The week’s best arts and culture reads – including critics’ picks for best film noirs, how to write about the north of England and a portrait of Lucian Freud.

Elements Of Eloquence
Christopher Howse | Spectator | 30 November 2013
Review of a new book on English style that champions rhetorical elegance over plain words. “The shiniest piece of information I picked up is that, in English, adjectives go in this order: Opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose-noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac.” (Metered Paywall)         

Battlefield Morality
Paul Vallely | 30 November 2013
“You have only three seconds to decide what to say. An angry soldier in front of you is about to shoot an unarmed prisoner. What words can you use to stay his itchy trigger finger?” The optimal answer to this question, according to a military ethicist, is: “Marines don’t do that”. You appeal to the soldier’s deepest loyalty, which is not to any code of rules, nor even to his country, but to his fellow soldiers.  

Don’t Bowdlerize Balthus
Jed Perl | The New Republic | 29 November 2013
Balthus was “the last of the mystics who transformed twentieth-century art”, along with Matisse, Picasso, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Bonnard. But the Met’s exhibition, Balthus: Cats and Girls: Paintings and Provocations, is “extraordinarily frustrating”, because it takes such a narrow view of his work. “Who would imagine, knowing Balthus only from this show, that he was one of the greatest landscape painters of modern times?”

Top Ten Films Noirs Of All Time
David Thomson et al | Guardian | 29 November 2013
The Big Sleep leads the list. “The narrative’s defiance of our comprehension is part of the film’s sensational effect and its remarkable longevity: scenes, characters, moments and quotable lines float up out of the mesmerising stew and into your consciousness like fragments of a dream. The noir fused pulp detective fiction with the enigmatic form of German expressionism and The Big Sleep is an almost surrealist refinement of the noir genre.” 

Boswell’s Life Of Dissipation
Saintsbury | Standpoint | 28 November 2013
Feel better about your drinking habits by comparing them with those of Johnson’s biographer, who kept a record of the guests he entertained at his house in Scotland and what they drank. Sample: “On October 13, 1783 there were three men at dinner at Auchinleck, and between them they polished off three bottles of claret, two bottles of port, two bottles of Lisbon, three bottles of Mountain [a Spanish dessert wine] and one bottle of rum.”

How To Write About The North
Stuart Maconie | New Statesman | 27 November 2013
A variant, for Brits, of Binyavanga Wainaina’s Granta essay, How to Write About Africa. “Mention any traffic problems on your journey, or any particularly awful baguette you were offered on the train. If your piece is generally favourable, mention any hills or cows you glimpse from first class and even risk a bit of poetry about pylons or cooling towers. If not, do note the first swear word you hear, particularly from a hoodie.”

A Portrait Of Lucian Freud
Julian Barnes | London Review Of Books | 26 November 2013
Essay based on two books: Man with a Blue Scarf by Martin Gayford, and Breakfast with Lucian by Geordie Greig. “There is the male gaze in art; and then, beyond that, there is the Freudian gaze. His pictures of naked women are not in the least pornographic; nor are they even erotic. It would be a very disturbed schoolboy who successfully masturbated to a book of Freud nudes. They make Courbet’s Origin of the World look suave.”

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