January 1 2024
reflections on 2023
Daniel Saldaña Paris: On January 1st, at 7 am, I left my apartment in Bed-Stuy determined to bike to Coney Island to welcome the new year, but there was a fat, beautiful possum on the stoop, blocking the building’s door. I gently tried to get him to move but he wouldn’t, he just stared at me, half asleep, annoyed by my insistence. That really set the tone for the year ahead, a year of good intentions derailed by wild surprises. In July, I talked to a tree in the Swiss countryside, and I remembered how my dad had taught me to talk to the trees when I was a kid—he didn't want to pay a therapist— and the tree’s silence seemed very Lacanian to me, so I decided I’d go back, but I didn’t, I haven’t. I am grateful for the plans that were canceled, the planes that were re-routed, the projects put on pause when I was overwhelmed by life. Pregnancies were announced, marriages proposed, illnesses deemed terminal. I did, eventually, make it to the beach, in May, after running 13 miles, and then again in September, with a sound recorder, willing to make a voice note for myself, but the wind was blowing and the recording is just noise. Beautiful, wild noise.
Sarah Schulman: The year that the paradigm shifted. Realities about Palestine and Israeli occupation that had been repressed successfully for years finally came to surface as the world makes clear, daily, that the people do not want this war, despite the governments' insistence on perpetuating it. Age old scare tactics of intimidation—firing people, making false accusations of anti-semitism, banning student groups—are not working any more. And a counter-culture of resistance is emerging in a significant way. Despite the fact that we have not been able to end the suffering of Palestinian people, I am so proud of the work of the two organizations I am connected to: Students for Justice in Palestine, where I served as faculty advisor for years, and Jewish Voice for Peace, where I serve on the Advisory Board. I am especially proud to see JVP recreate classic actions from ACT UP's playbook: the sit-ins at Grand Central Station and the Manhattan Bridge, and the use of the term “New York Crimes” to make plain the immoral role of the New York Times in this brutal war on civilians, right out of AIDS activism. It creates a trajectory of rebellion from the best of queer politics to this newly forming culture.
Best films of the year: Jonathan Glaser's Zone of Interest and Georgia Oakley's Blue Jean. My favorite books of the year: We Could Have Been Friends, My Father and I: A Palestinian Memoir by Raja Shehadeh (Other Press) and Kidada Williams' I Saw Death Coming: A History of Terror and Survival in the War Against Reconstruction (Bloomsbury).
Catherine Quan Damman: The week before the new year was iridescent, slow, giddily perfect. Then, the calendar turned over. I held tight to the fantasy that crowding the mind with extravagant tasks and infinite pages might smother, like a psychedelic wool blanket, the burning material of everything else. I did too much of one thing and too little of another. I listened to Television, stared into the eyes of every second-hand Furby on eBay like one might be God, smoked cigarettes on the sidewalk. There was a near-miss in the classroom and an interrupted flow of blood to the brain, each distinctly horrific. I desperately wanted to be clear but wasn't. An albatross was in the crossbow’s scope, ragged claws kept scuttling. Like always, I tried to be a less bad daughter. I went back, sweetly, to the apartment in which I lived at twenty. I went back, stupidly, to other things. Predicted failure in a parked car. Engines stalled, keys stuck in locks. I was hideously depressed—then, a tiny bit better. A friend came to the city and brought with her that obscenity we call brief happiness. Found apposite: the sublime wedding scene in Little Murders (Alan Arkin, 1971), the immaculate title, Sorry for Suffering—You Think I'm a Puppy on a Picnic? (Lee Bul, 1990), half a poem by Linda Gregg. There was a bad trip, but not, this time, to Maine. The summer never felt hot enough. I sent a few emails, hurled in the bathroom at MoMA, got rid of stuff, feebly attempted “cord management.” There was a war. We wept, went to jail. As often as I forgot to eat I was fed. Palestine isn’t yet free and I fell in love. How stupid is that?
Mary Kate O’Sullivan: Last year’s devotion to MELL (My Exact Little Life) traveled into 2023 and has continued to be the modus operandi. I had a divine birthday early in the year, with you and so many other loved ones. A month later I met Kevin. I’ve been relaxed ever since.
Carlos Niño: Wow, 2023, this magical Being (that we named Moss) came through my Partner Annelise, into this realm, in new Human form . . . That has been such a massive heart, Love expander. I helped another Being come through, who is nearing their 25th Solar Return Anniversary. They make Videos, Films, write extensively and Love Cannabis. Thinking about the Earth, considering all of the Beings here on the surface of this planet. Thinking about our Environments and Ecosystems . . . It's so crazy that Humans are still acting out such brutality. I feel called to keep doing what I can do, to keep applying myself in Community and connection with others, considering and caring for how we Live here. There are so many paths, so many experiences, and interpretations . . . Making and releasing albums of Music, reports from depth Sonic Journeys, themes and loops that I share because they touch me and may Inspire others, is still very meaningful to me. I wish everyone well, even those that I really don't like. Being that we are in this together, I am always working toward the Vision that we can change our course, even if it seems impossible, or too late . . . That we can Live in our full diversity, but Harmoniously, that we can shift from greed, violence and oppression. Music is my favorite vehicle for the energetic and literal messages of this change. I am so grateful for so many of my Friends and also folks that I have not (yet) met: Iasos, Laraaji, Ariel Kalma, Bernard Xolotl, Luis Peréz Ixoneztli, André 3000, Nate Mercereau, Surya Botofasina, Adam Rudolph, Liv.e, Shabaka Hutchings, Ben LaMar Gay, Yonatan Gat, Nep Sidhu, Ishmael Butler, Devon Ojas, Celia Hollander, Thandi Ntuli, Deantoni Parks, Idris Ackamoor, Mike, Bill Laswell, Hamid Drake, Diego Gaeta, Jamael Dean, Sam Gendel, Aztlan Unearthed, Maia, V.C.R, Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, Dexter Story, Randal Fisher, Photay, Jamire Williams, Michael Gregory Jackson, Sibusile Xaba, Falle Nioke, Devin Daniels, Aaron Shaw, Kamasi Washington, Mia Doi Todd, Jesse Peterson, Terence Nance, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Jimetta Rose, Andy Kravitz, Scottie McNiece, David Allen, Matthewdavid, Diva, Justin Hansohn, Woo, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Vegyn, Duval Timothy, Actress, Julia Holter, Luke Schneider, Knxwledge., Madlib, J Rocc, Q-Tip, Merina Herlop, Miles Spilsbury, Helado Negro, Grace Oh, Darius Jones, Josh Johnson, Jason Moran, L'Rain, Esperanza Spalding, Mndsgn., Sam Wilkes, Sufjan Stevens, Anohni, serpentwithfeet, Kendrick Lamar, Douglas McGowan, Devin Morrison, Girma Yifrashewa, Nduduzo Makhathini, Brittany Howard, Dwight Trible, Kamau Daaood, Colloboh, Saul Williams, Yasiin Bey, Dntel, Noah Klein, Tiffany de Leon, Jason Lader, Linafornia, Quelle Chris, Beverly Glenn-Copeland, Loris S. Sarid, King Krule, N Kramer, Daedelus, The Growth Eternal, Sudan Archives, Qur'an Shaheed, Pink Siifu, Mac Demarco, Eric André, Brian Eno, Nicole Mitchell, Milton Nascimento, Hermeto Pascoal, Tisziji Muñoz, Joshua Abrams, Steve Lacy, Thundercat, Azar Lawrence, Farmer Dave, Will Logan, John Carroll Kirby, 2000BLACK, Keidi Tatham, Erykah Badu, Lonnie Holley, Travis Lett, Alex Kelman, Abstract Black, Wendell Harrison, Phil Ranelin, Mach-Hommy, MidnightRoba, Nia Archives, Lionmilk, Charles Lloyd, Don Hernandez, Navy Blue, Shafiq Husayn, RZA, Josef Leimberg, Angel Bat Dawid, Jay Versace, Tyler, The Creator, Anna Butterss, Daniel Rotem, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Secret Circuit, Armen Nalbandian, Meshell Ndegeocello, Jeff Parker, Kofi Flexxx, Anthony Braxton, Green-House, Greg Paul, Jamma Dee, Eyedress, Count Bass D, Kate Magic, IG Culture, DJ Premier, Zeroh, Low Leaf, and . . .To those who have Transitioned from this realm . . . Thank You! We Love and Appreciate You, and feel you always . . . We will continue . . . Life is very alive! (Wednesday, November 29, 2023 Topanga Canyon, California 8:28am)
