• print • February 25, 2021

    Stupid Human Tricks

    ACCORDING TO MELANIE CHALLENGER’S How to Be Animal, there are termites that, when infected with fungal spores, vibrate in order to alert others of the contagion. “Termites from the same colony then box the individual in,” she writes, “so that they can’t infect other members.” I read this passage nine months into the United States’ murderous refusal to contain the novel coronavirus, when at least 320,000 people had died, but self-quarantine was still a mere suggestion. The latest outrageous news story was that a man exhibiting textbook COVID-19 symptoms (on account of his COVID-19 infection)

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  • excerpt • February 24, 2021

    Dirty Business

    “I always said when this business got dirty, I’d get out,” Adriel Desautels told me late one summer evening in 2019.

    Desautels was a cyberweapon merchant who looked like a milkman. He had an unruly head of curls, frameless glasses, a gap between his front teeth, and a penchant for quoting the astrophysicist Carl Sagan. His original hacker alias, Cyanide, never sat well. He’d eventually change it to the more sensible “Simon Smith.” But in a faceless business, looks meant little. Everyone who was anyone in the game knew Desautels was one of the country’s preeminent zero-day brokers.

    When I

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  • review • February 18, 2021

    Kind of Blue

    And then there were pills. Like many discoveries in the history of psychopharmacology, antidepressants became antidepressants quite by accident. The earliest prototypes were developed as tuberculosis drugs in the United States in the early 1950s. They weren’t particularly effective at treating TB, but, doctors observed, they bestowed on certain recipients a conspicuous boost in mood. Patients who received them at one hospital in Staten Island were described as “dancing in the halls” of their ward. Why not, then, try the pills out on a class of patients who had confounded doctors since time

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  • review • February 11, 2021

    Bette Howland’s memoir of community and its opposite

    It’s tempting to imagine Bette Howland as a figure of midcentury literary mythology. Who can resist the intrigue of her early crisis and success, quiet disappearance, and belated rediscovery? She is, as Honor Moore remarks drily in the afterword to Howland’s posthumous story collection, Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, “a member of a cohort who have benefited from the forty-year gap between the end of a woman’s youth and beauty when, at say forty, one’s reputation goes dark, until eighty or so, when one becomes a discovery.” The pitch for a prestige television biopic practically writes itself.

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  • excerpt • January 13, 2021

    Two poems from Terminalia

    Daniel Menaker (1941–2020) was a fiction editor at the New Yorker, the editor in chief of Random House, and the author of seven books, including the celebrated novel The Treatment (1998) and the 2013 memoir My Mistake. Last January, Menaker received a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and spent the next months chronicling his illness in verse, writing with mournful honesty and surprising humor about his diagnosis and treatment against the backdrop of the pandemic’s larger “sickness circus.” In his own words, Dan “wrote poetry his whole life, but kept it to himself for a long time, after

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  • review • January 05, 2021

    Candace Jane Opper’s obsessive remembrance of a teen crush who died by suicide

    Grief memoirs typically meditate on the loss of someone so close to the author that they could have listed the deceased as an emergency contact. Candace Jane Opper’s Certain and Impossible Events is not that kind of memoir. The book revolves around the death of a boy Opper wasn’t exactly close with—a crush whose phone number she memorized when she was thirteen. He died by suicide, at age fourteen, in 1994, eight days after Kurt Cobain’s body was found. More than twenty-five years later, Certain and Impossible Events is Opper’s attempt to map her ongoing obsession with the boy’s death.

    Normally,

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  • excerpt • December 29, 2020

    Lorraine Hansberry’s Pan-African sensibility, in her own words

    In 1937, her father moved the family to an all-white neighborhood in Chicago to deliberately challenge the constitutionality of racial restriction clauses. In response, a white mob gathered and threw a brick through their window, narrowly missing eight-year-old Lorraine. The Hansberry case moved through the court system, with the Supreme Court of Illinois upholding the legality of restrictive covenants and forcing the Hansberrys out of their home. The case then went all the way to the United States Supreme Court in Hansberry v. Lee, 311 U.S. 32 (1940), which reversed the lower court’s decision

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  • excerpt • December 18, 2020

    An essay from Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America

    I’m after a worldview.

    —Jack Whitten

    When the living conditions that art evinces haven’t changed, one must always make more imaginaries for one to live in.

    —Dionne Brand, “Temporary Spaces of Joy and Freedom”

    Another arrangement of the possible . . .

    —Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

    I have gathered the epigraphs for this essay from the painter Jack Whitten, the poet Dionne Brand, and the theorist Saidiya Hartman because of the ways they speak to the necessary scale of Black responses to these catastrophes

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    Real Genius

    PROTEAN PAINTER NOAH DAVIS had emerged as a catalytic force when he died of cancer at age thirty-two. His swift evolution promised an exciting future, as did the Underground Museum, an alternative exhibition space in a working-class Los Angeles neighborhood, that Davis founded with his wife, Karon. From 2007 until 2015, the year of his death, Davis portrayed African American daily life with an eye for the improbable: a girl sits astride a giant snail; a young man holds a slippery-looking creature in Man with Alien and Shotgun. In this new monograph, fellow painter Henry Taylor muses about his

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    Just Watching

    I FIRST SHARED a TikTok video in my Instagram story on April 20, 2020, right around the time I ran out of tolerable TV series to binge and an inability to read anything other than tweets set in. It took me a while to realize I could download it, the video I mean—a Belgian man’s inexplicably menacing take on the “turn around” portion of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”—because I initially found the app’s interface so counterintuitive that I was reluctant to explore. For anyone used to the polished calm of Instagram, TikTok’s chaotic ugliness is disorienting. Each frame is cluttered

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    One Thing or a Mother

    NEAR THE END OF SUITE FOR BARBARA LODEN, Nathalie Léger’s guerrilla-critical reckoning with Loden’s 1970 film, Wanda, Léger visits a ghost town in Pennsylvania, not far from where the movie is set. A coal seam has been burning underground there since 1962, “an inferno buried beneath the town that slowly, slyly devastated everything, engulfing gardens, swallowing cars, and sometimes apparently children too.” Though a sign reads, WELCOME TO HELL, Léger notices “no sign of destruction, no trace of those terrible events. . . . This is what hell must be: erasure. And down below, the fire rages on.”

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    Artful Volumes

    Chantal Akerman often said that she carried within her a deep sense of unbelonging. “But someone once told me that when you make films you put your whole self in,” she wrote near the end of her life. “I don’t know, I don’t know myself, certainly not all of myself.” For those wanting more of her, from her, CHANTAL AKERMAN: PASSAGES (Eye Filmmuseum / nai010 publishers, $40) brings to light her lesser-known work as a visual artist. This companion catalogue to a retrospective of eight film installations presented at Eye Filmmuseum (Amsterdam) this summer includes essays that mark the translation

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