november 16–30, 2022

Books

  • Philippe Sollers, The Friendship of Roland Barthes, translated by Andrew Brown
  • John Swartzwelder, The Million Dollar Policeman
  • John Swartzwelder, Detective Made Easy
  • Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary, trans. Richard Howard
  • César Aira, The Famous Magician, trans. Chris Andrews
  • Percival Everett, Dr. No
  • Alain Badiou, The True Life, trans. Susan Spitzer
  • Percival Everett, For Her Dark Skin
  • César Aira, Birthday, trans. Chris Andrews
  • Dave Simpson, The Fallen: Life in and out of Britain’s Most Insane Group
  • Amit Chaudhuri, Sojourn
  • Violaine Schwartz, Papers, trans. Christine Gutman
  • Mohamed Kheir, Slipping, trans. Robin Moger

Films

  • Liebeslieder: Einstürzende Neubauten, directed by Klaus Maeck & Johanna Schenkel
  • Beau travail, dir. Claire Denis
  • Une femme est une femme (A Woman Is a Woman), dir. Jean-Luc Godard
  • First Cow, dir. Kelly Reichardt
  • 소설가의 영화 (The Novelist’s Film), dir. Hong Sang-soo
  • Life on the CAPS, dir. Meriem Bennani
  • Moby Dick: Or, The Whale, dir. Wu Tsang
  • De Humani Corporis Fabrica, dir. Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Véréna Paravel
  • Weekend, dir. Jean-Luc Godard
  • Europa, dir. Lars Von Trier

november 1–15, 2022

Books

  • Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile
  • Ada Calhoun, Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me
  • Zerocalcare, Forget My Name, translated by Carla Roncalli di Montorio
  • Francis McKee, How to Know What’s Really Happening
  • Oxana Timofeeva, How to Love a Homeland, trans. Maria Afanasyeva
  • Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard
  • Cornell Woolrich, Manhattan Love Song
  • John Swarzwelder, The Last Detective Alive
  • Eshkol Nevo, Three Floors Up, trans. Sondra Silverston
  • Iris Murdoch, Jackson’s Dilemma
  • Anna Merlan, Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power

Films

  • 헤어질 결심 (Decision to Leave), directed by Park Chan-wook
  • Nadja, dir. Michael Almereyda
  • Boy Meets Girl, dir. Leos Carax
  • Thử Việc (Probationary), dir. Đỗ Văn Hoàng

october 15–31, 2022

Books

  • Maria Golia, Cairo: City of Sand
  • Albert Cossery, A Splendid Conspiracy, trans. Alyson Waters
  • Albert Cossery, The Colors of Infamy, trans. Alyson Waters
  • Naguib Mahfouz, The Quarter, trans. Roger Allen
  • Naguib Mahfouz, Adrift on the Nile, trans. Frances Liardet
  • Nadia Wassef, Shelf Life: Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller
  • Toby Wilkinson, The Nile: A Journey Downriver Through Egypt’s Past and Present
  • Maxim Biller, Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz, trans. Anthea Bell
  • Maria Golia, A Short History of Tomb Raiding: The Epic Hunt for Egypt’s Treasures
  • Colin Dickey, The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession with the Unexplained

Exhibits

  • National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, Cairo, Egypt
  • Luxor Museum, Luxor, Egypt
  • Egyptian Museum, Cairo
  • Museum of Modern Egyptian Art, Cairo

Films

  • Il buco, directed by Michelangelo Frammartino

october 1–14, 2022

Books

  • Helen DeWitt, The English Understand Wool
  • Nick Cave & Seán O’Hagan, Faith, Hope and Carnage
  • Amina Cain, A Horse at Night: On Writing
  • Giada Scodellaro, Some of Them Will Carry Me
  • Clarice Lispector, The Woman Who Killed the Fish, translated by Benjamin Moser
  • Paul S. De Guzman, About the Dying Dog, and Five Other Stories

