Arts & DesignEssays

Jan Sawka: The Power of the Not So Powerless

The following lecture was prepared for delivery at the symposium “Jan Sawka: The Artist’s Role in Changing the World” presented by The Paul Robeson Galleries, Gallery Aferro and the Newark Arts Council, Saturday, November 16, 2013, in conjunction with the exhibition at the Gallery Aferro, “Reflections on Everyman: the work of Jan Sawka.”

I have crossed paths with Jan Sawka three times, although only one of these times did we meet.

It was at a low moment in Polish history, the early 80s. It was in his small apartment on 58th street in Manhattan, in very cramped living quarters, with Sawka, constantly working, drawing and painting, even while the family entertained guests. In the midst of the domestic, he created his own world, responding to life’s public and private absurdities, and tragedies, with his imagination and craft. The intensity of the moment, during the weeks after the declaration of martial law in Poland, the repression of the first nationwide popular social movement in the former Soviet bloc, a labor movement of workers moving against the workers’ state, …

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Arts & DesignEssaysPsycheSex & Gender

“All My Life I Have Been a Woman” and Other Excerpts

About language, our society, madness…

Leslie Kaplan read the following excerpts from her plays after she gave the eighth William Phillips lecture on November 6, 2013 at Theresa Lang Student and Community Center/Arnhold Hall of The New School.

all my life I’ve been a woman

a woman

all my life

does that sentence seem

odd to me

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Arts & DesignEssaysPsyche

Writing Moves the Sky

“To write is to jump outside the line of the assassins.” - Franz Kafka

First of all I would like to thank the New School, and Edith Kurzweil who invited me to this eighth William Phillips lecture and gave me the opportunity to come to the prestigious New School.

My father Harold Kaplan was a great friend of William Phillips, who published his first short story, The Mohammedans, in Partisan Review, in 1943, and later his Paris Letters, and many other pieces, and I always heard about Partisan review and William Phillips at home.

I was born in Brooklyn, in 1943, but brought up in Paris. Before the war, my father was studying French literature at the University of Chicago where he had a scholarship. He started working for the radio in 1942, in The Voice of America (La voix de l’Amérique), with André Breton and Pierre Lazareff, and afterwards was sent to Algiers, where he was when I was born…

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Arts & DesignEssays

Aesthetic Community in Detroit

In the Huffington Post, author and community organizer Yusef Bunchy Shakur and co-author Jenny Lee write: “Detroit is modeling life after capitalism.” One of the ways this is happening is through the work of artists who are helping to envision what that life might look like. These artists are constructing what the French philosopher Jacques Ranciere calls an “aesthetic community.”

The aesthetic community of Detroit is more than simply a collection of artists and other creative types working in the same location. It’s a community of sense, as Ranciere expresses it, which operates on three levels.

The first level of aesthetic community is a certain combination of sense data — materials, forms, spaces, etc. — that constitute the work. In particular in Detroit, this often consists of using recycled castoff materials…

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Arts & DesignEssays

Writing on the Wall: Letters from New York to Berlin

Street art, urban art, urban interventionism

One day I decide to walk down from Penn Station, where I get off the train, to my office at Union Square, determined to soak in all the text that I can see on the streets. The distance I need to cover is about twenty blocks, and I quickly realize that I will not be able to keep up the standard New York walking pace if I am serious about doing this; there is just way too much text to take notice of. First, I have to cut through Koreatown on 32nd street, a particularly dense section of the city that is bewildering when it comes to the pervasiveness of written signs. I start to heavily filter out the onslaught of textual information, as the majority of the signs are printed in a Korean calligraphy that I find aesthetically intriguing but impossible to understand. I focus instead on the many bilingual signs that give away the mishmash of activities taking place in the area…

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Arts & DesignEssays

Interview with an Expert on Violence

Elzbieta Matynia introduces a very special poem

In late September the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies, which I direct, arranged a talk by Anabel Hernández, a Mexican journalist and courageous writer whose book, Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords And Their Godfathers,has just been published in English by Verso. I had heard about Hernandez and her work, but I thought a better person to moderate the evening would be our doctoral student in sociology, Gema Santamaría, who works on problems of violence in Mexico. I had gotten to know Gema quite well during our Democracy & Diversity Institute in Wroclaw, where I taught a seminar called Romancing Violence. I knew that though born in Nicaragua she wanted to work on Mexico, where she grew up. I could see that she is a brilliant student and I learned that she is also an accomplished poet. So I thought that she and Anabel – who had not been at the New School before — would make a good team. We had a full house that night, and though some people had to stand on the sides of the Hirshon Suite, nobody moved. Anabel gave an engaging though disturbing presentation, analyzing the tight linkages between Mexico’s political class and its drug economy…

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Arts & DesignLetters

How to Beat Writer’s Block

Try these games to unblock the flow, or direct it somewhere new.

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Arts & DesignEssays

What is Shakespearean Tragedy?

An excerpt from ‘What is Shakespearean Tragedy?’ forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of Shakespearean Tragedy

The question ‘What is Shakespearean Tragedy?’ can understandably prompt one to start listing distinctive features of various plays by Shakespeare — as if a successful enumeration of its characteristics would amount to an understanding of the genre….

…However, rather than approach Shakespearean tragedy as the sum-total of certain features or “facts,” or as a generic object of study, I propose that we see Shakespearean tragedy as a discrete form of art — as the birth of a distinctive art form, the same way we think of ‘painting on canvas’ or ‘symphonic music’ as art forms that arrived on the world stage at a particular place and time.[i] Whereas a ‘genre’ purports to be a collection of objects that share common, taxonomically graspable features or techniques, there is no exhaustive list of features that ‘add up’ to Shakespearean tragedy – since, for a start, it is up to us to discern, decide, or debate, what will even count as features of this art form. Moreover, if Shakespearean tragedies all shared certain inherent, generic characteristics, then it would be difficult to distinguish between Macbeth and Hamlet and Othello – 

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