• print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    The Last Word

    Mortality, a posthumous collection of Christopher Hitchens’s short essays on living with terminal esophageal cancer—“a distinctly bizarre way of ‘living,’” he emphasizes, “lawyers in the morning and doctors in the afternoon”—is an odd little book, neither fully a cancer memoir nor a meditation on the meanings we attribute to the disease. Though indebted to Audre Lorde’s classic The Cancer Journals and Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor (it’s hard to write about the experience of cancer free of the influence of either, regardless of whether one has read them), Hitchens cites neither. The voices

    Read more
  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Mix Master

    A compelling mixed review is a devilishly difficult thing to write. Raves and pans have obvious, inherent drama, as they get to trumpet great successes or bemoan deplorable failures. But a mixed review must share the less exciting news that something is good, not great—or that, while the work in question mostly misses the target, it is not entirely without interest. Many mixed reviews thus read like so much wishy-washy indecision.

    But the most compelling reviews in Daniel Mendelsohn’s very good new collection of them, Waiting for the Barbarians, are decidedly mixed. Regular readers of the New

    Read more
  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Social Works

    It goes by several names and takes a range of forms, but as with so many protean phenomena, we know it when we see it. Participation-based art, social engagement, social practice: Art that takes relations between people as its medium is currently ascendant, with specialized MFA programs, new social-practice art prizes, and biennials all attesting to its rise. This past spring’s Berlin Biennale, which gave the city’s Occupy activists free rein over an exhibition hall in the Kunst-Werke, is only the latest prominent example. Works like Jeremy Deller’s Battle of Orgreave, 2001, a weekend-long

    Read more
  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Magic Realist

    Seven years ago, trying to decide between two book topics, I was spending half my time interviewing magicians and going to magic shows and the other half interviewing shoplifters and going to shoplifting-addiction groups. But then came a moment when I began to wonder whether magic was a good subject for me: I was sitting with a magician—white and middle-aged, like so many are—in a coffee shop on the Upper East Side. When I asked how he had done a card trick in a show I had seen the previous night, he glared at me for a long moment. I thought he was going to leap across the table and cut my

    Read more
  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    American Imperiled

    So much of what we know about actor Henry Fonda derives from the authority of his body on-screen: a long, taut, calibrated instrument, most expressive when restrained—as it nearly always was. A lean six feet one, he had the height and physique of a movie aristocrat, but could play a proletarian or a president. Most of all, he always conveyed that, at heart, he was a homegrown American, Nebraska born, in touch with social proprieties but also with the urge to light out for the territory. He perfected an understated style that might be called precisionist, his performances akin to the sharp lines

    Read more
  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Burning Man

    Trying to make art creates a host of problems. One of the best ways of handling these, as John Baldessari seems to have realized in the mid-1960s, is to let the problems be someone else's. Then art becomes like the news. "I just read it and laugh," Baldessari once reflected, "say, what the hell is going on?" Not everyone reads the news with such aloofness, of course (or then again maybe we do, since we manage to down our breakfasts while perusing the latest in war, murder, and economic collapse). And probably few artists read the discourses of art—practical, critical, theoretical—with the

    Read more
  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Oh, the Posthumanity

    Not long ago I had a very foolish dream. I was sitting alone in a house when the phone began to ring in another room, a room in which my girlfriend, in turn, was asleep. I didn’t get to it before she awoke and answered it, annoyed, and of course it was for me. The woman on the line said something about something that needed to be done right away, but I couldn’t quite make out what she was saying. She seemed to know me and expected me to know her, and it all seemed quite serious, but I simply didn’t feel up to the double bother of asking her to both introduce and repeat herself. So I did an odd

    Read more
  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Flamboyancy Test

    Among the course offerings announced by the University of Michigan in the fall of 2000 was an undergraduate English seminar titled “How to Be Gay.” Led by professor David M. Halperin, a well-known figure in queer studies, the class proposed to examine the Lavender Canon in all its mincing flamboyance: Judy and Liza, opera and Broadway, divas and drag, muscle queens and Mommie Dearest. “Are there,” Halperin asked, “a number of classically ‘gay’ works such that, despite changing tastes and generations, ALL gay men, of whatever class, race, or ethnicity, need to know them, in order to be gay?”

    Read more
  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Sports Authority

    When I was eleven years old, my room was a shrine to the New York City sports stars of the 1980s. The posters on my wall included the Giants’ fearsome linebacker Lawrence Taylor, the Knicks’ quicksilver forward Bernard King, and the Mets’ triumvirate of awesomeness: first baseman Keith Hernandez, outfielder Darryl Strawberry, and their phenomenal nineteen-year-old pitcher Dwight Gooden. I imitated their every move on the field, and fantasized—in an elementary-school-boy fashion—about their lives off the field. What I didn’t know was that all of these athletes had serious love affairs with

    Read more
  • print • Apr/May 2011

    Without a Savior

    I.

    The central problem of writing about South Africa is that it is almost impossible to explain the country’s slow-motion catastrophe in terms that make sense to foreigners. Consider these headlines, culled from just a fortnight’s newspapers. Johannesburg’s City Press reports that the head of the ruling party’s Political School—set up to nurture “revolutionary morality” among thieving civil servants—is declining to explain how he has come to own two new BMWs and a Maserati. South Africa’s Sunday Times alleges rampant corruption in the administration of Northern Cape province. The same paper

    Read more
  • print • Apr/May 2011

    The Good Fight

    There's not much good that reform-minded liberals can take away from the First World War. If the American Civil War was the first modern "total war," World War I greatly accelerated the West's passage into such conflict, involving fully mobilized home fronts and new modes of technological combat that produced unprecedented casualties. The Great War also proved a major setback to the European left, which was helpless as the international socialist movement's working-class constituencies fanned out in support of their home countries' nationalist causes.

    For Adam Hochschild, author of two

    Read more
  • print • Feb/Mar 2011

    The Tale of the Cables

    I.

    Much of the furor over last November’s WikiLeaks release of US diplomatic cables concerned the alleged harm that the airing of sensitive American intelligence would do to the United States on the global stage. Vice President Joe Biden denounced WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as a “high-tech terrorist,” with plenty of conservative commentators chiming in to call for Assange’s prosecution under treason, espionage, or conspiracy charges—or for, what the hell, his contract assassination by the CIA.

    True, the cables show that there was plenty of unsavory, if unsurprising, behind-the-scenes

    Read more