• review • April 21, 2022

    Net Loss

    The first four nodes of ARPANET—the Department of Defense’s primeval internet—were connected in 1969, the very year that Theodor W. Adorno died. In retrospect, it seems a cruel coincidence; it is difficult to imagine a cultural technology more deserving of Adorno’s truculent analysis than the internet, or to locate a comparable living thinker able to explain why a worldwide network that was supposed to unite everyone and improve everything tremors with feelings of disconnection and debasement.

    The beginning of Justin E. H. Smith’s new book reads as if it might deliver this lost critique, given

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  • excerpt • March 08, 2022

    An excerpt from Body Work on memoir, love, and writing to find a new narrative

    There is a conventional wisdom about memoir that claims a writer must have sufficient hindsight in order to write meaningfully about her past. This has not been my experience. All that has been required of me to write about something is this change of heart. A shift toward, or away, or perhaps a desire to return to some truer version of myself. I don’t even have to know that I’ve made it, but when I look back at the beginnings of everything I’ve ever written, there it is. 

    I recently reread Natasha Trethewey’s exquisite memoir, Memorial Drive, in which she explores her mother’s murder by an

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  • review • March 01, 2022

    Our spring issue is online now!

    Welcome to the Mar/Apr/May 2022 issue of Bookforum! In this edition, our contributors review new novels by Sheila Heti, Alejandro Zambra, Claire-Louise Bennett, and more, as well as newly reissued works by Kay Dick and Yūko Tsushima. The film critic A. S. Hamrah considers how director Billy Wilder bested the twentieth century, Sasha Frere-Jones reflects on essayist Lucy Sante’s inquisitive oeuvre, Harmony Holiday writes about the late hip-hop producer J Dilla’s poetics, and so much more. Read the issue online here, and consider signing up for or gifting a subscription.

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Anti-American Graffiti

    ARTHUR JAFA RELAYS A HAUNTING INTERPRETATION of the griot as someone who cannibalizes the flesh of those whose stories he tells, as a matter of pragmatism, in order to keep those stories alive for the telling in himself. At the end of his life, the griot’s unsolicited efforts at preservation of both self and other are met with the same gesture: he is denied a traditional burial. His carrion is left out in the open air to be consumed by maggots, completing a loop or energy cycle in nature, which can be ruthlessly just and deliberate in its delivery of karmic retribution. James Dewitt Yancey, a

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Mindful Mayhem

    WHEN SUN RA BEAMS into an Oakland, California, community center as an intergalactic ambassador from the council of outer space in the 1974 science-fiction movie Space Is the Place, one of the young men in the crowd asks, “Why are your shoes so big?” Ra, the experimental poet, composer, and jazz musician, is wearing platform shoes gussied up with intergalactic flair, which warrant the flippant and incredulous response. But after Ra is asked if he is real, the mocking wonder of the group of Black earthlings gradually dissipates as he answers, “How do you know I’m real? I’m not real. I’m just like

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    What Becomes a Legend Most?

    ON JULY 18, 2009, to little fanfare, @ladygaga posted: “I love lee strasberg. he makes me miss school.” Sometimes Chekhov’s gun is a tweet, and this one finally went off more than a decade later when Gaga took on the role of jilted murderess Patrizia Reggiani in House of Gucci and stayed in character for nine months. The public didn’t hear about the firearm discharge until promotion of the film began. Gaga’s (self-)mythologizing press tour coincided with Michael Schulman’s New Yorker profile of Succession star Jeremy Strong, and those wildly disparate elements created a perfect storm of frenzy

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Day Trip

    FROM CÉZANNE’S APPLES TO LOIS DODD’S CLOTHESLINES, the quotidian world, with its domestic scenes and unremarkable landscapes, has long inspired artists. Their scrupulously focused attention can yield surprising insights about ordinary things—the geography of shadings on an apple, the dance of towels hung out to dry. Mamma Andersson, whose recent retrospective at the Louisiana Museum in Humlebæk, Denmark, is documented in this exhibition catalogue, also delights in the mundane. Whether depicting a kitchen sink, linen closet, or cluttered desk, Andersson imbues her subjects with an engrossing

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    His Satanic Majesties

    KIDS TODAY! Is fashion all they care about? It’s a driving force on TikTok, and rare is the person under twenty-eight who doesn’t have something we’d call “style.” But the medium of fashion writing has left the kids tragically underfed. In fact, it’s left people of every age starving. It isn’t that no one is talking about it; teenagers on Twitter are practically building an archive of the 1990s-era work of the cerebral Belgian designer Martin Margiela and the provocateur Jean Paul Gaultier, and even your normie uncle has an opinion about whether men should wear skirts. It’s more like we’re at

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Swinging on a Star

    THRALL IS A JEFFERSONIAN WORD. In Constructing a Nervous System, the critic Margo Jefferson is enthralled by or to: her mother, her father, Bing Crosby. She suspects Condoleezza Rice is enthralled by or to George W. Bush, and Ike Turner by or to “manic depression and drug addiction, to years of envy,  . . . to a Mississippi childhood that was a trifecta of domestic abuse, sexual treachery and racist violence.” A young James Baldwin enthralled the Harlem faithful. Nina Simone refused the thrall of “warring desires.” It’s the last that clarifies the stakes. Thrall, some time after it meant “slave”

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Look Back in Anger

    ONCE UPON A TIME, humans lived in small, nomadic, egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers. Then, several thousand years ago, they domesticated plants and animals, discovered agriculture, and grew sedentary, eventually erecting cities, which gave rise to civilization—emperors, taxes, public works, the DMV. This was either a good thing (Hobbes) or a bad thing (Rousseau).

    So the story goes; maybe you heard it in college. Anthropologists and archaeologists have understood for decades it’s not true. James C. Scott summed up what we now know of early humanity in Against the Grain (2017): “It turns

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Artful Volumes

    Houston native Jamal Cyrus calls his artistic mentor Terry Adkins a “cerebral artist with soul.” The same description could be applied to Cyrus himself, whose cross-disciplinary artworks often excavate under-known Black cultural histories. JAMAL CYRUS: THE END OF MY BEGINNING (Inventory Press/Blaffer Art Museum, $35), Cyrus’s first monograph, accompanies his midcareer solo exhibition of the same name. The understated title is borrowed from a sculptural installation from 2005, in which Cyrus adorned a miniature suburban landscape with mounds of snowlike Afro hair. As the exhibition’s cocurator

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2022

    Sharpening Her Oyster Knife

    ZORA NEALE HURSTON’S LITERARY STATURE is no longer in dispute, yet people are still trying to put her into a box. “Do you think she was a libertarian?” someone once asked me. For whatever reason, I was too polite to say something like “How the hell should I know?” Far more polite than Hurston would be if she could now answer for herself. Yes, she made conservative, even reactionary noises in her lifetime against the NAACP, leftist politics, Richard Wright, and other socially progressive influences. But tagging Hurston as a libertarian or reactionary is far too reductive for such a formidable

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