Anne Boyer: I broke half my life and gave the other half away, moved across the world to a dark perch on a foggy island. The moon arrives at 4 pm. To experience the glamor and mystery of the night while possessing the clear mind of the day– beautiful, dubious, pretend. In our tenement flat, we have no soft furnishings. Everything is a surface for writing. I dream better on the floor. I quit a job in protest. I think hard about the relationship of the arts, in particular poetry, to the institutions. I think about our century. We had watched the means of marginal living become enclosed. We had become supplicants. We had become like the man from the countryside who becomes hyper-attuned to the fleas in the collar of Kafka’s gatekeeper. We must finally turn our eyes away from those fleas, the law, that door. Look at the war, look at what those institutions actually think not just of us, but of everything and everyone, the meager version of life they propose, their grosser propositions for death. It's administration vs. infinitude. Can we now find the solidarity of the infinite?
Emily Gould: 2023 was the worst year of my life and I’m grateful to have survived it, to be able to read and write again, and to begin to appreciate life again in a way I didn’t for months. I’m also grateful for psych meds and therapy.
Alice Gregory: This year, I traveled a lot, rewrote my book twice, and had a baby. But it feels like I’ve done nothing. I think it’s because I read less fiction than I ever have in my entire life. I only realized the correlation two seconds ago, as I was typing. Can’t tell if this is a heartening revelation (in that it is easy to correct for) or a grim one (in that my own experiences apparently matter less to me than ones made up by other people).
Catherine Lacey: I started this year in a stranger’s house somewhere in or near Coyoacán, methodically eating a dozen grapes with more psychoanalysts than I had ever seen gathered in one place. It was a joyful and surreal start to a year in which I felt more deeply engaged with poetry, with hope, with the work of Francis Alÿs, with faith of all sorts, with listening, with learning new skills. I found some new favorite writers: Khashayar Khabushani, Jenny Diski, Ia Genberg, Hernan Diaz, Hua Hsu, Chloe Cooper Jones, Nuar Alsadir, Jakuta Alikavazovic, and Andrew Martin and I spent more time with old favorites: John Berger, Fleur Jaeggy, Frank O'Hara, Joy Williams, Lydia Davis, Camille Bordas, Shane McCrae, Sarah Manguso and Dorothea Lasky, among many others. I adored films by Tea Lindeburg (a fantastic debut called As in Heaven), Ira Sachs (Passages), Laura Poitras (The Beauty and the Bloodshed), Whit Stillman (a very satisfying re-watch of Metropolitan), Paul B Preciado (Orlando: My Political Biography), and Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War). When I think of how many people are out here trying to make real, honest, generous work to share with others and how much poetry and film and art is already in the world, just waiting to be cried over, I feel like I can get through just about anything and quite happily. I also proposed (marriage! for real!) down on one knee to the most wonderful human I’ve ever met (he said yes!) and it occurs to me that kneeling is a posture I rarely find myself in much since I was a kid and I’m going to try to kneel more going forward, literally or metaphorically, to get down below the people and things that fill you with awe and offer up your devotion.
Danielle Carr: This year, I almost completely fixed my personality. And next year, I'm planning to get to the rest.
Lawrence English: Each year two species of birds travel south from Papua to us, here in Meanjin/Brisbane. They are both types of cuckoo, birds derided by endemic species for their thievery of nests. The first to arrive is the channel billed cuckoo, a giant bird that looks not that unlike a hornbill. Their voices, often heard in the wee hours of the morning are what you might imagine prehistoric species to sound like. They chatter and then cry out with a shrill piercing scrap that brings on an instant piloerection.
The other species is equally contemptible, but for another reason. The male Koel bird literally sounds like an alarm, and they love to call at dawn. And then continue calling until not a single living thing around them can sleep any longer. These two species of birds mark a seasonal shift here. They are the promise of the summer.
I tend to track their arrivals, partly out of my admiration for their journey south and also because they are one of a number of distinct living markers that actually lace into how we can understand the changing of season here. This is not the northern hemisphere, fall means nothing to us, nor really does winter, though so much of our understanding of time and change is tethered to these old world anchors.
This year the Channel Billed cuckoo arrived a week or so earlier than last year. I think in fact this is a trend of the past few years. By contrast, the Koel arrived several weeks later than last year. I’m not sure exactly what these early and late arrivals mean, but I think they speak to a changing world; literally and metaphorically.
I am in constant wonder of this place, and of the people and things that fill it. I lost a few of those people this year and it reminded me to pay attention to the small things, the small changes, and to cherish that which is now and the memories of what has been, all the while aspiring to the beautiful uncertainty of the next moments. Be good to each other out there folks, that’s all we got.
David Grubbs: Making work by distracting oneself with friends. The year a blur of collaborations, a keeping-sane by saying "yes," even when the person making the proposition assumes you possess skills that in fact you'll learn by doing. I maintain the fiction that everyone I know knows one another; a related fiction is that all of my music peeps take the same pleasure in poetry and art, and also breathe politics. So here's a toast to friends who range the most freely.
François Bonnet: This year has unfolded at different speeds. Immobile at times, in the face of the difficulties to be overcome and the ambient inertia. Almost immediate, too, where, with the blink of an eye, we already find ourselves at the end of the twelve-month cycle punctuated by imperishable moments, scattered across many impossible places: the green mountains of Vermont, the megalithic fields of Carnac, the colourful Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, the shores of Lac Léman, the ochre of the walls of Siena, the ever-changing blue of the Atlantic or the Manche. And always, in these multiple locations, the presence of friends and loved ones who make the world a little less impossible, despite everything. All in all, It's been a year of drifting along in a sort of ghost-seam with the company of a disparate but indispensable gang.
