I won’t say “Au revoir, Notre-Dame.” That’s a tad overdramatic. But something will be lost if the diocese in charge of the cathedral’s interior goes through with its recently approved plans to “modernize” it. For those of you who haven’t been following the story:
French authorities have approved a proposal to revamp the interior of Notre-Dame Cathedral despite opposition from 100 cultural figures and criticisms saying the changes would “Disneyify” the historic landmark.
The French National Heritage and Architecture Commission offered a favorable opinion to the proposal following a meeting on Thursday, December 9, giving the plan a green light to proceed.
The proposals submitted by the diocese of Paris, which is responsible for the cathedral, would install contemporary artworks and mood lighting to give the 850-year-old gothic structure a new look when it is scheduled to reopen in 2024, just in time for the Paris Olympics.
Displays inside the cathedral, including 2,000 movable objects, would also be rearranged so that visitors—12 million per year prior the devastating 2019 fire—will have more space.
The redesign aims to foster a “dialogue” between old and new, according to Notre-Dame’s rector, Patrick Chauvet.”
The members of the French National Heritage and Architecture Commission are appointed by France’s minister of culture. The current minister, who was appointed over a year after the fire took place, said previously that the cathedral should look “identical” to how it looked before the fire, but she quickly added: “It’s hard to say it’ll be exactly the same, but the spirit of the spire will remain.” Ah, the French and their esprit.
Here’s Vivienne Chow at ArtNet: “The approval came just two days after some 100 public figures, including art historians, heritage and architecture experts, intellectuals, artists, and writers signed a petition in Le Figaro and La Tribune de l’Art condemning the diocese of Paris for taking ‘advantage of the restoration project.’ The proposal, they said, ‘completely distorts the decor and the liturgical space.’” That petition is here.
In other news
Theodore Dalrymple revisits the murder of Stanley Setty in 1949. Donald Hume killed and dismembered him, then dumped his body into the sea from an airplane. Why?
We know that Hume was a psychopath because of the way he behaved; and he behaved the way he did because he was a psychopath. When we look into his past, we can find many things that might ‘explain’ his development: he was born out of wedlock at a time when stigma attached as much to the offspring as to the parent; he was placed in an orphanage at an early age, where he was maltreated (at least, according to his account), and then returned to his mother, who claimed to be only his aunt. He claimed to have had a large chip on his shoulder. In fact, not all the cards were stacked against him. Hume went to a good school with high academic standards. His maternal uncle was an eminent scientist, a professor of physics and a Fellow of the Royal Society. Hume himself was intelligent and even inventive. He developed an electric toaster, of which he manufactured and sold 50,000 units at a profit; in other words, he could easily and legitimately have become rich by his own laudable efforts. But he preferred to waste his substance on the high life and on shifty or criminal activity.
W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction has recently been reissued by the Library of America in a deluxe edition. Helen Andrews reminds us of the significant problems with it:
Black Reconstruction is not the sort of book any scholar would want as the foundation of a new interpretive school. Du Bois was no historian. He consulted only limited sources and did no original archival research, an omission that “disturbed many scholars, several of whom dyspeptically noted the author’s generous foundation support,” according to his biographer David Levering Lewis. The germ of the project was a dispute Du Bois had with the editors of Encyclopedia Britannica in 1929. They commissioned an entry on black history from him, which he withdrew when they asked him to delete some excessively rosy passages on Reconstruction. Obviously the Britannica editors wanted a racially progressive spin on history, or they would not have gone to Du Bois. But there is a line between creative reinterpretation and outright fantasy, and in their professional opinion, Du Bois had crossed it.
Two artists have been charged with faking Native American heritage to sell works to Seattle galleries: “Lewis Anthony Rath, 52, of Maple Falls, and Jerry Chris Van Dyke, 67, also known as Jerry Witten, of Seattle, have been charged separately with violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which prohibits misrepresentation in marketing American Indian or Alaska Native arts and crafts.”
The Los Angeles Review of Books turns 10:
Tom Lutz, a writer and professor of creative writing at UC Riverside who began his career as a critic, was dismayed by the domino collapse of newspaper book reviews across the nation — robust, separate sections that had introduced him to literary culture back when he was a short-order cook and part-time student in Dubuque, Iowa. “What a shame,” he thought, “that future generations wouldn’t have that kind of access, and that authors wouldn’t have that kind of exposure.” He decided to do something about it; he founded the LARB — a mostly online forum for critics and authors, both established and emerging, to sprawl and build out ideas — and secured funding from Hollywood players ranging from a Disney family member to ‘Mad Men’ creator Matthew Weiner.
Mark Abley praises up-and-coming Canadian publisher Biblioasis for a new series of very short books on “big ideas”: “Biblioasis’s Field Notes series, launched in the fall of 2020, consists of sharply focused works of nonfiction on urgent topics of the day. ‘The idea,’ he explains, ‘was to do short, fast books in as close to real time as possible.’ Traditional pamphleteers would set the type by hand and have it out almost instantaneously.”
Hear, hear for Biblioasis, which, by the way, recently published the second novel of Randy Boyagoda’s very entertaining Original Prin series. But they aren’t the publisher leading the way in this area, at least not in North America. Encounter Books, for one, has been publishing short, polemical books—Broadsides, they call them—for over 12 years now.
The novelist Anne Rice has died. She was 80 years old.
Peter Robinson reviews Ross Douthat’s book on contracting Lyme disease:
Though no definitive evidence of Lyme disease or significant tissue damage is found (they do eventually find a different organism called Bartonella on testing), his treatment escalates until he is self-dosing multiple prescription oral antibiotics along with more exotic treatments ordered online, adjusting these day by day to match the manifestations of his symptoms, while undergoing antibiotic infusions at intervals. Eventually Douthat buys a Rife machine, which reminds him of Scientology’s e-meter, and which promises to use specific electromagnetic frequencies to destroy illnesses (there are special settings for Lyme, another for coronaviruses).
I write in praise of the pleasure of Henry James’s Christmas ghost story over at The Spectator:
If you have a graduate degree in English, I’ll bet you my neglected copy of Jacques Derrida’s Dissemination, you’ve read Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. It’s long been a favorite of critics because we don’t really know what happens in the end — everyone loves a puzzle — but the postmodern critics love it big time. You can superimpose any half-baked theory with impunity because no one will call you on it. In 1995, Wayne Booth wrote that he found more than 500 books or articles on the novella before he got tired of adding them up. It’s easily double that now. That’s not to say it’s a bad story. Quite the opposite. I think it’s one of James’s best. It is also a good example of how James has been misunderstood.