Subjects

Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures in Artforum

April 19, 2017
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Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures in Artforum

Below follows an excerpt from David Velasco’s review of Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures at Artforum. What makes Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures so remarkable is not just its subject—the art historian and AIDS activist’s early years leading up to the epoch-defining 1977 exhibition at Artists Space and the pair of titular essays that were so critical to its historicization. It’s not just the casual meet-cutes at John Ashbery parties and the formative encounters with Agnes Martin and Ellsworth Kelly and Charles James and Daniel Buren; the early, incisive formalist writings whose frissons eventually inspired one of the great innovations in late-twentieth-century criticism: the recognition of a breach, which Crimp labels postmodernism, in modernist parables of art and theatricality. It’s how the story is told. Before Pictures is a strange and shimmering chimera: Part memoir, part theory, it swerves and circles, often paragraph to paragraph, from anecdote to argument and back again, a graceful, unfussy waltz that sometimes seduces you into thinking that it’s “simply” autobiography. But the writing is also a performance of the necessary entanglement between serious thought and its “decor”—an entanglement that fascinates Crimp, and that makes him such an exceptional protagonist. The animating juxtaposition is announced early on, in the . . .

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Cognitive Fireworks: Synthetic in Science

April 17, 2017
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Cognitive Fireworks: Synthetic in Science

Don’t miss this clip from a glowing review in the latest Science for Sophia Roosth’s Synthetic: How Life Got Made. *** It is at times hard to distill that which unites the people and projects that travel under the name ‘synthetic biology,’” Sophia Roosth notes in this new ethnography, but that doesn’t stop her from following the field in flux, tracking “brave new organisms” (and those who make them) through classrooms and industrial laboratories from Boston to the Bay Area and from neighborhood bars to far-flung conferences. A chimera of anthropology bred with a dash of history, Synthetic reads synthetic biology’s constructs both as “materialized theories” and as “postcards from a particular cultural moment.” Navigating the shimmering categories of the natural, unnatural, supernatural, and postnatural, Roosth plays with traditional ethnographic conventions of the anthropologists’ toolkit—religion, kinship, economy and property, labor, household, and origin tales—to show how “the form and function of life-forms have … oftentimes paralleled social, historical, and political forms of life.” . . . “There is no there there,” Roosth ultimately concludes, channeling Gertrude Stein’s method of wreaking worlds with words. “What counts as ‘real’ or ‘original’ no longer makes any genetic, genealogical, ontological, or historical sense.” But at this point . . .

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Paying the Price: The Student Debt Crisis and Its Deniers

April 14, 2017
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Paying the Price: The Student Debt Crisis and Its Deniers

Sara Goldrick-Rab’s Paying the Price is the hammer that hits the point home in Elizabeth Tandy Shermer’s “The Student Debt Crisis and Its Deniers,” over at Public Books. More after the jump. *** Sara Goldrick-Rab doesn’t think a disaster is coming; instead, she believes it is already here. The few years of data that Baum, Akers, and Chingos parsed may have indicated that the status quo is fine, but the emergence of a new higher education economy is painfully clear from Goldrick-Rab’s parsing three decades of both policy changes and economic trends. The financial assistance underpinning the entire higher education system doesn’t lessen inequality—but actually exacerbates it. Tuition costs, as Goldrick-Rab points out, were once low enough that students could easily choose to either borrow or work their way through school. Her book, Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream, documents that fees and expenses now force most students to do both, even those from low-income families who qualify for federal grants and work-study opportunities on campus. Of course, offsite part-time jobs are more readily available, but rarely pay enough or have schedules suitable for students studying full time (a prerequisite for maximum state, federal, and . . .

