Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
What I love about this bit by Dave Eggers is that it’s not just a potshot at the cultural ignorance of president who, god knows, deserves any potshots that land. Nope: It’s a thoughtful piece that deftly connects Donald Trump’s rejection of the arts to the authoritarian underpinnings of his philosophy. As Eggers notes, no president on either side of the aisle has carried this level of hostility toward intellectual and creative pursuits. This isn’t about political party, it’s about the icy dead space in the soul of an obscenely, mistakenly powerful man.
The White House is now virtually free of music. Never have we had a president not just indifferent to the arts, but actively oppositional to artists. Mr. Trump disparaged the play “Hamilton” and a few weeks later attacked Meryl Streep. He has said he does not have time to read books (“I read passages, I read areas, I read chapters”). Outside of recommending books by his acolytes, Mr. Trump has tweeted about only one work of literature since the beginning of his presidency: Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury.” It was not an endorsement.
Freya Johnston reviews, with great historical intelligence, Keith Thomas’s recently published The Pursuit of Civility. As well as an interesting tour of how politeness has evolved through centuries, her essay is a reflection on how manners are a language: an exchange, defined for a particular purpose by particular people, usually those with privilege to burn, and usually received by those without.
Courtesy, and the insistence on it, can be used to subjugate. By the same token, refusing a seat at one’s restaurant to someone whose political views are not just disagreeable but reprehensible may be rude — but the breach may also be a statement of humanity.
One theory of civility will tell you that it is all about acknowledging the separate existence, property, privacy and right to respect of another person. But another prevalent and persuasive theory of civility will insist that such codes of behaviour are all about subjugation: they are visited on people who must be brought to order rather than treated as equals. Thomas quotes the antiquarian Edmund Bolton (born around 1575), who announced that it was “no infelicity to the barbarous” to be “subdued by the more polite and noble”; after all, to possess “wild freedom” meant nothing compared with the gifts from above of “liberal arts and honourable manners.” It isn’t hard to imagine what the wild and free response to that might sound like.
Abigail Koffler’s profile of food writer Mayukh Sen, who just won a James Beard award for his own profile of soul food sensation Princess Pamela, is a delightful rabbithole of links. It’s also an interesting look at how even food writing has been politicized since 2016 — which honestly seems much needed when I look back at how many headlines after Calvin Trillin’s awful New Yorker blunder used phrases like “unpalatable for some.” “Some”? Time for some new voices to have their say.
The stories Sen wrote often hinge on experiences that set him apart from the rest of the staff. During a holiday brainstorm at Food52, an essay about fruitcake was floated, with the assumption that “fruitcake sucks.” Unlike the rest of the staff, Sen likes fruitcake. His dad grew up eating it in Calcutta, India and it’s part of the holidays. The dessert is a double edged sword: he’s also been called a fruitcake, a slur against gay people. His essay on the topic explored the usage of fruitcake as a pejorative and the popularity of fruitcake in India. Similarly, an essay about the queer history of kombucha shared the hidden story of a beverage now soaring in popularity.