PRINT December 2012



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 the inclusion of Kracauer and Benjamin, who did not belong to the inner circle of Frankfurt’s Institute for Social Research; it also highlighted Hansen’s intention to reevaluate the school’s arguable disregard of cinema. The final title invokes Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge’s Public Sphere and Experience (1972), as well as Benjamin’s theory of the transformation of experience in modernity.

A richly layered autobiographical preface sets the stage for chapters on Kracauer, Benjamin, and Adorno, under whom Hansen studied in Frankfurt. The book begins in the Weimar Republic, travels with its protagonists into French and American exile, and, in the case of Adorno, returns to postwar Germany. But this is not a strictly historical study. Following Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Hansen illuminates constellations between Frankfurt School debates and contested issues in today’s media environment. With her critical prodding, older texts begin to speak to us anew; the past appears as a repository for the here and now.

Hansen’s book is framed around Kracauer, whose engagement with film was the most serious and sustained among the three theorists. She explicates his early notion of film as the “medium of a disintegrating world,” analyzes his groundbreaking essays on photography and Weimar mass culture, and devotes her last chapter to his controversial magnum opus, Theory of Film (1960). In a long section whose origins go back a quarter century, she returns to Benjamin’s famous 1936 essay on the work of art in the age of its technological reproducibility. By tracing the genealogies of the essay’s central concepts, such as aura, mimetic faculty, and the optical unconscious, she complicates traditional, often simplistic readings and appropriations of Benjamin’s most canonical text. Finally, she works through Adorno’s writings on film aesthetics in the context of his more extensive work on music, the culture industry, and aesthetic theory.

Throughout, Hansen emphasizes both the historicity and contemporaneity of the Frankfurt School’s contributions to media theory. Her powerful rereadings breathe new life into those texts, revealing their astonishing actuality and critical purchase.

Anton Kaes is the class of 1939 professor of German and film & media at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author, most recently, of Shell Shock Cinema: Weimar Culture and the Wounds of War (Princeton University Press, 2009).


“I, Kusama, am the modern Alice in Wonderland,” says Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama at the end of her fantasist rendering of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Penguin Classics), the classic 1865 children’s fantasy by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll). Kusama’s self-identification with Alice perhaps explains what distinguishes this beautiful example of book art from the many other attempts to add pictures to Dodgson’s words—from Sir John Tenniel’s original designs to the painterly approach of Salvador Dalí or the skilled draftsmanship of Arthur Rackham. Where these have added illustrations of key scenes or characters as a kind of descriptive overlay to Dodgson’s text, Kusama started by making the story her own and then, in a willful act of creative invention, fused text, typography, and imagery to create a work of art that is of this moment in time and uniquely hers. This is Wonderland seen firsthand through Alice’s eyes and interpreted as if through her imagination.

Some of Kusama’s imagery re-creates iconic elements of the original illustrations—the grin without a cat, for example, and the Mad Hatter’s hat (albeit here more fashion cloche than formal wear)—but some pictorial elements familiar from other editions are missing (playing cards, for example, and even Alice herself, who recognizably appears in only one image, at the very end). The rest is, as it were, pure Kusama, including imagery and artistic devices that have become characteristic over her sixty-year career as an artist. So there are lots of dots and circles and nets in primary colors making up images against flat, monochromatic backgrounds. There are variations on imagery from the years she was at the center of the Pop and Op art scenes in New York as well as from her artistic explorations across multiple media since she returned to live and work in her native Japan. In a sense, this is a tightly focused retrospective of her life’s work as an artist. It’s Kusama’s artistic embodiment of Dodgson’s story, a book that is just as much about looking as it is about reading.

Based in Toronto, Ydessa Hendeles is an artist, curator, and collector. Her first solo show, “The Bird that Made the Breeze to Blow,” was mounted earlier this year at Galerie Johann König, Berlin.


