• excerpt • August 24, 2021

    An excerpt from God, Human, Animal, Machine on subjectivity and a visit to Kierkegaard’s grave

    The lanes of the cemetery were overgrown, lined with slender conifers whose branches were heavy with rain. I had been pushing the bicycle with my head slightly bowed, and when I looked up I realized I was back at the entrance. I had come full circle. I checked the cemetery map again—I had followed the steps exactly—then continued back in the direction I’d come, hoping to find the gravesite from the opposite direction. In no time at all I was lost. The paths were not marked, and there was no one I could ask—the only other person I’d seen, a woman pushing a baby stroller beneath an umbrella, was

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  • excerpt • August 20, 2021

    An excerpt from a new book calling for transnational, intersectional feminism

    There is an important distinction between what Nancy Fraser calls “affirmative change” and actual transformational change. The former is perfunctory, form-filling, intended to silence and appease; the latter requires the dissolution of underlying structures and hierarchies for a complete reformulation. Whether it is the National Organization of Women or an organization like Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) or even the Women’s March, all require transformational change. This means reconsidering everything, from the way meetings are organized and conference calls are set up to the way public

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  • excerpt • August 18, 2021

    An excerpt from Image Control on GIFs, the sublime, and vocabularies of motion

    Meaning—or narrative—isn’t always what we see, or even look for, in images. In 1868, following the International Exposition in Paris, the Italian novelist and essayist Vittorio Imbriani published “La quinta promotrice,” a collection of his observations and theories on contemporary European art. This included his theory of the macchia, which Teju Cole describes as “the total compositional and coloristic effect of an image in the split second before the eye begins to parse it for meaning.” Approaching a painting, one is most likely to see before anything else its arrangement of colors, shapes,

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  • excerpt • August 10, 2021

    An excerpt from Far From Respectable on art critic Dave Hickey’s unpublished book

    For a number of years in the late 2000s and early 2010s, Dave Hickey’s byline in magazines said that he was working on a book called Pagan America. There’s even a ghostly record of the title on Google Books, with a precise page count and ISBN, as though the manuscript were finished, paginated, and catalogued, but then withdrawn and locked away in the writer’s desk, left to be published, if ever, posthumously.

    For those of us who were Hickey fans during those years of uncertainty, it was a shimmering promise. After the cold brilliance of his first book, The Invisible Dragon, and the warm love

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  • review • July 12, 2021

    Bohumil Hrabal’s memoir of a reckless, exuberant friendship

    Early in Werner Herzog’s 1974 documentary The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner, we find its subject, a champion “ski-flier,” in the studio where he works as an amateur woodcarver. Brushing his hand over a tree stump, Walter Steiner describes the forms his chisel will release: “I saw this bowl here, the way the shape recedes, it’s as if an explosion had happened, and the force cannot escape properly and is caught up everywhere.” Trapped force is not to be the film’s subject. Rather, its subject is fear—or, as Steiner calls it, “respect for the conditions.” From the ski-jump at Planica,

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  • interview • June 28, 2021

    A Forgotten Apocalypse

    June 25th marked the seventy-first anniversary of the start of the Korean War, a conflict that killed, displaced, orphaned, or otherwise traumatized millions of civilians and set a Korean diaspora in motion. The so-called Forgotten War has remained largely invisible in American culture, despite the conflict’s brutal and enduring consequences. To help take stock of this multifaceted legacy—which stretches into every realm, from the political to the cultural to the personal—we’ve invited three writers and scholars who have recently published books about the war and its aftermath.

    Grace M. Cho

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  • excerpt • June 22, 2021

    How Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defined American cultural beliefs

    Noah Webster’s influence reached far beyond the pages of the dictionary or the speller. Even those Americans who have never read his work or heard his name are still bearers of his legacy. He shaped the underpinnings not only of American education and language standardization but also of the nation as a whole. The idea that America was a new experiment capable of surpassing Europe, the notion of a nationalism based on uniformity, the belief that the United States was a sort of country on a hill—Webster cemented and spread these ideas through the building blocks of language itself. The lexicographer

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    What forms of art, activism, and literature can speak authentically today?

    I want to read more novels that make me feel like the end of The Copenhagen Trilogy—which is not a novel—did: shaking, sputtering, like I had just (barely) survived a car accident. I want to be physically stunned, physically immobilized by language. There is no formula for that, nothing in particular that one should risk but it probably involves risking everything, courting humiliation, being open to being misunderstood, and telling the truth. We should write only what has to be written and what can be written only now that is about life as we live it now, and we should write novels that have

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Aghast Interpretation

    “AT THIS POINT, you probably should take several deep breaths in order to relax, there is much more to come, if you’ll pardon the expression,” cautions Wilson Bryan Key, in the first chapter of his 1973 pulp best-seller Subliminal Seduction. The book, which ignited one of the Cold War era’s more banal panics—that the advertising industry is a black site of veiled salacious messages—is best remembered for its analysis of an ad for Gilbey’s gin, which Key claimed contained the letters S-E-X embedded in ice cubes. But Key goes on to argue that television and magazine ads contained stronger stuff

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    What Are You Looking At?

    WHEN PEOPLE TALK ABOUT TRUTH OR DARE, the notorious 1991 documentary about Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour, they tend to mention the same handful of scenes. The gay kiss. Madonna deep-throating a bottle of Vichy Catalan (not Evian, as often misremembered). Kevin Costner calling the show “neat” and Madonna making a puking gesture. Are these the best scenes in the film? No, but they passed for scandal in 1991 and so they made an impression. In retrospect they feel a little try-hard, a little overhyped, but that’s because we’re watching from the world Madonna made. With the distance of thirty years,

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Triple Double

    POETRY AND MUSIC SHARE A LITTLE, mechanically, but are united by a common enemy: aboutness. What in the world is John Coltrane’s 1966 album, Meditations, about? As many times as I’ve listened to it, I wouldn’t dare claim that the music addresses a subject or expresses something as flimsy as an idea. But Meditations does not, in any way, duplicate the work of another album, and it has a function as particular as lemon pepper chicken or the quadratic equation. It does something in a deliberate way, embodying spiritual energy in a manner that no written brief can approach.

    It’s apt, then, that

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Double Masking

    THE CONCEPT OF THE MASK, of concealing, is made explicit in the title of Persona, Ingmar Bergman’s superlative film of 1966. Yet ever since its release, many critics and viewers have sought to uncover the “meaning” of this enigmatic work, which centers on the relationship between two women: Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullmann), an actress who stops speaking, and Alma (Bibi Andersson), a nurse tasked with overseeing Elisabet’s convalescence. Bergman cautioned against the urge to demystify, remarking to a Swedish TV journalist in 1966, “Each person should experience it the way they feel.” Ullmann, in

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