Art Requires, A Long Look

Gig Ryan at The Sydney Review of Books:

So much has been written on the Heide group of artists, Nolan, Tucker, Hester, and their patrons John and Sunday Reed that it is hard to imagine anything more could be added. π.ο.’s Heide however, though holding this group of communalism, camaraderie, and free love as its centre, radiates backwards to the history that precedes the Reeds’ utopian endeavour, and continues into its aftermath. One epigraph from Oscar Wilde signals Heide’s intent: ‘The only duty we have to history is to rewrite it.’ Artists tumble out in artistic lineage from Buvelot to the Heidelberg School to Heide, along with numerous glancing biographies of influential patrons and politicians, William Barak, Ned Kelly, Albert Namatjira, Patrick White, Billy Hyde, Eliza Fraser, and many others. Through these intersecting histories, Heide also depicts the struggle between the conservation of the past and revolt against it, as epitomised in the Ern Malley hoax, with Angry Penguins magazine briefly funded by the Reeds, and the recurring compromises that swing between capital and art; ‘Only an Artist, can break out of / a straight-jacket.’. But it is his poetic technique that most energetically enacts these struggles, forging a dense amalgam in which past and present continually invade each other. Where π.ο.’s earlier Fitzroy: The Biography catalogued portraits of famous, notorious, and lesser known characters, Heide commences with ‘Terra Australis’ that cryptically lampoons its title, then to Cook’s voyage, and gradually progresses to the establishment of the State Library and the National Gallery of Victoria in 1850s colonial Melbourne, and eventually to the artists hammering to enter or exit those institutions. Escapee William Buckley and explorers Leichhardt and Burke and Wills are also among these seekers of the new: ‘On the horizon: / 23 horses, 19 men, and 26 camels on / a slow walk across / a blank slate.’ This imaginary ‘blank slate’ is equivalent to the unpolished metropolis without its establishments of arts and learning, and these doomed or heralded figures parallel the relentless pursuit of art.

more here.

The Essential Octavia Butler

Stephen Kearse at the New York Times:

The plaques and firsts are the least interesting part of her story, though. Above all, Butler was an observer and ponderer. The probing mind that animates her novels, short stories and essays is obsessed with the viability of the human enterprise. Will we survive our worst habits? Will we change? Do we want to?

These questions led Butler to explore settings banal and fantastical, brutal and tender. Her peculiar, unsettling worlds, rendered in prose trimmed of sentiment and ornament, overflow with desperation and tragedy. She deeply distrusted utopias, saviors, power brokers and escapism. Accordingly, her works are heavy and bleak, full of warnings and catastrophic failures to heed them.

more here.

The Deflationary Bloc

Yakov Feygin in Phenomenal World:

“An effective way to write the history of the last thirty years of the twentieth century,” economist Albert Hirschman wrote in 1985, “may well be to focus on the distinctive reactions of various countries to the identical issue of worldwide inflation.” Writing just as the global “great inflation” of the 1970s was abating, Hirschman couldn’t have foreseen how right he was. As Claudia Sahm recently wrote in the New York Times, fear of the great inflation of the 1970s still dominates the thinking of the Federal Reserve, even as its recent messages indicate changing winds. (In recent comments, Larry Summers’s warning that two-thousand-dollar checks would cause the economy to run too “hot” and generate inflation betrayed an almost generational blindness on the topic.)

Economists lack a good understanding of what causes inflation. In introductory macroeconomics curricula, the mantra of Milton Friedman remains central: “inflation is always a monetary phenomenon.” By this, Friedman meant that excessive price growth happens when a state loosens the supply of money, thus over-expanding the monetary base. But recent research has brought this popular doctrine into question. While expanding the money supply seems to be a necessary condition for uncontrolled inflation to occur, it is not sufficient: increases of the monetary base have occurred without any inflationary episodes, and inflationary episodes have happened with only very small increases in monetary base.

