The Week

(Roman Genn)


What do Barry Bonds and a goat have in common? Okay, let’s rephrase that. What do major-league sports have in common with state-fair animal contests? Answer: drug scandals. Last year in Colorado, a sister-and-brother pair of 4-H members had their prize-winning goats disqualified when tests showed the presence of a banned substance that stimulates muscle growth. They were banned from future competition, but now they have had their honor restored (though not their prizes) and can participate in this year’s contest, after making a case that their goats’ feed was adulterated, presumably by a jealous rival. Readers of P. G. Wodehouse’s Lord Emsworth stories know that the world of competitive animal husbandry can be cutthroat, but performance-enhancing drugs are a whole new dimension. Next season on Fox: Goat Wars.

In one of those inexplicable German enthusiasms, like Limburger cheese or the euro, an earless bunny named Til drew overflow crowds to a small zoo in Saxony until a clamor arose for him to make his television debut. That, sadly, led to his Icarian downfall: On the television show’s set, he burrowed into a pile of hay, where a cameraman stepped on him, causing 17-day-old Til to hop off this mortal coil. A shattered nation plunged into mourning — though there has been talk of having the plucky but doomed little bunny stuffed, so he can continue to inspire future generations.

It is often said that Hilton Kramer, who died last month at 84, was best known as an art critic. Yes and no. His long tenure at the New York Times, where he was chief art critic, made him famous, but Hilton always ranged far beyond the visual arts in his writings. He began his career as a literary critic, and at bottom he was best known, and most feared, as a cultural polemicist. His subject might be some grotesquerie in the art world, but it was just as likely to be the latest travesty in academia or elsewhere in the bloody crossroads (to snitch Lionel Trilling’s term) where culture and politics meet. By the late 1970s, Hilton had long been restless at the Times. He rankled at the confines of daily journalism — not everything, he used to say, could be adequately discussed in 800 to 1,000 words. But he was also disgusted by the demotic imperatives of pop culture and political correctness that were beginning to make inroads at the Times. In 1982, he left to start The New Criterion with the pianist and music critic Samuel Lipman. It was a bold experiment: a journal of high culture that was at once conservative in its politics and devoted to the aesthetic principles of high modernism. Many people thought he was crazy, but he never looked back. And it was an immense satisfaction to him to see that The New Criterion, like T. S. Eliot’s magazine, The Criterion, exerted an influence far beyond its numbers. R.I.P.

April 16, 2012    |     Volume LXIV, No. 7

Books, Arts & Manners
The Long View  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Athwart  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Poetry  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Happy Warrior  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .