• review • July 12, 2021

    Bohumil Hrabal’s memoir of a reckless, exuberant friendship

    Early in Werner Herzog’s 1974 documentary The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner, we find its subject, a champion “ski-flier,” in the studio where he works as an amateur woodcarver. Brushing his hand over a tree stump, Walter Steiner describes the forms his chisel will release: “I saw this bowl here, the way the shape recedes, it’s as if an explosion had happened, and the force cannot escape properly and is caught up everywhere.” Trapped force is not to be the film’s subject. Rather, its subject is fear—or, as Steiner calls it, “respect for the conditions.” From the ski-jump at Planica,

    Read more
  • interview • June 28, 2021

    A Forgotten Apocalypse

    June 25th marked the seventy-first anniversary of the start of the Korean War, a conflict that killed, displaced, orphaned, or otherwise traumatized millions of civilians and set a Korean diaspora in motion. The so-called Forgotten War has remained largely invisible in American culture, despite the conflict’s brutal and enduring consequences. To help take stock of this multifaceted legacy—which stretches into every realm, from the political to the cultural to the personal—we’ve invited three writers and scholars who have recently published books about the war and its aftermath.

    Grace M. Cho

    Read more
  • excerpt • June 22, 2021

    How Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defined American cultural beliefs

    Noah Webster’s influence reached far beyond the pages of the dictionary or the speller. Even those Americans who have never read his work or heard his name are still bearers of his legacy. He shaped the underpinnings not only of American education and language standardization but also of the nation as a whole. The idea that America was a new experiment capable of surpassing Europe, the notion of a nationalism based on uniformity, the belief that the United States was a sort of country on a hill—Webster cemented and spread these ideas through the building blocks of language itself. The lexicographer

    Read more
  • print • June/July/Aug

    Neither Fairy nor Foul

    AT FIRST, TINKERBELL WAS ONLY A LAMP, a small mirror, and someone crouching in the dark. He tilted his wrist to make her fly, shimmering light. A bell was her voice and applause was her medicine. In 1904, she promised children that belief was enough, ritual worked, and friends could come back from the dead. “Never” was a land, a country. If you were an eight-year-old boy in that London theater, clapping for Tink, odds are you were deep or dead in the trenches ten years later. Loss dug itself into towns, steady and chasmal, leaving old men, women, and children behind. New types of family spooled

    Read more
  • print • June/July/Aug

    Cool Runnings

    FOR NEGATIVE LESSONS, the “don’ts” when it comes to writing reviews, there’s always the internet. But for direction and inspiration, cold water on a face flushed from a looming deadline, it’s better to have hard copies of whatever you think defines greatness: you can open one to a random page, like shaking a Magic 8 Ball, and ask it what to do. Jenny Diski’s new, posthumous collection, Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told?, might give an answer—ultimately, obliquely—to its own title’s question. Of course it can’t answer mine. But I’m sure I’ll periodically give it a try anyway, because,

    Read more
  • print • June/July/Aug

    Dare Package

    I PICKED UP HIGH RISK: AN ANTHOLOGY OF FORBIDDEN WRITINGS in Trident Booksellers & Café on Newbury Street in Boston in 1991 (when you could still smoke cigarettes while you read and drink bowlfuls of cappuccino), because Kathy Acker was in it and I idolized her—though she confused me with all her code-switching, gender-floating, language-bending, anti-narrative raucousness. Maybe I idolized her because she confused me. William S. Burroughs was in it too. He confused me but not in a way I was sure I liked. I was determined to keep trying though; Burroughs had literary street cred.

    High Risk

    Read more
  • print • June/July/Aug

    This Ain’t No Picnic

    GARY PANTER’S COMIC STRIPS ARE FUN TO LOOK AT AND HARD TO READ. “My work,” he’s admitted, is “not very communicative.” Panter made his mark as a poster artist in the late-’70s Los Angeles punk scene, established his reputation in the ’80s as a frequent contributor to Raw magazine, and confirmed his cultural bona fides as a designer for Pee-wee’s Playhouse.

    Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise, originally published in 1988, draws on a decade’s worth of work for Raw and the punk tabloid Slash; it now reappears framed by a brief Ed Ruscha appreciation (dig “the ravings and cravings of an amped up active

    Read more
  • print • June/July/Aug

    Southwest Side Story

    RICKIE LEE JONES’S BLOND HEAD IS ATILT as she lights a French cigarette, crowned with an off-center red beret. It’s that image of the artful-dodger “duchess of coolsville” (as Time dubbed her) on the cover of her eponymous 1979 debut that became iconic to a public who still recalls her mainly for that year’s jazzy top-10 single “Chuck E’s in Love.” It was a sell, but one close to the reality of this former teen street kid and, more recently, poverty-line Venice Beach bohemian. Jones rejected the 1970s “glamour-puss” gloss that was being urged on her and brought her own wardrobe and sensibility

    Read more
  • print • June/July/Aug

    Home Alone

    THE LAST FILM I SAW IN A THEATER was Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, at BAM Rose Cinemas in February 2020. Of course it didn’t occur to me that this would be the last movie I’d see on the big screen for well over a year—why would it? I hadn’t gone more than a month or so without visiting a movie theater since I was sixteen. Thirty years of movie after movie, Jurassic Park to Jeanne Dielman. Art houses and multiplexes; malls and drive-ins. All abruptly shuttered, some forever.

    So my movie-going narrowed, like everyone else’s—in my case, to a forty-eight-inch Sharp LED TV and Panasonic Blu-ray

    Read more
  • print • June/July/Aug

    The Book(s) I Want

    I’D LIKE TO DESCRIBE AN ORDINARY ENCOUNTER WITH GENDER. Which is fiction. I walk into a hardware store and I ask where the spray bottles are. He directs me. He-seeming person. I grab one and walk back to the register. I shove it toward him and he goes “three-oh-mmph.” I don’t know what the mmph is. I say what. He says if you give me four cents (as I hand him a five) I can give you back two dollars. I know how it works I explain. He hands me the two dollars and then says thank you ma’am. Now I bet many male-seeming people might not describe that exchange as gendered.

    Yet he took my what as not

    Read more
  • print • June/July/Aug

    Language Arts

    FOR OVER FORTY YEARS, Lorraine O’Grady’s work has argued against binary thinking. Instead of either/or, she proposes a both/and construction, often expressed by pairing two images in a diptych. Take her 2010 Whitney Biennial work The First and the Last of the Modernists, in which she juxtaposes portraits of Charles Baudelaire with Michael Jackson, tinting them in red, gray, green, or blue. As she wrote in 2018, “When you put two things that are related and yet totally dissimilar in a position of equality on the wall . . . they set up a conversation that is never-ending.”

    This sensibility

    Read more
  • print • June/July/Aug

    She Drew the Hallelujah

    AMERICA, IT SEEMS, WOULD LIKE A COOKIE. After centuries of literally and figuratively relying on Black women while simultaneously shoving them toward the margins of public life, conspicuous acknowledgment has become en vogue. The market now chases our purchasing power and the electoral establishment has recognized our political power and cultural institutions have added us to their guest lists. It has never been easier to find the right shade of foundation. Kamala Harris’s smile greets visitors to federal buildings around the country; Stacey Abrams is approaching household-name status. In

    Read more