COLUMNS

  • 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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  • Harry Dodge

    A jolt of pleasure runs through my chest each time I look through Stephen Gill’s monograph The Pillar (Nobody Books), which consists of 120 photographs mostly of birds in various moments of liftoff and landing. (A separate pamphlet proffers a short, stirring essay titled “Birdland,” by Karl Ove Knausgaard.) Gill attached a motion-sensor camera to a rural fence and for three years captured images of creatures who might come to rest on a nearby post (the titular pillar). The results are chaotic and riveting.

    Shot mechanically, bodilessly, the photos exude a goopy, persistent extrinsicity. Rarely

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  • Elvia Wilk

    A Ted Chiang story is easy to recognize and impossible to imitate. Seven of the nine comprising his new collection, Exhalation (Knopf), have been previously published, but taken together they are enlightening. Each piece feels invented from scratch, as Chiang masterfully moves between references to, say, steampunk, classical mythology, and Black Mirror–esque corporate dystopia on a single page. And yet he resists inhabiting any genre, instead retaining his own voice and distinct aesthetic sensibility throughout.

    I’m not the only one obsessed. Chiang has a cult following, due as much to his writing

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  • Mac Wellman

    I would like to briefly mention a new and splendid novel by Helen Phillips, someone whose writing I first encountered when she was a student at Brooklyn College some years ago. Her newest work of fiction, The Need (Simon & Schuster), has recently been published, and it is, in my opinion, quite a strange and wonderful book. Strangely wonderful, I should say!

    The story concerns the family of a young woman named Molly and her two children, the toddler Viv and the infant Ben. Phillips describes in a graphic yet unpredictable way the joys and difficulties of being a young mother: breastfeeding, changing

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  • Zeynep Çelik Alexander

    How to speak when misinformation threatens the legitimacy of speech itself? W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America (Princeton Architectural Press) is an account of how the great American sociologist provided an answer to that question when he prepared the “Exhibit of American Negroes” for the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. With the help of students and alumni from Atlanta University, Du Bois set aside contemplative prose, his usual weapon, and instead produced a series of colorful infographics that relayed his message to contemporaneous audiences with the force

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  • Marina Vishmidt

    In a social order held together by the bones of those who didn’t survive it, cancer can act as a lenticular tool to hold our fates in high resolution. The uninsured and underinsured suffer, decline, and die quickly, mostly; the insured suffer, decline, and undie, ideally. But to undie is not quite the same as to live, even if the terminal shadow takes on iridescence with every day that marks your distance from it. Anne Boyer’s The Undying (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), her concatenated memoir of undergoing treatment for aggressive breast cancer, has at its core “the most optimistic form of

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  • Marwa Helal

    As the [art] world makes room for the displaced within its spaces, The New Nomadic Age: Archaeologies of Forced and Undocumented Migration (Equinox), edited by Yannis Hamilakis, is a necessary read for those interested in digesting and constructing our respective stories with integrity. As Hamilakis writes in the introduction, “[The texts] are not just about migrants: they concern everyone, as the migration phenomenon reshapes the contemporary world overall.”

    An incredible transdisciplinary and transcultural study of the global phenomenon of migration, the collected texts cover a wide range of

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  • Morgan Bassichis

    Last winter, Gregg Bordowitz, ever the yenta, gave me and Douglas Crimp a copy of the Bible, because neither of us had read it. (For the sake of “Best of 2019,” let’s call it Robert Alter’s The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary [W. W. Norton]. In our shared ignorance—Douglas’s because of his devout skepticism of religion, and mine because of an evangelical loyalty to television—we started where it literally all began, in the Book of Genesis. We took turns reading to each other about humans trying and failing to be better, shouted at the misogyny of blaming Eve for everything, tried to

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  • Socialist Media

    AGENTS OF ABSTRACTION, BY ANA OFAK. Sternberg Press, 2019. 389 pages.

    BLAME IT ON THE SPOMENIKS. All asymmetrical concrete stems, rippling aluminium wings, and bold swooping bodies, these massive monuments read more like Starfleet spaceships, crash-landed amid the forests of former Yugoslavia. Often sited in remote rural areas, these abstract memorials were commissioned primarily in the 1960s and ’70s as part of a nationwide push—yes, one fronted by charismatic president Josip Broz Tito (who tends to get the sole credit for “Tito’s monuments”), but, in keeping with Yugoslavia’s signature emphasis

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  • Notes on Cant

    Composed over the past decade, Masha Tupitsyn’s Picture Cycle (2019) is a book of essays that considers the shift from analog to digital as an analogy for the psychic turn to binary, reactive, accelerated, and impatient spectatorship. Expanding the style of her 2007 book, Beauty Talk & Monsters, Tupitsyn combines criticism, philosophy, and autobiography to create pathways out of our current melancholic replay and media narcissism. Deftly recording the cultural loss of the cinematic sensibility in culture, she simultaneously confronts lost time, lost desire, and lost love. Tupitsyn’s singular

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  • GHOSTS IN THE MACHINE

    Haunted Bauhaus: Occult Spirituality, Gender Fluidity, Queer Identities, and Radical Politics, by Elizabeth Otto. MIT Press, 2019. 296 pages.

    THE TANTALIZING TITLE of Elizabeth Otto’s new book brings to mind the maverick scholar Mel Gordon’s Voluptuous Panic (2000) and Horizontal Collaboration (2015), pictorial studies of the sexual countercultures of Weimar Germany and occupied Paris, respectively. Published on the one hundredth anniversary of the school’s founding, Otto’s book isn’t as wiggy as those precursors, but it does humanize what she calls the “paradigmatic movement of rational modernism”

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  • FAST COMPANY

    Robert Williams: The Father of Exponential Imagination, by Robert Williams. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2019. 484 pages.

    THERE’S NO SUCH THING as a “popular imagination,” but some artists do access and describe localized dreamworlds comprising popular icons, histories, and lore shared if not by an entire populace then by sizable groups. Robert Williams is one such mythologist, his devotion to the arcana of twentieth-century culture suffusing narrative paintings indebted as much to 1950s Benzedrine-powered cartooning as to classicism. Like other practitioners of a hyperbolic figuration whose perversions

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