• print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    Art Monsters

    FOUNDED IN 1990, GODZILLA was a New York–based collective of visual artists and curators that sought “to contribute to change in the limited ways Asian Pacific Americans participate and are represented in a broad social context.” Early in the new anthology Godzilla: Asian American Arts Network 1990–2001, there’s a spread of contact sheets showing outtakes for a group picture taken in 1991 for the collective’s first newsletter: we see bodies shuffling, awkward hand placements, ill-timed smiles, and aching cheeks. The sequences illustrate the momentary coalescence—flash!—and then the release,

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    Mask and You Shall Receive

    WHAT’S COMMONLY KNOWN ABOUT THE PORTUGUESE WRITER FERNANDO PESSOA is that he died young-ish at the age of forty-seven in 1935, drank heavily, and assigned authorship of his work to over a hundred “heteronyms,” pen names that carry more biographical heft than the average alias. Pessoa died having published only one book of poetry in Portuguese (Mensagem) and two self-published chapbooks of English-language poetry. The lion’s share of his work was found in a trunk containing about 25,000 pages of writings. Without much of a public record of his life as he lived it, celebrating Pessoa and researching

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    Voice Leading

    I WOULDN’T DARE COMPARE MYSELF to the legendary actor and singer Billy Porter, but if you were trying to cast a show, circa 2009, we would definitely be up for the same part. Both of us queer, both of us Black, we came to theater—acting, writing, and directing—through music and musicianship, gifts spotted early and cultivated in high school. Both of us have a freakishly high singing voice, although Billy’s is touched by an angel, and mine is more like a fun party trick. This is about where our similarities end, really, but in the business of show, that was more than enough to have the specter

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

    A Spouse Divided

    IN THE FALL OF 1866, FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY FOUND HIMSELF barreling toward every writer’s worst nightmare: a deadline he couldn’t ignore. Having signed an ill-advised contract to avoid a trip to debtor’s prison, he now owed the publisher Fyodor Stellovsky a new novel of at least 160 pages by November 1. If he failed to deliver, Stellovsky would be entitled to publish whatever Dostoyevsky wrote over the next nine years free of charge. A more practical man might have spent his summer on the project for Stellovsky, but Dostoyevsky was simultaneously preparing segments of Crime and Punishment for

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  • review • November 30, 2021

    Rachel Greenwald Smith’s argument against compromise

    In the 1982 documentary All by Myself: The Eartha Kitt Story, an unseen male interviewer asks the late singer and actress whether she would “compromise” for love. Kitt’s brow furrows, and she faces the camera. “Compromise?” she demands, “Compromising for what reason? . . . What is compromise?” Surely Kitt knew the meaning of the word, but she’s not seeking definitions here. Rather, her question—“What is compromise?”—fastens a severe and distinctly skeptical beam of light on the concept. Such scrutiny might lead us to the word’s darker resonances: to spoil or imperil. After all, there is risk

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  • excerpt • November 29, 2021

    An excerpt from The Art of Revision: The Last Word

    While Flannery O’Connor’s example suggests the value of holding on to and interrogating the kind of anomalous details that don’t do enough work in early drafts, there are also those cherished elements we resist cutting that should probably go.

    Ben Lerner describes one such instance in his autofiction 10:04 concerning a short story of his, “The Golden Vanity,” that appeared in the New Yorker. He relates its conception and shares an extract of an early draft—“the prose I generated first, the kernel of the work”—detailing a plot to fake letters from famous writers that the protagonist hopes to

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  • interview • November 24, 2021

    A roundtable on comedy and writing with Melissa Broder, Megan Milks, Torrey Peters, and Brontez Purnell

    Megan Milks: You’re all hilarious. Where does the humor in your work come from? What kinds of strategies have you used to hone your comedic sensibilities?

    Brontez Purnell: My humor is based in a very deep form of tragedy. Essentially, I have to laugh to keep from crying, or rather, I feel like I have such deep hands in comedy and drama at the same time that I’m always creating a balance. I also don’t feel like I’m really “honing” my comedy at this point. Sarcastic humor has become so formulaic and weaponized against us, that the older I get, I actually feel like my humor is becoming more

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  • excerpt • October 28, 2021

    An excerpt from Black Paper on Edward Said’s love of music and late Beethoven

    A couple of hours from Beirut, if you’re fortunate with the traffic, you come within touching distance of the Syrian border. A course northward of that brings you through the Beqaa Valley and into Baalbek. We clambered through the palimpsest of ruins in Baalbek—the Assyrian, Roman, Byzantine, and Muslim ruins—and, wary of the proximity to the hot war just a few miles away, wondered if this is how people get kidnapped. That evening, coming back from the ruins, we thought we’d stop in Broummana, and see Edward Said’s grave.

    Literature is haunted by gravesite pilgrimages. The acolyte seeks

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  • excerpt • October 26, 2021

    The parallels between Walden and Thoreau devotee John Cage’s 4′33″

    After reading Walden, I like to rip it up. Not the book itself, but the sentences and passages that Thoreau so painstakingly put together. When I do, I make it a party, or at least a group affair. On various occasions I have convinced a small group of people to choose sentences at random (some short, some Thoreauvianly long) and then to read those sentences aloud, simultaneously, at various different tempos and modulating volumes, while standing in a circle. The result is an aural montage: some words and phrases lost in the river-rush of words, some bobbing to the surface, like Ishmael at the

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  • excerpt • October 19, 2021

    Revisiting Harold Rosenberg’s 1952 essay on the American Action Painters

    At the outset of his influential 1952 essay, “The American Action Painters,” Harold Rosenberg announced:

    What makes any definition of a movement in art dubious is that it never fits the deepest artists in the movement—certainly not as well as, if necessary, it does the others. Yet without the definition something essential in those best is bound to be missed. The attempt to define is like a game in which you cannot possibly reach the goal from the starting point but can only close in on it by picking up each time from where the last play landed.

    Rosenberg knew that the “game” of

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  • excerpt • September 30, 2021

    An excerpt from Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon

    Fiction in the Age of Amazon is the symbolic provision of more—above all, of more various and interesting “life experience” than can be had by any mortal being, let alone one constrained by the demands of work and family. It is a commodification of this experience, shaped to the reader’s limitations and recurring therapeutic needs.

    A physical book is in this sense a box of time, and an e-book the virtualization of the same. It is a volume in which time has seemed to stop. Or, rather, it has been put on a kind of imaginary endless loop inasmuch as fictional time moving in sequence from a novel’s

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2021

    Dial F for Father

    WHILE WANDERING AROUND the Jewish Museum’s haunting exhibition “Louise Bourgeois, Freud’s Daughter,” curated by the artist’s former literary archivist Philip Larratt-Smith, I stopped at a melancholy sculpture called Ventouse, 1990, a double-decker hunk of hacked, chipped black marble that resembles a sarcophagus. The coffin is topped by protruding glass cups, their rounded ends lit from within by electric bulbs.

    For some reason, while studying this sculpture that’s heavy in every way (after all, it is part of a show of Bourgeois’s psychoanalytic art and texts), I couldn’t stop thinking about

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