• review • July 30, 2020

    In An Apartment on Uranus, Paul B. Preciado undermines geopolitical, technological, and gender binaries

    In 2008, Paul B. Preciado published Testo Junkie, which is, among other things, an influential account of his illegal self-administration of testosterone gel. Stints of heady Foucauldian theory are interspersed with powerful memoiristic passages: He writes elegiacally to a friend who recently died, begins a potent affair with the French feminist writer and filmmaker Virginie Despentes, and lyrically describes the effects of testosterone on his body and mind. With a lofty sense of ritual and menace, he compares the packets of gel to “dissected scarabs, poison bullets extracted from a corpse,

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  • excerpt • July 07, 2020

    On Charlotte Cushman, the queer Shakespearean performer who played both male and female roles

    Charlotte Cushman was once called “the greatest living actress.” In the mid-nineteenth century this queer, Shakespearean performer was all the rage. Walt Whitman called her a genius, Louisa May Alcott had a stage-struck fit over her, Lincoln made her promise to perform for him (she did) and she impressed luminaries from Charles Dickens to Henry James. She rose from poverty to become America’s first celebrity, while specializing in ambitious women and transforming how we think of Shakespeare through her male roles like Hamlet and Romeo. After becoming an icon, Cushman lived openly with her female

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  • booklist • May 28, 2020

    Tech Support

    Welcome to part three of our ongoing series about supporting the literary community during the coronavirus pandemic. This week, we focus on independent bookstores and authors in need.

    Support Bookstores

    Most stores are taking orders directly or on platforms like Bookshop.org or IndieBound. Not sure where to start? Check out the titles from the latest issue of Bookforum.

    If you feel like living a bit dangerously (while still staying inside), put your faith in booksellers’ hands. Order a secondhand mystery bag from Milwaukee’s Boswell Book Company, a “surprise-me” paperback or hardcover from

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Notes from the Cave

    A FEW NIGHTS AGO, I WAS VISITED BY AN EMAIL. Back before the world gasped, my brother, the doctor, hardly ever wrote me anything beyond a “dinner Friday y/n,” and yet here he was, in the breathless thick of it, attaching a file of 7,241 words. I’d thought that he was far out in the boroughs intubating the sick or putting them through dialysis—and he was—but somehow he’d also found the time and adrenalized energy to put more language down on the screen than I, the ostensible writer, had managed to eke out in weeks, even months. The instructions that came at the top of the email explained, or

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Disco Paradiso

    ORGASMIC MOANS, cowbells, silky strings, four-on-the-floor beats: Disco is the soundtrack of the 1970s, that paradisiacal, prelapsarian, and loosely defined decade bookended by Stonewall and AIDS. The music has produced a small but vital corpus of writing. Among disco’s first responders, Andrew Holleran, with Dancer from the Dance (1978), gave us the great disco novel, immortalizing Patti Jo’s “Make Me Believe in You.” Vince Aletti—whose weekly dispatches for Record World “on the state of the dance floor” and other funky miscellany were collected in The Disco Files 1973–78 (reissued in 2018)—ranks

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Sister Act

    EVEN AS A LITTLE GIRL, Benedetta Carlini, born in a Tuscan mountain town in 1590, had the kind of persuasive charm possessed by politicians and good salesmen. When she played with a feral dog and it attacked her, she told her parents that the dog was the devil, come to earth to torment her. When she was caught playing with a nightingale, then thought to be a dangerous symbol of sensuality and lust, she explained that the bird was a guardian angel. After Benedetta joined a convent of Theatine nuns in 1599, she began having revelations from God. In one vision, Benedetta was again attacked by

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Close to the Knives

    RECENTLY, MISSING THE BALLET PERFORMANCES I’d planned to attend this spring, I revisited a short video-installation piece I love: En Puntas by Javier Pérez, featuring a ballerina with long knives strapped to the soles of her pointe shoes. It was filmed in the Teatre Municipal de Girona, in Spain, in 2013. The dancer, Amélie Ségarra, sits on the lid of a baby grand piano, tying the pink shoe-ribbons around her ankles. With the help of a rope dangling from the ceiling, she hoists herself up until she’s balanced on the sharp tips of the knives, her feet hovering eight inches up from the piano lid

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Lonely Planet

    AT FIVE THIRTY on a perfect spring evening, there is no one at the Trevi Fountain. The last strips of sunlight slide between apartment buildings and the water gurgles a bright, calming blue. There is only splashing, and pigeons. Not a soul is at the Pantheon, or milling around the Piazza di Spagna, at the base of the Spanish Steps. The Acropolis is absolutely still. A giant neon arrow on the Las Vegas Strip points down to an empty street. Someone has written “Hola” in large letters in the sand in the Canary Islands, but they’ve since gone. Miles of beach stretch long and white and untouched,

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Instant Karma

    LATELY, FOR OBVIOUS REASONS, I’ve been preoccupied with suffering and death—when I’m following the news of the pandemic, but also in my daily meditation practice, which involves chanting, sitting Zen, and reading from stacks of Buddhist books I keep handy next to my cushion. In the past few days I’ve read the chapters on death and rebirth in Tsongkhapa’s encyclopedic Lamrim Chenmo, or The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, a book so beloved that the Dalai Lama kept a copy hidden in his robes when he fled Lhasa in 1959.

    It wouldn’t surprise anyone that Buddhism has a

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Against Damnation

    I REALIZED WHEN I WAS AROUND EIGHT THAT THE VERY CONCEPT OF HELL IS INSANE AND EVIL, and never looked back. I don’t regard this as an especially precocious perception—many other Christians I have known report a similar experience.

    I wrote the above sentences for a version of this review in February, in a different world. I ate at restaurants with friends, rode crowded subways, went to the movies. Now it is early April and I have not been outside in a month. I watch Netflix, Zoom with friends, eat beans from a can. And I listen to black metal, whose refrigerated guitars I find perversely soothing

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Wood Play

    The titles of Thaddeus Mosley’s recent wood sculptures are often plainly descriptive: There’s a curve in Curved Closure, branches in Branched Form, and an oval in Oval Continuity. This straightforward denotation of the works’ spatial and geometric character indicates Mosley’s matter-of-fact approach. At ninety-four, the self-taught artist isn’t inclined toward mystification or obscurity. In an essay by curator Brett Littman, included in this volume, Mosley recounts how in the 1950s he saw “decorative furniture with details like small birds and fish made out of wood” in a Pittsburgh department

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Artful Volumes

    But is it art, or fashion? In FASHION WORK 1993–2018: 25 YEARS OF ART IN FASHION (Damiani, $45), Danish-born curator and critic Jeppe Ugelvig offers a refreshing take: that this question should not be framed in terms of aesthetic categories, but, instead, by social and material systems of production—that is to say, by work. The volume traces twenty-five years of hybrid fashion forms—and labor—through an impressive array of archival material, including backstage photos, notebook sketches, show invitations, and more. Ugelvig focuses on designers that critically engage with the labor conditions

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