Daily Postings
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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literature : review

After the Massacre

by Carlos Fonseca

Staging historical justice in Hernán Ronsino's Glaxo

Sometimes history looks to fiction in order to bury its specters. Latin American literature seems to agree: from Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo to Valeria Luiselli's Faces in the Crowd, it would appear that Latin American fiction is the last ground where the battle for historical justice can be staged. Hernán Ronsino's arresting Glaxo (Melville House, 2017), brilliantly translated by Samuel Rutter, revives this powerful tradition by immersing us in a world where the possibility of justice and forgiveness is always tainted by remorse and vengeance. In one of the four monologues that compose this short but delightfully structured novella, Vardemann—the town's barber—catches the sight of a kid playing outside as he gazes through his window:

Then I see Bicho Souza’s son, alone, moving through the rain with a green shotgun, made of plastic, playing at war and facing up at long last to those endless ghosts in the cane field.

The scene condenses, in the poignancy of its imagery, the novel's capacity to stage violence as something inherited, repeated, and displaced. Like Bicho Souza's son, we are all kids ignorant of the dangerous games we play. Like Vardemann's painful witnessing of a kid playing war, we readers are asked to face up to the endless ghosts of Argentina's history. In doing so, Glaxo sketches a spectral crime story where history, far from something abstract, is embodied within a terribly tangible landscape plagued by memory and guilt.

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film : interview

Beth B

by Coleen Fitzgibbon

"My work is so much about breaking that cycle of trauma, abuse, violence, and disturbance. It brings it out into the open so we can have a dialogue."

Artist and filmmaker Beth B came into her own in the downtown New York arts scene of the early '80s, creating large-scale installations and Super-8 films. Since then, she has released numerous documentaries and features for screen and television. Her non-fiction feature, Exposed, premiered in the Panorama section at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival, and her most recent film, Call Her Applebroog, chronicles the life and work of her mother—renowned visual artist Ida Applebroog. It premiered at MOMA's Doc Fortnight in February 2016. Voyeur, an installation of her videos, photography, and sculpture, opens at Howl! Happening in New York on February 18, 2017. I've known Beth since the late 1970s, when we helped co-found the radical artist's collective Colab.

Beth B I've made over thirty films, some of them shorts, some features, some hour-long docs. I did eight-hour docs for television, then came back to independent filmmaking. I continue to move from one genre to another in film because the most important thing is the subject matter. I figure out what form it's going to take afterward. I approach studio art in much the same way, looking to the idea to dictate the medium. Sometimes the work is thematic and an installation may take on various mediums, like this exhibition at HOWL! Arts. I'm showing sculpture, photography, video, and publishing a book—Nudes. The show dislocates the concept of voyeurism, which has been described as a psychosexual disorder. But look at the world today. We're living at a time when boundaries surrounding privacy are questioned everyday, and so the show challenges the convention of this secret vantage point, allowing the viewer to choose their engagement.

Coleen Fitzgibbon Let's back up a bit. How did you start making films?

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literature : interview

Rachel Cusk

by Alex Zafiris

"For these books to work, the reader needs to play at least some role in the 'writing' of them."

Transit (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017) is the second in a recent trilogy of experimental novels by the London-based, Canadian-born writer Rachel Cusk. The first, Outline (2014), presents us with a deeply receded narrator. Only minimal facts are provided: Faye is a novelist who has separated from her husband, has two children, and is teaching a writing class in Greece. She barely speaks. What we learn about her surfaces through her interactions with others and their reactions to her. The rest we must assume through our experience of reading her words and via our own assessments of life.

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music : interview

Leo Svirsky

by Michael Pisaro

"Activism always involves a kind of coalition building, but the kind of community art is capable of building extends further, to the dead and the unborn."

"Mysterium." This was the answer Leo Svirsky gave me some time ago, when I asked what his end goal with music was. Began by Russian symbolist Alexander Scriabin in 1903, Mysterium, is an unfinished musical work that the composer worked on until his death in 1915. The piece included an orchestra, a large mixed choir, an instrument with visual effects, dancers, a procession, and incense. It was to be over a week long, take place in the foothills of the Himalayas, bring about the end of the world, and replace humanity with "nobler beings." Listening to Svirsky speak about the present state of music, politics, and culture, one senses that such a spirit of upheaval is alive and kicking. Born in 1988, this young composer—much like his interviewer, guitarist and composer Michael Pisaro—pursues Mysterium's reconfiguration of the world, but by opposite means: quietude. Eschewing Scriabin's dreams of bombast in favor of meditative privacy, Svirsky searches for what can be heard in the unheard. With works for piano, orchestra, and ensemble, Svirsky lights corners of hidden musical worlds with a palm sheltering the flame.

