Co-Artistic Directors Prem and Tina share their late summer reading list.
Abdelrahman Munif, Cities of Salt
Banned in several Middle Eastern countries, this novel records the encounter between Americans and Arabs in an unnamed Gulf emirate in the 1930s. As oil exploration begins, the destruction of an oasis community amounts to “a breaking off, like death, that nothing and no one could ever heal.” The promise inherent in the creation of a city divided into Arab and American sectors provides the novel’s most striking revelation: here not merely two cultures, but two ages, meet and stand apart. Alternatively amused and bewildered by the Americans and their technological novelties, the Arabs sense in their accommodation to modernity the betrayal of their own traditions. Highly recommended, if only for its cross-cultural insights.
bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom
Cultural theorist hooks means to challenge preconceptions, and it is a rare reader who will be able to walk away from her without considerable thought. Despite the frequent appearance of the dry word “pedagogy,” this collection of essays about teaching is anything but dull or detached. hooks begins her meditations on class, gender and race in the classroom with the confession that she never wanted to teach. By combining personal narrative, essay, critical theory, dialogue and a fantasy interview with herself (the latter artificial construct being the least successful), hooks declares that education today is failing students by refusing to acknowledge their particular histories. Criticizing the teaching establishment for employing an over-factualized knowledge to deny and suppress diversity, hooks accuses colleagues of using “the classroom to enact rituals of control that were about domination and the unjust exercise of power.” Far from a castigation of her field, however, Teaching to Transgress is full of hope and excitement for the possibility of education to liberate and include. She is a gentle, though firm, critic, as in the essay “Holding My Sister’s Hand,” which could well become a classic about the distrust between black and white feminists. While some will find her rejection of certain difficult theory narrow-minded, it is a small flaw in an inspired and thought-provoking collection.
Kris Cohen, Never Alone, Except for Now
How is it that one can be connected to a vast worldwide network of other people and places via digital technologies and yet also be completely alone? Kris Cohen tackles this philosophical question in Never Alone, Except for Now by exploring how contemporary technologies are changing group formations and affiliations within social life. He identifies a new form of collectivity that exists between publics, which are built through conscious acts, and populations, which are automatically constructed through the collection of Big Data. Finding traditional liberal concepts of the public sphere and neoliberal ideas of populations inadequate on their own to examine these new forms of sociality, Cohen places familiar features of the web — such as emoticons, trolling, and search engines — in conversation with artworks by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, William Gibson, Sharon Hayes, and Thomson & Craighead to more precisely articulate the affective and aesthetic experiences of living between publics and populations. This liminal experience — caught between existing as a set of data points and as individuals newly empowered to create their own online communities — explains, Cohen contends, how one is simultaneously alone and connected in ways never before possible.
Lucy Lippard, The Lure of the Local
In The Lure of the Local, Lucy R. Lippard, one of America’s most influential art writers, weaves together cultural studies, history, geography, and contemporary art to provide a fascinating exploration of our multiple senses of place. Expanding her reach far beyond the confines of the art world, she discusses community, land use, perceptions of nature, how we produce the landscape, and how the landscape affects our lives. In this extensively illustrated, beautifully produced volume, she consistently makes unexpected connections between contemporary art and its political, social, and cultural contexts.
Michael Pollan, How to Change Your Mind
A unique and elegant blend of science, memoir, travel writing, history, and medicine, How to Change Your Mind is a triumph of participatory journalism. By turns dazzling and edifying, it is the gripping account of a journey to an exciting and unexpected new frontier in our understanding of the mind, the self, and our place in the world. The true subject of Pollan’s “mental travelogue” is not just psychedelic drugs but also the eternal puzzle of human consciousness and how, in a world that offers us both suffering and joy, we can do our best to be fully present and find meaning in our lives.