Jason Williamson (Sleaford Mods): I think I’ve started to experience the other side of career professionalism this year. Since 2019 we’ve aimed to extend our reach as a band. We did this purposely with the manipulation of approach in writing methods. We collaborated with people, women mostly, to represent women but also because a lot of the time we preferred a female vocal. We introduced a lighting show with a lot of the bigger shows. More people turned up to watch because of these things. The performance changed, we became performers that perhaps eight years ago we wouldn’t have understood. So this year has also been a period of living with this and trying to understand why we are who we are now. I would like to stress tho that this change is subtle, our framework is very skeletal and a complete overall would be hideously apparent, and obviously that has not taken place. So this change has been for survival of course but it’s also because we want to write things we still like. We’ve been lucky that the two things have materialized in agreeable ways. This year has also been a crash course in skepticism towards the hard left and the left in general. We are a people inclusive band with humanist beliefs but obviously you have to be realistic too. It’s no good just denouncing all war induced murder. Because war will never end. But what else is there to then say. Nothing. So you finish at your original point of No War. Perhaps the injection of insight and as much knowledge as you feel is relevant to whichever subject you are concerned with, is a must do responsibility. I currently feel that it is but a certain amount of rational thinking also needs to accompany this, in that you have to have measure and not fall into the emotion led traps of the echo chamber. Leaving ‘X’ has helped me on this particular point in unimaginable ways. For the record this isn’t an endorsement for the Right either. Anyone who knows our music would feel I shouldn’t have to explain that. This year has also been a hard lesson in self control. In discipline of self, on tour. Of solitude and loneliness and how that can potentially curdle your thoughts into realms of distorted truths. Of being mindful of the complexity of those who you think you know, but at that moment you realize there are deeper levels of understanding to recognise in them. To cope with external chaos also. Of threat, violence and worry from the instability of world order. As an end note it’s also important to mention that I’ve just liked having a fucking laugh too, to be honest. Of exacting a humour I got from my parents and old relations of the past onto anyone within my close vicinity haha. Happy New Year to you all.
Kazim Ali: 2023. I don't know. I wore black. My mother died in May. Everything before and after seems to disappear into that reality. None of the old adages—“she’s still with you,” “she’s part of the eternal matter of the universe now,” “you’ll see her again”—matter in the least. Utter brutality of war (AGAIN) in Gaza. I released a book (September), visited the Lucille Clifton archives (August), I tried to live. In Muslim tradition, we bury right away. Also in Muslim tradition a son (I am. Was.) must take his parent's shoulders in the grave and shake them to remind her she is no longer alive and must leave the body behind. I took her shoulders but I could not shake her, only gently pressed and whispered to her the news. It was May, the end of May, May 25. I was driving into the desert. Part of me is always still there: driving into the desert, the arms of the great windmills turning. It is not yet 3pm. I have not yet received any call. She is still alive.
Chloe Watlington: This year I got to keep my new boyfriend and we had a baby. For the sixth year in a row my psychoanalyst called me once a week. The boyfriend used to be a professional criminal now he reads and translates Hegel, Lacan, Cesarano, with other translators on zoom, sentence by sentence, un or underpaid. My analyst asks, “have you had any dreams lately?” And I have, I have had nightmarish dreams about the rise of fascism, about hiding Alice in the floorboards as unnamed armed forces come looking for our safe house. I was talking to her, the analyst, today, on the roof of the larb office, telling her about this dream, and how I can’t imagine a happy future because of the war on Gaza, because I look at Alice and I see the mothers without babies; babies without mothers. She responded, “What brought this on?” And I thought that was a good question without an answer. But then Kissinger died and I sat facing an even more cruel future, a transfigured beast of history in the making, way beyond the scope of the one he created. So then I guess what is most significant about the dream is that I was hiding. But that was last year. I won’t hide in 2024.
Catherine Nichols: I fell down the stairs when I was twenty-three. I remember when I knew I wasn’t going to catch myself in time and that it was really going to hurt. Since then I usually remember that fall as a wish, when I want to listen to music that makes me feel like I’m falling down the stairs, or I want to read a book that feels like I’m about to get hurt. “I want to fall down the stairs of beauty” is something I have written in my journal probably ten or twenty times. This year I thought about that fall again, because I started feeling okay with a sudden, sort of shocking change in my center of gravity—the reverse of falling. A lot of the time this year I felt just fine. It was a good year for me overall.
Charlie Fox: 2023 was the Year of the Wolf. Being big fans of misunderstood beasts and also possibly in the name of research, me and my friend Oliver Leith, the composer, find a place in the wilds of the English west country where we can hang out with wolves in exchange for cash. Neither of us actually look into what this experience will entail, we just get on the train. And after a couple of sly Guinness in a pub grotto where the grizzled locals are nodding out to the depressing firework show solo on ‘Comfortably Numb’ by Pink Floyd, we squelch down to the secret place.
The wolf daddy/keeper is a sweet guy with scarred hands. ‘If they wanted to, lads, they could take your arms off.’ He will later make us tea and biscuits.
First we meet the wolves in a fetish club cage which is actually the gate between our world and theirs. They jump up and lick our faces, paws thumped on our shoulders as if we’re about to dance together so I feel like Red Riding Hood at prom. Then we sit and marvel at the two wolves in their habitat for like an hour. Meanwhile, a bunch of wolves lying on rocks watch us thoughtfully from the other side of a tall wire-mesh fence.
The majestic black and silver lad we’re stroking in the picture is called Tarik. He’s from Siberia, he’s half Russian husky, half wolf but surprisingly chill and flirty—I don’t remember the specifics, I was too spellbound by his face. (Star, 100% wolf, is shyly padding around out of shot.) They smell fantastic, the fur is lush, and when they jump they don’t make a sound.
The wolf daddy/keeper’s wife throws the boys two big slabs of meat from a fort. Wolves can jump like LeBron. There’s a thump as they land, like somebody dropped a bowling ball.
When they stare at you, they X-ray you with their brain and hearts with their eyeballs. On their hind legs, they just seem like dudes. I get why werewolves exist on a practical level now. I don’t really know what the difference between an animal and a person is supposed to be anymore.
After a little while, we ask the wolves if they wanna howl with us, doing a few wild awooools as an icebreaker. They all join in, like a spooky choir.
A wolf’s howl is way more human than you think, which is maybe part of why they’re feared way more than the average carnivore. It’s low and sad until it soars and my whole heart gets goosebumps. Kind of like Sade. Or an angel being set on fire. All I wanted to be when I grew up was a wolf.
It was more magical than I will ever be able to tell you.
Lynne Tillman: Yesterday I came upon a term that sums up my attitude and sense of 2023. The Dunning-Kruger effect, in psychology, is a cognitive bias whereby people with limited knowledge or competence in a given intellectual or social domain greatly overestimate their own knowledge or competence in that domain relative to objective criteria or to the performance of their peers or of people in general. According to the researchers for whom it is named, psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the effect is explained by the fact that the metacognitive ability to recognize deficiencies in one’s own knowledge or competence requires that one possess at least a minimum level of the same kind of knowledge or competence, which those who exhibit the effect have not attained. Because they are unaware of their deficiencies, such people generally assume that they are not deficient, in keeping with the tendency of most people to “choose what they think is the most reasonable and optimal option.” Although not scientifically explored until the late 20th century, the phenomenon is familiar from ordinary life, and it has long been attested in common sayings—e.g., “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”—and in observations by writers and wits through the ages—e.g., “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge” (Charles Darwin).
