Reviews

One Word: Authenticity!

One Word: Authenticity!

Oscars 2017

The post-classic French musicals that do away with singers and dancers (A Woman Is a Woman) or emphasize melancholy and failed romance against a backdrop of societal drabness (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) serve as models for La La Land. Their use seems academic, befitting a director running for Student Council President of the Movies.

Contemplating Customs Forms and Hotel Service

Contemplating Customs Forms and Hotel Service

Andrés Neuman has written a guide to the literature of an entire continent in the guise of a travelogue.

“Our generation,” recounts Hans, the protagonist of Traveler of the Century, “was a borderline, we were the last to study before Metternich’s repression began, but we were also the first to lose faith in the Revolution.” Though Neuman himself is too young for this description to be a tidy analogy for him and his peers, it nicely sums up the position of his predecessors in Bolaño’s generation. Where the writers of the Boom had the example of the Cuban Revolution to give them hope, no comparably utopian project was available by the time their followers came of age.

Primal Forces

Primal Forces

Jane Jacobs cast her campaigns for urban justice as bids to restore an underlying common sense, not as transformations of the social order.

You might call Jacobs a Democratic Schumpeterian. Though she believed in the dynamism of markets and their propensity to push new, innovative work to grow, she wanted to stoke the egalitarian possibilities of this process within a society that favored established interests.

Night’s Nirvana

Night’s Nirvana

On Norwegian Black Metal

A lot of the posed photos are about what you would expect: pig heads set on fire, shrouded band members looming in churchyards at night, or wielding chainsaws, or covered in prop blood. It’s either extremely silly, or very morbid and unholy, depending strongly on whether you also are a teenage boy.

Something That Might Be Happening to Me Now

Something That Might Be Happening to Me Now

It’s a strange thing to read about women ending pregnancies when you’re squarely in the middle of one.

This way of looking at the past tricks us into thinking the problem of human life is simpler than it is. It makes grotesque pain seem like the product not of individual or general cruelty, or the difficulty of being housed in a body, but of too little social awareness, of not enough light shone on secret lives.

Ways of Staying Home

Ways of Staying Home

At its best, Facsímil has the air of something written quickly and playfully in the heat of a second try.

Facsímil reveals—more clearly than Alejandro Zambra’s earlier work—that the self-conscious writer of metafiction needn’t shy away from history and the polity. The inward and the outward gazes can coexist.

Doing Philosophy Better

Doing Philosophy Better

Human depth isn’t Square Wave’s focus at all: people are present in the novel to direct us toward meaningfully original orchestrations.

Mark de Silva’s debut novel Square Wave uses fiction as a space to foreground philosophy. The result is a novel that can be maddening in its refusal to gratify through plot, character, or even theme, focusing instead on corresponding shapes of thought and social organization.

Assassinate the Bird

Assassinate the Bird

On Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet

Anecdotes swirl around Straub and Huillet. On set, they preferred phrases like “please” and “thank you” to “action” and “cut.” They considered over-dubbed sound, studio sets, and illusionistic cuts phony and cheap, but they praised filmmakers—including Chaplin, Mizoguchi, and John Ford—who used those devices particularly cannily. According to the filmmaker and critic John Gianvito, Straub once proclaimed that most films were “made to keep [the masses] in their place, to violate them, or to fascinate them,” and boasted that his and Huillet’s own movies “give people the liberty to get up and leave.”

Straight to Hell

Straight to Hell

On Boyd McDonald

The zine had a recurring string of subtitles — including “The Manhattan Review of Unnatural Acts” and “The New York Review of Cocksucking” — and taglines like “The Paper That Made New York Famous” and “Always coarse, never common.” Each contributor letter had a tabloid-style headline: “10 Hawaiian Dongs Unload on Tourist,” “Adultery in the Men’s Room,” “Mechanic’s Asshole Is Clean; Has Fragrance of Gasoline.” Sardonic commentary on the straight world and straight press was scattered throughout; McDonald liked to run errors he found in the New York Times, which he considered his main competitor.

Why Not Say What Happened?

Why Not Say What Happened?

On Days of Rage

The later pages of Days of Rage, though perhaps more relevant to the study of cults or mental illness than American radicalism, make for fun reading. The suicidal ineptitude of the second generation underground is complemented at times by their occasional picaresque escapes. The reader is supposed to be struck by how incompetent the radicals are, but it’s impressive that they managed to do anything at all. The lawyer for the SLA’s semiofficial spokesman remembers spending his trial getting high in the courthouse stairwell at his client’s insistence—“the finest marijuana I ever had . . . I remember it so clearly—literally floating into court.” He won the case.

Cold Comfort

Cold Comfort

There have been surprisingly few recent English-language films about infidelity, at least once you exclude movies that treat the subject as little more than a secret for characters to hide and reveal, a temptation for them to resist, or a sin for which they’re obliged to atone. It’s striking to see two films that consider their characters’ romantic betrayals so quietly and reflectively, with so little moralizing. That they arrive at very different conclusions—about what it means to be unfaithful, about how much strain a relationship can take, and about the extent to which committed relationships between people are, in the end, possible—suggests how many dramatic possibilities infidelity can give a filmmaker when it’s treated with seriousness and care. It also suggests a good deal about Haigh and Kaufman’s relative degrees of comfort with the kinds of grown-up, advanced-age relationships they’ve chosen to depict.

