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Why do you make me do it?

David Bromwich: Robert Ryan, 18 February 2016

... Angry men​ and furious machines.’ No verb, no explanation – it is the first line of ‘Dutch Graves in Bucks County’, a poem that Wallace Stevens published in 1943. The image may have come from a march-of-time documentary of Americans training to fight in the Second World War. Probably the machines included tanks and a lorry convoy, possibly a squadron of fighter planes ...

Diary

David Bromwich: Putin to the Rescue, 26 September 2013

... The anti-government insurgency in Syria was given an intoxicating vision of triumph by the words President Obama spoke in August 2011 that were translated, correctly, into the headline ‘Assad must go.’ He had earlier conveyed similar messages: ‘Mubarak must go’ and ‘Gaddafi must go.’ Obama may have entertained the idea that he was playing a benign role in the Arab Spring – showing himself ‘on the right side of history’, as he likes to say ...

Shoe-Contemplative

David Bromwich: Hazlitt, 18 June 1998

The Day-Star of Liberty: William Hazlitt’s Radical Style 
by Tom Paulin.
Faber, 382 pp., £22.50, June 1998, 0 571 17421 3
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... and how he keeps coming back. T.S. Eliot said he was guilty of ‘crimes against taste’. David Lodge made him a twee subject of nostalgic research for the English hero of Small World, Philip Swallow, hopelessly outgunned by the vulgar but irresistible American, Morris Zapp. Lodge had got his significant detail wrong – Swallow should be a scholar of ...

Self-Deceptions of Empire

David Bromwich: Reinhold Niebuhr, 23 October 2008

The Irony of American History 
by Reinhold Niebuhr.
Chicago, 174 pp., £8.50, June 2008, 978 0 226 58398 3
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... tend to be more immoral than individuals.’ For King himself, according to his biographer David Garrow, Moral Man and Immoral Society was an early and crucial influence. It turned him away from the social-gospel Christianity which looked on war as a unique enemy of progress; Niebuhr, by contrast, taught that war was only one manifestation of that ...

Diary

David Bromwich: The Establishment President, 13 May 2010

... marched behind not only the vice president but a statement by the most famous American general, David Petraeus, in testimony before Congress. Petraeus said that the unsolved question of Palestine was the largest ‘root’ danger to American security at home and abroad. For this resistance to Netanyahu, President Obama has been assailed in an open letter by ...

Obama’s Delusion

David Bromwich: The Presidential Letdown, 22 October 2009

... can hit hard with words when the president wishes not to be seen to strike. Obama’s confidant David Axelrod, who managed his campaign and is often summoned to speak to the press on his behalf, emits a pleasant porridge of upper-media demotic. Another close adviser, Valerie Jarrett, a Chicago friend, is a technocrat to the bone, genially officious but ...

House-Cleaning

David Bromwich: I met a Republican, 7 March 2019

... testimony showed, was a third. An excellent investigative report in the New York Times by David Barstow, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner took us back to the origins of Trump’s business ethic: he followed his father in sailing close to the wind, and in learning how to hide evidence under one shell or another. It began with New York housing, in rental ...

Act One, Scene One

David Bromwich: Don’t Resist, Oppose, 16 February 2017

... with truth in the physical world. So when, in an interview on 25 January, the ABC reporter David Muir inquired into his unsubstantiated belief that between three and five million people voted illegally, accounting for Hillary Clinton’s popular majority, Trump replied: ‘You know what’s important? Millions of people agree with me when I say ...

My son has been poisoned!

David Bromwich: Cold War movies, 26 January 2012

An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War 
by J. Hoberman.
New Press, 383 pp., £21.99, March 2011, 978 1 59558 005 4
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... the Communist Party as a career move: ‘You will meet big people.’ By the end of that year, David Platt, the Daily Worker’s movie reviewer (a witness frequently summoned by Hoberman for counterpoint), announced that ‘never before in the history of the screen have there been so many forward-looking people in positions of responsibility as in ...

The World’s Most Important Spectator

David Bromwich: Obama’s World, 3 July 2014

... in some way by Rand. On 21 May he delivered an extraordinary speech against the nomination of David Barron to the federal appeals court; and he did so on the grounds that Barron, author of the secret document rationalising the president’s drone assassination of Americans, manifestly held beliefs about executive power that were in themselves ...

The Age of Detesting Trump

David Bromwich, 13 July 2017

... an enormous zero-shaped pattern entitled ‘Trump’s Lies’, under the byline of two reporters, David Leonhardt and Stuart A. Thompson. The dates of more than a hundred ‘lies’ were printed in boldface, the text of the lie in quotation marks and the correction in parenthesis. Most of the lies, however, were what anyone would call opportunistic ...

Rat Poison

David Bromwich, 17 October 1996

Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life 
by Martha Nussbaum.
Beacon, 143 pp., $20, February 1996, 0 8070 4108 4
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... Martha Nussbaum is a classical scholar and moral philosopher who in several books and a great many essays has advanced a thesis about the cognitive power of emotions. Feeling, she says, is part of thought. Only accidents of usage and the rationalist prepossessions of modern philosophy could have made us think otherwise. Her evidence covers a wide range, from Plato and Aristotle to Proust and Henry James, and though she takes a critical interest in thinkers, mostly of the Stoic tradition, who have promoted the rival virtues of self-sufficiency, she writes to call attention to those who preach and practise sympathy ...
Still the New World: American Literature in a Culture of Creative Destruction 
by Philip Fisher.
Harvard, 290 pp., £18.50, May 1999, 0 674 83859 9
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... After a decade or more dominated by special studies of anonymous or bestselling authors now suitable for academic recovery, Philip Fisher’s Still the New World marks a return in some ways to an older and less suspicious idea of ‘classic American literature’. Fisher is a critic who has written extensively on realist prose and painting, and his new book is a commentary on Emerson, Whitman, Melville, James and Twain, among others, with significant asides on Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer ...

What We Have

David Bromwich: Tarantinisation, 4 February 1999

The Origins of Postmodernity 
by Perry Anderson.
Verso, 143 pp., £11, September 1998, 1 85984 222 4
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The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-98 
by Fredric Jameson.
Verso, 206 pp., £11, September 1998, 1 85984 182 1
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... Post-Modernism entered the public mind as a fast-value currency in the late Seventies and early Eighties, in the field of architecture, where its association with gimmicky tropes of visual play (the logo-in-the-sky of the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, the phonejack-in-the-sky of the AT–T Building in New York) gave plausibility to the promotional prose ...

Between the Raindrops

David Bromwich: The Subtlety of James Stewart, 12 December 2002

James Stewart at the NFT 
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... People always liked Jimmy Stewart and were amazed by his good luck. In the late 1930s, he worked under contract for the studio moguls at MGM. Almost alone in the industry, he later professed to have pleasant memories of the experience. He had affairs with many of his leading ladies, including Ginger Rogers and Marlene Dietrich, as well as Norma Shearer, Olivia de Havilland and others, with no hard feelings on either side except in the case of Dietrich ...

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