The Pleasures of the Glimpse: On Dirk Braeckman at the Venice Biennale

By Kaya Genc

Inside the Belgian pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale, it is the vast whiteness of the space that strikes you first. The interior of the recently renovated pavilion resembles a hospital, a place devoted to purity, a sanctuary for healing. Then the gaze shifts its focus onto images: Dirk Braeckman’s dark canvases feature bodies, natural formations, surfaces of things so dark that they seem indiscernible from their backgrounds. Rarely has the contrast between space and artwork influenced me quite this way, certainly no other pavilion in the world’s leading art event had come close to the experience. Continue reading

Growing Up Gay in Backwoods Mississippi: Nick White’s How to Survive a Summer

By Nathan Scott McNamara

When Will Dillard was 15, his Preacher father caught him pleasuring himself with a candle in their Baptist Church. “He was not a violent man,” Will, the protagonist of How to Survive a Summer says, “but this — this — had been on the docket for a long time.” After beating Will until they’re both exhausted, Will’s father sends him to a backwoods gay conversion camp owned by their unqualified family in central Mississippi.  Continue reading

Orphan Black Season Five, “Clutch of Greed”: Letting Go, Holding On

By Everett Hamner

This is the second in a series of episode-by-episode reflections on Orphan Black season 5 (see the preview article here and episode 1 response here). These pieces do not recap plots but do include spoilers; they assume readers have already been viewers. I will also use this chance to thank BBC America for advance access, but also to note that upon each essay’s submission, I have not watched beyond the relevant episode (surprises await all of us!). Finally, as before, please don’t hesitate to extend the conversation in the comments or via Twitter. Continue reading

The Explorer’s History of Korean Fiction in Translation: Alienation, Politics, and Women

By Charles Montgomery

The LARB Korea Blog is currently featuring selections from The Explorer’s History of Korean Fiction in Translation, Charles Montgomery’s book-in-progress that attempts to provide a concise history, and understanding, of Korean literature as represented in translation. You can find links to previous selections at the end of the post. Continue reading

Women Without Men Without Women

By Zoë Hu

Seeing no alternative, a woman plants herself in her family’s courtyard and sprouts into a tree, begging aghast visitors, “Don’t cut me down. Let me grow.” Her name is Mahdokht, and her germination as human-cum-sapling has a loyal chronicle in the Iranian modernist novel Women Without Men, written by Shahrnush Parsipur in 1989 and first translated into English 10 years later. The text follows five women as they escape Tehran, shrug off dreary brothers and husbands, and — aided by the occasional, benevolent dollop of magical realism — find their way to a garden refuge. Rooted at the center of this botanical sorority, Mahdokht the tree-human is cared for and cultivated by the other women. She is also their witness, keeping time with her gradual growth to the loneliness and struggle that mark their isolated existences. Women Without Men asks its characters to begin new lives, free from the social mandate of a male partner, but once in the garden this possibility opens onto foreign, craggy territory. Unable to transform into a tree herself, one woman feels that nevertheless she is “rotting from within.” Continue reading

Writing Reptiles: Qiu Miaojin’s Notes of a Crocodile

By Rhian Sasseen

The crocodile of Taiwanese writer Qiu Miaojin’s recently translated first novel Notes of a Crocodile is and is not a metaphor, is and is not a character, is and is not really a crocodile at all. The crocodile — the subject of a half-dozen surreal and witty vignettes sprinkled throughout the novel’s overarching coming-of-age story — exists halfway, appearing here and there in fragments, snippets, prose that functions somewhere between fiction and theory. It’s that halfway feeling that’s so essential to and so refreshing about the book, the ambiguity of sex, gender, queerness, desire, and the question of identity itself, all the more sobering to read in today’s political climate. The crocodile’s favorite treat, the unnamed narrator slyly notes, is cream puffs. Pass the cream puffs, please. Continue reading

Asking for a Friend: I Can See the Stress from Here

Dear Olive,

My 12-year-old niece is SO stressed about school. She puts tons of pressure on herself, studies incredibly hard, and is upset when her grades are anything less than perfect. (She’ll say things like “If I don’t get A’s in 6th grade then I’m definitely not going to get A’s in high school and then I’m not going to get into a good college and then I’m not going to get a good job…” Mind you, she DOES get A’s in 6th grade.) I’m worried that she’s putting WAY too much emphasis on grades. She’s just a kid! Is there anything I can do about it? Continue reading

Art Inside: Field Notes #3

By Annie Buckley, for the “Art Inside” series

“We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil. Serenity is contagious.”

—Swami Satchitananda

When I entered the bright classroom, women of all ages were gathered around four rectangular tables. Most were dressed in requisite blue uniforms and some wore the optional muumuu, or as my grandmother used to call a similar garment, housedress. The energy was buzzing but each was focused on a bright square of paper in front of her, intently arranging petals in patterns. Strewn down the center of each table was a rainbow of flower petals, leaves, and seeds, both real and artificial. The women were collecting them to layer in colorful patterns on the sheets. They practiced creating their own designs while getting used to the new materials. Two teaching artists, dressed all in black to avoid any of the range of disallowed clothing — from jeans to all red or pink to khaki, anything that might resemble the garb of either inmates or guards from afar — moved around the tables like hummingbirds, shifting from one participant to another then hovering in place to assist or discuss. The atmosphere was more garden party or craft fair than prison. The women and the Community-based Art team collaborated to transform the space. Continue reading