Required Reading

  • A review of a new biography on Dennis Cooper, an important figure in 20th-century LGBTQ literature, looks at what differentiates him from his peers. Writing for the Boston Review, David H. Hobbs explains:

Which is also to say that Cooper’s “Downtowniness” was always a function of distribution and vibe more than geography and assiduous social commitment, and Hester helps to make that clear. While Cooper published “Wrong” in Joel Rose and Catharine Texier’s influential magazine Between C&D — as in, between Avenues C & D on the Lower East Side, but also “between coke & dope,” among other opportune acronyms — and his novels were brought to the UK by Downtown-evangelizing press Serpent’s Tail, he was already an influential poet, editor, and curator before landing in New York in 1983. And even though Cooper held the launch party for his first novella, Safe (1984), at the storied Limelight megaclub in Chelsea, Cooper was disappointed by the increasingly hetero complexion of the New York literary scene and exhausted by its many social obligations. Following a boyfriend, Cooper decamped for Amsterdam a year later.

More to the point, where many Downtown writers adapted the strategies of San Francisco’s explicitly gay, Marxist New Narrative movement—writing (sometimes fictionalized) diary-narratives about their own and their friends’ lives, explicitly imagining those friends to be their readers, alternating between ecstatic sexuality and detailed observations about other artworks and philosophy—Cooper’s own life and loves never appear in a manner that feels trustworthy, much less as a testament to an embattled community. Put another way, I expect a biography of Eileen Myles to look a lot like Myles’s stories, whereas even readers very familiar with Cooper’s work are likely to be surprised by Hester’s biography.

  • Rebecca Pierce takes on “white savior cinema” and specifically the new (and terrible) Wonder Woman movie in a conversation with filmmaker Lexi Alexander:

RP: To date, the only woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director was Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker, which, along with her film Zero Dark Thirty, was criticized as a pro-military film with Islamophobic tropes. It seems like this may be an avenue for women directors, that opportunities and recognition come with projects that uphold the status quo.

LA: You can’t go into this business and be the woman who loves to make chick flicks or peace movies. Kathryn Bigelow knew that making movies like the guys is the way in. That was very clear to me when I started my career making a short film about a boxer that was nominated for an Academy Award. Then the next thing I made was an insane movie about hooligans where people just beat the shit out of each other. I had five massive fight scenes in there. Why do people think I did that? I did that to show that I’m the least “woman” you can imagine. I’m so Guy Ritchie, I’m so Quentin Tarantino. I knew that was the only way in. And to this day, I still only get offered stuff in that arena. I love to watch true crime stories, or historical dramas, and I mistakenly thought that once I got in, they’d let me do other stuff. Now, the cop shows hire me. The FBI shows hire me. S.W.A.T. hires me. Sometimes, you just need a paycheck. I think a lot of my Black activist friends look at me sideways, like, “Why are you saying you are against police violence but you make these cop shows?” How can I blame them for saying that? I even made a movie in which I played an Arab woman who fell on the ground after being shot. It was a small moment, but don’t think I wasn’t aware. I was even kind of jokingly praying, “Okay, God, forgive me for this.”

How did you come to give these mittens to Bernie?

His daughter-in-law owns and operates a preschool down the street from my house, and that’s where we sent our daughter from the time she was 15 months old. I was making gifts for the preschool teachers and I knew Liza was connected to Bernie, so I made an extra pair for him back when he lost the bid for the presidential nomination in 2016 to Hillary Clinton. I was just sad, because even though I like Hillary, I’m also super pro-Bernie and as a public school teacher, I can see every day how families are struggling. People are just trying to make ends meet and they need things like student loan forgiveness and free education and a lot of the things that Bernie is fighting for. I sent him these mittens kind of as a shoutout to who he is, and I put a note in that said something to the effect of “I hope you run again.”

  • E. Jean Carroll’s article, for Vanity Fair, is a must read about the women who have come forward to accuse Trump of misconduct. It does a great job of deconstructing the common myths around victimhood and notions of “pure” victims. You should read the whole thing:

And so Jill and Trump have sex. They have sex in New York. They have sex in Florida. But as this is a story about Trump not taking “no,” and as I live in the real world where sexual assault and consensual sex both exist and coexist — sometimes within a single marriage, as was claimed in Ivana Trump’s divorce deposition, which she later repudiates — I will say simply (ha! simply!) that Trump doesn’t take “no” to touching, rubbing, grinding against, or unbuttoning Jill in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, or 1997. In 1998, however, after his 40th or 50th phone call to her, she flies to New York, rides the Trump Tower elevator to the penthouse, rings the bell, and says “yes.”