In short, I am disturbed by this year’s rhetorical violence and speakers who lack historical knowledge; self-righteousness; obstinate binaries; tribal bellicosity, and, most importantly, an ignorance of the meaning of tragedy and its horrific consequences.
Lauren O’Neill-Butler: 2023 equaled twenty years in New York for me. I began the year fighting for my alma mater, New College of Florida, the place I left to come to New York. When things started to feel futile, I pushed my writing energy back into a book. In the summer, I traveled alone to a small town in Italy and wrote from a balcony for two weeks that overlooks the sea. I also listened to church bells, watched fireworks, and almost daily took the bus down the winding road to the beach. It was lonely and it was glorious.
Joe Levy: The day after Thanksgiving no one had shown up for the 8:00 class at Overthrow, a boxing place on Bleecker Street, so I was sitting in the basement listening to some music with Reggie Revels, a trumpeter and rapper who’s an instructor there. Art Ensemble of Chicago, Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman — like that. Reggie was talking about one of his teachers, Barry Harris (that’s him on piano on Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder”) and wondering about whether anyone wants to learn to play these days. And then he said something that froze me: no one he hangs with wants to be American anymore. I mean, right, of course not. The house is on fire. We don’t need no water. Let the motherfucker burn. Except listening to that music I was also thinking about something else. About the way that house on fire had been turned into art over and over again, and the way I used to believe (and still want to hope) that that art could change things (hearts, minds) just by existing. And about the way that house — city on a hill, mansion on the hill, whatever you want to call it — was always out of reach, but now is it even there to reach for? A hearse made of American wood. That's from the end of Moby Dick. It's a prophecy that Ahab has discounted, only now as his ship is sinking it’s coming true. There’s too much prophecy there. Ahab is a captain of industry, involved in exterminating nature in pursuit of oil, among other things. All that can’t be in a 172-year-old book. But it is. A hearse. Made of American wood.
Nausicaa Renner: When I was younger, like as a kid, I was terrified of death. My dad said to me, it won't matter to you as much when you're older. I remember someone — him, or me — benchmarking the change at 26. I held on to that, and kept saying to myself, "you don't have to think about this now, you can save it for when you're 26." I'm 33, and I think I'm just beginning to reach the point of caring a hair less than I once did. Or a braid less. What made a difference, I think, is that I made a concerted effort in 2023 to think more about myself as a tiny part of a giant organism, a prosthetic pinky. Which is to say, I matured a lot, but it's more than that. I am changing from cold skeptical critic to someone who looks at the world more psychedelically, more psychotically. It's not just about recognizing that there are people alive besides myself, it's about allowing my sense of myself and of the world to fragment, as if through a fly's eye, not needing to hold it together so tightly into coherence. I started to see coherence as driven by anxiety, the anxiety of needing to control. Instead, if you can imagine that your emotional life is not your own, but rather is like a wave moving through you like a pulse of blood, that you are acting on behalf of others and others are acting on behalf of you — and that if I pull on one part of a spider web, the other side of the web gets taut... ugh, the problem with reaching enlightenment is that it is so grating. (And I have never even taken psychedelics!) You just have to get there yourself.
Janique Vigier: On a whim in June I went to London for a party. I thought maybe it would change my life, and I was right.
Tiana Reid: 2023! 2023! 2023! I had sex for the first time in [redacted] years. And then I had sex again. The world fell apart, again and again and again. I started psychoanalysis. My inner world, though, was kept intact. I went to comp lit camp at Harvard where I started, but did not finish, my essay about how black literature interrupts world literature. So what??? I wanted all worlds to unravel but here we are, at the end of this year, again, living on a failure.
Nothing in a vacuum will pull you right side up. Arch your back to resist the static. Fists and knuckles. Pull it all apart. Nothing louder than a pause. Unalive and unrested. At the end you hear the rush. It sounds like a river but it is your own body, though this time you hear it from the inside. A shore break or a creek.
Reentering the metropolis
The fact was, it was easier to look up at the leaves. To look down while walking. To look over at the moving reflection to the side. At anything. It seemed to never be over. I said to my winter coat, I don’t know everything. I knew some things but I put them in a confined space on the outside curb, beneath other things that were not mine, and told them not to disturb me. You need to live outside I said, you are not indoor knowledge. I kept hearing small voices and wondered who they belonged to. It was unnerving. Maybe an elaborate version of tinnitus. Doctors tend to not believe me. I kept seeing the ground move when walking the concrete sidewalks. The lines kept distorting into shapes of rubble, it was still and then moving and then still again.
Science Fiction kept me ready
You could never have guessed who would stand by you and who would fall to the side. People with much to lose would object and others embedded stayed silent. We had agreed who was in the wrong when we were not in the web ourselves, and back then it gave you comfort thinking you had a community of peers, soothed by similar statements in their various forms. But now, there is no knowing who they are, knowing anything about what is inside of them. My past is a scroll of strangers, with only some faces I still know.
It wore a slightly different mask in each era. Its face was never hidden, truly, but it was made up enough for people to treat it like an acquaintance on the street they were not ready to engage with. Rather fix upon a blurry spot behind it pretending to see something else. It was smart then, for choosing us, knowing our avoidant tendencies. This is when science fiction turns to mere prediction. We greet the moral ends with a nod as we depart the building. It’s that blurry point in the distance. If you stare hard and long enough it might reveal something. But it might be too late to tell anyone.
Winter walks in bringing continued lacerations. The portals light up the sky, as the sky is thinning, and sometimes we find our way and sometimes the path halts full stop. Our news is a chain letter. We exchange facts. Something is afire, needing replacement. The fog obscures the towers, dims the light. This is not rest. I get lost too. Just a hundred thousand steps to having tried everything. We have not yet tried everything. Keep walking. The fog is everywhere but there is no way but through. Wade. I stumble on the rubble that is not there. This floor is smooth and polished. I fall just the same.
Hear the sunbird sing
Inney Prakash: It’s the end of the year and I’ve just been laid off, which is preferable to the beginning of the year in my opinion (though I was also laid off at the beginning of the year, that time temporarily). I spent three and a half life-changing years at this job, working alongside the most brilliant colleagues and hosting a revolving door of filmmakers dear to me, in one of the city’s most special spaces. Moving on is a melancholy proposition. No such personal misfortune, however, appears significant in light of the genocide being perpetrated by Israel, by America, by your tax dollars and mine. I claim no right to grief and so with friends and comrades hit the streets, participate in actions, keep sharing on social media in the hopes that people won’t change the subject. Among the highlights of my year was interviewing Ken Loach, who along with others was expelled from the Labor party for voicing Palestine’s cause. Now we see the final cost of the Western establishment’s decades-long denial: total obliteration of any remaining claims to concern for human freedom, dignity or life. I hope that all decent people will enter the next year resisting, building new networks of knowledge and care to determine how we move beyond this abject moral degradation, and affirming this: that from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.
