Staff Picks: Paradise, Polysemy, Porridge


This Week’s Reading

Marianna Rothen, Fear of Fear from the series “Shadows in Paradise”, 2016, archival pigment print, diptych, 17″ x 17″ each.


If Barbara Loden directed a film using Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills, it would begin to approximate the photographs in Marianna Rothen’s recent “Shadows in Paradise” series, on view at Steven Kasher Gallery. The images elicit a sixties noir and depict women in various guises in isolated scenes of distress, eroticism, and introspection. The series’s title takes its name from Remarque’s 1971 novel; the book appears in one of the photographs, laid open across the lap of a distracted reader. Rothen’s use of it may reference the woman’s (or, more generally, women’s) feeling of a simultaneous absence and doubling in her life: that her identity and her body—physically and psychologically—are always circumscribed by social and cultural forces, so that she becomes two people, neither one of whom, perhaps, she recognizes. In one of the works, in which two photographs are set side by side, the image on the left shows a woman gazing out a window at an overturned chair, a dress, shoes, and a wig on the lawn; the image on the right shows the same scene, but the woman at the window now inhabits the dress and wig and lies prone on the ground, as though dead. Rothen has said that her photographs reference PersonaThree Women, and Mulholland Drive, and too often she wears those influences on her sleeve, but, to me, these are images that couldn’t have been made by a man. Rothen shows an appreciation for the subtle variations of women’s predicament that can only come from having known it herself. —Nicole Rudick

I don’t know whether it’s my favorite movie, but I do know Mulholland Drive is the only film I’ve ever seen twice in two days—as soon as I left the theater, I wanted to go back in. And I don’t know whether it’s my favorite moment in the movie, but I do know that when the mysterious woman in the Teatro Silencio opens her mouth and begins to sing in Spanish, and the song turns out to be “Crying,” and then she proceeds to sing the song in its entirety, I have never felt more satisfied, or more uncannily understood, by a work of art. And now, thanks to Beyond the Beyond: Music From the Films of David Lynch, edited by J. C. Gabel and Jessica Hundley, I know that Lynch has called this his favorite moment in all his films. Others may prefer the Woman in the Radiator from Eraserhead, or Dean Stockwell lip-syncing “In Dreams” in Blue Velvet, or the “Locomotion” scene in Inland Empire—as this lavishly illustrated compendium shows, nearly every film or show Lynch has made uses music to deep and mysterious effect. —Lorin Stein 

David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti in 1999.

Last weekend, I watched Olivier Assayas’s five-plus-hour biographical miniseries, Carlos, in one long sitting as the day wasted away and the sun eventually set. The film—shown at Cannes in 2010 at 338 minutes, but available in abridged versions as short as two-and-a-half hours—details the activities of the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary Carlos the Jackal between, roughly, 1973 and 1990. I’d never heard of Carlos the Jackal before, and was amazed—stunned—to realize that he’s one of the world’s most-wanted terrorists from that time. Most infamous, probably, for kidnapping the members of a 1975 OPEC conference in Vienna, he executed “dozens of assassination plots, abductions, and bombings across Europe and the Middle East” in the cause of Palestinian liberation. The film is fast-paced and detail-saturated, and it often feels like the inverse of every Western spy movie ever: a sympathetic, complex study of a band of internationalist Marxist-Leninist radicals attempting to, for instance, assassinate the Iranian minister of oil. Or organize a hostage taking at the French embassy in the Hague. I love how this movie turns the Western imperialist narrative in on itself through its character portraits. Because ultimately Carlos’s cause—the liberation of Palestine—is moral. But his tactics are problematic to say the least. —Caitlin Love

This Tuesday, I packed myself in among a sold-out crowd to see Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speak at Cooper Union’s Great Hall, where she discussed her new book: Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. A slim volume, the text originated as a letter to a close friend, who, anxious about raising her baby girl, asked Adichie for advice. “The first is your premise,” Adichie begins, “the solid unbending belief that you start off with. What is your premise? Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not ‘if only.’ Not ‘as long as.’ I matter equally. Full stop.” Dear Ijeawele brims with all the qualities that make its author a joy to see live—eloquence, intelligence, honesty, and humor. It offers an outline of Adichie’s steadfast feminist stance—relevant no matter your gender. I carry it in my bag as a concise reminder. “Make difference ordinary. Make difference normal. Teach her not to attach value to difference. And the reason for this is not to be fair or to be nice, but merely to be human and practical. Because difference is the reality of our world. And by teaching her about difference, you are equipping her to survive in a diverse world.” —Madeline Madeiros Pereira

Still from Carlos.

Appropriately enough, John Keene’s Annotations (1995) resists easy annotation. Keene’s bright, lyrical, hopscotch sentences are often metafictive and self-referential, and the book’s organization is slippery, too; its chapters carry such titles as “Multeities, Disjunctions, Intense Polysemic Pleasures.” But the dexterity and contrast of his sentences brings balance to the work—some run several lines, hooked many times over with punctuation, and others are a word long. Keene’s theme is identity—sexual, historical, racial, personal, and cultural—and Annotations folds in prolific references to Monet, Richard Pryor, Rabindranath Tagore, Ozzie Smith, the Suras, the coccyx, Missouri, and Cicero. The effect is of a tapestry, with its sense of diversity and aggregation, shifting and sliding around Keene’s lyricism. And somehow it all hangs together. A typical sentence reads, “The function and effect of titles, as in most cases of naming, however, depends on one’s ability to differentiate signs. Ornithology. And so, in an effort to make so many shorter stories richer, these overtures ought to be read as a series of extended annotations.” —Noah Dow

Those who watch this space know that once every six months or so I get all fan-boyish about Cabinet and foist something from its latest issue on you. I’m not about to stop now, so … have you read the latest issue of Cabinet? Christopher Turner has a piece about the Savoy Hotel’s vast filing cabinet of dossiers on its guests, dating back to 1918, all of them carefully recorded on six-by-eight index cards. Today they’re a fascinating testament to the hotel’s diligence—and, okay, surveillance—in the name of hospitality. Did you know that Marlene Dietrich absolutely had to be greeted with a dozen pink roses and a chilled bottle of Dom Pérignon? Actually, you might have; that one’s sort of intuitive. But there’s no way you know the exact temperature at which Richard Harris took his porridge. The Savoy also kept detailed descriptions of “officer types” on hand, so they could be given preferential treatment. As Turner writes, it all adds up to “a snapshot of British class and privilege, and the Jeevesian discretion of the hotel staff.” —Dan Piepenbring