In late January of 2015, a tree stood wavering on the edge of Detroit’s burnt-out Grixdale neighborhood. A loud, old engine revved. A 100-foot rope tightened. A car strained forward. The tree followed, snapping and dropping into the overgrown yard of an abandoned house. A group of bearded men looked on from the front yard of a fire-ravaged structure across the street. Satisfaction and relief filled them as the final rays of sunlight scattered into the gray horizon. They had lost two ropes and a chainsaw in bringing down the tree, but they comforted themselves with the thought that the abandoned house and the surrounding telephone lines stood unharmed.
They were pretty far from Detroit’s refurbished downtown. Years ago, this neighborhood had succumbed to the rot brought on by the crack wars. Inhabitants fled, homes were torched, and the long blocks, once designed for cars, were left sparsely populated. In 2015, it remained largely abandoned. Sometimes, there were residual flare-ups of violence and theft. Some ways down the road, there remained a crack house. In this quiet, largely forgotten place, however, adjacent to the vistas of empty lots, under the canopy of old-growth trees, there was a new community growing. They lived amongst the neglected red brick houses and chose to call themselves Fireweed, after the pioneer plant species that takes over the landscape after a forest fire. More… “Why Does a Tree Fall in Detroit?”
Kader Attia is a multi-form French visual artist, recipient of the Prize Marcel Duchamp, a prestigious national honor for contemporary artists awarded in France. The following essay is based on a French-language interview between Attia and Thomas Baumgartner on Radio Nova in October 2016. In it, Attia investigates the many layers of fracture that underpin social crises in Western Europe — and a hope for dialogue. All quotes are translations of the writer.
Explaining what motivates his work as an artist, Kader Attia speaks in his native French of réparation. He does not simply mean “fixing” as we might be tempted to translate into English. Instead, réparation can be thought of as transformation. You get a semblance of the original, but in the process of mending an object is always made new. More… “An Artist’s Search for Cultural Reparation in France”
In August 2014, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery was in Ferguson, Missouri covering the protests over the police shootings of Michael Brown. On August 13, his third day on assignment, Lowery was arrested at a McDonalds: a moment captured on a video that quickly went viral. The Missouri protests spread across the country, morphing into Black Lives Matter movement, and Lowery continued to follow the story. His experience and reporting are documented in his first book: “They Can’t Kill Us All.” While on this book tour, Lowery dropped by The Smart Set offices for an interview conducted by Byshera Williams and Richard Abowitz. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
For a long time, most academic studies of metal were as dark and foreboding as the songs appeared to be. With titles containing phrases like “heavy metal music and adolescent alienation” (1996) and “delinquent friends, social control, and delinquency” (1993), these works looked at whether being a metalhead was associated with a higher likelihood of depression, suicide, violence, and a particular kind of adolescent male aggression. More… “The Positive Psychology of Metal Music”
All is not well. But we do not see that at first. The white house and the white picket fence are in perfect order. The sky is blue and bright. The flowers are red and yellow. The grass is green. We’re surrounded by primary colors and clarity.
The man watering his lawn doesn’t notice the kink in the hose. The water pressure is building. The pressure in his neck builds, too. Suddenly, the man grabs his neck and falls to the ground. He is having a heart attack, or a stroke. The water from the hose shoots into the air as he falls. The man’s little dog bites ferociously at the stream. The camera pans down into the grass, into the muck… More…
I can’t get over the first two words of the poem: no sleep. No sleep. That’s how Herman Melville began his poem, which is called “The House-top. A Night Piece.” It was written in July of 1863. America was in the midst of the Civil War — really in the thick of it.
Six weeks after Kari and I sat together in the surgical clinic, I drove to Hyde Park to meet him at his grandmother’s house. The house sat on a narrow two-way street not far off American Legion Highway, which lies just off Blue Hill Avenue, the main road that cuts through Roxbury, Dorchester, and ﬁnally Mattapan before coursing out of the city into the suburb of Milton. The house sat midway down a long row of attached two-story houses, a noticeable contrast from the century-old triple-deckers that lined Blue Hill Avenue standing directly opposite these more modern and modest homes.
Wrong Place, Wrong Time: Trauma and Violence in the Lives of Young Black Men by John A. Rich, M.D., M.P.H. 232 pages. The Johns Hopkins University Press. $24.95.
Kari met me at the door and motioned me to come… More…
Some parties are fun, others are un-missable “cultural experiences.” The strange and exotic festivals held during the French Revolution would have to fall in the latter category. There was one particular event — the Fête de l’Être Suprême, or Festival of the Supreme Being — that was easily the most bizarre. Held during the height of the Terror, with the guillotine casting its gruesome shadow over Paris, it was a giant street party organized to celebrate fraternity and fuzzy warm feelings. It may not have been a barrel of laughs — at least not intentionally — but it was definitely something to see.
Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones (originally published in French in 2006 as Les Bienveillantes) features Nazis, incest, and tons of human excrement — literally, tons. It is a novel thus difficult to ignore. Also, it is huge. When you plop it down on a bar in the East Village, for instance, people stop and take notice. Everything about it says serious novel, important novel. People have stopped me on the subway just to ask what I’m reading. It is a novel that calls out for attention. Sometimes I carry it around for that purpose alone. It is heavy, potentially dangerous, and dripping in European (particularly French) sensibility.
That is also why Americans have, so far, largely ignored it. The ultimate arbiter of American, educated middlebrow taste, The New Yorker could only bring itself to mention the book in its “Books Briefly Noted” section. They dispatch it in a terse paragraph:
Once, in Brazil, I ended up eating dinner in a section of Salvador called Pelourinho, which my Lonely Planet said was the old slave auctioning and whipping site, but that was now filled with charming, overpriced tourist restaurants. I was with a Japanese girl I had met in Rio. She swore like a Yakuza member, but she read her guidebook diligently. I was alone as usual, and she allowed me to follow along as she took the right buses to the beach and showed up at the bank to change money during business hours. In exchange for my freeloading she occasionally demanded we must eat some of the “must eat” dishes in some of the “must eat” restaurants pictured on the shiny pages of her Japanese guidebook. Monika, a Canadian who was model gorgeous and fluent in her parent’s Portugal-style Portuguese, but had trouble walking on all the cobblestone in… More…