Kay Gabriel: A little-observed news item in a horrific year: a coalition of labor unions and left organizations led by the NYC chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America passed the first Green New Deal legislation in the US. The Build Public Renewables Act effectively creates an enforcement mechanism for New York's visionary but otherwise toothless 2019 climate legislation. It mandates that New York build publicly-owned renewable energy infrastructure to decarbonize its grid, and to do so with union labor only. Passing this non-reformist reform required years of painfully reality-based organizing whose first principle was researching, understanding, and moving the power structure that could either make this win possible or inhibit it completely. The political coalition that realized this vision emerged from a precious alignment between labor and the political left—rare in this country, but decreasingly so, and I write that in the wake of the UAW having become the first major national union in the US to call for a ceasefire in Israel's genocidal war on Gaza. In an essay for n+1, I argued that a similar coalition between educators' and healthcare workers' unions and fighters for trans liberation will be necessary to beat the far-right's attempt to wield anti-trans lawfare in decimating the power and political coalitions of working people. Recognizing that we don't have the time not to win, people who want desperately to change our heinous conditions need to learn what works, as the labor organizer Jane McAlevey urges, and put that knowledge swiftly into practice. My strength comes from seeing people learn so much so fast—in the anti-war movement, and everywhere else we look.
Dan Fox: SFJ invited me to write my impressions of the year 2023 but I’m bad at impressions and nobody does death’s voice right until they reach the end. The word “reflection” was in the invitation too, but who wants war and genocide gazing into you as they do their hair and brush their fangs? I was glad to see that he avoided the usual end-of-year column names. Having “favorites'' entails leaving someone out in the cold. “Best of” makes me think of besting an opponent. “Picks” are sharp tools for breaking, prying and chopping. A “roundup” is what farmers do with cattle and armies do with civilians. “Top” is what gardeners do to flower heads. In any case, the most that Top Favorite Best of Roundups can achieve is to choose flecks of foam from the crests of wind-driven waves, because 99.9 percent of things worth celebrating in the world this year, as with every other year, have occurred in private. In the invisible deep, near the sea bed, unrewarded, unthanked, sans cute pinging hearts of piety. Acts of kindness, peace, empathy, devotion, protection and other things that have labels which the cold dead hands of institutions will be eager to prise off and stitch together into human-shaped masks. Qualities waiting to be returned with mockery by the seminar-clever and by prelates quick to market their expert goodness and scold those who genuflect incorrectly before speaking. And these invisible acts will have happened in the dark next to suffering, sickness and isolation, coterminous with countless final breaths at which nobody will have been able to pay witness, or hold a hand for the last time.
Sanctimony is a cheap processed snack. Believe me, I’ve tried it. It turns my tongue purple and makes me embarrassed to go out for weeks after. But I'll risk it by looking ahead to 2024 and ask: what will next year’s winner’s trophies look like? A screenshot, the caption: “I’m so grateful to God for including my army in his Artforum favorites list. (Prayer hands emoji.).” A roundup, a besting, the ground piled with heads picked and topped from flowers.
Jessica Loudis: What a shit year. Amazing how the world can momentarily pause every so often in the midst of terrible things happening and you'll think, "Oh, this might be it," and then it all will get worse. But we must go on, and so, here are a few things that brought me joy this year: Taiwan, with all its subtropical beauty and decay and a food culture deserving of a religion; Jonny Steinberg’s Mandela biography; sotol; seeing Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra at the Waldbuhne; Schezuan everything; my very boomer Aura digital photo frame; finally getting cupboard doors installed and watching the cat look dismayed when she realized she could no longer jump in there and destroy glasses; Kurdish food on Reichenberger Str.; Naomi Klein's Doppelganger; the writing of Sophie Elmhirst and Rozina Ali; all things George Santos; all things Sam Bankman-Fried; the Vermeer show at the Rijksmuseum; aerial views of Seoul; being at home.
Derek Baron: In a 2012 conversation with educator Heather Bursheh and composer Issa Boulos, the Palestinian music scholar and curator Nader Jalal said, “Folklore is the widest pool of material used by the people, and its accessibility allows people to participate in it. Folkloric tunes are often composed in a communal way, and because the melody is simple, it is easy for it to move around, and easy to add to it, so the dal‘ūnā, for example, becomes hundreds of thousands of verses, not a song in four sections.” Describing the musical life of Palestine before the 1948 Nakba, Jalal spoke of the efflorescence of genres and practices of music in social life: “Mothers would sing their babies to sleep: this practice has a song genre attached to it. The children who play in the neighborhood had their own specific songs for catching birds and setting traps; they sang to the bird to entertain themselves and to bring the bird down from its nest. So all the age groups have their own means of expression through song, and they are divided according to the occasion: there are songs for fun, songs for games, songs for work, songs for occasions, songs for festivals, et cetera.”
It’s the end of 2023 and for the last two months so much of the world has been witnessing in horror the Israeli state perpetrate a world-historical, genocidal assault against the Palestinian people in the name of “Jewish safety”––an abusive contortion of the actual need for all people to live in safety that I find despicable, not to mention maddeningly self-defeating. As of this writing, around 20,000 Gazans have been killed with many more tens of thousands injured, missing, and buried under the rubble. More than a million and a half people have been displaced, squeezed into a smaller and smaller area in the south of the Gaza Strip, while the evacuation zones declared by Israel itself come under heavier and heavier bombardment. By the time anyone reads this, the numbers will be much higher and we will be facing a newest wave of atrocities to attempt to vanquish the memory of the previous one. So many people have said this in multiple forms throughout this depravity, but all I can say right now is that this is the worst thing I have ever seen, and it continues to get worse.
At the same time, the #1 song on the Israeli pop charts is “Harbu Darbu” by Ness & Stilla, which, besides sounding like a state-funded AI attempt to appropriate Brooklyn drill, is hailed as a “Zionist anthem” that compares Palestinians to “mice” and the “sons of Amalek,” parroting the deranged, ge(n)ocidal Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s implicit calls—fulfilled by the IDF—to destroy Palestinian men, women, children, infrastructure, life-sustaining conditions, without distinction or remorse. I’m not qualified to talk about the misappropriation of Arabic slang in the song, but people are writing about it around the internet. What I do know is that the song sickens me. Inspired by Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi’s recent exploration of the parallels between Palestine and Vietnam, I launched into a YouTube hole of pro-Vietnam War American music—a funny little archive of bullshit rightfully overshadowed by the massive body of American anti-war music from that era. Addressing his mother in a 1965 single, Dave Dudley crooned, “Tell them that we’re fighting for the old Red White and Blue; Did they forget Pearl Harbor and Korea too?” (In the blunt racial reasoning of Cold War patriotism, the memory of Pearl Harbor and Korea should be self-evident arguments in favor of the Vietnam War because of … what, phenotype of the enemy?) It’s telling, though, that the “them” about whom Dudley liltingly complains to his mom is not the Viet Cong, or even the Soviets: it is the American anti-war movement, those no-good hippies “marching in our streets” carrying signs that say “we don’t fight for peace.” It is these ungrateful peaceniks that need to be reminded that “another flag must never fly above our nation’s door.” Despite the fact that it was not exactly the Viet Cong’s intention to invade and conquer the United States, the pro-war reasoning of the song retreats into deeply coded scripts of self-defense and border integrity to justify imperial slaughter halfway around the world. It is about a song that purports to be about standing behind your nation in a just war, but is really about the fear of a left that bears an alternative (“we don’t fight for peace”), thus threatening to undermine the anxious attachment to a state that will send poor people to die and to kill for the sake of imperial geopolitics.
