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From spearheads to skeletons, mummies to mastodons, caskets to ritual masks, the North’s soil has yielded thousands of clues to bygone lives. But only once have motile shadows returned from this underground realm. In 1978, during construction of a new rec center in the town of Dawson City in Canada’s Yukon, a backhoe unearthed 533 newsreels and feature films dating from 1903 to 1929, many of them thought to have been lost to time’s ravages, others previously unknown. Stored initially in the town library’s basement, they had been interred in an old gym pool that double-functioned as an ice rink. There they rested like Snow White in her crystal coffin. The pool site was part of the Dawson Amateur Athletic Association’s building, which opened in 1902 and soon after began screening films. Some of the cache’s contents played again in the rebuilt Palace Grand Theatre 15 months after their discovery, almost 50 years after their disappearance. More… “Moving Pictures from the Permafrost”

Michael Engelhard is the author of the essay collection, American Wild: Explorations from the Grand Canyon to the Arctic Ocean, and of Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon. Now living in Fairbanks, Alaska and working as a wilderness guide in the Arctic, he appreciates urban culture, such as art house movie theaters.

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KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

I never knew Eric, he was always Sam’s friend, but like many people in our city, I knew who he was. Riding a bicycle down Langalibalele Street, heading towards the city center of Pietermaritzburg, it was hard to miss his double bed jammed into the double doorway of the old and abandoned St. Anne’s hospital. It wasn’t just a double bed in width, but in height, with two bases and two mattresses, giving the impression that this was how the princess and her pea would live, if she were homeless.

Sam first noticed the hospital, before he noticed Eric, and he loved it, with its tangled garden and hanging shutters and star-cracked windows. A few meters from Eric’s bed, an embroidered heart flapped in the wind, given as a red get-well gift, now grey. Behind his bed, a chain padlocked the double doors. I pictured the floors shiny, disinfected, the corridors bustling with soft-shoed nurses one day, and the next day superintendent pulling the double doors to, winding the chain, clicking the lock, saying, “Well, that’s all folks. Thanks for everything.” More… “Eric Was Here”

Sarah Groves lives in an apartment in the inner city of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa with 1 husband, 5 children and 98 neighbours. She spends her afternoons writing, and her evenings enjoying the city. It’s dirty, noisy and busting with language and culture, from all over Africa. Her first childrens’s book (Sbonelo Snoop) was published last year with Penguin SA.

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In an early scene of Eileen Chang’s 1956 novel Naked Earth (reissued this month by NYRB Classics), Liu Ch’uen – a young, enthusiastic new participant in Chairman Mao’s Land Reform movement – watches the “struggle session” of a local landlord’s wife. The woman has been brought into a courtyard to make a confession before the student recruits, Party members and local villagers. The landlord’s wife is frightened and pregnant.

As they approached the low flight of stone steps they saw that a thick rope hung down from the eaves. It hung loose, swaying a little in the breeze. Several tenant farmers were standing around, looking nervous. The atmosphere was thick, as if somebody had hanged himself here and the body had just been taken down and removed.

More… “Struggling Through”

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.

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The writer R.K. Narayan was not prone to supernatural thoughts. He understood as well as anyone why The English Teacher — his 1944 novel about a grieving professor who learns to communicate with his recently deceased wife through trance writing — would inspire bewilderment in his readers, and even rage. In the first half of the book (the “domestic” half), a benignly self-absorbed English teacher of thirty, Krishna, living in the fictional Indian town of Malgudi, decides to devote himself more fully to his wife and child. In the second half (the “spiritual” half), the happy domestic picture dissolves into — as Narayan wrote in his memoir My Days — “tragedy, death, and nebulous, impossible speculations.” Readers might feel, wrote Narayan, as if they had been baited into the second half by the first. But he hoped readers would find an explanation knowing that, of all his novels, The English Teacher was the most autobiographical.
More… “In the Ground”

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.

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Driving south from the North, we tried to spot exactly where the real South begins. We looked for the South in hand-scrawled signs on the roadside advertising ‘Boil Peanut’, in one-room corrugated tin Baptist churches that are little more than holy sheds, in the crumbling plantation homes with their rose gardens and secrets. In the real South, we thought, ships ought to turn to riverboats, cold Puritanism to swampy hellfire, coarse industrialists with a passion for hotels and steel to the genteel ease of the cotton planter.

Most of what we believe about the South, wrote W.J. Cash in the 1930s, exists in our imagination. But, he wrote, we shouldn’t take this to mean that the South is therefore unreal. The real South, wrote Cash in The Mind of the South, exists in unreality. It is the tendency toward unreality, toward romanticism, toward escape, that defines the mind of the… More…

The Written Image” was an exhibit of German Expressionist art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. But it was not the exhibit of German Expressionism you might expect to see — none of Ernst Kirchner’s lurid scenes of degenerated Berlin society smeared across the streets. It was a show, rather, of portfolios, periodicals, works sketched on single sheets of paper. Featured among them were the so-called “wordless novels.” In one glass case was a 1926 copy of Frans Masereel’s My Book of Hours.

   

Frans Masereel was a Flemish artist whose primary medium was the woodcut. The woodcut genre thrived in Europe during the interwar years. Masereel and his contemporaries were drawn to woodcuts as they were to cartoons and silent film, media in which images were dominant and words were few. This was appropriate… More…

Between autumns of 1942 and 1943, the English critic Cyril Connolly took a break from writing articles and set out to write a masterpiece. This, he wrote on the first page of his book, is the true function of a writer. Nothing else is of consequence. “How few writers will admit it,” he wrote “or having drawn the conclusion, will be prepared to lay aside the piece of iridescent mediocrity on which they have embarked! …. Every excursion into journalism, broadcasting, propaganda and writing for the films, however grandiose, will be doomed to disappointment.”

“Writers always hope that their next book is going to be their best,” wrote Connolly, “and will not acknowledge that they are prevented by their present way of life from ever creating anything different.”

It was agreed that Connolly’s previous books — a satirical novel… More…

The 1940s film Portrait of Jennie begins up in the clouds, with questions: “What is time?” asks a voice. “What is space? What is life? What is death?” A quote from Euripides comes onscreen to the strains of Debussy:

WHO KNOWETH IF TO DIE BE BUT TO LIVE … AND THAT CALLED LIFE BY MORTALS BE BUT DEATH?

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.

“You don’t know how terrible it is,” Joseph Cornell once told a gallerist who praised his work, “to be locked into boxes all your life.”

Boxes were Joseph Cornell’s obsession. He collected everyday objects and photographs and arranged them inside wooden shadow frames. Often he placed glass panes over the boxes, which makes them feel like windows. The names of the boxes are both solid and surreal: Observatory, Soap Bubble, Space Object, Pink Palace. The boxes are about objects but they are also about time. Cornell’s boxes are time contained. In them, history — which normally presents itself as solid, continuous and progressive — is shown to be an accumulation of shifting memories and questionable evidence. A Cornell box is chaos preserved in one silent eternal moment.

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for… More…

Just past the front door, in the Atrium of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, are six “ideal” busts. The busts are installed near window ledges and against walls, high above the floor, so that everyone is guaranteed to walk right by them. The busts are female figures, carved in white marble. Their faces are posed in the neoclassical style – impassive, serene – with pupil-less eyes cast blindly down, or toward an invisible horizon. 

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.