Foreword: How Did I Get Here?

“How did I get here?” is a recurring question in one of my favorite songs, “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads. It is an anthem to the uncertainty of human existence that suggests the existential feel of much of this issue.

While several post-World War II philosophers such as John-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus are called “existentialists,” they were less a school than a group of related thinkers stretching back to the nineteenth century. Their ideas are kindred but quite individual. They came from an understandable beginning, as late eighteenth-century industrialization created an urban working class. Marx was predictive of existential thought, due to the threats to individual freedom that he argued would happen in developed capitalist economies, regardless of the label used by political leaders for their economic systems.

The Art of Indifference: Duchamp and the Legacy of Readymades

The Art of Indifference: Duchamp and the Legacy of Readymades

I believe art is the only form of activity in which man shows himself to be a true individual.

— Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp never sought fame and certainly not infamy. His natural disposition was one of detachment; he was uniquely indifferent to money, attention, and a wider audience for his work. What he preferred instead was time and freedom to engage in radical experimentation. Yet he created controversy with works of art that today are among the most influential of the modern era.

Strange Beauty: Barbette and the Art of Transformation

Strange Beauty: Barbette and the Art of Transformation

In 1912, at twenty-three, French writer Jean Cocteau collaborated with some of the most talented artists in Europe when he wrote the libretto for The Blue God, a ballet performed by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Nijinsky danced the title role, Reynaldo Hahn wrote the music, and Léon Bakst designed the set and costumes. A decade later, when Cocteau wrote to his friends about a terrific new performer called Barbette at the Casino de Paris, they took note. To the Belgian music critic Paul Collaer, Cocteau wrote, “A music-hall act called Barbette has been keeping us enthralled for a fortnight.” Cocteau described the young American from Texas as a graceful daredevil on the trapeze and one of the most beautiful entertainers in theater. “No mere acrobat in women’s clothes. He blends a tightrope dancer’s skill and perilous performance with the creativity of a poet. An angel, a flower, a bird. We all found him an absolute knockout.”

New and Recent Southern Writing

New and Recent Southern WritingBy Samuel Pickering

Hieroglyphics by Jill McCorkle. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2020. 312 pp., $26.95 (hardcover). Kudzu Telegraph by John Lane. Hub City Press, 2008. 156 pp., $11.95 (paper).Seven Days on the Santee Delta by John Lane and Philip Wilkinson. Evening Post Books, 2020. xiv+144 pp., illustrated, $60 (hardcover). Indigo: Arm Wrestling, Snake Saving, and Some Things in Between by Padgett Powell. Catapult, 2021. 272 pp., illustrated, $16.95 (paper).You Want More: Selected Stories by George Singleton. Hub City Press, 2020. xiii+366 pp., $27 (hardcover).

Foreword: Moving On

Moving On

When excited about a piece of writing, I often sense a largeness to it that exceeds what I first fully understand. As an editor, I’ve had that experience too often to remember. I love something and then struggle to articulate why, and it may take me a while to do so with any certainty. Perhaps it comes from rightness of form and richness of theme, including a necessary ambiguity in the subject. I may not fully get it at first because often the best writing is, in fact ,wonderfully complicated, both in what it is about and sometimes in the way it’s done. Literature has an almost biological element: its DNA shows similarities to past writing as well as newness and variance. It carries a suitcase or wears at least some of its clothes from the past. It doesn’t simplify life but sees and shows its messiness. This is shown in much of this issue, with the theme of moving on while at the same time still in ways still carrying the past.

The Charm Offensive: Magritte’s Influence on Contemporary Art

The Charm Offensive: Magritte’s Influence on Contemporary Art

Kristine Somerville

 

“All I know of hope, I place in love.” —René Magritte

During the World War II, René Magritte aimed through his painting to launch what he called “a charm offensive.” In opposition to the brutality of the war, he wanted to find some pleasure for himself and others. He wrote, “The German occupation marked a turning point in my art. Before the war, my paintings expressed anxiety, but the experiences of the war have taught me that what matters in art is to express charm. I live in a very disagreeable world, and my work is meant as a counter-offensive.” He went on to explain that “it lies with us, who have some notion of how feelings are invented, to make joy and pleasure.” Magritte was criticized by his fellow surrealists, particularly André Breton, who publicly opposed what he considered a simplistic notion. He thought it ridiculous to foster “charm, pleasure, sunshine” at the exclusion of “sadness and boredom.”

