• print • June/July/Aug

    U Mad?

    IN FEBRUARY OF THIS YEAR, the Twitter user @LouiseGluckPoet announced some sad news. “A great loss. Thomas Pynchon dies. He was one of my favorite authors. I have now received the news from my publisher. They want the news to remain secret for a few hours, I don’t know why. However Pynchon has left us and the mystery is useless. Bye my dearest!” The syntax was strange, and the purported impropriety even more so, but nevertheless the author’s bio was definitive: “Poet. Official account.” Her profile said she had joined in November 2020, shortly after Louise Glück had won the Nobel Prize. Perhaps

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    How to Survive a Movement

    ONE NIGHT IN 2010, the writer Sarah Schulman was at the Manhattan gallery White Columns for the opening of a show she had helped create about the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, or ACT UP, the AIDS-activist organization she was a member of from 1987 to 1992. In her 2012 book The Gentrification of the Mind, Schulman writes of the evening as a kind of reunion for the group, with the ACT UP-ers, mostly in their fifties and sixties, “laughing and smiling and hugging and flirting,” all wearing the scars, physical and psychic, of the traumas they had endured together during the worst of the AIDS

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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

    She Drew the Hallelujah

    AMERICA, IT SEEMS, WOULD LIKE A COOKIE. After centuries of literally and figuratively relying on Black women while simultaneously shoving them toward the margins of public life, conspicuous acknowledgment has become en vogue. The market now chases our purchasing power and the electoral establishment has recognized our political power and cultural institutions have added us to their guest lists. It has never been easier to find the right shade of foundation. Kamala Harris’s smile greets visitors to federal buildings around the country; Stacey Abrams is approaching household-name status. In

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Eat, Slay, Love

    TWENTY YEARS AGO, the Cannes Film Festival made a concerted effort to bring in more Hollywood fare. This may explain why Shrek showed in the 2001 competition up against works by Shōhei Imamura, Michael Haneke, Jean-Luc Godard, and Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Baz Luhrmann’s musical Moulin Rouge! opened the festival before going on to worldwide box-office success and eight Academy Award nominations. At one point in Luhrmann’s film, the impresario advises Nicole Kidman’s character to renounce the man she loves in favor of the powerful duke to whom she has been promised so that the jealous aristocrat will

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Reading the Fine Print

    ROBERT WALSER WAS A SWISS WRITER of the early twentieth century who wanted very much to be a German writer. He walked and walked more than he wrote and wrote, covering thousands of miles in his lifetime, albeit within limited territory. In the beginning his garb was clownish—“a wretched bright yellow midsummer suit, light dancing shoes, an intentionally vulgar, insolent, foolish hat”—near the end a motley of patched rags, and at the very end a shabby but proper suit and overcoat, his death duds when he collapsed in 1956 in the snow near the mental asylum where he had resided for twenty-three

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Action Painting

    BROAD SWATHS OF VARIEGATED COLOR animate Reggie Burrows Hodges’s canvases at least as much as his energetic subjects: unicyclists and hurdlers; basketball, tennis, and baseball players. Born in Compton, California, he attended the University of Kansas on a tennis scholarship and studied theater and film; while living in New York and Vermont, he wrote songs and performed with a dub-rock group. The fifty-six-year-old artist’s résumé helps explain his fascination with sports as well as several paintings of people spinning and listening to dub records. In this volume’s interview with Suzette McAvoy,

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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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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Artful Volumes

    Jean Dubuffet (1901–1985) was a French painter, printmaker, and sculptor who began seriously making art at age forty-one. But he never really outgrew his divine callowness, the spirit of a teenager beseeching the sheeple to wake TF up: “Look at what lies at your feet! A crack in the ground, sparkling gravel, a tuft of grass, some crushed debris offer equally worthy subjects for your applause and admiration.” In JEAN DUBUFFET: BRUTAL BEAUTY (Prestel, $50), the catalogue for an exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery in London, we observe the many ways he battled the notions of comportment and

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