The Daily

This Week’s Reading

Staff Picks: Dissent, Deprogrammers, Dogs

January 22, 2016 | by

Raymond Pettibon.

“This isn’t so much bad literature as boring literature. After all, what’s more exhausting than reading, time and again, experimentation you’ve come to expect?” This is Maggie Doherty in the latest issue of Dissent opining the commercialization and political equivocation of much contemporary literature. Her complaint stems from the gutting, over the past four decades, of federal arts agencies, namely the NEA and the NEH; as a result, artists and writers now must rely for their livelihoods on stultifying, increasingly corporatized universities and must heed the demand for marketable works of art. That the U.S. government doesn’t prioritize its citizens’ cultural life is hardly new information. But Doherty makes the significant argument that the contraction of patronage limits both the possibility for avant-garde work and the diversity—“racially, politically, and aesthetically”—of the artistic world. —Nicole Rudick

Raymond Pettibon is a longtime favorite here at the Review; his studio occupied the loft directly beside us at our old office on White Street, and a portfolio of his dog-themed art, “Real Dogs in Space,” was featured in (and on the cover of) issue 209. After attending the opening of his recent show at David Zwirner Gallery, I was intrigued, and very much surprised, to find a video of Pettibon discussing and reacting to the work of J. M. W. Turner, my all-time-favorite visual artist. In the video, part of the Met’s Artist Project series, Pettibon is measured, articulate, and engaging—which sits in stark contrast to his famously absurd social-media persona. —Stephen Andrew Hiltner 

The nasty weather this weekend will force us to peer into the deepest recesses of Netflix. Seek out Jane Campion’s sui generis Holy Smoke (1999), filed under “Quirky Australian Dramas with a Strong Female Lead.” It stars Harvey Keitel as an abrasive, chauvinist cult deprogrammer; Kate Winslet, fresh from a third-eye-opening jaunt in India, is his headstrong charge. Most of the movie finds them isolated in the outback, locked in a moody and often kooky psychosexual endurance contest. Holy Smoke was panned when it came out, but the years have been kind to it, especially to its feminist-misandrist streak. Anyone who enjoyed Campion’s more popular Top of the Lake will take to it right away, even if it indulges in that weird nineties obsession with Hinduism. (Remember when Gwen Stefani wore a bindi?) —Dan Piepenbring

Kate Winslet in Holy Smoke.

I’ve only just read John Keats’s “Sleep and Poetry”—it’s not new, nor will it be unheard of to even the most casual reader of Romantic poetry, but it’s the most moving poem I’ve encountered in a while. Its lines affirm a kind of measured optimism more effective than, say, the unmeasured optimism of “See It Through” by Edgar Guest. But the lines tending away from optimism, rebuffing the “Ill-fated, impious race!” of the poet’s detractors—pedants, pretenders, and cynics—struck me most. Keats’s repudiation of the talented, intelligent cynic rings awfully true, all the more so for his axiom that “the great end/Of poesy,” is to “be a friend/To sooth the cares, and lift the thoughts of man.” We’ve all asked ourselves what real importance there is in a few lines of verse, a few coats of paint across a canvas. Well, just read the affirmative words of Keats: “sure a poet is a sage; A humanist, physician to all men.” —Robert Magella

This week I worked through Jesse Eisenberg’s debut collection Bream Gives Me Hiccups & Other Stories(With emphasis on “other stories”: there are forty-four in the book.) At their worst, Eisenberg’s characters are types —e.g., the vegan mother who, at Thanksgiving dinner, announces she’s thankful for her “enlightened consciousness” before she offers the rest of the table tofu—but at their best, his stories are quite tender. Perhaps the most memorable line in the collection is also its gentlest. In “Restaurant Reviews by a Privileged Nine Year Old,” the protagonist constantly wonders why his recently divorced mother drags him along to all her highbrow and extravagant dinners, worrying it might be because his estranged father only agreed to fund expenses that included their son. In the final moments of the story, though, he understands: “Mom took me around because she needed me,” the boy says. “Because going through a hard life with someone else is better than going through an easy life alone.” —Daniel Johnson