• print • June/July/Aug

    How to Survive a Movement

    ONE NIGHT IN 2010, the writer Sarah Schulman was at the Manhattan gallery White Columns for the opening of a show she had helped create about the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, or ACT UP, the AIDS-activist organization she was a member of from 1987 to 1992. In her 2012 book The Gentrification of the Mind, Schulman writes of the evening as a kind of reunion for the group, with the ACT UP-ers, mostly in their fifties and sixties, “laughing and smiling and hugging and flirting,” all wearing the scars, physical and psychic, of the traumas they had endured together during the worst of the AIDS

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    What forms of art, activism, and literature can speak authentically today?

    I want to read more novels that make me feel like the end of The Copenhagen Trilogy—which is not a novel—did: shaking, sputtering, like I had just (barely) survived a car accident. I want to be physically stunned, physically immobilized by language. There is no formula for that, nothing in particular that one should risk but it probably involves risking everything, courting humiliation, being open to being misunderstood, and telling the truth. We should write only what has to be written and what can be written only now that is about life as we live it now, and we should write novels that have

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Aghast Interpretation

    “AT THIS POINT, you probably should take several deep breaths in order to relax, there is much more to come, if you’ll pardon the expression,” cautions Wilson Bryan Key, in the first chapter of his 1973 pulp best-seller Subliminal Seduction. The book, which ignited one of the Cold War era’s more banal panics—that the advertising industry is a black site of veiled salacious messages—is best remembered for its analysis of an ad for Gilbey’s gin, which Key claimed contained the letters S-E-X embedded in ice cubes. But Key goes on to argue that television and magazine ads contained stronger stuff

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Reading the Fine Print

    ROBERT WALSER WAS A SWISS WRITER of the early twentieth century who wanted very much to be a German writer. He walked and walked more than he wrote and wrote, covering thousands of miles in his lifetime, albeit within limited territory. In the beginning his garb was clownish—“a wretched bright yellow midsummer suit, light dancing shoes, an intentionally vulgar, insolent, foolish hat”—near the end a motley of patched rags, and at the very end a shabby but proper suit and overcoat, his death duds when he collapsed in 1956 in the snow near the mental asylum where he had resided for twenty-three

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Action Painting

    BROAD SWATHS OF VARIEGATED COLOR animate Reggie Burrows Hodges’s canvases at least as much as his energetic subjects: unicyclists and hurdlers; basketball, tennis, and baseball players. Born in Compton, California, he attended the University of Kansas on a tennis scholarship and studied theater and film; while living in New York and Vermont, he wrote songs and performed with a dub-rock group. The fifty-six-year-old artist’s résumé helps explain his fascination with sports as well as several paintings of people spinning and listening to dub records. In this volume’s interview with Suzette McAvoy,

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Triple Double

    POETRY AND MUSIC SHARE A LITTLE, mechanically, but are united by a common enemy: aboutness. What in the world is John Coltrane’s 1966 album, Meditations, about? As many times as I’ve listened to it, I wouldn’t dare claim that the music addresses a subject or expresses something as flimsy as an idea. But Meditations does not, in any way, duplicate the work of another album, and it has a function as particular as lemon pepper chicken or the quadratic equation. It does something in a deliberate way, embodying spiritual energy in a manner that no written brief can approach.

    It’s apt, then, that

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Double Masking

    THE CONCEPT OF THE MASK, of concealing, is made explicit in the title of Persona, Ingmar Bergman’s superlative film of 1966. Yet ever since its release, many critics and viewers have sought to uncover the “meaning” of this enigmatic work, which centers on the relationship between two women: Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullmann), an actress who stops speaking, and Alma (Bibi Andersson), a nurse tasked with overseeing Elisabet’s convalescence. Bergman cautioned against the urge to demystify, remarking to a Swedish TV journalist in 1966, “Each person should experience it the way they feel.” Ullmann, in

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  • 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.


    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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