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Excerpt: The Personalities on the Plate

April 12, 2017
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Excerpt: The Personalities on the Plate

Frequent NPR contributor, animal intelligence expert, and anthropologist Barbara J. King steals the show—and the front page—at NPR, with the below excerpts from her latest book, Personalities on the Plate: The Lives and Minds of Animals We Eat. *** Chickens may be resplendently different one from the other, as was immediately apparent when I made six hen acquaintances at Wilder Ranch State Park near Santa Cruz, Calif., in the summer of 2015. These beautiful birds, with names like Goosey and Bella, ranging in color from white to gold and yellow, sometimes with patches of a soft iridescent blue, live in an outdoor coop outfitted with a chicken swing for exercise. During my visit they were turned out into a vegetable garden; there among the planted rows, one sunbathed and several foraged. Some invited human interaction, and others did not. I gently picked up Bella — so white, so soft — and held her against my chest in a serene encounter that I enjoyed greatly and that Bella seemed to soak up pleasurably as well. That I held, stroked and talked to a chicken for the first time in my 50s is very much a product of my time and place. In . . .

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The Diversity Bargain at PopMatters

April 10, 2017
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The Diversity Bargain at PopMatters

Below follows an excerpt from “On Race and Meritocracy in Academia” at PopMatters, a review of Natasha K. Warikoo’s The Diversity Bargain and other Dilemmas of Race, Admissions, and Meritocracy at Elite Universities. *** Diversity is perceived as something that’s intended to benefit everyone, including white students. It isn’t defended as being a matter of social justice, but rather as the best way to equip young Americans to succeed in today’s world. White Americans (and other students with privilege) see diversity and affirmative action as something which is intended to benefit them, and so long as it appears to be doing that, they’re okay with it. But when diversity places barriers in their way—when they experience rejection in admissions or job applications or anything else which they can find reason to blame on affirmative action—they’re quick to criticize it, or to blame it for their own shortcomings. There’s a related imperative for minority or marginalized groups of students to appear to be living up to their ‘side’ of the ‘bargain’, i.e., giving the privileged groups exposure to their marginalized peers, and contributing to the privileged students’ education on diversity. When marginalized students form identity-based student groups, or hold events to which white students . . .

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Personal Branding is blasé auto-fan fiction and other notes on the new economy

April 7, 2017
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Personal Branding is blasé auto-fan fiction and other notes on the new economy

“Personal branding” seems the provenance dystopian fiction—equal parts Idiocracy and neoliberal end game, one would think its merely a belabored joke about the individual in late capitalism, rather than a facts-on-the-ground-style employment strategy. “You are your brand!,” isn’t a line from 1984, though: it’s part and parcel of almost any TedTalk on the job market, despite the fact that—according to anthropologist Ilana Gershon, whose recent book Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (Or Don’t Find) Work Today is profiled in the Quartz review excerpted below—it rarely results in, um, an actual job. Read more from the Quartz piece after the jump. *** Gershon, a professor of anthropology at the University of Indiana, Bloomington, spent a year interviewing and observing job seekers and employers in Silicon Valley and around the US. Her new book, Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (Or Don’t Find) Work Today explains that branding is largely a boondoggle advanced by inspirational speakers and job trainers. It doesn’t help people get jobs. . . . According to Gershon, the concept of personal branding developed over the last 30 years as the concept of work itself became more precarious. Union membership has contracted. The number of hours in the . . .

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Raptor at Kirkus Reviews

April 5, 2017
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Raptor at Kirkus Reviews

James Macdonald Lockhart’s Raptor: A Journey through Birds was recently covered by Kirkus Reviews; their review follows in full, below. *** When William MacGillivray (1796-1852) published his History of British Birds in 1845, a fellow ornithologist was lavish with praise: “There is a peculiar mountain freshness about Mr. MacGillivray’s writings, combined with fidelity and truths in delineation, rarely possessed by Naturalists, and hitherto not surpassed.” Literary agent Lockhart’s elegant, engrossing literary debut deserves equal acclaim. Buoyed by MacGillivray’s journals and books, particularly his first, on rapacious birds, Lockhart evokes in precise, vibrant detail every aspect of the fascinating predators and their habitats. Although their behaviors vary, all raptors share startlingly acute vision. Humans have about 200,000 photoreceptor cells; birds, 1 million. Like binoculars, their eyes magnify images by around 30 percent. “Birds of prey,” writes the author, “see the whole twitching world in infinite, immaculate detail.” And their world is vast. Ospreys, for example, spend winters in the mangrove swamps of West Africa, flying thousands of miles across the Sahara to arrive in Britain to breed. Peregrine falcons, “specialist” predators that prefer “medium-sized avian prey,” return to the same nest sites each year, guided by droppings left from the previous year’s young. In . . .

