Lighting Up the Greed Decade, and Other News


On the Shelf


Sandy Skoglund, Sound of Food, 2005. Image via Slate/Ryan Lee Gallery

  • Eve Sedgwick, the groundbreaking queer theorist, died in 2009. Since then, her husband, Hal, has maintained her apartment—they lived in separate ones—as an archive, amassing all her work, her belongings, and even her cat. Jane Hsu spoke with him: “ ‘The idea of having one love in your life was not an aspiration for us,’ Hal said, when I ask him what it was like to be the primary love object of a queer theorist who wrote so prolifically about the complexities of desire and relationships. Later, Hal referenced D. W. Winnicott’s concept of the ‘holding environment,’ in which the mother creates a safe space for the child that allows the child to then look out into the world, to think about something else beyond the mother’s care. Eve used this idea in her work. Hal offered it as a way of thinking about what they both did for one another.”
  • Do you know a sad professor of English? Sure you do—they’re everywhere. And their sadness is justified: “Socialization to the discipline,” Lisa Ruddick explains, “has left them with unaccountable feelings of confusion, inhibition and loss … The progressive fervor of the humanities, while it reenergized inquiry in the 1980s and has since inspired countless valid lines of inquiry, masks a second-order complex that is all about the thrill of destruction … These days nothing in English is ‘cool’ in the way that high theory was in the 1980s and 1990s. On the other hand, you could say that what is cool now is, simply, nothing. Decades of antihumanist one-upmanship have left the profession with a fascination for shaking the value out of what seems human, alive, and whole … We will find scholars using theory—or simply attitude—to burn through whatever is small, tender, and worthy of protection and cultivation. Academic cool is a cast of mind that disdains interpersonal kindness, I-thou connection, and the line separating the self from the outer world and the engulfing collective.”
  • In the eighties, Sandy Skoglund was struck by a disparity she saw throughout New York, where Wall Street and crime rates were soaring side by side. She began to photograph the city, and now she’s made a series of collages, “True Fiction,” that try to capture the aura of that decade with stark contrasts and bright colors. “I never saw a particular implied narrative other than astonishment, which was a mirror really of my own experience of the contradictions of New York City and living in the 1980s … I hope they have a kind of transcendent quality that does allow a kind of open interpretation and not just an ahistorical document.”
  • Whither the black detective novel? In 1950, Hughes Allison wrote the first black detective story, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. And there was John Ball’s In the Heat of the Night, from 1965, with its iconic Mister Tibbs, who’s more a construction of blackness than a realization of it. And after him? “It would take another two and a half decades after In the Heat of the Night for the next iconic black detective character to emerge, Easy Rawlins, from Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress (1990). Mosley didn’t just live in the skin of Rawlins, a post-World War II private eye, he breathed his entire experience of America, contemporary and the past, into the character … For a moment in the 1990s, after Walter Mosley and Devil in a Blue Dress, crime fiction made room for more black writers. But then writers like Eleanor Taylor Bland, Penny Mickelbury, Paula Woods, Charlotte Carter, and others perhaps fell away in the relentless turnover of the publishing industry: canceled contracts, merged companies, and shifting editorial priorities. In recent years, few black crime-genre writers have reached Mosley’s level of popularity.”
  • Next year, the SAT’s verbal section will do away with a lot of treasured vocabulary: recalcitrant, accretion, grandiloquent, plenitude, diaphonous. There’s only one way to see these words off—to use them all in one short story. Ann Wroe gave it a try: “Joe’s hour had come. Impetuous, redoubtable and sanguine (though fully cognizant of looming disaster), he seized the damsel’s hand. Exit was exigent. She was not apathetic, or obdurate, or truculent, but surprisingly amenable. Together they raced down the nearest conduit to the street. Behind them, a maelstrom of flame became a conflagration. Ubiquitous gray ash poured from the sky. But as they paused, at last, to recover their breath, all that seemed quite tangential.”