Category Archives: Essays

Nietzsche’s Horse

By Chris Townsend

On January 3, 1889, in the throes of a manic episode, Friedrich Nietzsche left his lodgings in Turin, walked a short distance across a nearby square, and then halted. Seeing a horse being flogged by its owner, he threw himself towards the animal and embraced it. Breaking into tears, he slumped to the floor. He was almost arrested for disturbing the peace, but was rescued by his landlord and was taken back home and to bed. The remaining 11 years of his life were spent under care, and under the spell of profound madness. Continue reading

The Ego Budget

By Benjamin Reeves

Common wisdom says that the “skinny budget” presented by the president to Congress every year is essentially a political document. It doesn’t define what the budget will actually be since Congress — not the president — is responsible for drafting and passing the budget; rather, its purpose is to provide a guide to the president’s priorities for the country, and traditionally, the president’s party uses it as a baseline when drafting their budget. Given the skinny budget’s role as a primarily political document, it’s not surprising that presidents use its opening statement, in which they address Congress and the American people, as a rhetorical opportunity before getting down to dollars and cents. Continue reading

Is it Time to Retire the Word “Citizen”?

By Kate Reed Petty

I recently witnessed the participants in a panel discussion collectively agree to avoid the word community. Early in the event, which was about art and society, one person mentioned that community is overused by nonprofits and has been co-opted by corporations, used as a synonym for “consumers.” After briefly debating imperfect alternatives — group? people? — the panelists came to a tacit decision. They would continue to use the word, but apologize for it each time, which forced them to say things like, It was beautiful to see the community (sorry!) come together. Continue reading

Video Evidence, Police Brutality, and the Denial of Black Humanity

By Nathalie Etoke

Stranger Fruit, a new documentary by Jason Pollock, offers an exploration of events that led to former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson fatally shooting 18-year-old Michael Brown. The film includes previously unreleased video that raises new questions about the circumstances surrounding Brown’s death; after the video surfaced, protests in Ferguson erupted once again. Continue reading

The Alt-Right’s Body Image Problem

By Rhian Sasseen

Who exactly is the ideal citizen, and what is the preferred shape of the head-of-state? For centuries in the West, these roles have been mostly limited by the body, and by one specific kind of body: male, white, and guided by a certain sense of ration, moderation, and self-discipline. “You have often heard him compared to Cincinnatus,” wrote the French revolutionary Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville in 1788, after meeting George Washington. “This comparison is doubtless just.” Once established, certain ideas can be hard to shake; the American president, like the Roman senator-general, should portray himself as a virtuous pater familias. Continue reading

Making Meaning at Coachella, in an Era of Collapse

By John W. W. Zeiser, Photography by Matthew Stevens

On Saturday, as nearly 100,000 youths blissed out to a lineup that included Lady Gaga, Bon Iver and ScHoolboy Q on the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio, California, 500 miles to the north antifascist and alt-rightist forces fought in pitched street battles in Berkeley. The day before, on my way from the dusty day parking lot to the 330 acre chunk of emerald sod plopped in the desert like so many of its golf course cousins, I spoke to a 25-year old festival-goer from Encino about his plans for the weekend. It was his first Coachella, and he sincerely hoped his weekend would be devoid of anything political. It was a sentiment that seemed to pervade the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and stands in sun-bleached contrast to the darkness shaping up around us. Continue reading

Do You Sense the Layers? – Vija Celmins at The Matthew Marks Gallery

By Sam Sackeroff

What is found in a “found object”? That question, like many questions that have animated postwar American art, was first asked under very different circumstances. A remnant of the prewar European avant-garde, it was most memorably posed by the Surrealist poet and theorist André Breton in his 1937 autobiographical novel, L’Amour fou. Recalling a meandering walk that he had taken with the sculptor Alberto Giacometti through the Marché aux Puces flea market in Paris in the spring of 1934, Breton described how he came upon a large wooden spoon with a distinctive slipper-heel handle. Although otherwise unimpressive, this “found object,” or “objet trouvé,” seized Breton, who purchased it and brought it home, still wondering why it had had such an effect on him. After some time, he realized that his apparent interest in the spoon was only the most recent link in a much longer associative chain that led deep into his unconscious. In a convulsive moment of perception, he recognized that its slipper-heel called to mind a glass sculpture of a slipper that he had asked Giacometti to make for him months earlier but that the sculptor had never delivered. That sculpture was in turn linked to a half-formed phrase, “the Cinderella ashtray,” that had occurred to Breton in a waking dream earlier still. Together, that half-formed phrase and the undelivered sculpture made up yet another composite link that reached even further back, now to Breton’s erotic desire for the “lost object” as such. What had initially been a simple wooden spoon came to symbolize for Breton “a woman unique and unknown.” Continue reading

The Berth of Biopolitics

By Matt Seybold

While coverage of Dr. David Dao’s involuntary deplaning has focused on United’s ineffective PR response, procedural failures, and various forms of victim-shaming, it is also a stark example of the failure of neoliberal political economy to abide its own purported logic. In 1978, a coalition of so-called “Deltacrats,” with the blessing of President Carter, pushed through the Airline Deregulation Act on the dubious grounds it would help address two persistent bugbears of the era: inflation, and rising fuel prices. Milton Friedman, figurehead of what Michel Foucault would call “anarcho-liberalism” and the academic face of the Reagan Revolution, called the ADA “the first major move in any area away from government control and toward greater freedom.” The largest commercial airlines, particularly Delta and United, had lobbied hard for deregulation, which would hasten the process of oligopolistic amalgamation. The legislation’s primary sponsor and spokesperson, Senator Howard Cannon, would be rewarded with the Tony Jannus Award for “outstanding achievement in commercial aviation,” a recognition generally reserved for airline executives, but would lose his seat in ‘82 to a challenger who argued, ironically, that Chairman of the Commerce Committee Cannon was not business-friendly enough. Continue reading

Why Afrofuturism Matters

By Elizabeth Reich

You’re already a consumer of Afrofuturist art, though you may not know it.

On either television or YouTube, you’ve likely seen the transfixing commercial for Apple AirPods, featuring “Down” by Marian Hill, with acting by Lil Buck, who begins his footwork on the street but soon steps into the air, moving along invisible walls and waves of sound. His dance — and Hill’s music — envision a world in which Blackness floats free of the constraints and violence that so often weigh it down today. And this freedom, enabled by technology and the fundamental belief that black life matters, is one definition for what has become a big, encompassing, and increasingly important term: Afrofuturism. Continue reading