The Uses of Art: Little Beasts

Even when you’re in the right place and time, participatory art fails because art fails: too often nothing actually happens between a work and its viewer. We are so many strangers walking the streets of the city, hardly glancing at one another.

The Geography of Melancholy

To walk in the country is to walk in and among life. That which is growing is growing of its own accord; there is a dynamic force—what the Romantic poets called Nature naturans—that suffuses the natural existence. A single blade of grass may be impermanent; a field of grass is not. But to walk in a city is to walk among ghosts, the narratives of onetime denizens building up like layers of clay shards…

Review: On Lydia Davis’ “Can’t and Won’t”From the Print

This removed, and slightly veiled, narrative condescension is a trademark of Ms. Davis’ writing in Can’t and Won’t, a collection which takes empty, circular bourgeois life as its subject, and then immediately seems to resent having done so. Ms. Davis writes as if she were forced to take on this subject, as if it were an assignment, and so many of her stories here read like transcriptions of (elegant) tantrums.

Toward a Poetics of Skateboarding

The gears of capitalism create spaces in which behavior is prescribed and easily accounted for. Skateboarding’s opposition is thus a compositional process, partially of the individual body, which is recomposed against the “intense scopic determinations of modernist space,” and partially of a deeper critique of urban life: “production not as the production of things but of play, desires and actions”…

Micro-review: On Kate Durbin’s “E! Entertainment”

Enter into the arena Kate Durbin, whose latest book, E! Entertainment has just been published by Wonder Books, demonstrating seven years of atomically precise attention paid to the linguistic ecosystem of reality television. Deliciously designed in the prettiest of pink pages by Joseph Kaplan, E! Entertainment arranges, annotates, reports, and represents our favorite national pastime…

Journeymen

Billups was the archetype’s quintessence: experienced but expendable, affable but reserved, resilient and lonely. Yes, Chauncey, great work, bye. Welcome, Chauncey, powerful and baldheaded sharpshooter, we need you, we don’t, begone, be good. I can’t imagine Billups took all this with anything other than measured acceptance, a tip of the jockstrap, a grinning-bare of his huge many teeth, before zooming off in his Mercedes to some new part of America…

Three Vistas

A democratic vista is prose that is pliant to poetry. When prose is pliant to poetry, it means that prose bends to the authority of poetry without giving up its own self-concept…

Review: On Adam Begley’s “Updike”

The secret to John Updike’s long tenure as America’s preeminent man of letters can be found in the essays from Self-Consciousness, his 1989 memoir-of-sorts. The book is fairly representative: it’s an unabashed hymn to Updikehood, a finely recorded bout of nostalgia, a cheerful philosophical riff, and a masterwork of English prose…

Review: On Vijay Seshadri's "3 Sections"

Consciousness has caught up with the impossible soul on “the other shore,” the shore that permits, and legitimizes, the imagination, the vehicle of consciousness. Seshadri’s metaphor is doubly apt (if not multiply complex): improbable as it may seem, the imaginary number (i or √−1) regularly surfaces in science and engineering; it is present in the formalisms underlying modern technologies…

What We Can’t See: On Photographer Richard Mosse

In a darkened room of Chelsea’s Jack Shainman gallery last month, I watched Richard Mosse’s new short film “The Enclave,” as the disembodied eye of a Steadicam roved a mountain landscape—pink, impossibly pink—with inhuman sweeps. On a mountain slope the color of cotton candy, the camera edged down a gravel road…

Review: On Jonathan Littell’s "The Fata Morgana Books"From the Print

Quietly composed for France’s Fata Morgana Press in the aftermath of The Kindly Ones—a monumental study on human baseness and Nazism—Mr. Littell’s new book at first appears to bear little resemblance to its precursor. Where The Kindly Ones is an exuberant historical novel, a 992-page behemoth of rape, incest, and murder, The Fata Morgana Books is a spare, 184-page collection of four short novellas, comparatively light, until the end, on physical violence, and stripped of the ornamental graces of period, geographical location, name, gender…