COLUMNS

  • 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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  • 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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  • ODE INFINITUM

    Frame by Frame: A Materialist Aesthetics of Animated Cartoons, by Hannah Frank. Oakland: University of California Press, 2019. 256 pages.

    IT’S NOT EVERY DAY that a posthumously published Ph.D. thesis nudges the world of cinema studies off its axis. All hail Frame by Frame: A Materialist Aesthetics of Animated Cartoons (2019), by Hannah Frank, who completed the book shortly before her tragic death in 2017, at age thirty-two, from an illness believed to have been pneumococcal meningitis.

    Frank is not the first theory-minded cine-historian to suggest that with the advent of CGI the history of motion

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  • Strange States

    AMERICA: FILMS FROM ELSEWHERE, EDITED BY SHANAY JHAVERI. The Shoestring Publisher, 2019. 616 pages.

    THE IMAGES DRIFT BY: water coursing under ice, steam rising from rapids, a herd of antelope running in the cold, rivers so blue they seem electric, an “orange splash on the sagebrush.” In voice-over, Babette Mangolte—the French-born filmmaker responsible for this radiant footage of the American Southwest—takes turns reading a dense, digressive text with her collaborators Bruce Boston and Honora Ferguson. With some interruptions, she had spent the better part of a decade in the United States by the

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  • Speak, Vivian

    VIVIAN, BY CHRISTINA HESSELHOLDT, translated by Paul Russell Garrett. Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2019. 186 pages.

    SHE SHOT FROM THE HIP—or the heart, or the gut. From a child’s vantage, most often: the better to go unspotted. For Vivian Maier, whose status as one of the twentieth century’s foremost photographers was only recognized a decade ago, the desire for privacy was bound up with the yearning for information: visual, journalistic, human. Or was it? Our knowledge of Maier is patchy. We know that she split her adolescence between France and her native Manhattan, then spent most of her life working

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