Book: Peter Conrad’s Mythomania is the model of an engaged, clear-headed, insightful, but most of all wondrous humanistic criticism. The venerable cultural commentator presents an updated version of Roland Barthe’s pioneering structuralist fragments on modern myths, and though the title of Conrad’s new volume is lacking I can assure you that the attempt is not. Focusing on everything from Apple Computers’ logo to the Kardashians, Conrad doesn’t draw surface comparisons between contemporary phenomenon and ancient myths (though at points he does make those comparisons, albeit in a manner that does them justice) so much as he provides a free-wheeling, intoxicating, intellectual analysis of our current moment without falling into High Theory obfuscation or boring, tweedy, canonical conservatism. His book is playful, and as such he keeps Horace’s injunction that there is no instruction without wonder as central to his vision.
Poem: There are always risks with political poetry. As a genre it is often formulaic, didactic, pedantic. The radical version of occasional poetry as written by some state’s Laurette. The stuff of slam poetry cliché and performance art pretension. For every brilliant Neruda there are a thousand suburban art school kids. Which is why Amit Majmudar’s Resistance, Rebellion, Life: 50 Poems Now is so welcome and brilliant. Not just a gathering of verse for “#TheResistance,” Majmudar’s anthology brings together a surprisingly radical collection of poets to confront the increasingly dystopian reality of America’s political situation. His introduction has a touch of melancholy; on the one hand poetry is uniquely equipped to deal with the shifting layers of truth and lie which mark contemporary discourse, since as Plato reminds us poets were always those adept in falsehoods. On the other hand, nobody really cares about poetry anymore, so there’s no gulag for us to romanticize, no real directed oppression to use as forging crucible that gives one’s art a bit of pathos (yet). But mostly what struck me is that the poems in this collection are good. It’s a balm for when you’re sitting on the T and scrolling through your newsfeed, seeing what new fresh hell has been tweeted by that rough beast slouching towards Washington. One thing that is very much not fake news is that poetry remains good for the soul.
Novel: Technically Liz Moore’s The Unseen World came out a year ago, but I’ll grandfather it in, and pair it with another novel from 2016 which it reminded me of, Louisa Hall’s Speak. Moore’s book tells the story of a relationship between a brilliant and troubled computer scientist and his daughter in a story which at times reminded me of The Tempest (but I am an early modernist, I see Shakespeare everywhere). Hall’s novel is most reminiscent of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, if the later had been much shorter and about computers. Both Moore and Hall’s books interrogate consciousness, language, technology, and how we define our identity, and they do it by embracing the border space between literary and science fiction. I love the novels that sneak up on you as sci-fi, Lauren Groff and Emily St. John Mandel are similarly excellent at this. For narrative I was more drawn to Moore, but for sheer beautiful sentences Hall’s novella was a masterpiece.
TV Series: I’ve only just gotten into it, so maybe a few episodes in and it’ll lose its allure for me, but right now I’m in love with Broad City. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are certifiable comedic geniuses, and they’re doing something which is innovative, brilliant, and different. It’s one of the best depictions I’ve ever seen of New York on television (well that or my beloved Law & Order….), and maybe it’s just because I miss the city, but they get the funky, absurd, ridiculous, sublime, sheer wonderfulness of that town like none other. It’s like a perfect pitch Seinfeld by millennial women.
Political Moment: Anyone who says anything other than the “Me Too” movement isn’t listening.
Sporting Moment: This might be cheating, since it could just as easily work for the last category, but Colin Kaepernick’s “taking of the knee” which became a veritable movement in the NFL was a profound example of the way in which sports and progressive politics can sometimes be strange partners. Kaepernick’s protest, in the tradition of Muhammad Ali, is profound. It interrogates questions of race, injustice, faith, and America’s obsession with violence (both on and off the field) in a manner that tells me that even if he’s not going to get a contract from any major team anytime soon, that our kids and grandkids will still be going to high schools named after him.
Food: Two Quarter Pounders with cheese, two Fillet-O-Fish, a large fries, an apple pie or two, and a dozen diet cokes. Doing God’s work….
Viña del Mar, Chile
Books: I know not what tomorrow will bring, said Pessoa’s last text, scrawled on a slip of paper in hospital. Another strange, absurd, exhilarating year: and tomorrow?
You ask about books. The Universidad de Diego Portales in Chile has an amusing series called ‘Vidas ajenas’ that I have been working through this year; it focuses on translations of unconventional memoirs and experimental biographical approaches to writers. Writers on writers can be engaging. See Arthur Power recalling conversations with James Joyce, Roberto Merino extricating the dramatic past of Enrique Lihn, or Pessoa taking on his own heteronyms, as in Papeles personales (selection, translation and prologue by Adan Méndez).
The success of this metafictional university series—a editorial work in itself—is fascinating, but also a dubious temptation, cf. that Edenic apple. Why are writers who dedicated themselves to an all-encompassing form of self-construction like Pessoa, or Piglia in his diaries, or even Alejandro Zambra, so compelling? While I am affected by these works, I also wonder what it means for them to affect me. The material previously thought to float ‘around’ the work is the work itself — fragments, letters, first-person diary entries, etc — and this is one of two temptations for seriously questioning the purpose of fictional creation.
