• print • Apr/May 2015

    Top of the Pops

    The invention of kitsch, critic Clement Greenberg wrote in 1939, was part and parcel of European industrialization. The continent’s newly dislocated masses found themselves stuck, from Birmingham to Berlin, between an urbane high culture to which they had no connection and a folk culture whose significance was indelibly rooted in the countryside they had left behind, and kitsch, Greenberg argued, was devised to fill this gap. Produced by committee, designed by formula, and motivated by profit, kitsch “pretends to demand nothing of its customers except their money—not even their time.”

    In light

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  • print • Apr/May 2015

    Type 42: Fame Is the Name of the Game

    IN THE SPRING OF 2012, artist Jason Brinkerhoff found a cache of some 950 Polaroids devoted to television images from the 1960s and early ’70s. The photos—the book’s title takes its name from a popular Polaroid film stock, Type 42—gathered in this sampling from that collection are mostly of actresses appearing on what is probably a modest-size black-and-white television. Each actress has been shot during a close-up, and her name (whether famous, or quite obscure) has been inked on the snapshot’s border. Although attempts to trace the archive back to its creator have proved fruitless, a few

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  • print • Apr/May 2015

    Revolutionary Road

    It’s counterintuitive to think of the British Museum as a happening spot, but for a long time its reading room served as a premier gathering place for London’s brainy bohemians. In the 1880s, these included radicals like George Bernard Shaw, Henry Havelock Ellis, and Eleanor Marx, Karl Marx’s youngest daughter. They worked there, and they talked during smoke breaks and visits to Bloomsbury tea shops. They moved fluidly between politics and the arts, deploring factory conditions as fervently as they dissected Ibsen’s plays. The reading room was a vital seedbed for such Victorian-era social-reform

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  • print • Apr/May 2015

    Roll Over, Cole Porter

    Something strange and wild happened in American popular music during the middle of the 1950s. You can almost identify the precise date when the change took place. Rock ’n’ roll certainly existed before Elvis Presley reached the top of the charts with “Heartbreak Hotel” in the spring of 1956, but it didn’t yet dominate the airwaves. Dean Martin, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Nelson Riddle had each enjoyed No. 1 singles in the preceding months. But Elvis’s success changed the rules of the music business; during the remainder of the decade (and for years to come), most of the rising stars were rock

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  • review • March 24, 2015

    Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon

    No matter how many years I’ve spent on the proverbial couch—about fifteen, at last count—I still find myself wanting to say to my therapist “I wish I were dead inside.” The formulation is at least half joking—note, for one, that hilarious cliffhanger between the last two words—but the feeling is nonetheless both lingering and sincere. A clearer way of expressing it would be: I wish I didn’t feel pain/I wish I didn’t show pain; I wish I didn’t care/I wish I didn’t show I cared. I wish, in other words, that I were more like Kim Gordon.

    The iconic bass player in the experimental rock group Sonic

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  • pubdates • March 16, 2015

    Repetition Compulsion

    Before she published My Brilliant Friend, the first volume of her much-celebrated Neapolitan series, in 2011, Elena Ferrante was known for three short, violent novels about women on the outer boundary of sanity. Although their stories are unrelated, the books form a thematic trilogy. Each is narrated by a woman who embodies a different aspect of female experience—in Troubling Love, a daughter; in Days of Abandonment, a wife; in The Lost Daughter, a mother—and each is concerned with how these domestic roles constrict the lives of their protagonists. Ferrante is often asked about the classical

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  • review • March 13, 2015

    Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso

    To a writer, a blank page is at once an invitation and a reproach. Empty, the page is full of possibility, perfect; marred by words, it is perfect no longer. Mallarmé, a strategic user of empty space, wrote of how whiteness defends the paper against the poet. The intrepid writer will make a mark anyway.

    In Ongoingness: The End of a Diary, Sarah Manguso makes a case for letting the blank page win. The book, her sixth, describes how and why its author gave up her compulsive diary writing. A slight volume of hardly more than a hundred pages, Ongoingness is the counterpoint to the author’s actual

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  • review • March 09, 2015

    The Age of the Crisis of Man by Mark Greif

    Long before Feminism, or Theory, or the Great Recession, the category of “Man” was a problem. In fact, the creation of the category in the late eighteenth century already signified an ideological crisis, because to assert the “Rights of Man” as such was to justify rebellion against all existing forms of rule, including slavery. Every generation since that age of revolution has known its own time as yet another age of the crisis of man, for the word itself is both infinitely plural and narrowly singular, and the idea it conjures is at once universal and particular.

    So what could be new or

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  • pubdates • February 24, 2015

    The Autotelic Atticus Lish

    Atticus Lish is seeking a state of flow—what the “positive psychologist” Mihlay Csikszentmihalyi calls the opposite of psychic entropy: negentropy. It can only be achieved while in pursuit of a task for the sake of the task. The good doctor also claims it is the secret to happiness.

    Atticus Lish, surely right now, is sitting in his chair in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, humming in his routine: two thousand words per day on the next book. He has a system: spit it out, systematically revise, sweep it up.

    “I’m back in the groove,” he tells me back in November. “My whole life falls into place if I’m

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  • review • February 12, 2015

    Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi

    In one of the more bizarre stretches of Mohamedou Ould Slahi's Guantánamo Diary, the guards who have been presiding over Slahi's three-year detainment at Gitmo give him the nickname Pillow and inform him that, in turn, they'd like to be called something from the Star Wars movies. The US government has redacted the Star Wars handle his captors wanted Slahi to use when addressing them, but he says it means "the Good Guys." Perhaps they wanted to be called "the Jedi," the Zen warrior protagonists in the George Lucas mega-franchise; it's even more amusing to imagine that they wanted Slahi to call

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  • review • February 06, 2015

    I Think You're Totally Wrong by David Shields and Caleb Powell

    What should we call works in which male artists share a meal while listening to themselves talk? I Think You’re Totally Wrong records pieces of conversation between David Shields and his former student Caleb Powell during a four-day trip on which they discuss how to balance writing and living. “It's an ancient form: two white guys bullshitting,” Shields says, as the two watch movies, drink beer, and hike the mountains above Seattle. “Why are we even doing this?” he adds. “Why aren't we home with our wives and children?" Questions like these populate the book, as the leading men try to position

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  • review • February 02, 2015

    Against the Country by Ben Metcalf

    Perhaps you have wondered (and who hasn’t?) what sort of memoir Bob Ewell, redneck villain of To Kill a Mockingbird, might have written about his life of attempted child-murder and successful child-beating, drunkenness, perjury, and poaching after a long course of education in Juvenalian satire and Ciceronian rhetoric? Or what Jonathan Swift or perhaps Renfield, the “zoophagus maniac” in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, might have become had one of them ripened to manhood in the 1970s on the kudzu and rat-rich red clay of Goochland County, Virginia?

    It is just these questions that Ben Metcalf’s Against

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