Category: The Arts

The cultural life extension query

Rebecca Makkai asks:

You have the power to grant fifty more productive years to an artist of any discipline (writer, musician, painter, etc.) who died too young. Who do you pick?

My answer was Schubert, and here is why:

1. Schubert was just starting to peak, but we already have a significant amount of top-tier Mozart.  And I take Mozart to be the number one contender for the designation.  Schubert composed nine symphonies, and number seven still wasn’t that great.  Some people think number eight was unfinished.  Number nine is incredible.  Furthermore, I believe the nature of his genius would have aged well with the man.

2. John Keats is a reasonable contender, but perhaps his extant peak output is sufficient to capture the nature of his genius?

3. After the 1982-1984 period, there was decline in the quality of Basquiat’s output.  His was the genius of a young man, and drugs would have interfered with his further achievement in any case.

4. Buddy Holly had already peaked, and he didn’t quite have the skills or ambition to have morphed into something significantly more.  No one from popular music in that time period did.

5. Frank Ramsey is a reasonable choice, but I am more excited about Schubert.  We still would have ended up with the same neoclassical economics.

6. Perhaps Kurt Cobain’s genius was that of a young man as well?  Nonetheless he is in my top ten, if only for curiosity reasons.  Hank Williams and Hendrix are competitors too.

7. Carel Fabritius anyone?

Who else?  Caravaggio?  Egon Schiele?  Eva Hesse?  I feel they all have styles that would have aged well, unlike say with Jim Morrison.  Seurat?  Thomas Chatterton I can pass on, maybe Stephen Crane or Sylvia Plath from the side of the writers?

My Conversation with Andrew Sullivan

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is part of the overview:

Andrew joined Tyler to discuss the role of the AIDs epidemic in achieving marriage equality, the difficulty of devoutness in everyday life, why public intellectuals often lack courage, how being a gay man helps him access perspectives he otherwise wouldn’t, how drugs influence his ideas, the reasons why he’s a passionate defender of SATs and IQ tests, what Niall Ferguson and Boris Johnson were like as fellow undergraduates, what Americans get wrong about British politics, why so few people share his admiration for Margaret Thatcher, why Bowie was so special, why Airplane! is his favorite movie, what Oakeshottian conservatism offers us today, whether wokeism has a positive influence globally, why he someday hopes to glower at the sea from in the west of Ireland, and more.

And here is one excerpt:

SULLIVAN: Well, and so you get used to real conversations about people, and you don’t mistake credentials for intelligence. You realize that people outside of the system may be more perceptive about what’s going wrong with it than people buried within it. I honestly find life more interesting the more variety of people you get to know and meet. And that means from all sorts of different ways of life.

The good thing about being gay, I will tell you, is that that happens more often than if you’re straight — because it’s a great equalizer. You are more likely to come across someone who really is from a totally different socioeconomic group than you are through sexual and romantic attraction, and indeed the existence of this subterranean world that is taken from every other particular class and structure, than you would if you just grew up in a straight world where you didn’t have to question these things and where your social life was bound up with your work or with your professional peers.

The idea for me of dating someone in my office would be absolutely bizarre, for example. I can’t believe all these straight people that just look around them and say, “Oh, let’s get married.” Whereas gay people have this immense social system that can throw up anybody from any way of life into your social circle.

Interesting throughout.  And again, here is Andrew’s new book Out on a Limb: Selected Writing, 1989-2021.

“My favorite things Hungary” — my revisionist take

Way back in 2011, when I was visiting Hungary, I did a post in typical MR style: My Favorite Things Hungary.  I had no particular political point in mind, and indeed the current disputes over Hungary did not quite exist back then.  Nonetheless, if you survey the list, just about every one of my favorites listed ended up leaving Hungary.  The one exception, as far as I can tell, is film director Béla Tarr, but he is a critic of both nationalism and Orban.

All the rest left Hungary.

