• print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2020

    Mum’s Boy

    “IT WAS HIS QUOTABILITY,” observed the critic Clive James, “that gave Larkin the biggest cultural impact on the British reading public since Auden.” What comes to mind? The opening lines from “Annus Mirabilis,” certainly—“Sexual intercourse began / In nineteen sixty-three”—but if there is one Philip Larkin quote even better known, it would surely be: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad.”

    Did Larkin’s parents fuck him up? According to his sister Catherine (“Kitty”), ten years his senior, both parents “worshipped” Philip. All the same, they have undoubtedly been demonized—sometimes by the poet

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  • review • July 30, 2020

    In An Apartment on Uranus, Paul B. Preciado undermines geopolitical, technological, and gender binaries

    In 2008, Paul B. Preciado published Testo Junkie, which is, among other things, an influential account of his illegal self-administration of testosterone gel. Stints of heady Foucauldian theory are interspersed with powerful memoiristic passages: He writes elegiacally to a friend who recently died, begins a potent affair with the French feminist writer and filmmaker Virginie Despentes, and lyrically describes the effects of testosterone on his body and mind. With a lofty sense of ritual and menace, he compares the packets of gel to “dissected scarabs, poison bullets extracted from a corpse,

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  • excerpt • July 07, 2020

    On Charlotte Cushman, the queer Shakespearean performer who played both male and female roles

    Charlotte Cushman was once called “the greatest living actress.” In the mid-nineteenth century this queer, Shakespearean performer was all the rage. Walt Whitman called her a genius, Louisa May Alcott had a stage-struck fit over her, Lincoln made her promise to perform for him (she did) and she impressed luminaries from Charles Dickens to Henry James. She rose from poverty to become America’s first celebrity, while specializing in ambitious women and transforming how we think of Shakespeare through her male roles like Hamlet and Romeo. After becoming an icon, Cushman lived openly with her female

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  • booklist • May 28, 2020

    Tech Support

    Welcome to part three of our ongoing series about supporting the literary community during the coronavirus pandemic. This week, we focus on independent bookstores and authors in need.

    Support Bookstores

    Most stores are taking orders directly or on platforms like Bookshop.org or IndieBound. Not sure where to start? Check out the titles from the latest issue of Bookforum.

    If you feel like living a bit dangerously (while still staying inside), put your faith in booksellers’ hands. Order a secondhand mystery bag from Milwaukee’s Boswell Book Company, a “surprise-me” paperback or hardcover from

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Notes from the Cave

    A FEW NIGHTS AGO, I WAS VISITED BY AN EMAIL. Back before the world gasped, my brother, the doctor, hardly ever wrote me anything beyond a “dinner Friday y/n,” and yet here he was, in the breathless thick of it, attaching a file of 7,241 words. I’d thought that he was far out in the boroughs intubating the sick or putting them through dialysis—and he was—but somehow he’d also found the time and adrenalized energy to put more language down on the screen than I, the ostensible writer, had managed to eke out in weeks, even months. The instructions that came at the top of the email explained, or

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  • print • Summer 2020

    What’s Happening?

    IN 1974 DORIS LESSING PUBLISHED MEMOIRS OF A SURVIVOR, a postapocalyptic novel narrated by an unnamed woman, almost entirely from inside her ground-floor apartment in an English suburb. In a state of suspended disbelief and detachment, the woman describes the events happening outside her window as society slowly collapses, intermittently dissociating from reality and lapsing into dream states. At first, the basic utilities begin to cut out, then the food supply runs short. Suddenly, rats are everywhere. Roving groups from neighboring areas pass through the yard, ostensibly escaping even worse

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Instant Karma

    LATELY, FOR OBVIOUS REASONS, I’ve been preoccupied with suffering and death—when I’m following the news of the pandemic, but also in my daily meditation practice, which involves chanting, sitting Zen, and reading from stacks of Buddhist books I keep handy next to my cushion. In the past few days I’ve read the chapters on death and rebirth in Tsongkhapa’s encyclopedic Lamrim Chenmo, or The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, a book so beloved that the Dalai Lama kept a copy hidden in his robes when he fled Lhasa in 1959.

    It wouldn’t surprise anyone that Buddhism has a

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Against Damnation

    I REALIZED WHEN I WAS AROUND EIGHT THAT THE VERY CONCEPT OF HELL IS INSANE AND EVIL, and never looked back. I don’t regard this as an especially precocious perception—many other Christians I have known report a similar experience.

    I wrote the above sentences for a version of this review in February, in a different world. I ate at restaurants with friends, rode crowded subways, went to the movies. Now it is early April and I have not been outside in a month. I watch Netflix, Zoom with friends, eat beans from a can. And I listen to black metal, whose refrigerated guitars I find perversely soothing

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Wood Play

    The titles of Thaddeus Mosley’s recent wood sculptures are often plainly descriptive: There’s a curve in Curved Closure, branches in Branched Form, and an oval in Oval Continuity. This straightforward denotation of the works’ spatial and geometric character indicates Mosley’s matter-of-fact approach. At ninety-four, the self-taught artist isn’t inclined toward mystification or obscurity. In an essay by curator Brett Littman, included in this volume, Mosley recounts how in the 1950s he saw “decorative furniture with details like small birds and fish made out of wood” in a Pittsburgh department

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Coeur Values

    It’s the second week of March in Paris, and COVID-19 still hasn’t shut the city down. I am staying at the Hotel La Louisiane, the haunt of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Cy Twombly, and more—an oddball historic dive in the heart of the Sixth Arrondissement. I spend my days retracing the steps of literary and art icons and reading in cafés. I’ve been asked to write about The Heart, Marc Petitjean’s new book about Frida Kahlo’s life in Paris in 1939, and it seems to haunt me at every step. I walk over the Seine by the Louvre, which was just closed down, and

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Women on the Verge

    For many of its participants, the women’s liberation movement represented a saving break with an unremittingly bleak past. A switch flipped at the end of the 1960s, and the culture flooded with light. Where once there had been only darkness—Ladies’ Home Journal, back-alley abortions, MRS degrees—now there was feminism: Kate Millett made the cover of Time, Shirley Chisholm made the ballot, and young women picketed bridal fairs and beauty pageants that they might have attended a year before. In 1971, fiction writer Tillie Olsen remarked with awe that “this movement in three years has accumulated

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Artful Volumes

    But is it art, or fashion? In FASHION WORK 1993–2018: 25 YEARS OF ART IN FASHION (Damiani, $45), Danish-born curator and critic Jeppe Ugelvig offers a refreshing take: that this question should not be framed in terms of aesthetic categories, but, instead, by social and material systems of production—that is to say, by work. The volume traces twenty-five years of hybrid fashion forms—and labor—through an impressive array of archival material, including backstage photos, notebook sketches, show invitations, and more. Ugelvig focuses on designers that critically engage with the labor conditions

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