• print • Summer 2019

    Murder, They Wrote

    In retrospect, the show was destined to be a hit. My Favorite Murder. It’s all right there in the title: the chatty familiarity, the dark humor, the self-conscious voyeurism. The true-crime comedy podcast, started by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark on a lark in January 2016, was fortuitously timed to coincide with the podcast and true-crime booms.

    My Favorite Murder has become something more than just a popular program; it is a full-blown, blood-spattered phenomenon. These days, MFM’s twice-weekly episodes reliably rank among the most popular on iTunes, drawing 19 million monthly listeners.

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  • print • Summer 2019

    Artful Volumes

    In 2005, Hurricane Stan wreaked havoc on Guatemala, triggering catastrophic mudslides, including one that ravaged artist Vivian Suter’s studio. Born in Buenos Aires but raised in Basel, Suter had sought refuge from her growing stardom on the Swiss art scene by decamping to the jungles of Panajachel in 1983. But one does not pick and choose which aspects of nature one “returns” to. In drenching her canvases with mud, the hurricane freed the artist even more radically from existing conventions dictating how paintings should look and function. Suter promptly stopped treating her works as precious

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  • print • Summer 2019

    It’s the Pictures That Got Small

    One evening in early 1950, the film mogul Louis B. Mayer hosted a small dinner party for the actress Gloria Swanson. She was fifty-one years old, which was not considered an ancient, crone-like age, even in an industry that values youth above all else. Still, she was in need of a professional boost. Mayer’s small soiree was something of a ceremonial gesture. Here was one of the last tycoons of classic Hollywood extending his hand and his hospitality to an actress who was tottering, on marabou-covered heels, back into the business after a decade-long fermata.

    Swanson was one of the highest-paid—and

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  • print • Summer 2019

    Camp: Notes on Fashion

    BEFITTING THE GIDDY opulence of “Camp: Notes on Fashion”—the Costume Institute’s summer exhibition as well as this year’s theme for the Met Gala, the blue-chip celebrity do of the year—this catalogue is an haute objet unto itself. Its two volumes are bound in soft celadon covers and separately strapped to either side of a pale-pink faux-leather album, all embossed in gold. The first book offers a series of essays that attempt to grasp the slippery semiotics of Camp, tracing the evolution of its use and appearance as verb (derived from the French se camper, “to flaunt,” which first pops up in

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  • print • Summer 2019

    Magic Mirror

    One afternoon I was in the office of a psychoanalyst I know, scanning the alphabetical shelves for a book by Melanie Klein on envy and gratitude, when I glimpsed old copies of Janet Malcolm’s Psychoanalysis (1981) and In the Freud Archives (1984) and saw a chance to get some perspective. Malcolm is a magazine writer’s writer: No journalist of her stature is so frequently discussed among people I know who write “pieces” while being undiscussed by people I know who don’t. The analyst remembered finding In the Freud Archives especially interesting, but had nothing interesting about it to say, so

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  • print • Summer 2019

    Andrey Tarkovsky, Life and Work: Film by Film, Stills, Polaroids & Writings

    THE SPIRITUAL AND AESTHETIC DIMENSIONS of Andrey Tarkovsky’s cinematic universe might easily produce a daunting tome with the heft of a life-size, ready-to-bear cross. Yet Andrey Tarkovsky: Life and Work succeeds in compressing the late Russian director’s monumental legacy into portable form—a slender volume a pilgrim could easily slip into a backpack. The book succeeds in distilling Tarkovsky’s sound-and-visionary, contrarian essence with an approach that is at once capacious and compact: It’s more imagistic gospel than catalogue, more consecrated poetry than academic contextualization.

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  • print • Summer 2019

    Eclipse Sync

    The way this story begins, it could be the setup of a math or physics problem. Two astronomers and their assistants depart England, one pair headed south toward the island of Príncipe, the other southwest, to Brazil. Meanwhile the moon, as it loops around the earth, will soon occupy a position between the earth and the sun. Once the observers reach their tropical outposts, they assemble their equipment and wait for the moon and the sun to line up exactly: a solar eclipse.

    The eclipse in question took place a hundred years ago, in May 1919, drawing a swath of shadow over the South Atlantic

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  • print • Summer 2019

    Society of the Spectator

    “Art museums are in a state of crisis.” The diagnosis is drastic, the remedy equally so: a radical update of both form and function. Hopelessly out of touch with the pulse of contemporary culture and the rhythms of everyday life, the grandiose architecture of the museum must be rethought in terms of adaptability and flexibility, with inert galleries transformed into sites of ongoing experimentation. Likewise the visitor’s experience, still rooted in antiquated models of passive contemplation, must be reimagined as a process of active participation and immersive engagement. Museums must reinvent

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  • print • Summer 2019

    The Varieties of Religious Experience

    “Praise the world to the Angel, not what’s unsayable.” Thus spoke Rainer Maria Rilke, waxing a bit Nietzschean. It’s something of a commonplace in late modernity: the exaltation of the finite and transient—“things that live on departure,” Rilke says—and the concomitant demotion or denial of the eternal. The opposition grounds Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Wallace Stevens pares it down to an epigram: “Death is the mother of beauty.”

    Or as the philosopher Martin Hägglund explains in his rather exasperating new book, “Life can matter only in light of death.” This thesis is expounded in This

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  • print • Summer 2019

    Some Trick

    The gold- and silver-colored crucifix that hung opposite my childhood bed was only one of many that adorned the walls of my home, my school, and, of course, the church I attended. On early-summer mornings the bright, filigreed metal caught the rays that leaked around a too-narrow window shade and the dying Christ glowed as if electrified. At age eight I understood the principle of reflected light but didn’t yet grasp the concept of an afterimage—the result of photoreceptors retaining an impression after the eye is closed or upon looking away from the object. After waking one morning, I allowed

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  • print • Summer 2019

    What’s Past Is Prologue

    In “La Guera,” her famous 1979 essay about coming to racial self-consciousness as a light-skinned, mixed-race Chicana, Cherríe Moraga identifies first and foremost as a daughter: “I had no choice but to enter into the life of my mother. I had no choice.” This is, of course, a natural fact about how we all are born. But it is also a kind of alibi—an italicized plea for forgiveness in advance. From the beginning of her career, she has scavenged her migrant mother’s story for material applicable to her own emerging politics as a lesbian feminist. Those politics came to be profoundly influential:

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  • review • May 16, 2019

    Loudermilk: Or, The Real Poet; Or, The Origin of the World by Lucy Ives

    In Lucy Ives’s second novel, Loudermilk, a charismatic dumbass scams his way into a prestigious MFA poetry program by submitting the work of his antisocial companion. The real writer, who hates the sound of his own voice, follows the oversexed, symmetrically featured dumbass to school and continues to write for him. It’s a fun setup, but the book aims for more than just comedy. Ives, who once described herself as “the author of some kind of thinking about writing,” examines the conditions that produce authors and their work while never losing a sense of wonder at the sheer mystery of the written

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