And while I cannot give you exact numbers, a large number of them were Jews or half-Jewish, hardly examples of Christian nationalism.

You should note that Hungary has a longstanding tradition of flirting with fascism and indeed going beyond mere flirting, for instance as exemplified by the Horthy government of the interwar years.

Once you get past all the polemics and name calling (not to mention the reality), here is the lesson I draw from the current debate over how parts of the Right are embracing Hungary.  It is genuinely the case that liberal societies often draw upon less liberal societies for a good deal of their cultural vitality, most notably the United States recruiting various creators from Central Europe — including Hungary — during the 20th century.  (Or the blues drawing some of its depth from the history of slavery.)  That point should be appreciated, even though we all should recognize it is not worth Hungary’s history, including its feudal and conquered past, for being able to say your country produced Bartok and Solti.

The current Hungary, sadly, has nothing remotely like the Hungarian cultural blossoming that ran from Liszt through Ligeti.  Instead it is giving us an empty huff and puff of rhetoric, “owning the Libs,” having “the right enemies,” gender role polemics, and so on.  It is not producing great buildings like the Budapest of times past, and it is not developing a significant Christian tradition of the sort that might have marked the 19th century Hungarian Church (however you might feel about that, I can tell you it is not my thing, though I can appreciate the liberal elements in it).

These days we have a U.S. television show host visiting Hungary and serving up thin polemics which are then debated on Twitter.  There is only a thin veneer of culture behind the whole thing, and a lot of unearned borrowing against earlier Hungarian creative traditions.

Don’t fall for it.  If you wish to respect Hungarian culture, listen to Bartok’s “Out of Doors” [Im Freien], or Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes.  What is there now is the straggling remnant of a cultural destruction led by both fascists and communists.  Current commentators can spin the current situation all they want, but it hasn’t worked out for the better, and Hungary is lucky to be in the EU at all.

Even American cultural borrowing from Central European traditions peaked some time ago.  George Szell brought Beethoven to the Cleveland Orchestra in 1946, and it was adored and financially supported by conservative Midwestern businessmen, as it should have been.  Szell passed away in 1970.  Ligeti himself stretches improbably late into Hungary’s cultural golden run.

If you think the current right-wing Hungary fandom is going to restore or revitalize either Hungarian or American culture, there is a bridge I would like to sell you, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge in fact…

What should I ask David Salle?

Yes, the famous painter, I am slated to do a Conversation with him.  Here is the beginning of his Wikipedia page:

David Salle (born September 28, 1952; last name pronounced “Sally”) is a Pictures Generation American painter, printmaker, photographer, and stage designer. Salle was born in Norman, Oklahoma, and lives and works in East Hampton, New York. He earned a BFA and MFA from the California Institute of the ArtsValencia, California, where he studied with John Baldessari. Salle’s work first came to public attention in New York in the early 1980s.

And he has written the well-known and excellent book How to See.  He directed the Hollywood movie Search and Destroy, starring Christopher Walken.  So what should I ask him?

What makes an interview podcast good or great?

A few people have asked me lately what makes for a good podcast.  Since my podcast is far from the most popular, and since most podcasts are not like mine, and do not (and should not) try to be like mine, perhaps I am not the right respondent.  Nonetheless I offered a simple formula:

A podcast really works when it is the dramatic unfolding of a story and mood between the guest and host.

Or expressed in other words:

What makes for a good podcast is the dramatic tension between the guest and host.

If you think of Russ Roberts at EconTalk, often “the story line” is something like “I am a Mensch and you are a Mensch, and we are going to talk this through together.”  In earlier times, it had more elements of “you are going to put forward some mainstream points, and I am going to push back with market-oriented economics.”

Many of the most famous podcasts are variants of: “We will pretend to be talking about something, but in fact we will exploring new visions of masculinity for a Woke and post-Woke world.”

The visual images and home pages associated with those podcasts are often so…manly.  The T-shirts!  The muscles!  It is also why those podcasts fail so badly at having significant numbers of interesting female guests, addressed on their own terms.

