BBC Culture

Best of the Web

Seven questions about Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

(Alamy)

The week’s best arts and culture reads – from the string quartets of Bartók to the elusive character of Bob Dylan.

Rediscovering Bartók’s Quartets
Philip Kennicott | New Republic | 27 January 2014
“There are moments in Bartók’s String Quartet number 1 when the gloom lifts, when the densely woven musical lines pause for a spot of pure, consonant sunniness. In Beethoven or Brahms these rare and radiant episodes would bring the argument to a conclusion, or summation, before moving on with a new idea. But in Bartók the effect is almost visual. The music has been pierced, like sun through a canopy of trees.”

How do believers choose their beliefs?
John Wilkins | Evolving Thoughts | 28 January 2014
Religious beliefs can be explained as signalling systems for binding communities together. But why choose one belief over another? The reason is: no reason. “There are several properties for a costly signal. One is that it must be arbitrary: it should not be a trait or behaviour that is selectively advantageous, or many different varieties or organisms will trick upon it. So an honest, costly signal is an arbitrary signal.”

Yeezy rising
Tessa Brown | American Reader | 24 January 2014
On the genius of Kanye West. “His reception, as he well knows, is deeply informed by a powerful American history of racialised rhetoric. Since the Jim Crow days of lynching – days that West has explicitly invoked in his art – watching uppity black men suffer and burn has been a central preoccupation of the media-consuming American public. West’s problem, our problem with him, is that, burned again and again, he refuses to stay dead”.

Sam Harris’s museum of mistakes
Daniel Dennett | Naturalism | 24 January 2014
Demolition of philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris’s Free Will. It is “a remarkable little book, engagingly written and jargon-free, appealing to reason, not authority". Now for the bad news: It is also “a veritable museum of mistakes, none of them new and all of them seductive − alluring enough to lull the critical faculties of brilliant thinkers who do not make a profession of thinking about free will.”

Seven questions about Bob Dylan
Tom Junod | Esquire | 23 January 2014
How does Bob Dylan manage to remain the world’s most private public figure – or, perhaps, the world’s most public private figure? Jeff Tweedy explains: “We played with McCartney at Bonnaroo, and the thing about McCartney is that he wants to be loved so much, he has so much energy, he gives and gives and gives, he plays every song you want to hear.” Dylan, he says, doesn’t care for this at all. “And it’s truly inspiring”.

Pinter’s Proust
Christopher Richards | Paris Review | 23 January 2014
The Proust Screenplay, Harold Pinter’s adaptation of À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, was written in the 1970s and never filmed. It was meant to begin with “a wordless sequence of 36 shots”. It might seem hard to imagine two writers further apart in style or posture, but Proust and Pinter shared a fascination with memory. In Pinter’s No Man’s Land and Old Times, “memories become weaponised”. In Proust, they become art.

Fear and loathing of the English passive
Geoffrey Pullum | Edinburgh University | 17 January 2014
George Orwell warned against the passive voice in English. Modern critics often echo him, but with a much shakier knowledge of grammar. This scholarly paper collects "numerous published examples of incompetent criticism in which critics reveal that they cannot tell passives from actives. The evidence demonstrates an extraordinary level of grammatical ignorance among educated English language critics”.

If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.