Books

  • Laurence Rickels’s SPECTRE

    I CONFESS THAT I have always found James Bond somewhat dull, but apparently that was the idea. Ian Fleming, author of the Bond novels, conceived his hero as a boring character, a cipher, around whom interesting things happened. Indeed, he lifted the moniker James Bond from an ornithologist of the time, for its exemplary blandness. Betraying his own preferences, theorist Laurence Rickels has titled his new study of Fleming’s spy novels SPECTRE, not after Bond or Fleming but in honor of the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion, Fleming’s fictional United

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  • T. J. Clark’s Picasso and Truth

    IN 2009, T. J. Clark delivered the fifty-eighth installment of the A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Those six talks have now been published under the title Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica, and together they constitute an exemplary lesson in art criticism and the significance of the act of looking.

    In his book, Clark cites various thinkers for whom he feels a special affinity (and whose ideas, he believes, are keys to understanding Picasso’s work). Prominent among them are Nietzsche and Wittgenstein. What attracts him to the latter

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  • Making Art Global

    AROUND THE TURN OF THE MILLENNIUM, books dealing with the relatively new art-historical subgenre of exhibition history were few and far between. The category pretty much comprised the anthology Thinking About Exhibitions (Bruce W. Ferguson et al., 1996), Bruce Altshuler’s The Avant-Garde in Exhibition (1998), and Mary Anne Staniszewski’s The Power of Display (1998). These methodologically disparate works had little in common beyond their obscurity: Simply being aware of them felt like being part of an esoteric minority seeking cult knowledge. Since the late 2000s, however, as institutionally

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  • Alain Badiou and Jacques Rancière

    ALAIN BADIOU has likened the relation between philosophy and art to that between master and hysteric in Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic terms. The hysteric seeks a master to explain to her who she is and to convert her unprocessed truth into a form of transmissible knowledge. But the hysteric—or art—is never satisfied with what she is told. Philosophy’s answers always fall short or miss the mark, and his own status as master is ultimately called into question.

    To preserve his authority, philosophy has three choices. He can, taking decisive measures, as Plato proposed should be done with

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  • Mary Ann Caws’s Modern Art Cookbook

    The Modern Art Cookbook, by Mary Ann Caws. London: Reaktion Books, 2013. 256 pages.

    “CAN YOU TASTE / WHAT I’M SAYING?” asks poet Philip Levine. It is this everyday intermingling of the senses that literary and art historian Mary Ann Caws explores in The Modern Art Cookbook. This is where I come across Levine’s question, and his corresponding reply, which demonstrates that synesthesia—the effect one sense can have on another—is able to open up otherwise unknown labyrinths of sensual knowledge:

    It is onions or potatoes, a pinch

    of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious,

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  • Didier Eribon’s Returning to Reims

    Returning to Reims, by Didier Eribon. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e)/Foreign Agents, 2013. 240 pages.

    TO READERS who followed America’s culture-war shoot-outs of the 1980s and ’90s, Didier Eribon will forever be linked to Michel Foucault and Claude Lévi-Strauss. In his biography of the former and book-length interview with the latter, Eribon brought a journalist’s clarity to works that were models of intelligence leavened with implicit critical admiration. In the decades since, he made the transition from journalist to academic, but he never ceased to act as a dynamic mediator of worlds. In a country

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  • Peter Osborne’s Anywhere or Not at All

    Anywhere or Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art, by Peter Osborne. London: Verso, 2013. 282 pages.

    WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE CONTEMPORARY? As a rule, it means to miss a great deal. A visitor to the Sistine Chapel circa 1525—barely a decade after Michelangelo finished painting it—referred in his diary to what is today perhaps the most famous image in the Western world as one “of an old man, in the middle of the ceiling, who is represented in the act of flying through the air.” The diarist in question (the bishop of Nocera) should not be judged harshly for not recognizing God, since,

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  • Jonathan Crary’s 24/7

    24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, by Jonathan Crary. Verso, 2013. 144 pages.

    JONATHAN CRARY’S dark, brilliant book 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep analyzes the nonstop demands of the contemporary global capitalist system and laments the damage we suffer from being caught up in the fascination and relentless rhythms of its technological production and consumption. This brief volume’s central claim is not that we are always awake—although Crary notes the growing prevalence of insomnia and use of neuropharmaceutical sleep suppressants and alertness aids—but rather

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  • trans-American modernism

    BY NOW, WE’VE COME TO UNDERSTAND MODERNISM as a far more hybrid affair than the likes of Clement Greenberg would have it; one defined, even, by a kind of border crossing that broke down traditional categories and subsequently reinvented art’s situation. Less often told is the story of modernist exchange across actual geographic boundaries, as explored in two recent publications: Making Art Panamerican: Cultural Policy and the Cold War by Claire F. Fox, and Mexico and American Modernism by Ellen G. Landau.

    Positioning art as the site and the arbiter of a complex twentieth-century narrative of

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  • Elizabeth Peyton

    ELIZABETH PEYTON

    I was going to write about two books I got at the bookstore yesterday: Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880–1918 (Vintage) and Janet Malcolm’s Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), which both look like great, engrossing reads, but . . . then I was reminded that I still haven’t even gotten around to the Victoria and Albert Museum’s “David Bowie is” catalogue. Edited by the exhibition’s curators, Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh, the volume includes so many amazing writers—Jon Savage, Camille Paglia,

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  • John Waters

    JOHN WATERS

    I always look forward to Lionel Shriver’s novels—especially in summer, because she writes the exact opposite of an easy “beach read.” The last one I devoured, So Much for That (2010), was such a feel-bad book about cancer (with an entirely believable insanely happy ending) that it made me feel like either killing myself or planning a joyous vacation. I can’t wait to get my hands on her new one, Big Brother (HarperCollins). It concerns morbid obesity and fame. Don’t they go together like love and marriage, a horse and carriage? Here’s the real reason I love Lionel Shriver:

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  • Thelma Golden

    THELMA GOLDEN

    While I usually think of summer as a chance to indulge in fiction, this year I’ll be reading Huey Copeland’s Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America (University of Chicago Press). Copeland will look through a twenty-first-century lens at the legacy of slavery and will offer the first in-depth examination of how four groundbreaking artists—Renée Green, Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson, and Fred Wilson—reimagine and represent the enslaved. His volume captures a moment of innovation spanning the late 1980s and early ’90s, unpacking the

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