Criticism
Review: Bestseller Reparations: On "American Fiction" Print E-mail

american fiction jeffrey wright(Quilette January 24, 2024)

On January 23rd, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that Cord Jefferson’s debut film, American Fiction, has been nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Jefferson’s film certainly merits the acclaim—American Fiction is a cinematic treasure, scarily original in its depth and chutzpah. But if the race-conscious Academy decides to reward the film’s black cast and writer-director in the name of diversity, it will be a satisfying irony—one of the film’s many pleasures is the intelligence and wit with which it injects its impudence into our culture’s prevailing racial sensibilities.

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Review: Riding to Nowhere in Public. On "Americosis" by Sam Forster Print E-mail

Americosis(The American Spectator January 2, 2024)

One of poststructuralism’s simplest dictums — if you can say any French literary theory seeks simplicity — speaks to why the world and our experience of it is not organized with binary oppositions, gender inherency, or the like, say, good and evil, man vs. nature. Life is just too fluid, too random. The philosopher elites didn’t invent rhetoric to systemize argument. Rather, rhetoric arose to handle the tensions of daily exchange, involving a lot of haggling and fisticuffs. Indeed, neither the material nor the spiritual realms exist as pre-planned no matter how much categorizing we insist they answer to. Sometimes our lives stumble on a purpose, which, the stumbling, is the point — purpose is not intrinsic. I was reminded of this poststructural axiom often while reading Sam Forster’s Americosis.

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Review: The Anger of Memory. On "Tremor" by Teju Cole Print E-mail

TREMOR 198x300(The Rumpus October 25, 2023)

In a "By the Book" chat with the New York Times in 2014, writer Teju Cole was asked to describe a favorite or underrated writer. Citing Lydia Davis and Anne Carson as brilliant and ignored, he then called the conventional form of the representational novel “overrated” and added, “the writers I find most interesting find ways to escape it.” His own breakthrough fiction, Open City, published three years before, surveys the cross-Atlantic or bicontinental psychology of its Nigerian American alienated protagonist, Julius, who wanders New York City in a W. S. Sebald–like mapping of self and surroundings. Much praised, Cole’s book didn’t escape the conventions of the real-life-centric novel and, for the next decade, he put fiction aside. In the interim was a reissue of his 2007 debut novel, Everyday Is for the Thief, set in Lagos, along with two essay collections and two books companioning photography and text.

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Review: A Universe of Fizzled Stars: On "Always Crashing in the Same Car: On Art, Crisis, and Los Angeles, California" by Matthew Specktor Print E-mail

Always Crashing(Quillette March 17, 2023)

I.

Always Crashing in the Same Car is an exuberantly affectionate stroke of self-schadenfreude that defies category, and yet is weirdly categorial in its defiance. It’s a memoir of desultory personal loss disguised as an inquiry into the rise and fall of a 1970s Hollywood elite and its sensibilities. Its author, Matthew Specktor, novelist and a founding editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books, is haunted by what he has sort-of/kind-of achieved: minor notoriety and major obscurity in Tinseltown. Specktor relates tales of eight west-coast writers, musicians, directors, and screenwriters, who managed to wring latter-day decline out of youthful success: a night sky of aborted careers, burst egos, sabotaged comebacks—a universe of fizzled stars. Specktor didn’t have their success/decline but dearly wishes he had.

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The Self, As Ensemble, The Prose, Like Jazz: On Albert Murray's "South to a Very Old Place" Print E-mail

Amazon South AM(Metapsychosis: A Journal of Consciousness, Literature, and Art June 1, 2022)

Thanks to Greg Thomas. Warning: Explicit Content

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Albert Murray’s South to a Very Old Place appeared in 1971. The book’s inventive mix of memoir, journalism, and criticism by a largely unknown Black American intellectual prompted many appraisals in major newspapers—among the most compelling, one by the Times' book critic Anatole Broyard and another by Toni Morrison. Broyard, a brilliantly incisive reviewer, was a “one-drop” Black man who passed for White; Morrison would become, her “race” aside, the finest American novelist of the twentieth century’s second half. (Yes, I know: Oates, Roth, Bellow, Updike, Baldwin, Cormac McCarthy are all in the run for the roses. But, in my Derby, Toni wins.)

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Film Review: Procession (Netflix 2021) Print E-mail

Procession film(The Truth Seeker January-April 2022)

Director Robert Greene took three years to make the Netflix documentary Procession, which premiered in late 2021. However, the lives of the six grown men the film charts, raped as adolescents by priests in the Kansas City Catholic diocese, have been shattered for decades. The violence and disregard done to them includes the agony of the abuse itself and the humiliation they endured after the scandal broke in 2011. By my count, the six were attacked and injured three times: by a priest known to their families, by the church and its coverup, and by the lack of prosecution, which, as a third crime, aids and abets the first two. Indeed, either by death or a financial settlement, a couple dozen pedophiles dodged justice; that also goes for their Catholic overlords who declined to be interviewed for the film. With epic ambition, Procession documents the psychological toll on six middle-aged men as well as adopts an experimental form to render the abuse’s stark effects. It dares to present their stories in conflictual terms: an artistic primal scream of a feature film amid the therapeutic reenactments of the men’s irreversible shame.

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Review: Seeing MAD: Essays on Mad Magazine's Humor and Legacy Print E-mail

713ov6iagDL(Another Chicago Magazine October 26, 2021)

In 1966, I was a junior at St. Louis’s Kirkwood High. After the teachers let us monkeys out at 2:50, I lazed about, often trekking to a friend’s home to talk antiwar politics or Salinger stories. I was a serious kid, some days lying on one of the twin beds in Ken Klotz’s room (his unlucky brother off in Vietnam) where we were hypnotized by Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and the literary dazzle of “Visions of Johanna”: “The ghost of electricity howls from the bones of her face.” But then some days I needed a break.

I got one hanging out with Clay Benton. Clay, a wunderkind with a reel-to-reel tape machine, recorded parodies of Superman—the Caped Crusader of comic book, radio drama, TV show. His sendup was Space-O-Ace Man, a half-doofus, half-hippie hero who also flew in to fight crime but whose dorky moves ruined everything. After he and I roughed up a script, we’d record a show with daffy voices and sound effects. We mimicked a big-bosomed girl Clay and I salivated over in class, who needed rescuing. We shielded her from Ming the Merciless with our own bodies in response to her cries of Help!

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