It isn't the best week for Tony Kushner. Earlier this week he was waylaid CUNY's board of trustees, after a right-wing Israel supporter who sits on the board convinced the school to rescind an honorary degree because of the playwright's criticism of Israel (first, I say with admittedly churlish pride, reported by my Jewish Week colleague, Doug Chandler).
I couldn't help but be saddened by the snippet of art-world news I read today: long-time MoMA photography curator Peter Galassi announced his retirement. He's not exactly old--he's 60--but he's been at the MoMA for more than three decades and has been an tremendous boon for contemporary photography. One of my favorite shows in recent memory, at any New York City museum, and in any medium, was the Jeff Wall retropsecive in 2007. But
Jewish fiction is alive and well in America, and holding up a large pike in the tent is Nathan Englander. The Orthodox day school drop-out, born in 1970 on Long Island, has never made his affinity for Jews a secret: "The Ministry of Special Cases," his 2007 best-seller, focused on Jews who disappeared during Argentina's "dirty war." And his first collection of short stories, "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges" (2000), was riddled with Jewish-themed works.
The thought seems outrageous: that pracifism, a principled objection to America's entrance into World War II, would have saved more Jews than fighting Hitler and defeating Nazism altogether. But that is the argument that Nicolson Baker, the novelist and author of the 2008 pacifist's interpretation of the war, Human Smoke, makes in his month's Harper's. And his case is compelling.
Much like my parents remember the day JFK was shot, I remember the day Tupac died. I grew up a hip-hop fan, and still am, and remember vividly my rapture with the Harlem-born, Los Angeles-based rapper. For me Tupac had all the qualities I still admire in poets, which have now only been transfigured on to more "respectable" literary models: defiance, brashness, charm, a temerity bordering on recklessness. So you can imagine how I felt when he was murdered in Las Vegas back in 1996.
I'm sure Comcast's p.r. people did not mean this to happen: early this week, Comcast, the cable provider sent out a press release that it would give away on its website and to subscribers 10 Holocaust documentaries, free of charge, and selected by Steven Spielberg's USC Shoah Foundation Institute. The press release said the altruistic gesture was meant to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls on May 1. See, corporations aren't so bad, right?
Earlier this week the Israeli-Arab actor and peace activist Juliano Mer Khamis, 52, was shot dead, presumably by Palestinian militants. The New York Times had a moving story about the funeral for Mer Khamis held on Wednesday, reporting that the Israeli government allowed his coffin to be taken briefly to the edge of a West Bank checkpoint. They made the gesture so his Palestinian supporters could pay their respects, as they were not permitted to go to his burial inside Israel.
New York's nightly cultural offerings are the city's greatest attraction, as well as its most despairing. Every night there's something enticing to hear, see or do, but the guilt quickly settles in after you realize most of them you'll miss. Thankfully, there are reviews.