Film, Music, Visual Arts

Anubis Lives, Thanks to Joanna Karpowicz

      I am interested in representations of immortal figures witnessing human life, such as Wim Wenders’ watcher-angels in Wings of Desire; the flirtatious death-angel in All That Jazz; Death as Joe Black; and the title figure in “The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore,” a story by Harlan Ellison. I once wrote about […]

To See, or Not to See

  Michael Eastman wants to walk around my little Southern Illinois town with his camera. A photographer whose work is in museums, who has shot the world’s extremes of beauty and decay, wants to walk around Waterloo, Illinois, and shoot? What the hell do I show him? I make a halfhearted list—the town’s history museum? […]

The Weird Texture of History

        It is not always what we might call “fun” to go new places, talk to people, and experience things to try to understand who they are. Sometimes you get a museum with a good gift shop; sometimes you get The Wicker Man. We might call this “educational” instead, but more often […]

Taste Used to Be Cultivated; Now It Is Led

    For years, humor felt irrelevant to me. Now I do not want to read a book or watch a show that is not laced with at least a little wit, banter, irreverence. Tastes change. You move away from habit and discover some new affinity, surprised to feel such delight. These revelations are a […]

Matisse and the Sea

    “With color,” Matisse once wrote, “one obtains an energy that seems to stem from witchcraft.” He knew how to cast the spells: when I close my eyes and see the Matisses I love best, it is those splashy but deliberate colors that bloom against my eyelids, lifting a humdrum mood into joy. There […]

Singing with Jerome Rothenberg

        The passing of the poet, translator, editor, and literary force Jerome Rothenberg on April 21, 2024, at age 92 merits a scholarly news obituary that probes his transformative contributions to world literature. This is not that. These are the notes of a rabid fan, virtual mentee, long-distance collaborator, and sad mourner […]

Documentary Shows the Secret of Umberto Eco’s Personal Library

      The 2022 documentary Umberto Eco: A Library of the World is more than a tour of the writer’s personal library of more than 30,000 books (Eco had lost count), which once got him evicted from a residence because the city engineer was afraid it would collapse the building. “This library has a […]

One Tree Is Enough

    Just one line in a one-paragraph writeup in The New Yorker, but it stopped me for ten minutes. “For the past decade, her sole subject has been a maple tree that’s growing outside her studio window.” Seriously? How does any artist focus that calmly, and that narrowly, for that long? Who is Sylvia […]

New Documentary Shows Steve Martin’s Lonely Art and Happy Life

    Steve Martin is known for multiple careers: standup comedian, musician, movie actor, art collector, playwright, and author. I was first a dedicated fan of his comedy albums in the Seventies—Let’s Get Small, A Wild and Crazy Guy, and Comedy is Not Pretty!—and deep-down still think of them as his best work. (No: his […]