All posts filed under: Art

“Unsex Me Here’ and Other Bad Ideas

“Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here.” This, one of Lady Macbeth’s most famous lines, is cited by Elizabeth Winkler in her recent Atlantic essay, “Was Shakespeare a Woman?,” as a thrilling instance of a woman’s resistance to femininity. Winkler then goes on to compare Lady Macbeth’s anger to women’s #MeToo “fury.” “This woman,” Winkler says of Lady Macbeth, woke her out of her “adolescent stupor” by “rebelling magnificently and malevolently against her submissive status.” Of course, what Lady Macbeth is actually about to do is help her husband murder an innocent man, the king, in cold blood while he sleeps under her own roof. Unless one aligns female empowerment with sociopathic behavior, this isn’t really a triumphant moment for women’s liberation. Nor would any reading of the text other than a willfully perverse one count her as one of Shakespeare’s admirable characters. When she celebrates Lady Macbeth as one of Shakespeare’s heroines simply because Lady M has the desire to do something horrific, there is indeed something adolescent about …

Coming Together to Honor a Dead Rock Star—And Ward Off Our Own Demons

In May, 2018, Scott Hutchinson, singer/songwriter/guitarist for the indie rock band Frightened Rabbit was found dead on the banks of Scotland’s Firth of Forth after having gone missing a day earlier. The final dispatches from his Twitter account indicated that this was not an accident or a case of misadventure. His suicide cut to the heart of the band’s fan community, a refuge for people struggling with mental illness, substance abuse and heartbreak. Scott’s songwriting delved deep into the dirty facts of living, but was also marked by a tender optimism housed within an envelope of pain. Scott’s disappearance and then death caused fans to ask: What does this mean? If he couldn’t save himself through his music, how can it help the rest of us? In the months leading up to the news, I was in a bad place. Nothing in life felt right, and every day was a fight against hopelessness—to the point that even when good things happened, I would remain afraid or numb. During a visit to Montreal, I walked from …

From Academia to Hollywood: An Interview with Tony Tost

Tony Tost is a television writer and producer. He was the creator of Damnation, which Tost describes as a “Clint Eastwood western set in the world of John Steinbeck.” The show (streaming on Netflix) fictionalizes the labor wars of rural America in the 1930s. Before creating Damnation, Tost spent five seasons writing for Longmire (also on Netflix). He just wrapped working as a writer and producer for The Terror: Infamy, which will air August 12 on AMC. Before breaking into screenwriting, Tost was a poet and academic. Below is an interview I recently conducted with Tony about his personal background and his experience in both Hollywood and academia. *     *     * Quillette Magazine: You are now a successful Hollywood screenwriter but that is not the world you come from. In fact, as you know, we grew up not far from each other in Southwest Missouri. Would you discuss your background a bit and how it has influenced your work? Tony Tost: I prefer “working” to “successful” as a screenwriter modifier, but sure: I started …

Publicly Shaming a Musician for Calling a Composition by Its Name

Over the long weekend of May 30 to June 2, my wife and I attended the eclectic OBEY music convention in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which I was covering for the British magazine The Wire. After the first two days passed without incident, the final day featured a set of distressing events that led to the cancelation of a concert by American composer Mary Jane Leach, in which she had been scheduled to present her compositions Pipe Dreams and Dowland’s Tears. While these events have been discussed on social media, they have never, to my knowledge, been systematically described in the press. I am hoping that this report will help provide some clarity, even for those who may not agree with my opinions. On the afternoon of June 2, Leach gave a talk on the work of composer Julius Eastman (1940-1990). Leach was friends with Eastman, who died three decades ago, at the age of 49. She also is co-editor of the book Gay Guerilla: Julius Eastman and His Music, published by the University of Rochester …

Imperfect Comedy in an Age of Perfection

While on stage recently, I had an interaction with a heckler which ended with him being thrown out of the venue. At comedy clubs, this is not a particularly unusual occurrence. But the heckler wasn’t noticeably drunk, nor had the joke to which he’d taken exception been especially offensive. So this incident stopped me in my tracks and made me think a little bit. Here’s what happened: I was halfway through a ten minute bit about the #MeToo movement and I was pointing out that some of us are better at managing our creepiness than others. “Matt Lauer,” I went on, “pulled his dick out at work and that cost him a 26 million dollar job. Some people do the same thing on the subway and it only costs them 2.75.” Before I could go any further, a voice in the audience cried out, “Are you saying that’s okay?” “Is that what you heard?” I replied. “It sounds like you’re saying sexual assault on the subway is okay,” he retorted. “You’re validating sexual abuse.” We …

Michel Houellebecq: Prophet or Troll?

