Christoph Schlingensief: Blood, Blackface, and the Total Works of Wagner
MoMA PS1’s retrospective “Christoph Schlingensief” documented the late German director and performance artist’s anti-authoritarian, anti-racist, and anti-colonial work. Schlingensief devoted much of his professional life to engaging with, or assaulting, the operas of an even more provocative artist, the composer Richard Wagner. Although many Wagner fans, like me, try to separate our abhorrence for the man from our helpless adoration of the music, Schlingensief sought better solutions, revealing the complicity of the audience every time we clamor for simple, easy beauty.
Philistine, or What Happens When You Break A Sculpture in a Gallery
"I was a philistine. I had broken the pact that art-lovers make with artists, to see art as art. Not to walk past it, or be one of those people who gaze at it and see only a void, garbage, scams, hipsterism, things that their kids or cats or the past 50 years of praxis have done better. People who are so trying to see through art that they don't see it at all, much less with curiosity, openness, or understanding.... But I can truly say that I will never think harder about a work's quiddity, the space it occupies in a room and in time, the fragility of it, the thought and labor the artist put into it. I will never forget it."
Vicks VapoRub and Me
The Atlantic, Object Lessons Series
"'Breathe life in,' the Vicks website exhorts me, and I do: microbes, pollen, skin mites, spit, gnats, fumes, gas leaks, street nuts, farts. I exhale bits of me into the air; I inhale bits of everything else. Even while those things enter, lodge in, or even bind to me, Vicks makes me less aware of the mingling, the breakdown of boundaries--as unaware as I am of the constant multiplying or destruction of my own cells, and as personally involved. I'm huffing Vicks and feeling none of it; I am virtually veneered; I am dissolving and rebuilding myself in the world."
23 Questions for Jonas Kaufmann, a comic fantasia
Madcap Review (2015 Pushcart nomination), republished by Operagasm
"Q: Werther: a young man who kills himself for love of a married woman. The Act III aria, 'Porquoi me réveiller?"--that's what I ask the cat every morning. You sing it like you have a cat, too: 'Why awaken me, o breath of spring,' a lilacs-out-of-the-dead-land lament for one's meaningless existence, fed and then blighted by vain hope, ringing the rafters with agony, then whispering, beseechingly, for it to desist. There's no way you don't have a cat."
"A filthy process in which I was engaged": Revising Frankenstein
Avidly (a channel of L.A. Review of Books)
"Terror, nausea, and the solitary slog of patching together cold, dead bodies in the workshop: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus created a fantastical, searing metaphor for the horrors of revision, that process by which writers try, fail, and try again to animate the corpses of their ideas."
Breasts: Suffrage, Suffering and Cecily McMillan
"Once a social justice movement, like women's suffrage, has succeeded in enshrining its goals in law and social acceptance, it is all too easy to dismiss the state violence against it as a relic of less enlightened times. But such violence often looks the same with each recurrence: wildly disproportionate; reifying racial, gender, class, and other biases; and trampling civil liberties... The word 'violent' has a sneaky way of attaching to protest even--perhaps especially--when the protesters are the ones being bloodied; state violence, on the other hand, is supposed to be hygienic, orderly, responsible, sane, and necessary."
Fifty Shades of Brontë
"Jane's choice of a manipulative, predatory, married boss as her soul mate; the seething sexual provocation and coy submission; and Rochester's domination of Jane all look darker, scarier, and more complicated to me. But also happier: a different kind of self-determination and feminism is going on. Now that we impressionable 10-year-olds have grown up, and some of us have bookworm daughters of our own, it's time that we talk frankly about Jane Eyre's sadomasochistic overtones within a literary culture that popularizes but confuses issues of violence, love, and, above all, consent and coercion."
Jon Stewart cursed me out
"[T]he writing team aimed always to satirize the powerful, rather than bullying their victims; to mock voluntary shenanigans, and not circumstances outside people's control. That is how ethical comedy works. And if somebody raises a criticism about the content, the ethical way to respond is not to automatically silence the critics.... Death and rape threats are being made against an Asian woman and her supporters, many of them women of color, to punish them for supposedly misunderstanding anti-racist rhetoric. To punish them for not having a sense of humor."
The Inquisitive Eater
"Whatever genetic inclinations I may have once had were now mingled with memories, the exhilaration of a new relationship, and a palate that had been shocked against its will into expanding. The disgust I'd felt at that church supper was real, based on the incontestable evidence of my senses, and visceral in the most literal way.... But one of the privileges of growing up is to be given the chance to re-feel, re-sense, reinterpret out reactions, and discover pleasure where we'd previously only known bleh. Our gut reactions can change."
Gastronomica (available with JSTOR access)
"Maybe kieflies are religiously neutral; maybe they used to be our Rosh Hashanah treat; maybe we converted to them with Catholicism.... But I'm not threatened by the shifting of origins, of either patisserie or grandfathers, because my origins have never been stable: I'm Korean, more or less, I'm adopted, and I've adopted the role of last kieflie baker to the family."
Term (link to buy the print version)
The 2005 Robert Olen Butler Prize Stories; first published by The Literary Review (Charles Angoff Award)
"He thought of the rice, beans, applesauce, and milk; the blood, water, and oxygen; the flesh, the genes, the tests charts thermometers tubes locks swabs frustration fear fucking love--everything that had gone into the making of these vibrations under his hand. He felt the kicking and knew it was only a reflex, a neural glitch produced by the spinal cord, like suckling, like blinking, like everything else that babies were supposed to do. All these things--the growth, the anticipation, the kicking, the rooting in deeper--were their child's portion in life, its personal best."
Blue Mesa Review (unavailable online, sorry!)
"Straining her eyes one last time over the Ceiling, she saw, in the upper right corner of the Deluge, a large white hole. During the 1797 Castel Sant'Angelo explosion, the plaster had crumbled off, leaving a blank that the restorers couldn't fill. When she rested her eyes in the emptiness, blurred colors swirled in her peripheral vision. But she knew what the blank had contained, knew about the discovery of an eighteenth century engraving that had reproduced the missing image: a bolt of lightning, the wrath of God, destroying his great work in order to create it anew."