“The Writer’s Heart”: A Conversation between Liesl Schillinger and Andrea Scrima

Liesl Schillinger and Andrea Scrima are two of the authors in Strange Attractors, an anthology that’s just come out with University of Massachusetts Press, edited by Edie Meidav and Emmalie Dropkin. The thirty-five pieces in the collection explore unsettling experiences of magnetism and unanticipated encounter irresistible enough to change or derail the course of a life. In chaos theory, “strange attractor” is the term given to the fractal variety of attractor that arises out of a dynamic system; its defining unpredictability makes this mathematical concept an apt metaphor for the twists of fate that send us reeling, but can sometimes feel oddly inevitable in hindsight. In her piece for the anthology, “Children and All That Jazz,” Liesl Schillinger weaves the music and heartache of Joan Baez into the lives and longings of a family in the American Midwest in the 1970s; in Andrea Scrima’s excerpt “all about love, nearly,” the narrator explores the dimensions of a world transfigured, and then dissembled, by passion.

A.S.: Liesl, I love the part in your story where a pack of kids is playing “Murder in the Dark” and the young narrator’s crush, who plays the part of the killer, draws near her in the dark yard: “I didn’t try to back away, I thought maybe he was going to kiss me, but then he killed me which was so predictable.”

L.S.: It’s funny, as a child, my belief in the importance of love—fed by the nineteenth-century novels I devoured—from Louisa May Alcott to Dickens and Austen and Stendhal—was unshakeable. I was always waiting for the coup de foudre. But that was paired with an instinctive pessimism, or maybe resignation. My mother gave me a reading list, I was expected to read a book a week, and didn’t consider not doing that. But I also read the twentieth-century novels on my parents’ bedroom shelves. John Irving, Shirley Hazzard, V.S. Naipaul, and Graham Greene did a lot to temper my romantic idealism. Or maybe to undermine it. I hoped for love to work out, but didn’t expect it to; and was somehow always relieved, I think (eventually), when one of my castles in the air collapsed, and I was back on solid ground.

A.S.: I guess my piece in the anthology covers the other, unhealthier side of things: when love makes you lose your footing and even your hold on reality: “my crazy, exalted, euphoric collusion in my own demise.”

L.S.: There’s a conversation between (Shakespeare’s) Antony and Cleopatra that I’ve never forgotten, though this is a paraphrase—Cleopatra says something to the effect of: “I will not have love as my master.” Antony responds, “Then you will not have love.” I’ve had a long and occasionally turbulent romantic history, and Antony and Cleopatra’s exchange reflects my experience. Read more »

Letting You In on a Secret: Alyssa DeLuccia’s Photographed Collages

by Andrea Scrima

Alyssa DeLuccia’s Letting You in on a Secret is an eloquent artistic inquiry into present-day politics, the media, and contemporary life—one that takes the form of a visual essay operating within the disturbance pattern of a subtle but crucial shift in medium that multiplies and compounds the power of the work and its message.

Fierce and Dominant

DeLuccia uses contemporary print media as raw material, fracturing the images and rearranging visual themes to create collages, which she then photographs. And for several important reasons, it’s the photograph and not the installed collage that is the final work of art. The media-reflective dimension of Letting You in on a Secret—the fact that it is based on print media, but locates its final manifestation in the realm of the photographic image intended not for mass-media reproduction, but for the reflective, contemplative context of the exhibition space—speaks to the dire state of imagery and language in the current media landscape and the need to find new methods to assess, decipher, and analyze conflicting and competing information. The new mistrust in the reliability and trustworthiness not only of the means of distribution through news channels, editorial boards, and social media, but in the veracity of the words and images themselves has, on a very basic level, changed the way in which we perceive and engage with the information raining down upon us. Read more »

Fight the Bannonality of Evil

by Claire Chambers

In her 1963 book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt argues that there is nothing in evil that is radical or lucid. Instead, she Hannah Arendtclaims, even the most extreme evil is senseless and banal. Amos Elon summarized Arendt's argument in terms that cannot but resonate with the current political circumstances in the United States: 'Evil […] need not be committed only by demonic monsters, but—with disastrous effect—by morons and imbeciles as well'. As Arendt writes about Adolf Eichmann, one of the Holocaust's prime orchestrators: '[he] was not Iago and not Macbeth […]. Except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, he had no motives at all'.

The world's new Orange Overlord, 45th President of the United States Donald J. Trump has gifted us too many irrational, muddled, and downright idiotic statements and actions over the last year for enumeration in this short blog post. To take just one example, on the first day of Black History Month, Trump seemed to believe that Frederick Douglass, the nineteenth-century author of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave, was still alive. According to Trump, Douglass was 'an example of somebody who is doing an amazing job, who is being recognized more and more, I notice'.

Arendt was right to observe that the slide from thoughtlessness to evil is easy and smooth. A week before his Douglass gaffe, on Trump SpiegelHolocaust Remembrance Day 2017 Trump issued his executive order banning refugees from the United States for 120 days and from Syria permanently. Additionally, citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Somalia) were blocked from entering for 90 days. What a way to commemorate the premeditated and industrial killing of six million Jews and 200,000 Roma by singling out refugees and a religious group for exclusion. Thankfully, Trump soon found himself struggling with implacable opposition from the US legal system and at the time of writing has been unable to execute his order.

Moreover, there was no mention of the Jews or anti-Semitism on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Trump's inept Press Secretary Sean Spicer later clarified that this omission was not regretted because the White House's intention was to 'acknowledg[e] all of the people' who died. Prince Charles responded by saying the lessons of the Holocaust are being forgotten. Yet these lessons are in fact being wilfully erased by Trump and his team.

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