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Essays and Reviews

Statorec inaugurated its Corona Issue on April 16, 2020 with an essay by the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Andrea Scrima, titled Corona Report. Returning from Italy at the end of February 2020, just as the first lockdowns went into place, she reflects on the beginnings of the pandemic and on the Bergamo/Valencia soccer game in Milan, the biological bomb that led to the virus’s rapid spread throughout northern Italy. The hallucinatory prose in William Cody Maher’s Double Featurepublished one week later, gropes its way through a labyrinth of internalized fear as human encounters are measured in terms of physical distance. In late April, Statorec editor David Dario Winner’s Daisy Assassin followed, which exposes the uncomfortable barriers of ethnicity, civic cooperation, and racism as experienced by someone going out for what is no longer an ordinary run. In Windows, Beverly Gologorsky’s quiet meditations probe the geography of pandemic isolation, while in Excerpts from Another Love Discourse, taken from a novel-in-progress, Edie Meidav weaves the virus’s sudden appearance into a larger narrative of love and loss. German jazz pianist Christian von der Goltz’s Halted Time listens to what’s behind the eerie silence of the virus’s global spread; Matthew Vollmer reflects on some of the quirkier aspects of lockdown in his kaleidoscopic Quarantine Diary; and Aimee Parkison’s dreamlike riff Masks and Guns captures America in all its dangerous absurdity in a cops and robbers game gone horribly wrong.

As the pandemic made its way around the globe, the end of May saw the publication of former Vogue Paris editor-in-chief Joan Juliet Buck’s Corona Diarywhich masterfully assesses the wear and tear on the psyche as we attempt to navigate this strange time, while Alice Stephens’s After Ginger reflects on anti-Asian and anti-Asian-American sentiment in times of Corona—and how some things don’t seem to change. In Rooms and Clarinets, Clifford Thompson reflects on Covid, racism, Malcolm X, lockdown, and discovering a new room within to make one’s voice heard; Alexander Graeff’s Perpetuum Mobile describes long-distance love and patriarchy in times of pandemic; and Scott Martingell’s Poems in Times of Corona expose the little hypocrisies spoon-fed to us by the powers that be. As the Black Lives Matter protests flared up in early June, Nigerian-American poet Uche Nduka’s Speaking of Which: Work in Progress probes racism’s dark and violent undercurrent in American society, while Rebecca Chace’s Masks and Gloves looks at white privilege and “I can’t breathe” in the Corona crisis. Barbara Fischkin’s essay Autism in the Time of Covid details one man’s lockdown in disabled housing, and Jon Roemer’s Uncertainty Ever After explores what it means to be a writer in precarious times.

In her provocative essay White Fantasy: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Covid, and the Myth of Self-Sufficiency, Joan Marcus unmasks the unsavory sentiments behind one of America’s most-cherished narratives—the conquest of the West—while Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer’s We Are Dreaming of the Future Season chronicles the author’s escape from Manhattan to the comparative, albeit unsettling, calm of Maine. In Between Two Worlds, Cheryl Sucher investigates the stark differences in the way the Covid-19 pandemic has been handled (and virtually eradicated) in her second home of New Zealand, while practicing physician and writer Christine Henneberg’s Pain and Coping describes women’s increasing vulnerability to mental and physical pain during and after an abortion procedure. Caille Millner’s Something New appeals to the power of love in the Black community as our strongest and most promising force for change; Mui Poopoksakul’s The Blue Vial delves into the psychological aspects of what appears to be an anti-Asian hate crime with a curiously absent culprit; and Zeynep Camuşcu’s Corona in Istanbul highlights the unerring behavior of a city’s irrepressible inhabitants. In Flattening the Curve, John Casquarelli and Aydin Behnam imagine a dystopian future in a haunting counterpoint of poetry and prose, while Saskia Vogel’s Around the Bend looks at new motherhood and the reconfigured geometry of transatlantic family ties in times of pandemic.