—Britton Powell

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art : portfolio

Dream Study (Hibernation)

by Kamil Franko

It was October, and autumn was at its highest. I found myself in Croatia, in Zagreb, near the mountain of Sjleme for two months, and there I began filming Hibernation. In the early stages it was merely an exercise in studying movement and space with myself serving as subject. I filmed, collected material, and dissected it on a daily basis. As the days carried on, an intuitive narration emerged. Stories began evolving spontaneously in a flux of separate events, happenings, and disconnected locations. My understanding of linear time suddenly took a different shape and it helped me begin thinking about the logic of dreams. They make us experience dimensions beyond reality, bending in various ways and signifying something fundamental. Dreams are time.

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theater : review

Dream the Myth Onward

by Amber Power

Feminists face off against Norman Mailer in the Wooster Group's reenactment of the notorious '71 Town Hall debate

There is a dick on stage and someone has given him a microphone. He is flanked by a small battalion of feminists. He taunts and condescends through a tight half-smile. The dick is delighted to be here—he’s even hired a camera crew to document the event. The feminists regard him with a mixture of amused detachment and outrage—they resent his vaunted position in the culture and his repeated efforts to prove their intellectual (and biologic) inferiority. They admonish him as they would a bad child and he retaliates by calling them “cunty.” The dick, after all, belongs to that special breed of chest-beating chauvinists with whom we've recently become reacquainted—though, in this dick’s case, a formidable intellect speciously lends credibility to his misogyny. Outside the venue, scores of women protest. Inside, the audience brims with a volatile mix of supporters and detractors. There is little room for the undecided.

This is Town Hall, Manhattan, April 30, 1971—the scene of the gender donnybrook “A Dialogue on Women’s Liberation,” a Theater for Ideas debate, which pitted provocateur-pugilist Norman Mailer against an auditorium of feminist thinkers and writers. This is also the Performing Garage, Manhattan, February 4, 2017—the site of the Wooster Group’s newest performance, The Town Hall Affair, a daring and timely reenactment of the night a group of women drove old Mailer down. Under the direction of Elizabeth LeCompte, the Wooster actors awaken the sleeping giants of second-wave feminism and offer up their arguments for renewed consideration.

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literature : review

Macho Memoirs

by Daniel Pearce

Taking writing to the mat in J.D. Daniels's The Correspondence

The early writers of epistolary fiction saw something in the letter that many of us who still write letters intuitively accept: that few forms besides the diary and the guttural yell lend themselves so readily to lapel-grabbing declarations of despair, vulnerability, and murderous rage—all private extremes in no short supply these last months. But the key innovation of those early writers was to compose seemingly candid letters intended for an audience of more than just the addressee.

That the canon of epistolary fiction is so male-dominated makes a certain sense when one considers, among other things, how much intimacy male self-expression stereotypically requires—since authenticity can only manifest itself as a confession to another, the explanation might go. This may also explain the magnetism of the letter form for a writer like J.D. Daniels, whose excellent debut collection, The Correspondence, consists of six "letters" that plumb macho themes all too accustomed to being listed as such. (In describing the book, one can hardly refrain from the tired, book-jacket-ready coupling of "masculinity and violence," which is by now enough to make any reader tap the mat.) But the letters that make up The Correspondence are, like most letters, about much and little, limited only by the associations the writer chooses to indulge: teaching, deciding not to teach, drinking, not drinking, self-hatred, self-love, friendship, and rivalry. Daniels moves so nimbly between topics and episodes that only athletic metaphors come to mind.

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literature : review

You Don’t Know Jack

by Ammiel Alcalay

Doing justice to Jack Kerouac in Todd Tietchen's The Unknown Kerouac and Jean-Christophe Cloutier's La vie est d'hommage

When Jack Kerouac died in Florida in October of 1969, it was a local event in New England. The Boston Globe clipping that I still have, "Jack Kerouac's Days on the Road Are Ended," has a Lowell dateline, noting that "last night this dreary old mill city, dominated by factories and tenements, sadly remembered its native son." Of course, Kerouac's "days on the road" had ended long before. By the time On the Road came out in 1957, many of the books Kerouac is most well known for were already written but unpublished (and once they did come out, many went out of print during and after his lifetime).

Only now, at a remove of more than 45 years, are we starting to get a fuller picture of the enormity of Kerouac's achievement, and the extent to which it has been misunderstood, denigrated, and distorted. Because of the vastness of Kerouac's archive, held in the New York Public Library's Berg Collection, the need for serious textual scholarship and intelligent editing has been paramount. While Kerouac himself was a meticulous archivist, organizing all his work carefully, the editing quality of the posthumous work has varied, sometimes wildly.

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music : portfolio

Field Recording

by Aki Onda

Burn, burn offerings... the fire will purify your body and mind...

