Eileen Myles: The Importance of Being Iceland 


Poet and post-punk heroine Eileen Myles has always operated in the art, writing, and queer performance scenes as a kind of observant flaneur. Like Baudelaire’s gentleman stroller, Myles travels the city–wandering on garbage-strewn New York streets in the heat of summer, drifting though the antiseptic malls of La Jolla, and riding in the van with Sister Spit–seeing it with a poet’s eye for detail and with the consciousness that writing about art and culture has always been a social gesture. Culled by the poet from twenty years of art writing, the essays in The Importance of Being Iceland make a lush document of her–and our–lives in these contemporary crowds. Framed by Myles’s account of her travels in Iceland, these essays posit inbetweenness as the most vital position from which to perceive culture as a whole, and a fluidity in national identity as the best model for writing and thinking about art and culture. The essays include fresh takes on Thoreau’s Cape Cod walk, working class speech, James Schulyer and Bj rk, queer Russia and Robert Smithson; how-tos on writing an avant-garde poem and driving a battered Japanese car that resembles a menopausal body; and opinions on such widely ranging subjects as filmmaker Sadie Benning, actor Daniel Day-Lewis, Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets, and flossing.
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Excerpt (PDF)

Additional Resources

Author’s Website
Articles and Podcasts via Poetry Foundation
My Ten Favorite Books: Eileen Miles
The Poet Idolized by a New Generation of Feminists (profile)
Lecture: About Boston: Reading & Conversation with Eileen Myles (video)
Engadin Art Talks: Eileen Myles (video)
NYU Florence Talks: Eileen Myles (video)

Joan Didion: The White Album 

First published in 1979, “The White Album “is a journalistic mosaic” “of American life in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. It includes, among other bizarre artifacts and personalities, reportage on the dark journeys and impulses of the Manson family, a visit to a Black Panther Party press conference, the story of John Paul Getty’s museum, a meditation on the romance of water in an arid landscape, and reflections on the swirl and confusion that marked this era. With commanding sureness of mood and language, Didion exposes the realities and dreams of an age of self-discovery whose spiritual center was California.

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20 Page Excerpt (PDF)

Further Writings: 

On Keeping a Notebook (PDF)
Goodbye to All That (From Slouching Towards Bethlehem (PDF)
On Why I Write (text)
Compilation of Texts Available Online (the Electric Typewriter)

Articles by Joan Didion (compiled by Open Culture

On Self Respect (Article)
The Women’s Movement (Article)
Eye on the Prize (Article)
The Teachings of Speaker Gingrich (Article)
Fixed Opinions, Or the Hinge of History (Article)
Politics in the New Normal America (Article)
The Case of Theresa Schiavo (Article)
The Deferential Spirit (Article)
California Notes (Article)

Additional Resources: 

Interview with Joan Didion, 1992 (video)
How Joan Didion the Writer Became Joan Didion the Legend (Vanity Fair)
The Elitist Allure of Joan Didion (The Atlantic)
The Radicalization of Joan Didion (The New Yorker)

Howard Zinn: Artists in Times of War 

“Political power,” says Howard Zinn, “is controlled by the corporate elite, and the arts are the locale for a kind of guerilla warfare in the sense that guerillas look for apertures and opportunities where they can have an effect.” In Artists in Times of War, Zinn looks at the possibilities to create such apertures through art, film, activism, publishing and through our everyday lives. In this collection of four essays, the author of A People’s History of the United States writes about why “To criticize the government is the highest act of patriotism.” Filled with quotes and examples from the likes of Bob Dylan, Mark Twain, e. e. cummings, Thomas Paine, Joseph Heller, and Emma Goldman, Zinn’s essays discuss America’s rich cultural counternarratives to war, so needed in these days of unchallenged U.S. militarism.
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Additional Resources: 

A People’s History of the United States (PDF)
Zinn Education Project
Author’s Website
Lecture: A People’s History of the United States, 1999 (video)
Lecture: How History Should be Taught in Schools, Studied and Written, 1997 (video)
Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn on Democracy Now, 2007 (video)
Lecture: On the Interpretation of History (video)

Tim Ingold: Lines: A Brief History 

What do walking, weaving, observing, storytelling, singing, drawing and writing have in common? The answer is that they all proceed along lines. In this extraordinary book Tim Ingold imagines a world in which everyone and everything consists of interwoven or interconnected lines and lays the foundations for a completely new discipline: the anthropological archaeology of the line.