Devin Fore’s Realism After Modernism: The Rehumanization of Art and Literature (MIT Press) so completely reshuffles the deck of the antimodernist rappel á l’ordre sweeping through all cultural practices in Europe in the 1920s and ’30s—from Picasso’s neoclassicism and Matisse’s Nice period to “socialist realism” in Russia—that the reader will barely notice its geographic confinement to Germany. But once discerned, the book’s concerted focus will presumably only elicit calls for other studies expanding Fore’s innovative model into other regions where this widespread cultural phenomenon took place, such as France, Italy, and Russia.

Fore demonstrates with brio that the so-called “return to order” was not at all a rewinding of the clock, nor a simple return to the classical humanism and anthropocentrism that had been programmatically eschewed by the radical experimentations of the historical avant-gardes (abstraction, readymade, sound poetry, plotless films and theatrical productions, montage, etc). There is indeed something like a “return of man” in the works analyzed here, but this man is no longer the individualist subject he had been before the advent of modernism and the cataclysm of World War I. In fact, the new subject put forth by the artists and writers addressed by Fore is deprived of agency, its body bereft of integrity. Drawing from the anthropological discourse of the interwar period, Fore shows that if the “new man” envisioned in the figurative practices of Weimar Germany might seem at the center of the universe, he is in fact a prosthetic man: He has become a mere organ of that universe, which is now fully one of techniques and media. Fore’s conclusion resonates powerfully with our own historical status in the Internet age and indeed the interwar discourses he engages are finding surprising echoes in current anthropology and media studies.

Aside from this anthropological bent, Fore’s greatest innovation is to treat his material not thematically but structurally, as it were—which is what allows him to dismantle the simple opposition of “figurative-reactionary” vs. “abstract-modernist-revolutionary,” a paradigm to whose seduction many of us (myself included) have succumbed at one point or another, particularly when dealing with the work of the Russian avant-garde. In five different case studies, each concerning a different medium (plus an epilogue dealing with the postwar period, devoted to Ernst Junger’s 1957 science-fiction novel The Glass Bees), Fore examines the deep structures at work in a whole range of artistic and literary productions—revealing along the way that, beyond superficial differences accounting for their medium specificity, those structures are eerily similar. From the reverse perspective of László Moholy-Nagy to the “gestus” of Brecht’s theater, from the involuted autobiographism of Carl Einstein to the physiognomic endeavor of John Heartfield’s work, each involves not a return to premodernist tropes, but a parody of them: a parody that—contradicting from within the manifest claims to a rehumanization of art—bears in itself the seeds of radical critique.

Yve-Alain Bois is professor of art history in the school of historical studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, and a contributing editor of Artforum.


How quickly we take the unprecedented for granted! I’d never come across anything like Roberto Calasso’s The Ruin of Kasch (1983/94) and The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony (1988/93) when I read them in translation in the late 1990s. Calvino said of Kasch that it “takes up two subjects: the first is Talleyrand, and the second is everything else.” The Marriage was about the origins of everything—i.e., the Greek myths. Then, with Ka (1996/98), Calasso tried something even more ambitious: a creative retelling of the Indian myths. I felt compelled to read every page of Ka, even the ones that were unreadable. There followed volumes, in a similarly imaginative-critical-discursive style and form, on Kafka and Tiepolo. Calasso never offers what-this-book-is-about introductions or how-to-read prefaces. Chucked into his work’s midst, we have to fend for ourselves. It’s like learning how to read and worrying that you’re getting senile, all at once.

His new study, La Folie Baudelaire (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), translated from Italian by Alastair McEwen, offers his signature combination of outright brilliance and intellectual flamboyance interspersed with stretches of flimflam and Eurowaffle. Baudelaire and his writing on art, particularly his 1863 essay “The Painter of Modern Life,” are the starting points for swirling evocations of the structure of feeling that was taking visual shape in mid-nineteenth-century Paris. There are discussions of Ingres (“Had it not been for Ingres, the nineteenth century would seem even more desperately nineteenth century, docked of that metallic and abstract light of his”), Manet, Delacroix, and Degas. Of Degas’s The Bellelli Family, 1858–­67, Calasso observes that the artist “wanted to paint—and stubbornly perfected—the portrait of a family united by reciprocal aversions. But it’s not the oddness of the spatial arrangement that hints at a psychological state. It is psychological tension used to attain a spatial revelation: the absence of a center.” If asked to deliver a capsule summary of Calasso’s thesis, I wouldn’t know where to start (or stop). This is not just a sign of the reader’s mental infirmity: Calasso’s books are never reducible to synopsis; they are worlds to be experienced, to wander around and get lost in. At the same time, they are maps of their own design and purpose. Works of art, in other words.

