COLUMNS

  • Marguerite Duras's Me & Other Writing and Duras/Godard Dialogues

    A certain scene between Marguerite Duras and Susan Sontag, told to me by someone who was friends with both and seated between them while Susan was visiting Paris, goes like this: Duras had just made a new film, and, in keeping with her character, she spoke at Susan in a monologic séance, going on and on about herself, her new film, and critical reactions to her new film. After speaking for most of the occasion they were together, Duras suddenly quieted and seemed to notice Sontag qua Sontag, and not just any old audience to her tirade. “Susan! My goodness. I have only talked and talked, and I

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  • Yvonne Rainer's Work 1961–73

    A big black-and-white book, first published in 1973 and prettily reissued by Primary Information, Work 1961–73 collects screenplays, photographs, flyers, and essays, which comprise an odd monument to thirteen years of scrupulous, self-inflicted, paradoxically rebellious discipline that took the form, for Yvonne Rainer, of dances and films. Devotees will find much to relish: Loaded with documentation and reflections, the book gives a sinuous and often funny account of the first stirrings of Judson Dance Theater, breathing life into an avant-garde now hardened into history. But it’s also a tour

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  • Ciaran Carson's Still Life

    The poet Ciaran Carson, who died of lung cancer in October 2019, was master of the long line, and chronicler of his hometown’s civil war. Books like Belfast Confetti (1989) will survive. Still Life, whose title is similarly painful, was published in Ireland in the month of Carson’s death, and in the US this past February (Wake Forest). It bids farewell to life in a sequence of seventeen poems about paintings and prints, all of them treasured, one or two of them—a still life of a bowl by Jeffrey Morgan, a print by James Allen—in the poet’s possession.

    Many poets write poems about paintings; few,

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  • Gene Youngblood's Expanded Cinema

    Stan VanDerBeek coined the phrase “expanded cinema.” But it was Gene Youngblood who put it on the cover of a book, filled it with rocket fuel, and sent it buzzing through the late-1960s art world like a heat-seeking missile. For its fiftieth anniversary, Expanded Cinema has been lovingly reissued by Fordham University Press with a substantial new memoir-ish introduction by the author. The volume reminds us to locate the techno-anarchic edge of what became “new media” on the left coast, where filmmakers, psychedelic engineers, and intermedia practitioners wrested cybernetics from its military

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  • Suzanne Preston Blier's Picasso’s Demoiselles: The Untold Origins of a Modern Masterpiece

    In Picasso’s Demoiselles: The Untold Origins of a Modern Masterpiece (Duke), Suzanne Preston Blier presents a deeply nuanced investigation into the mysteries of the links between Pablo Picasso’s Les demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, and African art and the African presence in Europe. Weaving together an intricate tapestry (genealogy?) composed of the works of other artists (André Derain, Henri Matisse) and writers (Gertrude Stein) in Picasso’s circle; the scene at his studio, Le Bateau-Lavoir, in Montmartre; then-extant collections of ethnographic photographs of nude women of color; and the African

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  • Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning

    A well-aimed spear of a book, Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning (Penguin Random House) has as much to say about artistic interpretation as it does about the exhausting arithmetic faced by every human raced as Asian in America. Touching on topics such as credential accumulation, racial divides, and the complexities of ethnicity and transnational movement, this collection of essays quickly, if sometimes unevenly, articulates the pursuit of credibility whose stakes are nothing less than survival. Evoking the just barely suppressed exasperation Adrian Piper displays in

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  • Morgan Bassichis's The Odd Years

    The Odd Years (Wendy’s Subway), by Morgan Bassichis, is among my favorite books of the year. Is it poetry, comedy, a book of to-do lists? Yes! It is also a historically important artist’s book that I place in a lineage with Ed Ruscha’s A Few Palm Trees (1971), Lawrence Weiner’s Works (1977), Martha Rosler’s Service: A Trilogy on Colonization (1978), and Glenn Ligon’s A People on the Cover (2015), as well as canonical pieces of Conceptual art such as Lee Lozano’s language pieces and Hanne Darboven’s calendars, marked with her distinctive spirals. The Odd Years is a collection of weekly to-do

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  • Achille Mbembe’s Necropolitics

    At the outset of lockdown, some friends and I revived an old reading group we once had when we all lived in Los Angeles, holding weekly meetings over Zoom. Achille Mbembe’s Necropolitics (Duke) was our anchor text. The book further defines and mobilizes the neologism of its title, the Cameroonian philosopher’s signature term from his famous 2003 essay of the same name. Mbembe writes that “becoming a subject . . . supposes upholding the work of death,” that politics and sovereignty are linked more to a “right to kill” than to the preservation of life. The language of freedom, democracy, and

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  • Svetlana Alpers’s Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch

    The first 143 pages of Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch (Princeton), Svetlana Alpers’s new book, are given over to full-page reproductions of Evans’s photographs. No preface, set of acknowledgments, or copyright page precedes or interrupts the pictures. Even captions have been swept off the page. (They appear in list form after the plates.) Alpers asks us, quite literally, to look before we read. Her book’s layout mirrors that of American Photographs (1938) and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), but it also embodies her commitment to the primacy of photographic looking and making.

    Alpers’s

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  • Body Meets World

    SARA HENDREN IS A HUMANIST IN TECH—an artist, design researcher, writer, and professor at Olin College of Engineering. Her work has been widely exhibited and is held in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York; her writing and design have been featured on NPR, in Fast Company, and in the New York Times. Below, she discusses her new book What Can A Body Do? How We Meet the Built World (Penguin Random House, 2020) and the unexpected places disability can be found at the heart of everyday design: household objects, architecture,

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  • Flash Point

    Photography and Belief by David Levi Strauss. David Zwirner Books, 2020. 96 pages.

    ON APRIL 17, 2018, a video is released by BuzzFeed of Barack Obama, sitting comfortably in the Oval Office. He turns to the camera and tells us that Donald Trump “is a total and complete dipshit.” The form of this video, if not its content, seems plausible. It is, of course, a “deepfake,” manufactured by comedian Jordan Peele using Adobe After Effects and FakeApp––generic software that employs neural networks and machine learning to generate convincing simulacra. The video isn’t all silly, though. Peele goes on to

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  • Open City

    Cosmopolitan Radicalism: The Visual Politics of Beirut’s Global Sixties by Zeina Maasri. Cambridge University Press, 2020. 342 pages.

    TWO WHITE WOMEN IN BIKINIS, feet planted in the froth of the Mediterranean, backdropped by Beirut’s iconic Raouché rocks. Bannered across the top left corner of the photograph, in yellow, an unlikely milestone—THE DAY THEY ABOLISHED WINTER—accompanied by looks of self-satisfaction, as if the pair had done it themselves. This image appeared in a December 1969 issue of The Economist, in an ad placed by the National Council for Tourism in Lebanon (NCTL). Backed by

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