august 1–august 15, 2017

Books

  • Paul Fussell, Class: A Guide Through the American Status System
  • Oliver Sacks, Awakenings
  • Morten Strøksnes, Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean, translated by Tiina Nunnally
  • Anthony Burgess, Devil of a State
  • Randall Jarrell, Pictures from an Institution: A Comedy
  • Paul La Farge, The Night Ocean

Exhibits

  • “Anna Maria Maiolino,” MOCA, Los Angeles
  • “Home—So Different, So Appealing,” LACMA
  • “Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959–1971,” LACMA
  • “Form in Fragments: Abstraction in German Art, 1906–1925,” LACMA
  • “Creatures of the Earth, Sea, and Sky: Painting the Panamanian Cosmos,” LACMA
  • “Unexpected Light: Works by Young Il Ahn,” LACMA
  • “Ed Fella: Free Work in Due Time,” LACMA
  • “Ancient Bodies: Archaeological Perspectives on Mesoamerican Figurines,” LACMA
  • Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Singapore
  • The Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum, Singapore

july 16–31, 2017

Books

  • Martin Herbert, Tell Them I Said No
  • Walter Benjamin, Berlin Childhood Around 1900, translated by Howard Eiland
  • Antonio Tabucchi, The Edge of the Horizon, trans. Tim Parks
  • Antonio Tabucchi, The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro, trans. J. C. Patrick
  • Antonio Tabucchi, Letter from Casablanca, trans. Janice M. Thresher
  • Chester Himes, Cotton Comes to Harlem
  • Joanna Walsh, Vertigo
  • Eugene Lim, Dear Cyborgs
  • Eve Babitz, L.A. Woman
  • Antonio Tabucchi, Indian Nocturne, trans. Tim Parks
  • Antonio Tabucchi, The Woman of Porto Pim, trans. Tim Parks
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters
  • Philip Graham, The Moon, Come to Earth: Dispatches from Lisbon

Exhibits

  • Kunsthaus Dahlem, Berlin
  • “Mary Bauermeister: Memento Mary,” Grisebach, Berlin
  • Käthe-Kollwitz-Museum, Berlin
  • “Karel Appel: L’Art est une fête !,” Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
  • “Derain, Balthus, Giacometti: Une amitié artistique,” Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
  • “Paul Armand Gette: Un Parcours Alicien,” Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
  • “Picasso Primitif,” Musée du Quai Branly
  • Musée d’Orsay, Paris
  • Palácio da Pena, Sintra, Portugal
  • Castelo dos Mouros, Sintra, Portugal
  • Palácio Nacional de Sintra, Sintra, Portugal
  • “Escultura em Filme. The Very Impress of the Object,” Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, Portugal
  • “Helmut Federle. Matéria Abstrata (Pinturas e Cerâmicas),” Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, Portugal
  • “Emily Wardill. Matt Black and Rat,” Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, Portugal
  • “Portugal em Flagrante – Operação 1, 2 e 3,” Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, Portugal
  • “Ragnar Kjartansson: Guð, hvað mér líður illa,” Hafnarhús, Reykjavík, Iceland

july 1–15, 2017

Books

  • Ursula K. Le Guin, Rocannon’s World
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, Planet of Exile
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, City of Illusions
  • Jeff VanderMeer, Borne
  • Ko Ko Thett, The Burden of Being Burmese

Exhibits

  • Jagdschloss Grunewald, Berlin
  • Pergamonmuseum, Berlin
  • Neues Museum, Berlin
  • Bode-Museum, Berlin
  • Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin
  • Altes Museum, Berlin
  • Brücke Museum, Berlin
  • “Hanne Darboven. Correspondences,” Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin
  • “Rudolf Belling. Sculptures and Architectures,” Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin
  • “Moving Is in Every Direction. Environments – Installations – Narrative Spaces,” Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin
  • “Adrian Piper. The Probable Trust Registry: The Rules of the Game #1—3,” Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin
  • Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin
  • “Teresa Burga: Conceptual Installations of the 70s,” Galerie Barbara Thumm, Berlin
  • Gemäldegalerie, Berlin
  • “Franz Kafka. Der ganze Prozess,” Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin
  • Feuerle Collection, Berlin
  • “Jasper Morrison. Thingness,” Bauhaus-Archiv/Museum für Gestaltung
  • “Bauhaus in Bewegung,” Bauhaus-Archiv/Museum für Gestaltung
  • Museum Berggruen, Berlin
  • Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg, Berlin
  • “Gip‘s Luft? Renate Hampke – Shlauchobjecke,” Abguss-Sammlung Antiker Plastik, Berlin
  • “John Miller: The Insanity of Place,” Galerie Barbara Weiss

