Around and about, Notre-Dame edition

August 1, 2019
  • The New York Times has run a harrowing account of what happened, hour by hour, during that awful day in April when Notre-Dame de Paris went up in flames. Riveting reading.
  • Witold Dybczynski writes about the troubling French politics surrounding the repairs and reconstruction of the church, and gives historical perspective on how reconstruction after disaster has been handled in other famous cases.
  • At The New Criterion, Peter Pennoyer covers some of the same ground, but goes into detail about the philosophy that motivated the extensive reconstructon of Notre-Dame that Viollet-le-Duc undertook in the mid-nineteenth century.
  • Andrew Thompson-Briggs reviews the massive two-volume work Aesthetics that Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote in his final years. I’d actually been lazily circling around these books, wondering if I should take the lure, but this review has put me off for the time being. As reservoirs of critical judgments the books sound excellent; but as advancing a philosophical argument they sound idiosyncratic, and I don’t need 1000 pages of idiosyncracy at this stage in my life.
  • The only thing I like about Twitter is the opportunity it affords to call its users “twits”. And I guess I also like that one of its architects has trouble sleeping at night.
  • I once read an interview with the Hilliard Ensemble in which they lamented the frequency with which their audience would blandly describe as “so relaxing” a piece of music that had been strewn with hair-raising difficulties, suffused with intelligence, and animated by transcendent yearning. I was reminded of this when reading a funny but also sad account of how classical music gets treated by marketers.
  • At Image Journal, novelist Christopher Beha lists his ten favourite novels of the past 30 years. I am not sure any very great novels have been written in that period, and his list, at least, leaves me still in doubt. Infinite Jest may have a legitimate claim; I was only able to get through about 1/3 of it, so I’m no judge. The only other of those on his list that I know is Dillard’s The Maytrees, which I appreciated but am not wildly enthusiastic about. I’d be interested to know if anyone reading here would concur with or contest his judgments.

For an envoi, let’s hear one of those so relaxing pieces from the Hilliard Ensemble. Close your eyes and waft along with this:

3 Responses to “Around and about, Notre-Dame edition”

  1. Rob G Says:

    I too read about 1/3 of Infinite Jest then put it down. The only other book on there that I’ve read is Gilead, and on that one I’d agree with him — it’s outstanding. I don’t read a whole lot of contemporary fiction, but on my list I’d have Berry’s Jayber Crow, Helprin’s In Sunlight and In Shadow, and McCarthy’s The Road. Maybe Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone too.

  2. cburrell Says:

    Gilead is on our shelves, but I’ve not read it yet. I’ve heard good things.

    Cormac McCarthy is an author whom I’d probably reach for if I was making my own list of favourites from the past 30 years, although in my case I’d probably choose No Country for Old Men as my favourite. The Road is also very good.

    I like Mark Helprin too, but I’ve only read A Soldier of the Great War. Have you read his most recent novel, Paris in the Present Tense?

    • Rob G Says:

      I’ve read it twice, actually. It’s somewhat atypical, in that it’s somewhat shorter, more personal and less epic in scope than his previous ones, but I liked it very much nonetheless.


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