All posts by LARB Blog

Mu Shiying 1

The Beautiful and Damned

By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham

In a post here at the LARB China Blog last month, Austin Dean discussed the recent revival of interest in Chinese authors of the 1930s and ’40s who had fallen out of favor after the communist takeover in 1949. When Austin sent in his post for editing and I opened the file to see what he had written about, I laughed to myself — he and I were thinking along the same lines, as I had been planning a post about one of those long-lost authors.

The author I had in mind was Mu Shiying, an experimental essayist, short-story writer, and novelist who blazed onto the Shanghai literary scene in the early 1930s and produced an impressive quantity of works before falling victim to an assassin in 1940. The circumstances of Mu’s death have something to do with his long disappearance from the Chinese literary canon: he had taken a job managing a newspaper produced under the Wang Jingwei regime, a collaborationist pro-Japanese government that’s still remembered as perhaps the greatest example of betrayal in twentieth-century Chinese history, and that association led to his assassination. But the other reason that Mu’s stories could not be circulated during the first few decades of communist rule is that they depict — in vibrant, thrilling detail — the pleasure-seeking wildness of Shanghai nightlife in the 1930s. In the years after the communist government came to power, the new administration shut down those nightclubs, and the major literary works of the Mao era (1949-1976) featured China’s farmers and workers, rather than tuxedo-clad cabaret patrons. Continue reading

larb blog observation

On Observation

Today’s post was originally published on LARB Channel Boom.

By Rafe Sagarin

In The Log From the Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts wrote, “We determined to go doubly open so that in the end we could, if we wished, describe the sierra thus: ‘D.XVII-15-IX; A.II-15-IX,’ but also we could see the fish alive and swimming, feel it plunge against the lines, drag it threshing over the rail, and even finally eat it. And there is no reason why either approach should be inaccurate.”

A few years ago in the fall, I led a coastal field course from Los Angeles to San Francisco with thirteen undergraduates and graduate students from Duke University. Like John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts in preparing for their expedition to the Gulf of California, I wanted us to go “doubly open,” knowing that this approach entails a whole spectrum of observation between the coldly scientific and the deeply experiential poles that Steinbeck and Ricketts staked out for their expansive interpretation of field science. I wanted my students to see California with reverence and awe, while not ignoring its flaws and internal contradictions. I wanted us to get immersed in its cold Pacific waters, to cover our hands in octopus ink and the slime of stranded drift mats of giant kelp. I also wanted to walk in its cement rivers and inhale the stink of its refineries. I wanted us to savor its delicious doughnuts, uncover the secrets of its wines, and gorge ourselves on enormous burritos. I wanted to share it all with the eclectic mix of artists and activists, scientists and stewards who make California their home. Continue reading

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WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE: DEBUT FICTION FROM MATTHEW THOMAS AND EIMEAR McBRIDE

By Michael Magras

One of the more spirited debates in literature over the past couple of years concerns the likability of characters, especially female characters. During an interview with Publishers Weekly in April 2013, Claire Messud took umbrage at the suggestion that Nora Eldridge, the protagonist of her excellent novel The Woman Upstairs, was not someone the interviewer would ever want to befriend. “For heaven’s sake,” Messud responded. “Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? […] The relevant question isn’t ‘is this a potential friend for me?’ but ‘is this character alive?’” Continue reading

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This Week’s Triptych Artist: David Lloyd

This week, our featured triptych artist is David Lloyd.

Lloyd creates mixed-media paintings on shaped panels. “There’s a sort of narrative to it,” he says. “They’re based on a sort of yin and yang of the real world and the mystical world.” His many exhibitions include those held at Klowden Mann, Gallery Paule Anglim, the Orange County Museum of Art and the Museum of Art and History in California, as well as Metro Pictures and Milk Gallery in New York, along with many others.  His work is in private collections internationally, and public collections include the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Getty, the Orange County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

This week’s triptych features his work “Ephemeris” (2014, mixed media on canvas, 29 x 70 x 1/2 in. Work courtesy of Klowden Mann).