If one were to read the Qur’an in translation, the sudden shift from one story, theme, or concept to another with no indication may strike one as odd, but it is precisely this lack of linearity that makes the Qur’anic corpus a subversive site for thinking about the decolonial. While we moderns may expect — or even demand — a text to have a sense of linearity so that it can be comfortably compartmentalized, the Qur’an structurally defies such terms from the very beginning. It consciously refusescompartmentalization, demanding to be taken holistically on its own terms. The organization of the Qur’an is itself a form of liberation.

The recital of these stories, passed down orally from generation to generation, engages the sensory, cognitive, and bodily senses all at once. They are inseparable, and to view one to the exclusion of others would constitute an act of epistemic violence. It is because of this quality of orality that the Qur’an is memorized by millions of Muslims of all social classes throughout the world, typically starting from a young age. Indeed, both secular and religious scholars alike have marveled at how its prosaic exhortations flow with its poetic virtuosity. One may not know a single word of Arabic and yet listen to a recitation feeling the continuity between its rhythmic verses as if they were exactly where they were meant to be. This is where the text begins to make more sense, for without the embodied recitation of the Arabic verses, engagement with the text can feel frustrating or wanting. One may, however, ask whether it is possible to thus appreciate the Qur’anic text in a language other than the original. Does decolonization necessitate a type of linguistic supremacy or nativism?

RN: After you started to get published in New York, why did you want to leave?

IR: It’s a cut-throat competition to be a token in New York, and people here aren’t so keen on setting up their own institutions. There are exceptions, like the Nuyorican movement or the AUDELCO awards, which awards achievements in Black Theatre. The New York literary establishment has been imposing tokens in literature, theater, and art on us for a century. They still do it. 

RN: Yet New York has so much money floating around. Why don’t more people build institutions?

IR: In this town, it’s all about individual achievements. I wrote a piece about racism in New York museums in Arts Magazine. And there was outrage from black painters. They didn’t want me to expose racism in the New York art world because they felt that one of them might get their stuff exhibited. It’s like when Lena Horne went to Hollywood to protest the stereotypical roles being given black actors. The black actors making money for those roles ran her out.

It is well-known that Israel enjoys firm support not only on the U.S. right but across the mainstream political spectrum, due to strategic geopolitical interests, the profit motives of the military-industrial complex, and other factors. “[Israel] is the best $3 billion investment we make,” remarked then-Senator Joe Biden in 1986, explaining that “if there weren’t an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.” The “special relationship” between the United States and Israel is championed by leaders of both countries, alongside odes to supposed shared “Judeo-Christian” values of pioneer-settler exceptionalism, liberty and democracy.

For the ascendant forces of right-wing populism in the United States and around the world, however, support for Israel takes on a special intensity. Israel is celebrated as a front-line defender of Western civilization in its crusade against radical Islam. It is viewed as a nation that embodies the strong arm of xenophobic nationalism and militarized masculinity, unapologetically pushing back invading ethno-religious Others, expanding its territory, and protecting its heritage in bold defiance of a chorus of liberal outcry. The Israeli and U.S. right share “a desire,” as Palestinian writer Nada Elia put it, “to establish and maintain a homogeneous society that posits itself as superior, more advanced, more civilized than the ‘others’ who are, unfortunately, within its midst, a ‘demographic threat’ to be contained through border walls and stricter immigration law.”

The book itself belonged to Rabbi Jacob M. Rothschild, who served from 1946 until his death in 1973 as the rabbi of Atlanta’s oldest and most prominent Reform congregation, Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, known as “The Temple.” 

As an outspoken proponent of civil rights, he supported school desegregation; invited Black clergy like Benjamin E. Mays, president of Morehouse College, to speak to his congregants; and wrote that Jews bore a special responsibility “to erase inequality.” 

To punish Rothschild and as a warning to others, white supremacist members of The Confederate Underground, a collective name for various right-wing extremist organizations in the 1950s, on Oct. 12, 1958, bombed The Temple, in a blast that was reportedly felt for miles around.

For years, Aaron had received thousands of letters, many of them racist, and many of which contained death threats against him and his family. The image of him rounding second base escorted by two jubilant white fans who had leaped onto the field became one of the most iconic in sports. Less known was that, as Aaron rounded the bases, his bodyguard, Calvin Wardlaw, sat in the stands, his hand secretly on his revolver, deciding in an instant whether the two young fans were hostile in their intent and whether he would shoot them.

Over the years, Aaron would be praised for his quiet resolve and dignity in the face of the threats. He would dine with international heads of state and every sitting president from Gerald Ford to Barack Obama, but the negative response from so many of his countrymen was a scar he would carry for the rest of his life.

Required Reading is published every Saturday, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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