Daily Postings
literature : interview

Belle Boggs & Mike Scalise

"The perceived aversion to a male-centered illness narrative had to do with antiquated ideas about who should and shouldn't be vulnerable to a failing body, and what that vulnerability means."

I've known Belle Boggs for years, first as a teacher then as a wonderful fiction writer, and in 2012 our respective forays into memoir coincided—both of us pulled to personal stories by events that overtook our ability to clearly process much else, in our writing lives or elsewhere. For Belle, it was the journey of childbirth, or, more accurately, natural childbearing alternatives and the evolving influence of birth culture, which she channeled into the sprawling, hopeful, and moving book The Art of Waiting (Graywolf Press, 2016).

My book, The Brand New Catastrophe (Sarabande, January 2017), details a health disaster in my early twenties with acromegaly. The illness first amplified, then destroyed, my body's ability to produce hormones. Belle and I both embarked on stories about our bodies betraying their nature, and I thought often of her while writing my own, wondering what mysteries she'd uncovered. We'd both been turned into bloodhounds searching for our bodies' true purposes, and it was surprising, with our respective cases closed, to compare notes on what we solved, and what we didn't.

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music : portfolio

Field Recording

by Lea Bertucci

On a crisp morning in March, we approach the site. It appears in the distance on the windswept beach just as the sand gives way to dunes. The ocean roars to our right. The structure itself is buried beneath decades of sand accumulation and covered with seasonally dormant plant life. The point of entry yawns in the dunes—a square black aperture interrupts the otherwise organic landscape and leads us underground.

We enter the structure, which appears as one long corridor initially. As we explore further, we realize there are auxiliary chambers off this main corridor. Four rooms of distinct sizes and shapes reveal themselves as our eyes adjust to the darkness.

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literature : first proof

From Such Small Hands

by Andrés Barba

It was once a happy city; we were once happy girls. They used to say: do this, do that, and we did it, we turned our hands, we drew, we laughed; they called us the faithful city, the enchanting city. We had proud eyes, strong hands. People thought we were just girls then. We used to touch the fig tree in the garden and say, "This is the castle." And then we walked to the black sculpture and said, "This is the devil." And then we'd go back to the orphanage door and say, "This is the mountain." Those were the three things: castle, devil, mountain.                

That was the triangle you could play in.

And there was the hall mirror.

And our summer dresses.

And the night they changed our sheets and it felt so good to climb into fresh-smelling beds.

And the days we got sanjacobos for lunch: breaded fried ham and cheese.

It was as if we were all one mouth eating the ham, as if our cheese was all the same cheese: wholesome and creamy and tasting the same to all of us. The cheese was happiness. But then we had class after lunch, and it was long. And the time between lunch and class, and then between class and break time, passed slowly, suspended in the air.

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literature : review

Tókȟaȟ'an: To Lose, to Suffer Loss, to Be Gone

by Gillie Collins

Wordplay as dissent in Layli Long Soldier's Whereas

Over the course of twenty poems, Layli Long Soldier's Whereas (Graywolf Press, March 2017) provokes discomfort—that woozy, nauseous feeling that comes from confronting one's naiveté for the first time. "Now / make room in your mouth / for grassesgrassesgrasses," the book begins, and the earth seems to shudder.

Long Soldier, who is Oglala Lakota, writes poems that respond to political events, from protests at Standing Rock to the 2009 Congressional Resolution of the Native Americans. Formally, the poems are eclectic: some are straightforward prose poems; others invoke unexpected typefaces, margins, footnotes, and borderlines. They testify that the ground we stand is still disputed and English is a weaponized language.

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music : interview

Stephen O'Malley

by C. Spencer Yeh

"There might be more passion in amateurism than with much of the known, famous stuff. Those are the kinds of energies in music I've always found attractive, regardless of quality, expertise, or skill."

Based in Paris, Stephen O'Malley is a musician, composer, graphic designer, and head of the Ideologic Organ record label, among other robes past and present. While incredibly active both individually and collaboratively, he's most commonly associated with the "experimental metal" project SUNN O))). He's one of those artists who exude a genuine devotion to what they do, thoughtfully probing various practices and obsessions.

We conducted our conversation this past fall, many harrowing months ago—"slow music," O'Malley succinctly notes, thinking back to this chat. [ Read More ]

literature : review

Shadow Selves

by Frances Richard

Palimpsests and invocation in Marjorie Welish's So What So That

Marjorie Welish's new collection So What So That (Coffee House Press, 2016) includes a poem titled "So That: So What." Another is called "Aesthetic Education," while in still others the author ponders "Turbulence, how to use" and reminds herself, or the reader: "Avail yourself of cause and effect. // And trouble." In short, Welish is fascinated—as has been her wont in a long career as a poet, painter, and critic—by the forces that have shaped her as an artist. Her writing is marked by the legacies of multiple modernisms and by sly misprisions and recursions, an obsession with logical forms that flip abruptly into their shadow selves.

