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Death: The last taboo?

(Thinkstock)

(Thinkstock)

The week’s best arts and culture reads – exploring the rituals surrounding death and burial, a new biography of Leonard Cohen and Pussy Riot in translation.

Pussy Riot in translation
Sophie Pinkham | Dissent | 13 August 2014
Review of Masha Gessen’s book, Words Will Break Cement, discussing Pussy Riot’s place in the traditions of Russian protest, “For all their popularity in the international media, Pussy Riot attracted relatively little sympathy in Russia; in fact, by making it seem that the political opposition is full of anarchist feminist blasphemers, Pussy Riot may have done Putin a favour, strengthening his support from his conservative core constituency.”          

Obituary: Lauren Bacall
Veronica Horwell | Guardian | 13 August 2014
Born Bette Perske, “a nice Jewish girl”, in New York. Spotted by Diana Vreeland, who put her on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar; where her face caught the eye of Nancy “Slim” Hawks, wife of film director Howard Hawks; who shipped her out to Hollywood and matched her with Humphrey Bogart for her first film, at 19, To Have and Have Not. “It was a hell of a way for a girl to sashay into movies.”

Tower of song
Rhett Miller | Bookforum | 12 August 2014
Review of Broken Hallelujah by Liel Leibovitz, a biography of Leonard Cohen, already established as a poet and novelist when took up songwriting in 1966, at the age of 32, inspired by Bob Dylan. He enjoyed only a cult success until “the culture caught up with him” in the late 1980s; “the former outcast poet was celebrated as a hero”. Old age, says Leibovitz, has conferred on Cohen the status of a “prophet”.          

Tolstoy in English
Rosamund Bartlett | Financial Times | 8 August 2014
Tolstoy’s reputation as a novelist in the English-speaking world owed much to Constance Garnett, whose translation of Anna Karenina appeared in 1901, and of War and Peace in 1904. Earlier translations had made little impression; Tolstoy’s language was often intractable, the quantity of his writing overwhelming. Turgenev was much easier to render; until Garnett, Turgenev was considered the superior writer.

A Brahms revelation happened last night
Richard Brody | New Yorker | 8 August 2014
Write-up of an orchestral concert which succeeds thrillingly in bringing the music to life: “Vogt slammed the keyboard like a man possessed, capturing the nearly demonic element of Brahms’s inner world – a Lisztian wildness without the cackle. Passages of powerful abandon never lost their rocking rhythmic snap, and lyrical passages maintained a firm intellectual command of Brahms’s compositional filigree.”

Dead can dance
Hannah Black | New Inquiry | 7 August 2014
Interview with historian Thomas Laqueur about his research into rituals surrounding death and burial. “Caring for the dead is like the incest taboo: It’s this moment, in which we move from nature into culture. We care for the dead for all sorts of reasons, and each culture has made up many different reasons why it’s important. The ultimate fact is that we care for the dead, and then we make up a bunch of reasons to justify that.”          

Shakespeare in the bush
Laura Bohannan | Natural History | 1 August 1966
Archive classic. American anthropologist, doing fieldwork among the Tiv in West Africa, is cut off by rain in a small village with only a copy of Hamlet for entertainment. She discusses it with her hosts, and finds them well-equipped to understand it and critique it. “If your father’s brother has killed your father, you must appeal to your father’s age mates: they may avenge him. No man may use violence against his senior relatives.”          

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