Pretty Pain Pills, and Other News


On the Shelf

Photo: Peter Juzak, via Wired.


  • The thing I do most with Tylenol pills is orally ingest them to relieve pain—that’s just my personal preference. There are other things you can do. You can make a necklace out of them, I guess. Or you can smash them and look at them under a microscope, which is what the photographer Peter Juzak does. And his work—which reveals the candy-colored paradise hiding inside every little nugget of acetaminophen—suggests that this is a good thing to do. Laura Mallonee writes, “He started shooting acetaminophen four years ago. He grinds each tablet and pours the powder on a slide, which he heats on a hot plate to melt so the acetaminophen crystalizes. It can take anywhere from a few hours to sometimes a week or more … A single slide can yield hundreds of images, each exploding with phantasmic colors in shapes that resemble splintered glass.”
  • The seventeenth-century painter Artemisia Gentileschi is remembered, when she’s discussed at all, as a victim—she was raped by another painter, Agostino Tassi, and testified against him in a protracted trial, all of which has led scholars to see her work as a kind of revenge. But Sylvia Poggioli gives us another angle: “While she was testifying against her abuser, Artemisia’s fingers were subjected to sibille—metal rings that were increasingly tightened, a courtroom practice at the time to ensure the witness was telling the truth … Every word of the court case was transcribed, and Artemisia’s testimony under torture was brutally graphic, as she described every detail of the sexual assault. Tassi was found guilty, but he never served his sentence … Art historian [Judith] Mann, however, sees Artemisia more as a champion of strong women rather than a woman obsessed with violence and revenge. Mann points to a canvas painted the year after the rape trial, Judith and Her Maidservant. Here, the head of Holofernes lies in a basket, and Judith, with serene expression and sword resting on her shoulder, is portrayed proudly as victor. ‘That is not a characteristic Judith pose,’ says Mann. ‘That is something we expect of a male hero, so it is a very powerful representation; there is drama and she’s got it. It’s just a masterful treatment.’ ” 

  • Rita Felski is one of many professors asking why literary studies are so bent on cynical strategies like “debunking” and “deconstructing”—can’t literature maybe do a little good for people every now and again? “Her work joins a groundswell of scholarship questioning a certain kind of critique that has prevailed in literary studies in recent decades … a negative commentary, an act of resistance against dominant values, an intellectual discourse that defines itself against popular understanding … The recent debates over literary method have generated considerable hostility because they touch on existential questions of what English professors do. If they abandon suspicion, does that mean retreating into banal admiring description? Should criticism always have a political aim? Is it really necessary, as one of Felski’s allies puts it, for a literary critic to speak truth to power every time she reads Virginia Woolf?”
  • For n+1’s latest podcast, I sat down with Paul Grimstad and Nausicaa Renner to discuss the legacy of Frank Zappa, whose music—with its prodigious avant-garde composition, exuberant showmanship, and puerile, often misogynistic sex jokes—remains stubbornly out of sync with pop culture more than twenty years after his death. As Paul puts it: “If anyone’s recorded output is an emblem of intense work and commitment, it’s his. It’s all about work. The bands are crazily rehearsed, the music is … there’s nothing lazy about it. Even the most tossed-off, novelty thing is thought through. It’s not anti-work in the broad sense, no way. The question is what is he doing it for—what is making a living, what is 9-to-5 existence?”
  • In which T Kira Madden excavates a trauma from her past, an act of assault set in that prosperous midnineties milieu of shopping malls, America Online, and middle-school angst: “You call Clarissa. You will NEVER guess what I’m doing tomorrow. Clarissa screams. You both scream. Your father opens your door again. When did it always become scream, scream, scream? he says. You shuffle through your drawers, try to find the perfect outfit. At school, your uniform consists of sweater vests, long khaki skirts, starched collars that cut. This is your chance, you think, to look like a sultry island princess, to embrace where you came from, to show off the exotic woman you could one day be.”