Daily Postings
literature : review

Beginnings & Endlings

by Liza St. James

A bestiary of human proportions in Elena Passarello's Animals Strike Curious Poses

In "Why Look at Animals?" John Berger writes, "Animals first entered the imagination as messengers and promises." He goes on to detail the ways in which, in 1977, this is no longer the case; animals no longer hold the mysteries required for acts of the imagination. Berger describes a culture saturated with the animal imagery of late capitalism—toys and costumes, stuffed animal reproductions. He explains that when a child visits the zoo, they cannot help but be disappointed, cannot help but wonder, "Why are these animals less than I believed?"

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literature : review

Arrogant Class Renegade

by Daniel Lefferts

Sexual awakening amid poverty and violence in Édouard Louis's The End of Eddy

Early in The End of Eddy (FSG, May 2017), the autobiographical debut novel of twenty-four-year-old Édouard Louis, the protagonist, Eddy Belleguele, recounts his mother's frequent vituperations against what she calls "the politicians." To her, such figures seem like distant, mysterious overlords who only ever make their presence felt, at least in their impoverished, semi-rural village in northern France, in the form of reductions to welfare payments. She resents them, and yet, when conversation turns toward crime, or "Arabs," or "any kind of sexual behavior she didn't approve of," she doesn't "hesitate to invoke those same powers," telling Eddy, "What we need is some law and order in this country." Later, once Eddy has fled home and availed himself of an education, he'll find in his mother's conflicted raillery echoes of those women who, in 1789, went in droves to Versailles to vent their grievances, but upon seeing Louis XVI, chanted Vive le Roi! Much like those women, and Eddy himself, his mother is "torn between absolute submission to power and an enduring sense of revolt."

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literature : first proof

White Girl

by t’ai freedom ford

She sitting across from me on the train and people are shooting crazy looks at her cause she shoulda got off four stops ago with the rest of the white people. They prolly wondering if she missed her stop. I know she ain't, but no one's asking. She act like she reading a magazine, but I know she staring at me. Studying a brother.

We come up out the station and the heat pimp slaps her cheeks red. She look confused, like she don't believe how hot it is in Brooklyn. When she left the city, it was cool, around eighty degrees or so. But here, the big bank clock at the junction is flashing ninety-six degrees. She must not know how the mayor got a big-ass AC in the sky that pumps out cool air all over Manhattan to keep the tourists and the big Willie white people comfortable.

All these brown bodies just absorb the heat and store it up for the winter. It's the only way tropical people can survive in New York when it starts to get cold.

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art : review

Fletcher Williams III's City Block

by Chase Quinn

A Tale of Two Charlestons

From inside the Historic Reynolds Ave Fire Station, the street looks almost deserted. You can see a barren parking lot, the broad backside of a white-steepled church, and lots of chain-link fencing. Up the block is a barbershop and next-door is Emily's Delightful Banquet Hall with a colorfully painted sign that reads "IF GOD DIDN'T FORGIVE SINNERS HEAVEN WOULD BE EMPTY." Only minutes by car, this part of town feels a world apart from the iconic single-style homes, verdant gardens, and two- and three-story piazzas of Charleston's historic district. Literally framed by the garage windows of the fire station, it's clear that this landscape is as important to Fletcher Williams III's current exhibit, City Block, as the sculptural structures on the walls.

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literature : review

Hello, My Name Is: Abu Dhabi

by Melissa Gronlund

Deepak Unnikrishnan's Temporary People and the fantastical realities of life in the Persian Gulf

One morning two bulldozers climbed on top of an abandoned white building that sits at the end of a major T-junction. They shimmied their way up and took a rest to enjoy the view. After a day or so they lifted their blades up to the sky, and then set to work peck-pecking the building apart. Within two weeks they had reduced the entire structure to rubble. Then they sat, gloating, on the pile. After another few weeks they moved on, and, where the building once stood, the sun now streams into drivers' eyes.

