Kara Walker operates on the premise that when you make history truly visible, both your own and that of your people or nation, there exists a challenge to show all of it, the unholy mix, the conscious knowledge and the subconscious reaction, the traumatic history and the trauma it has created, the unprocessed and the unprocessable.
The word museography properly refers to the systematic description of objects in museums, but it might also do for the culture and ideology surrounding that dusty old figure of legend, the artist’s “muse.” If her aura is fading now, anyone educated during the twentieth century remembers when she played no small part in our curriculae, both formal and informal. (The male muse, back then, existed only in the homosexual realm.) To avoid her, you had to spend a lot of time in libraries seeking evidence of her opposite: not the sitter but the painter; not the character but the author; not the song but the singer.
I have closed novels and stared at their back covers for a long moment and felt known in a way I cannot honestly say I have felt known by many real-life interactions with human beings, or even by myself. For though the other may not know us perfectly or even well, the hard truth is we do not always know ourselves perfectly or well. Indeed, there are things to which subjectivity is blind and which only those on the outside can see.
From its first issue in 1963, Robert Silvers was either co-editor with Barbara Epstein or, after her death in 2006, editor of The New York Review. Bob worked almost to the very end of his life, which would be no surprise to those who knew him well, including those who have written these brief memoirs.
Nearly seven in ten Republicans prefer America as it was in the 1950s, a nostalgia of course entirely unavailable to a person like me, for in that period I could not vote, marry my husband, have my children, work in the university I work in, or live in my neighborhood. Time travel is a discretionary art: a pleasure trip for some and a horror story for others.
New Yorkers choose to gather under the banner which says “New York”—which is so elastic it really means nothing at all—and that is exactly what I love about this place. The capacity to gather without precise definition I experience as a form of freedom, here where we do not have to be the clerk to the heir of wherever, where we can be unattached to our old European pedigree, or lack of same, and loosened from the bonds of distant villages, with their strictures and demands, their ideas regarding our sexuality or gender, their plans for our future.
The prose of Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji, who is currently in jail for “infringing public decency,” explicitly confronts what happens when one’s fundamentally unserious, oversexed youth dovetails with an authoritarian, utterly self-serious regime that is in the process of tearing itself apart. It’s very bad historical luck—of the kind I’ve never suffered. It’s monstrous. It’s ludicrous. But the fact that the punishment does not fit the crime—that prison is, at this moment in Cairo, the absurd response to the word “pussy”—is exactly what shouldn’t be elided.
What kind of a problem is a library? It’s clear that for many people it is not a problem at all, only a kind of obsolescence. At the extreme pole of this view is the technocrat’s total faith: with every book in the world online, what need could there be for the physical reality? This kind of argument thinks of the library as a function rather than a plurality of individual spaces. But each library is a different kind of problem and “the Internet” is no more a solution for all of them than it is their universal death knell.