The second is the temptation of life itself: nature, objects, people. The real world, I mean, whether sensual (a cup of strawberry juice) or social (recent political developments). What book is ‘delicious’ in the same way as a strawberry juice!
If you’re interested in Chilean writers, I’d recommend Viñamarinos by Catalina Porzio (Laurel, 2017), patched together out of quotes by historical authors to tell the story of eccentrics in her Chilean city; Buenos días, buenas noches by Pedro Montealegre (Pez Espiral, 2016), which gathers the poet’s social media posts from the mornings and evenings before he committed suicide; and Neruda’s poetry in its second and third layers, which show the full complexity of the man — he could move deftly from angster to prankster, and there is far more to him than love sonnets and captain’s verses.
Break for strawberry juice? I’ve gone on for too long already in this GIF-bedecked space, but I just remembered one more. A great-aunt in southern California, whom I talked books this year for the first time, told me about her decades-long involvement with the work of Jung and the theosophical library by her house. That night, in a dream, I watched birds attack a limp hand on a tree, which knew it was not one of their own; the dream was dictated by Vargas Llosa. When is the last time I even read that guy? Anyhow, I have no desire to interpret any of this, but decades later Memories, Dreams, Reflections, remains a tantalizing accomplice in starting to understand a reality that defies comprehension.
Sporting moment: Cresting downhill on a bicycle—rickety—and flying over a part of the sidewalk where the concrete lifts. A-1.
Movie: I love a movie with a string of analogies that aren’t too impenetrable. I enjoyed penetrating Mother – the movie. Mother is absolutely mental and you will likely enjoy it, especially if you don’t expect it to be ground-breaking.
Also a shout out to the films Mindhorn, a British comedy that’s actually funny, and Spider-man: Homecoming, which despite trying its best to be sickeningly zeitgeist is a really fun romp with an excellent lead performance from some geezer from Kingston-Upon-Thames. I love how two successive Spidermen have been British, because I wanted to be Spiderman when I was a kid, and I can do it vicariously and really feel it. Also I want to be Spiderman as an adult. I’m Spiderman, you assholes.
Books: I’m a bit behind, so Christ knows (YES HE DOES) when these were published, but Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is an amazing book, full of stuff I thought I would hate, but done so well I couldn’t help but love it.
Tampa by Alissa Nutting (snigger) is the best badly-written book I read this year. I mean, check this, the worst couple of sentences I think I’ve ever read:
“Like a tollbooth in his memory, every partner he’d have afterwards would have to pass through the gate of my comparison, and it would be a losing equation. The numbers could never be as favourable as they were right now, when his naivete would be subtracted from my expertise to produce the largest sum of astonishment possible.”
But aside from this atrocious pile of mixed garbage, the plot is contrived but great, and I really liked it. It’s taboo as all hell. Embrace taboo, because people are banal.
Music: Now that I’m in the fortyish decade, Future Islands really do it for me. There might be something in their music for young’uns too, but frankly I couldn’t give a fuck. They released a new album called The Far Field and it’s excellent, and even features an aged Debbie Harry on one of the tracks. She sounds like the Crypt Keeper at one point. Dad-dancers out there will appreciate their vocalist, who has to be seen on stage to be believed.
Video Game: Breath of the Wild, unquestionably. What an elegant, beautiful game, and you can play it while driving! Joke. You can play it on the toilet though, big time. I also played The Witcher 3, which had its moments despite clunky movement controls, such as when I had sex with a witch.
Overall summary: 2017 was great if you ignored most of it. Love you.
The Big Sick
Novel: The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch. A riveting tale of destruction and love found in direst of places—even at the extreme end of post-human experience—Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan raises questions about what it means to be human, the fluidity of sex and gender, and the role of art as means for survival (Goodreads).
Graphic Novel: Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves.
Essays: The Wrong Way to Save Your Life by Megan Stielstra. From an important new American writer comes this powerful collection of personal essays on fear, creativity, art, faith, academia, the Internet, and justice.
Film: The Big Sick. Pakistan-born comedian Kumail Nanjiani and grad student Emily Gardner fall in love but struggle as their cultures clash. When Emily contracts a mysterious illness, Kumail finds himself forced to face her feisty parents, his family’s expectations, and his true feelings.
TV: The Leftovers. Three years after the disappearance of 2% of the global population, a group of people from New York struggle to continue their lives, while they cope with the tragedy of the unexplained nature of the event.
Καθημερινά Κρεβάτια (2017) by Maria Koulouri
Debths (2017) by Susan Howe
Fire Curtain (2017) by Larry Kearney
Short Story Collection: Attrib. (2017) by Eley Willliams
Poem: Many, so I will only mention one that has stayed with me but cannot name (because I heard it at a Grapevine reading at some pub in New Cross, and my memory would make a goldfish proud), written and read by Jessica Andrews. It had colours, and did interesting things with language and associations, as it wove itself into a bigger picture, section by section, filling gaps you didn’t know you had.
Novel: Solar Bones (2016) by Mike McCormack. Not finished yet. Have not been reading much longform fiction this year.
Memoir: The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone (2016) by Olivia Laing
Film: I finally watched The Shining.
TV series: Godless, Stranger Things 2 (oh bob…), and Frasier.
Videogame: Dear Esther. The first and only game I’ve played this year (or the last 5 years), and well worth it. Beautiful (those caves) and haunting.
