Yuri Brodsky: Solovki Has Left Us No Victors

Interview by Yan Smirnitsky, translated by Anna Gunin

The following conversation between Yan Smirnitsky and Yuri Brodsky originally appeared in Russian, on the website MK.ru, on October 11, 2017.

Yuri Brodsky has recently won the Enlightener Prize, which awards outstanding Russian-language non-fiction, for his monumental new work Solovki: A Labyrinth of Transformation. The book traces the history of the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea, home to a monastery and prison that became, in 1923, an infamous Soviet penal colony — the “mother of the GULAG,” in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s words. Brodsky does not position himself as a writer or philosopher; he is an exceptionally modest, self-effacing man, offering up facts for the reader’s evaluation, without imposing the usual overtones of horror, pessimism, and apocalypse. Brodsky, who has devoted his entire life to studying Solovki, invites us to reflect — calmly, without bitterness or ulterior motives — on the beauty created by nature and on the hell man created within that beauty. Continue reading

Korea Has Started Using English Names — But When Will It Stop?

By Colin Marshall

As it spreads across the world, Starbucks has come to serve many functions, not least giving the kind of travelers inclined to complain about the global homogenization of place an Exhibit A to point to. Such travelers make those complaints with a special intensity when in Seoul, which in addition to a robust local coffee-shop economy boasts the highest number of Starbucks locations per capita of any city in the world. I take a slightly brighter view of the green mermaid’s ongoing journey from Seattle to omnipresence, and not just because they offer those twin lifebloods of the 21st-century writer, coffee and reliable wi-fi: Starbucks stores, despite and indeed because of their efforts to hold every aspect of their experience steady across cities, countries, and continents, have ended up becoming the places where pure contrast forces the host culture’s deepest-seated characteristics into view. Continue reading

Think of It As An Existential Lesson: Deb Olin Unferth and Elizabeth Haidle’s I, Parrot

By Nathan Scott McNamara

I, Parrot is the graphic novel written by Deb Olin Unferth and illustrated by Elizabeth Haidle; it’s also the name of the how-to guide contained within. “If you have a parrot, you can be pretty certain this book is for you,” that manual reads. The guide appears throughout the graphic novel, framing the impossibility of the situation the narrator, Daphne, has ended up in. “Anyone who has a parrot is not up to the task. How do you think he likes being locked in a small dark box for his entire life? Do you think you can do anything other than try unsuccessfully to keep the bird from sliding into crippling, suicidal depression while you slowly squash every instinct he has?” The manual notes that birds fly over 100 miles a day. “Think of caring for your parrot as an existential lesson.” Continue reading

An Entirely Different Immersion: Talking to Kathleen Fraser

By Andy Fitch

This conversation, transcribed by Nicole Monforton, focuses on Kathleen Fraser’s collection m  ov a  b  le  TYYPE. After years of pioneering work teaching at San Francisco State University, founding the American Poetry Archives, and co-founding the feminist poetics journal HOW(ever), Fraser began regularly immersing herself amid the venerable Roman cityscape. Fraser took with her the supple linguistic register that she had cultivated during decades of writing and living in the Bay Area, and started developing with visual artists a series of poetic/typographical/collage-based collaborations shaped by the palimpsestic textures and tonalities of this new environment. The resulting m  ov a  b  le  TYYPE texts provide any number of what Fraser herself describes as “Stendhalian city moments,” filled with echoes, multiplicity, synesthesia. Talking to Fraser about her intricate, elaborate, often constraint-based yet nonetheless playful process for each project produces the same.  Continue reading

Uncomfortably Numb: On Kate Cole-Adams’ Anesthesia and the Problems of Consciousness

By Michael Friedrich

In the 1960s, Bernard Levinson, a South African psychiatrist, staged a famous — and famously unrepeatable — experiment. During surgery under ether anesthesia, patients were read a dramatic script. “I don’t like the patient’s color,” their surgeons said at a predetermined moment. “Much too blue.” Shortly after surgery, Levinson hypnotized and interviewed the patients. He found that many could quote their surgeons’ words. Others became profoundly agitated during questioning. The implication was alarming: somehow they had been aware. Continue reading

Requiem for a Media: On the Execution of LA Weekly

By John W. W. Zeiser

Americans have a strange and abiding trust in the corporate. There is an inherent problem with this trust, and it’s easy enough to spot, though our legal system has done everything it can to occlude it. Corporations are not people. I repeat: corporations are not people. Actual people, the kind who can be physically placed in a jail cell, are denied the framework to conceptualize this chasm; instead, we tend to transpose our own moral frameworks — the ones that allow us to operate daily with our neighbors, bus drivers, grocery cashiers, our friends — onto corporations. In a recent report from LA Weekly on Invitation Homes, the largest landlord of single-family homes in the city of LA, you can see this logic at work. In the report, a tenant expresses surprise that in the face of crippling rent increases, Invitation Homes wasn’t “negotiating and being nice with each other and com[ing] to an agreement.” Continue reading

Come Rain or Shine: Marion Rankine Discusses the Complexities of the Common Brolly

By Cleaver Patterson

In today’s world of cutthroat publishing it’s some feat for a first time author to not only have their debut book snapped up by a renowned indie publisher like New York’s Melville House, but also have the head of said company approach you themselves about the project. But this was just the case for Australian writer Marion Rankine, whose book Brolliology: A History of the Umbrella in Life and Literature was published by the prizewinning publisher in November. Though umbrellas may sound an odd subject, Rankine’s quirky and beautifully illustrated book proves that there’s more to the humble brolly than simply a means to keep dry. As she explained to me when we spoke recently, writing about them has opened up a whole new world of the strange and bizarre. Continue reading