• print • Summer 2020

    Notes from the Cave

    A FEW NIGHTS AGO, I WAS VISITED BY AN EMAIL. Back before the world gasped, my brother, the doctor, hardly ever wrote me anything beyond a “dinner Friday y/n,” and yet here he was, in the breathless thick of it, attaching a file of 7,241 words. I’d thought that he was far out in the boroughs intubating the sick or putting them through dialysis—and he was—but somehow he’d also found the time and adrenalized energy to put more language down on the screen than I, the ostensible writer, had managed to eke out in weeks, even months. The instructions that came at the top of the email explained, or

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  • print • Summer 2020

    The Atrocity Exhibition

    APRIL 21, 2020. Last night, the crazed leader announced that he wants to ban immigration. Today I was told to prepare for furlough at my job, and I spoke to my friend who cannot get her cancer treatments. Down the road at the hospital, they are still forklifting corpses into refrigerated trucks. The price of oil has tanked. Around the corner someone has painted these words on the side of a mailbox: PROTECT BLACK PEOPLE. COVID-19. The midwife who delivered my children is begging for masks. All of the mom-and-pop shops have shuttered. The streets are littered with discarded blue surgical gloves

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  • print • Summer 2020

    City of the Damned

    AS NEW YORK WAS DECLARED the COVID-19 pandemic’s epicenter, the ghost of Dorothy Parker began turning up in my bedroom at daybreak. “What fresh hell can this be?” Parker whispered, an earworm I could not stop hearing. They say the cure for an earworm is to listen to the song in its entirety; in my case, I thumbed through the morning’s headlines like a drowsy automaton until a fuller, worsened picture of our city’s new netherworld emerged.

    “What are some films in which New York is portrayed as hell?” I asked my boyfriend. Perhaps such movies would provide an admittedly demented form of exposure

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Comedy of Heirs

    TRISTRAM SHANDY sailed into eighteenth-century literary history alongside such bawdy picaresques as Tom Jones. But unlike the rest Laurence Sterne’s creation is an antinovel: It starts and stops, has entire pages that aren’t even text—blank or solid black or marbled or filled with lines and swirls that indicate the wayward shapes of the narrative (at such moments it seems like what Sterne really is is a concrete poet). On the occasions when the author doesn’t want you to know what naughty thing he’s saying (though he quit being a minister to write, Sterne was still a modest man) there are

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Sister Act

    EVEN AS A LITTLE GIRL, Benedetta Carlini, born in a Tuscan mountain town in 1590, had the kind of persuasive charm possessed by politicians and good salesmen. When she played with a feral dog and it attacked her, she told her parents that the dog was the devil, come to earth to torment her. When she was caught playing with a nightingale, then thought to be a dangerous symbol of sensuality and lust, she explained that the bird was a guardian angel. After Benedetta joined a convent of Theatine nuns in 1599, she began having revelations from God. In one vision, Benedetta was again attacked by

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Close to the Knives

    RECENTLY, MISSING THE BALLET PERFORMANCES I’d planned to attend this spring, I revisited a short video-installation piece I love: En Puntas by Javier Pérez, featuring a ballerina with long knives strapped to the soles of her pointe shoes. It was filmed in the Teatre Municipal de Girona, in Spain, in 2013. The dancer, Amélie Ségarra, sits on the lid of a baby grand piano, tying the pink shoe-ribbons around her ankles. With the help of a rope dangling from the ceiling, she hoists herself up until she’s balanced on the sharp tips of the knives, her feet hovering eight inches up from the piano lid

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Lonely Planet

    AT FIVE THIRTY on a perfect spring evening, there is no one at the Trevi Fountain. The last strips of sunlight slide between apartment buildings and the water gurgles a bright, calming blue. There is only splashing, and pigeons. Not a soul is at the Pantheon, or milling around the Piazza di Spagna, at the base of the Spanish Steps. The Acropolis is absolutely still. A giant neon arrow on the Las Vegas Strip points down to an empty street. Someone has written “Hola” in large letters in the sand in the Canary Islands, but they’ve since gone. Miles of beach stretch long and white and untouched,

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Instant Karma

    LATELY, FOR OBVIOUS REASONS, I’ve been preoccupied with suffering and death—when I’m following the news of the pandemic, but also in my daily meditation practice, which involves chanting, sitting Zen, and reading from stacks of Buddhist books I keep handy next to my cushion. In the past few days I’ve read the chapters on death and rebirth in Tsongkhapa’s encyclopedic Lamrim Chenmo, or The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, a book so beloved that the Dalai Lama kept a copy hidden in his robes when he fled Lhasa in 1959.

    It wouldn’t surprise anyone that Buddhism has a

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Against Damnation

    I REALIZED WHEN I WAS AROUND EIGHT THAT THE VERY CONCEPT OF HELL IS INSANE AND EVIL, and never looked back. I don’t regard this as an especially precocious perception—many other Christians I have known report a similar experience.

    I wrote the above sentences for a version of this review in February, in a different world. I ate at restaurants with friends, rode crowded subways, went to the movies. Now it is early April and I have not been outside in a month. I watch Netflix, Zoom with friends, eat beans from a can. And I listen to black metal, whose refrigerated guitars I find perversely soothing

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Wood Play

    The titles of Thaddeus Mosley’s recent wood sculptures are often plainly descriptive: There’s a curve in Curved Closure, branches in Branched Form, and an oval in Oval Continuity. This straightforward denotation of the works’ spatial and geometric character indicates Mosley’s matter-of-fact approach. At ninety-four, the self-taught artist isn’t inclined toward mystification or obscurity. In an essay by curator Brett Littman, included in this volume, Mosley recounts how in the 1950s he saw “decorative furniture with details like small birds and fish made out of wood” in a Pittsburgh department

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Coeur Values

    It’s the second week of March in Paris, and COVID-19 still hasn’t shut the city down. I am staying at the Hotel La Louisiane, the haunt of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Cy Twombly, and more—an oddball historic dive in the heart of the Sixth Arrondissement. I spend my days retracing the steps of literary and art icons and reading in cafés. I’ve been asked to write about The Heart, Marc Petitjean’s new book about Frida Kahlo’s life in Paris in 1939, and it seems to haunt me at every step. I walk over the Seine by the Louvre, which was just closed down, and

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Artful Volumes

    But is it art, or fashion? In FASHION WORK 1993–2018: 25 YEARS OF ART IN FASHION (Damiani, $45), Danish-born curator and critic Jeppe Ugelvig offers a refreshing take: that this question should not be framed in terms of aesthetic categories, but, instead, by social and material systems of production—that is to say, by work. The volume traces twenty-five years of hybrid fashion forms—and labor—through an impressive array of archival material, including backstage photos, notebook sketches, show invitations, and more. Ugelvig focuses on designers that critically engage with the labor conditions

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