COLUMNS

  • Slant

    Being “Economical with the Truth”

    THE PUBLIC FACE OF the war in Britain and the United States seems, as far as one can tell from this side of the Atlantic, to have been nearly the same. The best proof of this came in an interview on BBC radio with three American foreign editors. The British interviewer expressed the general opinion among his colleagues that American military spokesmen were more forthcoming than their British counterparts; the Americans countered with their belief that the reverse was true. An unfamiliar accent produces the illusion of more information and more sense, when the product is exactly the same.

    The

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  • Slant

    Reversal of Fortune

    The effect is certain but unlocatable, it does not find its sign, its name; it is sharp and yet lands in a vague zone of myelf; it is acute yet muffled, it cries out in silence. Odd contradiction: a floating flash.

    —Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, 1981

    It is a bitterly cold night in Newport, Rhode Island, several days before Christmas 1980. The camera focuses on the lavish dining room of Clarendon Court, the palatial estate of Martha “Sunny” von Bülow and her second husband, Claus von Bülow. The attractive von Bülow family—Claus, Sunny, their teenage daughter Cosima, and Sunny’s 21-year old son

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  • Slant

    Queer Nation

    OVER COCKTAILS, at gallery openings, during street protests, and in darkened auditoriums, we have become accustomed to invoking what cultural critic Kobena Mercer has tellingly dubbed “the mantra” (say it with me now): “class-race-gender-sexuality. Class-race-gender-sexuality.” Mercer’s evocation of the nearly evangelical fervor with which so many of us name difference recognizes that our naming is at once perfunctory and guilt-ridden. But he also serves us a provocation, a call to disentangle overlapping systems of oppression. Careful social and cultural analysis, as literary theorist Eve

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  • Slant

    Czechered History

    It’s been a long time since the Rolling Stones have mattered enough to rock the body politic. Once, through music and otherwise, they seemed to be saying something serious, even in their habits of consumption—as in the 1967 marijuana and uppers bust that made Jagger and Richards symbolic foci of a new generation’s new life and of the establishment’s reaction to it. Attacking the heavy sentence (later overturned), a London Times editorialist was moved to ask, “Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?,” adding his brick to a romantic construction inside which everything the band did had weight. But then

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  • Books

    Notes on the Underground

    Notes on the Underground: An Essay on Technology, Society, and the Imagination, by Rosalind Williams. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990, 265 pp., 17 black and white illustrations, $19.95.

    JUST AS the historian of religion Mircea Eliade argued that the Neolithic shift from a pastoral, nomadic way of life to a settled, agricultural civilization precipitated a phase of profound upheaval and spiritual breakdown, so Rosalind Williams contends in her new book, Notes on the Underground, that the apprehension of losing the natural world to a predominantly technological one has triggered deep mourning

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  • Books

    The Art of the Insane

    The Discovery of the Art of the Insane, by John M. MacGregor. Princeton: at the University Press, 1989, 390 pp., 29 color and 168 black and white illustrations.

    THIS BOOK IS A treasure trove of information, a masterpiece of detective work and intellectual archaeology: John M. MacGregor has undoubtedly succeeded in his “historical reconstruction of the process” whereby the art of the insane “entered consciousness for the first time as a reality of scientific and aesthetic significance.” Of special interest to an art audience is MacGregor’s theory of the psychiatrist Etienne Georget’s influence on

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  • Slant

    The Deadman

    A DEAD MAN LIES NAKED, sprawled across a bed. From somewhere there’s the oppressive drone of a buzzing fly; a nearly naked woman flees the scene. Peggy Ahwesh’s and Keith Sanborn’s take on Georges Bataille’s story “The Deadman” begins like art-house pulp, an adults-only Kiss Me Deadly, but it quickly becomes something less comfortable. This is not warmed-over noir, it’s sex—raw, erotic, pornographic, maybe even feminist. So strong you can smell it.

    During the ’70s, feminist intellectuals here and abroad—Laura Mulvey wrote the landmark “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” in 1973—established a

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