• print • Dec/Jan 2020

    I Me Mind

    THE HARD PROBLEM, DAVID CHALMERS CALLS IT: Why are the physical processes of the brain “accompanied by an experienced inner life?” How and why is there something it is like to be you and me, in Thomas Nagel’s formulation? I’ve been reading around in the field of consciousness studies for over two decades—Chalmers, Nagel, Daniel Dennett, John Searle, Jerry Fodor, Ned Block, Frank Jackson, Paul and Patricia Churchland, Alva Noë, Susan Blackmore—and the main thing I’ve learned is that no one has the slightest idea. Not that the field lacks for confident pronouncements to the contrary.

    Briefly

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  • review • November 25, 2019

    The Art of the Meal

    Celebrities endlessly publicize what they eat—supermodel Chrissy Teigen’s two ​New York Times b​est-selling cookbooks feature her face, which is also her job, on the covers and throughout the books; Snoop Dogg’s cookbook promises “platinum recipes,” as if his success began on the plate; Stanley Tucci’s preface for ​The Tucci Cookbook c​ites his family’s Italian cooking as the inspiration for his directorial debut​. ​According to this logic, stardom starts in the stomach. Celebrities’ signature dishes are cruel invitations for the lowly fan to try and elevate their mundane body to a higher plane.

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  • excerpt • November 05, 2019

    The Crying Game

    I suppose some people can weep softly and become more beautiful, but after a real cry, most people are hideous, as if they’ve grown a spare and diseased face beneath the one you know, leaving very little room for the eyes. Or they look as if they’ve been beaten. We look. I look. Once, in fifth grade, I cried at school for a reason I cannot recall, and afterward a popular boy—rattail, skateboard—told me I looked like a druggie, and I was so pleased to be seen I made him repeat it.

    •••

    Ovid would prefer that I and other women restrain ourselves:

    There is no limit to art: in weeping,

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  • excerpt • November 01, 2019

    El Caserío

    This is where I begin. I come from poverty, from El Caserío Padre Rivera, the government housing projects, and there are stories here I never want to forget.

    In El Caserío, Anthony and I spent most summer days playing outside. It was a world of men, of violence, a place too often not safe for women or girls. There were shoot-outs in the streets, fourteen-year-old boys carrying guns as they rode their bikes to the candy store just outside the walls. We watched a guy get stabbed right in front of our building, watched the cops, who we called “los camarones,” come in and raid places for drugs

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  • review • September 25, 2019

    Shark Week

    If the most basic aspect of modern human life is species supremacy, to be eaten is perhaps the true inverse of being alive. In the words of Valerie Taylor, one half of the couple who pioneered the underwater filming of sharks, becoming the first to film great white sharks outside of a cage: “We all realize that the chances of being taken by a shark are exceedingly remote, but it is the horror of having chunks bitten from one’s body while still alive which evokes fear out of all proportion to the actual danger.”

    I’d never heard of the Taylors until reading Sharks, Death, Surfers: An Illustrated

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  • review • September 18, 2019

    Pleasures of the Text

    In 2015, French Tunisian calligraffiti artist eL Seed travelled to Manshiyat Nasr, a ward of Cairo, and created Perception, a large-scale mural and a book project. He was especially inspired by the Zabbaleen, an informal group of workers who have collected the garbage in the city since the 1940s. The Zabbaleen take nine thousand tons of waste daily from Egypt’s capital to settlements like the one in Manshiyat Nasr, where they sort and sell the trash to factories and recycling companies.

    This limited-edition book documents the mural project with numerous photographs of the artwork, along with

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  • review • September 17, 2019

    Moving On

    The problem has to do, as it always does, with language. In When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back, Naja Marie Aidt’s reckoning with the untimely death of her son, Carl, she acknowledges this fact early and often. “My language is all dried up,” she writes in the book’s opening pages. “I vomit over art.” This weariness with written expression is born from the age-old struggle to put words to the most important and mysterious aspects of humanity: our feelings on love, our search for higher meaning, our final demise. It is, she admits, a complaint as old as writing itself.

    What makes

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2019

    For Interpretation

    What was Susan Sontag’s preferred pronoun: “I” or “one”? First- or third-person singular? Which of those substitute-words revealed—or concealed—more about the woman who reigned as the leading cultural authority during the second half of the twentieth century but who refused to explicitly acknowledge her same-sex relationships? From the second paragraph of “Notes on ‘Camp’” (1964): “I am strongly drawn to Camp, and almost as strongly offended by it. That is why I want to talk about it, and why I can.” (The declaration all but trumpets her membership in the lavender mafia.) Toward the end of that

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2019

    Look Who’s Here!

    In the summer of 2006, at the peak of an unbearable heat wave stifling most of the Northeast, my parents filed into an unair-conditioned black-box theater in the Catskills to see a summer camp production of the musical Company. A cast of fourteen sweaty adolescent monsters (myself included) stood frozen onstage in khaki trench coats for fifteen minutes before the show began. This was an avant-garde choice we ruminated on heavily in rehearsals: How cutting-edge, we thought, to not even allow the theatergoers (parents) to settle into their seats before letting them know we were about to utterly

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2019

    He Found It at the Movies

    “IF IT WAS A FRIDAY NIGHT, the president’s hair would look much softer and shinier than usual, because he had washed it that afternoon,” Mark Weinberg remembers in Movie Nights with the Reagans, his 2018 memoir detailing the many evenings he spent at Camp David seeing films with President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy. Throughout Reagan’s two terms in the 1980s, Weinberg, then an assistant White House press officer, accompanied the Reagans on their weekend trips to Camp David, the compound located in the hills of Maryland that has been the official retreat of US presidents since 1942.

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2019

    Blinded by the White

    Novelist and teacher Jess Row has been thinking about racial identity for a while. That idea winds through his two story collections—The Train to Lo Wu and Nobody Ever Gets Lost—and is central to Your Face in Mine, “a novel in which a young white man undergoes ‘racial reassignment surgery’ to become black,” to use Row’s description. In his new collection of essays, White Flights, Row tries to determine how whiteness can be found in language (music and writing both qualify). White Flights is a frantic loop, though, full of strong analyses that are suddenly abandoned while Row takes off into a

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2019

    I’m Ill Here

    “I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, at the age of forty-one,” the poet Anne Boyer writes early in her panoramic, book-length essay The Undying. Elemental and unadorned, the sentence does not leap out for quotation, and in the context of a review of some other essay, some other book, summary would be adequate (“At the age of forty-one, the poet Anne Boyer . . .”). But in a story about breast cancer, the voice of the speaker is consequential and Boyer makes this plain when, in consulting other women writers who suffered from the disease, she observes whether or not they have used the

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