• review • March 24, 2020

    Stories of the Sahara

    You can tell a lot about someone by peering at their bookshelf. “I don’t like to read,” the Taiwanese writer Sanmao grumbles when she receives booklets of traffic rules before a driving test. “What are you talking about?” her husband, José, says, gesturing at her bookcase. “Here you have books on astronomy, geography, demons and ghouls, spy romances, animals, philosophy, gardening, languages, cooking, manga, cinema, tailoring, even secret recipes in traditional Chinese medicine, magic tricks, hypnotism, dyeing clothes.” This scene, from Stories of the Sahara, a collection of short travelogues

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  • review • March 24, 2020

    Dancing on His Own

    In a letter toward the end of Love, Icebox, a collection of correspondence from John Cage to his partner Merce Cunningham, doubt about their relationship creeps in. Cage, who was seven years older than Cunningham, is concerned that Cunningham doesn’t love him and “will love other misters.”

    Nothing is more desirable to me than the feeling of being possessed by you but I don’t know whether you like to be possessed by me. . . . God knows my love for you has grown and grows continually so that it is with me always and in every place my spirit is. The thought of your body near me is heaven.

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  • review • March 17, 2020

    Electric Irish DMT Test

    Rob Doyle is a twentieth-century boy. His characters are monologous young men who get high and chase literary grouches with an eye out for that high-modernist whale, the epiphany. Many of Doyle’s contemporaries—literary men in their late thirties—confine themselves to the cramped emotional tone afforded to those invested in the internet’s panoramic view and its plausibly crushing Bad News. But Doyle looks back: His drugs and bands and writers are pre-9/11 specimens, across all of his books. The characters in his 2014 debut novel, Here Are the Young Men, are teen grads in Dublin off their faces,

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  • excerpt • March 12, 2020

    A Revolution of Artistic Values

    Part of a political revolution toward socialism will necessitate a revolution of values. Those values won’t come from the top down but from culture up. We can use Denning’s notion of a “cultural front”—in this case, to save us from our cultural ass. Right now the United States is working at a deficit. Our identities and aesthetics are deeply tied into capitalism—no disrespect to rapper Cardi B and her love of money, but unlearning money worship and our worth being determined by what we can accumulate is going to be vital to any socialist change. And as during the 1930s and ’40s, and in so many

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  • excerpt • February 11, 2020

    A Theory of Too Muchness

    A weeping woman is a monster. So too is a fat woman, a horny woman, a woman shrieking with laughter. Women who are one or more of these things have heard, or perhaps simply intuited, that we are repugnantly excessive, that we have taken illicit liberties to feel or fuck or eat with abandon. After bellowing like a barn animal in orgasm, hoovering a plate of mashed potatoes, or spraying out spit in the heat of expostulation, we’ve flinched in self-scorn—ugh, that was so gross. I am so gross. On rare occasions, we might revel in our excess—belting out anthems with our friends over karaoke,

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2020

    Just Like Heaven

    The title of Fleabag: The Scriptures (Ballantine Books, $28) is a cheeky play on words: It refers to the shooting scripts for the television comedy Fleabag, which are reproduced here in full, and it also refers to the fact that the second (and, if creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge is to be believed, final) season of the show, which debuted on Amazon Prime in May 2019, is about the main character’s romantic attachment to an unattainable Catholic priest. But it also acknowledges that Waller-Bridge’s words—printed out on creamy paper stock, bound inside a smooth navy-blue cover, and embossed with gold

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2020

    Artful Volumes

    It’s misleading that Nam June Paik has been named the grandfather of video art. Sure, he started the whole thing, but as an artist, Paik is no patriarch. He’s always been the wild child, making a mess at the dinner table and disrespecting his elders, less interested in laying the foundation than finding one to blast apart. NAM JUNE PAIK (DelMonico Books/Prestel, $50), the companion book to Tate Modern’s recent retrospective, makes sure to pay its respects but takes more pleasure in recounting the artist’s anarchic antics and Fluxus pranks. At times, it strains to put a new spin on Paik: The

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2020

    Moonbeam Nation

    “So Bert and Mary Poppins definitely used to fuck, right?” One Saturday night last winter some friends had gathered in my living room to reconsider one of our favorite childhood movies through the cracked lens of our millennial adulthood. (A very millennial thing to do: In our minds it was subversively ironic, but to the skeptical observer we just looked like a bunch of thirtysomethings so infantilized and brain-fried by pop culture and social media that we were spending the prime time of our weekend watching a Disney movie.)

    Mary Poppins, we decided, held up. There was a maturity to it we

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2020

    Scenes from a Marriage

    Elizabeth Hardwick was a worrier. “What I know I have learned from books and worry,” she wrote in Vogue in June 1971. She worried about her daughter Harriet’s grades in school. She worried about rising rents in New York City and about the price of property in Maine. And she worried about her husband, the poet Robert Lowell. Since age seventeen, Lowell, who was diagnosed with manic depression in the 1940s, had occasionally entered states of high mania, impulsive stretches during which he seduced young women, raged at loved ones, and, once, dangled a friend out a window. For years, Hardwick

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2020

    Jagged Little Redpill

    Everyone who’s writing essays professionally these days owes a debt to Meghan Daum, whether they know it or not. Her 2001 collection My Misspent Youth paved the way for many people’s careers, including my own. More than any of her contemporaries, Daum staked a claim on the trickier-than-it-looks style that combines journalistic rigor with exactly the right amount of subtle humor. She wrote about getting deep into debt and continuing to buy flowers from the corner bodega. She coined a term for the existential discomfort of aesthetic wrongness: Wall-to-wall carpet, famously, is “mungers.” She

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2020

    Deeper into Cocaine

    Howard Koch Jr., assistant director on Chinatown and the son of the former head of production at Paramount Pictures, had always thought of cocaine as “elite,” according to Sam Wasson in The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood. But by 1975, coke had trickled down. “The fucking craft service guy had it . . . the prop guy had it. It was everywhere,” Koch Jr. noticed.

    For this son of Hollywood, the prevalence of cocaine was a portent, like the time in the late 1920s when a shoeshine boy offered Joseph P. Kennedy a stock market tip. A crash was coming. Wasson’s book, a production

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2020

    Emotional Terrain

    Across several decades of her career, Helen Frankenthaler painted an intimate, interior sense of landscape. She achieved this, in part, with a technique called “soak stain,” which she invented while creating her earliest masterwork, Mountains and Sea, 1952. Frankenthaler would pour paint diluted with turpentine onto unprimed canvas, creating watercolor-like effects. The softened hues and diffuse shapes captured the subjective experience of the natural world. While watercolors are typically small, Frankenthaler preferred large canvases, sometimes as wide as twelve feet. The scale and the method

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