Geoff Dyer is the author of four novels and two collections of essays. His most recent book, Zona (Pantheon, 2012), is a study of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker.


The dictionary—pluralizing, heterogeneous, nonhierarchical—was one of the favored forms through which the eighteenth century sought to understand itself. An A-to-Z organizational structure is thus eminently suited to a book that attempts nothing less than a canvassing of the Enlightenment imagination. The alphabetized compendium 1740, Un Abrégé du Monde: Savoirs et collections autour de Dezallier d’Argenville (1740, A Summary of the World: Knowledge and Collections in the Time of Dezallier d’Argenville; Fage Éditions) undertakes such an enterprise, offering entries on a range of ideas, images, people, and things associated with the polymathic connoisseur and collector Antoine-Joseph Dezallier d’Argenville (1680–1765). In the process, it illuminates the ways in which the collections of the fourth decade of the eighteenth century functioned as both site and symptom of the nascent, interrelated discourses of natural science (or, as it was then called, natural history) and art history. Both were rooted in the close observation and precise description of objects—which is to say, in protocols developed by the likes of Dezallier d’Argenville. More broadly, the book’s authors—an international team of researchers under the direction of Anne Lafont, of Paris’s Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art—offer insight into a radical shift in attitudes. It was within this 1740s culture of curiosity, they argue, that an object-driven rather than text-driven view of the world began to emerge, even as the new emphasis on the aesthetics of display gave rise to the first glimmers of the “society of the eye.” The cabinets of the 1740s prefigured the museum; the decade’s catalogues were a blueprint for all manner of grand epistemological structures (such as Diderot and d’Alembert’s famous 1751 Encyclopédie, itself nothing but a giant, self-reflexive dictionary) in which objects accrued meaning.

Eloquent, highly original, and filled with new scholarship, this particular dictionary may help us to understand our own time. As it documents the emergence of a new cognitive relation to the object, at once instructive and pleasurable, it brings to life a moment of attraction to materiality that in fact functioned as a counterweight to the specular thrust of collecting. This makes the book especially appealing and relevant in an era of digital abstraction. It prompts us to consider: How might we learn from things?

Ewa Lajer-Burcharth is William Dorr Boardman professor of fine arts in the department of history of art and architecture at Harvard University.


Wade Davis’s magnificent Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest (Alfred A. Knopf) is a boon to readers who like to start at the very end. True to its subject, the book is an ascent. Five hundred seventy-three pages of blood, toil, and ice culminate in the last sentence: “They had seen so much of death that life mattered less than the moments of being alive.”

“They” are the members of the British Everest expeditions of the early 1920s, which famously ended with the disappearance of George Mallory and Sandy Irvine on June 8, 1924. But Davis is also referring to the British soldiers of World War I. Indeed, the crux of his account is that the experiences of the latter shaped the actions of the former. It is a highly plausible thesis given that almost all the climbers involved, including Mallory himself, were frontline veterans—men who survived the war only at the cost of the war surviving in them. The constant presence of industrialized death and mutilation led them to accept levels of risk that would have seemed unimaginable had they not suffered through Ypres, the Somme, and Passchendaele.