In response to the Black Lives Matter protests, Roxana Robinson has written a powerful essay on the post-Cold War militarization of the police and the racist roots of police brutality. Militarizing the Police traces the history of armed police in the US from the peacekeeping forces in colonial times and the slave patrols of the American South to the preventative violence practiced by white militias in the post-Civil War era that could not endure the sight of armed Black freedmen. Cecilia Hansson’s My Body Has Failed Me and Now I’m About to Die revisits the lung ailments of Thomas Bernhard and Franz Kafka as she suffers through a debilitating period of viral infection with SARS-CoV-2; Tiffany Winters’s Hope Interrupted: Organ Transplantation in the Middle of a Pandemic details the unknowable in an essay on grief and the incomprehensibility of medical decision-making; and Liesl Schillinger’s Hope in the Age of Covid probes fact checking and the mined landscape of hope in perilous times. To conclude StatORec’s Corona Issue, Joseph Salvatore’s In the Time of “In the Time of”—a brilliant and moving work of literary criticism, linguistic essay, and personal testimony in one—asks when we will be able to mourn the Covid deaths, when we will be “allowed to grieve and mourn the loss of our old lives.”

True to its mission, Statorec (“Statement of Record”) is motivated by the urge to record a variety of voices going through the same experience, but in very different ways—before the drive to return to normality blots out the memory of lockdown, of charts and graphs and epidemiological factoids. It’s this we find ourselves thinking about the most: how our reality shifts with each new outrage, and how little we understand about the way these events are changing us in the long term. As we undergo a kind of grinding down of reality in the process of adapting to unheard-of change, what motivates us to publish this issue is the feeling that there’s a fragile chance to be seized, if only we could sustain our attention and belief long enough to act on it.

Read an in-depth conversation with artists Simon Lee and Eve Sussman, online in my Artists’ Conversations series at 3 Quarks Daily:

“The guys in Dubai’s Old Market were being oppressed for less than minimum wage, they were worker immigrants from Bangladesh that lived in a work camp and sent their wages home to support their families; the construction site that Eve and I originally fantasized about producing Stalkerpooh on became luxury apartments in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; the deceits of powerful people—their spoken words—became our script; we built a useless factory that circulated water for no reason.”

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via 3 Quarks Daily

I’ve been a columnist at3 Quarks Daily for over a year. The result is a collection of in-depth conversations with artists and writers on the creative process.

I’ve talked to artist Joy Garnett about her famous Egyptian poet and beekeeping grandfather; David Krippendorff about his exploration of the subjects of home and identity; Patricia Thornley about the layers of American identity in her video installation work; German author Ally Klein about her literary debut, “Carter”; Liesl Schillinger about literature and politics; and my editor, Christopher Heil, about the German edition of “A Lesser Day,” “Wie viele Tage” (Droschl 2018).

I’ve written about reading, mass shootings, and about the complex work of Alyssa DeLuccia and the balancing act it performs between photography, installation, and collage. There’s also a conversation with Myriam Naumann that explores the connecting points between my book “A Lesser…

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“Thirty years later we speak of the ‘Fall of the Berlin Wall,’ but the Wall didn’t simply tumble down like a row of dominoes on November 9th. The GDR continued to exist for another year, during which the East German authorities did what they could to keep up appearances. The border guards let East and West Germans cross the border freely, but when it came to foreign residents like myself those first few weeks, they didn’t quite know what to do. My passport wasn’t enough for them; I had to go to the foreign police and apply for an interim document, a ‘Lichtbildbescheinigung’ that was essentially a stamped sheet of paper with my address and a photograph stapled to it. It was a pretend-document for a situation in which the authorities pretended they still had authority; a document for a charade.”

My essay on November 9, 1989 for the Times Literary Supplement

Non-subscribers can read the PDF here. 

 

“I know of no love that exists with moderation, at least on my side. The older I get, the busier I am, and the more engrossing my social life becomes, the warier I grow of submitting to the powerlessness of being in a love affair in which the heart is truly engaged. There’s a Kenneth Koch poem posted on the wall behind my computer that explains why. It says, ‘You want a social life, with friends/ A passionate love life and as well/ To work hard every day. What’s true/ Is of these three you may have two.’ When love comes in the door, my work and social life seem to fly out the window. Yet every now and then… even though I know how disruptive it is, I succumb, and all balance is lost.”

