• review • January 05, 2021

    Candace Jane Opper’s obsessive remembrance of a teen crush who died by suicide

    Grief memoirs typically meditate on the loss of someone so close to the author that they could have listed the deceased as an emergency contact. Candace Jane Opper’s Certain and Impossible Events is not that kind of memoir. The book revolves around the death of a boy Opper wasn’t exactly close with—a crush whose phone number she memorized when she was thirteen. He died by suicide, at age fourteen, in 1994, eight days after Kurt Cobain’s body was found. More than twenty-five years later, Certain and Impossible Events is Opper’s attempt to map her ongoing obsession with the boy’s death.

    Normally,

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  • excerpt • December 29, 2020

    Lorraine Hansberry’s Pan-African sensibility, in her own words

    In 1937, her father moved the family to an all-white neighborhood in Chicago to deliberately challenge the constitutionality of racial restriction clauses. In response, a white mob gathered and threw a brick through their window, narrowly missing eight-year-old Lorraine. The Hansberry case moved through the court system, with the Supreme Court of Illinois upholding the legality of restrictive covenants and forcing the Hansberrys out of their home. The case then went all the way to the United States Supreme Court in Hansberry v. Lee, 311 U.S. 32 (1940), which reversed the lower court’s decision

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  • excerpt • December 18, 2020

    An essay from Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America

    I’m after a worldview.

    —Jack Whitten

    When the living conditions that art evinces haven’t changed, one must always make more imaginaries for one to live in.

    —Dionne Brand, “Temporary Spaces of Joy and Freedom”

    Another arrangement of the possible . . .

    —Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

    I have gathered the epigraphs for this essay from the painter Jack Whitten, the poet Dionne Brand, and the theorist Saidiya Hartman because of the ways they speak to the necessary scale of Black responses to these catastrophes

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    Daytime Regained

    ON DECEMBER 25, 1991, Gorbachev appeared on snowy televisions in the homes of millions, gray faced against gray wallpaper, to resign as the leader of a state that no longer existed. He handed over the keys and a briefcase full of nuclear codes to Yeltsin, and the red flag was lowered. George Bush Sr. quickly got camera-ready on Christmas, addressing the American people, “During these last few months, you and I have witnessed one of the greatest dramas of the twentieth century.” The Soviet Union was over, but the year was ending on a cliffhanger. Cut to January 2, 1992: as the hangover of a

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    Flacks and Hacks

    IF CRAFTING THE PERFECT seating arrangements is a delicate art for blue bloods—and vandalism is the opposite of art, as well as a pastime for talented poor people—then it follows that party reporting, at its most refined, is a form of controlled demolition on private property. In their heyday, party reporters were a bit like graffiti artists on the Upper East Side, tagging the marble walls (“Slut!” “Bankrupt!”) as fast as they can be cleaned up. What is a personal publicist but an overpaid janitor with a pressurized hose?

    The allure of party reporting is risk. The entitled class (the rich,

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    True Story

    THOUGH THERE IS NO SHORTAGE of preposterous tales told in André Gregory’s memoir, the most implausible is that a well-off New Yorker like Gregory, living rent-free in an Upper West Side apartment in the late 1960s, would voluntarily take the subway downtown, every day for months, to watch three men sit at a table in an East Village classroom and slowly go insane. The men, who were actors under Gregory’s direction, spent the days improvising the tea party scene from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. They played it as the mood struck, veering from maniacal to pornographic to scatological. Bathroom

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    Service and Devotion

    A PET PEEVE OF MINE is when people are shocked to find out that a great song was written relatively quickly. Of course it was, I want to say, before quoting one of many dog-eared passages in my worn copy of Natalie Goldberg’s Zen-creativity bible Writing Down the Bones, like, I don’t know, how about this one: “If you are on, ride that wave as long as you can. Don’t stop in the middle. That moment won’t come back exactly in that way again, and it will take much more time trying to finish a piece later on than completing it now.” The words of a poem, a song, or any other piece of writing, Goldberg

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    Home Truths

    SOON AFTER ARRIVING in New York in 1973, Ming Smith sold two pictures to the Museum of Modern Art (New York), becoming the first Black woman to be granted entrance into house Szarkowski. It was an honor she took in stride; she already knew she was good. For the next thirty-plus years, she turned out exceptional work in a broad range of styles, influenced by everyone from Claude Monet to Romare Bearden to Katherine Dunham to Zora Neale Hurston: portraits of Black cultural luminaries; documentary images of life in American cities; dispatches from around the globe; and richly allusive, kinetic

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    Real Genius

    PROTEAN PAINTER NOAH DAVIS had emerged as a catalytic force when he died of cancer at age thirty-two. His swift evolution promised an exciting future, as did the Underground Museum, an alternative exhibition space in a working-class Los Angeles neighborhood, that Davis founded with his wife, Karon. From 2007 until 2015, the year of his death, Davis portrayed African American daily life with an eye for the improbable: a girl sits astride a giant snail; a young man holds a slippery-looking creature in Man with Alien and Shotgun. In this new monograph, fellow painter Henry Taylor muses about his

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    Just Watching

    I FIRST SHARED a TikTok video in my Instagram story on April 20, 2020, right around the time I ran out of tolerable TV series to binge and an inability to read anything other than tweets set in. It took me a while to realize I could download it, the video I mean—a Belgian man’s inexplicably menacing take on the “turn around” portion of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”—because I initially found the app’s interface so counterintuitive that I was reluctant to explore. For anyone used to the polished calm of Instagram, TikTok’s chaotic ugliness is disorienting. Each frame is cluttered

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    One Thing or a Mother

    NEAR THE END OF SUITE FOR BARBARA LODEN, Nathalie Léger’s guerrilla-critical reckoning with Loden’s 1970 film, Wanda, Léger visits a ghost town in Pennsylvania, not far from where the movie is set. A coal seam has been burning underground there since 1962, “an inferno buried beneath the town that slowly, slyly devastated everything, engulfing gardens, swallowing cars, and sometimes apparently children too.” Though a sign reads, WELCOME TO HELL, Léger notices “no sign of destruction, no trace of those terrible events. . . . This is what hell must be: erasure. And down below, the fire rages on.”

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    Artful Volumes

    Chantal Akerman often said that she carried within her a deep sense of unbelonging. “But someone once told me that when you make films you put your whole self in,” she wrote near the end of her life. “I don’t know, I don’t know myself, certainly not all of myself.” For those wanting more of her, from her, CHANTAL AKERMAN: PASSAGES (Eye Filmmuseum / nai010 publishers, $40) brings to light her lesser-known work as a visual artist. This companion catalogue to a retrospective of eight film installations presented at Eye Filmmuseum (Amsterdam) this summer includes essays that mark the translation

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