In the spring of 2017, for the first time since publishing a memoir set at the height of San Francisco’s AIDS epidemic, I summoned the nerve to teach a course on memoir—which is to say, at least as I taught it, a course on the necessity of personal witness, a course against forgetting. Mostly I avoided the subject of AIDS, not wanting to be the grizzled old veteran croaking war stories to a classroom of undergraduates. But since AIDS memoirs are among the best examples of the genre, I decided I had to foray into the minefields of those memories. I surprised myself by choosing not one of several poignant memoirs but the edgy anger of Close to the Knives, by the artist David Wojnarowicz, with its hustler sex and pickup sex and anonymous sex on the decaying piers of Chelsea and amid the bleak emptiness of the Arizona desert, one eye cocked at the rearview mirror to watch for the cop who might appear and haul your naked ass to the county jail, sixty miles of rock and creosote bushes distant.* Wojnarowicz was thirty-seven years old when he died of AIDS in 1992. [Read more…]
In the most recent season of Charlie Brooker’s excellent The Twilight Zone meets tech anthology series, Black Mirror, an entire episode is dedicated to dating: specifically the app-driven online variety favored by millennials. In “Hang The DJ,” we meet protagonists that slog through endless hours, months, and years of misery guided by an automated system that “learns” from each doomed relationship and ultimately pairs them with their “perfect match.” But an unspoken question looms throughout the episode: why? [Read more…]
Using over 100 years of archival footage, director Sierra Pettengill explores the history of the largest Confederate monument, Georgia’s Stone Mountain.
Rejected as a master’s thesis in Anthropology, Kurt Vonnegut went on to detail the Shapes of Stories in his book, A Man Without A Country, which is highlighted in abbreviated form in the lecture below:
There is a scene in the film I, Tonya where Tonya Harding, played by Margot Robbie, has just skated a stellar performance. It is clear she possesses more athleticism and raw talent than the skaters before her, yet she receives low marks across the board. She approaches the judge’s table in anger. Admitting to the strength of her routine, they then criticize her nail polish (blue) and her choice of music (Zeppelin). She is told her scores would improve if she worked harder to fit in. Her response? “Suck my dick.” She then fires the well-dressed coach who sided with the judges and advises her to “lose the nail polish.” [Read more…]
There are links between eras so subtle we barely detect them in the fabric of the times. We enter the movie theater and are swept away by the images and the aural force of the music score. But in the films we see we can also find the interesting threads that bind us to past histories. Listen closely to the harmonies propelling a scene forward, and the ear will catch the whisper of a previous era aflame with powerful ideals. At the closure of the film season, audiences have recently flocked to the polarizing new Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, the latest, bombastic addition to the canon. In addition to Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, there was another returning marquee name essential to the identity of this franchise, or better put, the pop mythology of the times. I mean, of course, composer John Williams. Audiences may have little way of realizing as they are experiencing a film that they are participating in one of the last stands of the great Romantic period. If we are at the dawn of new revolutions, then in the cinema we find traces of one of the grandest revolutions to have re-shaped culture. [Read more…]
Dvorák: Symphony No.9 In E Minor, Op.95, B. 178 “From the New World” – 1. Adagio – Allegro molto, by Wiener Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan. 1985
One sits in the dead of night, listening to Dvorak, while attempting to form thoughts on a strange, beautiful film. Guillermo Del Toro’s sensuous new film, The Shape of Water, is love as monstrosity, as a distortion of a conformist view of love. Del Toro could not have known how timely his parable would become. If the arts can interpret the psyche and the mood of a time, then Del Toro is but one of several artists and filmmakers who is producing art that responds to our predicament with a radical heart, but a radicalism based on the revolutionary act of seeing the other beyond their veils. [Read more…]
In the strange annals of medieval manuscripts is one held by the British Library designated as Royal 2 A XX, which contains the Lord’s Prayer, sections from the Gospels, several hymns and litanies—and several “Blutsegens,” or “blood charms”: series of prayers and magical incantations to ward against excessive and painful menstruation. The manuscript, which dates to the ninth century, contains at least three different blood charms, though the second is what concerns us here. The passage begins by calling three times on Beronice, an apocryphal figure who was supposedly cured by excessive bleeding after she touched the hem of Jesus’s garment. There is a line from Psalm 51:14: “Deliver me from bloods, O God, thou God of my salvation,” and transcriptions of some older chants and spells, once passed down orally, resulting in an odd blend of early Christian belief and pagan magic. [Read more…]
It is quite possible that the most fitting work of art to premiere onstage this year as an appropriate expression of the times is Thomas Ades’s searing opera, The Exterminating Angel. Apocalyptic, cataclysmic, it tells the story of a group of wealthy dinner guests who cannot leave a mansion, pushed back by an invisible force. Civilization soon crumbles and they become savages. The opera is noteworthy as both a work by Ades, certainly one of the great modern composers, and because it is an adaptation of a film by Luis Buñuel. More than most filmmakers, Buñuel’s cinema endures as both landmark filmmaking and as a powerful set of visions which interpret the human condition. His body of work spans from 1929 to 1977, yet feels even more at home now, in this age of surreal gestures and civilization as madhouse. Buñuel was keenly aware that humans are driven by desire, tribalism, and the power of fantasy. It is when these three mix within his cinema that even his lesser films maintain a dangerous undercurrent. [Read more…]
The flowery language of the United States Declaration of Independence would have you believe that human life has an inherent value, one that includes inalienable rights such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But in America, a major indicator of value is actually placed on being a productive member of society, which typically means working a job that creates monetary revenue (especially if the end result is accumulated wealth and suffering was inherently involved in the process). “Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” being a “self-made” man or woman, and “rags to riches” stories permeate our collective consciousness, creating an overarching culture that links work, jobs and money to morality and value. The system of higher education has also been tied to this toxic concept, as we have equated more education to being better qualified for said jobs. And so the equation becomes: more education leads to more jobs, which leads to more earned and accumulated revenue, which leads to more “value.” [Read more…]
As the year reaches its twilight, it is becoming clear that 2017 was the year of iconoclasm. The wave of scandals and shocking revelations (shocking to those unaware of the habits of the elite) has cracked the great marble edifices of many a celebrity or political persona. For a population as addicted to social media and the religion of fads as ours, it is very telling that it has taken sex to shock the public consciousness into the realization that fame is a mask, popularity a vulgar makeup. But the current, lurid headlines still distract from a truth everyone knows but would prefer to whisper: There are darker ceremonies taking place in the deepest, darkest chambers of the American halls of power.