Ingold’s argument leads us through the music of Ancient Greece and contemporary Japan, Siberian labyrinths and Roman roads, Chinese calligraphy and the printed alphabet, weaving a path between antiquity and the present. Drawing on a multitude of disciplines including archaeology, classical studies, art history, linguistics, psychology, musicology, philosophy and many others, and including more than seventy illustrations, this book takes us on an exhilarating intellectual journey that will change the way we look at the world and how we go about in it.
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Additional Writings by the Author 

Being Alive (PDF)
Perceptions of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill (PDF)

Bringing Things To Life: Entanglements in a World of Materials (PDF)
Introduction to Ways of Walking (PDF)
From Science to Art and Back Again (PDF)

Additional Resources: 

Lecture: Thinking Through Making (video)
Lecture: Anthropology Beyond Humanity (video)
Lecture: The Sustainability of Everything (video)
Lecture: On Human Correspondence (video)

Donna Tartt: The Secret History 

Tartt’s much bruited first novel is a huge (592 pages) rambling story that is sometimes ponderous, sometimes highly entertaining. Part psychological thriller, part chronicle of debauched, wasted youth, it suffers from a basically improbable plot, a fault Tartt often redeems through the bravado of her execution. Narrator Richard Papen comes from a lower-class family and a loveless California home to the “hermetic, overheated atmosphere” of Vermont’s Hampden College. Almost too easily, he is accepted into a clique of five socially sophisticated students who study Classics with an idiosyncratic, morally fraudulent professor. Despite their demanding curriculum (they quote Greek classics to each other at every opportunity) the friends spend most of their time drinking and taking pills. Finally they reveal to Richard that they accidentally killed a man during a bacchanalian frenzy; when one of their number seems ready to spill the secret, the group–now including Richard–must kill him, too. The best parts of the book occur after the second murder, when Tartt describes the effect of the death on a small community, the behavior of the victim’s family and the conspirators’ emotional disintegration. Here her gifts for social satire and character analysis are shown to good advantage and her writing is powerful and evocative. On the other hand, the plot’s many inconsistencies, the self-indulgent, high-flown references to classic literature and the reliance on melodrama make one wish this had been a tauter, more focused novel. In the final analysis, however, readers may enjoy the pull of a mysterious, richly detailed story told by a talented writer.

Publisher’s Weekly
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Reviews: 

New York Times
The Guardian
The New Canon

Additional Resources: 

Donna Tartt Interview, 1992 (video)
Donna Tartt Interview, 2017 (video)

Chris Jennings: Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism 

In the wake of the Enlightenment and the onset of industrialism, a generation of dreamers took it upon themselves to confront the messiness and injustice of a rapidly changing world. To our eyes, the utopian communities that took root in America in the nineteenth century may seem ambitious to the point of delusion, but they attracted members willing to dedicate their lives to creating a new social order and to asking the bold question What should the future look like?
In Paradise Now, Chris Jennings tells the story of five interrelated utopian movements, revealing their relevance both to their time and to our own. Here is Mother Ann Lee, the prophet of the Shakers, who grew up in newly industrialized Manchester, England–and would come to build a quiet but fierce religious tradition on the opposite side of the Atlantic. Even as the society she founded spread across the United States, the Welsh industrialist Robert Owen came to the Indiana frontier to build an egalitarian, rationalist utopia he called the New Moral World. A decade later, followers of the French visionary Charles Fourier blanketed America with colonies devoted to inaugurating a new millennium of pleasure and fraternity. Meanwhile, the French radical tienne Cabet sailed to Texas with hopes of establishing a communist paradise dedicated to ideals that would be echoed in the next century. And in New York’s Oneida Community, a brilliant Vermonter named John Humphrey Noyes set about creating a new society in which the human spirit could finally be perfected in the image of God.
Over time, these movements fell apart, and the national mood that had inspired them was drowned out by the dream of westward expansion and the waking nightmare of the Civil War. Their most galvanizing ideas, however, lived on, and their audacity has influenced countless political movements since. Their stories remain an inspiration for everyone who seeks to build a better world, for all who ask, What should the future look like?

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Reviews: 

New York Times
The Economist
SF Gate

Additional Resources: 

The Rumpus Interview with Chris Jennings (text)
Chris Jennings: In Order to Form a Utopian Union (essay)
Chris Jennings: A French Communist Utopia in Texas (essay)
The Atlantic: 2 essays by Chris Jennings
Chris Jennings: Deep Dive into American Utopianism (podcast)
Ted Talk: High School Journalism (video)

Tom McCarthy: Remainder 

An assured work of existential horror from debut novelist McCarthy.
The unnamed narrator begins by explaining that there’s a lot he can’t explain. He cannot, for example, share many details about his accident. That information is subject to a non-disclosure agreement, but it’s also—more vitally—unavailable to him: He can’t remember much about the accident or his life before it. He’s become, very nearly, a blank, and the voice McCarthy conjures for this nonentity is an eerily precise, dumbly eloquent complement to his mental and emotional condition. Contemplating the crumbling plaster spilling out of a jagged hole in a wall, he thinks, “It looked kind of disgusting, like something that’s coming out of something.” That imprecision seems sloppy, but it works brilliantly to magnify the narrator’s sense of abjection. The accident, which also wrecked his body, has forced him to relearn rote tasks like walking and eating. He begins to feel disconnected from other people, and he suspects that his life is no longer quite real. He decides to create his own little universe, and the millions of pounds he won in a post-accident settlement make his wishes reality. This project begins fairly innocuously, and although it quickly becomes weirder and more dangerous, McCarthy infuses the story with an uncanny sense of foreboding long before his protagonist decides to recreate a murder scene for his own amusement. It’s tempting to call this a postmodern parable or allegory for a virtual age, but to reduce this novel to the level of the didactic is to overlook its considerable, creepy power.

