Ozick's new collection of essays from such magazines as The New Republic and The American Scholar thoughtfully explores the delicately calibrated and often adversarial tensions that affect the relation between art and politics.
In her foreword, the author admits to resisting the political, but suggests that in writing on such highly politicized figures as Anne Frank and the Unabomber, she might have "willfully entered the lists of tenet and exigency." While George Orwell may have been right that the claim that "art had nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude," Ozick nevertheless resists those who chide Jane Austen for not criticizing British Imperial policy. Two notable pieces, "Who Owns Anne Frank?" and "Public Intellectuals," provocatively explore these two opposing positions. The first is a quiet but impassioned objection to the way Anne Frank's life (especially in the dramatized version of her diary) has been transformed into a universal message of hope and forgiveness that ignores the reality of evil. In Ozick's opinion, it might have been better if the diary had never been found. In the second, she chides E.M. Forster for making "art for art's sake" the theme of a speech he delivered at a writer's conference in 1941—as war raged in Europe. Two personal essays, "A Drugstore Eden" and "How I Got Fired From My Summer Job," are, respectively, an affectionate recollection of reading in the hammock behind her father's drugstore, and a wryly humorous account of misunderstandings and differing expectations. In other notable essays she compares Dostoevsky, a former radical, with the Unabomber; notes that the movie of Henry James's Portrait of a Lady is inferior to the novel, and again, referring often to James, explores an artist's need to be selfish.
Ozick is perceptive as usual, but these often seem like old war-horses revisiting familiar battlefields.