Month: July 2019


HORROR AND DIAGNOSIS: ON ARI ASTER NOLAN GEAR Ari Aster, writer-director of last year’s Hereditary and this midsummer’s Midsommar, has made a splash using horror filmmaking to explore bereavement, intergenerational trauma, and other everyday disasters. Like his colleagues Jennifer Kent and Jordan Peele, the second of whom praised Midsommar as an “ascension of horror” with “some of the most atrociously disturbing imagery [he’d] ever seen on film,” Aster draws on horror’s essential permissiveness — its tendency to push the edges of the permissible, stretching a yes as far as it will go — to tell stories too fraught or...

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Fear of Falling Interest Rates.

The chair of the Fed announced yesterday that interest rates will fall, and soon.  So what?  Why is low inflation bad for the economy, and why does it present a problem for the Fed’s Governors, particularly the Star Chamber we call the Federal Open Market Committee? Good questions.  Keynes once quipped that rapid inflation “armed enterprise against accumulation” by devaluing existing assets and making repayment of loans easier for both entrepreneurs and consumers. In this as in so much else, he was right. How so? The value of existing assets is enhanced by inflation that clocks below the Fed’s target rate of 2% annually. That enhancement dampens demand for credit from entrepreneurs, resulting in lower investment and innovation, presumably slower growth. It also encourages going concerns to stand pat, to hoard their cash, which compounds the prospect of slower growth and thus lowers everyone’s expectations. Meanwhile, debtors, especially consumers, can’t discount their loan obligations, by paying off loans in dollars worth less than they borrowed. Moreover, if inflation is below target, what can cuts in interest rates cause? The real interest rate (adjusted for, uh, inflation) in large swaths of Europe and in japan is now at zero or below. It’s not far from that in the US. What can the Fed do the next time crisis strikes (and it will), if monetary policy is the only arrow in...

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Ahoy, Herman, hear you ran aground.

Jill Lepore’s lovely New Yorker piece on the “domestic” Melville reminds me of Lewis Mumford’s path-breaking biography, published in 1929, before he turned from literary history to the history of, well, everything else, from technology to architecture and cities, from Technics and Civilization (1934), perhaps his most important book, on toward The City in History (1962).  But then I grew up on Mumford, so almost all intellectual occasions point me back to the days in my 20s when I was first bedazzled by The Golden Day (1926), the brilliant study of American culture that completed the rediscovery and rehabilitation of American literature, by positing the authors of the 1850s—Hawthorne, Emerson, Whitman, Melville, Thoreau, Dickinson—as the pinnacle of American literary achievement. Just as F. O. Matthiessen would follow Mumford’s lead in proclaiming an American Renaissance in the 1850s, so young Lewis was following the lead of Van Wyck Brooks, whose Letters and Leadership (1917) and America’s Coming of Age (1918 ) had unearthed a potential canon in the literary upheaval of the pre-Civil War decade.  But both Brooks and Mumford were consciously recapitulating and complicating the itinerary of D. H. Lawrence, whose Studies in Classic American Literature (1912?) had made the case for serious attention to the gothic extremities of these romance-besotted writers. Mumford’s biography of Melville is remarkable for the same reasons Lepore’s essay is.  First, they try to...

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ARE WE BEING CLASSY YET? LINDA CHARNES Point of historical consciousness: In the Renaissance, the idea of class was entirely ligamented into heritable large land estates, titles, and access to the royal ear. In other words, “class” (or prestige) was automatic and a part of the birth and death calendars of the landed gentry (cf my book, Hamlet’s Heirs). It was about land enclosures and not about persons or even money. Chaucer, French troubadours and Shakespeare started challenging that paradigm with the concept of “gentilesse,” which applied to conduct and courtesy (a word derived from a la mode behavior...

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MUELLER, THEY WROTE  BONNIE HONIG     Commenting on the Mueller testimony yesterday, James Poniewozik, of the New York Times, noted the difficulty of adapting big books for the small screen. “Asked to Put On a Show, Mueller Wishes You’d Read the Book,” was his witty headline. But the headline was misleading. What happened yesterday was more like an episode of live reality TV.   The thing about live reality TV is it doesn’t always go the way you expect. Regular TV programming, reality TV included, is scripted and edited. Only on live television might something actually happen. Janet Jackson’s...

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