• review • April 15, 2021

    All the Raga

    In the late 1970s, Amit Chaudhuri’s family moved to the top floor of a tony South Bombay high-rise overlooking the sea. Twenty-five floors removed from the hubbub of the city below, the teenaged Chaudhuri cycled through a number of sonic personas in quick succession: air guitarist, singer-songwriter, and student of Indian classical. Part autobiography, and part ethnomusicological treatise, Finding the Raga unspools this last turn as the novelist and poet moves to the United Kingdom and back, and learns to sing, hear, and finally, to listen.

    What is the raga? Chaudhuri devotes the book’s lengthy

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  • review • April 08, 2021

    How should we review a book cowritten by AI?

    What propels us through difficult, densely written texts? When I’m neck-deep in a challenging theoretical tome, I’m usually grumpy and seeking someone to blame—whether it’s the author for being abstruse or myself for being knuckleheaded. But something keeps me barreling forward, too: usually, the implicit faith that relief awaits around the corner. That relief might come in the form of prismatic clarity, as when an enigmatic sentence finally breaks open. Or in the form of poetic ambiguity—in a gradual capitulation to a haze of resonance. Either way, the fuel is that implicit faith—a faith that

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  • review • March 11, 2021

    Katherine Angel’s new book on the unknowability of desire

    When Susan Sontag was twenty-seven, she wrote in her journal about a feeling that had no name. X, she called it; people and things could be X-y. She defined it variously as “the compulsion to be what the other person wants,” “the scourge,” and “when you feel yourself an object, not a subject.” Sontag identified the source of X as this: “I don’t know my own feelings.”

    Katherine Angel, in her 2012 book Unmastered, uses Sontag’s concept of X to try to describe what she herself finds difficult to pin down in her own sex life. X comes to denote that part of one’s sexual desire that is contingent

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  • review • March 09, 2021

    On attending a virtual gathering of booksellers, artists, and writers

    I wish I still smoked. I am clicking through tabs at Printed Matter’s Virtual Art Book Fair in a state of bewilderment, wondering why I just don’t get it—people spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to participate in this.

    Now in its fifteenth iteration, the fair is the annual fête for artists and writers in the small-press publishing world—the largest of its kind. Under normal circumstances, tens of thousands of visitors gather at MoMA PS1 in Queens over a weekend to buy and sell new and rare artbooks and ephemera from emerging and established voices alike. This year, due to the

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  • review • March 04, 2021

    A 1973 document of feminist art activism holds a mirror to our present

    A sense of necessity, a foundation, and a strong community: these are just a few of the keys to effective activism. Though the New York–based collective Women Artists in Revolution (WAR) was short-lived, they burned bright for three years, and emerged in 1969 with these three elements in place. The group of artists, filmmakers, writers, critics, and cultural workers—which didn’t care if its acronym was militaristic, even while the United States pushed its imperialistic agenda in Vietnam—grew out of the Art Workers’ Coalition (AWC). There was an “unstated need among women,” as WAR member Juliette

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    Contact High

    MCARTHUR BINION EMPLOYED his tattered address book, containing nineteen years’ worth of annotated contact information, as the substrate of numerous paintings and prints in his series “DNA.” He produced color copies of the pages, sliced out the entries, and assembled them in vertical and horizontal patterns to form a collage grid over which he painted and drew. The Chicago-based artist began the project in 2013, when he was sixty-seven, and the choice of an address book—along with other personal effects like Binion’s birth certificate and photos of his childhood home—lends a strong sense of

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    The Love Movement

    They’ll see how beautiful I am / And be ashamed

    —Langston Hughes, “I, Too”

    WHEN HUGHES PUBLISHED THESE WORDS in 1925, Jim Crow’s rule over America remained at or near its peak. And so it was subversive optimism back then to envision a time when Black Americans would no longer be consigned, as Hughes’s poem delineated, to eat in the kitchen while everybody else sat at the table “when company comes.” Legally sanctioned segregation’s been subdued for decades now, but optimism’s still elusive no matter how much has changed in the almost hundred years since Hughes, “too,” sang America. Putting it

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    Slime Regained

    AT THE END OF MAY 2011 I was standing at the corner of Union and Court Streets in Brooklyn with a man in his late seventies named Bobby Russo, who was born in the apartment where I live. Bobby and I were stopped there because the street was blocked off so that Columbia Pictures could shoot Men in Black 3, a sci-fi action-comedy starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld.

    The street had been dressed to look like it might have in 1969, with Peter Max–style advertising in place of the usual signs outside bodegas. As we watched a scene featuring vintage cars and a bus

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    The Vying Animal

    MORE THAN REALISM OR ITS RIVALS, the dominant literary style in America is careerism. This is neither a judgment nor a slur. For decades it has simply been the case that novelists, story writers, even poets have had to devote themselves to managing their careers as much as to writing their books. Institutional jockeying, posturing in profiles and Q&As, roving in-person readership cultivation, social-media fan-mongering, coming off as a good literary citizen among one’s peers—some balance of these elements is now part of every young author’s life. It’s a matter of necessity and survival, above

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    Daze of Our Lives

    RICHARD LINKLATER IS A DIRECTOR I CARE A LOT ABOUT, but, sacrilegiously to some, his sprawling 1993 comedy Dazed and Confused, about the misadventures of Texas high school students on the last day of school in 1976, isn’t one of my favorites. I might feel bad about that, if Linklater didn’t agree. “I think it’s middling,” he tells pop-culture journalist Melissa Maerz early in her new book. “I don’t know why people latch on to it.” Despite poor initial box office, the film’s cult built up through video and its popular hard-rock soundtrack until it became a recognized classic, complete with a

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    Artful Volumes

    In the wake of the visionary (if a little scattershot) solo presentation of his series “Ten Commandments,” at Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 gallery in New York in 1912, Arthur Dove cemented his reputation as America’s foremost—purportedly even first—abstract artist. His intimately scaled watercolors, pastels, and oil paintings departed from observations of nature to enter a realm of pure expression, color, and light, filtered through the Cubist tint of dirt-road palettes. The priapic glide of his organic forms garnered praise for its “virility,” suggesting Dove’s phallic style as the visual counterpart

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    We Love This Dirty Town

    BECAUSE THE MAKING OF EVERY single motion picture has its uphill battles and its moments of high drama, and because a film can reflect its times in fascinating ways, a book about the making of John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969) could very well be a compelling read, even though the movie itself is as phony as its central hustler Joe Buck’s cowboy credentials. That the United States is the land of the sham is part of the film’s hammered-home point, and to emphasize this Schlesinger lingers attention on the garish billboards and urban signage that posh visiting European filmmakers often

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