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literature : first proof

Stan, Standing

by Thomas Chadwick

Stan, standing on the rug by the mirror by the door, nursing a weighty head cold that's come up sudden overnight, drinking coffee from an unwashed mug, staring at his reflection in a mirror that once belonged to his mother's brother, but which has been a mainstay in the hall by the door since Stan moved into the flat two years previous when his parents dropped round a job lot of his Uncle's things—including the mirror that Stan's at now—all on account of Uncle Al having downsized, heavily, again, after another still more devastating divorce that no one wanted to discuss yet, especially given how cut up Uncle Al had been over his first divorce, a stretch of time that involved weeping and mealtime silences and Stan getting home from school to find his mother and her brother sat out on the cold patio so that Uncle Al could smoke, something Stan's mother never let him do in her home even if Uncle Al clearly did so in his, or at least had done when he owned the mirror Stan's looking in on now, with that yellowing toward the edge and those stray burn marks on the frame as if Uncle Al did—as Stan suspects he did—stare himself down in the mirror as he smoked, before stubbing out on the frame and storming from the house, a thought which Stan finds concerning as he looks in on the mirror, sipping, sniffing, standing, wondering about today being the day of his brother's wedding.

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art : review

Alice Neel's Uptown

by Zack Hatfield

Portraits of Harlem before gentrification

Critics often talk about the humanity of Alice Neel's paintings—or maybe they talk about how often critics talk about it. The word snugly adheres itself to the late artist's work like skin, as though humanism could not be found, one way or another, in every portrait of a human. In reality, some of Neel's most recognizable pictures are well known because they express a kind of loving cruelty—the humiliating yet awed portrayal of Warhol and his corseted stomach, or her nude self-portrait that scandalized so many upon its debut. But this bluntness—the occasional lazy eye, unfeasible proportions, or slightly morbid hues—lends her art its mysterious compassion as well as a sentimentality that shirks excessive or unearned emotion. Neel sought to depict life in all its forms, but more remarkably, her loyalty was to what—or whom—she believed we ought to see.

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literature : review

Play On

by David Hobbs

Music that never was in Nathaniel Mackey's Late Arcade

No, this new thing I'm trying goes back to a story Yusef Lateef tells about the days when he was first in Mingus's band, a story I was deeply struck by when I first heard it, a story I think about from time to time.

The thing with Nathaniel Mackey's "new thing" is that it isn't, and doesn't, I don't think, want to be. Late Arcade (New Directions, February 2017), is the fifth volume in an ongoing, open-ended epistolary fiction collectively called From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate. Like the previous installments, it is a series of letters written by a visionary horn player, N., who lives in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, addressed to an Angel of Dust. While Mackey's fiction has always had an eye on the past, the first installment appeared in 1986, five years after the story it depicts took place. We're now thirty years on and the story has only progressed by four. As a result, the quotidian elements of N.'s letters have only become more radiant, as if Mackey's interests in music, mysticism and the recent past have been distilled to their most potent forms.

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film : interview

Thomas White

by Nicholas Elliott

"If someone hands over their repertory theater group to you, what are you going to do with them?"

Perhaps the craziest thing about Thomas White's sole feature Who's Crazy?, a freewheeling 1966 film starring actors of the legendary New York experimental theater company The Living Theatre and set to a roiling, ecstatic original score by Ornette Coleman, is that a film with its pedigree was basically invisible for half a century. True, it was neither a commercial proposition in 1966 nor is it today: practically without dialogue, Who's Crazy? functions as a 73-minute assault on the senses and, especially, the viewer's interpretive faculties, with music and a sea of faces filling the screen from start to finish in an ever-playful progression from slapstick to ritual. The story features a gang of asylum inmates escaping from a bus in the Belgian countryside and retreating to an isolated farmhouse where they go about recreating society with White's camera apparently floating freely among them.

