PRINT December 2006





Kierkegaard once said that his goal in writing was to make life difficult for people. I read Edward Said’s On Late Style (Pantheon) because its title suggested that it might offer insights into my life’s pursuit of trying to understand art. The subtitle of the book is Music and Literature Against the Grain. The photo of Said on the back cover shows his shirt collar slightly askew, which I chose to understand as an unintended message.

There are no artists (in the narrow sense) discussed, but the book contains valuable insights for them—perhaps what they know intuitively but need to have reaffirmed. Said was a fan of Adorno, and “late style” is Adorno’s term. Late, however, doesn’t mean maturity, as in a ripe pear. It’s more a question of Why should I care about harmony and good taste? It is late Philip Guston against a background of his peers, critics, previous styles, and the zeitgeist. Late style is likely to be anachronistic and constitutes “a form of exile,” coming, as it does, Said writes, “when the artist who is fully in command of his medium nevertheless abandons communication with the established social order of which he is a part and achieves a contradictory, alienated relationship with it.” In this sense, Beethoven, Thomas Mann, Glenn Gould, Jean Genet, Lampedusa, and Cavafy are, for Said, “exiles.” Late style abandons segues and bridges; it deals instead with chasms, intransigence, difficulty, and unresolved contradictions.

I used to think about what was a part and what a whole until I was in a near-catatonic state. But now I realize that my problem of wholes versus parts is characteristic of late style, which allows the parts to stand unreconciled with the whole. Hegelian synthesis is a questionable goal.

John Baldessari is an artist based in Santa Monica, CA.


A year in Germany amounts to a rite of passage for young American artists today—getting by in east Berlin flats-cum-studios, tramping through Mitte looking at art, tippling beers with foreign colleagues. Not so in 1964. Eva Hesse and her husband, the sculptor Tom Doyle, arrived from New York as lone warriors on June 7, setting up shop not in Berlin but in provincial Kettwig an der Ruhr, and rather than “getting by,” they lived comfortably, courtesy of wealthy collector Friedrich Arnhard Scheidt. Hesse’s Datebooks, 1964/65, published in two facsimile editions this year by Yale University Press, reveal even more reasons why her fourteen-month-long stay had little to do with our current transatlantic, if not truly global, art world.

In these calendars, Hesse jotted down remarks on the Europeans at Documenta 3 (“liked Alechinsky + Jorn particularly”), noted dinners with Hans Haacke (who had returned from New York to teach in Kettwig), and recorded the range of exhibitions she took in (“Commie art show, lousy”). Yet familiar German names are rare in her date books, and one looks in vain for references to the Düsseldorf academy (just twenty minutes away), Zero artist Günther Uecker, or Joseph Beuys (no entry on July 20, 1964, when he was famously punched in the face during a performance in Aachen). American art, however, was always on her schedule. June 12, 1964: “went to Al Held’s opening”; October 26, 1964: “went to Bob Morris opening to see Yvonne Rainer.” How little the Germanborn, German-speaking Hesse connected with local artists is surely telling: Her agenda mirrored that of European museums and galleries, for, at the time, native artists competed fiercely with the Americans and struggled for support.

Unlike the condensed edition published two years ago by the Kunsthalle Wien and Walther König, these pocket-size volumes accompanied by annotated transcriptions preserve the experience of the originals. Illegible scribbles and cursory notations of names unknown to most reinforce the letdown of days and days without entries. With so much having been made of the artist’s later diaries, such blankness beautifully evokes the date books’ historical limitations—as records of European art of the 1960s and as insights into Eva Hesse’s mind.

Christine Mehring is assistant professor of the history of art at Yale University.


The philosophy of Henri Bergson has enjoyed an unlikely revival. Prompted by the writings of Gilles Deleuze, the “Bergson effect” is felt in recent accounts of affect and sensation (as in the work of Brian Massumi) and art history (by Jonathan Crary and Branden W. Joseph, for instance). What could the philosophical superstar of turn-of-the-century Paris say to us today? In Thinking in Time (Cornell University Press), Suzanne Guerlac presents a Bergson who is both historical and current, a Bergson who emerged during a period of technological upheaval not unlike our own cybernetic moment. As Guerlac suggests, Bergson was deeply mindful of contemporaneous scientific efforts, particularly the foundational developments for such shattering scientific discoveries as quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, relativity theory, and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which she elucidates with elegant dispatch. Yet it is her explication de texte that serves as the book’s greatest contribution: Rather than begin with Bergson’s magnum opus, Creative Evolution (1907), Guerlac wisely turns to his two earliest books—Time and Free Will (1888) and Matter and Memory (1896)—in which the famous concepts of Pure Duration (time as force), sensation (pleasure and pain), vitality, and agency are first proposed; her explanations of each of these concepts, illustrated with Bergson’s own examples, are exceptionally lucid. Moving forward to the late twentieth century, Guerlac examines how Bergson provided a route out of both the Hegelianism that had dominated French thought since the 1930s (hence Bergson’s significance for Deleuze, who, substituting Hegel’s dialectic of identity and difference with pure difference, sought to break this hold) and the linguistic “prison house” of poststructuralism (for Bergson, language is a barrier to direct experience; thus his philosophy circumvents the premise of mediation). Drawing on Guerlac’s formidable expertise in the areas of Continental philosophy, literature, and the history of science, the book is a brilliant and timely introduction to Bergson’s thought.