june 16–30, 2017

Books

  • Percival Everett, I Am Not Sidney Poitier
  • Percival Everett, Erasure
  • Percival Everett, So Much Blue
  • Percival Everett & James Kincaid, A History of the African-American People (Proposed) by Strom Thurmond, As Told to Percival Everett and James Kincaid
  • Sabahattin Ali, Madonna in a Fur Coat, translated by Maureen Freely & Alexander Dawe
  • Paul Beatty, Tuff
  • Paul Beatty, The White Boy Shuffle

Films

  • In Jackson Heights, directed by Frederick Wiseman

june 1–15, 2017

Books

  • Paolo Baciagalupi, The Windup Girl
  • Almost all fiction written in English about Bangkok (from Anna Leonowens on) is terrible, and science fiction about an imagined future Bangkok is not particularly promising. This book isn’t as terrible as it might be, though the supposition that Bangkok, a city which reliably floods every year in a country with horrific environmental policies, might be a bulwark against global warming is inadvertently hilarious. (Several locations mentioned as existing in the future have already disappeared, though the culprit there is the insatiable appetites of Bangkok’s developers.) The book falls too easily into ethnic stereotyping (those with scientific know-how are Western; Chinese are crafty; Thais are mystic; the Japanese are kinky), and one’s left with the feeling that once again the city merely serves as a signifier of exoticism.

Films

  • Saint Jack, directed by Peter Bogdanovich
  • Der müde Tod (Destiny), dir. Fritz Lang
  • 哀しみのベラドンナ (Belladonna of Sadness), dir. Eiichi Yamamoto
  • Арсенал (Arsenal), dir. Alexander Dovzhenko
  • The Mark of Zorro, dir. Fred Niblo
  • Underground, dir. Anthony Asquith
  • リリイ・シュシュのすべて (All About Lily Chou-Chou), dir. Shunji Iwai
  • The Informer, dir. Arthur Robison
  • Our Pet, dir. Herman C. Raymaker
  • 忠魂義烈 実録忠臣蔵 (Chushingura), dir. Shōzō Makino

may 16–31, 2017

Books

  • Raymond Chandler, Trouble Is My Business
  • Passing time.

  • Liu Xia, Empty Chairs: Selected Poems, translated by Ming Di & Jennifer Stern
  • A friend’s project: nice to see Chinese poetry given a decent presentation in English translation. Liu Xia’s photographs are astonishing, and one wishes there were more.

  • Anthony Burgess, Abba Abba
  • A dying John Keats meets the Roman dialect poet G. G. Belli and changes his poetic approach. Half of the book is a translation of seventy of Belli’s sonnets, ostensibly done by a fictional character. Maybe I’d be more interested in historical fiction if more of it were this strange?

  • Benjamin Lytal, A Map of Tulsa
  • Reminiscent of those Edgar Allan Poe stories where the narrator is utterly fixated on a dying woman, all the more strange for having been written a century and a half later.

  • Mark Dion, Katherine McLeod, Madeleine Thompson, editors, Exploratory Works: Drawings from the Department of Tropical Research Field Expeditions
  • The catalogue to the show at the Drawing Center, which nicely contextualizes the work. Also full of unexpectedly beautiful imagery: oil painting, it turns out, works just fine under water.

  • Ronald Firbank, Vainglory
  • Ronald Firbank, Inclinations
  • Ronald Firbank, Caprice
  • Finally getting around to Firbank’s first three novels, which are rather minor but still enjoyable. The best of them is Inclinations, which I’d be surprised if Gaddis hadn’t read before writing The Recognitions.