There is something about this city—Abu Dhabi—that makes you want to anthropomorphize what it contains. It could be the sterility of a place ruled by artificial rhythms: waves of construction and demolition, the foraging routes of roaches, the flux of foreign-born workers and residents. Parks are peopled in stages: the early afternoon is the white Westerners' shift. (They bed their children first.) The Levantine Arabs, who put their children down later, come afterward; they are followed by the Gulf Arabs, whose children never seem to sleep at all.

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literature : first proof

Three Poems

by Emily Hoffman

There is a particular
alleyway, not in this country.
I was late, it was dark,
and the fastest way
to reunite with my companions
was to walk down a very long
passage lined on each side
by the backs of buildings
then across a stretch of open road
through to the back entrance
of a gated theater complex
where we were meant to see a play.
Even before I began walking I knew
it was a bad idea.
I was drawn down the alley
by a feeling of inevitability and doom
such as one feels
walking to the gallows
in a hanging dream.

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art : review

Cynthia Daignault's There is nothing I could say that I haven't thought before

by Ted Dodson

The ethics of curating as an ethics of care

Cynthia Daignault's There is nothing I could say that I haven't thought before, now on view at the Flag Art Foundation, collects three separate series of paintings. Together, they continue her signature conceptual methodology, expanding on previous considerations of viewership, representative painting, and existential feminism to include a new imperative—ethics. All art has an ethics of sorts, but not many artists intend to detail the specific boundaries, freedoms, and covenants of that ethic through organizing phenomenological case studies that, in this instance, act as agents of care and consent, contending to where certain limits should be ethically upheld or breached.

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literature : review

Sound Over Sense

by Marjorie Welish

Syntactical adventure and rolling ruminations in Clark Coolidge: Selected Poems 1962–1985

In his introduction to Clark Coolidge: Selected Poems 1962–1985 (Station Hill Press, April 2017), Bill Berkson recalls something John Ashbery once told him about "Europe," a poem published in his 1957 collection, The Tennis Court Oath. Ashbery said that the work of Clark Coolidge was "the best extension he could imagine to what he was doing." High praise to be sure, yet there's more. That Ashbery has since omitted "Europe" from his own Selected Poems, published in 1985, has been interpreted a number of ways. Here is another: Ashbery left it out because Coolidge ran away with it.

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art : review

Alessandra Sanguinetti's Le Gendarme sur la Colline

by Gideon Jacobs

Old iconography in a new France

It's fitting that in Alessandra Sanguinetti's new exhibition and book, Le Gendarme sur la Colline, the photograph that can best play the role of icon, encapsulating this body of work in a single stroke, depicts the Eiffel Tower—a structure that does something similar for the nation in which it sits. But Sanguinetti doesn't point her lens at the actual 1,063-foot pride of France. Instead, she focuses on cheap facsimiles: souvenir trinkets sold all over Paris, often by immigrant vendors. In frame, the miniature towers are jumbled into a pile—a rather unromantic presentation of the most romantic symbol in the world. More importantly, a dark-skinned man reaches across a white sheet in hopes of peddling these commercial symbols of French tradition and lore—a tradition and lore that, to a great extent, may not include him.

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literature : review

Sex, Tattoos, & Geocatastrophe

by Lauren LeBlanc

Freeing Joan of Arc from her Catholic trappings in Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan

Studying the lives of the saints is not a gentle undertaking. What seems at the onset to be a series of seemingly pious portraits turns into a coldly fascinating look at obsession and sacrifice. To a young Southern Catholic like me, the histories of Saint Lucy or Saint Teresa of Avila felt entirely detached from my reality. At thirteen, I was a believer, but their experiences felt dated or conditional. Then, along came Joan. As part of the evaluation process for confirmation, our parish priest said he would ask our families if we were sexually active. His perverse curiosity belittled all that encompassed my life as a Catholic. Was I nothing more than a body? It was the same feeling I had when I learned about Joan of Arc. When men looked at her, they saw a girl they could destroy by burning her body.

