Magazine article Artforum International

Michael Almereyda

Magazine article Artforum International

Michael Almereyda

Article excerpt

1 "HAROLD PINTER, ART, TRUTH AND POLITICS" I was unaware of Pinter's speech until his New York Times obituary led to an online link to this video, made in 2005. Too ill to travel to Sweden to receive his Nobel Prize, the wheelchair-bound author has stationed himself in a London television studio, with an enlarged photograph of his younger self looming behind him. Using the merest of Pinteresque pauses, he shifts from professorial modesty to a livid excoriation of American foreign policy, bringing finely controlled rage to bear on his description of (pre-Bush) US sponsorship of carnage in Latin America. The dry growl intensifies as the rant morphs into a discussion of the nature of totalitarian language and concludes with a raspy poetry recital (Pabio Neruda, Pinter). A brave act of defiance--an unaccepting acceptance speech, unavoidably arrogant and a bit cracked. Why can't all Nobel speeches be more like this one?

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2 ADAM THIRLWELL, THE DELIGHTED STATES (FARRAR, STRAUS, AND GIROUX, 2007) A thrilling, whirling consideration of literary tradition as a boundaryless, untamable process by which writers discover and reinvent the voices of their predecessors, often by way of imperfect translations. Quick, sharp chapters--and terrific full-page illustrations--give this book the giddy feeling of a collage. Thirlwell tracks relationships among the language, intuitions, and techniques of Flaubert, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Kafka, Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Laurence Sterne, Witold Gombrowicz, and Saul Bellow, and many others. Literary history, he explains, is "subject to jet Lag." And on page 315, just as you think he might be winding down, Thirlwell delightedly states: "At this point, it is also important to rethink the idea of real life."

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3 JEREMY KONNER, DRUNK HISTORYVOL. 1 "Hey, you're giving me shit--we gotta duel," Aaron Burr says to a doe-eyed, doomed Alexander Hamilton, played by Michael Cera in a colonial wig, cell phone in hand. Poignant string arrangements heighten the hilarity, but the "YouTube video's best special effect is narrator Mark Gagliardi, who mumbles his way through his account from a horizontal position on a couch, weighed down by the former contents of a bottle of Scotch. (I volunteer Adam Thirlwell as the narrator for a future installment, as the "drunk history" technique bears some resemblance to his time-bending book, and Harold Pinter is no longer available.)

4 R. KIKUO JOHNSON, NIGHT FISHER (FANTAGRAPHICS BOOKS, 2005) A Hawaiian adolescence related in stunningly designed, ink-brushed, black-and-white comic-book panels. The deftness of the drawing is matched by the emotional detail of the writing. In my own distant adolescence, I spent long afternoons in the Hollywood home of Alex Toth, comic-book genius and champion grouch. When asked whether he had ever considered applying his graphic gifts to recording personal experiences, Toth always managed to deflect the question. Johnson, in his twenties, has elegantly cannibalized Toth's style, internalized it, and released it like a genie liberated to work new magic (cf. Thirlwell, above.)

5 MARCEL L'HERBIER, L'ARGENT Everyone's talking about money, but it's hardly a new subject. Based on the 1891 Zola novel of the same name--the story of a convulsive financial crisis wrought by corrupt brokers in Paris--this 1928 film is riveting thanks to the unmistakable, visionary brilliance of its director, L'Herbier: a man inexplicably confined to the shadows of film scholarship. …

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