COLUMNS

  • REMAINS OF THE FRAY

    PAUL VIRILIO WAS BORED on the beach one summer afternoon in 1958. Leaning against a concrete block, the young man made a 360-degree scan of his surroundings—sand, rocky cliffs, ocean. This panoramic appraisal took him all the way back to the block behind him, a “worthless object” from World War II. His vacation in Brittany was over and his career as an “archaeologist of the future” (to quote his early collaborator, the architect Claude Parent) was about to begin. For the next seven years, Virilio would travel France’s northwestern coast, photographing the abandoned bunkers of the defunct Nazi

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  • On the Ground: Beirut

    IMPERMANENCE IS A PERMANENT CONDITION IN BEIRUT—a horizon of transience continues to shape its residents’ daily lives. While survival mode may appear inevitable here, a good number of Beirutis in the arts have ceaselessly cultivated self-criticism as a structuring ethos of their professional practices over the past two decades, braving Syrian oppression, Israeli assaults, a far-from-resolved garbage crisis, and, still ongoing, the protracted lack of an elected government, not to mention increased state surveillance. Although post-civil-war amnesia among the Lebanese and the constructedness

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  • The Return of Inanna

    I FIRST ENCOUNTERED the Sumerian myth of Inanna in the 1980s, when I read Sylvia Brinton Perera’s Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women (1981). At the time I was plagued with a neurological disorder in which electrified waves would shoot through my body, distorting my sensory processing in ways that terrified me. I memorized Sylvia Plath’s “The Hanging Man”: By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me./ I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet. What if these blue volts went on forever, I fretted—what if the world as I knew it was over? When Inanna enters the

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  • BROUGHT TO JUSTICE

    IF THE AUTONOMY of art was ever actually a thing, it ended with smartphones. The whole time I was visiting “Walls Turned Sideways: Artists Confront the Justice System” at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston on October 6 of last year, I was painfully aware that if I pulled out the screen in my pocket, I might have to confront that inevitable, disheartening headline: SENATE CONFIRMS KAVANAUGH. The white cube was no antidote to the nausea of the present. If aestheticism’s belief in art’s distance from social and political concerns still endures, it does so only in the negative, as a sense of

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  • On the Ground: San Francisco

    FOR MUCH OF NOVEMBER 2018, raging wildfires made particulate matter levels dangerously high in the Bay Area. Eyes watered, schools closed, art openings and lectures were canceled. People fled to LA, never known for its air quality, for bluer skies. It became matter of course to wear N95 respirators if you could find them. Lines snaked around hardware stores, and San Francisco’s young, affluent demographic patiently waited for theirs, just as they do in queues for the latest must-have artisanal ice cream.

    This is not to draw too emphatic a comparison between the arts and the effects of global

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  • Leaky Boundaries

    NOVEMBER 13–25, 2018—I give three readings/talks in London, one in Oxford, one in Berlin; and I deliver a paper at a Kathy Acker symposium in Karlsruhe. Throughout the trip devastating fires rage in Northern California, the Bay Area air quality going from unhealthy—red on the AirNow infographic—to very unhealthy: purple, and then brown, like a blood clot. I call my husband, and urge him to use the air filter; I log onto Amazon and order him an air mask for there are no air masks to be found in San Francisco. As in all disasters, you either prepare ahead of time or you are fucked.

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  • The Double Consciousness of the Lincoln Memorial

    THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL, designed by Henry Bacon, honors Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States. To many Americans, the memorial is a testimony to the Civil War, a reminder that the Union was once divided. It is commonly assumed that 620,000 Americans died in that war over the question of slavery. Many maintain that Lincoln prosecuted the war on moral grounds. He believed there was no moral justification for slavery, an exceptionally cruel practice that involved kidnapping African people, selling them on auction blocks, and forcing them to work without compensation as if they

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  • On the Ground: Pittsburgh

    PITTSBURGH IS A CITY OF THREE RIVERS and many more bridges, the latter cutting across steeply rising banks verdant and overgrown from a year of record rainfall. In many ways this is still Andrew Carnegie’s Appalachia, with the Carnegie International—this year sited exclusively in the institution if not the actual building that he opened in 1895—an emphatically historical bequest. Ingrid Schaffner, a Pittsburgh native, suggested as much in her opening remarks to the fifty-seventh edition, which she helmed, calling the show “august” and everywhere relating it to its place of becoming.

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  • A VALEDICTION FORBIDDING MOURNING

    A VALEDICTION FORBIDDING MOURNING

    after the rain hit

    the creosote the sun

    hit it & a fragrance

    wild & sweet was hitting

    me, a springtime

    sensation of rising seed

    confusing the seasons

    undoing the doom i clasp

    & unclasp like the warm

    gem in the keats poem

    but this was not the prescription

    you asked for

    & the moon is full

    not new. i came to truth or

    consequences for my

    own safety. i had passed

    thru the doors of bellevue

    under the sign “EMPLOYES” (sic.)

    to face my parent

    in donated shoes, without

    her wig, clothed in hospital

    issue pajamas & all her illusions

    scummy, like an old fish

    cooked to death

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  • VITAL GORGON

    ONE OF THE OLDEST #MeToo episodes dates back more than two thousand years, and would have entered the canon of great Greek tragedy had the forefathers of Western patriarchy deigned to give it the appropriate status. But they did not—instead, they rewrote the main character’s story. For Medusa, she of the serpent mane and petrifying fame, is an interpretation of the Gorgoneion, or “Gorgon head” (gorgós being Greek for “dreadful”), an archaic protective emblem that was plastered on pottery, architectural and carriage ornaments, coins, and protective armor throughout Asia Minor and the

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  • On the Ground: Chicago

    I DECIDED I WOULD SOMEDAY MOVE TO CHICAGO when I was in the ninth grade, as I stood in a hotel bathroom scrubbing a henna tattoo off of my arm. Prom was coming up, and my Pentecostal boyfriend thought the shooting star I’d acquired at the Navy Pier looked “trampy.” We were on our high school’s band trip to the city, marking my first adventure without my parents, who were back at home in Iowa, on the brink of a poisonous divorce. The illusion of freedom that Chicago offered was intoxicating, and I began to see a city I could aspire to: She had neither time for controlling men nor other people’s

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  • Days of Awe

    ONE TIME WHEN I WAS ON MUSHROOMS Richard Pryor took possession of my body and proceeded to give a lecture to me and my friends on the origins of hot peppers and the true meaning of wheat.

    He explained that how hot peppers got hot was terrible things were done to them, especially with fire—they were horrifically burned, in sick and twisted ways—which led to great strife and suffering on the part of the peppers. He continued that indeed the only way for a piece of matter to transmit heat and energy is for great heat and energy to have been transmitted into it. All of this was communicated not the

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