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From The Australian

by Emma Smith-Stevens

On the streets of Melbourne, the Australian parades around dressed as Superman, paying his way through university by posing for photos, conscious of the bulge of his cock. Novelty, sex object, comic relief—it is all good. Radios across his nation have been playing a song that goes, "I've got the brains, you've got the looks, let's make lots of money." In his mind, the Australian is both of the people in the song. He is smart—smart enough to know when effort is absolutely required and when he can fake it—and he is handsome, with chiseled abdominal muscles underneath the chiseled abdominal muscles of his costume. He smiles widely, his teeth luminous, his canines threatening. All his life, he has been indiscriminate with his enthusiasm, invincible within the hedonistic splendor of the present moment, like some kind of inverted Buddha.

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film : review

The Enigma of Julian Assange

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

Risk, a new documentary by Laura Poitras, follows the Wikileaks founder as public perception sours.

Over the course of six years, filmmaker Laura Poitras had unparalleled access to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his closest confidantes. What she captured became Risk, the follow-up to her Oscar-winning Edward Snowden exposé, Citizenfour (2014). Despite such intimate access, Assange remains opaque, at times maddeningly so. Risk is both less exciting and more complex than Citizenfour, because, while Poitras liked and admired the young whistle-blower, she's conflicted about the slippery Assange. "It's a mystery why he trusts me because I don't think he likes me," she comments at one point.

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literature : interview

Polina Barskova

by Michael Juliani

"I'm interested in subterranean culture that says 'I will trick you' to official culture, 'I will play you.'"

Polina Barskova was born in 1976 in Leningrad (present-day St. Petersburg), a city that hosted one of the most destructive arenas of the Second World War. The Nazi Siege of Leningrad claimed more than one million lives, trapping its citizens for over three years in a landscape of darkness, starvation, and disease. Barskova left Russia at the age of twenty to pursue a PhD in Russian Studies at UC Berkeley, having already earned a graduate degree and become an accomplished poet in her homeland. I first found her work in The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, co-edited by fellow émigré Ilya Kaminsky, who translated a short volume of her poems for Tupelo Press, This Lamentable City (2010). Barskova is also the author of several books in Russian, the earliest of which was published during her adolescence. Some of this work is represented in The Zoo in Winter: Selected Poems (Melville House, 2011). As a professor of Russian literature at Hampshire College, Barskova began an archival project that resulted in Written in the Dark: Five Poets in the Siege of Leningrad, an anthology of work written during the siege that remained unknown for decades. Barskova's book gives form to the fluidities of poetic lineage, cultural context, and literary translation, a meld of aberrations optimized by what Barskova calls "the siege surreal." In service of these five poets, who found themselves caught in an often misrepresented moment in Russian history, Barskova and the several translators of this book have rendered these pieces from the catacombs of the twentieth century.

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art : review

Wolfgang Tillmans's 2017

by Orit Gat

The smallest of details, writ large

For a long time while walking through Wolfgang Tillmans's exhibition 2017 at Tate Modern, I hoped it would close with the series of posters the photographer made before the Brexit vote, of poetic combinations of image and text. "No man is an island. No country by itself" was superimposed over a photo of cliffs with a bit of sea hitting against them in the corner. "Say you're in if you're in" reads another.

Though the campaign by the German-born, London-based artist was deliberately anti-Brexit, it was only designed to encourage UK residents to register to vote in June 2016. The posters were freely available to download on Tillmans's website and were thus used in a variety of ways: to illustrate articles about the impending vote, hang against windows in London flats, and post and circulate online. The project was a one-man invitation to think and share opinions, a contribution to an ongoing discussion about the political possibility of images, especially as we circulate them online today.

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literature : review

The Fog of Family

by Charlotte Whittle

Legacy and estrangement in Diego Zúñiga's Camanchaca

Camanchaca is a coastal fog that blankets the parched Atacama Desert of northern Chile. In Diego Zúñiga's novel of the same name (Coffee House Press, March 2017), the camanchaca is present both in landscape and story; in this fragmentary account of a desert journey, fog hangs above the highway and clouds the nameless protagonist's mind, obscuring both road-trip snapshots and memories of the past with its opacity.  

