‘Boys Do It Better’: The Paintings of Louis Fratino

Christopher Alessandrini

Louis Fratino: Me and Ray, 2018

The twenty-five paintings in “Come Softly to Me”—Fratino’s first solo show, at Sikkema Jenkins & Co.—range from gem-like portraits of friends and lovers to larger scenes of city life to a trio of alluring box lids, each measuring roughly 3.5 x 3.5 inches. Known primarily for his graphic but tender representations of queer intimacy, often set in the same apartment, Fratino here swaps domestic tranquility for psychogeography. Many of the featured works were made following a breakup, during a period marked by long walks around the city; they certainly embody an ambivalent relationship to this sudden windfall of hours. For all the new faces and encounters, the prevailing mood is one of charged solitude.

‘Les Temps Modernes’: End of an Epoch

Mitchell Abidor

Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris, circa 1945

Few publications remained as true to their initial goals as Les Temps Modernes, and few demonstrated the rigor and openness and bravery it did in fulfilling it. Fewer still could boast of contributors of the caliber of those who wrote for the journal, especially in its early days, and the quality and durability of their contributions. Difficult as it may be from our perspective, it is important to see that the review was, within its historical moment, making honest attempts to break out of the closed, bourgeois world it rebelliously grew from in order to seriously engage in changing society. If its call for radical action sounds hollow today, more’s the pity for us.

ISIS: Resilient, Adaptable, Decentralized

Michael Weiss

President Donald Trump showing a map of Syria and Iraq depicting the size of the

ISIS’s breathtaking reach into other parts of the world—including distant corners few experts imagined it was capable of penetrating—is now so pronounced that it’s possible to imagine a day when the ISIS media apparatus could be based outside the Middle East entirely. Equally, the organization may separate into various satellites in multiple countries, the way international newspapers establish foreign bureaus. If that happens, ISIS will become a virtually borderless phenomenon and the difference between “inspired” and “directed” will lose all meaning.

Jeff Sessions’s Grave Conflict of Interest

Murray Waas

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe during a news conference at the Justice Department, Washington, D.C., July 13, 2017

A government official with first-hand knowledge of the matter told me that Jeff Sessions enlisted his subordinates to lie on his behalf that he did not know he was under federal investigation when he fired then Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. In addition to firing McCabe, Sessions, while under investigation, played a leading role in more broadly carrying out President Trump’s relentless campaign to undermine and discredit the FBI. Several leading experts on legal ethics have told me that Sessions’s simultaneous and dual roles almost certainly violated the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct and federal government conflict of interest regulations. That demonstrates both the utility of Sessions’ misstatements, and the gravity of the situation he faced. 

‘One Seed Can Make an Impact’: An Interview with Chen Hongguo

Ian Johnson

Chen Hongguo in Zhiwuzhi, the reading room he established in Xi’an, China, 2018

Ian Johnson: You got your PhD in law from China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing. You could have kept teaching in the capital but you chose to come to Xi’an. Why did you do that?
Chen Hongguo: You don’t realize how pitiful the students are here. The quality of teaching isn’t that good and they don’t get to hear good speakers. So I began to invite prominent intellectuals… I set up reading clubs to interact more closely with the students… We met in the stairway. People called it the “stairway lectures.”

A Palestinian in Israeli Military Court: Issa Amro, the Judge, & Me

Batya Ungar-Sargon

Palestinian activist Issa Amro arriving for a hearing at the Israeli-run Ofer military court, Betunia, near Ramallah, West Bank, July 9, 2017

With the occupation largely hidden from view, many Israelis bemoan—in good faith, I believe—the lack of a “partner for peace” on the Palestinian side. Held captive by their politicians’ rhetoric and their own reasonable fears about security, what they don’t see is how deeply Israel’s military apparatus is invested in suppressing the very development of a Palestinian civil society that might produce such a partner—an interlocutor like the Palestinian rights campaigner Issa Amro. “I think Israel is afraid of nonviolent activists,” his lawyer, Gaby Lasky, told me. “If a very large number of nonviolent demonstrators would have huge marches like they had in India at the time of Gandhi, I don’t know how Israel would be able to stop that. And then, maybe, it would be a turning point in the occupation.”

The Flow of Chance: Pat Steir’s ‘Waterfall’ Paintings

Colm Tóibín

Pat Steir: The Barnes Series III, 2018

In much of her work, Steir—whose latest paintings are on view in the exhibition “Pat Steir Silent Secret Waterfalls: The Barnes Series,” at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia until mid-November—applies a mass of oil paint to the upper part of her canvases, many of which are taller than herself, then lets it drip. Or she throws paint at the surface, letting the marks happen by accident or by a process we might call random design. “My idea,” she says in a new documentary by Veronica Gonzalez Peña, “was not to touch the canvas, not to paint, but to pour the paint and let the paint itself make a picture. I set the limitations. The limitations, of course, are the color, the size, the wind in the room, and how I put the paint on. And then everything outside of me controls how that paint falls. It’s a joy to let the painting make itself. It takes away all kinds of responsibility.” 

Kathy Acker: A Study in the Sadeian Woman

Lisa Appignanesi

Portrait of Kathy Acker, San Francisco, 1991

Kathy Acker was nothing if not a mistress of the contradictions of being woman, a post-punk amalgam of de Sade’s masochistic Justine, virtuous in her enforced prostitution, and his triumphant libertine Juliette. Her transgressiveness and frank avowal of desire was radical at the time, but in ways that don’t necessarily track comfortably with contemporary feminisms. It may well be that the current interest in her work is as much to do with her emphatic use of the first person—even though that person is ever the artist: a shape-shifter whose identity and sexual desires don’t fall neatly into prescribed or given locations.

‘A Funeral Cry at Noon’: Louis MacNeice’s Carrickfergus Revisited

Stuart Franklin

A shuttered credit union office in the town center, Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, 2019

A few family mementos in the municipal museum are almost the extent of Louis MacNeice’s legacy here. No streets, pubs, or parks are named after the town’s best-known literary figure. Like many of the poorer regions of Northern Ireland, Carrickfergus today is in social and economic decline. Opportunities are so sparse that over the last two decades more than a quarter of the population has moved away. In the absence of meaningful jobs, mental health referrals and suicides have spiked. “The tragic irony of life in Northern Ireland today,” the journalist Lyra McKee, recently killed by Republican militants, wrote in 2016, “is that peace seems to have claimed more lives than war ever did.” The words with which MacNeice began his testament “Landscape of Childhood and Youth” seem to capture the mood: “In the beginning was the Irish rain.”

America’s Growing Gender Jail Gap

Jacob Kang-Brown and Olive Lu

Amber Rose Howard, statewide co-ordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget, a group campaigning for alternatives to public spending on incarceration

Almost two out of every three women in jail have not been convicted of a crime, and are awaiting resolution of their cases. In many parts of the country, women remain in jail primarily because they are unable to afford bail. For example, in Texas, the number of women jailed pretrial has increased by almost 50 percent since 2011, in large part due to an inability to post bond. A study by the Prison Policy Initiative found that the median income for women who cannot make bond is almost 30 percent lower than that of men who cannot make bond. Bail exacerbates inequality by turning the gender pay gap into a gender jail gap.