Controversy: Twitter tech shutting down Big T’s outlet for word vomit for a heroic 11 minutes. We’ll take what we can get.
Sporting moment: Uh… does running up and down stairs and escalators in the underground count?
Visual Artist: Sally Hewett
Multidisciplinary collective: mmmmm (Luna Montenegro & Adrian Fisher)
Kim’s Caravan (Courtney Barnett) because it’s poetry.
Human (Sevdaliza) because: innovative & otherworldly.
Halfway to Nowhere (Chelou) because: serendipitous find, on a very weird night.
Malibu (Miley Cyrus) – because it played non-stop in the Big Yellow storage facility while I was there 9 hours a day, 4 days in a row, tying labels to pieces wood. Let’s just say, I have been scarred.
Japanese Denim (Daniel Caesar) – because we all need some buttery smooth vocals once in a while.
Ultralight Beam (Kanye West) – because Arthur Jafa.
Album: ZABA by Glass Animals
Gig: Molotov Jukebox at the Hootananny
Coffee Shop: Fleet Street Press. Good window seating, coffee not bad, excellent brownies. Close to library.
Restaurant: U Modre Kachnicky in the Malá Strana, Prague.
Food: Haagen Dazs (chocolate covered) Salted Caramel (on a stick). Ice cream is food. Or is it crack? Doesn’t matter.
Book(s): Constructing lists such as these are always heartening, once I realize how rich the past year has actually been for literary titles (all of which I’ve reviewed over the past year on my enormously clever blog). There are always titles I haven’t quite got to yet, but there’s only so much one can do when home full-time with a four year old and a toddler.
I’ve produced my annual ‘best of’ list of Canadian poetry titles for the dusie blog that appears on New Year’s Day, but a few titles worth mentioning here as well include Planetary Noise: Selected Poetry of Erín Moure, edited by poet and critic Shannon Maguire (Wesleyan, 2017), Space Between Her Lips: The Poetry of Margaret Christakos, selected with an introduction by Gregory Betts (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2017), Marcus McCann’s Shut Up Slow Down Let Go Breathe (Invisible Publishing, 2017) and Fenn Stewart’s Better Nature (BookThug, 2017). On New Year’s Day, head over to the dusie blog if you wish to see my longer Canadian ‘best of’ list.
As far as American poetry goes, this has been a stellar year for American writing as well, and worth mentioning are a massive list of books I’ve enjoyed throughout this past year (my American list is about as long as my Canadian list) include: Ryan Murphy’s Millbrook (Black Dress Press, 2017), Cole Swensen’s Gave (Omnidawn, 2017), Layli Long Soldier’s remarkable Whereas (Graywolf, 2017), Morgan Parker’s There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé (Tin House Books, 2017), Ginger Ko’s Inherit (Sidebrow Books, 2017), Jennifer Kronovet’s The Wug Test (Ecco, 2016), Amaranth Borsuk’s Pomegranate Eater (Kore Press, 2016), Jasmine Dreame Wagner’s On a clear day (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2017), C.D. Wright’s posthumous ShallCross (Copper Canyon Press, 2017), Andrew Wessels’ A Turkish Dictionary (1913 Press, 2017), Rachel Moritz’s Sweet Velocity (Lost Roads Press, 2017), Rachel B. Glaser’s HAIRDO (The Song Cave, 2017), Julie Carr’s Objects from a Borrowed Confession (Ahsahta Press, 2017), Shane McCrae’s In the Language of my Captor (Wesleyan University Press, 2017), Jon Boisvert’s BORN (Airlie Press, 2017), Eve L. Ewing’s Electric Arches (Haymarket Books, 2017), Liz Countryman’s A Forest Almost (Subito Press, 2017), Vanessa Angélica Villarreal’s Beast Meridian (Noemi Press, 2017), Natalie Shapero’s Hard Child (Copper Canyon Pres, 2017), Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Alice James Books, 2017) and Amy Lawless’ Broadax (Octopus Books, 2017). Whew. I mean, that’s an awful lot. But how does one select from such an impressive mound of titles (on both sides of the border)?
Thanks to my local used bookstore, Black Squirrel Books, I’ve been moving through DC’s Justice League series, circa “The New 52” and enjoying it well enough. My preference is still Marvel, through and through, but I was curious about the series, especially given the animated/live action movies are tied so closely to what happened in the books. Otherwise, I’ve really been enjoying The Avengers and Champions, as well as Ms. Marvel.
Chapbook(s): While this year has felt thinner, in a certain way, I suspect this is actually a result of fewer chapbooks coming my way than have in previous years. Some of the chapbooks that have blown me away this year include Hollie Adams’ Deliver Me from Swedish Furniture (ZED Press, 2017), Michael e. Casteel’s Lagoon. Still. Lagoon. (Puddles of Sky Press, 2017), Dale Smith’s Sons (Knife Fork Book, 2017), Shazia Hafiz Ramji’s PROSOPOPOEIA (Anstruther Press, 2017), Chuqiao Yang’s REUNIONS IN THE YEAR OF THE SHEEP (Baseline Press, 2017), Renée Sarojini Saklikar’s THOT-J-BAP: extractions (Nomados Literary Publishers, 2017), Anna Gurton-Wachter’s The Abundance Chamber Works Alone (Essay Press, 2017), Tung-Hui Hu’s On the Kepel Fruit (Albion Books, 2017) and Phil Hall’s An Egregore (Ottawa ON: Apt. 9 Press, 2017). Huh. Well I guess that’s a pretty full list too, isn’t it?