This recording was made on January 1, 2013. My wife Makiko and I enjoyed going to an annual New Year's Fire Puja held at artist and poet John Giorno's house on Bowery Street. Our friend Marcus Boon, a writer and the editor of Subduing Demons In America: The Selected Poems of John Giorno, took us there for the first time and we kept going for several years. The ceremony is a Tibetan Buddhism tradition in the Red Hat Nyingma school, where lamas and worshipers (and perhaps a few visitors like us) gather around the fireplace, chant mantras, and meditate for long hours. The room gets smoky at times since lamas burn offerings such as oil, butter, grains, honey, sugar, spices... And each ingredient pops with a slightly different sound, scent, and color of flame. I'm smitten with watching the ever-changing fire burn. It's such a powerful and hypnotic experience for starting a new year. No wonder Giorno has kept hosting this event in his living room for three decades.

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literature : first proof

One Poem

by Jacquelyn Ross

Now through next Friday, your perpetual struggle for recognition drives you to all-time lows. A conversation you have with an old friend will remind you of why you do what you do and refresh your creative direction. Beware of self-doubt, but be comfortable using ultramarine blue, at least until Neptune completes its rotation on the twelfth of February.

As Pluto moves into its ninth orbit around the sun, creative spirits are high. Keep impulses in check by remaining steadfast in your search for a more elegant solution, however understated. True progress is often meditative rather than prolific. Potential avenues for research may include lounge furniture, garden design, cabin porn, bus shelters... note the importance of exterior, interior, and spiritual structures. Take great care in the kinds of shelters you build.

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art : portfolio

Connecting the Polka Dots

by Ted Kerr

AIDS in plain sight

I always thought polka dots were synonymous with HIV/AIDS—just as the red ribbon, the pink triangle, and President Reagan all are—until I was at a dinner party with a gaggle of artsy AIDS-aware types. When I said as much I was met with blank stares, leading me to consider how I came to such a conclusion.

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literature : review

Spectral Reality

by Saul Anton

Distance and searching in Katie Kitamura's A Separation

Like her earlier work, Katie Kitamura's latest effort, A Separation, is woven of taut, sturdy sentences that probe the folds of everyday life. It is, however, a departure from her previous novels' focus on men. This time, she opts to explore the inner life of a married Londoner who goes to an island in Greece in search of the skirt-chasing husband she recently separated from.

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past events : from the editor
music : interview

Ghédalia Tazartès

by Lawrence Kumpf

"I was spooling cassette tape all around my room in a big loop, running it around and through things. At the time, I got the impression I had invented the loop."

Developing his own idiosyncratic approach to voice and tape, Ghédalia Tazartès has remained relatively unknown outside of Paris, where he has worked in dance, theater, and film for many years—and only occasionally released recordings on smaller labels, like Cobalt and Ayaa. While Tazartès' methodical approach to making music could be considered an ad hoc bedroom version of some of the more well known avant-garde practices developed by François Bayle, Pierre Henri, and Michel Chion at Groupe de Recherches Musicales, it also radically diverges from these traditions, leaning more toward the impressionistic and expressive. Tazartès records hours of material, keeping only the best moments—a working method he calls impromuz, wherein rough tape collages are looped and layered with the sounds with his own voice, synthesizers, and various other instruments. In 2004, after a career of relatively few public appearances, Tazartès' returned to the stage as a solo performer and has since toured Europe, collaborating with a number of musicians in live settings.

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literature : first proof

From Shot-Blue

by Jesse Ruddock

She hated the narrow dirt mile between their trailer and town. She wanted to erase it the same way she might spit and rub a number off the back of her hand. Rachel didn't own anything, but it was a lot to carry on soft ground. The mud and gravel road was thawing from the top down. It peeled under her steps like skin off rotten fruit. Its dampness rose into her shirt in a mix of sweat and dew that didn't feel good. She would abandon the table and chairs, the bed and mattress. The lamps were useless; where they were going, there was no electricity. But she couldn't abandon everything. They needed their bags of clothes, a handful of cutlery, and the pair of tins heavy with flour and sugar. In red-licorice cursive, the tins read Merry Christmas. But they weren't Christmas tins, she used them all year.

Tristan wasn't allowed to help because he made her think. She didn't need to think but to walk the mile. Yet back and forth to town, thoughts of him persisted, distracting her and biting into her shoulder more sharply than any strap. She thought of how he didn't run for the sake of running like other boys. She couldn't even picture what it looked like when he ran. And he didn't try to lift things just to see if he could. He was ten years old and had never tried to lift her.

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film : review

Call to Witness

by Nico Wheadon

Raoul Peck's I Am Not Your Negro testifies that James Baldwin's embattled America is still our own.