Is Davis exaggerating the impact of World War I? If so, he is in good company. Into the Silence recalls Paul Fussell’s proposition in The Great War and Modern Memory: All that we are—all of modernity itself—crept out of the trenches of the western front. While Davis offers an unprecedentedly detailed account of the Tibetan perception of the strange European intruders who marched in to conquer Chomolungma (aka Everest), he simultaneously insists on the universal importance of (Western) European experiences in World War I. If Europe could no longer rule the world, it would in its suicidal demise stake out a new dominion of death. But to be fair to Davis, he also shows that the “attack” on Everest began long before 1914. Fueled by numerous ambitions, it would have taken place even without the war. A symbolic act of imperialist encroachment, a continuation of Kipling’s Great Game at the highest possible altitude, it was an attempt to make up for Britain’s polar failures and a continuation of British mountaineering ventures that had outgrown their original European playgrounds, even as the aesthetic approach to mountaineering was challenged by the heroic, death-defying school. Here we must add a note to Davis’s account: It was, ironically, the Germans who initially pioneered the “heroic” strategies that decades later came to be known as extreme alpinism. Indeed, Davis’s last line can also be read as a pithy summary of the existentialist pathos of threshold experiences and death-courting decisions that ricochet through German philosophy and politics of the ’20s and beyond—and that were also on display in the German counterpart to the Mallory tragedy, the ill-fated 1934 attempt to summit Nanga Parbat. And it is at this point that Into the Silence becomes a truly fascinating book. Transcending the particular narrative at its core, it is a profound meditation on the realignment of language, experience, and sensibilities enforced by a war that outstripped the capacities of language, rendered experience incommunicable, and refashioned sensibilities so intensely that it created men willing to sacrifice their remaining years for one “moment of being alive” in a deserted death zone. Thus Davis returns to the theme that has haunted climbers ever since their trade outgrew its gentlemanly beginnings: the eerie similarity between their vocation and war.

Mallory’s mountaineering mentor, Geoffrey Winthrop Young, a key supporting player in Davis’s account, described his craft as a “poignant adventure” whose “self-sought perils on a line of unreason to the summit of a superfluous rock, have no rational or moral justification.” What better way to describe the western front (which Young knew well) than as a line of unreason from one’s own trenches through a deadly zone of mines, gas, and wire to the summit of the enemy parapet? Speaking as a leading proponent of the aesthetic, life-affirming approach to mountaineering, Young vigorously denied the connection; speaking as his grandson, I think he protested too much. War confronted mountaineering, as it were, by outing its metaphors; and it is this contentious proximity that allows for the rhetorical and conceptual interplay between the two. After reading Into the Silence, I find it difficult not to think of Mallory’s fate in terms of cultural anthropology (that this is Davis’s home discipline is probably not a coincidence). Mallory was a sacrifice offered by a society that wanted to reinvest the unreasonable death of an individual with all the significance that death had lost in a vast carnage of unreason. Somehow, the death of one man in the war against the largest superfluous rock was to atone for the countless deaths in the largest superfluous war.

Geoffrey Winthrop-Young is a professor of German at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.


As both an architect and a Michel Houellebecq fan, I was first drawn to The Map and the Territory (Alfred A. Knopf) by the seeming ambiguity of the title. This ambiguity becomes, in the book, a series of unresolved doublings and inversions. The story revolves around Jed Martin—essentially Houellebecq’s doppelgänger—who is an artist (and, oddly enough, the son of an architect). Martin is first recognized as a photographer of maps: in particular, Michelin maps drawn at a scale of 1:150,000. For Martin, these maps are an aesthetic revelation; they are sublime. He sees them as “the essence of modernity, of scientific and technical apprehension of the world . . . combined with the essence of animal life.”

The ambiguity of the title rests in the word territory, which in Italian and French carries very different connotations than when translated to English, especially with respect to urbanism and architecture. For example, il territorio means a part of a city or an urban area in Italian, but for Americans territory evokes a wild expanse, certainly not urban or even settled—like the Northwest Territory, or the Yukon Territory. Martin’s experience of territory likewise seems exurban, even incomprehensible. When he compares a satellite photo to a Michelin map of the same area, “the contrast was striking: while the photograph showed only a soup of more or less uniform green . . . the map developed a fascinating maze.” Yet his own photographs of the maps treat them like landscapes—that is, territories moving in and out of focus.

