• print • Summer 2019

    Eclipse Sync

    The way this story begins, it could be the setup of a math or physics problem. Two astronomers and their assistants depart England, one pair headed south toward the island of Príncipe, the other southwest, to Brazil. Meanwhile the moon, as it loops around the earth, will soon occupy a position between the earth and the sun. Once the observers reach their tropical outposts, they assemble their equipment and wait for the moon and the sun to line up exactly: a solar eclipse.

    The eclipse in question took place a hundred years ago, in May 1919, drawing a swath of shadow over the South Atlantic

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  • print • Summer 2019

    Society of the Spectator

    “Art museums are in a state of crisis.” The diagnosis is drastic, the remedy equally so: a radical update of both form and function. Hopelessly out of touch with the pulse of contemporary culture and the rhythms of everyday life, the grandiose architecture of the museum must be rethought in terms of adaptability and flexibility, with inert galleries transformed into sites of ongoing experimentation. Likewise the visitor’s experience, still rooted in antiquated models of passive contemplation, must be reimagined as a process of active participation and immersive engagement. Museums must reinvent

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  • print • Summer 2019

    The Varieties of Religious Experience

    “Praise the world to the Angel, not what’s unsayable.” Thus spoke Rainer Maria Rilke, waxing a bit Nietzschean. It’s something of a commonplace in late modernity: the exaltation of the finite and transient—“things that live on departure,” Rilke says—and the concomitant demotion or denial of the eternal. The opposition grounds Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Wallace Stevens pares it down to an epigram: “Death is the mother of beauty.”

    Or as the philosopher Martin Hägglund explains in his rather exasperating new book, “Life can matter only in light of death.” This thesis is expounded in This

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  • print • Summer 2019

    Some Trick

    The gold- and silver-colored crucifix that hung opposite my childhood bed was only one of many that adorned the walls of my home, my school, and, of course, the church I attended. On early-summer mornings the bright, filigreed metal caught the rays that leaked around a too-narrow window shade and the dying Christ glowed as if electrified. At age eight I understood the principle of reflected light but didn’t yet grasp the concept of an afterimage—the result of photoreceptors retaining an impression after the eye is closed or upon looking away from the object. After waking one morning, I allowed

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  • print • Summer 2019

    What’s Past Is Prologue

    In “La Guera,” her famous 1979 essay about coming to racial self-consciousness as a light-skinned, mixed-race Chicana, Cherríe Moraga identifies first and foremost as a daughter: “I had no choice but to enter into the life of my mother. I had no choice.” This is, of course, a natural fact about how we all are born. But it is also a kind of alibi—an italicized plea for forgiveness in advance. From the beginning of her career, she has scavenged her migrant mother’s story for material applicable to her own emerging politics as a lesbian feminist. Those politics came to be profoundly influential:

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  • review • May 16, 2019

    Loudermilk: Or, The Real Poet; Or, The Origin of the World by Lucy Ives

    In Lucy Ives’s second novel, Loudermilk, a charismatic dumbass scams his way into a prestigious MFA poetry program by submitting the work of his antisocial companion. The real writer, who hates the sound of his own voice, follows the oversexed, symmetrically featured dumbass to school and continues to write for him. It’s a fun setup, but the book aims for more than just comedy. Ives, who once described herself as “the author of some kind of thinking about writing,” examines the conditions that produce authors and their work while never losing a sense of wonder at the sheer mystery of the written

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  • review • April 30, 2019

    Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest by Hanif Abdurraqib

    Crackhead, pothead, pillhead, oldhead. The suffix “-head” tends to mark a genre of name-calling. It smacks of a compulsiveness that renders your activities illicit or, at the very least, will have you deemed a space-cadet. But when you claim yourselfas a head—a sneakerhead, a Beatlehead, a hip-hophead—the suffix carries a somewhat uppity declaration of expertise, at once a boast and an assertion of membership in a particular culture or scene. Originally “hip-hophead” implied specific cultural and political commitments to the everyday survival of black people. But due to the ways the US music

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  • review • March 28, 2019

    The White Book by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

    What is color to literature? For one thing, a problem. Language deals in delineation. This makes it an odd match to account for color—an abstract, pure vividness—which, on its own, has no differentiating power at all. At the same time, without color, visual differentiation becomes difficult. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in the introduction to his 1810 Theory of Colours, wrote that “the eye sees no form, inasmuch as light, shade, and colour together constitute that which to our vision distinguishes object from object.”

    It’s no surprise, then, that most attempts to give a literary account of

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    Growth and Decay: Pripyat and the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone by David McMillan

    Novels and films tend to portray postapocalyptic cities as either devastated or abandoned. While the former might take inspiration from photos of Hiroshima or Dresden, places long emptied of people can be somewhat harder to imagine. What would Poughkeepsie or Staten Island look like years after a plague swept the planet? Some hint can be found in David McMillan’s photographs of the town of Pripyat, Ukraine, and the environs around the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant. In late April 1986, a reactor there suffered a catastrophic failure that spread radioactive material for thousands of miles

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    Cracking the Coder

    At some point while reading Coders (Penguin Press, $28), technology writer Clive Thompson’s enjoyable primer on the world of computer programmers, I started to note the metaphors being deployed by Thompson and his subjects to explain what it is they do, exactly. Coding, my incomplete list tells me, is “being a bricklayer,” “playing a one-armed bandit in Las Vegas,” “deep-sea diving,” “combat on the astral plane,” “oddly reminiscent of poetry,” “oddly like carpentry,” “like knitting and weaving,” “like being a digital plumber,” and “like the relationship of gardeners to their gardens.” It “

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    The Socialism Network

    Sally Rooney. Sally Rooney! Sally Rooney, the twenty-eight-year-old Irish novelist celebrated as the “first great millennial author,” is interested in weird relationships, or relationships that seem weird but are quietly common within the young, educated, and progressive milieu she depicts. Her debut, 2017’s Conversations with Friends, concerns a nonmonogamous not-quite-affair between Frances, a twenty-one-year-old student/budding writer, and Nick, a sexy, depressed actor in his thirties; judging, resenting, and flirting from the edges of this initially secret romance are his wife, Melissa,

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    American Purgatory

    Valeria Luiselli began volunteering as a translator for children in immigration court around five years ago. Drawing on that work, and the activism that followed, she wrote two books: Tell Me How It Ends, an extended essay based on the questionnaire used to interview the children, and her latest, Lost Children Archive (Knopf, $28), a novel about a family traveling by car from New York City to Arizona so that the father, an audio documentarian, can work on a project about the Chiricahua Apache. During the trip, the mother becomes obsessed with news on the radio of migrant children being deported

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