If Dudley sings from an affect of resignation, as if he knows somewhere deep down that this war should never have happened, the stance of “Harbu Darbu” is more in the manic than the depressive stance: addressing IDF forces (“Are all units ready? One, two, shoot!”), Palestinians (“wait until the rain falls on you”), and anyone who uses the phrase “Free Palestine” (“sounds like a holiday sale to me”), including, presumably, the millions of us mobilizing in the pro-Palestinian movement around the world. It’s a song that transforms the very real anguish following the massacre of October 7 (back) into a racist expression of violent nationalism and settler sovereignty, the weaponization of which has been the fabric of what Rashid Khalidi calls the “hundred years’ war on Palestine” (and thus was itself part of the context through which the October 7 attack must be understood). The song’s invocation of the Israeli children killed in the October 7 attack, to me, sounds like it comes not from grief, but from a pre-existing rage onto which even the memory of the Israeli dead is thrown like gasoline. This rage is contained in the coldness of the imagined community of militant Israeli nationalist consciousness which, as Noura Erakat said yesterday, is offering no future to anybody: for Palestinians, only death; but for Israelis, just more militarized “security state” apparatuses, more borders, more weapons, more death drive, more fear of a perpetual existential threat and a national narrative that requires a constant supply of persecution (real or imagined) against its own ethnos in order to rationalize its scorched-earth stance towards human life. In other words, no future at all. What kind of state requires the constant phantasm of an existential threat to its people in order to shore up its own reason for existence––as the only place in the world safe for Jews?
Just days after the expiration of a pathetically short ceasefire—an expiration that was marked by one of the deadliest single days on record since the onslaught began—Taylor Swift was named TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year. To those millions of us who have hardly been able to think about anything but the genocide since it began, images of autumnally be-layered Tay appeared on social media like a cloud of noxious, recycled air from the antiseptic domain of official culture. Here was a different angle from that of Dave Dudley and Ness & Stilla: music as sheer counterinsurgency, misdirection, neutralization. It also encapsulated for me why I get so annoyed at the “music as resistance” trope. For better and for worse, music is a patchy map of social life––a map that is the size of the territory, and just as fucked up, whether it’s ethnonationalist bloodlust (Ness & Stilla), melancholic apologias to a faltering empire (Dudley), dioramas of bourgeois interiority in too-late capitalism (Swift), or any of the music that people anywhere hold dear, lullabies, bird songs, children’s songs, the unbearable because too beautiful and the unbearable because too cruel.
I have a video on my phone, sent to me by my dad last year, of my 91-year-old grandmother, Paulie, sitting at a piano with my 2-year-old niece, Ariana. My grandma plays a descending C major scale with her right index finger while watching Ari, her great-granddaughter, who taps on the keys noiselessly. When Paulie descends to an A, Ari plays a quiet, staccato lower C, reinforcing the C major harmony but with a slight, melancholic hint of the relative minor. But when Paulie gets down to the C at the bottom of her scale, Ari plays a low A-flat with her entire tiny right hand. It’s a perfectly Brahmsian move (which means my singing to Ari when she was an infant has left its mark), a modulation to the chromatic submediant that turns the comforting arrival of the C in Paulie’s melody into a shard of the major-third in the unexpected new key. This moment of music could do anything, go anywhere. It is a world because Ariana and Paulie, like every single life, are worlds unto themselves. But at this moment the two players just stop, Paulie looks adoringly at Ari, and the video ends, and I watch it again.
The Talmudic tractate on Shabbat teaches that “The world endures only for the sake of the breath of children in the house of study.” The Zoharic interpreters add, “For the sake of those children, the world is saved. Corresponding to them, We will make you wreaths of gold.” If the world endures for the sake of the breath of children, for the sake of whom is the world destroyed? We have seen already such destruction’s costs––they are measured in ash-laden breaths of Palestinian children under the rubble of their houses of study (Darwish: “I know who paid the price.”) What I want is to know on whose behalf this cost is incurred: Israeli President Isaac Herzog says “Western civilization.” An unintended moment of absolute moral clarity: what we are dealing with here is a struggle between a racist fantasy called “Western civilization” on the one hand, and children breathing in their houses on the other.
I keep thinking of Jalal’s description of a folk form not as a genre but as a song with hundreds of thousands of verses. This song is the very world enduring, every verse a wreath of gold: an infinite serial form perpetually written over, day in and day out. Who, ultimately, is the audience for such a song? History, the storm we blew in on, which offers us the comfort neither of progress nor of pessimism. History the auditorium is both slaughter-bench and house of study, and it is our responsibility to make sure the world endures for the sake of everyone inside it.
Tai Shani: I wish I had something nicer to say at the close of the year according to the Gregorian calendar.
Despair-logged on an atomic scale brought new ambitions to my disassociation in 2023, a science fiction, glacial atmosphere, transmigrating a pitiful collection of ontological affects that together bear some kind of semblance of self from dream world to simulation and back again, I hallucinated soundtracks, I stayed despair locked, locked in hotel rooms dosing Xanax and beta blockers, double elsewhere me in an elsewhere room, room 452, 229, room 173. A sad, sad, scared sim.
In the films The Act of Killing and The Zone of Interest the recognition of atrocity is articulated through a sudden violent vomiting that visits the perpetrators, it coils unexpectedly out of their bodies up into their gaping serpent mouths, the sound of monstrous retching is the alarm that the cup of milky poison runneth over. It is here, we feel sick, I’m trying to remember the delicate gold pattern on the china upon which shit was served on in Salo, eating shit, gagging, eating shit silently time is here.
Here in what feels like a gravitational shift, a demimonde the timeline was a futurist industrial machine, that could trap your fingers in the speed of the pneumatic pistons pumping and snap them off, that it wouldn’t stop, or slow down, it pierced the sound barrier, it moved faster than I could process, things, horrific things happened faster than I could process and left me divining yesterday’s weather to myself. In the blur of the machinery there was the mangle of personal death and epic scales of political death, feeling sick and stripped in the irreconcilability of the small, big, BIG death of my mum being terminally sick and her imminent and terminal departure, the irrevocable unspooling of constituting presence, love, and the histories she/we/I carefully drag behind us, the intimacy, and sweet heart-breaking detail of personal lose that I can't absorb, colliding with the unabsorbable horrific statistic, thousands, thousands, thousands, thousands being brutally murdered in Gaza.
