Weekend

Required Reading

This week, Parul Sehgal’s review of Salman Rushdie, Nell Painter on Romare Bearden, the Bret Stephens/David Karpf “bedbug” beef, Jenna Wortham on whiteness in current cinema, the infiltration of conservative media by white nationalists, and more.

The photos from the Indigenous Women’s March on August 14, 2019, in Brasília, Brazil, are pretty incredible, and Apib Comunicação has a complete set on Flickr for your perusal. (photo by Katie Maehler, via Apib Comunicação on Flickr)

That famous style has congealed in recent years; the flamboyance that once felt so free now seems strenuous and grating. “If he had a fault, it was that of ostentation, of seeking to be not only himself but a performance of himself,” Rushdie writes of a character in his novel “The Enchantress of Florence,” which could read like stinging self-critique. The later books — “Shalimar the Clown,” “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights,” “The Golden House” — are all tics, technique and hammy narration that try to toupee over patchy stories, exhausted themes, types passing as characters. For a writer so frequently praised for ingenuity, Rushdie actually follows a formula of sorts. You could make yourself a bingo card: Classic Novel or Myth used as Scaffolding, Femme Fatale, Story within the Story (recounted by a Garrulous Narrator), Topical Concerns, Defense of Hybridity.

Let’s play. The new novel, “Quichotte” is a retelling of Don Quixote (there’s our Scaffold), with debts to “Back to the Future,” the Odyssey, “Lolita,” Pinocchio, the Eugène Ionesco play “Rhinoceros,” and — why not — the 12th century epic, “The Conference of the Birds.” Our hero, a traveling salesman of Indian origin, becomes addled by his obsession with American television (in the original, the Don is addicted to heraldic romances). He begins to believe himself an inhabitant of “that other, brighter world” and resolves to win the heart of a beautiful television host (meet our Femme Fatale), Salma R. He sets off in pursuit of his beloved, and channels for himself a companion, a son he calls, naturally, Sancho. In their quest they encounter an America of Trump voters and vicious racism (allowing for that Defense of Hybridity) and become tangled in a subplot involving the opioid crisis (Topical Concerns — check!). This story is revealed to us as a work in progress, however, the creation of a second-rate crime writer, another uneasy Indian in America who writes under the name Sam duChamp (a.k.a. our Garrulous Narrator), who has some unfinished business back home.

As with so many black Americans, the civil rights movement proved momentous for Bearden, prompting an urgent rethinking of both his art—its subject matter and composition—and the role that artists should play in public life. In an era of struggle for civil rights, black artists needed to make their voices heard on behalf of freedom.

Bearden and his New York City colleagues did not participate in the March on Washington in 1963, but they did come together as a group in those years, not only to publicize the demand for civil rights but also to advance the cause of black artists within the larger art world. The association they founded, Spiral, lasted only two years, wracked by internal disagreements over aesthetic tactics and subject matter. Nonetheless, its members helped establish a network that did more than just make their work more visible in New York (which, by then, had displaced Paris as the center of the art world); they also helped Bearden conceive a signature style characterized by figuration and collage, what Campbell calls his distinctive “visual vocabulary.”

So the fact that Stephens emailed the provost — that undercut his assertion that he wanted to have a conversation?

Right. He was trying to make clear his social standing, and trying to make sure that the provost knew that one of his professors was offending somebody at The New York Times. I think this comes down to the Spider-Man principle: With great power comes great responsibility. He has social power as an op-ed columnist at the Times. He knows that, and in sending this message, he is trying to exploit that to scare people into not saying mean things about him on the internet. First of all, strategically, that’s not how the internet works. Second of all, ethically, there is a responsibility that comes with having that perch at theTimes.

And if he’s doing this to me, it means that he would also be doing this to an assistant professor or to an adjunct professor. If he can’t take that responsibility seriously, then he shouldn’t have that social power.

I wasn’t scared of this because I have tenure, and I’m confident that I did nothing wrong. But if this had come to me a few years ago, when I didn’t have tenure, I would have been terrified. Because you don’t really want to get on the provost’s radar as the person who’s offended a columnist at The New York Times. If Stephens had sent me this email then, I would have been far more reticent to share the experience because I wouldn’t know how that would affect going up for tenure. When you’re in that position of still having to fear for your job, you’re naturally more cautious in what you’re willing to say.