 

Clothes Make the Character: Costume Collaborations of Edith Head and Alfred Hitchcock

Clothes Make the Character: Costume Collaborations of Edith Head and Alfred Hitchcock

“I knew I was not a creative design genius. I was never going to be the world’s greatest costume designer, but there was no reason I couldn’t be the smartest.” —Edith Head

In 1946, Alfred Hitchcock arranged for Paramount to loan Edith Head to RKO to dress Ingrid Bergman in his spy thriller Notorious. This was Edith’s first time working with the English director, and she found in him a like-minded collaborator who was as exacting and blunt as she was. While her fellow costume designers often made clothes to display their style, Edith had learned over her past twenty years at Paramount that the objective was to create clothes to suit the character and advance the storyline, an approach that suited Hitchcock’s philosophy. Hitchcock was famous for using clothes in his films to express the psychology of his characters. In his scripts, he was explicit about color, style, and accessories. Once the parameters were decided, Edith was given creative freedom and a big budget to make beautiful garments.

Intersectionality and Identity: Four Recent Women’s Memoirs

Four Memoirs

Lisa Katz

 

Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey. Ecco Press, 2020, 224 pp., $16.99 (paper). 

Terroir: Love, Out of Place by Natasha Sajé. Trinity University Press, 2020, 207 pp., $18.95(paper).

Mouth Full of Seeds by Marcela Sulak. Black Lawrence Press, 2020, 113 pp., $17.95 (paper)

Recollections of My Non-Existence by Rebecca Solnit, Granta, 2020, 244 pp., £16.99(hardcover).

 

However solitary, memoir reading, like memoir writing, participates in an important form of collective memorialization, providing building blocks to a more fully shared national narrative.—Nancy K. Miller

 

In in her iconic essay on the memoir genre, “But Enough About Me,” scholar Nancy K. Miller makes an optimistic claim: that the form, often derided as belletristic, has an active social, even political, function. It enables readers to enlarge the national picture in which their own storytakes place. And so, she writes, memoir “may well be the most important narrative mode of our contemporary culture.”

In the books under consideration, the American narrative expands to include women writing from biracial, bisexual, and binational points of view. The authors come  to us from the segregated South; from a combination of East Coast locations and theocratic Salt Lake City; from a winding route that starts in rural Texas and ends in Israel; and from San Francisco as it gentrifies. Their stories reveal a highly variegated way to live as an American woman. Each writer has in common with the others a desire to understand her own provenance and development and, to a degree, to decipher the meaning of her narrative within the larger picture. Race figures in three of these works, religion in a fourth, and gender inequality emerges in all of them.

 

Foreword: What You Live For

What You Live For

One would like to think the pandemic has inspired us to be more productively introverted, weighing what we are doing and why. But of course, the truth is that the pandemic has given us little choice but to be more introverted and self-evaluative. Regardless of the terrible way it has come about, it may be useful to look under the camouflaging dust of “normal” life and ask a few existential questions. What have we genuinely missed about normal life, what do we really care about, and how should we admit to changes?

A Conversation with Camille T. Dungy

A Conversation with Camille T. Dungy

Jacob Griffin Hall

Camille T. Dungy is a poet, essayist, professor, and editor based in Fort Collins, Colorado. She is the author of four collections of poetry: Trophic Cascade, Smith Blue, Suck on the Marrow, and What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison. Dungy was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2019, and her debut collection of personal essays, Guidebook to Relative Strangers, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She has edited several anthologies, including Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry. Her work has appeared widely in anthologies and in literary magazines, including Poetry, American Poetry Review, VQR, and Guernica. Dungy is currently a University Distinguished Professor, teaching in the English department at Colorado State University.

This interview was conducted by e-mail between December 2020 and February 2021.

Jacob Griffin Hall: Could you tell us a bit about what initially drew you to writing poetry?

Camille T. Dungy: I grew up in a family that values literature, poetry included, so I was reading poetry and having poetry read to me from a very young age. I remember memorizing my first poem in kindergarten or first grade. I have always loved the taut power of a poem. The way some of us love watching world-class sprinters do their thing. Those quick bursts of power and import. That’s exciting.