Why do the fictions of one of our most important writers involve so much indirection?
Doors rattle, touchscreens melt
Which automaker “had to his credit,” in the words of Michigan senator Arthur Vandenberg, “more erratic interviews, more dubious quotations, more blandly boasted ignorance of American history, more political nonsense and more dangerous propaganda than any other dependable citizen that we have known”? Well, Henry Ford. But also, a hundred years later, Elon Musk.
August 3, 2020
"How long can it go on?"
But solidarity also had the power, dramatic if fleeting, to blur other lines of division.
June 1, 2020
A horizon of maximum difference, a test bed for linguistics and for linguists
New Guinea remained on my radar: a horizon of maximum difference, a test bed for linguistics and for linguists. Elsewhere, linguistic differences usually stem from geographic isolation. But in much of New Guinea the diversity is actually deepest in places where travel is easiest. Instead of using religion, clothing, or food, Papua New Guineas have distinguished themselves above all through language. Call it tribalism or, as linguists do, the “constructive fostering of variegation” through “intentional language change.”
March 4, 2020
Dorkiness in the service of mind-expansion
The negative consensus surrounding the show has now reached sufficient mass that one can now put it on the couch. At its psychic root, all the criticism appears to converge at one point: Koolhaas himself, and the methodology he represents.
February 21, 2020
American Dirt in Mexico
Notice how the register of the prose, with its figures and rates, evokes the rhetoric of nonfiction. The use of general, declarative sentences about Mexico, in particular, makes me think of what my journalism professors used to call the nut-graf—the paragraph in the article where the journalist briefly pauses her account of the news to establish, in the most efficient way possible, the context for the events on which she is reporting. The result is that Cummins’s book often slips into didacticism.
February 14, 2020
On Michel Houellebecq’s Serotonin
On Amit Chaudhuri
Chaudhuri’s attachment to a middle-class cultural moment limits his novels’ social scope; but it also suggests a certain feeling for collective life, famously foreign to modernism. For, as his early novels make clear, Chaudhuri’s writing emerged out of a modernist world; the sense of shared imaginative space in the middle-class Calcutta of his childhood allowed Chaudhuri early on to lose patience with modernism’s asocial obsessions, replacing alienation with affirmation, atomized angst with a troubled but real impression of community.
January 7, 2020
A Speculative Review of #NewMoMA
These kinds of contrasts give rise to history understood as a morass of unresolved conflicts and multiple lines of flight, rather than a unified tale of artistic development. Of course, none of the current constellations break new ground or present innovative scholarship—that is still a step too far for even #newMoMA—but they renounce the egregious evasions that were previously MoMA’s calling card.
August 1, 2019
Look beyond shallow time
Good buildings are adaptable
Buildings like these are everywhere in America. More particularly, they’re the pre-1990s inner sprawl around the multi-lane peripheries of older Eastern cities; the outer downtowns of St. Louis, Indianapolis, and other cities of the lower Midwest; the inner downtowns of the Sun Belt; and pretty much all of Oakland, California. In New York City these buildings tend to be the dull-seeming libraries, schools, police stations, and fire stations built in the ’60s and ’70s, as well as a lot of storefront offices and some of the old white-brick apartment buildings you see throughout Manhattan.