Contra Friedman, Hirschman suggested that uncontrolled inflation is primarily a political phenomenon that occurs when groups compete over resources. The rapid increase of the price level is a signal that the state can no longer control this competition. What exactly happened in the waning decades of the twentieth century, and why do the ghosts of inflation still haunt our economic and political reality?

Hyman Minsky’s writings on the collapse of the so-called golden age of capitalism offer some insight by forcing us to engage with how distributive struggles have driven the inflationary and deflationary cycles of the past fifty years.

More here.

Liberal egalitarianism: what’s worth salvaging?

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite interviews Katrina Forrester over at Renewal:

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite (FSB): The first part of your book, In the Shadow of Justice (Princeton 2019), goes back to the 1950s, when the basic parameters of Rawls’s theory of justice were, you argue, set. As a historian of Britain, I was fascinated by how much the British Labour Party’s revisionists shaped Rawls in the 1950s – you suggest, in fact, that his theory brought ‘philosophical order to the ideas of the Labour revisionists’ (p25). But because it was so fundamentally formed in this period, Rawlsianism was premised on continuing high levels of growth and public buy-in for welfare programmes, two things that Labour revisionists took for granted but which would become much less secure in the years after the publication of A Theory of Justice in 1971. In the following decades, as you show, a cohort of Rawlsian political philosophers, defending his work from attacks on left and right, firmed up and elaborated Rawls’s already immensely ambitious theory into a kind of juggernaut: huge, with a vast, rigid structure, very slow to turn around, but immensely powerful. Rawlsianism didn’t just come to dominate liberal political philosophy, it essentially defined liberal egalitarianism. Other philosophers had to work in its shadow. You want, in your book, to ‘denaturalize and defamiliarize’ the canons of liberal egalitarianism (p275). What’s the practical payoff from doing this?

Katrina Forrester (KF): It can be hard to see the assumptions that underpin a particular way of thinking, and to see the different choices that go into making up the conceptual frameworks that we take for granted and that are coded as ‘intuitive’. Among political philosophers, liberal egalitarianism has been a dominant way of thinking about politics, society and ethics, for decades. Though its origins in the political philosophy of John Rawls are constantly revisited, sometimes in a quasi-scriptural way, its political origins are less often interrogated. I wanted to ask what we see if we take liberal egalitarianism as a historical phenomenon to be explained. If it is recast as one of the twentieth century’s languages of liberalism, a framework that is one among many, then we might be better placed to ask if it’s a language and a framework we want to use.

More here.

Digital Immortality

Houman Barekat in LA Review of Books:

A FEW MONTHS AGO, I got a terrible fright. I was on my smartphone, rereading my old WhatsApp exchanges with a friend who had died in a car accident a year earlier, when suddenly the screen flickered and the friend came “online.” Presumably a relative had possession of the phone and was going through it; maybe they were looking to retrieve some specific piece of information, or perhaps they simply wanted to revisit their loved one’s online life — just as one might peruse a photo album or a trove of letters. There was a simple explanation, but I was nonetheless spooked: it was unnerving to see the account spring to life, because we tend to think of social media profiles as being inextricably entwined with their owner’s personhood — an extension, almost, of their physical selves.

What is the moral and legal status of a person’s digital avatar and its accumulated data? Is it merely property like any other, or does it occupy its own special category? In 2018, Germany’s Federal Court of Justice ruled that the parents of a 15-year-old girl who died after falling under a train had the right, under inheritance law, to access her Facebook account. The parents, who believed their daughter may have intended to kill herself, wanted to read her online correspondence to establish whether she was being bullied at the time of her death. This brought them into conflict with Facebook’s strict privacy policy, which permits only the most limited access for relatives of deceased users: they can either “memorialize” the profiles or delete them outright. Overturning the decision of an appeals court that had found in Facebook’s favor, the country’s highest court held that such digital data should be treated no differently than a person’s private diaries, passing to their legal heirs after death.

Intuitively this feels right, especially in the circumstances of that particular case. But merely having access to an account is one thing; using it to post new content in the name of the deceased person is another.