James Meyer is associate professor of art history and Winship Distinguished research professor at Emory University in Atlanta.


Emma Williams’s It’s Easier to Reach Heaven than the End of the Street (Bloomsbury UK) is the memoir of an English doctor who left New York in 2000 to live in a small village on the border of east and west Jerusalem, arriving four months before the beginning of the Second Intifada. Here Williams spent her days working with Palestinians in the occupied territories as a public-health researcher and her evenings socializing with Israelis in Tel Aviv. The book, however, is far from the hopelessly well-balanced account one might expect to emerge from such a stance as double outsider. Passionate, perceptive, and exquisitely well written, it interweaves incidents of private life and public existence, such as when the severed head of a Palestinian suicide bomber lands with a thud in her children’s schoolyard. Williams’s memoir is unsparing of Palestinian atrocities but never ceases to wonder at the sheer unmotivated vindictiveness of so much Israeli behavior. Had Saul Bellow been able to amputate a limb, he would have had an equivalent mixture of talents to this doctor-turned-writer.

Terry Eagleton is professor of cultural theory and John Rylands fellow at the University of Manchester, UK.


A black stain spreads across the northern hemisphere, stretching from Poland and Croatia to the Far East and dwarfing Europe and North America. This is the vast territory encompassed by East Art Map: Contemporary Art and Eastern Europe (Afterall Books), a survey of art produced under Communism from 1945 to the present. Divided into three sections—color images, a guide to the histories and artistic output of individual countries, and critical essays—this squat red tome is both a manifesto and a major work of revisionist history.

Part of East Art Map’s significance derives from the fact that it was assembled by the five-man Slovenian collective IRWIN (painters, performers, and relational artists par excellence), who collaborated with a team of more than forty contributors. IRWIN is among today’s most articulate interrogators of Eastern European identity and its relationship to the West and to itself; this book consolidates twenty years of the group’s own practice-based research under the banner of the Neue Slowenische Kunst (New Slovenian Art) movement.

Nevertheless, the reader is bound to feel frustrated by so vast an undertaking: There is simply too much art to cover and only so much space for reproductions. Despite this, East Art Map provides an indispensable foundation on which to build future histories of European art—ones that will hopefully fracture the geographic binary to focus more closely on specific mediums and connections and differences both within and between the European regions.

Claire Bishop is assistant professor of art history at the University of Warwick, UK.


Utopia is a subject that is all the more timely and urgent for being considered an anachronism. Few have analyzed the utopian tradition as rigorously as does Fredric Jameson in Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (Verso). The first part of the book offers an extended analysis of utopian writing and science fiction as the continuation of the utopian tradition; the second consists of older articles that document the author’s long-standing interest in sci-fi and elaborate on motifs from the first part. Scrutinizing the works of authors ranging from Thomas More to Philip K. Dick and from Charles Fourier to Ursula K. LeGuin, Jameson demonstrates that sci-fi continues the utopian tradition insofar as it attempts to represent radical otherness, to imagine a world fundamentally distinct from the present one. This analysis, which Jameson describes as “perversely formalist,” is rife with dialectical twists involving various types of negation; the contrasting and conflicting “contents” of various utopias are important mainly insofar as they criticize and demystify one another.

The central question in Archaeologies of the Future is whether and how utopia—as both a literary fiction and a political program—can still be relevant in an age in which utopianism, often identified with failed Communist societies, has been so thoroughly discredited and in which a radically different future is not only exceedingly difficult to represent but difficult to imagine. In the compelling last chapter of the book’s first part, Jameson suggests intriguing possibilities for contemporary utopias (even if his desire to make utopia fit for postmodernity entails an all-too-summary dismissal of Romantic irony and modernist reflexivity, as if they were yesteryear’s consumer goods). Such utopias, he rightly argues, are more important than ever as imagined disruptions in time, as breaks with the existing order, precisely because we do not see any immediate possibilities for effecting such a break.

Sven Lütticken is an art historian and critic based in Amsterdam.


Giddy and lyrical, dark and true, Michelle Tea’s first nonautobiographical work of fiction, Rose of No Man’s Land (MacAdam/ Cage), kidnaps one of the most tired narrative genres, the coming- of-age novel, and radically expands its limits to embrace one Trisha Driscoll. As the book’s narrator, fourteen-year-old Trisha is an incipient lesbian and a realist. She’s underwhelmed by the suicide attempt of a popular girl at her Mogsfield, Massachusetts, school (“Maybe She Was Just A Cutter, I suggested”) and patiently humors the positive affirmations of her ultrafemme older sister. Her parents’ idea of self-improvement after the birth of their first child is to stop shooting drugs (absent Dad) and sign up for Weight Watchers (omnipresent, hypochondriacal Mom).

