COLUMNS

  • Michel Foucault’s aesthetics

    WHAT EXACTLY IS MEANT by Michel Foucault’s “aesthetics”? The ideas of sex and power we now associate with the philosopher and historian seem to exist in an entirely different register from what he found in the arts. And yet in a certain way this paradox in our relation to his thought is already present in his own work, his own aesthetics.

    The recent publication of Volume Two of Foucault’s collected writings confronts us with just such questions. Much of his writings about the arts are contained in essays, reviews, interviews, lectures—a whole body of journalism that accompanied his work as

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  • business lit

    THE PRESS KIT THAT CAME WITH my copy of Gordon MacKenzie’s Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace (Viking, 1998) describes the book as “originally self-published and already a business cult-classic.” That such a thing exists should surprise no one: so far has business writing evolved in the last thirty years, so many subgenres has it spun off, that the notion of a cult classic is today but one of the many ways in which this former publishing industry niche now constitutes a fairly complete parallel literary universe. There are management prayer books,

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  • advertising doubt

    NO ONE’S CERTAIN HOW many new advertising or media columns have started up this year (four writers I know have been asked to pen them for different publications), but it’s already clear that 1998 will be remembered as the year we got wise. We the people are acting on our inalienable right to gather in coffee shops where murmurs of Dan Rather’s bias may be heard, to rate the Super Bowl commercials, to visit Websites where the big city page-ones are slightingly compared, to read of the advance or retreat of favorite pundits, to be addressed as a knowing insider, to go into the interpretation

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  • “Black Like Who?”

    THE BAR-B-Q AT HARVARD was unexpectedly juicy. Delectable pulled pork, tangy ribs, and luscious chicken—with all the fixin’s—were served up beneath the pious eyes of those ethereal Northern European portal sculptures that have presided for generations over the serene proceedings within a hall named for Adolphus Busch, just off Harvard Yard. This piquant supper followed an edgy panel discussion titled “Black Like Who?,” one of several arranged by Ellen Phelan, James Cuno, Glenn Ligon, and Karen Dalton for the two-day conference “Change the Joke and Slip the Yoke” (after Ralph Ellison), which was

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  • whiteness studies

    IT’S REMARKABLE HOW MUCH we express our political lives in the language of color—conservatives with blue, radicals with red, queers with pink, liberals with lilac; Indian Congress Party patriots de rigueur in white, African Nationalists in black, red, and green, avant-garde apparatchiks, unfortunately like fascists, in black. The lesson of this political palette may indeed go beyond flags and festoons. In the visual display of colors lie those “shades of opinion” that modern democratic societies see as their saving grace. But there is something even more significant about the association of

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  • Robert Smithson

    IN HIS “SITE/NON-SITE” projects of the late ’60s and early ’70s, Robert Smithson mapped the ravages and beauties of the twentieth-century landscape. His chosen sites were poisoned lakes, rubbish dumps, and construction zones, by-products of industrial capitalism. Intervening and scavenging in these wastelands, he carried back from them evocative fragments—stones, salt crystals, tar samples—which, in the gallery, became non-sites, abstract reminders of the absent site’s meaning. “My view of art,” Smithson wrote in 1969, “springs from a dialectical position that deals with whether something exists

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  • paparazzi

    I LOVE PAPARAZZI. Perhaps I should qualify that statement. I know none personally. I’ve never been accosted by one. I’ve never stood on the blitzkrieg flash’s receiving end. (However, at press events, I’ve been bumped against, jostled, and pushed aside by jutting telephoto lenses.) I assume—wrongly?—that most paparazzi are pushy men, and I don’t like to be pushed around; nonetheless, I love paparazzi. They resemble (in a cheerfully debased form that nevertheless remains true to the high original) a kind of perverse artist I’ve long held dear—the artist who doesn’t merely represent a desire,

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  • George W. S. Trow and Daniel Harris

    THERE IS AN APPLIANCE in every living room that makes people stupid. This was a widely known fact before George W. S. Trow’s essay, “Within the Context of No Context” appeared in The New Yorker in 1980 (and in book form soon after), but Trow’s impressionistic meditation on the world of television, and the world of television’s effect on mass culture, fingered the beguiling awfulness of the medium, and the medium’s message, with arresting precision—arresting not least because the essay’s form mimicked the fractured pastiche that was, in 1980, only beginning to be called “postmodernism,” a condition

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  • Backlash and Betrayal

    IT USED TO BE THAT feminism was a total woman thang. Outside of the nice white girls who filled women’s-studies classes because they wanted to learn to be bad, everyone was content to think of us as just a bunch of bra-burning pussy-loving antimale morons who were never gonna have any impact on the rest of the world so no one really had to give a damn. In other words, back in the day when feminist politics had a serious radical edge it was not a movement that everyone was dying to join, but neither was it a movement that everyone wanted to trash. At the peak of the contemporary feminist movement,

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  • Daniel Paul Schreber’s Century

    PSSST—JUST READ this and don’t take your eyes off the page. The art Mafia was created by exactly the same person who started the Federal Reserve System—Andrew Mellon. Doesn’t this tell you something? Once they were able to debase the gold dollar and replace it with “paper” they also created the Washington museum scene with modern art bought from the Communists—a paper replacement for the “golden” art of our America. Remember: you read it in Artforum.

    Dearest reader: I must admit I come to this column with strong bias. I have become convinced that, if the ’70s was the age of narcissism, we now

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  • Moving Men

    AS A MS IN SEARCH of her neglected anima, I closed my eyes to dream. A figure seemed to approach: lacy, flowing, yet stern. A voice as old as the ages called to me, the voice of Kali, Aphrodite, Demeter. My wounded spirit thirsted for the dour yet dulcet tones of the Great Mother, the Hairy Magdalene. She spoke:

    “It would be futile for Miss Manners to pretend to know nothing of the wicked joy of correcting others. There is that pleasant bubble in the throat, a suppressed giggle at another person’s ignorance; that flush of generosity accompanying the resolve to set the poor soul straight: that

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  • Moral Right

    CAN IT BE that the government of the United States, despite the likes of Jesse Helms, truly believes in the inherent value of art? The signals are mixed. Although, after very public debate, NEA funding was cut back, in late November 1990, without public ceremony, Congress enacted the “Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990” (known as “VARA”), which incorporated into existing federal copyright law a provision that deals with the moral rights of visual artists. (California, New York, and nine other states already had their own moral-rights acts. To what extent these state laws will remain vital or be

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