Art for


The Information Essay

The fact-filled internet has only heightened the pre-Google asymmetry between those, on one side, loyal to Baconian methods of patient, inductive gathering of facts  and those, on the other side, who didn’t need to read Foucault or the Frankfurt School to nurture a suspicion that positivist orders of knowledge mask a hierarchy of power in which they are meant to occupy the lowest rungs.

Wall of Sound

Two years ago, at the nadir of the financial crisis, the urban sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh wondered aloud in the New York Times why no mass protests had arisen against what was clearly a criminal coup by the banks. Where were the pitchforks, the tar, the feathers? Where, more importantly, were the crowds? Venkatesh’s answer was the iPod: “In public spaces, serendipitous interaction is needed to create the ‘mob mentality.’ Most iPod-like devices separate citizens from one another; you can’t join someone in a movement if you can’t hear the participants. Congrats Mr. Jobs for impeding social change.” Venkatesh’s suggestion was glib, tossed off — yet it was also a rare reminder, from the quasi-left, of how urban life has been changed by recording technologies.

Egypt Notebook

Sixteen million people in Cairo; I’m told the daytime population is actually more like twenty-two million, struggling to keep their footing on the congested, uneven pavement. A vision of our unsustainable future: too many people, not enough jobs; too many cars, not enough living space; too much refuse, not enough clean water.

The Battle of Wisconsin

After my parents got back from a weeklong vacation in Florida, funded in part by the pensions they receive as retired Wisconsin public educators, they went to Madison, where, after enjoying lunch at the hip, local food–oriented The Weary Traveler, they took to Capital Square to protest Governor Scott Walker’s budget bill.

Ha ha.

No, seriously. My parents returned to Milwaukee early last Tuesday after spending six days at my aunt and uncle’s condo in Hollywood, Florida. My parents aren’t wealthy enough to buy their own Florida condo — and they probably wouldn’t buy a condo in Florida if they had that kind of money anyway — but they do, after a combined sixty years working in public education, have enough money and security to head down there on a whim when my aunt calls and says (and this actually happened), “Hey, we’re going on a nudist cruise with Snuffleupagus and the gang for a week, so why don’t you come down here and get out of the cold? You can stay at our place and use our car.”

So off they went, and back they came. Two days at home clearing snow and ice from the roof — we’ve got a little insulation problem up top — then westward to Madison. Not ten minutes ago I got a call from my mother, the second of the day. She didn’t say anything, so I suppose she just wanted me to hear — and to hear her participate in — the chants of “Hey-hey, ho-ho, this bill has got to go” resounding in the capital building rotunda, ground zero of what some have taken to calling “The Battle of Wisconsin.”

At issue in this battle, for anyone who has been too captivated by Libya, gay marriage, or American Idol to pay attention, is a provision in the new governor’s budget that would strip public employees unions of all collective bargaining rights except the right to bargain for base wages commensurate with inflation. In addition, public employees unions would not be permitted to deduct dues from member paychecks, nor to make political donations. Surely, this has something to do with Walker’s interest — and a more general interest on the part of Republican governors across the country, who apparently decided on this course of action at some kind of Republican governors camp — in dismantling these unions, which are the only institutions with big money and power that consistently support Democratic candidates in political campaigns.

Whatever the “real” motivations behind the effort, what is at stake, given the massive manufacturing exodus facilitated by NAFTA and everything after and the well-documented ravaging of the service industry unions, may be the very survival of American unionism itself.


The three were silent. It wasn’t just another Thursday. They witnessed the day assume a somber, momentous quality. Darya’s notebook was now lost for a reason, the day’s events were like transparent beads through which ran the thread of fate. Oleg soon tired of the stoicism — he changed into sweatpants, collapsed into Darya’s worn computer chair.


