Gallery of art and thoughts

The cartoons and contemplations of a twentysomething copy editor.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

So much to talk about...

Lebanon has been riveted by the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. The US has recalled its ambassador to Syria, as Hariri had been known as a critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Syrian troops have maintained a presence in Lebanon since 1976, and there are presently 14,000 soldiers from Assad's regime in the country. Despite considerations that Syria is behind this somehow, the Beeb is also speculating whether Israel was the culprit, "despite a lack of obvious motive." I have long admired the BBC's comprehensive foreign coverage, but it seems irresponsible to toss out an allegation like this.
How will the killing affect the situation in the Middle East? Does it portend a return to the chaos of civil war days in Lebanon (from 1975 until the early 1990s)? Will the Syrians move out, and will American troops move in? We shall have to see what, if any, measures Assad takes.

This violent episode stands in contrast to the peace agreement announced between Mahmoud Abbas and Ariel Sharon at Sharm el-Sheikh two days ago. On the surface, this deal looks good: an end, finally, to the Al Aqsa Intifada, which erupted in 2000. But how long can Abbas persuade Hamas and Islamic Jihad to abandon violence? And what brought about this sudden Israeli-Palestinian amity?

A final consideration, this one about a different issue. I condensed my post about Arthur Miller, and now it appears as a commentary in today's Lynn (Mass.) Daily Item. Also today, Terry Teachout shared markedly different views of the playwright in the Wall Street Journal. Among his gripes: that Miller's death evoked mainly platitudes (I sheepishly confess to this), that his great works comprised a puny portion of his oeuvre, and that those "great works" are not actually that great.

Teachout is right, but also unfair. Certainly, Miller was no Shakespeare. Few people are. However, "Death of a Salesman" does rank among the better plays that have emerged in American literature in the past century. Yes, it has its treacly moments, but its characters are convincing, and the decisions they make are deeply moving. If Teachout wants to judge an author by the quantity of his quality, he would eliminate, among others, Herman Melville (how many people can name a book he wrote besides "Moby Dick"?) and Ralph Ellison ("Invisible Man" is his sole but substantial claim to greatness). If anyone out there wants to recommend others for this list, please email me.


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