More here.

Time Is the Universal Measure of Freedom

Mike Konczal in Boston Review:

The workplace has been a central battleground in the debate over freedom. On the clock, bosses tell us how to act and what to do, even around basic bodily functions: workers can be told when they can use the bathroom. Bosses also exert a significant amount of control over our personal lives, dictating limits on speech and our political actions. Governments can imprison us for breaking their rules; bosses can fire us, depriving us of the basic resources we need to live. Unlike our democratic form of public government, the workplace subjects us to, in the words of philosopher Elizabeth Anderson, a kind of private government, with no presumption of fairness, accountability, or even regularity—a despotic state in miniature. Leaving our job is no check on this despotic tendency. People know this, which is why for centuries American workers have demanded more than the power to quit. As much as fair wages and safe working conditions, workers have also demanded safeguards over their time.

There have always been workers who demanded limits on working hours to accommodate everything else that they needed time for. They understood that if they didn’t have free time, they couldn’t have the kinds of relationships and commitments they needed to lead free and full lives. This is a story almost as old as the United States itself. In May 1835 a group of carpenters, masons, and stonecutters in Boston wrote and released the “Ten-Hour Circular,” a short document demanding a ten-hour workday. “The God of the Universe has given us time, health, and strength. We utterly deny the right of any man to dictate to us how much of it we shall sell.” The circular’s description of the system as “odious, cruel, unjust, and tyrannical” and of bosses forcing a worker “to exhaust his physical and mental powers by excessive toil, until he has no desire but to eat and sleep, and in many cases he has no power to do either” resonated with workers, especially those new to waged labor. Citizens left in a worn-out state of exhaustion could not be “friends to the country or the Rights of Man,” nor could they meet their “duties to perform as American Citizens and members of society.”

More here.

Saturday Poem

“From the depths of ignorance ill winds blow.”
…………………………………….. —Amerigo Lowe

Idiot Wind —excerpts

Someone’s got it in for me
They’re planting stories in the press
Whoever it is I wish they’d cut it out quick
But when they will I can only guess

People see me all the time
And they just can’t remember how to act
Their minds are filled with big ideas
Images and distorted facts

Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth
Blowing down the back roads headin’ south
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth
You’re an idiot, It’s a wonder that
you still know how to breathe

You hurt the ones that I love best
And cover up the truth with lies
One day you’ll be in the ditch
Flies buzzin’ around your eyes
Blood on your saddle

Idiot wind, blowing through the flowers on your tomb
Blowing through the curtains in your room
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth
You’re an idiot babe
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe

Read more »

Nine Attention-Grabbing Inventions Unveiled at This Year’s CES

Emily Matchar in Smithsonian:

Like school, work conferences and visiting your grandparents, this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has been virtual-only. So instead of gathering in hangar-sized Las Vegas expo halls, those wishing to check out the year’s crop of tech and gadget debuts can simply tune in online. Some of these technologies will never catch on. Others may one day be as ubiquitous as the Xbox, satellite radio and 3D printers, all of which made their grand entrances at CES. While it’s hard to predict which items will stick around, we’ve picked nine of the most useful-seeming, most surprising and most fun inventions for a possible peek into our future.

Bluetooth Masks

What would have looked utterly alien just a year ago now seems completely practical. Binatone’s MaskFone is a N95 mask wired for sound. Wearers can use its Bluetooth function to make calls, request a song from their own music library, or issue commands to voice assistants like Alexa. Simply take the electronics out to wash the fabric mask. Tech and social media commentator Lance Ulanoff tweeted “How did someone not come up with this sooner?”

More here.

A Heart Is Not a Nation

Jeff Sharlet in Bookforum:

Even if, especially if, Trump leaves—and some portion of us are lulled into mistaking his ascendency for an aberration—we’ll have to choose to look at hate, even as the press swells with self-congratulatory stories of a nation rejecting “division.” Because the hate of which Trump is the coalescence, the coagulation, was not an aberration, it was an inevitability.