1964. Richard Avedon and James Baldwin publish their spare yet radical treatise shot through to the arrow’s heart of America and much-adored Americana. Their collection, perhaps even more radically, was titled Nothing Personal, and nothing at the time could have been further from the blood-slaked truth. One can only imagine how so very personal, and how lacerating, these images must have been in the high epoch of Jim Crow, where the unsilenced shot of pistol, the swift stroke of knife, the snap of rope, the strike of skin-crackling fire were the unmitigated and unmediated means of cage-keeping of the day. This fall Taschen will republish a facsimile edition of Nothing Personal, with unpublished photographs and a new introduction by Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Hilton Als. Als’ introduction is excerpted below. An exhibition of images from Nothing Personal will be on view at Pace Gallery, NYC, from 17 November through 13 January, 2018.
by Richard Avedon and James Baldwin
Introduced by Hilton Als
I am about thirteen years old and my body and mind are carried along by the energy that thinking engenders in me—the nearly phosphorescent ideas and possibilities I find in books, looking at pictures, and whenever I visit a museum. Some of the photo books I covet the most can’t be checked out from the Brooklyn Public Library, so, day after day, I duck out of my junior high school, in Crown Heights, and, walking past the Brooklyn Museum, then through the Botanic Garden, I go to look at them in the stacks. [Read more…]
Great and terrible has been the year of 2017, midnight in the century approaches and war clouds faintly gather on the horizon. From the dim light of a mausoleum in Moscow, the corpse of Vladimir Lenin remains still, silent and hollow amid polished stone. What power can a corpse wield long after the state founded by the man himself has ceased to exist? Yet the new Russian Tsar fears this corpse. The Putin government has hesitated, in fact refused, to officially commemorate the event the once living Lenin took part in 100 years ago — the October Revolution of 1917. [Read more…]
One of the great oddities of our present moment is the overwhelming sense of stubborn conformism. The need to relish in specific designer trends and pose in the aesthetic of the middle or upper class is so strong that the rebels now find themselves shunned in popular media. The pressures of establishing oneself in a solid career and making a respectable income have turned collegial life into a Darwinian landscape of predatory competitiveness, where attainment of status supersedes any real intellectual growth. Do your homework, prove you can recite what the lecture told you, and off you go. [Read more…]
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
“It is insufficient to state the obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit…”
Listen to Coates’ full essay below:
Echo chambers are considered by many to be the bane of intellectual thought. They dominated the news cycle after the 2016 United States presidential elections, with headline after headline blaring that echo chambers (along with fake news and Russian intervention) were partly responsible for costing Democrats the vote. Leftists, liberals, and millennials alike were blamed for the creation of “safe spaces” in polls, magazines and Internet comment sections, blinding themselves to the popularity of Donald Trump against opponent Hilary Clinton. They were blindsided because they’d secluded themselves away in worlds of their own making, left bewildered to the idea of huge swaths of the population identifying with, and voting for, a racist, sexist demagogue like Donald Trump. [Read more…]
An extract from “China Is Laughing About This Situation,” The Global Politico/Susan Glasser interview with Ai Weiwei.
Ai Weiwei is making a strong case for himself as America’s leading dissident of the Trump era.
Never mind that he’s Chinese, or that he lives in Berlin in de facto exile these days.
The legendary artist, who has long embraced political themes in his work, has gone full-out activist in a new feature-length documentary film about the global refugee crisis, called Human Flow and released in theaters across the U.S. Friday, and in a new, New York City-wide public art exhibit of 300 works in dozens of locations called “Good Walls Make Good Neighbors.”
Both are explicit rebuttals of the nationalistic, America-First-fueled policies espoused by Trump, from his proposed Mexican border wall to his curbs on immigration that include admitting the smallest number of refugees to the U.S. in decades. [Read more…]
For years, Rudy North woke up at 9 a.m. and read the Las Vegas Review-Journal while eating a piece of toast. Then he read a novel—he liked James Patterson and Clive Cussler—or, if he was feeling more ambitious, Freud. On scraps of paper and legal notepads, he jotted down thoughts sparked by his reading. “Deep below the rational part of our brain is an underground ocean where strange things swim,” he wrote on one notepad. On another, “Life: the longer it cooks, the better it tastes.” [Read more…]
In the age of spectacle the icon is as durable as ancient marble. Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the exterminating angel of the Cuban Revolution, comes down to us half a century after his CIA-backed execution in Bolivia as a Janus figure — a pop icon which nevertheless provokes fierce political debate and fears. His death in October 8, 1967 set aflame waves of indignation among the world’s revolutionary fronts. [Read more…]