Max Nelson is on the editorial staff of the New York Review. (November 2017)

Follow Max Nelson on Twitter: @elusivecorporal.


The Chevalier of Disquiet

Fernando Pessoa; illustration by Tullio Pericoli, 2002

The Book of Disquiet

by Fernando Pessoa, edited by Jerónimo Pizarro, and translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa
In 1894, when he was six years old, Fernando Pessoa invented a French literary figure named Chevalier de Pas, “through whom”—he later remembered—“I wrote letters from him to myself.” His father had died of tuberculosis the previous year. He would soon leave his birthplace of Lisbon for colonial Durban, where …


Brakhage: When Light Meets Life

To describe the thinking behind his films, Stan Brakhage often quoted a saying attributed to the ninth-century Irish theologian John Scotus Erigena: “All things that are, are light.” This is not a sensibility that would seem to lend itself to making home movies, and there is a disquieting tension in many of the films Brakhage made about his family during his first marriage.

Born to Sing the Gospel

Washington Phillips, circa 1950

A tone often emerges in Washington Phillips’s songs—a sense of vulnerability that undercuts the confidence his sermons project. The figures in his songs, as in many prewar gospel recordings, tend to be persecuted and burdened, doomed to roam a world of “sin and woe.” Phillips’s 78s would have been distributed specifically among black listeners, and one wonders to what extent the woeful worlds he described would have suggested the pervasively segregated and threatening one in which those listeners lived.

‘What I Couldn’t Say Myself’

Danny Lyon: Cal on the Springfield Run, Illinois, 1966

Danny Lyon has spent much of his career taking intimate photographs of marginal, working-class, and outlaw communities. Many of the most striking pictures in the Whitney Museum’s new survey, “Danny Lyon: Message to the Future,” come from these milieus. But more than the pictures themselves, it’s Lyon’s sixteen nonfiction films that show how his relationships with his subjects have developed haltingly and sometimes tensely over time.