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literature : first proof

One Poem

by Wendy Lotterman

Lifted up by blonds and the comic victory of the particular, like the city and my mom in a fake, spontaneous duet. The financial district falls into her lap so that no good thing can be saved from a three-legged relay with the bad. Layers of grudge and wonder collapse into a single unsalted cracker, while miles of superstitious sun signs combust in a triangle of fire with liquor and wet-wipes.

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music : portfolio

Field Recording

by Aakash Mittal

When riding the New York subway I'm captivated by reflections of people in the dusty window glass. Suggestions of the human form against a speeding backdrop appear ghostlike and spectral, reminding me of an apparition caught between life and death, or between music and noise. But more often, while in transit, my focus is on the arrival rather than the incremental, crowded, and perhaps boring commute. I'm largely unaware of the music that surrounds me as I count down the stops to my destination.

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literature : review

Ozark Millennials

by Michelle Hogmire

Disaffected drifting in Erika Carter's Lucky You

To respond to a catcall or not to respond to a catcall? If that's the question, Erika Carter's debut novel Lucky You (Counterpoint, March 2017) begins with an answer. Ellie—one of three female main characters—loses her electricity in an ice storm, and when a group of men accosts her on the street and offer to walk her home, she attempts to reject their advances with a double entendre: "'I don't have any power,' she said, in the spirit of protest, but it came out like an apology." Ellie extends an invitation and ends up drinking and sleeping with these strangers in the dark. This is a fine decision if it's a choice, but Carter's novel is saturated with this theme of powerlessness. The book takes place from January 2008 to February 2010—a perfect simulacrum of late-aughts disaffected drifting. Carter shows characters failing to vote in the context of Wall Street corruption, worthless English degrees, and millennial unemployment. Obama will be elected, then bail out the banks. So much for hope and change.

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art : review

The Arcades: Contemporary Art & Walter Benjamin

by Claire Barliant

Benjamin as hollow window dressing

Walter Benjamin—the much-loved German philosopher who committed suicide rather than risk death by Nazis—entrusted his final, unfinished manuscript to Georges Bataille, who hid it in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, where it was discovered after the war. That manuscript was both paean to and pillory of modernity. Fascinated with the soaring metal-and-glass pedestrian passageways in Paris, which were lined with shops and teeming with patrons, Benjamin considered these arcades the ultimate symbol of industrial capitalism, where it was most obvious that the real fuel keeping the factories running was insatiable consumption. The three-volume opus known as The Arcades Project inspired the bravely experimental, occasionally brilliant, but often frustrating group exhibition "The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin."

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film : review

The Ruined Map

by Steve Macfarlane

Blunt yet intoxicating, James Gray's The Lost City of Z betrays its outsize ambitions and pained revisionism with every last scene

Few filmmakers' careers highlight the gap between critical consensus and the mass ticket-buying audience (or lack thereof) better than that of writer-director James Gray. Until now, Gray's films have taken place exclusively in New York City, concerning themselves with operatic themes: family dissolution, the cop-crook divide, longings for a better life compromised by the inevitable strictures of class, race, or religion. Gray loves little tweaks of fate that alter his stories' outcomes irrevocably—in his 1994 debut Little Odessa, it's a hanging bedsheet that manages to obscure a character's field of vision just long enough for the wrong person to get shot; in 2007's We Own The Night, it's a pummeling rainstorm (added in postproduction) that sees Joaquin Phoenix's Russian mafioso-cum-police informant unable to prevent the assassination of his deputy NYPD officer father (Robert Duvall). Whether these are desperate MacGuffins or rupture moments of pure poetry is very much the Rorschach blot by which Gray's auteurism can be judged. Just as diehards find this earnestness to be unrepentantly classical, I've struggled to see these movies rise above their tendency for the hoary or literal-minded. (Then again, as Duvall's aforementioned character offers: "You marry an ape, you don't complain about the stench of bananas.")

