Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

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Jonathan Taylor, whom we've just welcomed to the Emdashes team, writes:

This article in the November Vanity Fair explains the disappearance from The New York Review of Books of the artist who helped define its virtually unchanging look: David Levine, who caricatures the glorious and the notorious of belles lettres and statecraft with huge heads on vestigial bodies (or, sometimes, vice versa). His vision succumbing to macular degeneration, Levine in 2006 for the first time had work rejected by the Review for reasons of execution rather than scurrilousness. The article is a fine sidelong portrait of a publication that's venerable, yet in fact still young enough to be only now exiting (slowly) the era of its founders.

It also turns out that Levine had several taste tiffs with The New Yorker, for which he has provided 71 illustrations. One reject was this watercolor of Bush in flightsuit atop an array of coffins, which ran in 2005 instead in the Review. It seems practically banal today, but plausibly exceeds the limits of The New Yorker's political prudence. (The magazine's emphatic Barack Obama endorsement is still careful to specify that "There is still disagreement about the wisdom of overthrowing Saddam Hussein and his horrific regime.")

A little more alarming is the tale of a cartoon of Mahmoud Abbas and Ariel Sharon that the magazine altered unilaterally. It removed some missiles that accompanied Sharon as a counterpart to the machine-gun wielding masked militants looming behind Abbas. David Remnick told Vanity Fair, "David Levine is a great political artist and kept on publishing with us after this, but all I remember about this was thinking that with Sharon being so ominously huge in the drawing, the bombs were too much." It certainly seems that Levine has a thing about Sharon's hugeness, if not his enormity (the kaffiyeh on this Sharon I think perfectly typifies Levine's blunt sharpness, if you will).

Perhaps the context is useful in reading Levine's rather sweeping take on the state of New Yorker cartooning in an interview with The Nation: "I think they've let down the barrier of quality, and it is just terrible." (Can this be true of every current contributor, including the older cartoonists who continue to draw regularly for the magazine?) But the anger seems rooted in his determination that cartooning have a legible positive purpose: "Caricature is a form of hopeful statement: I'm drawing this critical look at what you're doing, and I hope that you will learn something from what I'm doing." Levine compares the cartoonist to the golem created by a rabbi to fend off anti-Semitic attacks: "When things are settled, he's not needed."

The New York Review's site hosts a complete Levine gallery, searchable by subject name or categories like "Tycoons, Plutocrats, Midases." The overlap of the two magazines' preoccupations means there are a lot of images of New Yorker interest over there: David Remnick; William Shawn; a passel of Updikes, from 1971 to 1994; a quorum of Malcolms, including a Gladwell and two contrasting Janets; a Joan Didion or two; a couple of somewhat disturbing Rebecca Wests; even a rather calming Helen Vendler.


I own a small folder of David Levine’s prints entitled “words and music by David Levine”, just wondered if there was any value to it.

There might be! There’s not much information here, but on Amazon there’s an edition selling for about $70.

And this description on Alibris sounds like the folder of prints you describe. I’d give it a try; it seems to be relatively rare.

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