Argentina is hardly the saddest country in the world, but it has often been felt to be the most tragic. The sentiment derives in part from an envious glance at other large settler colonialist countries — the US, Canada, Australia — that secured measures of peace and prosperity unknown here for generations. A vast country, eighth largest in the world, endowed with a long Atlantic coastline, the endless fertile plains of the pampas, a deep trove of mineral wealth, and torrents of fresh if muddy water, its bounty prompted the rather blasphemous fin-de-siècle boast Dios es argentino — God is Argentine — and for much of its earlier history the republic struck natives and new arrivals alike as teeming with potential wealth.

That Room in Cambridge

Practical criticism, as the document explained, was invented by a Cambridge professor named I. A. Richards in the 1920s, when English literature was trying to gain space for itself in the university as a discrete object of study. Richards believed that English was not just something you could pick up on the side; you really needed to pursue it. Unfortunately, as Richards lamented, “The technique of the approach to poetry has not yet received half so much serious systematic study as the technique of pole-jumping.” So he decided to produce such a systematic study himself.

Making Reality Unacceptable

It is strange, after thirty years, to open this musty old thing, with its black and blue cover, and its title, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales [Acts of Research in the Social Sciences], in an out-of-date font (typewriter letters considerably enlarged), and to remember a time when it was utterly modern, on glossy, brilliant paper still smelling of printer’s ink. Strange, too, to think that it was a university journal, the best or one of the best of its time. The text is typewritten, in columns, without right justification

Ryan Went to Afghanistan

My father had been a lieutenant in the Navy. He captained the swift boat that would later become John Kerry’s. His job was to stand apart and instead of a weapon wield his men like materiel. He’s a small man, about five four, thickly built. He likes to joke that they only let him into Vietnam because he’d stuck lollipops under his shoes to seem taller. He rarely wears a shirt, and the sun has cured his skin poreless. He’s horseshoe bald, my father, with one tendril of graying brown hair that lies across his head until he gets upset, whereupon it falls next to his face and flails, always a step behind, like a gymnast’s ribbon.

Photo Ops

Beau monde, bespectacled, and heterosexual, Richardson is famous for abrading the glossiness of glossy magazines. His photography is raucous and kinetic, with an autobiographical focus on the sex act. He has brawny forearms and a tapestry of tattoos across his torso: bald eagle and American flag (these colors don’t run); finely wrought women (natural tits, no mermaids); t-bone above his groin; a solid blue ♥ where the real one beats beneath. He is collectible in the form of an action-hero figurine.

Why Bother?

Among the helpless expressions of sadness was a large and growing strain of anger amounting to celebration. What was bizarre about the reaction was that, though Bishop worked in the Department of Biological Sciences, most of the commenters’ rage was directed toward the humanities. The dozens of hateful posts — however incoherent their stated reasons — were troubling moreover because they borrowed the rhetoric of neoliberal reform.


What McCarthy seems to be envisioning is an artwork that reduces humans, such as Lucia Joyce and Patty Hearst, to a sequence of repetitions and that reveals the logic that might connect stock prices and bubble companies, airline timetables and assembly lines, overweening ambition and imprisoning desire. “This will not be an exercise in random, Dadaist cutting up,” McCarthy concludes, but rather “a surveying.” It is through surveying, McCarthy hopes, that the necronauts will go beyond their radical predecessors, by taking avant-garde techniques such as collage and putting them in the service of an analytical end: uncovering and depicting the various forms of connection that constitute our world.

Indecency Doctrine

Glenn Reit is an Upper East Side dentist who recently sued and lost. The trouble began in May 2009, when “Michael S.” posted a negative review of Reit’s practice on its Yelp page, which until then contained about ten uniformly positive reviews. To Michael S., Reit’s office was “small,” “old,” and “smelly,” his equipment “old and dirty.” Calls for new consultations dropped markedly that month.


Watching the courageous and inexhaustible crowds in Tahrir Square, Malcolm Harris must have felt the thrill of divine revelation. This had to be the long-awaited sign. Surely here at last was the messianic “multitude” for which so many readers of Hardt and Negri have searched in vain on all terrestrial maps.