Films

  • Tokyo Fiancée, directed by Stefan Liberski
  • Wild, dir. Nicolette Krebitz
  • Toni Erdmann, dir. Maren Ade
  • Cleopatra, dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz
  • Le Mépris, dir. Jean-Luc Godard

may 1–15, 2017

Books

  • Reiner Stach, Is That Kafka? 99 Finds, translated by Kurt Beals
  • (More about this soon.)

  • Vivek Shanbhag, Ghachar Ghochar, trans. Srinath Perur
  • The themes of this novella are familiar (the American tradition would go back through A Hazard of New Fortunes; more recently, Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia was more formally innovative with a very similar subject), but Shanbhag’s book is well done.

  • Paul Beatty, Slumberland
  • Atoning for not reading Paul Beatty earlier: I’m almost of a mind to go through past book reviews to look at his critical treatment.

  • Paul Theroux, Saint Jack
  • Paul Theroux, Kowloon Tong
  • I’ve never read Paul Theroux; Saint Jack pops up various places as a good fictional treatment of Singapore: it’s not perfect, but it be part of acanon of expat novels. Kowloon Tong, written much later, deals with Hong Kong just before the handover, and it’s cartoonishly stereotyped: the British seem to be overgrown babies and the mainland Chinese are devilish; the present city, twenty years later, isn’t recognizable at all.

  • Geoff Dyer, Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the U.S.S. George H. W. Bush
  • In a trying time, Dyer can make ordinary Americans seem admirable, which is a talent.

  • Julio Cortázar, Final Exam, trans. Alfred Mac Adam
  • Read with a broader sense of his writing, this is pretty clearly juvenilia: there’s a big jump between this and the Rousselian The Winners, written ten years later, and I’m curious whether Cortázar would have wanted this published if he had lived longer. Read now, it feels like an early version of Hopscotch and obviously suffers in comparison.

Films

  • Personal Shopper, directed by Olivier Assayas
  • Song to Song, dir. Terrence Malick

april 16-30, 2017

Books

  • Nathalie Léger, Suite for Barbara Loden, translated by Natasha Lehrer & Cécile Menon
  • This is an astonishing little book (my pick of the recent Dorothys) which raises a lot of questions; it demands re-reading.

  • Leonora Carrington, The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington, trans. Kathrine Talbot & Anthony Kerrigan
  • It’s nice that Leonora Carrington is in print again!

  • Geoff Dyer, But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz
  • More of a brief stint of reading about jazz. This is a likeable book: it shouldn’t be, and I’m not sure how Dyer manages to manage this.

  • Jen George, The Babysitter at Rest
  • It’s gratifying to see Dorothy become so successful – picking up the latest round has become de rigueur part of my trips back to the States – though I’m especially interested by the new writers they’re bringing into their increasingly defined aesthetic. This has the feeling of a first book, though it seems like it’s going somewhere.

  • Monique Truong, The Book of Salt
  • Picked up because it’s a historical novel involving Gertrude Stein: that part doesn’t add much to the picture we already have of Stein and Toklas. The non-historical aspects of this novel (Ho Chi Minh also shows up) work a bit better.

  • Julio Cortázar, Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia, trans. David Kurnick
  • Slight, though nice that it’s in print in English.

Films

  • หมอนรถไฟ (Railway Sleepers), directed by Sompot Chidgasornpongse
  • Diamond Island, dir. Davy Chou
  • Get Out, dir. Jordan Peele

Exhibits

  • “Lawrence Weiner: Inherent Innate Tension,” Marian Goodman Gallery
  • “A World of Emotions: Ancient Greece 700 BC–200 AD,” Onassis Cultural Center
  • “Exploratory Works: Drawings from the Department of Tropical Research Field Expeditions,” The Drawing Center
  • “Marginalia: Open Sessions 10,” The Drawing Center
  • “Jörg Immendorff: LIDL Works and Performances from the 60s,” Michael Werner
  • “Harvey Quaytman: Hone,” Van Doren Waxter
  • “Portable Art: A Project by Celia Forner,” Hauser & Wirth
  • “August Sander,” Hauser & Wirth
  • “Daniel Monfort Gil: Bangkok, Anytime, Our World,” Serindia Gallery
  • “Mode of Liaisons,” BACC
  • “Crossing the Dateline,” BACC
  • “Jakkai Siributr: Displaced,” BACC
  • “People, Money, Ghosts (Movement as Metaphor),” Jim Thompson Art Center

april 1–15, 2017

Books

  • John F. Szwed, Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra
  • It’s still hard to know what to make of the life of Sun Ra: here he starts in the terrible reality of the American twentieth century and ends somewhere vague, a mysterious life lost in the recounting of the music and obscured by his own mythology. There’s something important here, and this almost gets it, but there’s more to be excavated.

