• excerpt • May 05, 2021

    An excerpt from Pop Song on the line between articulating and aestheticizing pain

    When I used to write about my relationship to anorexia, I tended to retreat to metaphor. It was a worm. It left me hollow, scoured, cleaned of mucous contents. It was a fire. It was a book set aflame, and I was both the fire and the paper. Because I believed it didn’t have anything to do with how my body looked, I felt, at times, like there was something more regal, more holy about my condition, as though its removal from my body reduced the amount by which I was abased.

    I regret this, and I regret writing about it that way—with poetry. It was a way to make sense of a thing I found lived inside

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  • excerpt • May 03, 2021

    Two poems from The Essential June Jordan

    Letter to the Local Police

    Dear Sirs:

    I have been enjoying the law and order of our

    community throughout the past three months since

    my wife and I, our two cats, and miscellaneous

    photographs of the six grandchildren belonging to

    our previous neighbors (with whom we were very

    close) arrived in Saratoga Springs which is clearly

    prospering under your custody

    Indeed, until yesterday afternoon and despite my

    vigilant casting about, I have been unable to discover

    a single instance of reasons for public-spirited concern,

    much less complaint

    You may easily appreciate, then, how it is that

    I write

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  • review • April 29, 2021

    Giancarlo DiTrapano (1974–2021)

    Two writers pay tribute to the poet and songwriter Giancarlo DiTrapano, who passed away on March 30. DiTrapano was the mastermind behind the literary magazine New York Tyrant and the press Tyrant Books. A writer’s editor, Gian loved his work in ways that now seem sui generis. He was brave, ferociously supportive, and developed deep connections with his authors. He is missed.

    IF HE THOUGHT YOU COULD WRITE, THEN HE LOVED YOU, TOO

    By Nico Walker

    He was in a hotel room, in New York City, like stars do it. I won’t pretend he wasn’t consoled by this. He admired decadence. If anyone wants to

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  • review • April 22, 2021

    A filmmaker’s hurried writings sketch an exuberant urban modernity

    Legend has it that Eugenia Wilder nicknamed her second son “Billie” after Buffalo Bill, whose Wild West touring show she had seen as a young girl in New York City. By calling him Billie, she may have given him the idea of making his life in show business in America. Her husband, Max, an upwardly mobile restauranteur and hotelier, clearly had other plans when he moved the family from the Galician village of Sucha to Kraków before moving on to Vienna when Billie was a child. Like many Jewish fathers before and after him, it was that his son should be a lawyer. No doubt he was less than pleased

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  • review • April 15, 2021

    Amit Chaudhuri’s riffy consideration of improvisational Indian classical music

    In the late 1970s, Amit Chaudhuri’s family moved to the top floor of a tony South Bombay high-rise overlooking the sea. Twenty-five floors removed from the hubbub of the city below, the teenaged Chaudhuri cycled through a number of sonic personas in quick succession: air guitarist, singer-songwriter, and student of Indian classical. Part autobiography, and part ethnomusicological treatise, Finding the Raga unspools this last turn as the novelist and poet moves to the United Kingdom and back, and learns to sing, hear, and finally, to listen.

    What is the raga? Chaudhuri devotes the book’s lengthy

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  • review • April 08, 2021

    How should we review a book cowritten by AI?

    What propels us through difficult, densely written texts? When I’m neck-deep in a challenging theoretical tome, I’m usually grumpy and seeking someone to blame—whether it’s the author for being abstruse or myself for being knuckleheaded. But something keeps me barreling forward, too: usually, the implicit faith that relief awaits around the corner. That relief might come in the form of prismatic clarity, as when an enigmatic sentence finally breaks open. Or in the form of poetic ambiguity—in a gradual capitulation to a haze of resonance. Either way, the fuel is that implicit faith—a faith that

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  • review • March 11, 2021

    Katherine Angel’s new book on the unknowability of desire

    When Susan Sontag was twenty-seven, she wrote in her journal about a feeling that had no name. X, she called it; people and things could be X-y. She defined it variously as “the compulsion to be what the other person wants,” “the scourge,” and “when you feel yourself an object, not a subject.” Sontag identified the source of X as this: “I don’t know my own feelings.”

    Katherine Angel, in her 2012 book Unmastered, uses Sontag’s concept of X to try to describe what she herself finds difficult to pin down in her own sex life. X comes to denote that part of one’s sexual desire that is contingent

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  • review • March 09, 2021

    On attending a virtual gathering of booksellers, artists, and writers

    I wish I still smoked. I am clicking through tabs at Printed Matter’s Virtual Art Book Fair in a state of bewilderment, wondering why I just don’t get it—people spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to participate in this.

    Now in its fifteenth iteration, the fair is the annual fête for artists and writers in the small-press publishing world—the largest of its kind. Under normal circumstances, tens of thousands of visitors gather at MoMA PS1 in Queens over a weekend to buy and sell new and rare artbooks and ephemera from emerging and established voices alike. This year, due to the

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  • review • March 04, 2021

    A 1973 document of feminist art activism holds a mirror to our present

    A sense of necessity, a foundation, and a strong community: these are just a few of the keys to effective activism. Though the New York–based collective Women Artists in Revolution (WAR) was short-lived, they burned bright for three years, and emerged in 1969 with these three elements in place. The group of artists, filmmakers, writers, critics, and cultural workers—which didn’t care if its acronym was militaristic, even while the United States pushed its imperialistic agenda in Vietnam—grew out of the Art Workers’ Coalition (AWC). There was an “unstated need among women,” as WAR member Juliette

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    Saul’s Way

    ON THE FACE OF IT, Marcel Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time would seem to be an unlikely subject for the immensely distinguished historian and memoirist Saul Friedländer. Proust’s monumental work is, after all, a work of radical subjectivity, so much so that Edmund Wilson associated it with Einstein’s new theory of relativity, which he developed in the same years that Proust was beginning to write his novel. Historians, by trade, unearth and are beholden to objective facts, whatever interpretation they later apply to those facts.

    On the face of it I am an unlikely reviewer for any book

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    The Empathy Industrial Complex

    IN AN ESSAY ABOUT the Russian existentialist philosopher Lev Shestov, best known for his “philosophy of despair” (exactly what it sounds like), D. H. Lawrence writes that Shestov’s work provides a “real clue to Russian literature.” “With us,” Lawrence explains to his English readers, “[European culture] is our very blood and bones, the very nerve and root of our psyche.” The Russians, however, “have only been inoculated with the virus of European culture and ethic,” Lawrence claims, adding: “The virus works in them like a disease. And the inflammation and irritation comes forth as literature.”

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    Stupid Human Tricks

    ACCORDING TO MELANIE CHALLENGER’S How to Be Animal, there are termites that, when infected with fungal spores, vibrate in order to alert others of the contagion. “Termites from the same colony then box the individual in,” she writes, “so that they can’t infect other members.” I read this passage nine months into the United States’ murderous refusal to contain the novel coronavirus, when at least 320,000 people had died, but self-quarantine was still a mere suggestion. The latest outrageous news story was that a man exhibiting textbook COVID-19 symptoms (on account of his COVID-19 infection)

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