• excerpt • August 04, 2022

    Double Down

    There is a funny paradox in American culture. The nation began in revolt against British sovereignty and defined itself for generations against UK ruling-class values of crown, empire, and tradition. And yet in the Golden Age of Hollywood, on the run-up to American hegemony, the ideology of empire reentered the American bloodstream, adapted for mass society and a technocratic state. The medieval term translatio imperii, which once described the divine succession of emperors, later named the westward drift of power. It mutated into a doctrine of manifest destiny for aspirational American settlers.

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  • excerpt • July 14, 2022

    Likely Stories

    In 2012, the British magazine Sight and Sound polled the film critics of the world to name “the best picture ever made,” and the result, that year, was Hitchcock’s Vertigo. David Thomson has described the film as a “piercing dream,” but, possibly challenging common sense, I am not going to explicate the full plot of the film at length here, or make a claim for it, in case the reader has never seen it. I will simply say that in this movie, a detective is asked to follow a beautiful, glamorous woman who is thought to be suicidal. Notice that the plot really begins with a request moment based on

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2022

    Fit Pics

    I HAVE REACHED a shocking conclusion after paging through the exhibition catalogue Sporting Fashion: Outdoor Girls 1800 to 1960 (American Federation of Arts/DelMonico Books, $60)

    Athleisure . . . is . . . progress

    The ubiquitous yoga pants that people still write into etiquette columns to complain about, the Allbirds sneakers that pad through the corridors of Silicon Valley startups, even the crop tops celebrities don to drink green juice après Pilates—perhaps these are the garments that most unequivocally define modern fashion. Not inventive dresses or breathtaking gowns, but the kind

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2022

    One Syllable at a Time

    ONE DAY IN MARCH 1948, a twenty-five-year-old clerk in the French colonial administration in Ivory Coast experienced a transformative vision. He reported that the sky opened and “seven colored suns described a circle of beauty around their ‘Mother-Sun’” and that he was then called upon to be “the Revealer.” This divine command would set Frédéric Bruly Bouabré on an investigative path deep into the folklore, language, and religion of his people, the Bété, an undertaking that produced voluminous texts and thousands of drawings, all aimed at elucidating his cultural heritage as the foundation of

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2022

    Death Becomes Him

    IN THE UNRULY ANNALS of twentieth-century American art, Andrew Wyeth (1917–2009) carved a quiet place for himself as a chronicler of clapboard fronts and windswept fields in the shadeless stretches of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and, later, Maine. The artist imbued his portraits and landscapes with a kind of sacred plainness, his drybrush paintings capturing the specific dust-in-the-water melancholia of Middle America.  

    For a painter so steeped in realism, Wyeth cultivated quite a mystique about himself. An aura of death permeated his paintings, rendering them at once fragile and leaden.

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2022

    Artful Volumes

    Like a mixtape, a Steve Keene painting is meant to be passed hand to hand, with affection. He’s been giving them away, or selling them for a song, going on thirty years. Keene, an artist who estimates 300,000 works to his name, came up indie-rock adjacent, pals with Pavement. Like that band’s best albums, Keene’s art is poppy, bright, deliberately unkempt, slyly confrontational, and super “college.” His subjects include founding fathers, LPs, astronauts, and so much more, but who can keep up? He’s got theories about fast technique, and what it means to be so prolific and cheap, but he doesn’t

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2022

    Quite Contrary

    IN A RECENT PIECE FOR GAWKER, “Gary Indiana Hates in Order to Love,” Paul McAdory looked at how the writer makes affective intensities cooperate. “Indiana’s greatness,” McAdory wrote, “rests partly on his ability to fling aside the sheer curtains partitioning love from hate and extract a superior pleasure from their mixture.” It may be bad form to quote a parallel review of the book I’m looking at—Fire Season, a collection of essays stretching back to 1991—or maybe it’s just confusing to do so without going into attack mode. Sorry, odiophiliacs! I want to simply agree with McAdory’s essay and

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2022

    Mixed Doubles

    IN 1974, Elaine Sturtevant slipped out of the art world to play tennis with a man whose serve she couldn’t return. She said little about her decade-long departure from art, either about why she left or what she did during that period—“I was writing, thinking, playing tennis, and carrying on.” The American artist, best known for “repeating” major works by major men, had already proven herself a genius in the game of doubles. Let them catch up, she said, and switched to a game with different rules but similar design. 

    Like fellow genius and tennis freak Anna Kavan, whose midlife adoption of her

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2022

    Flair Play

    THERE’S ONE GOOD FOLDER on my computer desktop. “Images,” its title reads, opaquely, enticingly. Inside, one can find a curated compendium of visual curios, pop-culture bric-a-brac, and internet detritus: a mud-speckled Sidney Poitier adjusting his amber motocross goggles in a still from 1973’s A Warm December; an uncanny stock image of a smiling, multiracial group of men and women standing in V-formation against an antiseptic white backdrop. A recent favorite is a Walter Iooss Jr. photograph of former Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star outfielder Dave Parker smoking a cigarette in the dugout during

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2022

    Knight Vision

    RUSSIA’S INVASION OF UKRAINE has been a boon for American oil and gas companies, Russian bond traders at Goldman Sachs, and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov. The former world champion and staunch critic of Putin has become a regular guest on prime-time cable news slots. He’s penned op-eds in the Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune. His 2015 book, Winter Is Coming, which predicted that Putin would invade Ukraine beyond its eastern regions, has rocketed to the top of Amazon’s charts and journalists’ recommended-reading lists. Kasparov is quoted by the press as though he were an oracle.

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2022

    Alas, King Richard

    RICHARD WILLIAMS DEMANDS GLORY. The pursuit of glory is revised madness, the ambition of addicts, to get so high they collapse, and are forced to repeat the ascent as if for the first time. It’s preemptive repentance disguised as innocent yearning to win. You have to need vindication to need victory so desperately. Richard Williams is looking for redemption. In a scene from a 1990s video of Richard, father of tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams, we see him genuflecting on a tennis court in Compton, California, in front of a shopping cart full of tennis balls—the ground swells with them.

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2022

    Applauded at Every Point

    A TENNIS MATCH HAS AT LEAST FORTY-EIGHT BEGINNINGS and endings; you need to win a minimum of forty-eight points to win a match. An orchestra traditionally receives a single round of applause at the conclusion of a performance. A professional tennis player at a large tournament is applauded after every point.

    It makes sense, then, that Geoff Dyer would write a book about tennis that doubles as a book about endings. The Last Days of Roger Federer begins by mourning what seems to be the imminent ending of the career of Federer, the most sublime tennis player of all time. This meditation leads to

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