• excerpt • May 10, 2022

    Sick Time

    Sickness narratives do not always start with symptoms and end in recovery. Treatment does not always follow test. A new diagnosis might arrive at any time, or never. Sick time is not linear time. It is circular. It lapses and relapses, it drags, loops and buffers. 

    I desired a singular narrative but the form, with its need to end in a place it did not begin, refused to accept my version of events. I originally proposed an order that followed the medical narrative that started with “Symptoms” and ended in “Recovery,” hoping to “recover” illness from “Cure.” My version resisted order, or could

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  • review • April 26, 2022

    A Story of Supernatural Kindness

    In 1994, poet Fanny Howe was travelling in the UK and working intermittently. She spun this experience into London-rose, a poetic and philosophic meditation on alienation, labor, and everyday life. The book is being published for the first time this month by Semiotext(e). Below is a brief dispatch from her journey. —The Editors  

    Been on the road for days—Hull, Sheffield, here—visiting liaison people, long drives through mottled Yorkshire snowing. One action follows or leads to another, always ending in the smelly cold B&Bs, now in Sheffield, caught in traffic for three hours at night. Over

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  • review • April 21, 2022

    Net Loss

    The first four nodes of ARPANET—the Department of Defense’s primeval internet—were connected in 1969, the very year that Theodor W. Adorno died. In retrospect, it seems a cruel coincidence; it is difficult to imagine a cultural technology more deserving of Adorno’s truculent analysis than the internet, or to locate a comparable living thinker able to explain why a worldwide network that was supposed to unite everyone and improve everything tremors with feelings of disconnection and debasement.

    The beginning of Justin E. H. Smith’s new book reads as if it might deliver this lost critique, given

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  • excerpt • March 08, 2022

    An excerpt from Body Work on memoir, love, and writing to find a new narrative

    There is a conventional wisdom about memoir that claims a writer must have sufficient hindsight in order to write meaningfully about her past. This has not been my experience. All that has been required of me to write about something is this change of heart. A shift toward, or away, or perhaps a desire to return to some truer version of myself. I don’t even have to know that I’ve made it, but when I look back at the beginnings of everything I’ve ever written, there it is. 

    I recently reread Natasha Trethewey’s exquisite memoir, Memorial Drive, in which she explores her mother’s murder by an

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  • review • March 01, 2022

    Our spring issue is online now!

    Welcome to the Mar/Apr/May 2022 issue of Bookforum! In this edition, our contributors review new novels by Sheila Heti, Alejandro Zambra, Claire-Louise Bennett, and more, as well as newly reissued works by Kay Dick and Yūko Tsushima. The film critic A. S. Hamrah considers how director Billy Wilder bested the twentieth century, Sasha Frere-Jones reflects on essayist Lucy Sante’s inquisitive oeuvre, Harmony Holiday writes about the late hip-hop producer J Dilla’s poetics, and so much more. Read the issue online here, and consider signing up for or gifting a subscription.

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Love, Labor, Loss

    EARLY ON, I WROTE A FACETIOUS POEM, a “Love-in-the-time-of-Corona” version of a Frank O’Hara classic and merrily posted it on Facebook. I know it began, “Having a Quarantine With You / is more fun than going to the supermarket or taking public transport,” but I can’t remember the rest because, not long after, I deleted it out of embarrassment. In a world where suddenly thousands were dying by the day, the vibe was seriously off. Much like the last squirt of Purell, whatever flimsy novelty the novel coronavirus offered evaporated pretty much instantaneously. If we were posting poetry, only

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    First Person Plural

    TO TELL THE STORY of another person’s life poses certain challenges to an author wanting to capture their subject in the truest light possible. In the introduction to her ebullient, poignant What Is Now Known Was Once Only Imagined: An (Auto)biography of Niki de Saint Phalle, Nicole Rudick offers up her strategy for honest representation: “What could be closer to the artist’s voice than the artist’s own voice, closer to her sensibility than that produced by her own hand?” Rudick edited this hybrid volume of text and images, selecting and sequencing Saint Phalle’s own writings and works on paper

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Man of the Midcentury

    IF FRENCH MODERNISM IS RATIONAL, Italian modernism sensual, German modernism ideological, and Danish modernism comfortable, what’s American modernism? I’d say it’s Danish. That’s because of Jens Risom, the Danish-born and -trained designer who, twenty-three years old on the eve of World War II, boarded a freighter bound for New York. There, according to Vicky Lowry in Jens Risom: A Seat at the Table, the first monograph on his work, the young man “quickly discovered that there wasn’t really any interesting contemporary American furniture to study and learn from”—an exaggeration, maybe, but it’s

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Swinging on a Star

    THRALL IS A JEFFERSONIAN WORD. In Constructing a Nervous System, the critic Margo Jefferson is enthralled by or to: her mother, her father, Bing Crosby. She suspects Condoleezza Rice is enthralled by or to George W. Bush, and Ike Turner by or to “manic depression and drug addiction, to years of envy,  . . . to a Mississippi childhood that was a trifecta of domestic abuse, sexual treachery and racist violence.” A young James Baldwin enthralled the Harlem faithful. Nina Simone refused the thrall of “warring desires.” It’s the last that clarifies the stakes. Thrall, some time after it meant “slave”

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Look Back in Anger

    ONCE UPON A TIME, humans lived in small, nomadic, egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers. Then, several thousand years ago, they domesticated plants and animals, discovered agriculture, and grew sedentary, eventually erecting cities, which gave rise to civilization—emperors, taxes, public works, the DMV. This was either a good thing (Hobbes) or a bad thing (Rousseau).

    So the story goes; maybe you heard it in college. Anthropologists and archaeologists have understood for decades it’s not true. James C. Scott summed up what we now know of early humanity in Against the Grain (2017): “It turns

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Artful Volumes

    Houston native Jamal Cyrus calls his artistic mentor Terry Adkins a “cerebral artist with soul.” The same description could be applied to Cyrus himself, whose cross-disciplinary artworks often excavate under-known Black cultural histories. JAMAL CYRUS: THE END OF MY BEGINNING (Inventory Press/Blaffer Art Museum, $35), Cyrus’s first monograph, accompanies his midcareer solo exhibition of the same name. The understated title is borrowed from a sculptural installation from 2005, in which Cyrus adorned a miniature suburban landscape with mounds of snowlike Afro hair. As the exhibition’s cocurator

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Sharpening Her Oyster Knife

    ZORA NEALE HURSTON’S LITERARY STATURE is no longer in dispute, yet people are still trying to put her into a box. “Do you think she was a libertarian?” someone once asked me. For whatever reason, I was too polite to say something like “How the hell should I know?” Far more polite than Hurston would be if she could now answer for herself. Yes, she made conservative, even reactionary noises in her lifetime against the NAACP, leftist politics, Richard Wright, and other socially progressive influences. But tagging Hurston as a libertarian or reactionary is far too reductive for such a formidable

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