The annotated table of contents below offers a sneak peek at what’s in issue 30. To get the issue delivered straight to your door, subscribe now.
Letter from the Editors
On the Aesthetic Turn
The critics of self-righteousness and trauma mongering are for the most part clear that they are not calling for a return to the amoral ironism that governed the Nineties and early Aughts—the sensibility that surely gave rise, at least in part, to the overgrowth of the didacticism that followed. But if not this, then what? Where do we go from here?
“Dandy Gemflash thinks honourable things of his self-care. The looking glass could tell you the same; for, when the above-named creature has duly anointed his hollow head with costly pomade, and coaxed his various ornaments into a genteel position, he will so long contemplate his striking figure, as to give himself a most delicate smile, and murmur, ‘What a very nice figure I am!’ (Butterflies always are.)”
My Beautiful Friend
Envy as a way of life
[Grazie Sophia Christie]
Especially in the game of looks, there is no excellence that is not another woman’s inadequacy, no abundance that does not mean lack. A great beauty is discovered, like crude oil, or gold. That means in a parched desert, or a dirty riverbed, where the rest of us must languish. Our democratic sensibility commands us to raze all unfairness. Yet the way we sacralize beauty, our treatment of the women who try to level it, our satisfaction when no one can, calls our bluff.
A sentimental education
Today the mere suggestion that some things are better than others, particularly in the arts, is met with confusion and hostility. The insistence that there is no reason not to “let people enjoy things” reigns, as if evaluation itself can be nothing but an act of antisocial pretension. There is, admittedly, a fragment of truth in this. I know very well the dangers that criticism can pose to enjoyment: I was born a pathological overthinker, neurotic and hard to please.
Hedging the novel in the postfictional age
[Jessi Jezewska Stevens]
In a literary moment that has renounced the value of making things up, where does the human impulse toward invention find expression? One worrying, and increasingly probable, answer is finance.
Symposium: What is beauty for?
The father of philosophy could not have made his nose less bulbous any more than he could have reversed the retreat of his hairline. But he could at least have invested in nicer sandals, instead of walking around barefoot all the time.
The Emancipation of Sensibility
Any theory capacious enough to describe the aesthetic qualities available to us under capitalism at present is going to need to expand far beyond the set of stock tropes that made sense when it could credibly be described by Adam Smith through the quaint example of a pin factory.
The videos are so convincing, the routines so seemingly personalized, that I forget that the elevated ordinary life they capture presupposes the existence of a camera. Where is the camera? Do they use actual video cameras or the camera on their phone to record? If they’re using a phone, how does their battery last so long? Do they put on makeup before putting on makeup in front of the camera? Who films the content? How is it safe to record oneself while driving? Do they have day jobs or is this their day job?
My development from adolescent angstmeister to champagne socialist may be algorithmically unsurprising, but the fact remains that it’s when I allow myself to delight in the surface of things that life now seems most worth living.
The Art of Ugliness
It is clear why Ribera never appealed to modernists. There was nothing revolutionary about his approach, he was not trying to overthrow the painterly fashions of his moment (i.e. the naturalism of Caravaggio) or jolting his patrons into a critical awareness of the relations of production. He was an artist who aestheticized ugliness, who tried to make it sensuous and appealing, even beautiful.
The Right to Beauty
I’ve lived in cities in this part of the world for the last twenty years. I arrived just as the U.S. invasion of Iraq was about to begin; I witnessed the Arab Spring, its failure and the repression that followed. Today most of the region is more impoverished, more unequal, more autocratic, more vulnerable and more stuck than ever. Not coincidentally, to take in most of the cities in the region is to survey a landscape of ruin, loss, neglect and at times scandalous ugliness.
I felt a strange kind of duty: I had to protect the only image of her I had, even if it was no real image at all.
The Beauty Industry
“My employers call me their ‘glass body.’ They want me lean, muscular and hydrated. So, very briefly, that means twice-a-day workouts five days a week and active recovery the other two days (long walks Monday and Thursday). And then gerbil food, basically.”
A conversation with Alexander Nehamas
[Alexander Nehamas and Jonny Thakkar]
“This notion that if you’re dealing with beauty you’re not dealing with real issues is misleading, if only because a large part of today’s philosophy, which addresses moral and political—not to mention metaphysical and epistemological issues—also often makes no difference to anybody. So why single beauty out?”
Crimes of the Future
Cronenberg’s films are animated by an obsessive desire to speculate about new forms of (in)human life. He makes movies about the terribly beautiful eruptions of new sensualities, new hungers, new metaphysics, new relations.
Jim never explicitly asked, Who knows what scholarship and criticism are? One answer is that scholarship wraps and unwraps works in competing interpretations whereas criticism is an endless skein of reinterpretation. The answer implicit in Jim’s work is different: scholarship and criticism can also be acts of discovery.