  • Benedict Anderson, The Fate of Rural Hell: Asceticism and Desire in Buddhist Thailand
  • It is hard to imagine a better title than the one this sui generis book has. This was ostensibly banned in Thailand, though copies were openly being sold here – maybe a new cover is enough for authorities not to notice? A lovely little book – I wish Anderson had written more like it.

  • Christian Kracht, Imperium: A Fiction of the South Seas, translated by Daniel Bowles
  • Read because I was interested in island utopias. Marred by solecisms from the first page: it’s as ludicrous to describe people as “Malaysian” forty years before the country was created as it is to describe “tiny little cubes of mangosteen”. Maybe the first of these came in translation; the narrative voice is sloppy, and a good editor could have strongly improved this book.

  • Dexter Palmer, The Dream of Perpetual Motion
  • Read because I liked Version Control so much; the steam-punk set-up initially scared me off, but there’s a lot to like here: voices from J R and Harold Bloom’s pick-up lines filter through, among many others. I have the sensse that Palmer’s best work is ahead of him.

  • Claudio Magris, Danube, translated by Patrick Creagh
  • Feeling very late to this. So many pointers to things that are probably worth reading that I will not get to any time soon.

  • Ben Lerner, 10:04
  • I’m not sure why I like Geoff Dyer when he does this kind of writing and find myself put off by others writing in his footsteps: not very convinced by this.

  • Paul Beatty, The Sellout
  • Embarrassed I didn’t know Beatty’s work before this: it’s astonishing that a novel so much in Ishmael Reed’s tradition could reach such a mass audience. Will be digging into his past work.

  • Michael Allen Zell, Law & Desire
  • I’m interested in the trajectory of Zell’s career: starting as an experimentalist wearing avant-garde influences on his sleeves, he’s moved into regionalism via a detective series. I don’t know New Orleans at all, so it’s hard for me to judge his success. Still worth watching: he’s using the local to build, in small steps, to something bigger.

Films

  • Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve

Exhibits

  • “Latin Implosion!,” Anita Shapolsky Gallery
  • “Agnès Varda,” Blum & Poe, New York
  • “Breuer Revisited: New Photographs by Luisa Lambri and Bas Princen,” Met Breuer
  • “Lygia Pape: A Multitude of Forms,” Met Breuer
  • “Marsden Hartley’s Maine,” Met Breuer
  • “Marisa Metz: The Sky Is a Great Space,” Met Breuer
  • “Paradise of Exiles: Early Photography in Italy,” Met
  • “The Mysterious Landscapes of Hercules Segers,” Met
  • “Mimmo Rotella,” Gladstone Gallery
  • “The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin,” Jewish Museum
  • “Charlemagne Palestine’s Bear Mitzvah in Meshugahland,” Jewish Museum
  • “Time and Cosmos in Greco-Roman Antiquity,” Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
  • “Frédéric Bazille and the Birth of Impressionism,” National Gallery, Washington, D.C.
  • “Theaster Gates: The Minor Arts,” National Gallery, Washington, D.C.
  • “Connections: Contemporary Craft at the Renwick Gallery,” Renwick Gallery, Washington, D.C.
  • “Company School Painting in India (ca. 1770–1850),” Met
  • “Collecting the Arts of Mexico,” Met
  • “An Artist of Her Time: Y. G. Srimati and the Indian Style,” Met
  • “Seurat’s Circus Sideshow,” Met
  • “Caravaggio’s Last Two Paintings,” Met
  • Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum

dexter palmer, “version control”

Dexter Palmer
Version Control
(Pantheon, 2016)

I am probably not the person who should be reviewing this book, which is a time travel novel: I’m not especially familiar with how the trope has been used historically in the novel and elsewhere (my science-fiction reading has been nothing if not scattershot), and I’m certain that I’m oblivious to many of this novel’s engagements with past work in the field. It’s abundantly clear that Dexter Palmer is well-versed in the subject, and the reader who isn’t as well-informed is going to be missing parts of Version Control, maybe too much to have a full critical sense of what’s going on in the novel. With that caveat, I’ll continue: it’s an interesting book even for an amateur to think about, and I sense that it’s a book that deserves more critical reading than it’s received.