Many episodes of Conversations of Tyler are “I’m going to try to show people just how smart you are, but it will end up a wilder and more precarious ride than you might have thought.”  Occasionally a guest flunks the test (though they might still be smart).  Alternately, the podcast with Daniel Carpenter was the first episode of “Tyler gets upset at a guest, they really have at it!”

I called my podcast with David Deutsch “weird and testy” — that too is dramatic tension.  One listener tweeted: “Tyler’s delight at having a guest who doesn’t hedge or mealymouth is palpable.”  Few tweeted about the substance of the disagreements.

One woman wrote about it: “Without understanding everything he said, I find myself mentally stimulated & spiritually inspired. Such a purist, an idealist, a truth-seeker w/ religious zeal. Not religious myself, I could see myself eventually submit to his religion”

She meant Deutsch.

Some listeners enjoy how the guests are surprised and delighted by the questions.  With Alexander the Grate — the homeless guy — the question was how he would perform at all.  I thought he was excellent and very interesting, but there was real suspense leading up to that point.  “And will Tyler question him just like he does everyone else?”

Get the picture?  I’m not saying these listeners are indifferent to the content, rather they filter it through the unfolding story about the dialogical interaction.  I don’t know of any successful podcasts that violate this principle.

One reader wrote to me:

…some very few podcasts are high level professionals in the same field, with a lot of respect for one another, exploring the space and enjoying each other’s company, especially when effectively “meeting for the first time.” I feel like this is maybe on the order of 1-5% of podcasts I hear. Most podcasts I listen to are “just” very high quality interviews

My podcasts with Lex Fridman or Tim Ferriss would be examples of that, and there are plenty more out there without yours truly.

So, to use Hansonian rhetoric, “Podcasting isn’t about the podcast!”  If you are seeking to understanding a podcast, including your own, start by asking what the basic story line is.  Where the dramatic tension lies.  Do you have enough dramatic tension in what you are doing?  What is the actual reason why you are not attracting more quality guests of a particular kind?

I am not claiming comparable expertise, but to return to my own endeavors, they are most influenced by: Monty Python’s Flying Circus (especially the interview segments, which maintain remarkable dramatic tension), Seinfeld (wonderful ensemble work), Curb Your Enthusiasm (for how long can you keep people on edge?), and the TNT halftime show with Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, etc. (what makes for a dramatic or memorable interjection?).  I doubt those are the right sources for your podcast, but perhaps you should look far and wide as well, rather than just listening to other podcasts.  Howard Stern is perhaps another useful source?

If they had had another season of Seinfeld, would Jerry have to have started (again) dating Elaine?  The dramatic stories in a podcast also need to change and evolve over time, and perhaps I will return to that topic in the future.

The manga culture that is French fiscal policy

When the French government launched a smartphone app that gives 300 euros to every 18-year-old in the country for cultural purchases like books and music, or exhibition and performance tickets, most young people’s impulse wasn’t to buy Proust’s greatest works or to line up and see Molière.

Instead, France’s teenagers flocked to manga.

“It’s a really good initiative,” said Juliette Sega, who lives in a small town in southeastern France and has used €40 (about $47) to buy Japanese comic books and “The Maze Runner,” a dystopian novel. “I’m a steady consumer of novels and manga, and it helps pay for them.”

As of this month, books represented over 75 percent of all purchases made through the app since it was introduced nationwide in May — and roughly two-thirds of those books were manga, according to the organization that runs the app, called the Culture Pass.

Here is more from the NYT.

