Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture (New York Review Collections)

Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture (New York Review Collections)

Daniel Mendelsohn

Language: English

Pages: 440

ISBN: 1590176073

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Over the past decade and a half, Daniel Mendelsohn’s reviews for The New York Review of BooksThe New Yorker, and The New York Times Book Review have earned him a reputation as “one of the greatest critics of our time” (Poets & Writers). In Waiting for the Barbarians, he brings together twenty-four of his recent essays—each one glinting with “verve and sparkle,” “acumen and passion”—on a wide range of subjects, from Avatar to the poems of Arthur Rimbaud, from our inexhaustible fascination with the Titanic to Susan Sontag’s Journals. Trained as a classicist, author of two internationally best-selling memoirs, Mendelsohn moves easily from penetrating considerations of the ways in which the classics continue to make themselves felt in contemporary life and letters (Greek myth in the Spider-Man musical, Anne Carson’s translations of Sappho) to trenchant takes on pop spectacles—none more explosively controversial than his dissection of Mad Men.

Also gathered here are essays devoted to the art of fiction, from Jonathan Littell’s Holocaust blockbuster The Kindly Ones to forgotten gems like the novels of Theodor Fontane. In a final section, “Private Lives,” prefaced by Mendelsohn’s New Yorker essay on fake memoirs, he considers the lives and work of writers as disparate as Leo Lerman, Noël Coward, and Jonathan Franzen. Waiting for the Barbarians once again demonstrates that Mendelsohn’s “sweep as a cultural critic is as impressive as his depth.”

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“completely separate” from the action: if you actually take the trouble to read the libretto, you can see that the Sanskrit texts have been chosen with great care. What the workers in the Indian Opinion scene are saying as they fold and pass along great sheets of newspaper is a highly poetic expression of what they are, in fact, doing: “Therefore, perform unceasingly the works that must be done, for the man detached who labors on to the highest must win through.” When Mrs. Alexander berates the

biography—her engagement, at the age of sixteen, to the sociologist Philip Rieff after a ten-day acquaintance: a decision about which this journal’s near-total silence may, in the end, be more eloquent than words. As for the aftermath of that bizarre decision, there is much here about a bad marriage that, pace Tolstoy, seems to have been a lot like many other bad marriages, although Sontag can bring to her account of its collapse the same crisp intelligence that would make her criticism so

to enlighten, Mad Men reminds you of nothing so much as a successful advertisement. Indeed, the great irony of Mad Men may be that it functions the way that ads function, rather than the way that serious drama functions: it’s suggestive rather than discursive, juxtaposing some potent pictures and words and hoping you’ll make the connection. And yet as we know, the best ads tap into deep currents of emotion. As much as I disliked the show, I did find myself persisting. Why? In the final episode

coincidence that both bards and archers—Odysseus is a renowned bowman, too—need a stringed instrument to perform.) This self-conscious interest in narrative gamesmanship and in the nature of storytelling gives Mason the modishly postmodern theme of his book, the preface of which tells us that the chapters that follow are translations of newly discovered sections of the Odysseus cycle: “forty-four concise variations on Odysseus’ story … where the familiar characters are arranged in new tableaux.”

that of a physician. Ours is an age of patients.) The recent publication of two of his most delicate and beautiful novels will, with any luck, help turn the tide. One is the bittersweet romance On Tangled Paths, from 1888, newly translated by Peter James Bowman and published by Angel Books; the other is a curiously gentle tragedy called Irretrievable, first published in 1891, now reissued in the 1964 translation of Douglas Parmée by New York Review Books. Together, they convey the distinctive

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