Novel: I wish. Did I mention I’m home full-time with two small children?
Memoir: While I’m behind on everything, reading longer prose has been nearly impossible over the past couple of years. Still, given I am such a huge fan of her work, I made a point of getting into Sarah Manguso’s 300 Arguments (Graywolf Press, 2017). Erín Moure’s Sitting Shiva on Minto Avenue, by Toots (New Star Books, 2017) is also quite remarkable, and worth reading.
TV series: Inhumans disappointed. Punisher is impressive, as is Star Trek: Discovery. We’re also enjoying Runaways, The Gifted and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (although I’m not entirely sure where they’re going with this season yet). Flash always provides (as does Supergirl). Arrow wears me down. Legends of D.C. intrigues, as to where they’re going this season as well (is there a hand guiding all of their actions?). And does anyone else feel shortchanged by the last season of Doctor Who? Why aren’t they making more episodes? And why do we have to wait so damned long for the ones they finally do make?
And: not a series but via the Netflix: the Joan Didion documentary? Wow.
Political moment: I’ve been heartened by various responses, whether Roy Moore losing in Alabama, or the ongoing backlash against the UBC Accountable letter/website and other progressive actions/movements, but so much of this is completely exhausting (and I do have some sense of how much I’m protected by the bulk of this via my own privilege). We need to be far more vigilant to get through the next few years.
Song/Music video: The past few months I’ve been all over the new albums by Daughter and Alvvays. And a bunch of songs from The Muppet Show, introducing the wee girls to some essential cultural stuff (far too many of those hosts from the 1970s are dead now), which has caused me to order the Jim Henson biography produced a few years back (I’m still waiting for it to arrive). And returning, for whatever reason, to Morrissey’s “Irish Blood, English Heart,” which is just one of those perfect songs (and how many contemporary pop songs reference Oliver Cromwell? not too many).
Selected Film #1: The Square (written and directed by Rubin Ostlund), is a series of allegories resting on an art installation, pointing to rising xenophobia in Europe tied to mass migration from the East to the continent; blaming victims, mediatization, the privileges of free speech and the aestheticization of suffering.
Selected Film #2: In Toni Erdmann (directed by Marden Ade), a father’s fascinating interventions into his daughter’s life are a cogent critique of capitalism and much else.
Selected TV Series: Stranger Things (seasons 1 & 2), an allegory of attachment; John Bowlby and Donald Winnicott would have a field day in this maelstrom of paranormal horror in a small town.
Selected Art #1: Walter de Maria at Dia: Beacon, “360˙ / I Ching / 64 Sculptures” (1981), Beacon, New York.
Selected Art #2: Lygia Pape, “Lygia Pape: A Multitude of Forms” at Met Breuer, New York.
Selected Art #3: Michael Heizer, “North East South West” at Dia: Beacon (1967/2002), Beacon, New York.
Selected Art #4: Tate Britain Commission 2017: Cerith Wyn Evans, “Forms in Space…by Light (in Time) at Tate Britain, London, U.K. Walk through it in 2 minutes here.
Selected Tumblr: Column by Jim Windolf
Selected Tumblr Post: “The Lookout (A Karl Overreacher Thriller)” in Column by Jim Windolf
Selected Nostalgia: “Kaplan St. Tropez” on Twitter.
Denise Riley, Say Something Back (Picador, 2016)
Adam Crothers, Selected Deer (Carcanet, 2016)
Joey Connolly, Long Pass (Carcanet, 2016)
The Electronic Intifada
Selected Twitter Accounts:
Peter Feld, @peterfeld
Eli Valley, @elivalley
Merv Emre, @mervatim
Lena Dunham Apologizes, @lenadunhamapols
Selected Online Reviews Journal: The Tourniquet Review.
Scott Manley Hadley
Selected online literary beef: That time I fell out with Morbid Books and couldn’t work out if I’d genuinely pissed them off or if they were exploiting the situation for marketing purposes.
Selected episode of the BBC3 series Thing Not To Say To: Things Not To Say To Bald Men
Selected pop song: Either that one that goes “I am not ur homie, not ur hoe” or the one that goes “I got no rules, I call him”.
Selected dog: My dog, Cubby.
American Horror Story: Cult
Best Short Story Collection by Leonora Carrington: The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington (Dorothy Publishing Project)
Best Children’s Book by Leonora Carrington: The Milk of Dreams by Leonora Carrington (New York Review of Books)
Best Keanu Reeves Movie: John Wick: Chapter 2
Best Charlize Theron Movie: Atomic Blonde
Best Ryan Gosling Movie: Blade Runner 2049
Best Twin Peaks Revival: Twin Peaks: The Return
Best TV Show About Hackers: Mr. Robot
Best TV Show With Rick Springfield Appearance: American Horror Story: Cult
American book of poems: When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (BOA Editions, Ltd, 2017), by Chen Chen. ‘Come by often for a cup of tea, // in all your unbridled unknowability.’