I STARTED WRITING THIS ESSAY on the hate under which we all now live the night of Trump’s first debate with Joe Biden. I was trying to think through two new books, Seyward Darby’s Sisters in Hate and Jean Guerrero’s Hatemonger, both smartly reported and urgent. But I stalled. I could read the books, but I didn’t know if I had it in me to write about them. I’d learned, like so many of us, to look away.

I hadn’t given up the hate beat entirely since my heart attack. I’d grown careful.

Last fall, when I started reporting on Trump rallies again, instead of drinking my fear into submission afterward, I’d go for long walks. I read these books while walking the dirt roads where I live now, roads so quiet I could walk and read. But often I’d pause, neither reading nor walking. I considered the question of how to write about hate, what these books—Darby’s, on the internal lives of female leaders of what remains (for now) fringe white nationalism, and Guerrero’s, about Trump senior adviser and speechwriter Stephen Miller, who is mainstreaming those beliefs—might say about the taxonomy of hate, the methodology of its study. As if looking at hate was a matter of professional curiosity.

I had thoughts! But I couldn’t keep what I’d read in my mind, my gut, my—maybe you’ll forgive the cliché—my heart. I’d reached saturation. Or maybe I was finally getting it, the “joke,” which is that you don’t need to go looking for hate. It’s always right there, mundane. I remembered a 2017 New York Times profile of a suburban neo-Nazi, how many accused it of “normalizing” its subject. I hadn’t thought much of it—no need to play neutral with fascism—but I hadn’t agreed when people said it didn’t matter if the Nazi liked Seinfeld and Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim. I thought there was no “normalizing” him, because he was all too normal. It seemed critical to understand the ways in which the antifascist del Toro’s art could be repurposed as hate. If it could happen to del Toro it could happen to anybody. We are, none of us, especially given the whiteness—the anti-Blackness—coded within us all by white supremacy, as far from the Nazi as we want to be. My problem with the Nazi next door wasn’t that we knew too much about him. We didn’t know enough.

More here.

Friday, January 15, 2021

How one of publishing’s most hyped books became its biggest horror story — and still ended up a best seller

Lila Shapiro in Vulture:

On a mild Monday this past February, a tense meeting unfolded in a skyscraper in downtown Manhattan. Four Latinx writers and activists sat on one side of a long conference table. Facing them was a collection of white editors and executives from Macmillan, the publishing house that had recently put out American Dirt, the most controversial book of the year, or maybe the century. A representative of Oprah Winfrey’s listened in on the phone, and a platter of sandwiches sat on the table. “I wouldn’t eat the sandwiches,” recalled Myriam Gurba, one of the activists. “Those are the enemies’ sandwiches.”

In the months leading up to American Dirt’s publication, Macmillan had positioned the page-turner — about a mother and son escaping cartel violence in Mexico — as a definitive chronicle of the migrant experience. Prominent readers had praised it in terms worthy of a Nobel Prize. The novelist Don Winslow called it “a Grapes of Wrath for our times.”

More here.

What the Blood Supply Shows About Covid-19’s Spread

Nathaniel Scharping in Undark:

In March, as the Covid-19 pandemic began to shut down major cities in the U.S., researchers were thinking about blood. In particular, they were worried about the U.S. blood supply — the millions of donations every year that help keep hospital patients alive when they need a transfusion.

The researchers were able to put to rest their initial concerns about the virus spreading via the blood supply. But they quickly realized that all those blood donations might offer a vital source of data on the pandemic.

When Covid-19 infects someone, the immune system’s response to the virus leaves behind detectable proteins in their blood. In March, with funding from the National Institutes of Health, a group of scientists working with blood banks around the country quickly launched a program to surveil the blood supply in certain regions for those traces of Covid-19 infection. With funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that initial program expanded to a nationwide effort known as the Multistate Assessment of SARS-CoV-2 Seroprevalence (MASS) study, which has analyzed roughly 800,000 donations so far.

More here.