Two more doublings animate the narrative and philosophical structure of the book. Martin becomes a realist painter, leaving behind the maps to depict “live” events and people, only to double back, later, to film landscapes themselves; not maps, but territorial landscapes with objects in them. Even Houellebecq himself plays a double role as author and as a central character, Martin’s friend, in the narrative. If there is a message here, it may be in the title of Martin’s first solo exhibition: “The Map is More Interesting than the Territory.” For Martin—that is, for Houellebecq—the map is the new landscape, the new territory of reality.

Peter Eisenman is the founding principal of Eisenman Architects in New York.


By the time William Rubin (1927–2006) became the magisterial director of the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1973, the imprint left by Alfred H. Barr Jr.’s schema of modernist art’s historical progression was hard-wired into his brain. As he puts it in this anxiously awaited book on his career (A Curator’s Quest: Building the Collection of Painting and Sculpture of The Museum of Modern Art, 1967–1988 [Overlook]), “I tried to travel . . . in Alfred Barr’s direction but at my own gait.” Rubin’s adherence to Barr’s vision of the evolution of twentieth-century art as a teleology of form pervades the book much as it did his installation of the collection after the museum’s expansion in 1984.

In her generous foreword to the volume, his widow, Phyllis Hattis Rubin, tells us, “Bill had envisioned a two-volume book, the first with an introductory essay describing his determined quest for acquisitions to perfect the Museum’s collection and the second containing a selection of nearly 250 images of major acquisitions organized in groups to reflect the interlacing development of modernism in Europe and America.” The hefty single-volume book that emerged instead is huge and unwieldy: For all of its beautiful color plates, looking through it is unfortunately a little too much like reading the Oxford English Dictionary on one’s lap.

The book does, however, contain a memoir in which Rubin sketches his own career as art historian and relentless crusader on behalf of the museum’s already synoptic collection. Among the many anecdotes in this “chronicle of collection building” is the story of how many of MoMA’s most famous works entered the collection. For example, it turns out that Barr and Rubin had together discussed Picasso’s Guitar, 1914, as “ideal” for filling a gap in the museum’s collection. In keeping with the spirit of the museum’s policy of selling some of the works in its collection to pay for others, Rubin wished to persuade Picasso to part with Guitar in exchange for “a decent though undistinguished Cézanne L’Estaque from the early 1880s.” He flew to Picasso’s villa in France with the painting in hand—although once there, Rubin was surprised to learn that Picasso already owned a “wide and quite glorious” L’Estaque. (In a characteristic anecdote, Rubin comments: “I shall never forget Picasso rapping his knuckles on the center of the canvas. The dust flew and Picasso said in his heavily accented French something I probably remember because it rhymed, “Regardez la mer, c’est solide comme la pierre” [Look at the sea, it is solid as a stone].) No exchange ocurred, but Picasso was evidently impressed and promptly gifted Guitar to the museum.

Before becoming a curator, Rubin had taught at Sarah Lawrence College and amassed an impressive art collection that he showed in his New York loft (which was written up in Vogue in 1967). Photographs testify to his description of this space as “no less than a small museum,” where he was able to show many major works of the New York School by such luminaries as Jackson Pollock, Adolph Gottlieb, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still, along with David Smith’s Australia, 1951, which he later gave to MoMA. His taste reflected that of his friend Clement Greenberg in its inclusion of 1950s and ’60s stain painting by the likes of Jules Olitski, Morris Louis, and Kenneth Noland; but it was also enlarged beyond the Greenbergian orthodoxy to sanction certain Minimalist paintings by Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly, as well as, in another direction, Pop works by Roy Lichtenstein and George Segal; and beyond them, Surrealist artists such as André Masson.

A year after the piece in Vogue, Rubin organized MoMA’s comprehensive 1968 exhibition “Dada, Surreal­ism, and Their Heritage.” This show was an attempt to bring Dada and Surrealism into the fold: As he puts it here, the exhibition set out to demonstrate that “both movements—so alien to their immediate predecessors and successors—could nonetheless be profitably discussed within the received art-historical framework and vocabulary of modernism.” The show ended with Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s wrapping of MoMA, a few months before Rubin became a curator at the museum.

