Sara Marcus

  • The Accidental Activist

    The conservative counterrevolution in American politics has its roots, so the story goes, in a broad-based revulsion at the radical excesses and battles of the 1960s. That long right-wing ascendancy continues today in free-market supremacy and hyperindividualism: in sum, a wholesale repudiation of ’60s-movement values. This plot has become the conventional account of the era. Like any master narrative, though, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

    Amid the rightward shift, a host of radical movements flared as well—gay rights, women’s liberation, Puerto Rican independence, prisoners’ rights—suggesting

  • culture October 19, 2012

    Reading the Pussy Riot Act

    Recent news from the department of feminist provocateurs, Russian division:

    The three jailed members of Pussy Riot appealed their two-year jail sentences last week, with mixed results: Yekaterina Samutsevich (Katya) was released on a suspended sentence, because she was seized by guards at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior last February before she got to perform the group’s anti-Putin “Punk Prayer.” As for the other two defendants, Maria Alyokhina (Masha) and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (Nadya), who did manage to execute those high kicks that allegedly smashed to smithereens the morals and

  • Social Works

    It goes by several names and takes a range of forms, but as with so many protean phenomena, we know it when we see it. Participation-based art, social engagement, social practice: Art that takes relations between people as its medium is currently ascendant, with specialized MFA programs, new social-practice art prizes, and biennials all attesting to its rise. This past spring’s Berlin Biennale, which gave the city’s Occupy activists free rein over an exhibition hall in the Kunst-Werke, is only the latest prominent example. Works like Jeremy Deller’s Battle of Orgreave, 2001, a weekend-long

  • Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama

    The graphic “novel” may be the ideal form for memoir. On the one hand, it offers immediacy, a fusing of reading time and narrative time: We can experience an epiphany at the same moment as the character in the frame, who may break suddenly into a wide-eyed look of surprise. On the other hand, it makes room for a polyphony of time and space and story: The text on a page may be paired with drawings of something else entirely, creating a visual metaphor or, in more discordant cases, mirroring the way the mind can think and feel multiple things simultaneously. And elaborate two-page spreads can

  • Zipper Mouth by Laurie Weeks

    Laurie Weeks is a downtown personality from an earlier iteration of New York, a city of late-night performances in Avenue A boîtes and open-air drug bazaars a few dismal blocks away. A vibrant writer-performer, Weeks has enjoyed glints of recognition beyond the demimonde—an (uncredited) role writing the Boys Don’t Cry screenplay, pieces in the 1995 Semiotext(e) anthology The New Fuck You: Adventures in Lesbian Reading and the 2008 edition of Dave Eggers’s The Best American Non-required Reading. For years, though, anyone who knows of Weeks has heard about her novel in progress, the magnum opus,

  • culture May 06, 2011

    Big Girl Small by Rachel DeWoskin

    At the start of Big Girl Small, the sixteen-year-old narrator, Judy Lohden, makes an appealing first impression as a wry, snarky translator of teenage mores. Judy is an outsider at her school, and not only by virtue of being the new girl in class: She’s a little person, three-foot-nine-inches tall with “disproportionate” limbs, and her marginal status seems at first to impart the critical distance that gives rise to insight.

    This promise, however, is short-lived. “What good is there in seeing your situation clearly if there’s no escape from it?” she asks rhetorically at the end of the first

  • culture March 16, 2011

    The Reality Shows by Karen Finley

    In 1990, as the culture wars that had already maimed Robert Mapplethorpe and David Wojnarowicz (not, as recent events at the National Portrait Gallery made clear, for the last time) were hitting a fevered crescendo, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts vetoed four performance grants. One of the nixed awards was for Karen Finley, a New York–based performance artist whose works often involved nudity and foodstuffs in dynamic interaction. She and her fellow refuseniks sued, finally losing in the Supreme Court in 1998.

    But before Finley was the face of "obscene" taxpayer-funded art,