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Posts Tagged ‘Susan Sontag’

Rain the Color of Blue With a Little Red in It, and Other News

November 25, 2015 | by


A still from Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai.

  • In an effort to combat censorship, the British filmmaker Charlie Lyne (such a British filmmaker name, no?) has launched a campaign to produce the single most banal film in the history of the medium: Paint Drying. “The film is a single, unbroken shot lasting several hours (its length is determined by the amount of money raised) of white paint slowly drying on a brick wall. Once Lyne has paid the fee, the [censorship] board are obliged to watch it.” If all goes according to plan, and assuming the censors aren’t fans of Andy Warhol or Modern Times Forever, the movie will send them into a spiral of despair and boredom of a sort not seen since Must Love Dogs, ten years ago.
  • While we’re on film: Prince’s Purple Rain has been remade in Niger, which is a great way to spread the Purple gospel, except that no one in Niger knows who Prince is, and they don’t have a word for the color purple. “The fact there is no Tuareg word for purple means the film is saddled with the title Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai, which translates as Rain the Color of Blue With a Little Red in It … Swapping smoky Minneapolis for dusty Agadez, the largest city in the country’s central region, the new film follows Mdou Moctar—a popular self-taught Niger musician in real life—as he rides his purple motorbike from performance to performance, struggling to make a name for himself.”
  • The verb to dream never used to stand in for to aspire. Dreaming used to be a matter of sleep—a matter of deluding yourself in slumber. For the shift, “you can blame the Americans. Our collective embrace of the so-called ‘American dream’ was the cornerstone of this particular twentieth-century shift in usage … In 1931, American historian James Truslow Adams coined the phrase ‘The American Dream,’ in his book The Epic of America Adams used the ‘dream’ as a structuring conceit for his gloss of American history, describing this dream as one of material prosperity, but also of what we might now call self-actualization.”
  • For the journalist Jeff Sharlet, in Paris, the events of November 13 began with a kind of nervous laughter: “The point is—something about the jokes we tell not just as frightened people, but as a certain kind of frightened people. Citizens of empire or of a very rich and stylish former empire that still has an aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle … these jokes, now, are different. These are not the jokes of the oppressed, they’re the jokes of those of us who suddenly—suddenly, so many words demand quote marks after terror—find ourselves seen as the oppressors … These are the jokes we tell to hold at bay the knowledge that this isn’t the first time or the last, the knowledge that they don’t hate us because of our cafés but they will attack our cafés, the knowledge that we’re fucked as soon as we find ourselves saying they, and then, worse, the knowledge that we were fucked before we began, because we’ve never had any other word than they.”
  • After 9/11, “Susan Sontag seemed tactless to many in speaking of the ‘sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric” of “confidence-building and grief management’ that resembled the ‘unanimously applauded, self-congratulatory bromides of a Soviet Party Congress.’ She was attacked for insisting, ‘Let’s by all means grieve together, but let’s not be stupid together.’ ” Fourteen years later, we’ve not exactly excelled at this not-being-stupid-together business, as Pankaj Mishra points out: “Not surprisingly, the pampered and intellectually neutered industry of expertise and commentary today betrays cluelessness before the spectacle of worldwide mayhem … Only God knows how much we need some real argument and fresh thinking—the tradition of self-criticism that did indeed once distinguish and enlighten the West. For as long as avid conformists and careerists reign over an impoverished public sphere, endless war will remain the default option. And the recourse to Westernism’s self-congratulatory bromides after every new calamity will ensure that we continue to grieve together and grow stupid together.”

Long Story Short: In the Studio with Aidan Koch

August 20, 2015 | by

Photo: Amanda Hakan

Photo: Amanda Hakan

On Aidan Koch’s cover for our Summer issue, six panels depict a woman lounging and reading and ruminating at the shore. Each panel exists both as a discrete event—here, she looks at her book; here, she shades her eyes—and as one sentence in a paragraph about the woman’s day at the beach. The issue also features Koch’s comic “Heavenly Seas,” the story of a woman who travels to a tropical location with a man she doesn’t love. It is twenty-eight pages long and contains just over a hundred words of dialogue and no narration. The difference between “Heavenly Seas” and the cover sequence is like the difference between Lydia Davis’s long short stories and her very short ones.

Koch, a native of Olympia, Washington, is the author of three book-length comics—The Whale, The Blonde Woman, and, most recently, Impressions. She also makes sculptures, ceramics, and textiles that reinterpret the classical motifs that appear in many of her comics. Her narratives are elliptical, fragmentary, and open-ended; it seemed appropriate to include “Heavenly Seas” in an issue that is largely about translation. Last month, I met Koch at her studio, in the basement of a tatty mansion she shares with eight other artists and a corn snake named Cleopatra, in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Where did the story for “Heavenly Seas” come from?