Kirkus Review

 
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Reviews:

New York Times
The Guardian 
Additional Resources 

Bomb: Artists in Conversation: Tom McCarthy
Interview Magazine: Tom McCarthy is No Longer a Well Kept Secret
Writers In Motion: Tom McCarthy Interview (video)
Tom McCarthy on Alain Robbie-Grillet (video)
AA School of Architecture: Tom McCarthy Artist Talk (video)
 

Achille Mbembe: Critique of Black Reason 

In Critique of Black Reason eminent critic Achille Mbembe offers a capacious genealogy of the category of Blackness—from the Atlantic slave trade to the present—to critically reevaluate history, racism, and the future of humanity. Mbembe teases out the intellectual consequences of the reality that Europe is no longer the world’s center of gravity while mapping the relations among colonialism, slavery, and contemporary financial and extractive capital. Tracing the conjunction of Blackness with the biological fiction of race, he theorizes Black reason as the collection of discourses and practices that equated Blackness with the nonhuman in order to uphold forms of oppression. Mbembe powerfully argues that this equation of Blackness with the nonhuman will serve as the template for all new forms of exclusion. With Critique of Black Reason, Mbembe offers nothing less than a map of the world as it has been constituted through colonialism and racial thinking while providing the first glimpses of a more just future. 

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28 Page Excerpt (PDF)
Reviews: 

Theory Culture & Society
Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society
Further Writings by the Author:

Necropolitics (PDF)
Provisional Notes on the Post Colony (PDF)
Decolonizing Knowledge and the Question of the Archive (PDF)
African Modes of Self Writing (PDF)

Additional Resources:

Panel: Critique of Black Reason: Achille Mbembe, Laurent Dubois and Tsitsi Jaji
Lecture: Politics of Viscerality (video)
Lecture: Technologies of Happiness in the Age of Animism (video)
Lecture: Democracy in the Age of Dynamism (video)
Lecture: Raceless Future

James Elkins: The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing 

At first it appears that nothing could be easier than seeing. We just focus our eyes and take in whatever is before us. This ability seems detached, efficient and rational – as if the eyes were competent machines telling us everything about the world without distorting it in any way. But those ideas are just illusions, James Elkins argues, and he suggests that seeing is undependable, inconsistent and cauthg up in the threads of the unconscious. Blindness is not the opposite of vision, but its constant companion, and even the foundation of seeing itself. Using drawings, paintings, diagrams and photographs to illustrate his points, Elkins raises intriguing questions and offers astonishing perceptions about the nature of vision.
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Kirkus Reviews
Optometry and Vision Science Journal

Further Writings by the Author: 

How to Use Your Eyes (PDF)
Why Art Cannot be Taught: A Handbook for Students (PDF)
The Three Configurations of Practice Based PHDs (PDF)

Additional Resources: 

Author’s Website
Lecture: What is Research (video)
Lecture: On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art (video)
Panel: Art History in a Post Secular Age (video)

Tamara Trodd: The Art of Mechanical Reproduction 


“Medium” is a central concept in 2th-century art criticism. This is the first book-length exploration of how the status of traditional mediums (painting, sculpture, drawing) has been transformed in modern and contemporary art by the rise of photography, film, broadcast tv and other technologies. It presents original research on many famous artists together with a fresh theoretical approach that challenges some of the most entrenched criticism of the past several decades. It reconsiders key practices in modern art in relation to specific technologies of the time rather than through the strict current idea of medium. Thus we get to watch Paul Klee tinker in the darkroom, Hans Bellmer figuring out how to make doube-exposures in motion pictures, an aging Chris Marker gleefully experimenting with digital technology, Robert Smithson taking apart a Xerox machine, Douglas Huebler brushing up on basic chemistry, and Gerhard Richter adapting his technical knowledge of mass printing and photo reproduction to produce a full-blown aesthetic agenda and set of artistic protocols for painting. Other artists considered include Ellsworth Kelley, Tacita Dean, and networks that draw in Duchamp, Kiesler, Picasso, Twombly, Rauschenberg, Mel Bochner, and more.

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Reviews: 

Film Quarterly
Washington Book Review
Art Libraries Society of North America
Additional Resources:

Tamara Trodd on Thomas Demand (audio)
Round Table: Screen/Space: The projected image in Contemporary Art (from October)
Walter Benjamin: Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility (PDF)