American book of poems: The Dead Girls Speak in Unison (Bloof Books, 2017), by Danielle Pafunda. ‘What can we tell you / that all of those spiders / haven’t already spelled out // across your stunned, / still, silent flesh? / Get. Out. Now.’
New Zealand book of poems: Bad Things (Victoria University Press, 2017), by Louise Wallace. ‘You can hear your mother yelling dinnertime! very faintly from somewhere behind you, but it’s too late to turn back and you don’t recognise any of these trees.’
Scottish book of poems: Madame Ecosse (Eyewear Publishing, 2017), by Marion McCready. ‘Even asleep in our bed, his hands mimic / the knife’s action. When I enrage him / he punishes the spoon of my likeness.’
Old book: The Burns Encyclopedia (Robert Hale, 1980), by Maurice Lindsay. Really the only book you need if you want to know whose pony Burns borrowed when he went to Edinburgh in 1786 or which inventor of the threshing mill Burns met on his tour of the Borders.
Author I’d put off reading for years but happily discovered: Georgette Heyer.
Album: People probably think I’m the sort of person who’d say something like Every Valley (PIAS Recordings, 2017), by Public Service Broadcasting. So I’ll try not to disappoint.
Kenyatta JP Garcia
Justice League: Dark
TV Show: The Punisher
Character in a TV Show: Cottonmouth
Don’t Care Still My Homie No Matter What Any Of Y’all Haters Say: Danny Rand The Immortal Iron Fist
Essays: Hanif Abdurraqib conquered the world this year. Just saying. “They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us” was the realest deal I’ve read in a long time.
Poetry: Die Die Dinosaur by Michael Sikemma hit all the right psychobilly notes for me. Full disclosure, I did blurb the book too but let me say it one more again, this is that book.
Flashback Book: Cool Memories IV by Jean Baudrillard blew me away as did Marguerite Duras’ Yann Andrea Steiner.
Novel: Binary Star by Sarah Gerard. I went through some dietary problems in my life. This book was both triggering and comforting.
Film: Get Out but I don’t want to talk about why this was the best film. I can’t speak about it and keep my cool.
Animated Movie: Justice League Dark. Swampy, Zatanna, Deadman and John Constantine together in one movie was great. I waited years for this moment.
Beef: Cornel West Vs. Ta-Nehisi Coates
Sports: Steph Curry and crew taking down Bron Bron and his boys.
Off the Field Sports: #imwithkap
Song: Colvin & Earle cover of You Were On My Mind is straight magic.
Comedian: Deon Cole.
Comic Book Writer: David Walker
Comic Book: Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes
Love, Gaspar Noe
Memoir: Night as Day, Days as Night by Michel Leiris
Novel: The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis
‘Cyprus Avenue’ by Lucy Caldwell (from Multitudes: Eleven Stories)
‘Inextinguishable’ by Lucy Caldwell (from Multitudes: Eleven Stories)
Short Story Collection: The Burning Ground by Adam O’Riordan
Poem: ‘Telemachus’ by Ocean Vuong (from Night Sky with Exit Wounds)
Poetry Collection: Vladimir Mayakovsky and Other Poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky (translated by James Womack)
Essay: ‘Goodbye, Eastern Europe!’ by Jacob Mikanowski (LA Review of Books)
Essay Collection: The Digital Critic: Literary Culture Online, edited by Houman Barekat, Robert Barry, and David Winters
Re-release: Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman
Translation: The Flight by Gaito Gazdanov (translated by Brian Karetnyk)
Rediscovery: John Berger
Revelation: Russell Bennetts having a copy of All the Boys I Never Kissed by Nicolette Daskalakis
Film: Call Me By Your Name
Non-Fiction Film: All These Sleepless Nights
TV: Mr Robot
Music Video: ‘Love’ by Lana Del Rey
Song: ‘Visions of Gideon’ by Sufjan Stevens
Luv is Rage 2 by Lil Uzi Vert
DAMN by Kendrick Lamar
Live Performance: Cigarettes After Sex at Koko
Sweet Liberty by Dan Colen (Newport Street Gallery)
Bad Land by Alex Da Corte (Josh Lilley Gallery)
Art Space: Pushkin House
Fashion: Cottweiler feat. Reebok
Website: Queen Mobs, duh?
Twitter: Jonathon Sturgeon
Netflix: Love by Gaspar Noe
Henriette Gunkel, Ayesha Hameed, and Simon O’Sullivan [ed.], “Futures and Fictions” (2017)
Mason, Paul; “PostCapitalism: A Guide to our Future” (2016) Stanford Literary Lab [Franco Moretti, ed.], “Canon/Archive” (2017)
Bennett Sims; “White Dialogues” (2017)
Grant Maierhofer; “Marcel” (2017)
N.J. Campbell (@njcampbelltweet); “Found Audio” (2017)
Jeff Jackson (@DeathofLit); “Novi Sad” (2016)
Henriette Gunkel, Ayesha Hameed, and Simon O’Sullivan; [eds.]; Department of Visual Cultures (Goldsmiths College, University of London) (@Viscult); “Futures and Fictions” (2017)
Book: Zachary Schomberg’s Mammother is a book like no other.
Film: Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World (shout-out to @svejky for the heads-up)
TV series: Star Trek Discovery, if for nothing else than the special effects and space battle scenes.