I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary feat that draws much of its complexity from corralling the all-too-obscure history of race in the United States. A brilliant translator of this narrative, Haitian filmmaker and activist Raoul Peck adapts the unfinished, final novel by James Baldwin—provisionally titled Remember This House—as a framing device to unpack broader issues of power and privilege. Peck—to whom the few pages of the original manuscript were entrusted by the writer's estate—expertly matches Baldwin's prophetic lyricism with his own highly innovative approach. He juxtaposes images of today's political movements with Baldwin's manifestos and archival clips from the civil rights era, employing film's ability to collapse time and space to challenge the truth of American progress.

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art : portfolio
art : review

Isamu Noguchi: Self-Interned, 1942

by Zack Hatfield

How willful captivity shaped a sculptor's practice.

In a world of walls, Isamu Noguchi carved thresholds. Portals, gates, voids, and totems perforate the work of the late Japanese-American sculptor. Ostensibly, these works seem bereft of historicity or urgency, objects and surfaces that simply revel in their own form. Yet it would be a mistake to unmoor Noguchi's art from its political and personal context, through which they often become, despite their tranquilities, laden with histories of systemic violence and afflicted selfhood. A new retrospective at the Noguchi Museum, titled Self-Interned, 1942: Noguchi in Poston War Relocation Center revolves around the artist's decision to voluntarily enter Poston, Arizona's Japanese-American internment camp in 1942, where he would stay for seven months in an effort to enhance camp conditions through design. The sculptures displayed span over forty years, and obliquely illuminate Noguchi's confinement in a country that still today contends not only with presidential promises of mass deportation and registries, but also with increasingly relevant questions about how creative labor can embrace activism in a society rife with empty symbolic gestures.

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literature : review

Borrowed Time

by J. T. Price

On Doctorow: Collected Stories

If you know the "Bye-Bye Blackbird" moment from Michael Mann's powerful 2009 gangster film Public Enemies, then you know the work of E.L. Doctorow. Deep within the author's 1989 prize-winning Billy Bathgate, a gangster at the edge of a rocking boat, his feet firmly planted inside cement, hums the tune that figures prominently in the film. Like many of the writers of film and print who have lifted from his work, Doctorow was an accomplished serial borrower in his own right. The central plotline, amid a cornucopia of them, from perhaps his most famous novel, Ragtime—a fiction that could not register as more relevant in the era of Black Lives Matters and Between the World and Me—stemmed from Heinrich von Kleist's early 19th century Michael Kohlhaas, which in turn was based on newspaper reports out of 17th century Germany. On the page, the stylistically versatile Doctorow had fun: roving through time and space, sifting for recognizable texture, then with a light touch, investing his narratives with wit and perspicacity. Facts are danced with, twirled and dipped, in service to the work, making it all feel real when Doctorow is at his best. Doctorow was often at his best.

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literature : interview

André Aciman

by Gary M. Kramer

"Obsession and fantasy, like desire and fear, happen in the mind... the most powerful, fixated erotic organ known to man."

In his remarkable fourth novel, Enigma Variations, André Aciman continues to explore themes of alienation and panic as his characters brazenly explore shameless thoughts about their carnal and emotional longings. The effect is a more relatable understanding of what motivates obsessive, neurotic behavior, and how identities and desires shift to achieve self-worth and actualization. The book takes a prismatic approach to revealing the life of its protagonist, Paul, through five stories that recount his relationship with various men and women over time. Paul is compulsively in his own head, where fantasies, both erotic and flighty, coexist. Aciman initially explored the search for identity in his exquisite memoir, Out of Egypt, which captured the personal journey of his family into exile. The theme of "recapturing the past," which haunted his family, is echoed in the Enigma Variations, albeit to a lesser degree. Here the characters grapple with time as well, positing statements like, "The past is a foreign country," and, as a teacher asks, "Have you drunk the wine of life?"

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literature : review

Futurism, Hashtags, & the Old Wild West

by Jeffrey Grunthaner

Douglas Kearney's buck studies recasts worn out notions of black masculinity.

Douglas Kearney's buck studies (Fence Books, 2016) remaps the 20th century in a project that is both lyrical and epic, personal and historical. The work references a cacophonous range of topics including vintage pop songs, Modernism, #blacklivesmatter, and Italian Futurism. Fiercely committed to identity politics, Kearney recasts historical personae to create a chorus of complex identities throughout the text, reassigning sacred figures and characters to the circumstances of a later time. In a section called "Ecce Cuniculus," a humorous retelling of the Stations of the Cross, Jesus becomes Brer Rabbit. In "Mane," the first poem in the collection, Stagger Lee's "hard bad rock song" guns down Billy Lyons, a tragic misuse of bravado inserted into the same imagistic plane as Eddie Murphy's "The Nutty Professor" character: "what a man what a mighty badman. / Lee as some Herakles! Herakles!"

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