Marianela D’Aprile: Lately any time anyone asks me how my year was I say “I couldn’t tell you.” The question creates in my brain a wall of noise so dense it might as well be silence. When I look back through my calendar some events snap into focus: a trip to the West Coast, another to Chicago (both for weddings), the births of two friends’ children. I put several babies’ birthdays into my calendar this year. I also assembled furniture, drove to Ohio, and organized friends into shifts to help me pack my apartment. I learned some new train routes and went to the movie theater a lot. I cried at a production of Orpheus Descending, at a memorial, and at a picture of a newborn. When I think about this year the images that appear—the silvery underside of the water at St. John’s pool, the view down 6th Avenue, the stretch of Decatur where the street narrows—are a product of myself in motion.
Ian Fenton: In 2023, my wife’s collection of Virago Modern Classics increased by dozens of titles, and I found Slick Rick’s excellent The Art of Storytelling for one euro and fifty cents.
Olivia Kan-Sperling: As my life occurs, I like to moodboard it in a Note on my laptop that also functions as my to-do list, copy-paste-area, text drafts, etc. Though essentially diaristic, the images composing the moodboard are selected spontaneously from the (much vaster) trove of screenshots and .heics that merely document my days; in this sense, they are a quasi-aspirational aesthetic rendering of 2023 rather than an archive of it (my journal is in a separate Note). The visuals at top of my iCloud To Do List are meant to condition my day, like a legal nootropic supplement or outfit. It’s been pointed out how revelatory this practice is of my need to aesthetically modulate/process/forecast/manifest my experiences, but it also means I can answer this prompt about 2023 very easily. The moodboard can be read as a media diary: there’s pics of shows I went to or watched, illustrations from web articles I didn’t read, whatever. There’s the weather in NYC. There are some images considered universally relevant, like Sarah Snyder’s MSCHF photoshoot. It is also a graph of vibes, tones, MOODS over Time: we can see here how I cycled through periods of KMS—favoring pics of death/darkness—and attempts at rebirth—hopeful nods to yoga, nature, meditation, etc. Like fashion or like the seasons themselves, I believe the form of the monthly moodboard encourages efforts of psychological, or at least aesthetic, renewal. Whether it accomplishes this is another matter. Sometimes I had to repeat certain screenshots of my meditation app if I didn’t renew enough under the previous ‘board. But the main thing demonstrated by my 2023 Moodboard is what a great year it was for Kylie Jenner. And just beautiful women, generally. And how lucky we are to have unfettered access to images of them, all year long.
Lucy Sante: Every year is more terrifying than the previous nowadays, so terrifying that that has paradoxically made me more productive, since there's little else I can do other than to throw myself into work. But 2023 has been an odd year of waiting, irrespective of whatever else was going on. I submitted a manuscript in December 2022 and still have to wait until February 2024 to see it published, so the year felt like a hallway. Since the work is the first extended thing I've written about myself, with every wart exposed, the waiting has been even more freighted and fraught. I hope that in a couple of months I'll be able to breathe deeply again.
Paige K. B.: I won this year. They say that revenge is a dish best served cold, but, to paraphrase Fran Lebowitz, it’s actually good any time or any way you can get it. At the same time, I am called to be a servant of peace. Put the two together and you get that “girl who can do both” I remember so many Twitter jokes about back in the day. It me. This is the year when it became abundantly clear to me who I was going to have to leave behind given the speed I needed to go at. If you think I’m talking about you, I might be, and better luck next year trying to meet me where I’m at. To clarify, there are a number of other people already there. Judee, I did the best I could for you, but I suspect this is hardly a different world than the one you lived in. “Ever since a long time ago I’ve tried to let my feelings show / I’d like to think I’m being sincere but I’ll never know.” Here’s another scrap of someone else: “I’d like to begin by talking about myself,” as I parroted for a poetry reading this year where I stood up and gave the edited speech of a crowd of others, letting them talk through me because to be quite honest it seemed like the most honest gesture I could offer, whatever that says about me. LOL. But seriously, yes, it’s all true, what you heard and what I said, straight from the horse’s mouth. I’d love to begin by talking about myself, but the problem is the dead are silent and they have the most to say through me. I’d like to think I’m being sincere. But “I’m not writing to be pleasant and just have everybody say ‘what a pal!’” Every artist can be shown the door and shooed out through the servants’ entrance at any time no matter what. I think that’s also been made abundantly clear over the past few months, so insert something something here about how many don’t seem to grasp the difference between service to a calling and “that’s my bitch, I mean service animal, now hop to it.” But, guess what, I have this thing where when someone shuts a door on me
I jam my well-shod foot right in there
and will hold the tension and pain myself. Ouchie-wah-wah pedal. Barring that, there’s always a side door. Don’t mind if I just slither on in and shed my skin over the place.
January, as usual, behaved inappropriately.
February came on hard.
March sought the “right words,” then danced around them.
April, a terror, tasted of marzipan.
May tried to forget all about it.
June experimented with a high-key palette.
July booked a corner room with a bath.
August, despite all odds, did go home again.
September found it difficult to focus.
October totalled the getaway car.
November ate a peach out of season, then severed all ties.
December counted down the remaining days, each a window,
Tried to gather its thoughts into an attractive,
Unprecedented bundle. Unwieldy blossoms!
Teddy Blanks: I think I spent 2023 moving from one era of life to another. Still moving. Exciting, scary, fun.
In my headphones, two artists dominated: Devo and Warren Zevon. I've been a fan of Zevon for a while, but this year I did a deep-dive. Some new favorites, all ballads: “The Indifference of Heaven,” “The Heartache,” and Don Henley’s cover of Zevon’s “Searching for a Heart.”
Alex Molotkow: If I were to choose a word of the year, it might be "serious" — one of those words that is always used pointedly and whose meaning is never fixed. Both an honor and a pejorative, its strength is its imprecision: "serious" people know — or think they know — what "serious" means.
It was Succession, I think, that nudged the word back into everyday speech, first as a meme, then a descriptor on hand. In episode 2 of the show's final season, from April of this year, Logan Roy is trying to secure a big deal, which his kids, who resent him, are threatening to tank. He meets them at a karaoke lounge and appeals to them, first, with logic, which they won't hear. They demand an apology, which he won't give. Stalemated, he throws down a proclamation: You are not serious people. Viewers weren't necessarily on Logan’s side, but most, I think, agreed with him: there is a quality of seriousness that is good to have, that these characters do not. Logan is right that his kids are petty and undisciplined. They are right that he is heartless, and just as petty as they are.
On the other hand: in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, "Very Serious People" was an ironic term for those who laid claim to "seriousness," and weaponized it. "Tough-minded" individuals who convinced themselves, or made a project of convincing others, that going to war was a moral imperative. According to their rhetoric, "unserious" people were those naive, impetuous, uninformed, and possibly hateful souls who opposed the war. Over the past two months, some of those defending Israel's brutalization of Gaza, or failing to condemn it — those who consider themselves "serious," as opposed to, on the rightward flank, fanatical — have invoked similar rhetoric.
