#tobyreads: Reading Culture, Reading Politics


A couple of weeks ago, I was out with friends talking books. My friend Jeremy recommended that I check out Ben Davis’s 9.5 Theses on Art and Class; from his description, it sounded intriguing, and I ordered it that night via WORD. The title is pretty self-explanatory: you’re going to get a lot of musings on art as it relates to class here. Given that I’m fond of smart writing on both subjects–which can be found in abundance here–this is not a combination that I mind in the slightest.

After having read this, I’m starting to wonder if I encountered some of these writings before; I see that Felix Salmon has linked to some of Davis’s pieces over the years, and I suspect that I may have come across one of two beforehand. Either way, this is smart, gripping stuff. Davis applies a Marxist approach to his look at the contemporary art world (and also spells out exactly what that means), and applies the same worldview to activism. (He also points out that artistic and political radicalism don’t always go hand-in-hand.) As I’d read a fair amount of John Berger’s work earlier this year (in part as research for this piece), that blend kept my attention, and I’d recommend this to pretty much anyone with an interest in art and politics. There’s plenty to ponder here, whether you agree with Davis or feel challenged by his arguments.

The same could be said for Roxane Gay’s collection Bad Feminist. Gay is, I’d argue, very much a polymath: she’s equally at home delving deeply into literature or exploring the appeal of and problems with the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. (And when she does head into more personal territory, it’s often to powerful effect.) Gay is also able to look at different issues, whether political or cultural, via a number of lenses and viewpoints, and it’s why much of this book resonates deeply. Gay has the impressive ability to both respond to a vital issue quickly and to do so with the consideration that usually comes with time.


Last night, I sat down with the third issue of The Pitchfork Review, and read Erin Osmon’s long piece on the life and music of Jason Molina. Given the subject, it was a bittersweet read, focusing largely on his work with Songs:Ohia, and the shifts between his touring bands and the musicians who played on the Songs:Ohia albums. (On a more bittersweet note, it also explains why one of my coworkers at a job I had in 2002 or so referred to a Songs:Ohia album as “an album by a guy named Sparky.”) It also mentioned that the author is at work on a book about Molina. For obvious reasons, I’ll be looking forward to picking that up.

I should also mention that I’ve been enjoying Warren Ellis’s daily updates at Morning, Computer. This one, on rituals and culture, is a particular favorite.

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