The week’s best art and culture reads – including how silence has become a luxury, whether Jews are cat or dog people and the therapeutic power of cartoons.

Are Jews a dog people or a cat people?
Joshua Schwartz | Tablet | 12 March 2014
Dogs were often “held in contempt” in biblical Israelite society due to their “penchant for dining on blood and carcasses”. But cats ranked even lower. They are “not mentioned at all in the Bible”, perhaps because “Jewish attitudes were functional”, and cats performed no recognised service, whereas dogs could hunt and guard. “There might have been good dogs and bad dogs, but cats at best were merely suffered.”

Bach psychology: Gothic, sublime, or just human?
Michael Markham | LA Review of Books | 10 March 2014
Bach is “the official center of gravity that binds together the musical universe”. John Eliot Gardiner’s recordings are models of “sleekness, clarity, momentum, almost superhuman precision”. But Gardiner’s new book, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, is a “messy concoction of the spiritual and the psychological”. The composer emerges as an “orphaned, death-obsessed, outlaw, non-conformist, sullen misfit.”

Is the LRB the best magazine in the world?
Elizabeth Day | The Observer | 9 March 2014
Far-reaching title, but one with which many readers of the London Review of Books are likely to agree. Mostly an interview with Mary-Kay Wilmers, editor and proprietor, who “regularly siphons in cash from a family trust fund” to keep the loss-making fortnightly going, and has, at 75, no plans to retire: “The editor of the New York Review of Books is 10 years older than me. That’s what I cling to.”

One more time: Repetition in music
Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis | Aeon | 7 March 2014
Repetition is the essence of music. Repetition is “so powerfully linked with musicality that its application can dramatically transform apparently non-musical materials into song”. Repetition “makes a sequence of sounds seem less like an objective presentation of content and more like a kind of tug that’s pulling you along”. Repetition “actually gives rise to the kind of listening that we think of as musical.”     

Reaching my autistic son through Disney
Ron Suskind | NYT magazine | 7 March 2014
An autistic boy learns to speak, read, write and draw by immersing himself in Disney films, identifying with their characters and borrowing their dialogue. It may be that the films, viewed many times over, provide simple, vivid paradigms − “beauty lies within, be true to yourself, love conquers all” − that the autistic mind can appropriate and use as points of reference in an otherwise confusing world. 

Petrenko’s Elgar 5/3/14 review
Neil Atkinson | The Anfield Wrap | 6 March 2014
Football writer reviews classical music concert; with pleasing results. “But the Elgar. Crashing Elgar. What did I hear? Well I definitely heard. I heard a great many aspects at the most spectacular volume, crashing in and out of each other. By Christ it is loud when it wants to be. Across the four movements, it was vigorously wistful if such a thing is possible. It confronted its reality but still wants to strive for more.”         

How silence became a luxury product
Chloe Schama | New Republic | 4 March 2014
Technology has “increased our perceived need for silence and created (or at least improved) the means of attaining it”. From quiet cars on trains, to noise-cancelling headphones, to super-quiet Lexus cars, “there has never been quite so great a premium placed on silence”. We crave quiet as a way “to push back against the gnat-like ticking of technology”. Silence, especially in cities, has become “the ultimate luxury”.           

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