My excellent Conversation with Niall Ferguson

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is part of the CWT summary:

Niall joined Tyler to discuss the difference between English and Scottish pessimism, his surprise encounter with Sean Connery, what James Bond and Doctor Who have in common, how religion fosters the cultural imagination to produce doomsday scenarios, which side of the Glorious Revolution he would have been on, the extraordinary historical trajectory of Scotland from the 17th century through the 18th century, why historians seem to have an excessive occupation with leadership, what he learned from R.G. Collingwood and A.J.P. Taylor, why American bands could never quite get punk music right, Tocqueville’s insights on liberalism, the unfortunate iconoclasm of John Maynard Keynes, the dystopian novel he finds most plausible, what he learned about right and left populism on his latest trip to Latin America, the importance of intellectual succession and building institutions, what he’ll do next, and more.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: If you had been alive at the time and the Glorious Revolution were going on, which side would you have been rooting for and why? Speaking of counterfactuals.

FERGUSON: I think everybody should ask themselves that question each morning. Whig or Tory? Are you a Jacobite?

COWEN: Do you want Dutch people coming over to run your country? That’s another part of it, right? I would have been quite worried. Nothing against Dutch people, but you might think, “Well, they don’t have a stable ruling coalition, so they’re going to be all the more tyrannical.”

FERGUSON: Yes. I wrote about the Dutch takeover in Empire. It’s bizarre that the British Isles just get taken over by a Dutch monarch at the behest of a faction mainly motivated by religious prejudice and hostility to Roman Catholicism. At the time, I would have been a Whig on religious grounds. I’m from the ardently Protestant Lowlands of Scotland. I’m like all people from that part of the world, drawn to the romanticism of the Jacobites but also repelled by what it would have been like in practice.

If you want to understand all this, by the way, you have to read Walter Scott, which I hadn’t done for years and years. I’d never really read Scott because I was told he was boring. Then during the pandemic, I started reading the Waverley novels, and it’s all there: all the fundamental dilemmas that were raised, not just by the Glorious Revolution, but prior to that by the Civil War of the 17th century, and that were raised again in the 1745 Jacobite rising.

Scott’s brilliant at explaining something that I don’t think is properly understood, and that is that Scotland had the most extraordinary historical trajectory. It went from being Afghanistan in the 17th century — it was basically Afghanistan. You had violent warring clans in the north, in the mountainous parts of the country, and a theocracy of extreme Calvinist zealots in the Lowlands. This was a deeply dysfunctional, very violent place with much higher levels of homicide than England. Really, it was a barbaric place.

And something very strange happened. That was that in the course of — beginning really from the late 17th century — in the course of the 18th century, Scotland became the most dynamic tiger economy in the world. Also, it became the cradle of the enlightenment, had really all the best ideas of Western civilization, all at once in a really short space of time with a really small number of people, all sitting around in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

I still don’t think a book has been written that properly explains that. You certainly wouldn’t have put a bet on Scotland behaving that way by the late 18th century, if all you knew about it was Scotland in the mid-17th century. If you look at it that way, then you kind of have to be a Whig. You have to recognize that the institutions that came from England, including the Dutch institutions that were imported in the Glorious Revolution, really helped Scotland get out of its Afghan predicament.

Recommended, interesting throughout.  And again, here is Niall’s new book Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe.

Claims about the art world (and other things)

Unsurprisingly, [Marc] Spiegler rejects the notion that an increased digital presence could undermine the necessity for the art world to fly to [Basel] Switzerland. “Having content available ahead of time builds momentum and increases, rather than diminishes, people’s desire to come.”

Comparing the fair to a music concert, Spiegler says: “The more live sets a DJ has online, the better attended their shows are. It hypes people up. The fairs are fun, people like seeing each other, they’re not going to stop wanting that.” Indeed for many, Art Basel 2021 will mark the welcome return to a once packed social calendar on the art world circuit, filled with invaluable in-person exchanges. Here’s hoping for a rager.

That is from Kabir Jhala at The Art Newspaper.  It does seem the Basel Art Fair will be held in person this September.

*The Art Newspaper*

One complaint I have about the current “Woke” debates is that they don’t consider how diverse the intellectual playing field is.  You can learn a good deal from studying the interstices of dialogue that don’t fit into the common boxes of either pro-Woke or anti-Woke.