Over the course of several days, Trisha gets hired and fired by the trendiest store in the mall, meets her first girlfriend, takes crystal meth, has mind-blowing sex, loses the girl, and gets a tattoo. But these experiences don’t lead to any epiphanies. By the end of the book, Trisha knows what she already knew at the beginning, but she just knows it sharper: She owns it. Written with the dazzling and heartfelt lyricism that characterizes Tea’s memoirs, Rose of No Man’s Land offers an underclass female narrator as caustic and knowing as Holden Caulfield but much less annoying. In so doing, Tea has created that most impossible thing: a book that is universally likable.

Chris Kraus is the author, most recently, of the novel Torpor (Semiotext(e), 2006).


Never has the experience of losing a loved one been so precisely and meticulously drawn as in Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking (Knopf). Didion surpasses her customary craft and craftiness while circling the sudden death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. The book’s carefully sculpted, increasingly intricate paragraphs accumulate power as Didion remembers, examines, buries, and disinters the emotions that must be either held in abeyance or transformed so that she can attend to the commonplace, bureaucratic details of dealing with Dunne’s death and its aftermath. His passing is the nodal point from which the author departs and to which she returns with an urgency compounded by the life-threatening illness of her daughter, her only child. The florid surface of Los Angeles serves as the book’s primary backdrop and stage, slowly filling with the events of Didion’s long-productive life and her time with Dunne. One can only hope that she has now emerged from this cauldron and will carry on with her remarkable work.

Yvonne Rainer is an artist, filmmaker, and choreographer based in New York.


In Eat the Document (Scribner), Dana Spiotta establishes her characters—a man who’s too old to be hanging around the anarchist scene in Seattle, the fifteen-year-old son of a mother whose life doesn’t quite match the pattern it’s meant to fit—and then sets them loose in the details of their lives. These details pile up in mounds—the walls and floors of a radical bookstore, an obsession with the Beach Boys—and the characters burrow through them, becoming more alive, more contingent, by the page. Strange correspondences appear—the unsettling cover of Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain album slithers through the years as a talisman. Suspense builds—but less as to whether the secrets on which the adult characters have built their lives will break down as to whether, like the fifteen-year-old’s love for ’60s music, the goals they’ve set for themselves are real, or just a way of covering up. Spiotta’s not writing an op-ed piece; she doesn’t answer. The novel is a marvel of time travel.

A contributing editor of Artforum, Greil Marcus is a writer and critic based in Berkeley, CA.


We (Modern Library), Yevgeny Zamyatin’s classic futurist novel from 1921, describes a dystopia of distinctly modernist form. Zamyatin’s book was most likely the blueprint for both Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984, but it is by far the most visually evocative of the three. In the world of D-503, the narrator of We, the need for technological surveillance is obviated by utterly transparent architecture, allowing for easy and constant observation of one’s neighbors’ actions. Even punishment is carried out by way of structures conceived for their visual fascination: A humongous cube vaporizes its victims with an electric Tesla arc, and the torture chamber is a giant bell jar. Rather than emphasize the existential and conceptual horrors of utopia, We employs a mathematical vocabulary to depict the physical forms that support utopia’s existence, and Natasha Randall’s exciting new translation—the first in more than a decade—reinforces the audible and conceptual poetry of Zamyatin’s language of integers and algebra. At a time when design has become a word connoting freedom through consumption, We draws a picture of aestheticized totalitarianism.

Josiah McElheny is an artist living in New York.


Michael Tolkin’s elegant and hilarious fourth novel, The Return of the Player (Grove Press), picks up the story of Griffin Mill, the amoral but likable studio exec introduced eighteen years ago in The Player. Though he is now fifty years old and down to his last six million dollars—barely enough to support himself, his two wives, and his three children—Mill is ever the realist. Darkly (and accurately) surmising that “the world was already ten years dead and the future was just necrosis,” Mill understands that money is our culture’s last life force. To survive, he must escape the anachronistic realm of the film industry, which is still chained to the dreary manufacture of cultural product, and ascend to the domain of venture finance. Pure abstract wealth is the prize; this is the hero’s journey.

One comes to realize it is the world that has changed in the past eighteen years, not Mill himself. Tolkin has created in this character an enduring everyman, and The Return of the Player is no more a sequel to the earlier book than The Guermantes Way is to Proust’s Within a Budding Grove. In the course of the novel, Mill confronts the lie of the blended family and invents a highly appealing form of “new Mormonism”: If marriage is the binding of two souls, he asks, is it ever really possible to divorce someone? Written with comic restraint in deft, open prose, Tolkin’s novel does much more than satirize the victims of affluence. It is a highly personal book that seeks to tell the truth about its characters and about the world, and it does so within a narrative form that it questions while still managing to deliver what we all crave—a happy ending.

Sylvère Lotringer is professor of French literature and philosophy at Columbia University and general editor of Semiotext(e).