IN A TIME OF POLITICAL TRAUMA, the ability to communicate complex ideas about history in language that is accessible to more than just the most highly educated and privileged is a rare gift. John Berger’s death at the age of ninety on the second day of this ominous new year struck many as a symbolic blow against the last embers of the Enlightenment. People turned to his writings to find words to help us in the current moment: For example, as we prepare ourselves for the necessity of years of political demonstrations to preserve civil rights and democracy, this quote immediately circulated, taken
In Paul Chan’s 2006 documentary Untitled Video on Lynne Stewart and Her Conviction, the Law, and Poetry, former civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart reads from poems of special significance to her, by John Ashbery and William Blake, among others. Whenever she does so, the screen cuts from footage of her speaking to flat fields of colorblack, purple, blue, red, orange. I’ve never forgotten the powerfully moving effect of these twinned aesthetic anomalies in an artwork with a political subject: a lawyer who uses poetry in court, a video whose documentary progress is shattered and enlightened
Only by demonstrating that he is on the side of Historyaware of the laws of its unfolding, able to reconcile the art he likes with those lawscan a critic rise to seriousness, for otherwise criticism is merely the expression of subjective taste, and can claim no binding force.
ROBERT HUGHES AND HILTON KRAMER had long, prolific, and important careers as art critics, writing for major mainstream publications with high national circulations at a time when such publications meant more in a smaller media field. Yet the very fact that these two gentlemen now find themselves
SOMETIMES I WISH I COULD JUST PHONE HOME.
Recently a friend of mine couldn’t enjoy an evening out until she had called her five-year-old daughter. Another said that she understood completely: she sometimes longs to call up her cat. And I often wish that I could telephone my loft. In fact, my answering machine’s remote features a room monitor. But would listening to the silence of my four walls satisfy my desire for their enclosure?
Hewing for a moment to traditional dichotomies, house has represented culture, the father, the building, the body public and political, the future, and modernity; home
UNTIL RECENTLY, there was no problem determining who were the subjects of history. They were the largely Caucasian males whose actions and thoughts were inscribed into a history whose very formulation as a science they defined. Discourse was a continuous loop of what the French philosopher Luce Irigaray has termed the “phallosensical hommologue” of Western civilization.
Whether this system has been altered by three decades of liberation movements was an issue tested by “Subjects of History: A Day of Discussion,” a symposium presented in March 1990 at the Columns by the New Museum of Contemporary
THE FAVORED IMAGE of the artist in the 19th century was the flaneur. Ambling through the spaces of the “spectacular city . . . open to a class and gender-specific gaze,”1 this voyeur and participant in public entertainments—bars, brothels, racetracks—had access to visual experiences and panoramas off-limits to an unchaperoned respectable woman. There could be no “flâneuse.”2 Informal interior scenes of domestic life were of course not exclusively spaces for women artists. But codes of propriety organized the limits of most women artists’ mobility within the spaces of modernity, both in daily
SURREALISM, A MOVEMENT THAT valorized a “feminine” position while at the same time defining this position in traditional terms as irrational and unconscious, gave us Woman as no-longer-placid muse. But this Ophelia unbound took flight only through her impersonation by male artists who, while they valued imagination, could not imagine female subjectivity. As in the movie Tootsie, in which the best woman is a man, or in Jacques Derrida’s privileging of the feminine position of the reader so long as femininity is not specifically ensconced in a female body, the best madwoman was a sane male Surrealist