Eleven scholars, critics, writers, artists, and architects choose the year’s outstanding titles.


    Miriam Bratu Hansen completed Cinema and Experience: Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno (University of California Press) shortly before she died last year after a long illness. A summa of her life’s work, this magisterial book is a gift—and a must—for anyone interested in critical theory’s engagement with film, media, and mass culture; there is no other study like it. The book’s ultimately discarded working title, “The Other Frankfurt School,” pointed to

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  • Ellen Levy’s Criminal Ingenuity

    Criminal Ingenuity: Moore, Cornell, Ashbery, and the Struggle Between the Arts, by Ellen Levy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 260 pages.

    POETS CAN’T STAY OUT OF MUSEUMS, where their metaphors reign as things. Rainer Maria Rilke’s letters on Paul Cézanne give us some of the best images of the painter’s subjects, whose “apples are all cooking apples” and whose “wine bottles belong in the roundly bulging pockets of an old coat.” In his constant return to Cézanne’s 1907 memorial exhibition at Paris’s Salon d’Automne, where several paintings held him in thrall, the poet rehearsed a central

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  • Quentin Meillassoux’s The Number and the Siren

    The Number and the Siren: A Decipherment of Mallarmé’s “Coup de dés,” by Quentin Meillassoux. Falmouth, UK: Urbanomic/Sequence Press, 2012. 298 pages.

    IN MAY OF THIS YEAR, the latest contribution to the philosophico-literary genre known as “speculative realism” appeared: an English-language translation of The Number and the Siren: A Decipherment of Mallarmé’s “Coup de dés. In this rip-roaringly paranoid, critical fantasia by way of The Da Vinci Code, we follow not Robert Langdon but one Quentin Meillassoux—a youngish and meteorically successful student of Alain Badiou’s and professor at

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  • two new studies of Warhol’s films

    Douglas Crimp, “Our Kind of Movie”: The Films of Andy Warhol (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012), 184 pages; J. J. Murphy, The Black Hole of the Camera: The Films of Andy Warhol (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 320 pages.

    THE MARKET seems able to bear an almost unlimited number of books on Andy Warhol. Most are about as substantial as Uniqlo’s line of Warhol T-shirts and do just as little for his artistic reputation. Two recent publications, however—Douglas Crimp’s “Our Kind of Movie”: The Films of Andy Warhol and J. J. Murphy’s The Black Hole of the Camera: The Films of Andy

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  • Kippenberger: The Artist and His Families

    Kippenberger: The Artist and His Families, by Susanne Kippenberger, translated by Damion Searls. Atlanta: J&L Books, 2012. 592 pages.

    ON ONE OF MY FIRST VISITS TO COLOGNE, over supper and Kölsch, an older friend told me how he once reverentially brought Martin Kippenberger a bottle of liquor as a gift. And how did Kippenberger like it? No, my friend explained, he didn’t go meet him. Perhaps he didn’t dare. He put the booze in a locker at the train station, and mailed Herr Kippenberger the key.

    True or embellished, this tale has stuck with me for something it typifies about my generation’s relation

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  • Mad magazine’s early imitators

    The Sincerest Form of Parody, edited by John Benson. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2012. 208 pages. $25.

    WRITING A FEW YEARS BEFORE the advent of the counterculture, Marshall McLuhan recognized Mad magazine as a primer in dissidence: “The ten-year-old clutches his or her MAD (‘Build up your Ego with MAD’) in the same way that the Russian beatnik treasures an old [Elvis] Presley tape obtained from a G.I. broadcast.” However prescient, McLuhan was looking in the rearview mirror: The comic book that twenty-seven-year-old Harvey Kurtzman created and thirty-year-old William Gaines began publishing in the

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  • Hans Belting’s Florence and Baghdad

    Florence and Baghdad: Renaissance Art and Arab Science, by Hans Belting, translated by Deborah Lucas Schneider. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011. 312 pages. $40.

    IN HIS LATEST BOOK, published in German in 2008 and recently translated into English, Hans Belting turns to the invention of perspective and the consequences of its application in Western painting from the Renaissance onward. Belting, one of the foremost historians of medieval and Renaissance art, has published well outside his area of specialization before, but here he ranges especially far afield. His

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  • Giorgio Agamben’s The Kingdom and the Glory

    The Kingdom and the Glory: For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government, by Giorgio Agamben, Translated by Lorenzo Chiesa with Matteo Mandarini. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011. 328 pages. $25.

    EVERY PARENT—and certainly any attentive observer of parents “at work”—on some level understands the dynamic: If your authority with your children is tenuous, you end up being much more intrusively involved in the day-to-day and even minute-by-minute government of their activities. If your word carries no real symbolic power, you end up a capricious micromanager of their

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  • Judith F. Rodenbeck’s Radical Prototypes

    Radical Prototypes: Allan Kaprow and the Invention of Happenings, By Judith F. Rodenbeck. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011. 312 pages. $35.

    FEW COULD QUIBBLE with Allan Kaprow’s laconic definition of Happenings in 1966, when he spoke of them simply as “collage[s] of events in certain spans of time and in certain spaces.” But at the time, the question of what a Happening actually was—eight years after the term had been coined by Kaprow in his groundbreaking essay “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock”—had become something of an obsession. In 1965, Al Hansen had spoken of the “confusion about the

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  • David Antin’s Radical Coherency

    Radical Coherency: Selected Essays on Art and Literature, 1966 to 2005_, by David Antin. University of Chicago Press, 2011. 384 pages. $25.

    DAVID ANTIN IS most often ID’d as a poet, though usually with some qualification: “Poet-cum–performance artist” gives a better idea of what he does, but “poet-cum–performance artist–cum–stand-up philosopher” is better still. In other words, he’s sui generis, the man who reinvented oral composition for the postmodern world, and in a manner that would probably make Milman Parry turn in his grave. Although Antin is now seldom referred to as a critic, he took a

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  • Jacques Derrida’s The Beast & The Sovereign

    The Beast & The Sovereign, Vol. 2, by Jacques Derrida. Edited by Michel Lisse, Marie-Louise Mallet, and Ginette Michaud, Translated by Geoffrey Bennington. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. 320 pages. $35.

    JACQUES DERRIDA was buried in the cemetery at Ris-Orangis, near Paris, on October 12, 2004. But in this newly translated seminar, presented to students in Paris in 2002–2003, he already seems to speak from the grave. The book is a prolonged engagement with Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), ostensibly considering its unlikely conjunction with Martin Heidegger’s 1929–30 lectures

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    Ten scholars, critics, writers, and artists choose the year’s outstanding titles.


    Imagine that you are listening to a spirited conversation between a French art historian and a German painter. De Rouget and Daimler, as they are called, are at lunch on a recent October Sunday near Pontarlier. It is where Degas vacationed briefly in 1904 and where absinthe is made. In Il était plus grand que nous ne pensions: Édouard Manet et Degas (Paris: Nouvelles Éditions Scala/Collection Ateliers Imaginaires), Éric Darragon, author of a subtle biography of Manet and writings on contemporary German

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