Video game: I don’t play video games but if I did I’d play the Legend of Zelda – Breath of the Wild.
Political moment: P.E. Garcia (@AvantGarcia) basically writing himself in as a Judge of Election in Philly was pretty cool.
Sporting moment: The Houston Astros winning their first World Series
Celebrity: For the second year in a row Russell Bennetts gets my vote for best online provocateur
Month: All the months of this year were pretty horrid politically speaking, but July was rad cause I was on vacation in Portugal.
Food: Panda Ramen gets my vote for bringing the first awesome bowl of ramen to Wrocław.
Werner Hamacher, Minima Philologica, translated by Catharine Diehl & Jason Groves
Nemanja Mitrović, The (Im)Possibility of Literature as the Possibility of Ethics
Hélène Cixous, Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, translated by Sarah Cornell and Susan Sellers
Lim Lee Ching, Pure and Faultless Elation Emerging from Hiding (with illustrations from Britta Noresten)
Tammy Ho Lai-Ming, hula hooping
Alison MacLeod, All the Beloved Ghosts
Enrique Vila-Matas, Bartleby & Co, translated by Jonathan Dunne
Exhibitions: Ruben Pang, Swallow Shadow, solo show at Chan+Hori Contemporary
Art Books: Michael Zammit & Vince Briffa, Bejn Sħab u Duħħan
Wesley Leon Aroozoo (dir), I Want To Go Home
Kirsten Tan (dir), Pop Aye
Biggest Piece of Shit: Paul Ryan
Best Elected Official: P.E. Garcia
Coolest Contraption: @scearly ‘s poetry generator
Most Lit Manifesto:
Most Satisfying IPO Fail: Snap
Biggest Villain Nobody Talked About: Private Equity
Social media has ruined socialism…
— Ja Rule (@Ruleyork) October 17, 2017
Best Holiday Gift: A covfefe fidget spinner
Best Russell Bennetts Pic:
Some reasons to keep trying:
The Airport Protests
Fight for 15
Nazis in Khaki. North Korea swinging missiles like a male stripper at the end of his routine. Tiny hands dancing the cha-cha with our Nuclear Codes. This year was as horrifying as we predicted back in 2016, but only in ways we didn’t even imagine. It took some time, but I managed to find some good, or at least entertaining, stories from 2017.
This collection of stories revolves around women from all walks of life. The stories are presented through Gay’s gorgeous, detailed writing. From the official book description: “A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children and must negotiate the elder sister’s marriage. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind.”
Khadijah Queen’s poetry collection, I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On, follows celebrity culture and patriarchal systems. The narrator meets mostly famous men (Tupac, Montell Jordan, Arsenio Hall) and the results range from funny, to devastating, to downright scary.
Last Call by Katybit.
This isn’t just a regular pornographic film. “Last Call” is the winner of Toronto’s International Porn Festival (formerly known as the Feminist Porn Awards) Hottest Orgy category. Does that count as a spoiler? Oops.
Here’s the official description:
A woman drinks alone at the bar. After a while she is unexpectedly welcomed into the underworld of her fantasies. This world is nothing that she has known before in her life. We follow her on a deep trip into sexual desires and vivid imagination.
Reports of a Russian memo containing images and/or videos of The Fake News Leader caught in a compromising position circulated early in the year. I was tickled by how people were shocked that the Russians managed to capture these images (and were most likely using them to blackmail the Leader of the Free World), but not so shocked that he would be into Golden Showers. It might have something to do with his toilet.
Felices Los 4 (The Four of Us Happy) by Maluma.
Maluma is a Colombian singer and songwriter who has taken on open relationships in a positive light with his song, “Felices Los 4”. This Spanish song also has a kickass Salsa version featuring Marc Anthony. And the music video happens to feature Wilmer Valderrama. There’s no losing here.
|Y si con otro pasas el rato
Vamos a ser feliz, vamos a ser feliz
Felices los 4
Te agrandamos el cuarto
|And if you pass the time with another
We will be happy, we will be happy
The four of us happy
We’ll enlarge the bedroom
Men Realizing That Consequences Are a Thing.
Sexual assault, harassment and exploitation have been a fact of life for all women and a huge chunk of men. For the most part, we accepted that attackers would always get away with their crimes because consequences usually ranged from a slap on the wrist to nonexisting.
Something finally cracked in 2017. Brave women came forward, both publicly and anonymously (for their own safety). Weinstein. Lauer. Simmons. Moore. C.K. Spacey. Men many of us already suspected were creepy were finally forced to answer for their crimes in the public eye. Headlines read like Saint Peter’s digital collection for the living. The dumpster fire of careers and reputations warmed my cynical heart. Nothing can make up for what these victims endured, but this is a start.
Enough said. Let’s PIPE 2018.