I talked to Liesl Schillinger to celebrate the publication of the Strange Attractors anthology with UMass Press—you can read the full conversation here

Strange Attractors cover

 

And come to the reading at McNally Jackson in Williamsburg, Brooklyn: 

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Joy Amina Garnett is an Egyptian American artist and writer living in New York. Her work, which spans creative writing, painting, installation art, and social media-based projects, reflects how past, present, and future narratives can co-exist through ‘the archive’ in its various forms. She has been working on a memoir and several other projects around the life and work of her late grandfather, the Egyptian Romantic poet and bee scientist A.Z. Abushady (1892–1955).

Joy Garnett: “Growing up, his ghost was all around me, the stuff of fairy tales, but I didn’t have a real sense of him as a person. My mother and aunt put him on a pedestal—their father, the famous Egyptian poet and doctor. Much literary criticism has been written about his poetry, so I spent years reading and absorbing as much as I could while trying to put together a more intimate and complex picture of him. As an undergraduate, I studied classical and spoken Arabic, and recently I took a series of hands-on beekeeping classes.”

Read the conversation here

 

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Caricature of A.Z. Abushady by the Persian/Alexandrian cartoonist, Mohamed Fridon (ca. 1928)

Read the interview here.

 

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David Krippendorff: Without wanting to sound naive, first and foremost I hope that my work has a strong emotional impact. Every initial idea I ever had for a piece always started with an emotional reaction to something, be it a film or a piece of music. Throughout the process, I then conceptualize it and parse out the various political subtexts and interpretive layers. I do think that all art is political, but I am also a great believer that art should be more visceral. We live in times in which nobody trusts their feelings anymore; our society is becoming increasingly cerebral. I think this is a very dangerous trend, because remaining in touch with one’s feelings is also the first step toward empathy. When we’re detached, it becomes much easier to turn a blind eye to injustice; we fail to see the humanity in a homeless person we pass by on the street. I strongly believe that the role of art should be to help people get in touch with their feelings. To me, this becomes political, and it’s the only way that it can have an impact and make a change. We have enough “interesting” art, but how often does somebody go to a show and say: “That was really moving,” or “That was beautiful”?

New essay up on 3QuarksDaily.

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“Letting You in on a Secret is a work that reflects on this very depletion of language and mass imagery, a work that proposes and articulates new and surprising ways to recalibrate our perception, to shake ourselves and our stunned senses awake. DeLuccia’s formal reference to Dada provides us with an important clue to the work’s subtly subversive nature: in citing a movement that would presage and then endure the advent of fascism, mass extermination, and world war, she is pointing to the necessity of encoding explosive cultural commentary in humor and visually appealing imagery, of going underground with it, as it were—both to protect one’s powers of perception and to counter the effects of the spellbinding that numbs us to the dangers facing us.”

A conversation with Patricia Thornley published on 3QuarksDaily

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From November 17, Patricia Thornley’s work The Western, part of her series THIS IS US, is on view as part of the group exhibition “Empathy” at Smack Mellon Gallery in Brooklyn, New York. The project is the latest in a seven-year series of installation and single-channel video works consisting of interviews and performances. Previous videos of the series are An American in Bavaria (2011), Don’t Cry for Me (2013), and Sang Real (2015). As a whole, THIS IS US  formulates multiple parallel inquiries into the collaborative fantasies Americans enact through popular media. In the current political climate, as the escalation of social and economic forces impacting millions of lives is cast into increasingly sharp relief, these fantasies take on new urgency and, in many cases, a new absurdity.

The Western’s cast of characters consists of these Civil War-era archetypes: Indian Scout, Beast of Burden, Frontiersman, Savage, Deserter, Justice, and Drifter. The work is conceived as a two-part installation in which the cinematic trope of the Western is used as a framework for inquiring into the American psyche. In the exhibition space, a projected “movie” is installed opposite a wall of screens playing a series of interviews with the seven participating characters.

Andrea Scrima: Patricia, a few years ago I conducted an interview with you about a previous work of yours, Sang Real (2015), for the online poetry magazine Lute & Drum. Now, with The Western, the overall structure of THIS IS US is coming more and more clearly into focus. The last time we spoke at length about your series was a year and a half before the last presidential election. How have recent changes on the political landscape affected your approach to the themes in your work?

