COLUMNS

  • Red Score

    STOCKHAUSEN SERVES IMPERIALISM, BY CORNELIUS CARDEW. New York: Primary Information, 2020. 126 pages. 

    CORNELIUS CARDEW’S SOLO PIANO INTERPRETATION of the Chinese Cultural Revolution anthem “Sailing the Seas Depends on the Helmsman,” from his 1974 record Four Principles on Ireland and Other Pieces, is spry and cheery, a toe-tapping minute-and-a-half frolic across the ivories. Though its folky character shines, Cardew’s featherweight playing belies the song’s heavy ideological underpinnings. Its lyrics: “The revolutionary masses cannot do without the Communist Party / Mao Zedong Thought is the sun

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  • Nothing Happens

    ELEMENTARY POETRY, BY ANDREI MONASTYRSKI, translated by Brian Droitcour and Yelena Kalinsky. Preface by Boris Groys. Ugly Duckling Presse and Soberscove Press, 2019. 328 pages.

    ON FEBRUARY 1, 1981, a group of ten artists trekked off into the snowy woods outside Moscow. When they reached a clearing, they huddled around a wooden board studded with ten spools of white thread. Each participant—Ilya Kabakov, Oleg Vassiliev, and Yuri Albert among them—was instructed to take up the loose end of his or her thread and walk two hundred to three hundred meters into the forest, until they could no longer

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  • SENSES OF HUMOR

    Saturn and Melancholy: Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy, Religion, and Art, by Raymond Klibansky, Erwin Panofsky, and Fritz Saxl. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019. 632 pages.

    ACCORDING TO AN ANCIENT TEXT attributed to Aristotle, black bile “can induce paralysis or torpor or depression or anxiety when it prevails in the body; but if it is overheated it produces cheerfulness, bursting into song, and ecstasies and the eruption of sores and the like.” Such “fits of exaltation” were believed to be conducive to creative achievement. “Maracus, the Syracusan,” the text tells

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  • INFORMATION WAR

    The Detroit Printing Co-op: The Politics of the Joy of Printing, by Danielle Aubert. Los Angeles: Inventory Press, 2019. 240 pages.

    A YEAR AFTER the May 1968 uprisings in France, essayist Maurice Blanchot defended the revolt—which, beginning as a student movement, had culminated in a near-cataclysmic general strike—as an expression of social treason: “In the so-called ‘student’ action, students never acted as students but rather as revealers of a general crisis, as bearers of a power of rupture putting into question the regime, the State, society.” In breaching the norms of the ruling order, this

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  • Empire Records

    Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism, by Ariella Aïsha Azoulay. London and New York: Verso, 2019. 634 pages. 

    INSTITUTIONAL EFFORTS to de-imperialize museum collections over the past several years have offered technocratic solutions to an existential problem. Following French President Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 commitment to repatriate Sub-Saharan African objects housed in French museums and the subsequent, widely publicized report by Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy proposing that the restitution of cultural property should be implemented on a state level, the British Museum has announced that

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  • COSMIC CONSCIOUSNESS

    Expanded Cinema, by Gene Youngblood. New York: Fordham University Press, 2020. 464 pages.

    WHAT IF FILM CRITICISM could be read as science fiction? The thought crossed my mind as I was revisiting Gene Youngblood’s influential 1970 survey, Expanded Cinema. Republished by Fordham University Press on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary after decades out of print, it’s a book that functions as history and augury at once. Youngblood offers, as the title suggests, an integrative approach to some of the most radical nodes of moviemaking in the 1960s, bringing together bodies of work that might

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  • LEAVES OF GRASS

    SCROLL WAS FIRST USED AS A VERB in the 1600s to describe a particular method of writing. Its current definition, having more to do with the navigation of text than with its creation, was introduced in the early 1970s, at the same time that Michelle Stuart finished her first banner-like frottage of a patch of ground—in this case, in Woodstock, New York. In the contemporary context, scrolling is so effortless—requiring just the touch of a finger to touch pad or screen—that it hardly seems to qualify as an action. But centuries ago, it might have involved slowly unwinding yards of parchment from

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  • Terry Castle

    Benjamin Moser’s Sontag: Her Life and Work (Ecco) succeeds as it does—magnificently, humanely—by displaying the same intellectual purchase, curiosity, and moral capaciousness to which his subject laid so inspiring and noble a claim over a lifetime. Susan Sontag was a difficult, galvanic presence in American arts and letters for half a century, and her biographer takes her measure with unfailing intelligence, honesty, and sympathy.

    So far, so blurby. (Yet heartfelt.) But there was a glaring problem with Sontag, of course: the fantastical scarecrow unpleasantness she could turn on anyone—friend,

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  • Pamela M. Lee

    How to model kinship when Jim Crow demands otherwise? What constitutes intimacy for the legatees of race slavery and social death? The “revolution in a minor key” of Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Stories of Social Upheaval (W. W. Norton) is not led by the proper names of history—traditionally a mythomaniacal retread of a heroic actor across the world’s stage. Instead, Hartman elaborates a counternarrative centered on young black women and genderqueers living in New York and Philadelphia at the turn of the twentieth century and forging their errant paths. For

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  • Gary Lutz

    I’ve been swooning over the gusto and graces of Peter Schjeldahl’s prose ever since his days at the Village Voice, so in my estimation, Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light, 100 Art Writings, 1988–2018 (Abrams) is a gift for anyone alert to the sorts of miracles that can be wrought within the span of a single thrillsome sentence. Whether working as a miniaturist within the paragraphic confines of the Goings on About Town section of the New Yorker or dilating into the larger space of the essay (with a word count often not much higher than that of the average op-ed tantrum), Schjeldahl, a virtuoso of compressed,

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  • Imani Perry

    I held Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House (Grove Press) tenderly in my hands even before I knew the subject matter. After I read the first section—a narrative map that leads to the yellow house, her family’s home—I wept. You might not know how rare it is to see Black living laid out on paper, but it is. When it is done, and done beautifully, you have a masterpiece. Think Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Edward P. Jones’s The Known World.

    See what you have been trained not to see, and you will understand much more about life and the world. The yellow house sat in New Orleans East, which held and

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  • Douglas Crase

    Timothy Donnelly’s new collection, The Problem of the Many (Wave Books), arrives with one of its constituent poems already a classic. “Hymn to Life,” which appeared as a chapbook in 2014, praised life by singing a hymn to extinctions instead, especially those that have occurred while humans were intent on self-referential trivia. The question has been whether Donnelly could live up to his masterpiece; the thrill is that he clearly has. And then some. The title of his new book derives from an issue in philosophy (some say metaphysics) that arises in the case of an object, such as a cloud or even

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