Along the way, I am happy to recommend The Art Newspaper (NB: non-subscribers can click through three articles a month) as an excellent periodical, both the paper and on-line editions.  It is considered the “journal of record for the international art world.”

To put it bluntly, the art world is torn.  In terms of demographics, the art world should lean fairly hard left, at least in the Anglo countries.  It is highly educated, cosmopolitan, wealthy, and “aware” of the world.  And many of the individuals operating in the art world do lean fairly strongly to the left.  Yet the art world itself is based on principles fairly different from Woke and often directly opposed to Woke.

First and foremost, the art world is based on ownership of property.  Most (by no means all) of those properties were created by dead white males, or perhaps by living white males.

Art markets typically are ruled by Power Laws and massive inequality, with most works going to zero value and a small percentage of the creators hitting it big.  No one in those worlds really thinks that is going to change, or should change.  Indeed, you earn status by showing how discriminating your eye is, which means by dumping on the works that aren’t going anywhere.

Textiles, which are arguably the “most female” genre in terms of their creators, are worth systematically much less in the marketplace.  Sometimes people complain about this, but they are not willing to bid up the prices commensurately.  (I am pleased to consider myself an exception in this regard — I see and indeed “exploit” massive aesthetic arbitrage opportunities here.  The same is true for some kinds of pottery as well.  Buying artworks from talented yet undervalued women creators is one of the best ways to be Woke.)

Art works do not come attached with triggers, and many of them reflect “the gaze” of dead white males, or they are soaked with violence, not usually along politically correct lines.  Women (and men) are eroticized without apology.  And they are eroticized because of the market.  “Reactionary” religions are central to many genres.

The subscribers to The Art Newspaper often are art owners, art collectors, and institutional participants in the art world, such as curators and people who work at auction houses.  They might fret over the theft of art works from poorer and typically non-white parts of the world, but actual full-scale restitution is not in fact their #1 programmatic goal.  Surprise!

So if you read The Art Newspaper, you will step into an elite world quite unlike say the world of the American Ivies.  The performative incentives here are entirely different.

In the 1990s, The Art Newspaper hardly ever ran articles with Woke themes.  Today it does a lot, yet the actual content and analysis just isn’t that Woke.  You can think of it as a respite from the Woke, though it will never criticize the Woke directly.  It tries to incorporate Woke rhetoric into an essentially non-Woke and anti-Woke set of customs and incentives and property rights.

If you look at the top five “most read” articles from this last week in early July, you will find at #2:

Why are the top jobs in Chinese museums going to white men?

Maybe you’re getting scared now, but the funny thing is the article actually addresses and answers the question.  Basically those are the individuals who have essential contacts in the outside art world and knowledge of how that world works.  At the end of the piece the article does call for more Chinese leadership talent (as we all would agree), but along the way no one is brow-beaten and there is remarkably little moralizing.  Keep in mind The Art Newspaper is being written exactly for these white men, or those who aspire to become them.

One lesson is that when no one is watching, and when actual property is at stake, the contemporary world is still remarkably sensible.

Just how politically correct do you think this article is?

“…new book on 18th-century French art reveals discrete gradations of erotic images.”

Here is the opening passage:

Most who take an interest in 18th-century French art will know of the Goncourt brothers’ description of “the meanderings, the undulations, the pliancies of a woman’s body” in relation to Watteau, or their ecstatic response to Fragonard’s La Chemise enlevée (around 1770) depicting “a woman… on whose mouth hovers a languid smile, [trying], somewhat faintly, to retain the nightgown that has already been ravished from her body…”

I am not sure Andrea Dworkin would approve.  Still, the topic is sufficiently obscure that no one is going to get cancelled for “their ecstatic response to Fragonard.”

