• print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    POWDER TOUGH

    Crime may not pay, but for Pablo Escobar, the man synonymous with the Colombian cocaine trade in the 1980s, it certainly did. By 1979, two years after Eric Clapton released his hit cover of the song “Cocaine,” twenty-two million Americans were using the drug, a fourfold increase from five years earlier. Clubs in Miami—just a two-hour flight from Bogotá—and New York drove the demand that launched a billion-dollar industry. Although various cartels competed to satiate Americans’ newfound obsession with the glamorous white powder, Escobar emerged as the dominant supplier, controlling 80 percent

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    WHEN IN ROAM

    Dubravka Ugresic is Walter Benjamin’s Baudelaire, the poetic sojourner who finds himself at the whim of the crowd. She is the flaneur cast into the streets, nowhere at home. And like Baudelaire, Ugresic is a writer in full view of and at odds with the forces of commodity culture, a writer whose mission is to give form to modernity. But if Baudelaire’s poetry is permeated by melancholic doom, Ugresic’s diagnosis of life’s illusory qualities is delightfully judgmental and cheerily pessimistic. Or as she tartly concludes in Nobody’s Home, her new collection of essays, “this book breaks the rules

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    THE UNWRITTEN LAW

    American legal education holds few horrors greater than the wooze-inducing editorial content that pads casebooks on constitutional law. The notes that follow court opinions are either so deadly simple or so impenetrably dense as to frighten law students into pushing their casebooks somewhere to the back of their computer desks so as to plunge into another game of Cornhole. I was put in mind of that avoidance tactic as I read Laurence Tribe’s The Invisible Constitution and came across this mouthful:

    A much-lamented deployment of geometric construction emerged

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    HOCKEY PLUCK

    The noses Jeff Lemire draws don’t just sit in the middle of his characters’ faces, they loom so large as to be unavoidable. These landmarks serve as emblems of both personality and family history. Some possess a beaklike sharpness (aligning their characters with the crows that make regular appearances in these books), while others are as blocky as ice cubes—not surprising, given that Lemire’s stories are set in Southern Ontario and feature men and boys who love hockey. Cartooning at its liveliest and most expressive, is rarely about delineating faces with photographic accuracy. The great

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    GOOD FELLOWS

    Vivian Gornick has always been an impassioned reader, writer, and inhabitant of her own life, holding firmly to the vastly unmodish notion that novels, memoirs, and essays are not just ironic, parsable constructs but have the power to help us locate, define, and even redeem ourselves. Gornick believes, that is, in the transcendent effect of literature, whether it be a novel by Virginia Woolf, a memoir by Edmund Gosse, or an essay by Seymour Krim—an effect made possible by dint of a book’s “clarity of thought” (an oft-repeated phrase of hers) rather than its sheer emotional power. Indeed, to

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    ALL THE WRITE MOVES

    In 1973, writing in the introduction to her indispensable compendium, Work 1961–73, Yvonne Rainer admits, “I find myself greedy. . . . So here I am, in a sense, trying to ‘replace’ my performances with a book, greedily pushing language to clarify what already was clear in other terms.” In her ambitious drive to dissect the historical conventions of performance over the past four-plus decades, Rainer has utilized a remarkable variety of media. And while dance and film have been her primary concerns, the written word has played a pivotal role, not simply as a means of clarification but as yet

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    STEERING ZEAL

    I know all about traffic. So do you. So does everyone. We curse it. We try to avoid it. When we’re pedestrians, we try not to be run down by it. Of course, we also cause it. And as we sit stuck in it, we sometimes develop one or two pet theories about it, generally based on nothing more than conjecture and personal prejudice. To that extent, Tom Vanderbilt is one of us. In the prologue to Traffic, he wonders whether those who merge lanes at the last possible moment are arrogant queue jumpers or simply making the best use of available space. It’s a good question, and Vanderbilt doesn’t come up

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    The Circus, 1870–1950

    Media circus, family circus, circus catch, political circus, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and the Circus Circus casino in Vegas—yet nowhere among these usages is there to be found an actual sawdust and elephant-scat circus. Before its devolution into mere metaphor (when did you last sit ringside?), the circus was indeed the greatest show on an unwired earth. In their glory days from the late nineteenth century to the middle of the last, Barnum & Bailey, Ringling Brothers, and lesser outfits crisscrossed America bringing spectacle to the masses. This suitcase-size compendium, The Circus,

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Everybody Talks About the Weather . . . We Don’t: The Writings of Ulrike Meinhof

    It’s easy to guess why a collection of writings by Ulrike Meinhof is just now being published in English: Understanding terrorists is a newly thriving field of scholarship, and the left-wing, European extremists in the Red Army Faction make a nice control group for an all-Islamist-all-the-time sample set. How did Meinhof go from upstanding citizen to anticapitalist bomber, from mother to monster? By 1972, when the fugitive Meinhof was finally captured, the RAF had been linked to dozens of bank robberies and bombings, along with the murders of several policemen, and Meinhof was sent to prison,

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    The Jive Talker: An Artist’s Genesis

    When London-based conceptual artist Samson Kambalu was eleven, he founded his own religion, Holyballism. Based on sun worship and influenced by Nietzsche, Freud, and Frida Kahlo’s painting Nuclear Sun, the “holy ball” is the religion’s sacred/blasphemous object: a soccer ball plastered with pages ripped from the Bible and kicked about for “exercises and exorcisms.” Kambalu’s memoir, The Jive Talker, is another form of exorcism and exercise, a literary, polyphonic performance of exuberance and delight.

    Kambalu, the fifth of eight children, was born in Malawi in 1975, four years after Hastings

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Gary Panter

    Gary Panter is a difficult artist to pin down. He’s a cartoonist, best known for his buzz-cut everyman, Jimbo. He performs light shows, makes puppets, constructs tiny cardboard architectural models, and writes and draws an animated Internet show. He’s done illustration work and album art. He’s even been a production designer, creating much of the surreal set for Pee-wee’s Playhouse (the job earned him three Emmy Awards), and an interior designer, for a children’s playroom in Philippe Starck’s Paramount Hotel in New York. But this two-volume monograph makes the case for his paintings.

    Since

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Lives of the Artists

    Formalist art critics used to say that the life of an artist was irrelevant to an understanding of his or her work,” Calvin Tomkins writes in the preface to Lives of the Artists, a collection of New Yorker profiles published over the past ten or so years. “In my experience, the lives of contemporary artists are so integral to what they make that the two cannot be considered in isolation.” For critics of a certain generation—me, for instance—educated by art historians more inclined to mapping Lacan’s L Schema than outlining an artist’s formative years, Tomkins’s statement is like a grenade.

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