• print • Dec/Jan 2009

    Dust

    “Length is measured by the speed of a moving shadow. Is seaweed beautiful? A change in a narrative’s temporal modality rids us of our Cartesian arrogance—it’s autumn now, but back then it was spring. Is it possible to say that seaweed is much more beautiful than the dryness in your mouth?” These are lines from the first paragraphs of Arkadii Dragomoshchenko’s Dust, a book of essays that is certain to rid its readers of any Cartesian arrogance when it comes to narrative.

    Dragomoshchenko’s prose doesn’t read quite like prose as we know it. If its lines were broken up, they might easily be poetry.

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2009

    Land 250 and Trois by Patti Smith

    IN STEVEN SEBRING’S DOCUMENTARY Patti Smith: Dream of Life (2008), the godmother of punk is seen roaming cemeteries, scribbling in notebooks, reading poetry, and peeling open freshly snapped Polaroids. Smith’s music anchors the film, but Dream of Life’s unspoken theme is that she is an old-school romantic, one whose art-as-life approach to creativity makes her a sanguine torchbearer for the Beats and the nineteenth-century French poets she deeply admires.

    On the occasion of Smith’s exhibition at Paris’s Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain last spring, Thames & Hudson published Land 250

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2009

    Letters to Poets: Conversations About Poetics, Politics, and Community

    In the age of e-mail’s immediacy, we have all but lost the sense of what a letter is: half of an extended, extemporaneous conversation that tries to anticipate and respond to its other half, as well as reward rereading over the comparatively long lag time between missives. Jennifer Firestone and Dana Teen Lomax’s Letters to Poets, an anthology of correspondence between fourteen pairs of poets, tries to reclaim the expansiveness and durability of snail mail. Inspired by the centennial of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, the editors sought to create a personal dialogue around the

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Alimentary Education

    To read about food is, increasingly, to read about crisis. There are the main-course-and-divorce memoirs of a Betty Fussell, the restaurant tell-alls of an Anthony Bourdain, and—most alarmingly—the tainted-food jeremiads, such as Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, decrying how global agribusiness is environmentally unsustainable and bad for our health. Producing a mood of crisis about our sustenance is apparently supposed to heighten our determination to overhaul the way we cultivate, prepare, and think about food. But would-be reformers never quite

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Spy Kid

    He had rarely paused to consider matters of class; as a

    pervert he was above such vulgar forms of definition.

    —Peter Jinks, Hallam Foe

    Making drastic changes to a novel while adapting it for the screen is one thing, but doing so when the novelist is a close friend can induce new levels of anxiety. Scottish director David Mackenzie found himself in that situation when he decided to tackle Peter Jinks’s acclaimed Hallam Foe, an offbeat story about a young Peeping Tom’s decidedly odd journey to self-knowledge. Mackenzie and Jinks had known each other since

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Mein Leipzig

    On June 29, 1912, Max Brod brought a shy, tongue-tied Franz Kafka to Leipzig to meet a daring young editor named Kurt Wolff. Wolff, then working for Rowohlt Verlag, read Kafka’s brief tales and published them before the year was out.

    Peter Hinke, a plump, cheerful Leipzig native, who founded the publishing house and bookstore Connewitzer Verlagsbuchhandlung in 1990, doesn’t claim to be another Kurt Wolff. These days, it’s impossible for a small publisher, armed only with a bike and a cell phone, to compete with the German conglomerates. But he’s doing all he can, fourteen hours a day, to

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Writing Sex and Gallows Humor

    Irish writer Anne Enright has won literary awards for nearly every book she’s published since her debut in 1991, the short-story collection The Portable Virgin (which earned her the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature). But for over a decade, the onetime television producer, who studied creative writing with Angela Carter and Malcolm Bradbury, lurked under readers’ radars. She prolifically published fiction that sometimes veers into the fantastic realm of her mentors—The Wig My Father Wore (2001), for example, features the angel of a man who killed himself many years earlier. Then, last year,

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Pen and Wink

    As any medium matures, its practitioners inevitably start to question its inner workings. Comics have a history of self-reflexivity and metacommentary dating back at least to the panel border smashed like a wooden frame by Winsor McCay’s Little Sammy Sneeze in 1905 and continuing over the years in venues as varied as Harvey Kurtzman’s strip for children, Hey, Look!, and underground comics’ flagship anthology, Zap Comix. Each of the five books considered here are likewise engaged with testing and prodding the raw material of comics, stretching it in startling new directions.

    Art Spiegelman was

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Little Ideological Annie

    In the 1982 movie Annie, billion-aire munitions industrialist Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks arrives in Washington to meet the Roosevelts, whose calls he usually refuses to take. They want his help organizing the New Deal, which he thinks a preposterous scheme with no hope of success. But Warbucks goes for the sake of his ward, Annie—it’s her first chance to see the White House. A musical being a musical, all it takes to melt his heart is Annie’s singing of “Tomorrow,” that anthem of stagestruck preteen girls everywhere, with Franklin and Eleanor.

    FDR was certainly on the mind of Little Orphan Annie

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Twilight of the Spooks

    Since the cold war ended, the CIA has become a slow-motion bureaucratic sacrifice within the intelligence community. Like the chinook salmon, it has been shedding body parts every year as it struggles upstream to expire.With New York Times reporter Tim Weiner’s dismissive 2007 study, Legacy of Ashes, the fate of the agency seems sealed—whenever the world changes, the New York Times is traditionally the last to know.

    If studies such as Weiner’s supply the sources of the agency’s collapse, a pair of important new titles explore some of the hows and whys. In Failure of Intelligence: The Decline

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Roman Numeral

    One might say that the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), a massive gathering of bishops from around the world that launched the Catholic Church on a course of modernization and reform, was for Catholicism what the civil rights movement was for American politics. Enormously controversial at the time, both have since been reimagined as shining moments in recent history.

    Beyond that lip service paid to the past, however, lurk unresolved conflicts that often define the battles of the present. For example, virtually all Americans now invoke the ideal of equality before the law, but they’re deeply

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    DESERT STURM

    American foreign policy in the Middle East has reached one of those moments at which almost everyone agrees that things are going badly but no one can agree what to do about it. Passionate disputes regarding the American approach toward Iran make this lack of consensus abundantly plain. On one extreme, neoconservatives such as Norman Podhoretz demand war with Iran at once, some even saying it is long overdue. On the other side, a growing chorus, both liberal and conservative, argues that war with Iran is not an option given its high costs and limited benefits; instead, they counsel containment

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