At the heart of this book, as the title suggests, is a consideration of different models of version control. This is important for understanding what’s going on here – and what’s interesting in the book as a whole. The characters distinguish between two forms. First, fork and merge, where different people can work on different chunks of code at the same time; the inevitable conflicts need to be manually sorted out. Second, lock, checkout, unlock: only one person can be working on the code at a particular time. The first is what is most commonly used when more than one person is involved in creation (this is the method that underlies things like Github); the second quickly becomes a pain and slows development.

In the novel, a government figure – who functions as a deus ex machina in this book – insists that a condition for the government funding the time machine the physicists are working on is that they use lock/check-out/unlock. This restriction is seemingly arbitrary; the characters are unhappy about this, but attempt to deal with this forced linearization of their project. This is also key to how Palmer’s concept of time travel differs from most others: in this version, if a person goes back to a moment in their own past, there would not be two people running around, but only a single one. The possibility of time travel here is frustrating (consciously changing the past is out of the question), though perhaps more useful as a thought device.

The government figure’s name is Cheever. This could be read as a reference to John Cheever; at a slight stretch, one could also point to Edward Arlington Robinson’s “Miniver Cheevy,” a drunken man consumed with the past. (An unseen associate who turns up later goes by Sidney, perhaps a reference to the author of the Faerie Queen.) Cheever the character might be better understood as a man behind the curtain pulling the strings of the plot – in a sense, he’s a stand-in for the author, a slight intrusion of metafiction. Without him, there is no time machine; without him, there is no book.

A central condition of prose as we generally understand it is linearity: one word follows another, building up to form sentences, paragraphs, chapters, books. The reader is forced into linearity: we read words in sequence, building a picture of a world out of that sequence. This constraint of time is more pronounced when you look at how a plot in a book happens as opposed to how a plot in a video game might happen: there the narrative might be different every time the game is played. (One Dickian touch in the book is a CGI President, who says different things to different people simultaneously: he is all things to all people, but has no being as a person who lives a life from birth to death.) Version Control is committed to linearity, even in its model of time travel: the book doesn’t exist in a multiverse of possibilities but in a single line through time. The characters are full of regret: but they can’t go back in time to fix things, only to mindlessly change things.

This isn’t exactly to say that Version Control is straightforward. The reader reads Version Control linearly: but at certain points, one flips back to previous points and re-reads, understanding differently. A dinner party early in the book ends badly; the next day, two characters talk about what happen, and it is directly revealed that one of the characters is black. Reading the scene a second time with that added knowledge, the scene becomes uncomfortably racist; the reader may be uncomfortably confronted with his own assumptions.

The reader, then, has more control than the characters do. But the reader is also consciously stepping into a constructed environment. The reader understands that certain devices that appear early in the book are Chekhov’s guns, and that the plot will have to get to a point where they can be used. (Can one have a time travel novel where the time travel device doesn’t work? I imagine this has been done, but as I’ve said, I’m not as familiar with the genre as I might be.) It’s not incidental that a minor character is a Unitarian minister, agonizing over the minimal possibilities for God’s intervention in the world.

A better-read reader than I would draw more from this book. I was reminded of both of Shane Carruth’s movies – the second perhaps more than the first, though the first is more apropos – and Philip K. Dick (probably inevitable, more for the slightly dystopian universe created here than for the ways that time travel tends to play out in his novels). There’s a certain similarity with Orlando: the sense of continuity across time through biography. Towards the end of the book, a character is reading Ulysses: it seems pointed that the character is not reading Finnegans Wake, with its Viconian cycles, a very different model of the world than is presented here. But maybe the best way to think of this book might be as an exegesis of Mulholland Drive: the narrative splits in the middle; the second half is a variation of the first.