Films

  • Crimes of the Future (2022), directed by David Cronenberg
  • Amsterdam, dir. David O. Russell
  • Io sono un autarchico, dir. Nanni Moretti

september 16–30, 2022

Books

  • Jessica Hagedorn, ed., Manila Noir
  • Martin Villanueva, A Pig Was Once Killed in Our Garage
  • Chiles Samaniego, Marienbad, etc.: A Rayuela Archive
  • Eugene Lim, Search History
  • Xi Chuan, A Song of the Corner, translated by Lucas Klein
  • Luis H. Francia, Museum of Absences
  • Naguib Mahfouz, The Dreams, trans. Raymond Stock
  • Albert Cossery, Proud Beggars, trans. Thomas W. Cushing & Alyson Waters
  • Luis H. Francia, Tattered Boat

Exhibits

  • Ayala Museum, Manila, Philippines
  • Yuchengco Museum, Manila
  • National Museum of Fine Arts, Manila
  • National Museum of Natural History, Manila
  • Fort Santiago/Rizal Shrine, Manila

september 1–15, 2022

Books

  • Lina Wolff, Carnality, translated by Frank Perry
  • Nicole Rudick, What Is Now Known Was Once Only Imagined: An (Auto)biography of Niki de Saint Phalle
  • Waguih Ghali, Beer in the Snooker Club
  • Mary Jo Bang, Elegy
  • Philippe Jaccottet, The Pilgrim’s Bowl, trans. John Taylor
  • Victoria Chang, Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief

Films

  • Alien, directed by Ridley Scott
  • เวลา (Anatomy Of Time), dir. Jakrawal Nilthamrong

august 16–31, 2002

Books

  • Emily Ogden, On Not Knowing: How to Love and Other Essays
  • Raquel Salas Rivera, X/Ex/Exis: Poems for the Nation
  • Iris Murdoch, The Message to the Planet
  • Adriano Spatola, Material, Materials, Recovery Of, translated by Paul Vangelisti
  • Douglas Messerli & John Baldessari, Bow Down
  • Divya Victor, Curb
  • Antonio Porta, Metropolis, trans. Pasquale Verdicchio
  • Leopoldo Lugones, Selected Writings, trans. Sergio Waisman
  • Riku Onda, Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight, trans. Alison Watts
  • Naguib Mahfouz, Voices from the Other World, trans. Raymond Stock

Films

  • Nope, directed by Jordan Peele
  • Caro diario, dir. Nanni Moretti

iris murdoch, “the message to the planet”

the message to the planetIris Murdoch
The Message to the Planet
(Chatto & Windus, 1989)


The Message to the Planet, Iris Murdoch’s penultimate novel, feels like any of a number of any other novels by her. There’s an enchanter figure; there’s a cast of interrelated people with a clear romantic dilemma; there are characters who are outwardly together but inwardly lost. The economics are left vague; everyone is well-educated and seem to be living in nice spaces. We start with singing of madrigals; later there will be outdoor swimming. There’s a lot of stress on how people can make moral choices and how they are essentially good. Having read the rest of Murdoch’s novel (except for her historical novel and Jackson’s Dilemma), it felt like I was treading overly familiar ground: if you fed an AI Murdoch’s previous novels and told it to come up with another, only longer, there’s a very decent change you’d end up with something like this.

What’s initially confusing about this book is when it was published: 1989, though there is very little to indicate that at all. None of the characters behave as if the social upheaval of the 1960s ever happened; we are in the same quasi-academic pastoral in which most of Murdoch’s novels operate, though there are a few elements which stick out. Some new age travelers show up in the middle of the book; none of them have anything to do with pop culture – they can also sing madrigals – though it might be presumed that the setting is sometime after the late 1960s. There’s a theme of anti-psychiatry, though this doesn’t seem to track that well with how the movement played out in the UK; that might suggest that this takes place in the 1970s. There are a number of Jewish characters, almost entirely secular; it is stressed repeatedly that none of them know anyone directly involved in the Holocaust. The enchanter figure seems to be in his sixties; by almost any reckoning he would have been adult when World War II and its aftermath happened, though this doesn’t directly figure. Instead, he reads a number of books about the Holocaust having not found out about it before. It’s vaguely possible that this might have been the case for extremely secular Jews in the UK, though it seems hard to imagine this being the case in the 1980s.

