• print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2023

    Party Favor

    LAST WEEKEND I WENT to a party where people were wearing black lipstick, tropical shirts, chokers, and little drink umbrellas behind their ears. That was because the theme was “Hot Topic in the Tropics.” Many of the same people had recently been at another party where we danced on an Astroturf rooftop at a house rumored to be owned by the daughter of a famous dead novelist where there was a bathtub full of beers. Most of us had met at a succession of parties held in different cities over the course of more than a decade: birthday parties, magazine parties, dinner parties, parties where all we

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2023

    Seduction and Betrayal

    PINUPS ARE RUMORED TO EMERGE FROM THE SEA, mer-peoples caught between nautical and earthly existence, so that maybe there are fewer black pinups circulating in popular culture, because the sea for us is in part the graveyard of the Middle Passage, not just an escapist fantasy. Black pinups would emerge blood-drenched and haunting, rather than seducing onlookers. Just bypass the trance of glamour and observe Josephine Baker’s double consciousness in any photograph, at once entertaining you and devastating you, silly and caustic with grief. Or just look at Prince and try not to fall in love.

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  • review • November 08, 2022

    A Business, Man

    A MONTH BEFORE Atlanta hosted the first hip-hop-focused spinoff of the BET Awards in 2006, an executive at the cable network joked the event would likely not benefit the local economy. He was probably right. Rap dollars already coursed through the Southern city like its ceaseless traffic, bankrolling recording studios, propping up nightclubs and music-publishing companies, and sustaining a vast corps of DJs, strippers, bodyguards, and lawyers. After the inaugural BET Hip Hop Awards aired and nearly half the honors went to Atlantans, local rapper T. I.—who won four awards that night, the largest

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  • print • Sep/Oct/Nov 2022

    Free to Be Me and You and Me and You and You

    IT FEELS RIGHT TO START WITH A THUMBNAIL HISTORY from Valerie Wilmer, the British photographer and writer who published As Serious as Your Life in 1977, one of the first book-length attempts to document a music with as many names as heroes.

    It was at the turn of the ’sixties with the appearance of a series of recordings made by Ornette Coleman, an alto saxophonist from Texas, that the music hitherto known as “jazz” began first to be described as “free” music. Coleman, along with the pianist Cecil Taylor and the tenor saxophonist John Coltrane and, eventually, the drummer Sunny Murray,

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  • print • Sep/Oct/Nov 2022

    How Should a Patient Be?

    RACHEL AVIV’S STRANGERS TO OURSELVES: UNSETTLED MINDS AND THE STORIES THAT MAKE US is a book about psychiatry, but it is also a book about the self, “the facets of identity that our theories of the mind fail to capture,” one written with an astonishing amount of attention and care. Since Westerners tend to conflate the self with the mind—or at least locate the former inside the latter—behavioral science is a field that implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) presumes to explain why we are the way we are, which is also to say why we are who we are: our chemistry is imbalanced, we’re holding a

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  • print • Sep/Oct/Nov 2022

    Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

    I SUSPECT EVERYONE WHO KEEPS A DIARY of wanting it to be found. What you write depends on what you allow yourself to see, and how you want to be seen. It’s a common thought—Susan Sontag famously said, “A journal or diary is precisely to be read furtively by other people”—and points to a basic contradictory principle of the unconscious. Self-admission is always tied to self-betrayal. 

    Anne Truitt began keeping a daily journal in June 1974. Her ostensible aim was to “record my life and see what happened.” It may have had more to do with steadying her mind. Her decision followed two retrospective

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  • print • Sep/Oct/Nov 2022

    In Theory, Anyway

    THE PUNCH LINE OF ACADEMIC THEORY IS A REDESCRIPTION OF THE THING WE ALREADY KNOW, so that we might know it once more, with feeling. In Lauren Berlant’s words, heuristics don’t start revolutions, but “they do spark blocks that are inconvenient to a thing’s reproduction.” Berlant’s new book, On the Inconvenience of Other People, arriving just a little over a year after their death, is a study in just that. Inconvenience serves as a sequel of sorts to Cruel Optimism (2011), the work that guaranteed Berlant’s fame beyond the academy. Berlant, the literary scholar of national sentiment, affect,

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  • print • Sep/Oct/Nov 2022

    Liz Kid

    FORMIDABLE HARDWICK! Most writers are soon forgotten after their deaths. Yet Elizabeth Hardwick, since her death in 2007, has achieved a rare transfiguration. Having left behind the indignities of mortal life—hangovers, rashes, insomnia, unwritten lectures, misplaced hearing aids—she has been enshrined as an intellectual totem. Publishers have brought out not just a Collected Essays, as one might expect, but an Uncollected Essays, foraging through back issues of Mademoiselle and House & Garden for every glittering fragment. Other literary productions have whetted, not sated, the readerly appetite

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  • print • Sep/Oct/Nov 2022

    Meditations in an Emergency

    I REMEMBER seeing the cover of B. S. Johnson’s book Aren’t You Rather Young to Be Writing Your Memoirs? in a bookstore when I was eighteen. (Johnson was thirty-nine, had only a few months to live then, and his book is not in fact a memoir.) That title stayed with me for years and haunted me whenever I’d think of writing anything concerning my own life. The proper time to write a memoir was one’s sunset years, when one had retired from the hustle and bustle and could sit by the window in quiet contemplation. One’s task in the intervening decades was to write novels, which were generally understood

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  • print • Sep/Oct/Nov 2022

    Michael in Black

    NICOLE MILLER’S Michael in Black is a monograph-as-moodboard, dedicated to the artist’s eponymous bronze sculpture of Michael Jackson kneeling, which was produced from a mold live-cast for a scene in the 1988 video anthology Moonwalker. There’s a sour-patch prescience to the depiction of the superstar—known for his celestial glide—in such a humbled stance, his arms truncated at the wrists. There’s a line in John Jeremiah Sullivan’s canonic 2009 essay on Jackson where the writer hails the pop singer’s body as “arguably, even inarguably, the single greatest piece of postmodern American sculpture.”

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  • print • Sep/Oct/Nov 2022

    Dressed to Thrill

    IN 1913, Sonia Delaunay appeared in a Parisian ballroom wearing a dress she had designed. A Cubist patchwork of vivid colors, the garment inspired enthusiastic reactions from artists and poets already immersed in the European avant-garde. Blaise Cendrars wrote a poem to the dress; Apollinaire encouraged his readers to visit the dance hall on Thursdays when Sonia and her husband Robert Delaunay arrived arrayed in the clothes she made. The Robe simultané (Simultaneous dress) was Sonia’s attempt to activate via bodily motion the color dynamism she was exploring in her abstract paintings. A rhythm

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  • review • September 06, 2022

    The fall issue is online now!

    Welcome to the Sep/Oct/Nov 2022 issue of Bookforum! In this edition, read: Meghan O’Rourke on Lynne Tillman’s new memoir about the challenges of looking after a sick parent; Lucy Sante on Emmanuel Carrère’s latest, which the author intended to be a short best-seller about a yoga retreat but instead ended up being about his mental breakdown; Moira Donegan on a pre-Roe abortion service run by Chicago activists; Charlie Tyson on Darryl Pinckney’s coming-of-age memoir that doubles as a tribute to Elizabeth Hardwick; an interview with Namwali Serpell about storytelling, grief, and experiential

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