Two new books I loved:
1/ Milk Black Carbon, by Joan Naviyuk Kane. 72 pages, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017. After a friend got involved in 2016 in community advocacy for the rights of indigenous peoples in New England, she was quite persuasive that I need to read more literature from First Nations and Native American authors. I agreed, and read ten such books in 2017. The first I opened, back in January, was this poetry collection from Joan Kane of Alaska, her fourth. It deals, among other subjects, with identity and tradition, and the lure of those, and the challenge of plaiting an inherited heritage into a life which has been informed and shaped by places and traditions far removed from that heritage. There is some work with the theme of humanity and nature, but it never veers into the sentimental. The poem “A Few Lines for Jordin Tootoo”, ends with an apostrophe addressed to Tootoo, the first Inuk to play in the National Hockey League. I trust the circumspect wisdom Kane puts in the lines: “Like you, in front of me is all I have./ In the distance, mostly, another world.” Equivocation and suspension of conclusion is a theme; the mixed blessing of legacy, is another. Kane employs a level, even-keeled tone (though with some play with shifting points of perspective); but never do these poems fall into the quietist trap of eschewing risk. I thought at times in my reading of Anne Carson’s semantic richness transposed into a leaner register, perhaps the unornamented severity of Louise Glück, or the declarative directness of Alissa Valles.
2/ #REPUBLIC: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media, by Cass R. Sunstein. 328 pages, Princeton University Press, 2017. This is not one of those nonfiction books peddled to a trade audience, which purports to equip intelligent lay readers with a shallow sense of mastery over some topic of social importance. It is dry, repetitious, careful. It does not thrill. I really liked it. Sunstein’s illumination of the mechanisms and impacts of polarization, seems to me, for some reason, acutely relevant to the present political moment. To avoid being trapped in the echo chamber of the “Daily Me” — the social media entity we inhabit in the social media platforms we participate in — we should all be seeking out informative and argumentative media which we would not necessarily have chosen ahead of time. We should, in Sunstein’s words, work to create an “architecture of serendipity” in our social, cultural, and civic spaces. Well put; a society whose social tissues have been parasitized by profit-driven algorithms has been sapped of resilience and vitality — features we cannot do without, if we’re to face down and defeat the atavistic forces of nationalism, separatism, and fascism. I confess to having photocopied a great deal of this book, and sending chapters samizdat-style to friends I know who are concerned as I am with these threats to democracy.
Five older books I learned from:
Not all of the most memorable and noteworthy books I read this year were books published in this year. Why should they be? I don’t buy only new books. Review venues are increasingly giving coverage to books published outside the usual marketing window of recent publication; and changing production, discovery and fulfillment methods mean that books have a much longer period of availability and relevance. So, yes, my 2017 round-up of best books of the year shall reach back to texts originally published as long ago as 1914.
1/ The Book of Salsa: A Chronicle of Urban Music from the Caribbean to New York City, by César Miguel Rondón, translated from Spanish by Frances R. Aparicio with Jackie White. 352 pages University of North Carolina Press, 2008. Rondón, one of Venezuela’s most eminent broadcast journalists and social commentators, leavens this compendious history with toothsome anecdotes and generous helpings of opinion, telling the story of salsa musicians and impresarios in Venezuela, New York, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Though this isn’t a work of social history, Rondón does a good job pulling back the camera to place the lives of his figures in a social context: “Let us recall what a salsa orchestra is really about — that is, the gathering of professional musicians who have had to try to make their living among irregular performance schedules and shady deals.” The book closes with a description of the last day of the funeral celebration of singer Celia Cruz in NYC, when “the mayor ordered the closing of Manhattan’s prestigious Fifth Avenue — a gesture reserved for war heroes, presidents, and generals in their moments of apotheosis; for athletes of tremendous accomplishment; for astronauts back from the moon. Now, for the first time, the avenue was being closed for a singer, for a guarachera born in the Caribbean…” Mourners, fans of the beloved performer, through handfuls of sugar onto the carriage as it passed by, in homage to her battle cry, “Azúcar!” In a year when the political and economic miseries being afflicted upon the Venezuelan people have been woefully underreported, it felt like an act of solidarity to learn more about the cultural heritage of this nation which American readers really should think of more often, with greater compassion, and with a stronger sense shared interests.
2/ East of the Sun and West of the Moon, folktales collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Engebretsen Moe; edited by Noel Daniel. 168 pp. Taschen, 2015. The stories are charming and gnomic in that familiar manner folktales from whatever cultural source obtain when translated into English language folklorese. However, the illustrations by Danish artist Kay Nielsen are the centerpiece. They are charming as well, but also menacing, and in the large format of this centenary reproduction, sumptuous. To my dilettante’s eye, the art seems like a blend of Tolkienian fantasy, Erté’s art deco, and the finely-drawn court-life murals Sogdian murals found at Afrāsīāb in Samarkand. (One wishes that Nielsen would have lived to illustrate an edition of the Shahnameh, or of Susanna Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu.) The subjects have gaunt, noble faces; their postures expressive; their mouths open in cruel mirth, or crimped shut in moues of frustrated curiosity. In a year when many of us were seeking moments of escapism, it was gladdening to spend some time with princesses of Whiteland, and princess from the Blue Mountain; silver spinning wheels; smelly trolls; and immortal winds with gruff voices. Even the act of tugging the hardcover out of its matte slipcase felt like an act deserving reverence; and the opening of a portal.
3/ The Anatomy of Fascism, by Robert O. Paxton. 336 pages, Vintage, 2005. This is a great example of the kind of fact-sorting historical analysis that turns out to be a practical handbook in disguise. More than a decade ago, Paxton wrote: “An authentically popular American fascism would be pious, antiblack, and, since September 11, 2001, anti-Islamic as well…”; well, you don’t say. It is worth quoting, as well, the nearly trite closing sentence: “We stand a much better chance of responding wisely [to resurgent fascism] if we understand how fascism succeeded in the past.” Those who would seek to understand fascism (and our history of seeking to understand fascism) will be well-served by the 28-page bibliographic essay the author includes as an appendix.
