Maurice Berger

  • Introduction

    IF WE LOOK TOO HARD—or better, hard enough—at “masculinity,” its meaning dissipates, “as when a word is repeated over and over.” This image is from an essay by filmmaker Todd Haynes that appears in this special section of Artforum. Several decades of feminist, gay and lesbian, and race studies have subjected the masculine imperative to sustained inquiry, simultaneously challenging the fixity of gender designations and exposing them as vaporous propositions; nevertheless, it remains difficult for us to talk about our power as men. Looking hard at masculinity is what Haynes does in his text (as

  • A Clown’s Coat

    THE DEMAND FOR LOVE. Thus Roland Barthes captions the odd photograph of his mother holding him. He is perhaps six or seven. He is almost as tall as she, almost too big to be held in this way. The adult Barthes can already be read in his face: the pale skin, the thick blond hair, the anxious, deeply set eyes, the large nose, the full lips. His limbs are attenuated; his feet and hands are delicate. He clings longingly, even desperately to her. His head sweetly touching hers, they both gaze directly into the lens of the camera. Is he demanding love from her, we wonder, or is she demanding it from


    Last November, the Democratic National Committee asked New York gallerist Ronald Feldman to submit documents to the transition team of President-Elect Bill Clinton in support of the National Endowment for the Arts. To write the proposal Feldman enlisted Maurice Berger, a frequent contributor to Artforum. The proposal, which we are happy to publish below, was sent to the president-elect in early December with supporting signatures representing a broad spectrum of the nation’s cultural communities.
    The Editors

    OVER THE PAST 12 years, our country has faced a serious crisis as a powerful minority of religious and political activists has attempted to stifle cultural freedom. For artists and other cultural figures, no form of interference has been more dramatic than the destructive limitations imposed on the National Endowment for the Arts since 1981. During the past decade, the NEA, an organization established to further the availability and excellence of the arts in the United States, has been under attack, its programs and awards subject to arbitrary acts of censorship and repression. The Endowment’s

  • Richard Bolton's Culture Wars

    Culture Wars: Documents from the Recent Controversies in the Arts, edited by Richard Bolton. New York: The New Press, 1992.

    WHEN PATRICK BUCHANAN proclaimed at the Republican National Convention this summer that America was in the midst of a “cultural war,” it became clear that he had gone too far in allowing the venomous bigotry of the far right to slip out in full view of America. As with the crazed Joseph McCarthy at the end of his reign of terror, one could detect desperation in Buchanan’s sneering tone. After all, he was speaking to a nation that has grown increasingly weary of manipulation

  • Harper's Bazaar

    FOR SEVERAL MONTHS this summer, New York busses and bus stops sported ads showing supermodel Linda Evangelista voguing for Harper’s Bazaar. The ad turned out to be a slightly altered version of the fashion mag’s September cover—a much studied text in that it announced the arrival of HB’s new editor-in-chief, Elizabeth Tilberis. Against an all-white ground, the striking Evangelista peered at us from behind a raised arm sheathed in a black beaded-net bodysuit by Donna Karan. In a neat design gimmick, the third a in Bazaar slipped from the magazine’s logo into the model’s hand, cupped in an ambiguous

  • the NEA

    IN THE LATE SPRING of this year, local and state arts groups received their copies of a promotional film sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. The purpose of this nine-minute movie, issued in anticipation of the agency’s Congressional reauthorization battle over the summer, is to reassure the country of the NEA’s wholesomeness. To the accompaniment of that supremely comforting public figure Walter Cronkite reciting clichés about the beauty and efficacy of the arts, Native Americans dance, students tour a museum, Zubin Mehta conducts the New York Philharmonic, and Ray Charles

  • Oliver Stone's JFK

    LATE IN JANUARY, Pat Dowell resigned as film critic for the Washingtonian magazine when its editor, Jack Limpert, pulled one of her reviews from the February issue. As Limpert saw it, the piece praised an “extremely dumb movie,” and left its “bizarre picture of Washington” unchallenged. He had a professional responsibility, he felt, “to protect the magazine’s reputation”—a reputation that presumably would have been jeopardized, at least in establishment circles, by Dowell’s description of the film as a “brilliantly crafted indictment of history as an official story.”

    Much of the rest of the

  • Maurice Berger

    DURING A RECENT, EXTRAORDINARY EPISODE of the CBS sitcom Designing Women, cast members engaged in an alternately horrifying and hilarious recapitulation of the divisive issues raised by the Hill-Thomas hearings. Mary Jo Shively, for example, an angry, newly committed feminist who wore a green shirt emblazoned with the words “He Did It,” wondered if Senator John C. Danforth’s off-the-wall theories about Professor Hill’s sanity were a reflection of his own mental problems. The preppy, uptight Allison Sugarbaker, donning a shirt that read “She Lied,” insisted that Judge Thomas was the victim of

  • Todd Haynes’ Poison

    A child is born and he is given a name. Suddenly, he can see himself. He recognizes his position in the world. For many, this experience, like that of being born, is one of horror.1

    DURING THE OPENING CREDITS of Todd Haynes’ recent film Poison, a boy’s hand slowly riffles through the objects in his foster parents’ bedroom. The room is dark, and the camera wanders contemplatively along with the child’s fingers as they grasp seductive things—sequined fabric, a strand of pearls, silk brocade, a tassel, coins, a hairbrush, a porcelain box—and then, one by one, set them back in place. The

  • Black Power / White Fear

    IN 1978, Boston’s public broadcasting station WGBH—ostensibly committed to politically provocative and liberal broadcasting—commissioned filmmakers David Koff and Musindo Mwinyipembe to produce Blacks Britannica, “a one-hour film documenting blacks in Britain speaking about the socioeconomic and political conditions in which they live.”1 The film’s depiction of racism, economic exploitation, discriminatory jurisprudence, and police repression in England, and its overall antiimperialist and Marxist message—a “revolutionary message” that might speak forcefully to American blacks, who must often

  • 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

  • Yvonne Rainer's Privilege

    SINCE ITS RELEASE FIVE YEARS AGO, Yvonne Rainer’s film The Man Who Envied Women has stood as an important challenge to the white, middle-class values of most academic theoretical feminism. The film’s narrative centers on Jack Deller (Bill Raymond and Larry Loonin)—a white college professor, “feminist,” and lover of women—and his estranged wife (not seen but narrated by Trisha Brown), whose words serve as a kind of Marxian-feminist counterpoint to Deller’s more hermetic appropriations from Foucault and Lacan. Deller is indeed complicated, as becomes clear when we see him doing what he presumably