Patricia Thornley: From the beginning in the THIS IS US series, one of the questions I asked in my interviews with the people who featured in the individual videos was “how do you feel about being an American?” Historically, there’s always been a certain political disconnect at play with Americans, due to less armed conflict on our own soil and a certain comfort level.

I didn’t ask this question because I was trying to be instructive, but because one of the most important aspects of my work is to observe opposing and conflicting states of consciousness and to create situations that attempt a kind of uncommon reconciliation of these states. So in terms of what has changed I would say that what I was perceiving as a state of unconsciousness (pre-Trump) has been pushed to the surface by outrage and fear.

Read the interview on 3QuarksDaily here

 

Read the interview here.

“The novel oscillates between mediated reflection, immediate perceptual state, and, later on, madness. This stage of perception does entirely without any sort of explanation. It’s about immediacy. The self is fully within it, there’s no help from without, no visible motive to reconstruct reflection a posteriori. That’s how it is with our perception. To my mind, when it comes to language, things start to get interesting. We trust reflection and reason so much more. Pure perception is trusted less, but insanity is never trusted. In the novel, we have an unreliable narrator telling the story after it’s already occurred. You might assume that the events were reflected upon and are now related through this conscious filter. But that’s not the case. Only in madness can you see what’s actually going on. The body itself speaks, unfiltered, directly. It’s a huge, profound immediacy that we can’t rationally grasp. It’s another language, like the language of dreams. You want to decode it, but there’s no code. In the novel, it presents as a primordial language, as opposed to a verbal one: a language of images that exerts its effect directly. It just does this, and the reader has to surrender to it to get any closer.”

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Ally Klein

Essay in der Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. 

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“Das amerikanische Narrativ ist ein Narrativ der Infantilisierung, ein Märchen für Kinder, in dem Liebe, Sex, Familie – eigentlich alles menschliche Streben – verkitscht, jeder Nuance und Mehrdeutigkeit und aller zum Leben gehörenden Widersprüche beraubt wird. Wir müssen alles ausbuchstabiert haben; wir sind eine Kultur mit kindlichen Vorstellungen, sogar von der Kindheit. Das amerikanische Denken scheint auf ein einziges übergeordnetes Narrativ geeicht. Es braucht einen good guy und einen bad guy; es braucht einen Traum und etwas, das diesem Traum im Wege steht. Es braucht unglückliche Umstände, die den Helden zu überwältigen drohen, so dass er sich ein Herz fassen, der Herausforderung stellen und siegen kann. Man beobachtet dies in Filmen, in der Politik, im Journalismus, in Lehrplänen, auf dem Baseballplatz, in TED-Talks, bei Preisverleihungen, Gerichtsverhandlungen und NGOs, in Cartoons und in der Art, wie wir über Krankheit und den Tod reden, überall dort, wo wir die kreierten Narrative von der eigenen Geschichte, unsere kollektiven Sehnsüchte, unsere Vorstellungen von uns selbst und dem, was wir sein wollen, inszenieren. Doch diesem Narrativ zu widersprechen, auch nur einen einzigen Aspekt dieser Loyalität in Frage zu stellen bedeutet, den eigenen Stamm zu verraten.

Ich versuche um alles in der Welt zu verstehen, wie die Fiktion darüber, wie dieses Land entstanden ist, sich in eine so bewusstseinsverändernde Kraft verwandelt hat, dass man nur von Massenhypnose oder einer Form kollektiver Psychose sprechen kann, in der die USA sich rätselhafterweise noch immer als ‘die größte Nation auf Erden’ sehen; in der jeder Hinterfragung dessen, was Amerika amerikanisch macht, nicht mit der Bereitschaft zu unparteiischer Analyse oder zur Überprüfung der eigenen Positionen, sondern mit ungehaltener, oft feindseliger Ablehnung begegnet wird. ‘Wir haben’, beobachtete Baldwin, ‘einen sehr merkwürdigen Realitätssinn – oder vielmehr (…) einen auffälligen Hang zur Irrealität.’ Sind wir wirklich so tapfer, wie wir zu sein glauben; sind wir so aufrichtig, so tatkräftig, so frei, wie wir zu sein glauben? Wir werden nicht mehr von aller Welt beneidet, schon seit langem nicht mehr, und auch wenn das vielleicht nicht zu dem Bild passt, das wir von uns haben, so ist es doch an der Zeit, uns mit der kognitiven Dissonanz zu befassen und nach innen zu schauen.”

