Alan Gilbert

  • culture November 17, 2015

    Heaven by Rowan Ricardo Phillips

    Since heaven can never be only one thing—at least for Phillips, as opposed to the role it plays for fundamentalists of all sorts—it must be hybrid: both here and there, both you and me, and, most importantly, both paradise and not. Because nothing in Phillips’s book is quite exactly what it seems.

    Stars have always provided direction for long-range travelers, whether by land or by sea. Until relatively recently, even modern ships used them to navigate. The stars have inspired entire civilizations, technologies, and literatures; conversely, peoples and cultures have been destroyed by their guidance. How else would Christopher Columbus have reached the Americas? Perhaps appropriately, given its title, Rowan Ricardo Phillips’s second book of poems, Heaven, makes numerous references to the day and night sky: “ . . . that star-beleaguered dome, that void, / Where giants moved against the

  • culture November 12, 2012

    "On Democracy" by Saddam Hussein, edited by Paul Chan

    There’s an added resonance to the publication at this particular moment of On Democracy, which contains three of Saddam Hussein's speeches on the topic. Of course, it would be easy to dismiss Hussein’s democratic musings as a bad joke and their circuitous route to publication began this way

    Former President of Iraq Saddam Hussein’s first appearance in the historical record occurs in 1959, as a Central Intelligence Agency-sponsored would-be assassin of Iraqi Prime Minister Abd al-Karim Qasim. Years later, Hussein, after becoming Iraq’s president in 1979, would commit a number of the same missteps that finally led to Qasim’s downfall: threatening Kuwaiti sovereignty, alienating Iraq from its Arab neighbors, and not making the country’s oil reserves more accessible to Western nations. Hussein missed (literally: he was one of the triggermen) in his attempt to kill Qasim. But after

  • Poetic Justice

    Accompanying the current art-market boom is a pervasive worry among critics as to whether their opinions really matter any longer. The fear is that collectors’ tastes—more crudely, their money—will trump critics’ judgments every time. In the face of this potential irrelevance, panels, symposia, blogs, and books have been conjured to discuss the matter; thankfully, this public hand-wringing is frequently leavened with a dose of self-reflective humor. Yet as the most cynical art critic will admit, galleries still closely monitor reviews of their exhibitions, and they continue to insert even the