• Wayne Koestenbaum’s Pink Trance Notebooks

    The Pink Trance Notebooks, by Wayne Koestenbaum. New York: Nightboat Books, 2015. 416 pages.

    IN A 2010 ESSAY essay on Frank O’Hara, Wayne Koestenbaum hymns what he calls the poet’s “excited devotion to the state of excitement itself.” It’s an apt description of Koestenbaum’s own modus as critic, poet, and essayist; his writing tends to verbal excess, to unabashed confessions of shame or humiliation (he has even written a book on the latter subject), and evinces an exorbitant urge toward meaning-making. “We commit a cruelty against existence if we do not interpret it to death,” he writes in The

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  • Kaja Silverman’s Miracle of Analogy

    The Miracle of Analogy, or The History of Photography, Part I, by Kaja Silverman. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015. 240 pages.

    READERS FAMILIAR WITH the work of Kaja Silverman—the renowned theorist and self-described “hardcore cultural constructivist” who came to prominence in the 1980s and ’90s—might be surprised by the title of her latest book, not least because it apparently trucks in miracles. Equally unexpected is that Silverman, known for major texts addressing semiotics, linguistics, and psychoanalysis, has written the first of two volumes that proclaim to offer

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  • Jussi Parikka’s Geology of Media

    A Geology of Media, by Jussi Parikka. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015. 224 pages.

    IF YOU TRULY BELIEVE in “nonhuman agency,” then I know a bridge that wants to sell itself to you. The idea seems to be everywhere these days: in books, articles, essays, blog posts, wall text. It’s as if theorists, with the best of intentions (and no small amount of grandiosity), having “given” agency to workers, then women, then the colonized, then racial and ethnic minorities, then homosexuals, then cyborgs, finally decided that agency was something they might as well keep giving away to anything

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  • Summer Reading


    Whither photo history and theory? A growth field in universities and museums a generation ago, it seems endangered today. For young people, photography is so last-century; for the rest of us, it is both everywhere and nowhere in a way that is very difficult to grasp. On the one hand, the great modernist accounts, such as the technophilic utopia of Benjamin and the traumatophilic pathos of Barthes, appear outdated; on the other hand, distinguished voices from somewhat outside the field feel empowered to tell us “why photography matters as never before.” (Answer 1: Its digital pictoriality

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  • Richard McGuire’s Here

    Here, by Richard McGuire. New York: Pantheon, 2014. 304 pages.

    ALL COMICS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS turn space into time, but no other graphic novel does it like Here: Its 150-odd two-page spreads depict the same place, from the same perspective, at moments that vary across hours and centuries. During the 1900s and early 2000s, when most of the graphic novel takes place, the site is a parlor, or a living room: We gather the scattered evidence and watch (it’s like collating out-of-order snapshots) as families come in, grow up, move out. Millions of years back, the place was a swamp; six hundred years

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  • Summer Reading


    I’ve spent countless hours listening to Bob and Ray, first on the original radio broadcasts, later on cassette tape or CD compilations of their greatest routines. I don’t know of any other comedy as mesmerizing or closer to the spirit of art—that ability to make a whole world out of a few ingredients. I love them extravagantly. Bob and Ray, Keener Than Most Persons by David Pollock (Applause Books) is the first behind-the-scenes study of how the duo generated their material and shaped it into such casual sublimity. I’m cheating a little, as this under-the-radar book came out in

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  • Sanford Friedman’s Conversations with Beethoven

    Conversations with Beethoven, by Sanford Friedman. New York: New York Review Books, 2014. 304 pages.

    THERE'S AN IRONIC MOMENT in J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye when the solipsistic Holden has a scheme for eliminating from his life the bother of people and conversations. It occurs at the end of the novel, just before Holden meets up with his kid sister, Phoebe, to say good-bye. He’s fed up with phonies, and he’s fed up with everyone and everything. So he sits on a park bench and concocts this plan to get away: He’ll go down to the Holland Tunnel and hitchhike far out West where it’s sunny

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  • Michel Houellebecq’s new novel

    MICHEL HOUELLEBECQ has incredible timing. His third novel, Plateforme, which centrally features a devastating Islamicist terror attack, was published a few days before September 11, 2001. Soumission (Submission), his sixth, in which a Muslim is improbably elected president of France, came out on January 7 of this year, the day of the Charlie Hebdo murders, which was also the day Charlie Hebdo itself paid sardonic homage to the author on its cover. And because his new novel is, among other things, a satirical vision of Islam-on-the-Seine, it became an immediate succès de scandale, selling out

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  • Jean-Michel Basquiat

    The Notebooks, by Jean-Michel Basquiat, edited by Larry Warsh. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015. 306 pages.

    Widow Basquiat: A Love Story, by Jennifer Clement. New York: Broadway Books, 2014. 208 pages.

    THE SHOW OF EARLY NOTEBOOKS and drawings by Jean-Michel Basquiat opening this month at the Brooklyn Museum in New York places a focus on the artist’s formative works, which might provide a clearer and more profound understanding of his artistic intentions and methods than do larger exhibitions of later pieces. Eight marble notebooks, with their archetypal sketches and long lists of

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  • Trisha Baga’s The Great Pam

    The Great Pam, by Trisha Baga. Berlin: Edition Société, 2014. 232 pages. Edition of 120.

    TRISHA BAGA IS FLUENT in the emotional manipulation of popular culture. From Madonna to Plymouth Rock to American Beauty, the artist channels and contorts the manufactured affect of mass culture in her immersive videos, installations, and performances. And if her environments are often overwhelming, with maximal arrays of information being emitted by screens and sounds and objects, they nevertheless deploy their cultural clichés with pinpoint accuracy, situating the viewer not only in a specific historical

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  • the writings of Gregory J. Markopoulos

    Film as Film: The Collected Writings of Gregory J. Markopoulos; edited by Mark Webber. London: The Visible Press, 2014. 560 pages.

    IT IS AN OLD COMMONPLACE of advanced art that the deserving audience will emerge only in a time to come. This emphasis on futurity is built into the very term avant-garde, with its invocation of a movement forward by a select group to which the rest will catch up only later, if ever. American experimental filmmaker Gregory Markopoulos (1928–1992) presents a particularly extreme and fascinating case of this anticipatory wager. After earning recognition as a major

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  • Keller Easterling’s Extrastatecraft

    Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space, by Keller Easterling. London and New York: Verso, 2014. 252 pages.

    KELLER EASTERLING’S Extrastatecraft is the latest installment in her vitally important ongoing analysis of the rapidly changing physical and political landscapes of twenty-first-century capitalism. Over the past decade and a half, the prolific Easterling has undertaken substantive studies of this subject through a rapid-fire set of essays, lectures, and books. Earlier volumes—such as Enduring Innocence: Global Architecture and Its Political Masquerades (2005)—mined a

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