• print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    Get Lit

    IT WAS A HALTING, haunted year. The pandemic sort of ended, but still required constant vigilance, inflicted mass tedium, and ruined our fall plans. Just like autofiction! There were inconclusive congressional inquiries into the Capitol riot and the Bad Art Friend. The Paris Review got a new new editor, which is exciting. Giancarlo DiTrapano died, tragically and too young, which fucking sucks. Corporate publishing continued to consolidate. An unprecedented number of named storm systems—Franzen, Rooney, Whitehead, Knausgaard, Doerr—shattered precipitation records over a small swath of the

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    Hardwick Times

    WHAT IS IT WE WANT from literary biographies? A portrait, surely, of the subject, something beyond the profiles and interviews that they grinned through whenever one of their books appeared. Perhaps even a good story. A prominent biographer once told me that there would never be a biography of Don DeLillo because all he ever did was sit at his desk and write his books: there’s no fun for a biographer in mining that kind of life. On the other hand, new books seem to appear every year on the short life of Sylvia Plath, the narrative thread always winding through the snow to the frantic calls to

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    The Interpretation of Screens

    IN STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, THE ANDROID DATA starts to dream, having accidentally discovered an unconscious he didn’t know he had. Soon, because his dreams are troubled, he enters psychoanalysis. Appropriately enough, he turns to another artificial intelligence for help, the computer of the starship Enterprise, which creates a holographic representation of Sigmund Freud. Later, Data dreams that he is on the Enterprise, standing with two of his companions. A phone rings. But where is it? Data’s friends open a hatch in his abdomen. An early-twentieth-century phone stands there, waiting

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    Art Monsters

    FOUNDED IN 1990, GODZILLA was a New York–based collective of visual artists and curators that sought “to contribute to change in the limited ways Asian Pacific Americans participate and are represented in a broad social context.” Early in the new anthology Godzilla: Asian American Arts Network 1990–2001, there’s a spread of contact sheets showing outtakes for a group picture taken in 1991 for the collective’s first newsletter: we see bodies shuffling, awkward hand placements, ill-timed smiles, and aching cheeks. The sequences illustrate the momentary coalescence—flash!—and then the release,

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    Mask and You Shall Receive

    WHAT’S COMMONLY KNOWN ABOUT THE PORTUGUESE WRITER FERNANDO PESSOA is that he died young-ish at the age of forty-seven in 1935, drank heavily, and assigned authorship of his work to over a hundred “heteronyms,” pen names that carry more biographical heft than the average alias. Pessoa died having published only one book of poetry in Portuguese (Mensagem) and two self-published chapbooks of English-language poetry. The lion’s share of his work was found in a trunk containing about 25,000 pages of writings. Without much of a public record of his life as he lived it, celebrating Pessoa and researching

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    Voice Leading

    I WOULDN’T DARE COMPARE MYSELF to the legendary actor and singer Billy Porter, but if you were trying to cast a show, circa 2009, we would definitely be up for the same part. Both of us queer, both of us Black, we came to theater—acting, writing, and directing—through music and musicianship, gifts spotted early and cultivated in high school. Both of us have a freakishly high singing voice, although Billy’s is touched by an angel, and mine is more like a fun party trick. This is about where our similarities end, really, but in the business of show, that was more than enough to have the specter

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    A Spouse Divided

    IN THE FALL OF 1866, FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY FOUND HIMSELF barreling toward every writer’s worst nightmare: a deadline he couldn’t ignore. Having signed an ill-advised contract to avoid a trip to debtor’s prison, he now owed the publisher Fyodor Stellovsky a new novel of at least 160 pages by November 1. If he failed to deliver, Stellovsky would be entitled to publish whatever Dostoyevsky wrote over the next nine years free of charge. A more practical man might have spent his summer on the project for Stellovsky, but Dostoyevsky was simultaneously preparing segments of Crime and Punishment for

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    Artful Volumes

    “Reza Abdoh arrived like a rumor.” So begins the introductory letter from Bidoun’s Negar Azimi, Tiffany Malakooti, and Michael C. Vazquez, the editors of REZA ABDOH (Hatje Cantz/ARTBOOK DAP, $55), a riotous, near-narcotic immersion into the career of the taboo-breaking director, whose oeuvre mingled crucifixions, castration, capoeira, onstage sodomy, heroin use, Greek mythology, and a go-go-dancing George H. W. Bush, with actors often jarringly cast against race or gender. The rest of the five-hundred-plus-page tome attempts to collect the various myths, anecdotes, and gossip left after Abdoh’s

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    In Praise of Bad Taste

    IN 1990, WHILE COLLECTING PERSONAL PHOTOGRAPHS for their Ohio River Portrait Project, archivists at the Kentucky Historical Society came upon an amusing, near-century-old snapshot commemorating something called the “Tacky Party” of Ballard County. Seven turn-of-the-century young adults pose for a group portrait, looking as genteel and deadpan as a team at the beginning of a Family Feud episode. They first appear to be wearing the usual sorts of garments we might picture when we think of the early 1900s: hats piled high with ornamental flowers and ribbons; billowing, floor-length dresses with

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    Black Ivy: A Revolt in Style

    BROOKS BROTHERS USED TO MAKE UNIFORMS FOR SLAVES, you know. It’s true. The company supplied the mid-twentieth-century Ivy League uniform of oxford-cloth shirts, boneless three-button suits, and chunky cricket sweaters primarily because they were known to make good clothes. (Die-hard partisans, however many remain, would insist on the present tense.) That reputation was by then more than a century in the making; in the haberdasher’s antebellum years, enslavers who wanted to show that they didn’t just own people, but wanted to flex, enlisted it to outfit their chattel. As Dr. Jonathan Michael

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    Sense and Saleability

    DWINDLING ENLISTMENT AMONG STUDENTS and deteriorating market share among consumers; confusion as to immediate method and cloudiness as to ultimate mission. . . . Professors of literature have good reason to feel insecure about the status of literature and literary scholarship. And, like many an insecure person, the discipline of literary studies has grown increasingly interested in and respectful of popular taste as its own popularity has declined. Between the Great Recession and 2019, the number of undergrads majoring in English shrank by more than a quarter, and it’s difficult to imagine the

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    The Laconic Verses

    DEPRESSION, FOR ALL THAT HAS BEEN WRITTEN ABOUT IT, remains in many ways a voiceless illness. If depression were an actor in a play, it would be one without words, its presence a reminder that psychic darkness isn’t invisible so much as carelessly—or, as it may be, willfully—overlooked. Since time immemorial, clinical depression—the kind that sometimes ends in suicide—has not been given its due as a legitimate ailment, with claims on our attention and concern every bit as much as cancer. Like many psychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia, the ratio between biological determinants and

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