Stuart Hall (1932–2014), the Jamaican-born British theorist who was one of the founders of the field of cultural studies, gave a series of talks at Harvard in 1994. The Fateful Triangle: Race, Ethnicity, Nation (Harvard University Press), edited and introduced by Kobena Mercer with a foreword by Henry Louis Gates Jr., draws from those lectures and promises to be essential reading for those seeking to understand Hall’s tremendous impact on scholars, artists, and filmmakers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Glenn Ligon is a New York–based artist.
Because of Deepak Unnikrishnan’s Temporary People (Restless Books), the constellation of imagery associated with the currently polemical concept of “immigrant” and all attendant humanitarian issues will now have to include Dubai’s gleaming steel skyscrapersas well as the foreign guest workers denied citizenship and laboring there under deplorable conditions. I’ve seen firsthand the interminable construction of temples to wealth looming above the vast waves of migrant workers in the desert; the discomfiting feelings are still with me. Unfolding in twenty-eight linked stories and using magic realism as its ballast, this debut novel offers a searing account of the ways in which displacement, no matter how necessary or promising, undoes us, in ways big and small.
Asma Naeem is an art historian and curator at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. Her essay on the art of the partition of India will appear in American Art this July.
Considering the innumerable studies on Marcel Duchamp, it may seem unlikely that we would need yet another examination of his early boxes containing cryptic notes, the exhibitions he staged for the Surrealist group, or the weird assemblage hiding behind a wooden door at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. And yet Elena Filipovic’s The Apparently Marginal Activities of Marcel Duchamp (MIT Press) sheds new light on all those ephemeral and elusive endeavors that we might recognize today as “curatorial.” Through a wide range of seemingly peripheral activities, Duchamp created the organizational support and framing devices for his more material works of art, works that emerged as “art” only once these other intangible structures were in place. Duchamp somehow produced his career backward; it’s fully legible only posthumously. And he knew this: He claimed that posterity would have a word to say. I imagine Filipovic’s book is the kind of posterity he was hoping for.
Daniel Birnbaum is a contributing editor of Artforum and the Director of Moderna Museet in Stockholm.
When I was a child and confined to bed with some illness, my mother used to read to me, often from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. I particularly liked “The Land of Counterpane,” in which a child creates a world of his own. His counterpane (quilt) was the terrain on which he sent his soldiers out to do battle. I, too, created warsbetween buttons from the button box: every color, every size, those no longer needed or that were never to be returned to the article of clothing from which they had fallen. I’d race them down my knees, push them from one end of a cardboard shoe-box cover to the other, my young imagination totally engaged. So now I want to return to A Child’s Garden of Verses, to recall the pleasures of being alone: perhaps digging a hole in the sand, looking out a train window, entering a bakery and keeping all the muffins for myself. Speaking of being alone, I’m also looking forward to Jonathan Lethem’s new book of essays, More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers (Melville House). His use of language and swift changes of subject still delight; his intelligence and knowledge of so many topics bowls me over. I need his humorous and informed take on life.
Rosalyn Drexler is a New York–based artist, playwright, and novelist.
Emil Ferris knows monsters. She created her stunning debut graphic novel, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Fantagraphics Books), while recuperating from West Nile virus contracted via a mosquito bite at her own fortieth-birthday party. Set in turbulent 1960s Chicago, My Favorite Thing features a ten-year-old protagonist, Karen Reyes. An idolizer of comic-book and movie monsters like the Wolf Man, Karen draws herself as a werewolf in her sketchbook. As she investigates the mysterious shooting death of her upstairs neighbor, Holocaust survivor Anka Silverberg, their narratives intertwine through elaborately crosshatched drawings on lined notebook paper. This mesmerizingly beautiful book depicts monsters as metaphors for either misunderstood outcasts or external, fearmongering forces of evil. In Ferris’s world, everyone is somebody’s monster.
Gabe Fowler runs Desert Island, a bookstore and publisher, in Brooklyn, NY.
JOHN EDGAR WIDEMAN
I read Thomas Mann’s 1947 novel Doctor Faustus (Alfred A. Knopf) many years ago when I consumed books rapidly, each one a notch on my gun belt. Proof I just might manage to read every great work that mattered. Haste makes waste, and the specifics of Mann’s novel didn’t survive my onslaught. Not even sure I finished it. So, today, when I found an old copy, I decided to try again, take my time, savor it, live with it this summer. I recall enough about the Faustus myth to anticipate encountering a character whose self-absorption, self-deceit, overweening pride, ambition, predatory ego, deviousness, ruthlessness, and lust persuade him to bargain with the Devil. A dangerous, unfortunately familiar character that I’m hoping Mann’s novel may help me learn to cope with.
John Edgar Wideman is the author of Writing to Save A Life: The Louis Till File (Scribner, 2016), a Macarthur Fellow, a member of the Academy of Arts and Letters, and a two-time winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award.