COLUMNS

  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • TALES FROM THE CRYPT

    The Glen Park Library: A Fairy Tale of Disruption, by Pamela M. Lee. New York and San Francisco: No Place Press, 2019. 112 pages.

    IN OUR NEOLIBERAL GILDED AGE, it has become commonplace, even banal, for tech barons and venture capitalists to style themselves “disruptors” and “revolutionaries.” Both designations trade on heroic machismo to repackage corporate greed as the glorious stuff of myth. Flash points and pivots are sexy, after all, and even better when inflated with historic consequence. But culture, too, succumbs to the seductive cast of epoch-making violence; “disruption” is also the

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