- Hatred, they say, loves company—especially the company of artists and writers. Well, it’s getting worse: before we know it, hatred may become the dominant critical school of the century! Consumed with hatred, by that time, you will fail to remember that it all began with The Hatred of Poetry, Ben Lerner’s book-length essay. More recently, though, Lerner’s hatred has infected Hal Foster, respected critic and historian of visual art. The two spoke at Frieze New York, and the conversation has now been transcribed. Here is Foster reminiscing about his early years, when he hated painting and tried to kill it: “Well, I was part of a critical clique that, at an early point in the debate over postmodernism, wanted to put painting to death. There is a revolutionary rush to the declaration of any end. The history of modernism is punctuated by the thrill of the fini!”
- The police murders of so many black men have been caught on video, putatively for the sake of justice. But these videos perpetuate themselves with the same moral ambiguity that comes with war photography or any document of suffering. As Ezekiel Kweku writes of Alton Sterling, “I was detached enough to critique the video of his death, classify it, find myself consigning it to genre. I’ve long passed the point at which watching these videos makes me feel like a helpless bystander—I am another distance removed. At this point, I am a critic of images of men like me, dying. I’m a connoisseur … For these videos to prick the conscience, that conscience must already value the lives of those who are dying. Otherwise, the videos are simply lurid entertainment, the modern version of the postcard-size images of lynchings that were passed around during the last century.”
- While we’re on the power of images: Ricky D’Ambrose contrasts the “looks” of the Instagram-and-design age with legitimate style. “Style annuls the impersonal … A look—insofar as it has any resemblance to style at all—is a kind of instant style: quickly executed and dispatched, immediately understood, overcharged with incident. To say that a film, a photograph, a painting, or a room’s interior has a look is to assume a consensus about which parts of a nascent image are the most worthy of being parceled out and reproduced on a massive scale. It means making a claim about how familiar an image is, and how valuable it seems.”
- Americans and Canadians. What could ever unite these two disparate peoples, given their distinct views on the welfare state and their radically different approaches to bacon? I’ll tell you what: a library. Sarah Yahm reports that “for nearly 200 years Derby Line, Vermont, and Stanstead, Quebec, essentially functioned as one town. Citizens drank the same water, worked in the same tool factory, played the same sports … They also shared the same cultural center, the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, an ornate Victorian edifice built deliberately on top of the international border in 1901 by the Canadian wife of a wealthy American merchant … Against all logic, the Haskell Free Library and Opera House continues to serve both Vermonters and Quebecers, and remains a transnational space that residents from both the U.S. and Canada can enter without a passport. Today, it is the only library in the world that exists and operates in two countries at once.”
- Emma Cline remembers discovering the perversities of Archie comics: “As we grew older, we began reading the comics with a sharper eye. Catching spelling errors, repetitive story lines. Continuity problems. The innocence started to rupture around the edges. There was only one black character in Riverdale … Or Betty and Veronica, teen-age girls drawn with pervy precision by the male cartoonists, men who traced the bodies of the girls over and over and over, who posed them like pinups, often barely clothed. Their nipples obvious through tank tops, their skirts riding up their thighs when they sprawled on their pink beds. In some panels, a segment of their white underwear could be seen. It had been there all along, underneath the adamant wholesomeness—flashes of the world the comics had been trying so hard to keep out.”
- And Tim Parks, reading a new biography of Dante, finds a rich irony in the poet’s present-day cultural standing: “Excluded from his home culture in his lifetime, Dante is absolutely at the center of it seven hundred years on. Pathetically wrong when he supposed that his own self-important interventions might swing the course of history, he was triumphantly right when he prophesied that the vernacular would prevail over Latin and that he would be numbered among the great poets of all time. In the early 19th century, Giacomo Leopardi would remark that the factional fragmentation of Italian society was such that no Italian past or present was ever entirely honored or dishonored ‘since there can be no honor without a shared sense of society’. Dante is the exception that proves the rule, more honored it seems to me than any other Italian in history, perhaps because his great work so completely captures and in its way celebrates the endless divisiveness that unites Italy’s present with its past.”
The After Party, Jana Prikryl’s debut collection of poems, is divided in two. In the first half, the reader is mainly in New York, swaying between the modern and the classical, easing between Internet aphorisms and well-dusted literary lives; in half a dozen gently mocking, moving lines in “Ars Poetica,” we find ourselves falling from an observation about Kelly Oxford’s tweets into Arthur Conan Doyle and the history of spiritualism. The collection’s second half switches modes, and we find ourselves engaged with a long, bold sequence of fragments that carry an air of nostalgia. These later poems explore the natural world, the interplay between femininity and masculinity, and a lingering sense of not belonging. Perhaps it’s an odd comparison, but the closing sequence, “Thirty Thousand Islands,” made me think of Matisse and his 1940s cutouts: the preeminent sense of environment, but also the way that techniques of balance and contrast seem to give the work its structure and much of its impact. Read More
- Let us mourn the tech culture of the late twentieth century, which bore only a superficial resemblance to the libertarian, Objectivist, misogynist creep fest that is Silicon Valley today. Flipping through old issues of Wired, Anna Wiener admires an earlier (if ultimately no more forgivable) strain of techno-utopianism: “Wired’s recurring gadget spread, ‘Fetish,’ is where I always flip first: a catalogue of mid-nineties stuff-lust, resplendent with fine-art mouse pads, data gloves, chunky digital cameras, personal stereos, and vibrating office chairs for the gaming élite. Some of these products are unimaginable now, like SelectPhone, a digital phone book for all fifty states contained on four compact disks … In early Wired, technology wasn’t just entertaining; it was a tool, meant to liberate and enlighten. Products were positioned as socially transformative (‘We’re Teen, We’re Queer, and We’ve Got Email’). I was strangely moved by an article about Santa Monica’s Public Electronic Network, an online town hall used by the city’s homeless and wealthy alike.”
