• print • Apr/May 2020

    Food for Thought

    A man is what he eats. So wrote the nineteenth-century German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, and such is the premise underlying Ben Katchor’s monumental illustrated book The Dairy Restaurant.

    Opening with an image of our earth coalescing from the primordial borscht—and replete with ancient tales, legendary patriarchs, Yiddish-language comic strips, and menus from long-vanished eateries—The Dairy Restaurant is a compendium of curious facts. More than that, it is a learned commentary (if not an encyclopedic midrash) on a particular Jewish American institution that is also, for the author, a lost

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Brain Candy

    Where most autotheory centers the life of the mind, Harry Dodge’s new memoir goes a step further, taking the mind as its matter and, to some extent, its form. The book is a brain! A peripheral brain that wonders about machine intelligence, consciousness, and itself. My Meteorite: Or, Without the Random There Can Be No New Thing sifts through a relentless stream of inputs, nestling experiences and ideas to discover what might magnetize what. Roaring with thinking, the text might like to rise up and reassemble itself into animate form.

    Organized in loosely connected passages that skitter

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    The Rest Is Silence

    Two portraits of Félix Fénéon bookend his wide-ranging life and deeds. One, a highly stylized canvas by Paul Signac (1890) of the man as art critic, shows a “decorative Félix,” in gangly, goateed profile, proffering a lily against a background of swirling psychedelic colors. The other, a mug shot taken four years later, captures him as a prime suspect in a restaurant bombing. These twin personas, the aesthete and the activist, conspired to produce one of the truly unusual personalities of the French fin de siècle.

    Among the most influential critics, journalists, editors, and gallerists of his

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Artful Volumes

    Susan Meiselas joined the famed photo agency Magnum in 1976; the women already on board were Eve Arnold, Mary Ellen Mark, Inge Morath, Abigail Heyman, and Jill Freedman. Three black-and-white photobooks that took up second-wave feminist themes quickly emerged from this diverse crew: Arnold’s The Unretouched Woman (1976), Heyman’s Growing Up Female: A Personal Photo-Journal (1974), and Meiselas’s Carnival Strippers (1976). Arnold’s volume gathered her revelatory images of women and celebrities—Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich—that were not retouched or staged. Meiselas’s book

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Trout Fishing in America

    Greil Marcus: Starting in 1983 with Suder, you’ve published, I think, twenty-five books of fiction. In your new novel, Telephone (Graywolf, $16), the narrator is a geologist; one day, playing chess with his twelve-year-old daughter, she misses a move—and soon she is diagnosed with a disease that in a short time will destroy her mind and then her life. He can’t save her—but one day he finds a note in a shirt he’s ordered online, from New Mexico, reading “Help me” in Spanish. He places another order; another note, speaking for more than one person. He can’t save his daughter—maybe there are people

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  • review • March 24, 2020

    Stories of the Sahara

    You can tell a lot about someone by peering at their bookshelf. “I don’t like to read,” the Taiwanese writer Sanmao grumbles when she receives booklets of traffic rules before a driving test. “What are you talking about?” her husband, José, says, gesturing at her bookcase. “Here you have books on astronomy, geography, demons and ghouls, spy romances, animals, philosophy, gardening, languages, cooking, manga, cinema, tailoring, even secret recipes in traditional Chinese medicine, magic tricks, hypnotism, dyeing clothes.” This scene, from Stories of the Sahara, a collection of short travelogues

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  • review • March 24, 2020

    Dancing on His Own

    In a letter toward the end of Love, Icebox, a collection of correspondence from John Cage to his partner Merce Cunningham, doubt about their relationship creeps in. Cage, who was seven years older than Cunningham, is concerned that Cunningham doesn’t love him and “will love other misters.”

    Nothing is more desirable to me than the feeling of being possessed by you but I don’t know whether you like to be possessed by me. . . . God knows my love for you has grown and grows continually so that it is with me always and in every place my spirit is. The thought of your body near me is heaven.

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  • review • March 17, 2020

    Electric Irish DMT Test

    Rob Doyle is a twentieth-century boy. His characters are monologous young men who get high and chase literary grouches with an eye out for that high-modernist whale, the epiphany. Many of Doyle’s contemporaries—literary men in their late thirties—confine themselves to the cramped emotional tone afforded to those invested in the internet’s panoramic view and its plausibly crushing Bad News. But Doyle looks back: His drugs and bands and writers are pre-9/11 specimens, across all of his books. The characters in his 2014 debut novel, Here Are the Young Men, are teen grads in Dublin off their faces,

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  • excerpt • March 12, 2020

    A Revolution of Artistic Values

    Part of a political revolution toward socialism will necessitate a revolution of values. Those values won’t come from the top down but from culture up. We can use Denning’s notion of a “cultural front”—in this case, to save us from our cultural ass. Right now the United States is working at a deficit. Our identities and aesthetics are deeply tied into capitalism—no disrespect to rapper Cardi B and her love of money, but unlearning money worship and our worth being determined by what we can accumulate is going to be vital to any socialist change. And as during the 1930s and ’40s, and in so many

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  • excerpt • February 11, 2020

    A Theory of Too Muchness

    A weeping woman is a monster. So too is a fat woman, a horny woman, a woman shrieking with laughter. Women who are one or more of these things have heard, or perhaps simply intuited, that we are repugnantly excessive, that we have taken illicit liberties to feel or fuck or eat with abandon. After bellowing like a barn animal in orgasm, hoovering a plate of mashed potatoes, or spraying out spit in the heat of expostulation, we’ve flinched in self-scorn—ugh, that was so gross. I am so gross. On rare occasions, we might revel in our excess—belting out anthems with our friends over karaoke,

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2020

    Just Like Heaven

    The title of Fleabag: The Scriptures (Ballantine Books, $28) is a cheeky play on words: It refers to the shooting scripts for the television comedy Fleabag, which are reproduced here in full, and it also refers to the fact that the second (and, if creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge is to be believed, final) season of the show, which debuted on Amazon Prime in May 2019, is about the main character’s romantic attachment to an unattainable Catholic priest. But it also acknowledges that Waller-Bridge’s words—printed out on creamy paper stock, bound inside a smooth navy-blue cover, and embossed with gold

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2020

    Artful Volumes

    It’s misleading that Nam June Paik has been named the grandfather of video art. Sure, he started the whole thing, but as an artist, Paik is no patriarch. He’s always been the wild child, making a mess at the dinner table and disrespecting his elders, less interested in laying the foundation than finding one to blast apart. NAM JUNE PAIK (DelMonico Books/Prestel, $50), the companion book to Tate Modern’s recent retrospective, makes sure to pay its respects but takes more pleasure in recounting the artist’s anarchic antics and Fluxus pranks. At times, it strains to put a new spin on Paik: The

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