A review of Serotonine (French Edition), by Michel Houellebecq. French and European Publications Inc (January 3, 2019), 352 pages. Michel Houllebecq, the bestselling French novelist and provocateur, has a knack for predicting disasters. His sex-tourism novel Plateforme (2001) featured a terrorist incident at a resort in Thailand that was eerily similar to the 2002 Bali bombings. Soumission (2015) was released on the day of the al-Qaeda-linked Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris; the novel’s subject (an Islamist takeover of France) made the coincidence distinctly uncomfortable. Now Houellebecq’s most recent book, Sérotonine (2019), appears to have foreseen the ‘gilet jaune’ (‘yellow vest’) protests that have rocked France since November. Clearly Houellebecq saw something like this coming, and understood that it was inevitable. Yet for all his perspicacity, Houellebecq is often dismissed as a mere literary troll. Certainly he has a troll’s gift for identifying weak spots in his targets, and then attacking them relentlessly. He is not above this sort of nihilistic glee; but unlike a normal troll, he focuses his rage and disgust, not on random individuals, …

Conservatives Need to Start Taking Art Seriously

Conservatives, crack open some champagne and celebrate. A remarkable renewal of traditional painting and sculpture has taken place in the American art scene over the past 10 years. At last, a cultural movement has emerged that builds upon time-honored practices instead of deconstructing them. In cities all over the country, new atelier schools are teaching classic methods of sculpting, drawing and painting, giving students solid foundations in techniques dating to classical Greece. The art they produce is exquisitely made, and also unmistakably of this time. This flourishing community of 21st-century representational painters and sculptors is deeply concerned with making—in the simplest possible formulation—“stuff that looks like stuff”: imaginative but realist paintings that point their audience toward traditional subjects and ideas, but with refreshingly novel conceptions. These artists are using the Western idioms of art-making praised by America’s founding fathers themselves—George Washington, John Adams, James Wilson and Thomas Paine. Washington collected paintings of the sublime American landscape before such paintings were considered credible art. Adams was enthusiastic about historical paintings. He also found delight in art …

The Folly of Disappearing Art and Culture

Following the harrowing recent documentary Leaving Neverland, which detailed sexual abuse allegations against Michael Jackson, executive producers of The Simpsons, James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, and Al Jean, have decided to remove an episode from the canon in which Jackson’s voice makes an appearance. It is not the content of the episode, “Stark Raving Dad,” which aired in 1991, that is now in question, but Jackson’s very participation in the episode. .@TheSimpsons Farewell to SRD https://t.co/LOmIEzMFm5 — Al Jean (@AlJean) March 9, 2019 It is absurd that creators who have themselves been accused of causing offense are now excising content from season 2 of their seminal 30 season series of animated Americana. But the real affront is to fans and consumers, who will no longer have access to this content, and need to decide whether they want to be protected from material that was previously available across all platforms. Back when The Simpsons premiered, first on The Tracy Ullman Show, and then as a standalone half hour on Fox in 1989, it was one of more …

Poetic Injustice and Performative Outrage

On February 13, after almost a two month delay due to the U.S. government shutdown, the National Endowment for the Arts finally announced its recipients for the 2019 Creative Writing Fellowship in poetry. For most of the winners, this was an occasion to celebrate on social media. But for Rachel Custer, the elation of finally being able to announce the prestigious grant (one of 35 out of nearly 1700 applicants) came with the dreadful anticipation of the outrage that would (and did) predictably follow. This was nothing new for her. Last summer, when Anders Carlson-Wee proudly announced the publication of his new poem, “How-To,” on Facebook, Custer was at home in rural Northern Indiana, watching as controversy erupted online. “I felt that sick feeling in my stomach,” she says, as the initial joy of Carlson-Wee’s post got quickly sucked out with each hateful comment he received. “I knew so well from the many times I read similar threads about myself. And I just felt immensely bad for him, and so disdainful of anybody who would say …

The Avant-Garde’s Slide into Irrelevance

Many adherents to the aesthetics of the avant-garde in tenured positions at American art schools and universities are still enthusiastic supporters of the ideas and strategies that won them the culture wars of the late twentieth century. They steadfastly cleave to the doctrinal ideas that brought them into their positions of power and authority and have entrenched themselves in defense of an exclusively Euro-centric cult of avant-garde art. But as Western culture has changed around them, they have been outflanked by sentiment and technology. The foundations of the avant-garde were built upon the opposition of true and fake art. The avant-garde provided true, ethical art, while its opposite pole was fake, sentimental kitsch. The Frankfurt School writer Norbert Elias was first to identify sentiment as the enemy, followed by Herman Broch, who provided doctrinal writings describing kitsch as evil, and tying true art to the exposure of social reality. The young Marxist Clement Greenberg came to the game late, famously bringing their ideas to an American audience with avant-garde doctrines that despised kitsch and favored an …