James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Today

Ashish Ghadiali in The Guardian:

Michael Ondaatje once wrote that if Van Gogh was “our 19th-century artist-saint” then James Baldwin was “our 20th-century one”. For many, Baldwin’s writing has long been a touchstone of anti-racist humanism, but the sense of that particular epithet has never landed more emphatically for me than while reading Eddie S Glaude Jr’s Begin Again, his potent meditation on the enduring legacy of Baldwin’s life and thought, a New York Times bestseller and one of a number of titles that have spoken to the soul of public outrage at George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis last May.

Glaude, who is distinguished professor and chair of the African American studies department at Princeton University (where he has been teaching a seminar on Baldwin for several years), is also a native of Jackson County, Mississippi, the US state that suffered the highest number of lynchings – 581 between 1882 and 1968. The trauma of that inheritance – “our bodies carry the traumas forward,” Glaude writes – is never far from the page. Nor is the trauma felt across black America in his parents’ generation when in 1968 Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated, crushing hopes for “fundamental change” that had been gathering around the US civil rights movement for the best part of a decade.

It was out of despair, Glaude writes, that in 2018, two years after what he calls “the disastrous election of Donald Trump”, he started to write this book, “saying to myself, they have done it again. Millions of white Americans had chosen Trump, and we would have to deal with the consequences of that choice.”

More here.

Friday Poem

Sonnet XVII

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

Pablo Neruda

The Act of Living: what the analysts can teach us

Lisa Appignanesi in The Guardian:

An old man with a shaggy white beard and matching hair stands in front of an audience of seekers and flower children. They are looking for ways of amplifying their human potential, of becoming more aware of their sense perceptions. It’s the tail end of the 1960s and the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, is where it’s happening. Throughout the decade, the fame of Fritz Perls – founder of Gestalt therapy in the 50s along with his rarely mentioned wife, Laura, and the once-lauded social critic Paul Goodman – soared. Perls’s so-called Gestalt Prayer was doing the rounds: “I do my thing and you do your thing, / I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, / and you are not in this world to live up to mine. / You are you, and I am I, / and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful. / If not, it can’t be helped.” (Even by this time Gestalt had lost its intellectual oomph, having moved away from its earlier therapeutic intent into the world of yogis and platitudes.)

When he was a student in Vienna in the late 20s, Perls had attended Wilhelm Reich’s “technical seminars”. Reich, who wrote The Function of the Orgasm in 1927, was to serve as his supervising analyst in Berlin in 1930. The book was dedicated and personally presented to Freud, who liked the talented Reich: he had done much good work in the outpatient Ambulatorium, providing therapy for the poor, and then with his mobile clinic bringing advice and contraception to working-class areas. But, as Freud wrote to a friend with his customary dryness, Reich had somewhat oversimplified the human psyche by finding the antidote for all neurosis in one genital function.

Perls would later tell an anecdote about his one meeting with the founder of psychoanalysis and the talking therapy that predated his own. It’s 1936 and Perls pays an impromptu visit to the ageing Freud at his apartment, announcing he’s come all the way from South Africa. Freud, unimpressed by the presumptuous interruption, asks: “And when are you going back?”

More here.

Why a Universal Society Is Unattainable

Mark Moffett in Nautilus:

On Jan. 1, 2021, five long years after the vote for what’s become known as Brexit, and numerous marches before and after that national decision, some of which attracted more than 100,000 impassioned participants, Great Britain formally severed its nearly half century-long ties with the European Union. The decision, as columnist Owen Jones described it in The Guardian, was to foment “an all-out culture war.” In the 2016 vote, the majority of British people stubbornly chose for their country to be on its own and not part of a more encompassing group of societies. The vote appeared to run against the broader trend of European nations loosening their boundaries in acknowledgement of an identity that outweighs, or erases, the impor­tance of the societies themselves. With the number of societies in gener­al declining century after century,1 we might take seriously the assertion that the internationalization of culture (think Star Wars, tequila, Mercedes-Benz) and connections (with Twitter linking people from Aa, Estonia, to Zu, Afghanistan) are a harbinger of a Berlin Wall-type border collapse, making, as the British sociologist Morris Ginsberg once put it, “The unification of mankind [is] one of the clearest trends in human history.”