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Free e-book for April: Walden Warming

April 3, 2017
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Free e-book for April: Walden Warming

  Our free e-book for April is Richard B. Primack’s Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreau’s Woods. Download your copy here. *** In his meticulous notes on the natural history of Concord, Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau records the first open flowers of highbush blueberry on May 11, 1853. If he were to look for the first blueberry flowers in Concord today, mid-May would be too late. In the 160 years since Thoreau’s writings, warming temperatures have pushed blueberry flowering three weeks earlier, and in 2012, following a winter and spring of record-breaking warmth, blueberries began flowering on April 1—six weeks earlier than in Thoreau’s time. The climate around Thoreau’s beloved Walden Pond is changing, with visible ecological consequences. In Walden Warming, Richard B. Primack uses Thoreau and Walden, icons of the conservation movement, to track the effects of a warming climate on Concord’s plants and animals. Under the attentive eyes of Primack, the notes that Thoreau made years ago are transformed from charming observations into scientific data sets. Primack finds that many wildflower species that Thoreau observed—including familiar groups such as irises, asters, and lilies—have declined in abundance or have disappeared from Concord. Primack also describes how warming temperatures have altered . . .

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John M. Eason, Big House on the Prairie, and the rural prison boom

March 31, 2017
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John M. Eason, Big House on the Prairie, and the rural prison boom

Working crucial arguments from his book Big House on the Prairie down the line, John M. Eason takes on the rise of the rural prison industry—and its role as impediment to criminal justice reform—for the Conversation; excerpt after the jump. *** As I explain in my book, “Big House on the Prairie,” the number of prisons in the U.S. swelled between 1970 and 2000, from 511 to nearly 1,663. Prisons constructed during that time cover nearly 600 square miles, an area roughly half the size of Rhode Island. More than 80 percent of these facilities are operated by states, approximately 10 percent are federal facilities and the rest are private. The prison boom is a massive public works program that has taken place virtually unnoticed because roughly 70 percent of prisons were built in rural communities. Most of this prison building has occurred in conservative southern states like Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas. Much of how we think about prison building is clouded by the legacy of racism and economic exploitation endemic to the U.S. criminal justice system. Many feel that prison building is the end product of racist policies and practices, but my research turned up a more complicated relationship. People of color . . .

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Artificial Darkness in the TLS: A Mystical Abyss

March 29, 2017
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Artificial Darkness in the TLS: A Mystical Abyss

The full  TLS review of Noam Elcott’s Artificial Darkness: An Obscure History of Modern Art and Media follows below—for those behind the Times (or a paywall)—after the jump. *** In the Festival Theatre in Bayreuth, built in 1876 for Richard Wagner to stage his music dramas, darkness was carefully manufactured and controlled. In earlier theatres, the audience was as much a spectacle as the play, and lighting was balanced so that you could see the dignitaries in attendance as clearly as the performers. But Wagner, with his windowless cathedral, intended the audience to disappear entirely so that spectators would project all their attention to the stage. The orchestra was hidden behind a hood in a pit, referred to as the “mystical abyss,” which created a clear division between a blacked-out reality and the ideal world of the artwork. For Noam M. Elcott, in his compelling study of early cinema and avant-garde performance, it was a new mode of seeing to which all the deliberate darknesses of our contemporary cinemas is indebted. Elcott was a student of Jonathan Crary, the author of the seminal Techniques of the Observer (1990), a book that examined how—for René Descartes and John Locke in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—the camera . . .

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