- There are around 117,000 speakers of Cree, an indigenous language in Canada that, to go by the sample phrases in this piece, we would do well to save—and to learn ourselves: “With entries ranging from pwâkamo-pahkwêsikan, the Cree word for pizza—‘the throw-up bread’ in literal English—to môniyâw-matotisân, a sauna or a ‘white-man sweat,’ a crowdsourcing project documenting the vitality and evolution of the most widely spoken indigenous language in Canada is about to be published. Neal McLeod, a poet and indigenous studies professor at Trent University, set out to connect with other Cree speakers on Facebook, aiming to gather together classical Cree vocabulary and to ‘coin and develop’ words relating to contemporary life … ‘One of the things on my bucket list … is to translate Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope into Cree,’ writes McLeod, before laying out Cree for Attack of the Clones: kâ-môskîstâkêcik aniki kâ-nipahi-nâh-naspitâtocik, ‘literally, “when the Ones who resemble each other in an uncanny fashion attack”,’ and tâpwê mamâhtâwisiw awa, ‘the Force is strong with this one.’ ”
- As the Soviet Union fades into the rearview mirror, it’s becoming harder to find reliable, intimate accounts of life in the USSR. A new graphic novel is trying to change that: “The Italian graphic novelist Igort went to Ukraine in 2008 and stayed for nearly two years. He met people at marketplaces and on country roads, and drew their lives. ‘Word by word I listen to the account of an existence that has become an undigested mass,’ he writes, at the beginning of one section. ‘It pushes its way out from the gut. The following is a faithful transcription of that story’ … These phrases sum up everything that is good and everything that is not so good about The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks: Life and Death Under Soviet Rule … The translation, sadly, is often tone-deaf and downright sloppy—the peculiarly unappetizing language in this passage is just one example. But the stories he has collected are indeed an undigested mass, often a mess, and this is a good thing.”
- Today in old encyclopedias: the Britannica’s eleventh edition, from 1910–11, has earned a reputation over the past century as a grade-A reference text. What makes it so? “I think the eleventh more than any other edition is a feat of editorial engineering. The editor, Hugh Chisholm, actually had a vision for what an encyclopedia could be and then molded together all the contents that he had to work with to create a single statement about the optimism of the age and the triumph of technology and what progress is … Part of it is the way Chisholm templated the articles. He was a newspaper guy, Chisholm kind of looked at each one of these articles as a story. According to Janet Hogarth, who worked with him, the templates were exhaustive. Even when he didn’t know what the subject was, he knew how a story should be look and feel—how it should be structured. The result of that is a compulsive readability. There are people that sit around for hours reading the eleventh because its just such a pleasure.”
- A new film festival looks at genre flicks helmed by women: “The word genre comes from the French term for ‘gender,’ an etymology that’s especially salient in a kicky, wide-ranging two-week series at Film Forum that spans more than a century. Curated by Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan, ‘Genre Is a Woman’ highlights what should be a well-known fact but is too commonly overlooked: that female directors, ever since the birth of the medium, have not limited themselves to the pink ghetto of romantic comedies and aspirational weepies. Distaff auteurs—beginning with cinema pioneer Alice Guy Blaché, whose The Pit and the Pendulum (1913) is likely the first-ever screen adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe—have made their marks in, among others, noirs, westerns, road movies, science fiction, and grindhouse, all types of films often thought of as the sole province of their male counterparts. ‘Genre movies’ have actually been, to some degree, equal-opportunity employers.”
- The Book of Mormon may be a dull, plodding testament to the assorted lunacies of America’s Second Great Awakening—but it’s also “a Great American Novel, or, failing that, a priceless artifact from the Old, Weird America—a uniquely American product, like jazz music and superhero comics, that deserves our attention.”
- What role, if any, does the “public intellectual” have in 2015? “It might be to participate in making ‘the public’ more brilliant, more skeptical, more disobedient, more capable of self-defense, and more dangerous again—dangerous to elites, and dangerous to stability … It is perhaps up to the intellectual, if anyone, to face off against the pseudo-public culture of insipid media and dumbed-down ‘big ideas,’ and call that world what it is: stupid.”
- The English language has been in decline for a long time—a very, very long time, in fact, and along the way plenty of people have seen fit to remind us that we’re swirling in the toilet bowl. “It was William Langland, author of Piers Plowman, who wrote that ‘There is not a single modern schoolboy who can compose verses or write a decent letter.’ He died in 1386.”
- “There’s something about making a diagram or calendar for an imagined world that feels over-the-top or maybe borderline delusional,” but everyone does it anyway—see this collection of novelists’ visual aids.
- Kingston Penitentiary, which had a rep as “Canada’s Alcatraz,” opened in 1835 and closed only a few years ago. The photographer Geoffrey James was one of the few to document life inside it before it shut down—his photo-essay is bleak.
Douglas Coupland—you know him. Author of Generation X, and conflicted progenitor of the same term; occasional Financial Times columnist; one-time Paris Review Daily interviewee.
You may now see his likeness swathed in chewing gum.
Coupland, who’s also a visual artist, constructed a seven-foot sculpture of his head from polyester and resin. It sat outside the Vancouver Art Gallery all summer long, where passersby were encouraged to deposit their gum on it.