Whatever the ultimate relationship of Great Britain and Europe may be, the current breakup underscores how deeply national identity runs through human psychology. A review of both the psychology literature and anthropological research on societies ranging from the ethnolinguistic groups of hunter-gatherers to tribes, chiefdoms, and states (less formally, “nations”),3 reveal that a universal society is unattainable. Populations across the globe today may devour Starbucks, KFC, and Coca-Cola. They may enjoy Italian opera, French couture, and Persian carpets. But no matter how many exotic influences each absorbs or what foreign connections they make, nations don’t just fade away. They retain their citizens’ fierce devotion.4 Societies have always traded, gifted, or taken what they want from the outer world to claim as their own, and grown all the stronger for doing so. While the erasure of borders may be laudable, nothing we know about the workings of the human mind suggests it is a realistic vision.

More here.

What May Be the Oldest Artwork in the World

Sarah Cascone at Artnet:

Archaeologists believe they have discovered the world’s oldest-known representational artwork: three wild pigs painted deep in a limestone cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi at least 45,500 years ago.

The ancient images, revealed this week in the journal Science Advances, were found in Leang Tedongnge cave. Made with red ochre pigment, the painting appears to depict a group of Sulawesi warty pigs, two of which appear to be fighting. Those two images are badly damaged, but the third, possibly watching the drama unfold, remains in near-pristine condition.

“The world’s oldest surviving representational image of an animal,” the paper noted, the painting “may also constitute the most ancient figurative artwork known to archaeology.”

more here.

How El Anatsui Broke the Seal on Contemporary Art

Julian Lucas at The New Yorker:

Anatsui, a seventy-six-year-old Ghanaian sculptor based in Nigeria, has transfigured many grand spaces with his cascading metal mosaics. Museums don them like regalia, as though to signal their graduation into an enlightened cosmopolitan modernity; they have graced, among other landmarks, the façades of London’s Royal Academy, Venice’s Museo Fortuny, and Marrakech’s El Badi Palace. The sheets sell for millions, attracting collectors as disparate as moma, the Vatican, and Bloomberg L.P. In the past ten years, public fascination with their medium’s trash-to-treasure novelty has matured into a broader appreciation of Anatsui’s significance. The man who dazzled with a formal trick may also be the exemplary sculptor of our precariously networked world.

“Triumphant Scale,” a career-spanning survey, drew record-breaking crowds when it opened, in March, 2019, at Munich’s Haus der Kunst. From there, the show travelled to the Arab Museum of Modern Art, in Doha, where Anatsui was fêted by Qatari royalty. The exhibition had been slightly downsized for Bern, a city of mannered architecture and muted colors, where the artist’s shimmering invertebrate creations seemed almost unreal by contrast.

more here.


Thursday, January 14, 2021

A Conversation with Karl Ove Knausgaard

Bob Blaisdell in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

What are you working on right now? 

I just published a novel in Norway two months ago. I’m now writing another novel which somehow is related, and I’ve started it, I’ve written a hundred pages or so, so I’m in the middle of the beginning of that, which is the hardest part. But that’s what I’m doing.

The middle of the beginning is the hardest part? Not the beginning but the middle of the beginning is the hardest? 

Yeah, yeah. That’s the hardest part. Before the novel decides itself and you just can follow it along. Before that happens, you have to make the space where it later will unfold, and the space, it seems when you are writing, is nothing in itself. The feeling is that nothing is leaving the page, it is flat and dull and all you want to do is to start again afresh. Once I did that, started again and again, and in the end I had 800 pages of beginnings. So now I tend to stick with it, no matter how bad it feels, trying to be patient, hoping for something to evolve. That’s hard work and you don’t know whether it’s going to be something or not, and it’s not good in itself. It’s just like building a scaffolding or something.

More here.