And by those standards, done and done: The exploration here is lively, the critic is deeply informed, and she approaches her mandate with a calmness of inquiry that is a gift often bestowed on the outsider anthropologist impervious to tribal influences.
For obvious reasons, 2017 hasn’t loomed large in the popular imagination. It’s a bit of a dud. It reeks of the random number generator. Until late last year, no one except economists and steering committees probably gave it too much thought. Sure, Cherry 2000, a 1987 Melanie Griffith vehicle, was set in 2017, but its creators went with the more beguiling 2000 for the title. (It’s named after an android who malfunctions during sex.)
Only one great prognosticator, one seer and visionary, heard the music of this dull year thudding from afar. I speak of William “Billy” Joel, the Piano Man himself, whose song “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)” is a foreboding indicator of what the year has in store.
This has been a year, though, when we’ve been reminded that culture abides by no definitive reading. What’s deplorable to one becomes an organizing principle for another. And that’s how culture should work. Yet the harm comes when we insist on a single version of the story, an archetypal way of being, a right way to see things—for there is no language capable of representing us all.