Versuchen Sie es: Versuchen Sie einmal, über das Lesen zu sprechen, ohne thematisch dahin abzuschweifen, wie das Internet die Art unserer Informationsaufnahme verändert hat. Ich – und auch die Mehrheit der Menschen, die ich kenne, deren Lesegewohnheiten schon lange vor dem Aufkommen von digitalen Zeitschriften und Zeitungen, Google Books, Blogs, RSS-Feeds, Social Media und Kindle geprägt wurden – habe meist das Gefühl, dass ich nur dann wirklich lese, wenn ich ein Druckwerk vor mir habe, unter einer Leselampe, wenn Bildschirm und Telefon ausgeschaltet sind. Aber in Wirklichkeit lese ich sehr viel online.

Weiter hier. 

Try it: try talking about the subject of reading without drifting off into how the Internet has changed the way we absorb information. I, along with the majority of people I know whose reading habits were formed long before the advent of digital magazines and newspapers, Google Books, blogs, RSS feeds, social media, and Kindle, usually feel I’m only really reading when it’s printed matter, under a reading lamp, with the screen and phone turned off. But the reality is that I do a vast amount of reading online.

 

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Spreading the word on the inimitable Lydia Davis in the German-speaking world. 

Order here. 

Die Geschichten des Erzählbandes Almost No Memory, erstmals 1997 veröffentlicht und 2008 in deutscher Übersetzung (Fast keine Erinnerung) im Literaturverlag Droschl erschienen, können als psychologisches Porträt einer Frau mittleren Alters gelesen werden, die sich mit all den üblichen Dingen auseinandersetzt, die das Leben ab einem gewissen Alter zu bieten hat: die Verwerfungen häuslicher Zwietracht, schrumpfende Horizonte, die ernüchternde Erkenntnis, dass uns nur noch sehr wenig ändern kann. Der Stimmen gibt es viele und eine, die in einer Polyphonie von vorausahnender Angst und Resignation zusammenlaufen. Wir hören „Ehefrau Eins, eine oft rabiate, zurzeit aber ruhige Frau“, die alleine zu Abend isst, nachdem sie mit „Ehefrau Zwei“ telefoniert hat; eine Professorin, die davon träumt, einen Cowboy zu heiraten, obwohl sie „so sehr an die Gesellschaft [ihres] Mannes gewöhnt [ist], dass [sie] ihn, sollte [sie] tatsächlich einen Cowboy heiraten, würde mitnehmen wollen“; und eine Frau, die sich „in einen Mann [verliebte], der schon seit einigen Jahren tot war“. Dann gibt es eine Frau, die „aus dem Haus [läuft], das Gesicht weiß, der Mantel wild flatternd, … ‚Rettung! Rettung!‘ rufend“; eine andere, die sich wünscht, eine zweite Chance zu haben, aus ihren Fehlern zu lernen; und eine, die „keine andere Wahl [hat], als weiterzumachen, so als wüsste [sie] im Großen und Ganzen, was [sie ist], auch wenn [sie sich] manchmal vielleicht vorzustellen versuch[t], was es denn nun ist, was die anderen wissen, wovon [sie] nicht weiß“. Die Liste setzt sich fort: Wir erfahren von einer Frau, die sich fragt, warum sie ihren Kindern gegenüber so bösartig werden kann; von einer anderen, die beim Anblick von „allem Pulsierenden, allem Stoßenden; allem kerzengerade in die Höhe Ragenden, allem Waagrechten und Auseinanderklaffenden“ an Sex denkt; und wieder einer, die „voll bösen Willens gegenüber jemandem [ist], den [sie . . .] lieben sollte, und voll bösen Willens gegen [sich] selbst, und ganz entmutigt, was die Arbeit angeht, die [sie] erledigen sollte“.
Read the rest here. 
Read the English version here

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