Every now and then, The Art Newspaper gets downright sad:

The auction house’s £17.2m [Old Masters] offering in London tonight was only 57% sold, overshadowed by the football match

Are they going to stop calling them “Old Masters”?  I don’t think so, not even if the term “Master bedroom” goes away.

The most widely read article of the week was “Archaeologists find ruins of vast Medieval Nubian cathedral in Sudan.”  Again, no need to get nervous.  They used remote sensing techniques to find the ruins.  Good article, good photo, homage to its aesthetic virtues, zero moralizing, zero politics.  Not a peep about cultural appropriation or CRT.

Lots of articles cover tax law too!  You could say they are a kind of supply-sider, albeit without the revenue maximization idea.

And the editor is a woman, Alison Cole.  She even wrote a book Italian Renaissance Courts: Art, Pleasure and Power — do you think she can be totally against those things?  22 Amazon ratings, five star average.

If you love the arts, or simply would like to step into a different intellectual world, I am happy to (strongly) recommend The Art Newspaper.  It is also full of practitioner-driven economic reasoning, and fairly objective looks at geopolitics, on top of keeping you current about art worlds.  The non-Woke lives.

OK, so what about The Woke and Non-Woke in other areas?  Classical music?  Stand-up comedy anyone?  What else?

My Conversation with Richard Prum

Prum is an ornithologist at Yale, here is the audio, video, and transcript. Here is part of the summary:

Richard joined Tyler to discuss the infidelity of Australian birds, the debate on the origins of avian flight, how the lack of a penis explains why birds are so beautiful, why albatrosses can afford to take so many years to develop before mating, the game theory of ornithology, how flowers advertise themselves like a can of Coke, how modern technology is revolutionizing bird watching, why he’s pro-bird feeders yet anti- outdoor cats, how scarcity predicts territoriality in birds, his favorite bird artist, how Oilbirds got their name, how falcons and cormorants hunt and fish with humans, whether birds exhibit a G factor, why birds have regional accents, whether puffins will perish, why he’s not excited about the idea of trying to bring back passenger pigeons, the “dumb question” that marks a talented perspective ornithologist, and more.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Putting path dependence aside, if you were trying to give us the most fundamental explanation of why sexual dimorphism is different in birds compared to mammals, what would that be?

PRUM: Well, that’s actually a really big question. [laughs]

COWEN: Of course, but the most fundamental factor — what is it?

PRUM: The most fundamental factor is that most birds don’t have a penis.

COWEN: Talk me through the equilibrium there.

PRUM: [laughs] There’s a lot. That’s where we start: Most birds don’t have a penis, which means that one of the things that happens in avian evolution that’s distinct from mammals is that the kids require a lot of care. They’re growing up in the nest, they’re hatching out of an egg, but they’re very, very vulnerable until they can fly.

Birds have a very rapid period of rapid development. That means that they grow up and leave the nest, and you need two parents to do that efficiently in most diets or most kinds of ecologies. That means the dad’s got to be at the nest.

We usually thought that you have social monogamy, at least two birds helping raise the young, because the young are so needy and they have to grow up quickly. But there’s another possibility, which is that they could evolve to be so needy and grow up quickly because they managed to get males at the nest.

One of the things that happened in the phylogeny of birds — you’ve got ostriches and their relatives, and you’ve got chickens and ducks, and then you’ve got the rest of birds, and that’s a bunch. That’s the vast majority of them, and in that lineage leading to the rest of birds, the penis evolved away, and the question is why. My own theory is that female birds preferred mates that did not have a penis.

One of the ancillary benefits of that, one of the correlated benefits of that is that they were no longer subject to sexual coercion or sexual violence. They could be coerced behaviorally, but they couldn’t be forcibly fertilized. That means that they have freedom of choice, and what do they do with their freedom of choice? They choose beauty. One of the reasons why birds are so beautiful is that males don’t have a penis. They have to be subject to choice in order to effect reproduction, and also they have to invest if females require it.

