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

Travels Across Uncomfortable Terrain: Nora Gold’s The Dead Man

By Maria Bloshteyn

If you believe in the value of travelling beyond one’s comfort zones, you’ll find much to support your belief in Nora Gold’s most recent novel, The Dead Man (2016). Gold is a Toronto-based writer who has a history of venturing into fraught terrain. Her first novel, Fields of Exile (2014) — she debuted with a short story collection that won praise from Alice Munro — dealt with anti-Israel sentiment on university campuses, which marries all too well with outright Judeophobia. The Dead Man, Gold’s second novel, examines the erotic longings of elderly men, obsessions of women deep into their middle age, and creative impotence. Throw in widowhood, manipulative stepmothers, needy wives, and therapy (music therapy, but still…), and you have a cringe-worthy melange that pushes almost every reader’s buttons. Yet it is precisely by adventuring in such difficult emotional terrain that Gold achieves something beautiful, transformative, and life-affirming. 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

S-Town: When a Podcast Becomes a Book

By Nic Dobija-Nootens

Near the end of the first episode of the new crime podcast S-Town, from the makers of This American Life and Serial, host Brian Reed asks himself, “What am I still doing here?” Reed is in the small town of Woodstock, Alabama, watching S-Town’s subject, an eccentric clockmaker named John B. Mclemore, tinker around his shop. Reed came to Woodstock to investigate a murder Mclemore emailed him about, but at this point in the show, the basic facts of the murder, and the issue of whether it even happened, are in question. Reed thinks he might be facing a dead end, but Mclemore, a 50-year-old southerner with chest tattoos, nipple piercings, and an expert knowledge of antique clocks, intrigues him to stay. Eventually, Mclemore pays off. Continue reading

Commemorating an Anti-Authoritarian Provocateur: Reflections on Wang Xiaobo (May 13, 1952–April 11, 1997)

By Sebastian Veg

Wang Xiaobo, an important Chinese literary and intellectual figure who died of a heart attack 20 years ago this week at the age of 44, remains largely unknown to the reading public outside China.  Only a few novellas and one important essay of his have been translated into English.  In China, by contrast, his popularity reached unprecedented heights in the late 1990s, and he was even included posthumously (with five other “emeriti”) on the first list of China’s 50 “most influential public intellectuals” published in 2004. Even now, his books are still reprinted and widely read: Changjiang Literature and Art has just published a new seven-volume selection of his writings to mark the anniversary of his death. Continue reading

A New Genre of Civic Literature: Official Reports of Government Inquiries Into International Cases of Abuse of Institutionalized Children

By Arthur McCaffrey

This is a story about institutional crime and social justice. At times, it may seem there is too much of the former and not enough of the latter. That’s the bad news. The good news is, when the institutional crime involves the abuse and exploitation of children, a number of different governments, in different countries, in different parts of the world, are finally beginning to do something. Unfortunately, the US government is not one of them.  Continue reading

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