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Laura Kipnis’ Northwestern “Inquisition” Is a Case Study in the Dangers of Expanding Institutional Power

The saga that began with cultural critic and Northwestern professor Laura Kipnis’ essay “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe” has entered, like so many American stories, a new chapter: legal action. But as Kipnis recounts in her latest dispatch — published, like the original piece, in the Chronicle of Higher Education — the process in which she’s currently enmeshed is not a standard-issue lawsuit. Rather, it’s the process that’s become notorious since campus sexual assault, and universities’ woefully inadequate means of addressing it, came under national scrutiny early last year. Kipnis is currently the subject of an internal investigation by her employer, Northwestern University, under the auspices of the federal statute Title IX. … Read More

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Andrew Bujalski on Subverting the Rom-Com and Making Kevin Corrigan a Movie Star in ‘Results’

“I wasn’t trying to be a jerk,” Andrew Bujalski tells me, and I believe him. We’re talking about his new movie Results, a sunny, bright, funny movie that looks at first like a pretty typical mainstream romantic comedy — it’s about a love triangle, and it stars Cobie Smulders and Guy Pearce — which is kind of a shock after his last film, the daringly experimental (in both style and story) black-and-white-videotape comedy/drama Computer Chess. But past that surface, Bujalski says, he knew “this was going to be my own thing, and I wanted to do something looser and weird.” So it’s a rom-com, yes, but not a typical one — yet also, as Bujalski says, not a subversion in a “jerk”-y way. In fact, the key that unlocks his freewheeling approach to the form is the third point in the film’s love triangle, an eccentric millionaire played by the eccentric character actor Kevin Corrigan. His performance here is a revelation, with an oddness and unpredictability that comes to define the movie. … Read More

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Richard Prince’s Instagram Project Isn’t Just Morally Questionable — It’s Boring Art

At this point, there remains very little to say about an artist who has been as roundly, comprehensively, and rightly criticized as Richard Prince has over the years. Even so, there’s something particularly egregious about the art world’s most notorious magpie’s new project, which, as widely reported, consists of printed screenshots of people’s Instagram photos. The fact that Prince has been selling these images for $90,000 apiece probably says more about the gullible nature of fine art collectors than anything else, but it does add insult to injury for anyone who happens to be the subject of one of the pictures that have been lifted. … Read More

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Are Literary Awards Biased Against Books About Women?

The VIDA count has exposed persistent gender disparities in prestigious literary publications’ bylines — but what happens once books are published, sent into the world, and made ready for critical consumption and evaluation? Does a bias remain? Novelist Nicola Griffith set out to answer to this question by looking at the genders of both author and subject in the Pulitzer Prize, the Man Booker Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics’ Circle Award, the Hugo Award (for science fiction and fantasy) and the Newbery Medal (for children’s literature) in the past decade and a half. And what she discovered goes even deeper than a byline… Read More

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Theater of Cruelty: The Strange American Reception of Nell Zink’s ‘Mislaid’

Nell Zink’s second novel, Mislaid, announces her as one of a handful of the best novelists on the American scene. More satirical, willfully magisterial, and, yes, even earnest than The Wallcreeper — a debut that was far more earnest than even its admirers admit — Mislaid draws its immense humor and literary ingenuity from the postwar American South, that weird, melodramatic dispositif of class, race, and gender lines that strains to confine our lives even today. By the end of Mislaid, the satire dissolves into parody, or vice versa, leaving a cast of characters — of human animals in a habitat — who have rearranged their limitations, in a way that may offend many readers, in order to pursue better, shared lives. … Read More

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Teaching Trigger Warnings: What Pundits Don’t Understand About the Year’s Most Controversial Higher-Ed Debate

When Kyla Bender-Baird was an undergraduate a decade ago, a gender studies lecture she was attending ended with an incident she’ll never forget: a visiting professor played a rape victim’s graphic 911 call. Then the class was dismissed and, she says, everyone went home dazed and had “messed-up dreams” that night.

Although the professor apologized at the next session for failing to place the recording in appropriate context and give students adequate time to process it, Bender-Baird kept the incident in mind when she became a PhD candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center, teaching sociology courses to undergraduates. Now, she includes a note at the end of her syllabus,that reads, in part:

It is my goal in this class to create a safe environment in which we examine our assumptions… Discomfort can be part of the learning process as we are challenged to shift our paradigms. I invite you to sit with this discomfort. However, if the discomfort starts to turn to distress, I want you to take care of yourself. You can withdraw from an activity or even leave the classroom.

… Read More

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Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose Novels: The Fragile Redemption of a Mercilessly Examined Life

“I was thinking that life is just the history of what we give our attention to,” says the title character of Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose Novels, just a few pages into the series’ fifth and final volume, 2012’s At Last. “The rest is packaging.” He is speaking to one of his recently deceased mother Eleanor’s silly (if sincere) friends from the New Age movement, but like most of the dialogue in these books, Patrick’s observation works on multiple levels. In this case, he’s also articulating a vital way of looking at St. Aubyn’s 20-year autobiographical fiction project, mercilessly examining his own personal history through the eyes of an equally exacting alter ego. … Read More

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The Internet’s Best Film Podcast Goes True Crime — and Takes on Charles Manson

Movie podcasts are not hard to come by these days. Just about every film-centric website has its own weekly get-together, where the writers and guests hash out new releases and noteworthy anniversaries and the like; most of my favorite film writers have shows of their own, with a similar, discussion-and-review format. But from its inception just over a year ago, Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This has separated itself from the pack not only in terms of quality (though many of those shows are very good), but in terms of style. … Read More

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Michael B. Jordan’s Human Torch, Furiosa’s Feminism, and the New Identity Politics of Super-Mainstream Cinema

Arguments over identity politics are familiar on the Internet and in classrooms, but now they’ve made inroads from message boards to the previews and actions sequences of major blockbuster films. Today, different ideological groups are duking it out over individual characters in super-mainstream pop culture, either using them as avatars of their points of view or rejecting them as avatars of an insidious progressive agenda. Whether it’s MRAs freaking out about the feminism of “Mad Max” or racists reading a black Human Torch as a symbol of the ultimate affront of the Obama era, inclusive strains in new films have outraged social conservatives. Yet simultaneously, progressives are pushing hard for directors and studios to continue making their big-budget films even more accurately reflective of their devoted fandoms, in all their diverse glory. … Read More

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