Karpf then wrote a response to the Stephens incident in Esquire and proved he’s not only more reasoned that the New York Times op-ed columnist (I have no idea how he has that job) but also a better writer. He begins:

Bret Stephens is above me in the status hierarchy. He knows this. I know this. He has won a Pulitzer Prize and has a regular op-ed column in the New York Times. I am just some professor. I’ve written two books, but unless you are professionally involved with digital politics, you probably have never heard of me.

Alapine, a residential womyn’s land in Mentone, Ala., encompasses more than 100 acres of lush, hilly landscape. A long, unmarked dirt road leads to 19 houses, trailers and cottages that make up a colony of women.

In the last two years, the population has dropped from 18 to 14. Many underwent knee surgeries or hip replacements, and some were forced to relocate for more intensive medical care.

As social media began to subsume the internet, Alapine purposely kept a low profile, for security reasons. But its members have come around to publicity, speaking to documentary crews and podcast hosts about the beauty of their home. They even contemplated starting their own podcast, but they simply don’t have the money or resources.

“This is a business,” said Barbara Lieu, 74, who manages the properties. “Some might say it’s not, but it is.”

The investment in aesthetics over ethics in “Last Black Man” is perfectly captured when Jimmie and his friend Montgomery make a cake in the Victorian’s kitchen. The scene itself looks as delicious as a pastry — warm lighting and the decadent backdrop of a Pinterest-worthy space. The two share a heartwarming moment as they stir the batter. But they never bake the cake. These are men who need actual nourishment, who need actual meals, and warmth and love. Not just the performance of it. The film has a noble cause — but after a while, the loving gaze of the camera starts to feel perverse.

The film is way more invested in empty caloric scenes like these than in diving deeper into the complicated entanglement of ownership, inheritance and entitlement for displaced folks like Jimmie and Montgomery. The final scenes include a startling revelation about the house that undermines Jimmie’s entire motivation, leaving the story arc as unfinished as that cake.

Aesthetics as activism can be dangerous. And it’s wholly unsatisfying, too. In an interview with Deadline.com, the director said that he was a fifth-generation San Franciscan. “On my dad’s side, he came with that great wave in the ’60s. People that just wanted something to believe in.”

Elliott was among the most prolific and undoubtedly the most well-connected of the “Morning Hate” group. He had been running internship programs meant to prepare journalists for work in print, broadcasting, or investigative reporting for years at a variety of think tanks in Washington, D.C. and beyond. From 2008 to 2013, Elliott headed IHS’ journalism program, helping libertarian and conservative journalists make their way into the media world by placing them at various affiliated media organizations for internships. (An archived page for the program boasts of placing people at outlets ranging from MSNBC, CNN, ABC, and Fox News to Breitbart and the Daily Caller.) But the “Morning Hate” emails show that Elliott was leading something of a shadow life, and that there were some people he let his guard down for.

According to one former mentee, Elliott opened up to those he deemed “red-pilled”—a term used by white nationalists and so-called “men’s rights activists” to refer to someone who has been awakened to their cause. (The same source noted that Elliott played a large role in their radicalization process.)

Their charts showed that Asian-American applicants outperformed white applicants in academics and extracurriculars and lagged behind in athletics and legacy considerations. When it came to the personal rating, Asian applicants rated significantly worse. Harvard never convincingly explained or contested the disparity.

Harvard’s defense, argued by Bill Lee, a 69-year-old Chinese-American attorney and a graduate of the class of 1972, was mostly predictable, if not entirely coherent. On one front, Harvard resorted to bureaucratic denial: It claimed that every piece of information, however damning, had to be placed within the context of the entire admissions process. And while Lee took great pains to detail how an application went through an initial reader and then an alumni interviewer and then a subcommittee and then the final 40-person committee, he never addressed the specifics of how decisions were made, except to say that the committee considered “the whole person.” In the end, the only definitive, knowable thing about the admissions process was that race was said to be only one small part of an opaque process.

On the other front, Harvard and its allies went on an ideological offensive. The multicultural and empathetic vision of the country — represented on Harvard’s side by lawyers of all races and a steady stream of Asian, black and Latino students who gave testimony about why they, despite less than perfect test scores and G.P.A.s, deserved to be on campus — would not be possible without the tireless efforts of places like the Harvard admissions office to change the face of elite society in America. Lee ended his opening statement with a personal anecdote: Forty-two years earlier, when he argued his first case in front of a federal judge, every person in the courtroom, save the deputy, was a white man. “Look around the courtroom today,” Lee said. “Many institutions, many people have contributed and worked tirelessly to make this happen. Among them are colleges and universities.”

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

comments (0)