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The Dialectic of Patriotism

According to Jasper Johns, his iconic 1955 painting Flag came to him in a dream (a rather literal one) in which he saw himself painting an American flag. The next morning, he went out and bought the materials to do it. Like many great works of art, Flag is many things to many people. It is also deceptively straightforward—its disruptive power, in fact, lies both in its directness (Johns painted Flag at the height of abstract expressionism) and in the implications of his technique. Johns worked partly in encaustic, using hot wax and pigment layered over strips of newspaper and fabric. As art historian Isabelle Loring Wallace has written, encaustic was a largely abandoned technique, an anachronistic signature “most closely associated with a group of remarkable Egyptian funerary portraits. Affixed to the deceased’s mummy prior to burial, these highly realistic portraits from the second century were designed to preserve the image of the dead, just as Flag...preserved aspects of contemporary American painting at the very moment when Johns was laying to rest various aspects of this moribund tradition.”

 

Bathers with a Turtle

Three nudes crudely drawn. One crouching, 

back turned, right hand feeding the turtle 

of the painting’s title; another sitting, as if in a chair,

head bowed, eyes downcast; and a central 

Day 2  (Nov. 23, 2015)<br>watercolor, gouache, graphite, color pencil on paper, 7 x 6 in.<br><i>Four women arrested for counterfeit items at holiday fair.</i>

Diary of a Radio Junkie [private]

 All artwork is from Elise Engler’s Diary of a Radio Junkie: Days and Days of Waking Up to the News.The premise was simple: a daily visual diary of the news—specifically, the first story she heard when she turned on the radio each morning. F [...]

<I>Having and Being Had</I>. By Eula Biss.  Riverhead, 2020.  336pp. HB, $26.

Self-Portrait of an Artist

  If the case of John Berger’s debut novel, A Painter of Our Time, still enrages sixty-three years after its release in 1958, a writer’s wrath especially might be attended by the smallest, wistful pang. An idea-driven meditation on the rol [...]

The Little Blue Horses

December 3, 2020

Rochelle and her mother lived in a large town that was on its way to becoming a small city. On her way to school, Rochelle often stopped to watch the crews of construction workers erect a new house in the hole where, only a few days before, one of her neighbors’ houses had loomed in sour glory, a car parked on its front lawn, silk flowers sprouting along its foundation like hair plugs. 

Ars Poetica

March 2, 2020

Cutting down Chambers St. 

my pinky toenail comes clean off.

Another little ghost 

Franz Kafka, a drawing from Diaries, 1910–1923, 1948.

The Missing Person

In July 1908, a twenty-five-year-old Franz Kafka quit his post at the Assicurazioni Generali with a medical note claiming he was suffering from “nervousness” and something potentially complicated having to do with his heart.

<b><i>The Tale</i></b><br><b>Directed by Jennifer Fox</b><br>Gamechanger Films, 2018<br>114 minutes

Cruelty With a Point

In life and in depictions of life, when is it better to look directly at instances of suffering, and when to turn away? When is looking a form of violation, and when is it a moral imperative? As the documentary image proliferates, so, too, does a discussion that has preoccupied feature storytelling: When it comes to images of violence and brutality, what needs to be seen to be believed, and which representations can’t be justified? Major news outlets now air images of death and suffering as matters of course; in a culture of mass documentation and dissemination, images that exist exist to be seen. Social-media platforms put kitten frolics and beheading videos on an equal footing. “Viewer discretion” and trigger warnings only grow more elaborate, even as they become superfluous: Who now sits down in front of any sort of screen, at any time and with even the most benign intentions, unprepared for some form of visual assault?

Old Ideas


The first poem in Leonard Cohen’s posthumous book The Flame made me laugh. Not because the lyrics are especially funny (although there are touches of Cohen’s characteristic wry humor), and not because the poem is foolish (it’s quite good), but because it is practically a medley of every single theme and obsession Cohen took up over his sixty-year career. Holiness and pussies are just a start. One almost senses him (knowingly, always knowingly) ticking off boxes. Angels and devils: check. Art, sartorial elegance, and slaves: check, check, check. Messianism: check:


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