PanThe New York Time Book ReviewDespite the anxious concerns about enforced relevance that inspired the book, Authority and Freedom more often than not reads like a free-range cornucopia of revelatory encounters Perl has had with books, poetry, music, painting, sculpture, architecture, film and dance. He radiates sheer pleasure with his very personal responses to art of all kinds, writing with warmth and a sense of gratitude for the many peak experiences he’s had from a lifetime of engagement ... At times his penchant for name-checking across centuries can become head-spinning ... it is baffling why, after Perl’s repeated alarms about the threat of \'relevance,\' he gives no examples of what exactly he sees that troubles him so ... One wonders whether the real reason for his silence here is the by now familiar threat of being canceled. As a result, the book tends to remain on the \'meta\' plane much of the time — earnest and thoughtful, but absent the cranky brio, the piss and vinegar of his art columns ... It’s unlikely that Authority and Freedom will change many artists’ minds about how they view their work. They will do what they want, and many, if not most, today are ablaze with an intensity not seen since the 1930s to make their art speak truth to power, to heal what they deem the rent in our social fabric. If you ask them, they will tell you that art that doesn’t address this sense of urgency is not just out of touch with the times, it is irrelevant.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... a work of enormous intellectual range and subtle artistic judgment that pokes and probes the nerve endings of Western cultural and social norms as they are mirrored in more than a century of reaction to Wagner’s works. The book has its own \'Wagnerian\' heft and ambitiousness of intent, being nothing less than a history of ideas that spans an arc from Nietzsche and George Eliot to Philip K. Dick, Apocalypse Now and neo-Nazi skinheads ... Wagnerism was incontestably a labor of love for Ross ... And it is easy to understand why, because his strategy is to use Wagner as a kind of ur-source out of which spring a multitude of artistic, social and political movements that include everything from the hectic musings of obscure bohemian poets and novelists to the opportunistic appropriation of the composer’s music and iconography by Nazi propagandists. In so doing, Ross has dug deep into some of the most fertile (and occasionally most bizarre) terrain of Western culture, examining and bringing to light the struggles for individuation and self-discovery of a host of reactive minds — poets, novelists, painters, playwrights, filmmakers, politicians and more ... \'The behemoth whispers a different secret in each listener’s ear,\' Ross so wryly but perfectly sums up the \'near-infinite malleability\' of his art and the \'interpretive pandemonium\' over what exactly these operas mean ... Ross takes a deep dive into the psyches of Joyce, Proust, Mann and T. S. Eliot and returns with revelations, particularly in the case of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, that may surprise even the most ardent scholar for the extent to which each of them was influenced by Wagner. His moving essay on Mann’s Death in Venice, framed by what he terms \'gay Wagnerism,\' reaches an emotional high point worthy of the inner turbulence of that epochal novella ... These names — Joyce, Proust, Eliot, et al. — are already familiar darlings for analysis, and encountering them yet again in a work of cultural history can at times feel like literary Groundhog Day, but Ross’s exegesis is nonetheless immensely valuable. And there are those we might not expect to have fallen under the composer’s spell.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review\"Walsh... treats Debussy both as a creature of his own time and as a harbinger of 20th-century modernism ... While acknowledging the composer’s \'unsatisfactory treatment\' of [the women in his life], Walsh is hard put to find reasons any of them are quite deserving of the great composer’s (or our) respect, often referring to them in cringeworthy descriptions ... Even worse, he analyzes the composer’s behavior by applying the old-school \'genius card\' myth, to wit, that behind this bad treatment \'lay the instinctive feeling — which ordinary men usually manage to suppress — that emotional ties are a nuisance unless kept firmly in the drawer marked \"when I need them.\"\' Walsh’s study is focused on the music, less so on the historical and cultural setting. As an exposition of this unique and original music it does great service to the composer. Nonetheless, a casual classical music fan may find it daunting, as most of it is devoted to analyses of a lifetime of compositions.\