Front Table - 4/22/2019

April 21st, 2019

On our Front Table this week, explore attempts to devise literary forms that are adequate to their objects, including new models for writing about place as an assemblage of meaning; assessments of speculative fiction and its capacities for imagining different futures; manifestos on independent publishing as art and as political practice; and a complex book format brought to bear on the complex history of the global textile trade. Find the following titles and more at

Queer Times, Black Futures (New York University Press)
Kara Keeling

In this book, Kara Keeling explores speculative fictions in cinema, music, and literature that focus on black existence, and she analyzes the ways in which these fictions can help to imagine alternative worlds. In doing so, she addresses the promises and pitfalls of technology and our imaginations of the future, as they have developed through racial capitalism. For example, in her reading of works like Sun Ra's 1972 film Space is the Place and the 2005 film The Aggressives, Keeling analyzes the Afrofuturist tradition of speculative imagination and contrasts this with contemporary investments in futurity and the "speculations" of corporate and financial institutions. She further connects a queer, cinematic reordering of time with new possibilities generated by technology. Keeling thus thinks with and through a vibrant conception of the imagination as a gateway to queer times, black futures, and the previously unimagined spaces that they can conjure.

The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America  (Metropolitan Books)
Greg Grandin

In The End of the Myth, acclaimed historian Greg Grandin explores the meanings of the frontier over the course of U.S. history. For centuries, he shows, America's constant expansion - fighting wars and opening markets - served as a "gate of escape," helping to deflect domestic political and economic conflicts outward. But this deflection meant that the country's problems, from racism to inequality, were never confronted directly. And now, the combined catastrophe of the 2008 financial meltdown and our unwinnable wars in the Middle East have slammed this gate shut, bringing political passions that had long been directed elsewhere back home. It is this new reality, Grandin argues, that explains the rise of reactionary populism and racist nationalism, the extreme anger and polarization that catapulted Trump to the presidency. If the frontier once embodied American exceptionalism, the border wall is its allegorical tombstone.

The Unnamable Present (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Roberto Calasso, trans. Richard Dixon

The Unnamable Present is the ninth part of Roberto Calasso's work in progress. It is closely connected with themes from the first book, The Ruin of Kasch (originally published in 1983, and recently reissued by FSG in a new translation). However, while Kasch is an enlightened exploration of modernity, The Unnamable Present propels us into the twenty first century. This is a world that seems to have no living past, but was foreshadowed in the period between 1933 and 1945, when everything appeared bent on self-annihilation. Its inhabitants include tourists, terrorists, secularists, fundamentalists, hackers, transhumanists and algorithmicians. Translated with sensitivity by Calasso's longtime translator, Richard Dixon, The Unnamable Present is a meditation on the obscure and ubiquitous processes of transformation happening today in all societies, which make so many previous names either inadequate or misleading or a parody of what they used to mean.

Publishing Manifestoes: An International Anthology from Artists and Writers
(MIT Press)
Edited by Michalis Pichler

Independent publishing, art publishing, publishing as artistic practice, publishing counterculture, and the zine, DIY, and POD scenes have proliferated over the last two decades. Publishing Manifestos gathers texts by artists, authors, editors, publishers, designers, zinesters, and activists to explore this rapidly expanding terrain for art practice. It begins in the last century, with texts by Gertrude Stein, El Lissitsky, Oswald de Andrade, and Jorge-Luis Borges. The majority of contributions are then from the twenty-first century, including Tauba Auerbach, Mariana Castillo Deball, Ntone Edjabe, Girls Like Us, Karl Holmqvist, Temporary Services, and zubaan. Contributors explore a wide range of topics, including the political potentials of publishing, new forms of production and distribution, artists' books, appropriation, non-Western communities, queer identities, and post-digital publishing. Many texts are reproduced in facsimile - including a handwritten "speculative, future-forward newspaper" from South Africa. All help lay the conceptual foundations of a growing field of practice and theory.

Maxwell Street: Writing and Thinking Place (University of Chicago Press)
Tim Cresswell

What is the nature of place, and how does one undertake to write about it? To address these questions, geographer and poet Tim Cresswell focuses on Chicago's iconic Maxwell Street Market area. For decades this was a place where people from all corners of the city mingled to buy and sell goods, play and listen to the blues, and encounter new foods and cultures. Now, redeveloped and renamed University Village, it could hardly be more different. Cresswell advocates approaching the study of place as an "assemblage" of things, meanings, and practices. He models this innovative approach through a montage format, incorporating different textual and photographic means for capturing the essence of the area. Cresswell studies his historical sources just as he explores the different elements of Maxwell Street, exposing them layer by layer. As the book thus illuminates a historic Chicago neighborhood, while also proposing a new model for writing about space, it will be of interest to a range of fields, including geography, urban studies, and cultural history.

Loomshuttles, Warpaths: An Eccentric Archive 2010-2018 (Spector Books)
Ines Doujak and John Barker

The production and culture of Andean textiles exemplifies the global history of the textile trade, characterized by class and gender conflict, as well as by colonial exploitation. Created by Austrian artist Ines Doujak and British novelist and memoirist John Barker, Loomshuttles, Warpaths explores the aesthetic and political implications of a collection of 48 Andean textiles assembled over 35 years. It is an inventory of this archive, gorgeously produced with a cloth spine and tipped-in plates. It further features posters created by Doujak that visually interpret the textiles in the style of fashion magazine covers, which are themselves accompanied by texts showing how these textiles are entangled with imperialist history. Writings from both of the collaborators explore the broader politics of textiles.

Artaud 1937 Apocalypse: Letters from Ireland by Antonin Artaud (Diaphenes)
Antonin Artaud, trans. Stephen Barber

Antonin Artaud's journey to Ireland in 1937 marked an extraordinary - and apocalyptic - turning point in his life and career. After publishing the manifesto The New Revelations of Being, Artaud abruptly left Paris for Ireland, remaining there for six weeks without money. Traveling first to the isolated island of Inishmore off Ireland's western coast, then to Galway, and finally to Dublin, he was eventually arrested as an undesirable alien, beaten by the police, and summarily deported back to France. On his return, he spent nine years in asylums, remaining there through World War II. During this fateful journey, Artaud wrote letters to friends in Paris which included several "magic spells," intended to curse his enemies and protect his friends from the city's forthcoming incineration and the Antichrist's appearance. This book collects all of Artaud's surviving correspondence from his time in Ireland, as well as photographs of the locations he traveled through.


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