Trials and Error

Trials and Error

Court and the Indian state

The first scene of Chaitanya Tamhane’s debut film, Court, opens with a distant view of a makeshift stage in a Bombay slum. Workers have gathered to watch a charismatic Dalit singer, who, backed by vocalists and drummers, belts out jeremiads against the false gods of the age: the greed found in glitzy new shopping malls and the “dense” thickets of racism, nationalism, and caste-ism into which people have fallen.

The Limits of the Camera-Eye

The Limits of the Camera-Eye

On the sequel to The Act of Killing

Eyes gouged; eyes augmented; eyes blinded with old age; eyes guarded, darting, glassed-over; eyes squinting to check if the horizon has sharpened. A boy shuts his hard as he struggles to absorb his history lessons at school. His sister puts on their father’s glasses, giggling at how they warp her world. Eyes multiply, kaleidoscopic, as the structuring metaphor of Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence, a new documentary on the anti-Communist purges in Indonesia that, between 1965 and 1966, killed up to a million people.

Theater Diary

Theater Diary

On John, Judy, and Empire Travel Agency

Will the actor driving this car, talking to another actor via Bluetooth, turn too fast and hit a jogger? Is that man on the street corner in the play? Are these people exercising under FDR drive in the play? Is that horrible smell in the play? Am I in the play?

The South African Novel of Ideas

The South African Novel of Ideas

It is difficult to exaggerate the extent to which talk about African writing centers on how to talk about African writing. The most common topic of debate is the Caine Prize, a high-profile short-story competition based in London and open only to authors of African descent (earning it the derivative and slightly patronizing epithet “the African Booker”). Each summer when the shortlist is announced, there is a flurry of op-eds and interviews with African writers who decry the neocolonial hold of British institutions on their careers. Many writers go on to question the very idea of a prize designated for “Africans,” arguing that it threatens to impose false geographical and thematic restrictions on a vast range of writers.

One Word: Authenticity!

One Word: Authenticity!

Oscars 2017

The post-classic French musicals that do away with singers and dancers (A Woman Is a Woman) or emphasize melancholy and failed romance against a backdrop of societal drabness (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) serve as models for La La Land. Their use seems academic, befitting a director running for Student Council President of the Movies.

Contemplating Customs Forms and Hotel Service

Contemplating Customs Forms and Hotel Service

Andrés Neuman has written a guide to the literature of an entire continent in the guise of a travelogue.

“Our generation,” recounts Hans, the protagonist of Traveler of the Century, “was a borderline, we were the last to study before Metternich’s repression began, but we were also the first to lose faith in the Revolution.” Though Neuman himself is too young for this description to be a tidy analogy for him and his peers, it nicely sums up the position of his predecessors in Bolaño’s generation. Where the writers of the Boom had the example of the Cuban Revolution to give them hope, no comparably utopian project was available by the time their followers came of age.

Primal Forces

Primal Forces

Jane Jacobs cast her campaigns for urban justice as bids to restore an underlying common sense, not as transformations of the social order.

You might call Jacobs a Democratic Schumpeterian. Though she believed in the dynamism of markets and their propensity to push new, innovative work to grow, she wanted to stoke the egalitarian possibilities of this process within a society that favored established interests.

Night’s Nirvana

Night’s Nirvana

On Norwegian Black Metal

A lot of the posed photos are about what you would expect: pig heads set on fire, shrouded band members looming in churchyards at night, or wielding chainsaws, or covered in prop blood. It’s either extremely silly, or very morbid and unholy, depending strongly on whether you also are a teenage boy.

Something That Might Be Happening to Me Now

Something That Might Be Happening to Me Now

It’s a strange thing to read about women ending pregnancies when you’re squarely in the middle of one.

This way of looking at the past tricks us into thinking the problem of human life is simpler than it is. It makes grotesque pain seem like the product not of individual or general cruelty, or the difficulty of being housed in a body, but of too little social awareness, of not enough light shone on secret lives.

Ways of Staying Home

Ways of Staying Home

At its best, Facsímil has the air of something written quickly and playfully in the heat of a second try.

Facsímil reveals—more clearly than Alejandro Zambra’s earlier work—that the self-conscious writer of metafiction needn’t shy away from history and the polity. The inward and the outward gazes can coexist.

Doing Philosophy Better

Doing Philosophy Better

Human depth isn’t Square Wave’s focus at all: people are present in the novel to direct us toward meaningfully original orchestrations.

Mark de Silva’s debut novel Square Wave uses fiction as a space to foreground philosophy. The result is a novel that can be maddening in its refusal to gratify through plot, character, or even theme, focusing instead on corresponding shapes of thought and social organization.

Assassinate the Bird

Assassinate the Bird

On Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet

Anecdotes swirl around Straub and Huillet. On set, they preferred phrases like “please” and “thank you” to “action” and “cut.” They considered over-dubbed sound, studio sets, and illusionistic cuts phony and cheap, but they praised filmmakers—including Chaplin, Mizoguchi, and John Ford—who used those devices particularly cannily. According to the filmmaker and critic John Gianvito, Straub once proclaimed that most films were “made to keep [the masses] in their place, to violate them, or to fascinate them,” and boasted that his and Huillet’s own movies “give people the liberty to get up and leave.”