Coetzee’s Boyhood Photographs

Mark Gevisser

Self portrait

In Boyhood and its sequels, Youth and Summertime, J.M. Coetzee uses family photographs as aides-memoire but makes no mention of his own adolescent passion for taking them. How fascinating it was, then, to see the images made in boyhood in dialogue with the words of an older man looking back, and to imagine the way the ethics and aesthetics of the former might have forged the latter; also, to consider what the image reveals that the word cannot, and vice-versa.

George Schuyler: An Afrofuturist Before His Time

Danzy Senna

Jacob Lawrence: Harlem Street Scene, 1942

What unsettled me about Black No More (1931) the first time I read it was that George Schuyler was so merciless—about everyone. At a moment when black writers were finally awakening to the beauty of black culture, Schuyler had moved on to the part where we deconstruct race. He showed neither sentimentality nor chauvinism for his own race or any other. He hated everyone, and there is a strange purity to his loathing, a kind of beauty to his cynicism. It is his resistance to pandering, to joining tribes and clubs that feels so refreshing. It is the loneliness of Schuyler’s position that makes me trust it.

The Bitter Secret of ‘Wormwood’

Tamsin Shaw

Peter Sarsgaard as Frank Olson undergoing psychological tests in Errol Morris's Wormwood, 2017

If Errol Morris had simply recounted the facts, even in a way that emphasized the real suffering of the victims, that would have shocked nobody. They are the stuff of every spy movie, a genre that has successfully turned state surveillance and assassinations into seductive excitement. But unlike that genre, Wormwood—a word for a bitter poison, used by Hamlet to describe bitter truths—doesn’t produce dramatic tension by exploiting our desire to be in on the secret. It exposes us to the baser side of that desire: the narcissism, mean-spiritedness, and contempt that are so often the psychological realities of secrecy.

‘Dignity and Justice’: An Interview with Patrisse Khan-Cullors

Aisha K. Staggers

Patrisse Khan-Cullors attending the Glamour Celebrates Women of the Year Summit, in Brooklyn, November 2017

Patrisse Khan-Cullors: Over the last four and half years, we’ve seen BLM go from a phrase to a hashtag to a political platform to a movement. In the development of Black Lives Matter, we’ve seen the growth of black leadership and the rise of white nationalism. We’ve seen the rise of white men who have really invested time and energy in trying to undermine our movement. Part of the work that we’ve done is to remind people across the globe that black people are critical to the fabric of American democracy.

Trump’s Debt to Ron Paul’s Paranoid Style

James Kirchick

Texas Congressman Ron Paul, at his Republican presidential primary campaign headquarters in Concord, New Hampshire, in November 2007

Though Ron Paul is often described as an orthodox libertarian, his ideology is more accurately described as paleolibertarian, which shares the limited government principles of traditional libertarianism but places a heavier emphasis on conservative social values, white racial resentment, and isolationist nationalism. It is, in many ways, a forerunner of today’s alt-right. The appeal of Paul and Trump to many Americans is not so much their specific policy ideas as their anti-establishment temperament and rhetoric, and, more specifically, a feverish anti-elitism that inevitably leads to conspiracy-mongering.

The Cutting-Edge Art of Matta-Clark

Martin Filler

Gordon Matta-Clark and Gerry Hovagimyan working on Conical Intersect, 1975

Within a very few years, he single-handedly established a new genre of environmental art, in which he used abandoned buildings as raw material and radically transformed them into stunning found sculptures. A prime example was Splitting: Four Corners (1974), in which he took an unoccupied wood-frame house in Englewood, New Jersey, and made a two-story-high vertical incision from the roof to its raised masonry foundation, which caused the rear half to lean back slightly, although the whole did not collapse. 

‘Studies in Power’: An Interview with Robert Caro

Claudia Dreifus

Robert Caro, New York, December 2017

Many biographers working on a long project complain that their subject has eaten up their life. Did that happen to you?

Robert Caro: No. Because I don’t really regard my books as biographies. I’ve never had the slightest interest in writing a book to tell the life of a great man. I started The Power Broker because I realized that there was this man, Robert Moses, who had all this power and he had shaped New York for forty-four years. I regarded the book as a study of power in cities. After I finished that, I wanted to do national power. I felt I could learn about how power worked on a national level by studying Lyndon Johnson. I regard these books as studies in political power, not biography.

The Assault on Reason

Zia Haider Rahman

Francisco Goya: Detail from The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, circa 1810

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts, as United States Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was fond of saying. But it is not merely facts that are under assault in the polarized politics of the US, the UK, and other nations twisting in the winds of populism. There is also a troubling assault on reason. Authoritarian tendencies know that warping the facts is only a start. Warping reason and logic and clarity of thought is the holy grail.

Patty Chang’s Arbitrary Acts of Devotion

Erin Schwartz

Patty Chang: Configurations (aqueduct), 2017

Alternating between particular and general experience in “The Wandering Lake,” Patty Chang demonstrates the power of arbitrary acts, executed with devotion, to produce their own truth. This is a guide to mourning; but Chang widens the scope to include political conflict and environmental degradation, and argues that, despite the losses we’ve incurred, we are still collaborators in the making of our worlds.

The Pattern and Passion of ‘Phantom Thread’

Geoffrey O’Brien

Vicky Krieps as Alma and Daniel Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock in Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread, 2017

The metaphor of couture is hard to avoid in a film so centrally involved with measuring and cutting and sewing, stitching and unstitching. The very visible boldness of the editing, the leaps and ellipses, keep the idea of cutting very much at the forefront. A crucial scene in which a wedding dress must be repaired overnight evokes both an emergency medical operation and the race against time to reshape a film in the editing room.