... of Gary Shteyngart, author of Absurdistan, she explains, 'He learned to take a bath here. (Of his Tuscan transformation, Shteyngart was inspired to write in the guest book, 'I came barely knowing the difference between a horse and a cow. I leave a coffee-making, salad-serving Man of Nature.') And now, as dessert is served, Beatrice turns to Kunkel, who, it appears, is unversed in the consumption of fresh ricotta. “You must use the brown sugar,” she instructs, waving a small silver spoon. “This is the way it is eaten.”
Charlotte Brontë likened her writing process and that of her sisters to potatoes growing in a cellar. I know that women possess this particular power of interiority and silence. Perhaps the great women artists are nocturnal creatures who prefer to create freely in the darkness. In this way, too, they avoid being referred to as ‘one of these neurotics.’ Perhaps they choose their overshadowing? If they go unnoticed they can be as madly inventive as they like, without making anyone jealous.
Celia Paul, "Painting in the Dark." London Review of Books, Vol. 42, No. 24, December 17, 2020.
Agnès Varda’s refusal to be limited in her life and work as a woman influenced her love of the potato. During a talk at the French Institute in New York in 2017, she told fans she saw herself 'as a heart-shaped potato – growing again,' in reference to her return to film. Varda explored her longtime fascination with tubers in her 2000 documentary The Gleaners and I. Fully embracing the theme, she dressed up as a potato to celebrate the presentation of her immersive art installation Patatutopia at the 2003 Venice Biennale. The project was built using 700 pounds of tubers.
Hannah Weiss, "Heart-shaped potatoes left in a shrine outside Agnes Varda's Paris home." Dazed, April 2, 2019. (Varda was affectionately nicknamed "dame patate.")
[W]hen we meet Ní Ghríofa at the start of her memoir, A Ghost in the Throat, her life is distinguished by its mundanity: she is a housewife and mother to two young sons, a third on the way. In short order she has three young sons, with a fourth child on the way. The family is struggling to get by on one income, and rising rents drive them from one apartment to the next. “The baby sleeps in a third-hand cot held together with black gaff tape, and the walls of our rented bedroom are decorated not with pastel murals, but with a constellation of black mould.” To keep up with chores, she makes lists and takes satisfaction in crossing off tasks as she completes them, a kind of parody of her vocation where writing a line and scratching it out is standard practice. She reads The Very Hungry Caterpillar aloud a hundred times, plays an old mixtape with Radiohead’s “Karma Police” as a substitute lullaby to get the baby to nap, and takes that opportunity not to get some shut-eye of her own but to close herself in a room with a breast pump so she can donate to a national milk bank for infants in neonatal ICUs.
The milk bank takes on metaphorical importance, as does the idea of donation—female donation—in its many forms. She points out that in pregnancy, a woman’s body will leach itself of its own nutrients to ensure the health of the fetus. This is not a complaint. As Ní Ghríofa finds herself humming a U2 lyric from her adolescence, “And you give yourself away, and you give yourself away,” she contemplates the nature of altruism with some ruefulness, but never resentment. For one thing—as per “Karma Police”—she believes in cosmic reckoning.
Every day I battle entropy, tidying dropped toys and muck-elbowed hoodies, sweeping up every spiral of fallen pasta and every flung crust, scrubbing stains and dishes until no trace remains of the forces that moved through these rooms. Every hour brings with it a new permutation of the same old mess…. If each day is a cluttered page, then I spend my hours scrubbing its letters. In this, my work is a deletion of a presence.
Neel’s portraits of relationality are not just for other mothers but speak to and include us all. Endless need and poignant insufficiency. Multiplicity and defiant self-reliance. Self-fashioning and its seams. Intimate entwining. Solitude in togetherness. If Neel’s vision of complex personhood was indelibly impacted by her own maternal loss, then perhaps this intimate estrangement is what makes room for us and allows for our simultaneous identification and disidentification with her subjects. We are all Judy, none of us is Judy, only Judy is Judy, and we only know Judy through Carmen’s love for her, which is to say not at all, which is only part of what Alice Neel gives us here. “A face that only a mother could love” was every face that Neel painted.
Ara Ostaweil, "Staged Mothers." Artforum, Summer 2021.
My interests are my feelings, particularly with regard to when I grew up. I grew up around people who came from Europe, people who remembered the first time they saw a film, the first time they saw TV, the first time they used a telephone; people who had many difficulties communicating across an ocean, let alone traveling across it. And I had the experience of introducing a few of these people to computers, to the internet... My generation was the bridge, but like the sort of bridge the army rolls across and then blows up. I’m not sure what the river in this metaphor might be: maybe it’s time? Can I Google it? Still, whatever the river is, I’ve known both sides: raised with books only to find myself convenienced, and oppressed, and entertained to death by screens. I have feelings for both sides. And that means I can describe them. And I write those descriptions into books that some people keep on a shelf and other people leave floating on a cloud. I wonder if anyone actually reads them.
I have never read a more remarkable account of time beyond a human scale. This account feels especially worth revisiting now, when time poses a new problem for humans: we’re running out of it. Or it’s running out of us—we are the grains of sand falling through the thin neck of years left before we reach three degrees too far.
One thing that we have to be very mindful of is that, when there are offers of big cultural or corporate concessions to the demands of, for example, race-equality movements, those offers ... are not for the marginalized. They are not for people on the periphery. They are for the white consumers of politically correct, or politically-consonant-with-the-moment products. And those products are books. They are news articles. They are sometimes literal soup packets and milk bottles that have different branding on them. Then we end up in a situation where we prop up the status quo by catering to the white consumer’s guilt and the white consumer’s desire to appear politically aware and have the right credentials.
Nesrine Malik, interviewed by Isaac Chotiner. The New Yorker, 6/3/2021.
Related: "Your trauma is my entertainment."
The least we can do is remember—to try, after the riots, after the speeches, after the backlash and elections, and after this latest (live-streamed) liturgy of American “criminal justice,” to recall what really happened, extracting and reconstructing the whole flabbergasting sequence. Last year something massive came hurtling into view and exploded against the surface of daily life in the US. Many are still struggling to grasp what that thing was: its shape and implications, its sudden scale and bitter limits. One thing we know for sure is that it opened with a riot, on the street in Minneapolis where Floyd had cried out “I can’t breathe.”
Tobi Haslett, "Magic Actions." n+1, 5/7/2021.