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literature : first proof

Keep Away from Things That Can Catch Fire

by Stephanie Chou

You stand outside your apartment waiting for it to burn or maybe not burn down to the ground, and think of your dead daughter's theory of the nought universes. It was a theory dreamed up during a neon summer away at church camp when she was twelve. You and your husband Mitchell are not religious people. But Beth had friends who went every year and convinced her it was more about water sports and friendship bracelets than the bible. Beth had one epiphany at camp: the theory of the nought universes. A nought universe buds from a time when you wish you hadn't done something. For example, she really wished she wasn't wearing overall jean shorts when she got her period in the middle of craft time. The accompanied nought universe was one in which fertility was far away like high school and learner's permits. One in which Beth finished making bracelets out of embroidery thread instead of holding her overalls under hot tap water (a mistake you'll tell her gently later, blood stains are best removed with cold water) in the campground's washroom hut.

You try to apply Beth's theory to your current situation. The fire alarm continues to blare, but you don't see smoke, don't feel heat. Tenants, the likes of which you have never seen before, spill out of the building onto the lawn and sidewalk. It is 10:32 at night, the sky is cloudy and the air is cold. A low fog has been hanging over the city. You are wearing two bathrobes underneath your down jacket. Someone close by lights a cigarette. Hours earlier, when you put on lipstick and leave the house to go meet your daughter's widower Jordie, the hallways smell like burnt rice. I hope there isn't a fire, you say aloud because you know no one will respond. Now you wish you hadn't said anything. What kind of nought universe did you summon with your hope?

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film : review

Laurie Simmons's My Art

by Judith Hudson

Taking cinema's portrayal of artists personally

We all lose eventually. In the meantime, we fight as hard as we can. Art, and especially movies can make us forget we will ever grow old, be poor, or get rejected. Laurie Simmons confronts age and loneliness head-on in her film My Art, which has its North American premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, April 22–30. No one is spared, but everyone has a good time with the struggle.

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literature : review

Gone Below

by J. T. Price

Life and death in a mining town in Kevin Canty's The Underworld

New Yorkers don't talk much about coal mining, and why would they? Dreams of city glamor, of museum galas and tailored finery, inherently repel any notion of what goes on beneath the surface of the earth or the question of how we power our twenty-four-hour light. Total darkness is a rare event. In his sixth novel, The Underworld (W.W. Norton, March 2017), Kevin Canty delivers us down into the darkness of a mine (unnamed, though based on a mine ironically called Sunshine) out in Silverton, Idaho during the 1970s. Mostly though, Canty renders lives above ground—both in Silverton and not far away in Missoula, Montana—and how they are changed forever by a disaster that results in nearly a hundred deaths. The aftermath of this tragedy finds nearly everyone missing someone, at the very least a steady presence at the local bar, if not a son, brother, father, or husband.

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art : oral history

James Little

by LeRonn P. Brooks

James Little has worked nearly half a century at mastering the craft of painting. While our conversation here delves into his painterly "alchemy"—he mixes all his own paints and uses beeswax as varnish—it also documents a life in painting. Born into a family of artisans with high expectations in a segregated Memphis, the artist learned the value of hard work, creativity, and persistence. His experimentation with the transformative properties of his materials reflects these emphases, and his search for excellence mirrors the work ethic of the community that raised him. This is to say that memory has its textures and its colors—their own connotative ends; Little's paintings demonstrate a quest for the perfection of craft, but do not covet certainty despite the precision with which they are ordered. His paintings are guided by intuitive responses to form, color, and feeling. This approach is not overly calculated, though its complexity may suggest so. His expression is personal—visceral exchanges between memory and its hues, between emotion and the logistics of its use, between logic's place in the fog of the human heart, and the ways that rationale can be envisioned as painterly "surface." Here, to speak solely of order is to imply, in some way, process, but this implication does not necessarily suggest the course of a method as the ends of his labor's purpose. Little's "purpose" cannot be narrowly defined by his methods nor is it all a simple matter of procedure.The imagination has its own speculative ends and its interchanges with the world are, in Little's paintings, as vibrant and curiously bedecked as any prism thread with light. What follows is a conversation about artistic vision, practice, and the importance of perseverance. It is a document concerned with valuing painting as of form of experiential evidence, and the imagination as a vivid context for human worth, history's propositions, and a life's purpose. 

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