I always think of Sojourner as being in conversation with many different objects, wallpapers, surfaces, textures, and banners. By the time viewers watch the film, they have already received so much informational groundwork from the environment that the film can focus on conveying a particular kind of imagery or feeling. When the title credits appear at the end of Sojourner, the room is completely dark, and that’s the moment when people can see the disco ball installation producing a cosmos on the ceiling. I always consider who the work is made for and what I want it to convey. It is so important that people are given an experience that cultivates their intellectual and physical well-being. That’s why I started making installations for my films, instead of simply showing them. — Cauleen Smith
MUTUALITIES—Smith’s first solo exhibition in New York City—has reopened at the Whitney. The show, which includes her 22-minute video installation Sojourner, was organized by ChrissieIles, with Clémence White.
This week, join Smith and curator Amber Esseiva for a virtual conversation presented by the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard.
Robert Silvers was a brilliant, demanding, funny, painstaking, and inspiring editor, a walking chronicle of postwar literary-political history, an intimidating sweetheart, and very dear to me. At the end of an editorial session, once he had identified all your piece’s weaknesses, evasions, and missed opportunities, he would close with a brusque, even peremptory, but always, somehow, hopeful, “See what can be done.” In the world according to Silvers, there was always something to be done. — Michael Chabon
The Review was an immediate success, and during first decades published Mary McCarthy on Vietnam, James Baldwin (“An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis”), Isaiah Berlin, Hannah Arendt, Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Richard Hofstadter, Edmund Wilson, Susan Sontag, Noam Chomsky, I. F. Stone, W. H. Auden, and many more. Today, Zadie Smith, Yasmine El Rashidi, Zoë Heller, Janet Malcolm, Hilton Als, Darryl Pinckney, James Fenton, Colm Tóibín, and Daniel Mendelsohn continue the intellectual tradition.
Before Silvers died in 2017, Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi filmed the editor in his domain. The resulting film—THE 50 YEAR ARGUMENT, narrated by Michael Stahlbarg—documents the history of the paper with in-person interviews and a rich selection of clips. The film is available through HBO Max and is streaming free in September, courtesy of the Review.
Linda Nochlin had a towering, completely ferocious, revolutionary intellect. The magnitude of her intelligence—well, there are very, very few people like that. She literally changed everything. I think that with her essay “Why HaveThere Been No Great Women Artists?” in 1971, she made women’s and queer studies possible because of how she reformulated the question. She shifted the focus from subjective experience toward an interrogation of the material aspects of culture: What were the conditions that make things the way they are? By restructuring cultural history, she also gave those of us who were marginalized by it a new way to look at literature and other disciplines. — Deborah Kass
Nochlin—the late scholar, critic, and curator—is the subject of an exhibition at NMWA. See link below for details.
Hazel V. Carby, author of Imperial Intimacies, and Priyamvada Gopal, author of InsurgentEmpire, discuss the “media responses to Covid-19 and the kinds of discourse that are given a platform, appropriate forms of response, and the media more generally relating to who it is doing the writing—as well as looking towards what sorts of new theoretical frameworks we might employ to think about what has happened.”*
The authors will be joined by Annie Olaloku-Teriba. See link below for Verso Live registration information.
VERSO LIVE—HAZEL CARBY and PRIYAMVADA GOPAL, with ANNIE OLALOKU-TERIBA
You ask me what I read in quarantine but I want to tell you about where I read. I read from a location of privilege, for it is a privilege to be in lockdown in an affluent Connecticut shoreline town. I am reminded of this every morning. I see the lives and deaths of those who find themselves designated “essential workers”—the poor black and brown residents of New York’s outer boroughs of Queens and the Bronx who maintain the city, its transportation systems, and its hospitals—who live precarious lives, who cannot afford to stay at home, who cannot afford to be sick, who are dying of coronavirus and being buried in mass graves. These lives are being “seen” now because newspapers like the New York Times have just discovered the inequities of structural racism and the struggles for existence of those the paper usually ignores as not worthy of being written about. Structural racism and poverty constitute normal life in the United States: they are the fundamental characteristics of the normative social order to which corporate elites and their allies, reading in lockdown, wish to return.
You ask me what I read but I avoid reading a lot of things. What I read also depends upon when I read. Dawn finds me in the kitchen curled up with tea and cats in a chair reading TheGuardian on an iPad trying to avoid reading statistics of infection, hospitalization and death, accumulations of numbers which disguise the condition of life. I aim for The Guardian’s “Long Reads,” detailed investigative essays by thoughtful writers, for the sections on the environment and the amazing collections of photography from around the world. In the mirror I read my face, adjusting my mask before I leave for the grocery store. I try not to read the anxiety I see in the eyes that look back.
In the working part of my day I have been reading two books: Thomas ChattertonWilliams, Unlearning Race: Self-Portrait in Black and White, who imagines that “race” exists only in our minds. A generous reader could dismiss this as naïve, but generosity is not my reading of an author writing from an extremely privileged position in France who renders the racial formation in which he lives invisible by ignoring France’s colonial legacy and the present black and brown residents of the Parisian banlieues. In stark contrast, The Grassling, by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett, a writer of Kenyan and English heritage, is a gorgeous geological account of the Devon village in which she grew up. She reads the landscape from beneath as well as above its soil, rendering its flavors, sounds and smells in poetically intense prose.
In the evening I retreat into fiction trying to immerse myself in other, distant worlds. HillaryMantel’s The Mirror and the Light, is absorbing me with its conjuring of political intrigue, of the wrangling for power between men who lie without compunction, and for its spiteful, vengeful, narcissistic ruler—a world that is, perhaps, not so far from our own.