• print • Dec/Jan 2020

    A Boy’s Own Story

    Even when a photograph of a wounded or suffering child becomes familiar, it retains the power to unsettle. The smudged face of a sharecropper’s daughter, children arrayed behind barbed wire at Auschwitz, a starving Biafran child, a nine-year-old girl seared by napalm in Vietnam—these images still disturb viewers and prompt strong responses. Yet, as Susan Sontag argued in On Photography, it’s difficult to measure their ultimate utility: “The knowledge gained through still photographs,” she wrote, “will always be some kind of sentimentalism, whether cynical or humanist.” That propensity for

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    Agnes Denes: Absolutes and Intermediates

    A “VISIONARY,” A “PROPHET,” A “MODERN-DAY LEONARDO”: Writers often resort to panegyrics when confronted with the eccentric, daunting intellect of Agnes Denes. Given the ambition of the octogenarian artist’s career, which spans fifty years and emerges from deep research into philosophy, mathematics, symbolic logic, and environmental science, it’s hard to fault them.

    And yet, as important as she has been to Conceptual and Land art, Denes, by her own reckoning, has been “marginalized” within these movements. That’s finally beginning to change, with a major retrospective this fall at The Shed in

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    Styles of Radical Will

    In April 1973, the twenty-four-year-old Cuban American artist Ana Mendieta invited her fellow University of Iowa MFA students to her apartment. They arrived to find the door ajar. Stepping inside, they encountered a grisly tableau, a performance later known as Untitled (Rape Scene). Tied to a table and bent at the waist, Mendieta wore a plaid shirt loosely over her torso while her lower half remained exposed: underwear around her ankles, backside and legs smeared with blood, all harshly spot-lit. The artist later recalled that her classmates immediately “all sat down, and started talking about

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    Reality Bite

    There’s a scene in André Aciman’s 2007 novel Call Me by Your Name in which a teenage boy ejaculates inside a peach. Later, his older lover, a family houseguest, finds the fruit and eats it in front of him, slowly, deliberately. They’re not even in flagrante delicto; it’s only barely a sex act. “He was still chewing. In the heat of passion it would have been one thing. But this was quite another. He was taking me away with him.”

    You already know that Call Me by Your Name involves peach fucking, just as you know that Fatal Attraction involves bunny boiling; such is the power of cinema. In Luca

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    Nice Work If You Can Get It

    A riddle: What’s made of mink-coated totems, toothpaste Lolitas, Thunderbirds, middlebrow colas, Kotex napkins, and Versace decadence? Answer: Avedon Advertising (Abrams, $125), a three-hundred-and-fifty-page collection of wall-to-wall, in-your-face ads—a dizzying exercise in optic overload. Richard Avedon’s impossibly long-running, far-ranging advertising work—created alongside his fashion and portrait photography—amounted to a sixty-year-long research project. How many forms of mild contradiction could he juggle inside a strictly commercial picture? How many suave anomalies could fit in an

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    “Nobody Likes Being Called a Cesspool”

    My relationship with D. H. Lawrence began in high school, when I bought a copy of Sons and Lovers more or less at random and proceeded to read it all the way through, by which I mean that my eyes literally traversed every page and recognized that the English language was there recorded in some complexity. But the words, instead of building a reality I could enter and move around in, were like a continually dying fluorescence. I had no idea what was going on. What registered was something like “words, words, flower, sentence, words, coal mining” (like I knew what a coal mine was). As far as I

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    Artful Volumes

    Gracing the cover of BILL CUNNINGHAM: ON THE STREET: FIVE DECADES OF FASHION PHOTOGRAPHY (Clarkson Potter, $65) is the subject of this tome, rendered as a white silhouette and wearing his trademark bleu de travail. He’s hiding his face behind a camera and perched sidesaddle on a golden bicycle—colored, surely, to match his generous heart. Cunningham died in 2016 at the age of eighty-seven, working to the very end on what he adored most: documenting beauty. His decades-long presence at the New York Times, for which he captured Gotham’s most nattily attired—regardless of age, race, sex, or class—is

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    The Princess Diaries

    The first line of Carrie Fisher’s debut novel, Postcards from the Edge, is still one of the best opening volleys of all time: “Maybe I shouldn’t have given the guy who pumped my stomach my phone number, but who cares?” It is so good, in fact, that it only could have come from her—despite the fact that when Postcards was published, in 1987, the Los Angeles Times tried to foment a minor scandal about whether or not Fisher really wrote it. She had enlisted a good friend, Paul Slansky, as an “editor” of the book, and his name below hers on the title page was causing readers and critics a bit of

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2020

    I Me Mind

    THE HARD PROBLEM, DAVID CHALMERS CALLS IT: Why are the physical processes of the brain “accompanied by an experienced inner life?” How and why is there something it is like to be you and me, in Thomas Nagel’s formulation? I’ve been reading around in the field of consciousness studies for over two decades—Chalmers, Nagel, Daniel Dennett, John Searle, Jerry Fodor, Ned Block, Frank Jackson, Paul and Patricia Churchland, Alva Noë, Susan Blackmore—and the main thing I’ve learned is that no one has the slightest idea. Not that the field lacks for confident pronouncements to the contrary.

    Briefly

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  • review • November 25, 2019

    The Art of the Meal

    Celebrities endlessly publicize what they eat—supermodel Chrissy Teigen’s two ​New York Times b​est-selling cookbooks feature her face, which is also her job, on the covers and throughout the books; Snoop Dogg’s cookbook promises “platinum recipes,” as if his success began on the plate; Stanley Tucci’s preface for ​The Tucci Cookbook c​ites his family’s Italian cooking as the inspiration for his directorial debut​. ​According to this logic, stardom starts in the stomach. Celebrities’ signature dishes are cruel invitations for the lowly fan to try and elevate their mundane body to a higher plane.

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  • excerpt • November 05, 2019

    The Crying Game

    I suppose some people can weep softly and become more beautiful, but after a real cry, most people are hideous, as if they’ve grown a spare and diseased face beneath the one you know, leaving very little room for the eyes. Or they look as if they’ve been beaten. We look. I look. Once, in fifth grade, I cried at school for a reason I cannot recall, and afterward a popular boy—rattail, skateboard—told me I looked like a druggie, and I was so pleased to be seen I made him repeat it.

    •••

    Ovid would prefer that I and other women restrain ourselves:

    There is no limit to art: in weeping,

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  • excerpt • November 01, 2019

    El Caserío

    This is where I begin. I come from poverty, from El Caserío Padre Rivera, the government housing projects, and there are stories here I never want to forget.

    In El Caserío, Anthony and I spent most summer days playing outside. It was a world of men, of violence, a place too often not safe for women or girls. There were shoot-outs in the streets, fourteen-year-old boys carrying guns as they rode their bikes to the candy store just outside the walls. We watched a guy get stabbed right in front of our building, watched the cops, who we called “los camarones,” come in and raid places for drugs

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