COWEN: Now, sometimes albatrosses don’t breed until they’re 20 years old or even, on average, maybe it’s what — 10 years old. What are they doing in the meantime that’s so important?

PRUM: Well, that is a deep question.

Recommended, this was one of my favorite CWT episodes.

There is now actually a book like this

And a very good book at that:

My main argument is that Jacob’s approach to urbanism and economics was developed parallel to, and perhaps benefited from, a much broader field of knowledge than is generally understood.  Therefore, the chapter considers a wide context, including the revolutionary critique of planning espoused by Alison and Peter Smithson throughout the 1950s, on the one hand, and the Austrian-school theory of spontaneous order, on the others.  Decades before Jacobs’s remarkably hypotheses, liberal theorists had advanced a demoralizing critique of central design as a challenge to the legacy of collectivist planning while advocating market-based solutions and demonstrating the crucial role that informal commerce played in spontaneous order.

!

That is from the new and noteworthy Anthony Fontenot, Non-Design: Architecture, Liberalism & the Market.

!

The origins of Wokeism

My latest Bloomberg column considers one factor (of many), here is an excerpt:

The male-female imbalance in academic life should be treated as a kind of emergency. But the institutions that address it are slow and bureaucratic.

Now enter the philosophy of wokeism. One way to think of the woke is as a bunch of people who scream about various injustices. But sometimes they don’t have a good plan to address a particular imbalance — and along the way they can inflict a good deal of unjustified damage, for instance by canceling people who make the wrong remarks about gender imbalance or other issues.

These and other criticisms of the woke may well be correct. Still, at the end of the day it has to be recognized that an unresponsive society will generate a lot of unproductive (and unresponsive) screamers. So simply dissecting the weaknesses of woke tactics and arguments misses the point. When practical solutions do not seem to exist, many people will resort to screaming.

This leads to the conclusion that wokeness won’t be defeated as an ideology until there is a more convincing and practical vision of how to undo institutional sclerosis. When that vision comes, it may not be so closely allied with wokeness, which is not excessively concerned with effective administration and incentive compatibility.

And this:

Sometimes it even seems that woke forces are effective. Recently some major museums have announced that they are sending back their highly valuable West African bronze sculptures to their countries of origin. Many of those sculptures were stolen by British colonial occupiers, and their restoration would reunite those countries with a significant part of their cultural heritage. This justified change would probably not have occurred without pressure from wokeism.

One underlying theme of the column is that the defects of the Woke — such as excess rigidity — are closely allied to the defects of the society they are protesting against.

What should I ask Ruth Scurr?

Dr Ruth Scurr FRSL (born 1971, London) is a British writer, historian and literary critic. She is a Fellow of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge.

Her first book, Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution (Chatto & Windus, 2006; Metropolitan Books, 2006) won the Franco-British Society Literary Prize (2006), was shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize (2006), long-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize (2007) and was listed among the 100 Best Books of the Decade in The Times in 2009. It has been translated into five languages.

Her second book, John Aubrey: My own Life (Chatto & Windus, 2015; New York Review of Books, 2016) was shortlisted for the 2015 Costa Biography Award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. It was chosen as a 2015 Book of the Year in fifteen newspapers and magazines, including: the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times, the Times, the Sunday Times, the Times Literary Supplement, the Sunday Express, the Guardian, the Spectator and the New Statesman. It was chosen as a 2016 Book of the Year by Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Review and the Washington Post.

Scurr began reviewing regularly for The Times and The Times Literary Supplement in 1997. Since then she has also written for The Daily TelegraphThe ObserverNew Statesman, The London Review of BooksThe New York Review of BooksThe NationThe New York ObserverThe Guardian  and The Wall Street Journal.

That is from her Wikipedia page.  She is an expert in the philosophy of biography and her new biography of Napoleon, which views his life through the medium of his involvement with gardens, has been receiving rave reviews.  And here is her home page, and her article on her Cambridge house.

So what should I ask her?