Where this book feels distinctive is in its sheer length: it might not be the longest of her novels, but it feels like it. There are two plots: an enchanter and his apprentice and a love triangle that will be reconfigured. The resolution of the love triangle is predictable for anyone who’s previously read an Iris Murdoch novel; it’s not her most interesting treatment of the subject and it seems like it could have been resolved comfortably in a novella, though it mostly serves as bookends for this novel. The adventures of the enchanter and his apprentice are drawn out to astonishing length. It becomes apparent very early that the apprentice figure, Alfred Ludens, is delusional and in crisis, and that the enchanter, Marcus Vallar, is not going to serve in the way that Ludens wants. Ludens is an idiot; the bulk of the novel is his banging his head against the same wall again and again in the hopes that things will be different. (There’s an echo of this in the romance subplot: one of the characters is given the primary characterization of being longsuffering and gracious, which she continues to do well past the point where any reasonable person would: this also becomes tiresome.)

A break comes at the end, suddenly, and the apprentice realizes that what he had imagined was entirely wrong; that he had been mistaken about almost everything. The enchanter dies; Ludens is appointed literary executor with the sole duty of destroying all of Vallar’s writings. The enchanter does not have many writings; the few that can be found are dutifully burnt, with invocation of Max Brod. Ludens realizes that he has learned nothing; the effect here is not of Proust but rather of Henry James. (There’s a ridiculous American character who comes off as pastiche; she’s from Boston, has an immense amount of money, and the improbable name “Maisie”.) The suddenness of the ending is interesting: the actual change in Ludens, as he adjusts to his realizations about the world, will happen after this novel ends.

This is a long exploration of credulity, the will to believe in the face of copious evidence to the contrary. At certain points in the novel, events happen that could be described as miraculous; but whether they are miraculous is left purposefully unexplored, instead serving as canvases for different canvases to view in different ways. Change happens rarely among the characters; evidence has little to do with it, though something viewed as a miracle might.

What’s distinctive about this novel might be its durational aspect: the reader feels trapped with Ludens in his failure to understand the world. It’s an experience of suffering in the face of a lack of meaning. Whether this is intentional is hard to tell: read after a lot of other Murdoch novels, it feels like an unsuccessful copy of more dynamic books that have used the same themes. To me, it’s a bad late book by an interesting writer who’s written much better ones; in this, it reminds of of Anthony Burgess’s Earthly Powers, also long but overstuffed in a way that is the opposite of this book, an enormous space with very little for the characters to do. I imagine, however, that someone could make a good argument for this book; I’d like to see that.

august 1–15, 2022

Books

  • Ling Ma, Severance
  • Hernan Diaz, Trust
  • Shirley Hazzard, The Great Fire
  • Dino Buzzati, Restless Nights, trans. Lawrence Venuti
  • Marie Darrieussecq, Being Here Is Everything: The Life of Paula Modersohn-Becker, trans. Penny Hueston
  • Raquel Salas Rivera, Antes que isla es volcán/Before Island Is Volcano
  • Niki de Saint Phalle, Harry and Me: The Family Years

Exhibits

  • “Ever Present: First Peoples Art Of Australia,” National Gallery Singapore

july 16–31, 2022

Books

  • Evelyn Waugh, Scoop
  • Ken Layne, Desert Oracle, Vol. 1
  • Jonathan Meiburg, A Most Remarkable Creature: The Hidden Life and Epic Journey of the World’s Smartest Birds of Prey
  • Irmgard Keun, The Artificial Silk Girl, trans. Kathie von Ankum
  • Christopher Isherwood, Prater Violet
  • Raquel Salas Rivera, The Tertiary/Lo tercerio

Exhibits

  • The Broad, Los Angeles