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Book reviews: Magnum Revolution | Classical Love Poetry | Declaring His Genius

  • by MICHAEL KERRIGAN
 

IT WON’T be televised, Gil Scott-Heron assured us, but increasingly it has been, so we’ve watched the Arab Spring in real time on rolling news.

Magnum Revolution

edited by Jon Lee Anderson

(Prestel, £35) ****

Even so, it’s all done with an iconography and grammar established in the great age of photojournalism. No-one made a greater impression than the men (and women) of the Magnum Photos agency. Capa, Cartier-Bresson, Rodger, Seymour: these were heroic, Hemingwayesque figures, but there was always more to them than daring and macho swagger. And so it’s been with their successors: looking back here over 65 years’ worth of imagery from the world’s revolutionary frontlines, the sense of humanity is what stands out – and it’s what gives the best of these photos a special drama.

Classical Love Poetry

edited by Jonathan Williams and Clive Cheesman

(British Museum, £9.99) ****

“I’m like a spinning top, lashed over level ground/By the practised skill of an agile boy…”: Tibullus evokes all the frantic urgency (and indignity) of desire. Any doubt that love is an eternal passion is removed by a riffle through this (beautifully presented) little anthology, by turns tender, erotic, angry, rueful, witty and despairing. For Lucretius, love is the life-force; for Euripides it’s a curse; for Sophocles, it has the force of destiny. For Catullus it can be a torture (or a joy); while for For Sappho, it’s an affliction – practically an illness.

Declaring His Genius

by Roy Morris Jr

(Harvard, £19.95) *****

Aestheticism hit America – a spectacular cultural collision – with the arrival of Oscar’s Wilde West Show in 1882. His major works were still some years off, but (like today’s celebrities) Wilde was famous for being famous In New York, Boston and Chicago, but also in far-flung cattle and mining towns, the ultimate aesthete stood up to proclaim “the science of the beautiful”. The buzz was unbelievable: lookalikes posed with sunflowers and velvet capes, but many who came to jeer were won over. If his reception was testimony to a frontier society’s instinct for self-improvement, it may also have hinted at a hankering after a less macho model of masculine individualism in a nation still overshadowed by the Civil War.

 

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