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When Lenin played the Theremin

Grpahic image shows Vladimir Lenin

(Copyright: Rex Features)

The week’s best arts and culture reads – including the time Russia’s leader tried a hand at music, and critics’ views of JM Coetzee, FR Leavis and Karl Kraus.

Armitage in America: Anchoring the kite
Jeffrey Kindley | LA Review of Books  | 17 September 2013
"The British poet Simon Armitage is the best poet you probably don’t know, arguably the best poet writing in English. He’s the heir and equal of Auden and Larkin, of Frost and Hopkins. He’s also much funnier than any of them. Lovers of Whitman, unite and march to the bookstore and buy this man’s books.”

That time Lenin played the Theremin
Christopher Heaney | Appendix | 16 September 2013
When Leon Theremin demonstrated his Theremin electronic instrument to Lenin, the Soviet leader took to it enthusiastically: "He had a very good ear, and he felt where to move his hands to get the sound. He completed the whole thing independently, by himself, with great success and with great applause following. He was very happy that he could play on this instrument all by himself.”

When a Nobel winner gets really weird
Jason Farago | New Republic | 14 September 2013
Review of JM Coetzee's latest novel, The Childhood of Jesus. "The book doesn’t abandon the philosophical engagement of his other Australian novels. Far from it. The didacticism of those books, however, has given way to something far more engrossing and narrative-driven; by its end, The Childhood of Jesus becomes almost a page-turner. It’s his best book since Disgrace, although maybe the most perplexing novel he’s ever published–which is saying a lot."

Karl Kraus and the modern world
Jonathan Franzen | Guardian | 13 September 2013
In praise of the early-20th-Century Viennese satirist Karl Kraus. “To Kraus, the supposed cultural charm of Vienna amounted to a tissue of hypocrisies stretched over soon-to-be-catastrophic contradictions, which he was bent on unmasking with his satire. Our situation looks quite a bit like Vienna’s in 1910, except that newspaper technology has been replaced by digital technology and Viennese charm by American coolness.”

As if life depended on it
John Mullan | London Review of Books | 12 September 2013
On the life and legacy of FR Leavis, literary critic. "Leavis reshaped ideas about the value of reading so completely that we do not notice it. He taught that every encounter with the greatest literature is completely fresh and demanding. He taught that great literature is a test of the reader, endlessly renewable, and in this he seems both influential still and right"

Time tourism
Charlie Stross | Charlie's Diary | 11 September 2013
Why are women so rarely the protagonists of time-travel stories?   Because "the time travel story is a tale of tourism in the classical sense: an activity of the privileged, making spectacle of the past. Women make poor time travellers because in the foreign countries of the past they lack the agency conferred by privilege. There are time travel novels about women that tackle this problem head-on, but they tend to make for grim reading."

Learning Judaism as a native language
Mark Oppenheimer | Tablet | 11 September 2013
“For most of the Jewish world, Judaism the religion is now a learned practice. Most of us can never practice Judaism in the easy, unearned way that, say, I can celebrate the rituals of being American: the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving. So, if Judaism is no longer a native language for many Jews, what is it? I believe that Judaism is best thought of now as an art, or maybe a sport. Put in even simpler terms, it’s like playing guitar, or playing tennis.” 

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