• 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

    The Past Is a Southern County

    SOONER OR LATER, every great novelist, however ornery or eremitic, is portrayed as an observer of their times. “Flaubert’s Politics” must have sounded like a joke title, a parody of revisionism, when, in 1937, an essay with that name, arguing that the supposedly rarefied author had in fact engaged extensively with public affairs, appeared under Edmund Wilson’s byline in the pages of the Partisan Review. But the expansion of universities—and the explosion of academic publishing—has long since rendered the zany-looking intervention a commonplace occurrence. During the 1980s, for instance, a period

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    Rebel Boy

    IF DANCE IS HUMANITY’S REBELLION AGAINST GRAVITY, choreographer Michael Clark defied dance’s gravitas. He was classically trained: first as an Aberdeen boy schooled in traditional Scottish dance, then as a star pupil at London’s Royal Ballet School, later as a member of the Ballet Rambert, and later still as a summer student of Merce Cunningham and John Cage.

    Ultimately, Clark made his reputation by aerating the stuffy dance world, transforming the landscape with a punk ethos and the pointed exuberance of London’s queer club scene.

    In 1984, at the prodigious age of twenty-two, he founded the

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    Contact High

    MCARTHUR BINION EMPLOYED his tattered address book, containing nineteen years’ worth of annotated contact information, as the substrate of numerous paintings and prints in his series “DNA.” He produced color copies of the pages, sliced out the entries, and assembled them in vertical and horizontal patterns to form a collage grid over which he painted and drew. The Chicago-based artist began the project in 2013, when he was sixty-seven, and the choice of an address book—along with other personal effects like Binion’s birth certificate and photos of his childhood home—lends a strong sense of

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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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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    The Love Movement

    They’ll see how beautiful I am / And be ashamed

    —Langston Hughes, “I, Too”

    WHEN HUGHES PUBLISHED THESE WORDS in 1925, Jim Crow’s rule over America remained at or near its peak. And so it was subversive optimism back then to envision a time when Black Americans would no longer be consigned, as Hughes’s poem delineated, to eat in the kitchen while everybody else sat at the table “when company comes.” Legally sanctioned segregation’s been subdued for decades now, but optimism’s still elusive no matter how much has changed in the almost hundred years since Hughes, “too,” sang America. Putting it

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    Slime Regained

    AT THE END OF MAY 2011 I was standing at the corner of Union and Court Streets in Brooklyn with a man in his late seventies named Bobby Russo, who was born in the apartment where I live. Bobby and I were stopped there because the street was blocked off so that Columbia Pictures could shoot Men in Black 3, a sci-fi action-comedy starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld.

    The street had been dressed to look like it might have in 1969, with Peter Max–style advertising in place of the usual signs outside bodegas. As we watched a scene featuring vintage cars and a bus

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    The Vying Animal

    MORE THAN REALISM OR ITS RIVALS, the dominant literary style in America is careerism. This is neither a judgment nor a slur. For decades it has simply been the case that novelists, story writers, even poets have had to devote themselves to managing their careers as much as to writing their books. Institutional jockeying, posturing in profiles and Q&As, roving in-person readership cultivation, social-media fan-mongering, coming off as a good literary citizen among one’s peers—some balance of these elements is now part of every young author’s life. It’s a matter of necessity and survival, above

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    Daze of Our Lives

    RICHARD LINKLATER IS A DIRECTOR I CARE A LOT ABOUT, but, sacrilegiously to some, his sprawling 1993 comedy Dazed and Confused, about the misadventures of Texas high school students on the last day of school in 1976, isn’t one of my favorites. I might feel bad about that, if Linklater didn’t agree. “I think it’s middling,” he tells pop-culture journalist Melissa Maerz early in her new book. “I don’t know why people latch on to it.” Despite poor initial box office, the film’s cult built up through video and its popular hard-rock soundtrack until it became a recognized classic, complete with a

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    Artful Volumes

    In the wake of the visionary (if a little scattershot) solo presentation of his series “Ten Commandments,” at Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 gallery in New York in 1912, Arthur Dove cemented his reputation as America’s foremost—purportedly even first—abstract artist. His intimately scaled watercolors, pastels, and oil paintings departed from observations of nature to enter a realm of pure expression, color, and light, filtered through the Cubist tint of dirt-road palettes. The priapic glide of his organic forms garnered praise for its “virility,” suggesting Dove’s phallic style as the visual counterpart

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    We Love This Dirty Town

    BECAUSE THE MAKING OF EVERY single motion picture has its uphill battles and its moments of high drama, and because a film can reflect its times in fascinating ways, a book about the making of John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969) could very well be a compelling read, even though the movie itself is as phony as its central hustler Joe Buck’s cowboy credentials. That the United States is the land of the sham is part of the film’s hammered-home point, and to emphasize this Schlesinger lingers attention on the garish billboards and urban signage that posh visiting European filmmakers often

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