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art : review

Frayed at the Edges

by Paula Kupfer

Border crossings in recent photobooks by Adam Golfer, John Radcliffe Studio, and Paul Turounet

Any border, whether defined by some geographic obstacle or imposed by decree, involves a negotiation of what lies on either side. On a purely physical level, such boundaries invite our consideration of the conditions for crossing. But even walls of concrete and razor wire serve as stand-ins for less tangible, more complicated barriers: those of history and politics, ideological constructs of time and space. Three recent photobooks—Adam Golfer's A House Without a Roof, John Radcliffe Studio's Foreigner, and Paul Turounet's Estamos Buscando A (We are looking for)—tackle the difficulty of transnational journeys and the burden shouldered by those who embark upon them.  

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literature : review

Theoretically Personal

by Sarah Hoenicke

Resisting confession in Yiyun Li's Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life

"For years I have had the belief that all my questions will be answered by the books I am reading," Yiyun Li writes in her latest effort, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life (Penguin Random House, February 2017). But, as Li concedes, books "only lead to other books." Dear Friend, too, could lead its reader to any of the writers written about in its pages—William Trevor, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Bowen, Thomas Hardy, Ivan Turgenev—but the books and authors are so intricately connected to Li's thought process that it would feel wrong to take them solely as recommendations. Dear Friend, dubbed a memoir, is a collection of autobiographical essays on Li's reading life and the meditations therein.

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art : review

Vikky Alexander's 1981–1983

by Wendy Vogel

Women, objects of desire and artifice

In the years leading up to 1984, Canadian artist Vikky Alexander's confrontational works probed how the post-feminist backlash turned the hope of women's liberation into Orwellian freedom-as-slavery. This focused presentation of Alexander's work at Downs & Ross—the merger of two Lower East Side galleries formerly known as Tomorrow and Hester—includes seven framed, photo-based pieces from the early '80s. Alexander's compositions enlarge, repeat, and syntagmatically reshuffle advertising imagery of women in order to reveal its complexity and strangeness. In the pictures Alexander appropriates, the female beauty ideal on offer is the one favored in the '80s, the period of our current president's real-estate heyday: coiffed hair, unnatural makeup, big jewelry, spiked heels. It's an exaggerated version of femininity that promises a circulation of value between the symbolic capital of images, sex appeal, and economic capital—provided, of course, that one can afford to buy in.

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literature : interview

Eleni Sikelianos

by Srikanth Reddy

"Poetry is contested space, and the battles about what is allowed to go in and stay out are important."

The title of Eleni Sikelianos’s latest collection of poetry, Make Yourself Happy, is a timely imperative for the new Dark Ages in which we find ourselves. Haunted by the 20th century’s dismal record of global species extinction and an uncertain world-historical future ahead, this book uncovers new forms of resistance to apathy and despair through a return to the etymological root of "poet" as "maker." Whether Sikelianos is writing about making a paper globe, making a family, making a statement, or making yourself, she surveys the field of human endeavors to find new prospects for care amid precarious political contexts.

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film : review

The Human Surge

by Danielle Burgos

Eduardo Williams's debut feature takes us around the world on an ethnographic tour of labor, leisure, and logins.

Barely conscious, stumbling through dark warrens, a young man lit only by his glowing smartphone suddenly reveals a natural force startling to the viewer, mundane to himself. This opening shot of Eduardo Williams's The Human Surge not only sets up the film to come, but encapsulates the young filmmaker's working method. With minimal preparation, cross-language collaboration with non-actors, and spontaneous incorporation, Williams operates semi-consciously—call it automatic filmmaking. Rhythm and environment supersede conventional narrative, with dialogue an additional layer of texture rather than propellant.

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literature : review

The Dreary Coast

by Ed Winstead

Difference and hyperbole in Mohsin Hamid's Exit West

I have always found the ancient practice of placing a coin in the mouth of the dead very striking. The term for such a coin is Charon's obol (the obol being a classical Greek denomination with a uniquely unimpressive name), and its purpose was to pay the toll for passage to the afterlife. It's sort of charming how literal it all was, and a nice reminder of how much a metaphor can weigh, how it can warp the scaffolds of our imagination and the things we rest upon them.

The metaphor at the center of Mohsin Hamid's Exit West (Riverhead, March 2017) serves a similar purpose. It takes the form of a door, through which our protagonists, Nadia and Saeed, flee their home. However, this is not a standard door. Nadia and Saeed walk through it in a building in an unnamed city that's cracking in the vice of war, and they walk out of it onto the island of Mykonos, in the Cyclades, off the southeast coast of Greece—"It seemed miraculous, although it was not a miracle, they were merely on a beach." That door, and the other doors that follow, are the only extraordinary things in the book (discounting the war they flee, the gigantic community of migrants they find themselves a part of, the reshaping of the world in turn—which seem somewhat less extraordinary these days). This is not a criticism, though.

