Fugitive essays that touch on the sublime beauty of the world—and its naked weirdness, and the strangeness and murderousness of humans, and other such tropes.
“The world as it is is overdetermined: the web of all those interrelationships is dense to the point of saturation.” So writes Weschler (Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, 1995, etc.), who thrives on tracing unlikely linkages among disparate persons and things without, blessedly, resorting to postmodern barbarisms in order to make his points. Thus, for instance, Weschler ponders the nature of art as it emerges in the masterworks of Jan Vermeer, born in a time of savage warfare across northern Europe (“at a tremendously turbulent juncture in the history of his continent, he had been finding—and, yes, inventing—a zone filled with peace, a small room, an intimate vision”), and then, by a bit of rhetorical magic, joins that happy vision to the hungers of memory that fueled the slaughter in the former Yugoslavia. He considers the elective affinities that turn up as leitmotif in the lives of the Polish exile Roman Polanski (Weschler’s profile of whom may well be the best in the large literature devoted to the filmmaker and international outlaw), the propagandist Jerzy Urban (“short, squat, porcine, with ludicrously oversized, radar-dish ears”), the child of Holocaust survivors Art Spiegelman (whose odd battles with the filmmaker Steven Spielberg make for yet another surprising twist). He touches on the photographic collages of David Hockney, the Jewishness of Star Trek’s Spock, the musical compositions of his grandfather, and the experience of living through the Northridge earthquake of 1994. The pieces don’t add up to anything approaching a coherent whole (things postmodern seldom do), and themes come and go, but Weschler’s indefatigable literariness and pleasantly unpretentious style help make these fugitive pieces a pleasure to read.
A welcome addition to Weschler’s body of work.