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larb blog base alchemy

John Knuth, “Base Alchemy”

By Matt Stromberg

As a child, John Knuth was fond of exploring the wilderness around his Minnesota home, and this wide-eyed fascination with the natural world informs his artistic practice. His recent show at Five Car Garage in Santa Monica, “Base Alchemy,” featured meditative, minimal works that meld gleeful, scientific experimentation with a reductive, formalist aesthetic. The exhibition featured two bodies of work – fly paintings consisting of fields of dots made by thousands of flies who are fed, and then regurgitate, a mixture of paint and sugar, and mirror-like Mylar paintings which Knuth burned with signal flares, causing violent ruptures in their surfaces. Both Mylar (used in emergency blankets) and the flares are survival tools, used when the natural world puts up a threatening challenge to human mastery over it.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Knuth introduced a number of albino morph California Kingsnakes into the gallery for a one-day performance. These animals are bred specifically to accentuate their recessive genes, giving them colors that would never be found in nature. Filmmaker Andy Featherston created a video pairing the gorgeous, writhing snakes with Knuth’s alchemical creations, thereby revealing the beauty and violence inherent in the manipulation of nature.

larb blog le carre

Hong Kong 2014 — A Post Before a Visit

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

When this post goes live on November 5, I will have just arrived in Hong Kong. I’m heading there in part to give a pair of talks at a university, but more important than that is my desire to see for myself how the city, which has changed so profoundly since I first visited it in 1987, has been transformed by the recent wave of protests. My trip is linked to an experimental course that I’m teaching at UC Irvine. It’s titled “Global Crises” and has included presentations by various regional specialists. Some of these guest speakers have come across campus to give presentations, while others have visited the class long-distance via Skype. While in Hong Kong, I will take my own turn as one of those guests from afar. Joining me in that Skyped-in session will be a Hong Kong-based journalist, a Hong Kong-based academic, and a visiting researcher from the United States, all of whom have been tracking closely the events unfolding on the city’s streets. Continue reading

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JSTOR Daily

JSTOR will be familiar to many readers as the repository of academic papers from which Aaron Swartz performed his fateful download at MIT. But many may not realize that JSTOR, a nonprofit, was already planning to make the public domain portion of its immense scholarly archive accessible to the public, as it has since done.

Furthering this project of making the informational wealth of the academy more accessible to the public, JSTOR recently launched JSTOR Daily, providing public access to the strange and fascinating world of the academy in a beautiful, eclectic and intelligent publication. It’s still in beta, but it is great. Recent articles include “Outbeat: America’s First LGBT Jazz Festival”, “Chess Grandmastery: Nature, Gender, and the Genius of Judit Polgár,” and “Is Marijuana Good for Public Health?”

Editor Catherine Halley speaks with us about JSTOR Daily in a fun, freewheeling conversation.

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The LARB Intern Interview

Editor’s Note:  Each year, the Los Angeles Review of Books hosts a summer internship program that features the LARB Publishing Course: a weekly seminar series on how to edit, design and ultimately publish a magazine. As part of the Course, the interns take over LARB‘s tabloid print magazine and publish their own edition. It is a real world experience: the interns acquire content, edit and copyedit the articles, solicit art, and ultimately bring it to press. 

The internship program is over now that it’s November, but the LARB Intern Magazine is finished and has just been sent out to our members. I corresponded with three of the interns most involved with producing the magazine: Steven Williams, the Managing Editor, Cypress Mars, the Deputy Managing Editor, and Zach Mann, the Layout Editor and Copy Desk Chief.  Continue reading

Larb blog giving blood

Going to Give the Blood

Photo credit Alex Crétey Systermans.

By Joanna Chen

“Can I give blood too?” my son asks as I stand in the doorway, car keys in one hand, my bag and a bottle of water in the other. “No,” I say. “You can’t. You’re too young.” He is fifteen years old and has a genetic disease. He will probably never be able to donate blood.

My partner, Raz, and I drive to East Jerusalem and up to the Mount of Olives. It’s a beautiful journey, beginning with the biblical landscape of David and Goliath. The Ella Valley, where we live, has barely changed for years, a gentle range of hills dotted with olive and almond trees that blossom wildly in season. The area also carries a delicate historical subtext: it was the site of a number of Arab villages that existed before the 1948 war. One of the villages we pass still contains a mosque, peeking out above the red roofed houses of Kurdish Jews who fled Northern Iraq in the early 1950s. Continue reading

larb blog alison saar

This Week’s Triptych Artist: Alison Saar

This week, our featured triptych artist is Alison Saar.  Born in Los Angeles, Alison’s many solo exhibitions include Hothouse, Watts Towers Art Center, Watts, CA, and Slough, L.A., Louver, Venice, CA.  She also has participated in several group exhibitions including Women and Print (2014, Ruth Candler Williamson Gallery, Scripps College) and New York City Parks Sculptures Honoring the African American Experience (The Arsenal, Central Park, New York).

This week’s triptych features her work “Cotton Eater” (2013, wood cotton, acrylic, and tar, 64 x 20 1/2 x 17 1/2 in. (162.6 x 52.1 x 44.5 cm. Copyright Alison Saar. Courtesy of L.A. Louver, Venice, CA).

Cotton Eater AIS13-31 A

 

Cotton Eater AIS13-31 D

 

Cotton Eater AIS13-31 E