I’d been trying to think about how to utilize the idea of traveling. I’d read a couple of Paul Bowles books, and I liked how well he captured the mindset of how foreign places can seem to the traveler and how that’s seductive but also scary. He also thought about people’s attitudes in different countries and in confronting different cultures. That’s something I’d been considering, since it’s a big part of my life. I’ve been traveling constantly for the last three or four years. I left Portland in 2011 to travel and just didn’t stop. I went to Spain and Turkey, then I was in Scandinavia and around Europe. My book Field Studies documented 2012, when I lived in a different room in a different city every month, just because I didn’t know what to do with myself. I thought maybe I’d figure it out along the way. Read More »

Too Complicated for Human Brains

March 24, 2015 | by

Gary Indiana’s art “recasts voyeurism as wonder.”

EGI 7601 high res

Untitled, 1976, collage, 10" x 8".

Gary Indiana does not have a Web site. If you Google him, you might find his writing scattered among street views and crime reports from the destitute and dangerous place he chose to name himself after. When I asked friends if they knew his art, they told me, Only that LOVE sculpture—the one by Robert Indiana—or, worse, they began to sing that song from The Music Man. Those who do know him, though, rank him among the great American novelists, even if most of his books are out of print. When I looked, all had been checked out of the public library.

Maybe someone like me—curious, researching—had found them first, because at sixty-five Gary Indiana is having what you might call “a moment.” The third solo show of his visual art opened on Sunday night, and when I spoke to him on the phone the following day he told me three more exhibitions are scheduled this year. His books are being reissued, and a “kind of memoir, though we’re not calling it that,” is due in September. Read More »

More Than Mere Brotherly Love, and Other News

September 9, 2014 | by


Nicolaus Knüpfer, Bordeelscène, ca. 1650.

  • If you were a rake headed to Philly in the 1840s, you wanted to have this pocket guide with you—it lists all the brothels in town, with some helpful editorializing about each. “None but gentlemen visit this Paradise of Love,” one description says. Another: “Beware of this house, stranger, as you would the sting of a viper.”
  • A list of the one hundred most popular books on Facebook contains exactly zero surprises.
  • From a new documentary on Susan Sontag: “She sat me down on her bed … and ran through the argument of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. She must have been fifteen.”
  • “We all have bodies; we all wear clothes; we all have reflections that vex us; we all exist in dynamic relationship to our communities, and fashion is a medium for testing or strengthening those bonds … anyone who diminishes the significance of that is carrying water for the patriarchy, deferring reflexively to those thousands of years of human history when men got to decide what was frivolous or not. You know what's frivolous? Fantasy football.”
  • In 1932, Einstein endorsed a psychic. And she endorsed him: “Dr. Einstein is indeed the most remarkable personality I have ever contacted [sic]. And his aura is just sublime—pure blue electric sparks, instead of color. It was just like talking to God.” And so Einstein’s credibility as a scientist came under fire: “Now he is the tamest lion in the intellectual zoo. He goes everywhere. He attends picture openings with the regularity and aplomb of Clark Gable. He is at all the public dinners.”


A Creator of Inwardness

January 16, 2014 | by

Photograph by Peter Hujar.

Photograph by Peter Hujar.

Susan Sontag was born today in 1933.


Is it old-fashioned to think that the purpose of literature is to educate us about life?


Well, it does educate us about life. I wouldn’t be the person I am, I wouldn’t understand what I understand, were it not for certain books. I’m thinking of the great question of nineteenth-century Russian literature: how should one live? A novel worth reading is an education of the heart. It enlarges your sense of human possibility, of what human nature is, of what happens in the world. It’s a creator of inwardness.

—Susan Sontag, the Art of Fiction No. 143



What We’re Loving: Psycho-Biddies, Illusions, MTV

July 19, 2013 | by


It’s hard to read in a heat wave, but the July issue of Asymptote is so absorbing I hardly notice my sweat drops hitting the keyboard. Even more impressive than the diversity of things translated—book reviews in Urdu, fiction in Bengali, poetry in Faroese—is their quality. I’ve especially enjoyed the excerpt from Operation Massacre, a novela negra by the great Argentinian writer Rodolfo Walsh, and the interview with David Mitchell about his translation of a memoir by Naoki Higashida, an autistic Japanese thirteen-year-old. Here is Mitchell on the misery of translation: “As a writer I can be bad, but I can’t be wrong. A translator can be good, but can never be right.” —Robyn Creswell

I usually behave at museums, but last weekend, at “Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective,” currently at the Met, the guards were just waiting for my friend and me to leave. A number of the amorphous, neon, strangely suggestive ceramics for which Price is particularly known appeared to have small windows carved out of their exteriors to reveal dark, hollow interiors (see, for example, Price’s Pastel). But upon closer examination, it became difficult to tell whether the windows truly exposed new space, or whether they were simply painted on—perfectly executed optical illusions. Clearly, the only option was to get even closer. This is not allowed. Repeat offenses were unavoidable, though; I wanted an answer! The sculptures gleamed so! I felt taunted. A definitive answer could not be determined before we were ultimately shooed away. A partner exhibition of Price’s work, at the Drawing Center, which I hope to see this weekend, consists only of works on paper; it will be easier to be better there. —Clare Fentress Read More »