The Brooklyn Bridge © Maria Azzurra Mugnai | Wikimedia Commons
Arts & DesignEssaysThe Psyche

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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Tyree Guyton, The Heidelberg Project, 1986-present. © Geronimo Patton | Heidelberg Project
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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"Walldog" on Broadway at 23rd street, NYC. © Virag Molnar
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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BIG DATA © DARPA | Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
EssaysMedia & Publics

The Big Issue with Big Data: Who Do You Think I Am?

Big data is all the buzz in business and government. The assumption is that meta-data — data about who communicates with whom, when, where, in which sequences and networks — can generate ever more comprehensive and granular accounts of everyday life and social practices across global space and in real time. For business, the bit trails that we all leave behind become ways of predicting where — to which goods and services — those trails will take us in the future. For government, those same trails bear witness to what friends as well as enemies already did, or may do in the future, as indicated by Edward Snowden’s recent revelations of National Security Agency activities.

The various legal, ethical, and political concerns about the protection of the individual’s privacy from spam and surveillance are evident. However, the emerging digital infrastructure raises a more general and fundamental issue about the rights of citizens in their roles as communicators in the contemporary media environment. …

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Book cover of Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords And Their Godfathers by Anabel Hernandez. © Verso
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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Ray_JohnsonA_Rimbaud0
Arts & DesignLetters

How to Beat Writer’s Block

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


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"We will wash your brains" © Olesia Sarycheva | Dreamstime.com
EssaysIn DepthLiberal Democracy in QuestionMedia & Publics

Limiting Democracy: The American Media’s World View, and Ours

This article was originally published in Social Research, Vol. 7: No. 3: Fall 2010.

One of the difficulties in discussing the notion that it is the media that limits our idea of politics is that we all have an inherent resistance to believing that our own understanding of the political world is artificially limited. Most of us are willing to talk about political propaganda and the way in which political opinions are manipulated as long as that means somebody else’s opinions. We all prefer to think it happens to other people, not to ourselves.

This is true, first, because it is simply unpleasant to think about oneself being propagandized or being in some way manipulated. But the more substantive reason for this resistance is that the way in which we assess the set of information we receive about the world is very self-reinforcing. There is a certain set of information, a set of sources to which we are subjected or which we seek out, that provides us with information about the world and shapes our political world view…

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