:: Essays

With My Back Turned On the Reader published 04/02/2019

This nebulous relatedness between the works will not be apparent to the regular gallery visitor, and that is perhaps the point: the writer as curator does not operate like the art historian as curator. The Whitechapel Gallery’s director Iwona Blazwick commented that a writer is allowed to curate much more freely and thereby suggest novel ways of looking at a selection of art. It is Vila-Matas’ prerogative to make up stories, or draw invisible lines between them. Yet he helps us by providing more perspicuous explanations in the brief, and certainly portable, novel-cum-gallery-catalogue Cabinet d’amateur: An Oblique Novel that has been published concurrently to accompany the exhibition.

R.D. Hansen reviews an exhibition curated by Enrique Vila-Matas at London’s Whitechapel Gallery.

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Dark Matter, Black Transparency & the Aestheticisation of Politics published 01/02/2019

Reflecting on the photographs of bizarre humiliations & tortures inflicted on Iraqi prisoners by US military personnel at Abu Ghraib, Žižek made the salient observation that “the very positions & costumes of the prisoners suggests a theatrical staging, a kind of tableau vivant that brings to mind American performance art, ‘theatre of cruelty,’ the photos of Robert Mapplethorpe or the unnerving scenes in David Lynch’s films.” Above all, “recording the humiliations with a camera, with the perpetrators included in the picture, their faces stupidly smiling beside the twisted naked bodies of the prisoners, was an integral part of the process, in stark contrast to the secrecy of Saddam’s torturers.”

Louis Armand on protests as contemporary objets d’art.

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When Negativity Don’t Pull You Through: Asides 3 published 25/01/2019

So the ascetic blames herself for her pain; the resulting self-loathing acts as a narcotic to relieve the pain. In this way the ascetic resists suicide. But the cost is to exacerbate suffering. This is why Nietzsche reviles the ascetic religious narcotic. ‘[I]t makes the sick sicker.’ Art is a different narcotic that achieves the same end but without the accompanying side effects. Art restores the affective attachment to life. Art’s role is to prevent suicide for those immune to asceticism.

Richard Marshall‘s final aside about anti-pessimism.

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The Pub Wherein Firmin: On Writing Drunk published 22/01/2019

Writing drunk is composition on the piss. There is, however, another meaning of “writing drunk”. One where the intoxication escapes the bodily boundaries of the writer and seeps onto the page. In such cases it is the prose that is pissed; the sentences themselves that are intoxicated. Confused and free-flowing, they begin to lose the regimented clarity of sobriety and slip into the blurred confusion of being on the bend. Write drunk, edit drunk, be drunk. There are, in my mind, two exemplary novels that display this prose. They are Malcolm Lowry’s Under The Volcano (1947) and J.P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man (1955).

By Duncan Stuart.

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One Language published 14/01/2019

2.4 A setting for the most elementary use of language appears in the beginning of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. It consists of only four words: block, pillar, slab, and beam. A builder calls them out one by one, and an assistant hands them over in the order in which they are requested.

2.5  From there, the Investigations goes on to show how our language is so much more complicated than such words that identify simple objects. We use a plurality of language games to do a variety of things: joke, lie, sing, greet, thank, curse, praise, promise, pray, and so on.

2.6  Yet the “complete primitive language” that sets Wittgenstein’s philosophical argument in motion is a clear nod to that time when “the whole earth was one language, one set of words.” What his two lonely builders agree to erect seems very much like the Tower of Babel, which led to the confusion of humanity’s language and the dispersion of its original form of life.

David Kishik on Babel.

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Dustan Revisited published 12/01/2019

These obsessive evocations of a gay ghetto of bars and casual sex, modelling itself closely on late-capitalist values of repetition-compulsion and instant gratification, are wilfully perverse celebrations of impersonal intimacy: an anti-assimilationist cri de coeur that riled critics, gay and straight alike. For one of the strange ironies of AIDS was that it became the perfect PR piece for a new, conservative gay agenda: a crusade for nuclear family values and middlebrow bourgeois respectability, alienated from any kind of liberationist critique of the status quo. It was only through the scourge of AIDS that homosexual identity could be redeemed, safely rehabilitated into the family, with gay men remade into victims deserving of sympathetic interventions and public pity. Writing against this narrative of suffering and ersatz redemption, Dustan incarnated an impish, cavalier irresponsibility.

Daniel Culpan revisits Guillaume Dustan‘s life and work.

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Like Life: Radical Realism and the Fiction of Sam Pink published 11/01/2019

Pink has been described variously as “surreal,” “bizarro,” “experimental,” and “minimalist,” among other attempts to characterize his short novels and stories. That reviewers might respond differently in assessing a writer’s work is of course inevitable, but in Pink’s case such disparate labels is surprising, since all of the fiction he has published so far seems readily identifiable as realism, albeit a particularly plotless, episodic kind.

By Daniel Green.

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The Weight of a Body in a Photograph published 09/01/2019

I dream of the sea. Entering fully clothed where the tide ends. Diving in where the waves break. My wet hair feels as slick as the fish that swim past caressing my sides. I want to remain here. At first it is hard to keep my body from floating up. Then, it becomes heavy. I sink to a place opposite the sea floor where a substance neither like air nor water keeps all bodies both apart and touching. The fear you feel when you hear or see someone who approaches, then disappears.

By Elisa Taber.

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The Death of “the Death of” published 08/01/2019

If we truly are witnessing the novel in its death throes, it is but one casualty among many in an accelerating age of cognitive stratification, increased specialization, fish tank communities, and proliferating aesthetic niches. The internet has made so much of this possible, and it’s hard not to see every art form going the same way. No taste is triumphant anymore. This is to say that the mainstream is itself in peril as much as the domination of any narrative art within it. Indeed, the very notion of a mainstream seems to be perishing in overproduction and disaffection with the cultural gatekeepers.

Jared Marcel Pollen on the death of the mainstream.

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Those Poisonous Fields published 17/12/2018

It was a strange week to be in London, and Irish. It was particularly strange to be in London, and Irish, and doing the work I was doing. I was there to look dispassionately at the letters in the Tate archive between Betjeman and Clark, engaged in conversations about cultural diplomacy—and propaganda opportunities—between Britain and neutral Ireland during the Second World War. At the same time, the daily news was focused upon Britain’s withdrawal agreement with the EU, due to be finalised that week, though it seemed to be foundering on the question of the Irish border. Anglo-Irish relations were being rudimentarily summarised in every paper for English readers hitherto evidently unfamiliar with it. The degree of ignorance of even basic facts about Northern Ireland—spoken about as if it were a distant place, as if it were not part of the United Kingdom—was astonishing.

By Nathan O’Donnell.

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