Rubin’s interest in the interconnections between the great modernist masters led to his most controversial show, “‘Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern,” organized with Kirk Varnedoe in 1984. The exhibition showed works by Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, Alberto Giacometti, and Max Ernst alongside African and Oceanic indigenous art. Accused of an empty colonialist vision that voided tribal culture of its content to fold it triumphantly into alien aesthetic structures, Rubin was forced to defend the exhibition against a chorus of criticism. In A Curator’s Quest he alludes to the controversy by calling the show his “most original,” claiming that it laid the groundwork for future research by making “the affinities of tribal and modern works eminently clear.”

Rubin’s exhibitions nearly always resulted, directly or indirectly, in major acquisitions for the museum. “Dada, Surrealism, and Their Heritage” led, years later, to the purchase of Joan Miró’s masterpiece the 1925 Birth of the World. The 1977 exhibition “Cézanne: The Late Work” would eventually garner the master’s Still Life with Fruit Dish, 1877–78. Before borrowing this work from the collection of M. and Mme. de Chaisemartin (herself the granddaughter of the major Cézanne collector Auguste Pellerin), Rubin approached the Rockefellers and spoke with them of its star-studded history. Gauguin had owned the work, treasuring it so much that he reproduced it in his 1890 Woman in Front of a Still Life by Cézanne. The painting was also the centerpiece of Maurice Denis’s Homage to Cézanne of 1890. The Rockefellers were so intrigued by these interconnections that they bought the painting, and afterward promised it as a gift to the museum.

The tome also includes eight lectures—“The Pioneers of Modernism”—that Rubin gave at Sotheby’s in 1997–98, which easily convey how his knowledge of art history made the meetings of the acquisitions committee, in the words of MoMA’s former chairman Ronald S. Lauder, “great seminars in art.” It also allowed him to turn his visits to the collectors he courted—among them the Rockefellers, Jock Whitney, William S. Paley, Gordon Bunshaft, Florene May Schoenborn, Sidney Janis, and Louise Smith—into impromptu disquisitions on certain works in their collections, never failing to add, of course, how they would fill the lacunae in the museum’s holdings. When, as on occasion happened, collectors would offer him a choice of the works in their possession, he would pounce instantaneously on the particular treasures needed to complete the museum’s range. An example concerns the Gertrude Stein collection, whose sale to a group of trustees was facilitated by MoMA in return for one work from each lot being promised as an eventual gift. Rubin picked several of the thirty-eight available Picassos, among them The Reservoir, Horta de Ebro, 1909, from David Rockefeller’s lot. It was, he writes, “the most fully realized and, hence, my favorite” of all the Analytic Cubist pictures in the collection.

As Rubin tells these stories in A Curator’s Quest, there is never a second thought about his choices, never any doubt about what was “needed” for the collection. Rubin’s quest was an unforgettable journey, of buoyancy, of power.

Rosalind E. Krauss, university professor at Columbia University, teaches twentieth-century art and theory.


In 1995 and 1998, the University of California Press published Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris’s monumental two-volume Poems for the Millennium, which documented much of the most formally adventurous poetry of the twentieth century. This anthology was (and is) a slap in the face of the official verse mediocracy of the New Yorker, New York Review of Books, and major US prize awarders. A third volume, published in 2009, coedited by Rothenberg and Jeffrey Robinson, did a brilliant job covering the nineteenth century. Now Poems for the Millennium, Volume Four: The University of California Book of North African Literature (University of California Press), edited and with commentaries by Pierre Joris and Habib Tengour, makes a stirring contribution to this ongoing project.