4/ The Nazification of Art: Art, Design, Music, Architecture and Film in the Third Reich, edited by Brandon Taylor and Wilfried van der Will. 280 pages, Winchester School of Art Press, 1990. One of the problems with fascism is not that its aesthetic fails to be alluring: muscular (yet asexual?), astir, undaunted. When photos appeared online showing the Unite the Right rally in Virginia, showing angry faces lit by the flames of torches, I immediately thought of the torch-lit parade that closed every summer at the Boy Scout camp I attended as a teen. On that last night every year, Scouts and Scouters, boys and men, would walk quietly, valorously, along a path beside the lake where we’d canoed and swam. Across the lake, our family members sat with the grayhairs on the wooden benches around the main bonfire circle, watching us across the water. The flames flickered through the mountain laurel; the overhanging hemlock and oak branches shook gently as we passed beneath them. There is a shared heritage between our torchlight procession, and the young American Nazis in Virginia. I picked up this book to learn more about the aesthetic threads connecting these ritual moments. Topics considered include the conflict between archaism and modernism; the dilemma of classicism; the directness of emotional aesthetic, as compared to intellectual modes of engagement; and the degrading influence of propaganda upon art.
5/ At the Mouth of the River of Bees, by Kij Johnson. 300 pages, Small Beer Press, 2012. If you’re a fan of Ted Chiang, Ursula K. Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, and Borges, I hope this collection of varied and delightful stories makes its way to you. My particular favorite is probably “The Empress Jingu Fishes”, whose hero delays the birth of her child with a method as elemental and clever as Rhea’s was when she fed the omphalos stone to Cronus to keep her son Zeus safe and hidden.
Six shorter works I wish everyone was reading:
This was also a year in which we remembered the essential and irreplaceable value of long-form magazine journalism and commentary. (And I imagine I am not alone in being freshly reminded how greatly I benefit from having friends and acquaintances with eclectic interests and wide-ranging areas of expertise; for I came to many of the important essays and articles I read this year through their recommendations.) Here are a few of the pieces that most impacted me in 2017.
1/ “Trump Solo“, by Mark Singer. Originally published 19 May 1997, in The New Yorker. Characteristic sample: “During Trump’s ascendancy, in the nineteen-eighties, the essence of his performance art—an opera-buffa parody of wealth—accounted for his populist appeal as well as for the opprobrium of those who regard with distaste the spectacle of an unbridled id.”
2/ “Notes on Social Media and Autocracy“, by Justin E. H. Smith. Originally published 10 November 2017, in Berfrois. A modified excerpt from Irrationality: A History, to appear in 2018 from Princeton University Press. (Perhaps this plug of their forthcoming title will help the good folks at Princeton forgive me for having been so thievish with my photocopies of Sunstein’s #REPUBLIC.) Characteristic sample: “As long as individual citizens continue to believe that democratic citizenship has attained its full realization in an unending online argument about manspreading, the autocrats, as they say, have won.”
3/ “Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades“, by Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin, and Matthew E. Brashears. Originally published 1 June 1 2006, in American Sociological Review. Characteristic sample: “Educational heterogeneity of social ties has decreased, racial heterogeneity has increased.”
4/ “Unlearning the myth of American innocence“, by Suzy Hansen. Originally published 8 August 2017, in The Guardian. A modified excerpt from Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World, published this year by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
5/ “Welcome to the age of anger“, by Pankaj Mishra. Originally published 8 December 2016, also in The Guardian. (I encourage readers to sign-up for The Guardian’s weekly email announcements of each new long read as they are posted, via) Characteristic sample: “But what makes ressentiment particularly malign today is a growing contradiction. The ideals of modern democracy – the equality of social conditions and individual empowerment – have never been more popular. But they have become more and more difficult, if not impossible, to actually realise in the grotesquely unequal societies created by our brand of globalised capitalism.”
6/ “Believe“, by Matthew Inman (d.b.a. The Oatmeal). Originally published in April or May, 2017. An online comic, inspired by a discussion of the “backfire effect” on the “You Are Not So Smart” podcast. Characteristic sample: “Because this universe of ours is so achingly beautiful. And we’re all in it together. We’re all going in the same direction. I’m not here to take control of the wheel. Or to tell you what to believe. I’m just here to tell you that it’s okay to stop. To listen. To change.”
Russell Bennetts’ Top 3 recipes fromThe Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild:
Jeanne D’Arc, Albert Lynch, 1903
Political moment: #Resist
Now has Eight Thousand Viewshttps://t.co/xgiXCl2w2n
— Kevin Bateman (@Bate_Kevin) December 26, 2017
Novel: Transit, by Rachel Cusk
Website: Music Sermon, curated by Naima Cochrane. I only recently found out about this site, which includes an archive of her Sunday evening tweets of commentary on music clips that are oriented around a theme. I stayed in last Sunday and followed her thread on blue-eyed soul and it was like I had a night out. She has prolific taste and is hilarious.
Political moment: Maxine Waters reclaiming her time