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art : portfolio

Portfolio

by Dan Herschlein

The body as a sentence to be scrambled

The first artwork of Dan Herschlein's I saw was a 2013 performance, titled Driver's Bedroom, at the no-longer-extant Violet's Cafe (run by artists Violet Dennison, Graham Hamilton, and Scott Keightley). It was located in Gowanus and felt more like an office than a gallery. It had a drop-tile ceiling, linoleum floors, and fluorescent lighting—all completely unmodified, allowing for each show staged there to have a sense of existing in a real place, with some unknown history, much like a revolving room in Mike Nelson's 2007 A Psychic Vacuum.

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literature : review

Circles of Influence

by Rosa Inocencio Smith

Unreliable truths in Carl Frode Tiller's Encircling

"Having someone to live for is what makes us human," muses Arvid, one of the narrators of Carl Frode Tiller's novel Encircling, out this month from Graywolf Press. It's a characteristically "banal but true" statement, deceptively simple and yet deeply resonant in a novel where a man's identity hinges on other people's memories. David, Arvid's estranged stepson, has just lost his memory when the novel begins, and his psychologist has placed a newspaper ad calling on David's friends and relatives to explain to him who he is. Three people who knew him twenty years ago as a teenager answer the call—Jon and Silje, both friends and former lovers of his, along with Arvid. They write letters that in Silje's words "contain enough imprints, leavings and traces … for [David] to recognize something of that time and follow the trail back."

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literature : first proof

The Red-Shanked Douc Langur

by Tammy Nguyen

This visual narrative, arranged into a scroll format for online viewing, is the first chapter of Tammy Nguyen's fiction Primate City—a duet of artist books that draws upon a 1969 US military intelligence proposal to modernize Danang City. The work also makes use of Vietnamese mythology and geography to implicate this document in shaping the current geopolitical climate in the South China Sea. In 2014, Nguyen visited Danang City and learned about the animals who would become the protagonists of this story.

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literature : review

Hunger for Wholeness

by Jenessa Abrams

Deconstructing self-made myths in Melissa Febos's Abandon Me

The word colonize is derived from the Latin colere, meaning, "to inhabit." Melissa Febos's memoir, Abandon Me (Bloomsbury, February 2017), contends as much with inhabiting emotion and historical colonization as it does with the desires and consequences of abandonment itself. Whether she's examining an impassioned love affair, her Native American ancestry that's been subjugated by a dominant narrative, or societally imposed notions of fatherhood, her fixation with abandonment evolves into an exposé of what we can discover when we are most alone with ourselves.

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art : review

Steve McQueen's Ashes

by Claire Barliant

Life and death juxtaposed

It's a testimony to Steve McQueen's vast narrative and image-making powers that Ashes, his 2015 video installation, is not ridden with clichés. The story it tells is true but has the proportions of myth: a young, strikingly handsome young man dies after falling prey to nefarious forces.

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literature : review

Fast & Loose

by Kyle Paoletta

Earthquakes, rain of blood, and other fun things in Jean Echenoz's We Three

We Three (Dalkey Archives, 2017), Jean Echenoz's cavalier narrative experiment available this month for the first time in English, is a product of a certain prehistory in its author's career, penned well before he won the Prix Goncourt or had any of his novels, like 1914, become required reading in French schools. We Three was originally published in 1992, as his star was on the rise but before it had found its place in the French literary firmament. Perhaps that explains why, while reading it, one can't shake the feeling of a gifted writer intent on seeing what he can get away with and then fudging in a plot around the fun parts. 

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dance : review

Paulina Olowska's Slavic Goddesses—A Wreath of Ceremonies

by Charity Coleman

A feminist paean from one Polish artist to another

What purpose does mythology serve for a people? Besides being picturesque, it has the capacity to invigorate a culture, honor life's rituals, and promote unity. Without myth, perhaps we'd be lost in a CVS doomscape, dying from too much sarcasm. In the days leading up to the January performance of artist Paulina Olowska's Slavic Goddesses—A Wreath of Ceremonies, turmoil blighted daily discourse. It was a relief to enter the black box of The Kitchen on a cold night and hear a voice reciting the words of acclaimed Polish artist Zofia Stryjeńska, drawing our attention to primeval deities: "Their hair in sadness becomes a weave of dry thorns and thistles. In gladness, on the contrary, they blossom into green leaves, colorful flower, and even fruit. And the fragrant wreath of a god's head is not worn, but it is a self-generated halo of their wondrous, dew-covered figure." The text, published in 1938, was read as an introduction to this work of dance theatre.

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