For many of us, the literary works of North Africa are simply not on the map. No one who reads this comprehensive anthology of writers both famous and unfamiliar will think that ever again. Spanning more than two millennia, the volume compels us to integrate the Maghreb (present-day Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania) and its overlapping Phoenician, Jewish, Christian, Arab, Berber, Roman, Vandal, Ottoman, and French cultures into our understanding of world literature. Oral and written poetry are presented next to illuminated manuscripts and philosophical treaties. The contributors include canonical figures such as St. Augustine and Maimonides, side by side with contemporary poets and writers such as Mohammed Dib, Frantz Fanon, Jacques Derrida, Hélène Cixous, Amina Saïd, Abdellatif Laâbi, and Omar Berrada (an engaging young Moroccan poet with connections to France and the US), as well as Tengour. With ingenious translations and informative commentaries, Joris and Tengour, along with the many other scholars they invited to be part of the project, make palpable that this region is a wellspring of the culture we value in the West. In so doing, they restore to us missing parts of the “cradle” of our civilization.

Charles Bernstein is Donald T. Regan professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Pennsylvania, where he codirects PennSound. His most recent books are Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essays and Inventions (University of Chicago Press) and All the Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).


The summer of 2006 saw the peak of the US real estate market and Zinedine Zidane’s infamous head butt of Marco Materazzi at the end of the World Cup final match. Coincidence? Zidane’s action “lost” the game for France, but it was also an act of pure irrationality that completely shocked everyone who saw it live. Both events were moments of truth and the beginnings of the end.

Cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is a gripping, unsettling, and scintillating book. In it, the Nobel laureate details numerous psychological experiments devised by him and his collaborator Amos Tversky that reveal how our intuitions (System 1—fast) and reason (System 2—slow) aid and trip one another up as we form judgments and decisions—from taking out a subprime mortgage to defending one’s sister’s honor. At times the book moves slowly, as our own systems get entangled sorting through the thought experiments. You are the laboratory. This in itself is thrilling and harks back to Noam Chomsky’s idea of linguistic competence. Kahneman and Tversky’s research is grounded in the detailed study of their subjects’ responses and reveals the mind’s operations and possibly innate dispositions, including their neurological basis.

T. S. Eliot claimed that “a thought to [John] Donne was an experience; it modified his sensibility,” and Eliot admired this. What is important in Thinking, Fast and Slow for artists, architects, and designers is that it points to thought as experience and experiment, and to experiment as thought. It grounds discourse in an experimental practice that can be science and also art. Twenty years ago, the Museum of Modern Art held a series of summer concerts in its garden, celebrating the eighty years of John Cage. Every evening was an experiment, and the experiments carried on past Cage’s sudden death on August 12 till the end of that summer. The lightness that was Cage simply sublimated to spirit.

Cage would have loved this book.

Guy Nordenson is a professor of architecture at Princeton University and partner of the structural engineering practice Guy Nordenson and Associates.


Since the dispersal of the Fascist movement after the defeat of Nazism in World War II, adherents of the European New Right have been urging their supporters to wage a culture war, engaging in a perverse adaptation of Antonio Gramsci’s theories of cultural hegemony. The role that music, in particular, has played in the last forty years of this campaign is systematically analyzed in White Power Music: Scenes of Extreme-Right Cultural Resistance (Searchlight Magazine Ltd./Radicalism and New Media Research Group) edited by Anton Shekhovtsov and Paul Jackson, the second volume in the series “Mapping the Far-Right.”

Hate rock as we know it emerged in England in the 1980s; this anthology examines its international growth since then, with focused studies of different nations’ specific strains of white power music. The result is a comparative and comprehensive look at scenes in France, Germany, Sweden, Greece, Hungary, Romania, and the Czech Republic. Other chapters deal with the malignant legacy of Ian Stuart Donaldson (Skrewdriver front man and founder of the Blood & Honour network), the generally regressive role of women in this milieu, and issues of censorship. In a particularly compelling essay, Kirsten Dyck contrasts official responses to hate rock in Germany and the US—two countries whose relationships to historical memory have dictated different levels of stringency regarding neo-Nazi activities—calling for changes in educational systems rather than dwelling on issues of freedom of speech. Hate rock is repulsive and musically inept. But understanding it, and its direct influence on mass murderers such as Wade Michael Page and Anders Behring Breivik, may help us find ways of preventing further tragedies.

Stewart Home is a writer and artist living in London. His fourteenth novel, Mandy, Charlie and Mary-Jane (Penny-Ante Editions), will be published in February.