Notebook

The 1920 Battle for Ukraine — a warning from the past

Having practically saved Europe from a communist takeover, Poland’s head of state Joseph Pilsudski’s insistence a century ago on a strong, independent Ukraine, protected by the Western democracies from Russian intimidation and threats, resonates powerfully today.

george orwell

Orwell in all weathers

The weather was more than just a backdrop to Orwell’s narratives – it shaped his life and art in profound and unexpected ways.

l'assommoir translation

The things gained in translation

Untangling abstract words from one language to another is a subjective task – and translations often reveal as much about their translator as their original text

In defence of Denethor

For all his qualities as a filmmaker, Peter Jackson’s representation of Denethor shows how he is unable to fuse the genius of Tolkien and the rich sensibility he brought to bear in what he termed ‘the cauldron of story’ – the common weal of imagination that produced the great sagas, Old English epics and folklore – into his own art.

On the medicalisation of the mind

Modern attempts to categorise phenomena as varied as mental illness should be reevaluated. Wittgenstein’s family resemblance concept points to the folly of labelling any number of behaviours under one ever-expanding banner.

father Christmas beard roman

On beards

Santa Claus is famous for his; today’s hipsters accessorise them – but the fashion for facial hair can be traced all the way back to Ancient Rome.

italian schoolchildren

Learning in Italy

The patrician nature of Italian education takes students on a one-way journey of factual regurgitation – but sometimes cracks in the system let a little light in.

On ostracism

In Ancient Athens, ostracism, a mechanism for exiling citizens written into its laws, was thought to play a pivotal role in preserving the health of the city-state. But how did it play out in practice?

antwerp olympics 1920

Olympism: magic, myths and mega-events

The forthcoming Winter Games in Beijing are already proving controversial – but from their modern
inception, the Olympic Games have always been ambiguous, contradictory, and often mired in scandal.The only certainty remaining is physical excellence.

Remembering Wilhelm Furtwängler

The conductor was a radical whose approach to music was singular and unorthodox, bequeathing audiences with a scintillating treasure trove of unique concerts and recordings that do not entirely belong to the composer who conceived them.

An eighteenth century etching of a group of young men enjoying a game of Pallone col Bracciale.

Real Tennis and the elemental thrill of ball games

All the joy has gone out of modern Tennis, which privileges power and mathematical strategic thinking. It’s time to rediscover what makes ball games so much fun – comedy, lightness and a sense of play.

place du jeu du balle flea market brussels

At the Place du Jeu de Balle

The famous flea market inspired Tintin’s creator, Hergé, and remains a place of glorious disorderliness where economics are boiled down to their simplest form.

Leonardo Da Vinci's The Creation of Adam

The limits of human perfectibility and progress

Warnings against optimistic overreaching run deep in many traditions, but humans nevertheless keep finding excuses to cast caution to the winds. But the true value of progress and even the very idea of its desirability are debatable.

A self-portrait of Frans Hals painted around 1650.

Frans Hals had personality

The Dutch Golden Age painter pioneered the rough and loose brushstrokes that brilliantly infuse his subjects with life – but the facts about his life remain sparse even today.

'Melancholy', 1894-1895 by Edvard Munch. He played a leading role in German expressionism.

Great Books: Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy

First published in 1621, Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy is a treatise, an encyclopedia, a self-help manual and more besides. Remarkably ahead of its time, this treasure trove contains unbounded riches for new readers.

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