To claim "seriousness," then, is a potential red flag, a sign that you might in fact be the opposite. But I've found myself using it a lot lately, without irony, because I believe it has meaning after all, that it refers to something admirable, and something that exists. I am not willing to forfeit the term. "Seriousness," at least to me, means a capacity for self-interrogation, the practice of distinguishing one's feelings and reactions from one's beliefs — not just a faith in one's own conscience, but a commitment to justifying that faith. Ultimately, I think it is a willingness to upend one's sense of self if the truth necessitates that. I'm not saying it isn't difficult. The problem with Very Serious People, of course, is that they are so fundamentally, and disastrously, unserious: they're tasked with the most serious responsibilities, have the most serious credentials, make the most serious decisions, but they have no capacity for serious thinking, for moral discipline. To them, the most serious things of all mean nothing.
As the genocide in Gaza continues, those arguments against a ceasefire — or, increasingly, those tepid calls for a reduction in violence — become more threadbare, and more fanatical. In the absence of any palatable reason for annihilating civilians by the tens of thousands, while subjecting an entire population to starvation and disease; in the face of a growing global consensus that Israel is committing crimes against humanity by the moment, today's Very Serious People have no recourse but to attack their opponents, churning out strawman arguments and deliberate misreadings, demonizing protest, and positing moral contradictions about the loss and imperilment of civilian life where there absolutely are none. I can think of a lot of words for these sorts of arguments. Among the most charitable is: unserious.
A.J. Daulerio: 2023 began bleakly (dad: #RIP) but it segued into a weirdness that was quite exhilarating. I was marinating in grief for a good six months and then I remembered that I was still alive so I decided to enter a Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournament. Midway through my training, my knee gave out, my ankle got sprained, my teeth got loosened, and my wife's work stopped so she spent all summer on a picket line. Then we went a little broke, and everything we'd planned for the summer (the year, really) became indefinitely postponed. I didn't dwell on it and I fought anyway. Even got myself a medal for not coming in last. (best year ever: #RIP)
Elvia Wilk: Grief. Gratitude for all who risk, resist, and refuse. Very little of what I thought I knew a year ago remains intact. Vast change. Big anger. Chasm of awe.
Andreas Petrossiants: The only referendum I want for my anti-zionist Jewish Christmas is the one where we send Eric Adams to the place in the countryside where we tell kids dogs go to when they’re really old. See you in the park in 2023 where we’ll be wading through trash cans that will only be cleaned once a week now. Shout out to my soccer team Stop Cop City United, and to all the rad footballers in nyc that held it down at the Keffiyeh Cup.
Eileen Myles: I toured so much I thought I was going to die. I had a book come out in 2022 and then another in spring 23 so the travel thing felt nonstop. One weekend in New England I literally thought I was dying. I slept 30 hours in two days when I had the opportunity. I began to take vacations, though that was in this year too. I went to Trieste. It wasn’t that traveling that was unwork related was entirely different from being on tour but there was no expectation on the other end. I was free. Trieste was great. In December I spent a week in Mexico City. Like a few days ago. Also fabulous. Frieda Kahlo’s house is now more oriented toward disability and fashion. It seemed so smart. But the first thing I think of in 2023 is Palestine. In reprisal for leaping over the wall and killing many Israelis attending a rave and some others simply in their homes Israel decided, apparently, to kill everyone in Gaza. It’s still happening right now and I’d say it’s the most shocking and disturbing thing that has ever happened in my life. Most of all because we can watch, unlike other wars and genocides. America is bankrolling this, is arming Israel so we are all complicit whether we like it or not. America is a big colony so it makes sense on a hideous level that we would be fine with supporting another colonial settler project (Israel) in the Middle East. That’s mainly what’s happening this year but to Palestine it is not so new.
Rachel Kushner: This year I “discovered” the Three Penny Opera, thanks to a performance in Aix. I discovered Lady Chatterley's Lover, which I read in one sitting on a very long flight. I discovered Maurice by EM Forster, and saw, in it and the Lawrence, internal combustion—the cycle, the motorized wheelchair—as existential threats bound up with sensuality. I went to the salvage yard with my teenage son, who was looking to pull a motor, and it was a world with no sensuality, no nature, just burnt oil, twisted metal, and men. I saw lots of movies, including, at long last, Thodoros Angelopoulos’ Traveling Players, but my biggest cinematic discovery was Elia Suleiman’s The Time that Remains and not because he’s Palestinian, even as that probably cannot be extricated from what makes his film so crushingly great. I saw it in Lisbon, where, I discovered, they have enormous waves, tall as two story buildings. How did Henry the Navigator get beyond those waves? I saw Sasha Frere-Jones stream past in a recording from someone’s phone as Jewish Voice for Peace occupied Grand Central Station. I saw Bo Jiden be not the lesser of two evils. I decided that if I stoop to voting, I’ll write in Big Gretch. I’ll confess I don’t know much about the politics of Big Gretchen Whitmer; I like her because of the song about her by Gmac Cash and the whole thing with the Cartier “Buffs” he raised the money to give her. I saw a Lakers game from the freakish elite vantage called courtside. I wore a number 8 JR Smith Knicks jersey for that special occasion and no one got the joke (the Knicks won). I planted a native grape and watched as its green leaves turned bright cherry red. I learned that the great horned owl waits exactly eleven seconds between each of his hoots. I had elaborate dreams and mostly forgot them.
Abigail Susik: The ache of singing my toddler son his favorite song over and over (“Peace Train” by Cat Stevens) during this season of violence…
Jeremy Gordon: I'm often affronted when I hear people brag about their accomplishments — confidence is important but so is humility, and living in New York amongst New York writers means you hear an awful lot of declarations that one is "the nation's top [X] reporter" or "a leading figure in the world of letters" or "simply killing it," statements that make me roll my eyes so hard I run the risk of a brain injury. (All things I heard said out loud in the last 12 months, no joke.) That said, earlier this year I felt the impetus to talk an iota of shit after a couple of wonderful things happened to me in the span of a few weeks. On May 11, an editor at Harper Perennial made an offer on a novel I'd been tirelessly writing and revising for the last few years, my first. Then, on June 4, I got married to the woman I love in front of all our friends and family, a day that was quite clearly perfect.
Selling the novel was exciting because I'd spent so long on it, running through all of the typical anxieties (what if it never sells, what if the premise is too similar to something else, what if it simply sucks ass). But the wedding was the vastly more transformative occasion, a commitment to love and partnership that was the most consequential decision I've made in my life. If I'm mistrustful of egotism, it's because of the way it leads people to behave selfishly, and excuse their own selfishness — no way to live for more than a few years at a time, I think. Marriage, on the other hand, is about partially shedding one's ego — about forging something new with an entirely different person, something rooted in yourself but also reliant on the mystery that lies outside the self. Every day I feel understood, and I feel that I understand someone else, but it's also a constant process, a pledge to keep trying along all the peaks and dips. Many other things happened this year, good and bad, but I'll remember that short period of time where I felt immensely validated as an individual, and then ready to embrace something bigger. I'm not just living for myself anymore, which is both a powerful thing to realize on a personal level, and — I'm pretty sure — the only thing that gives us a chance as a collective whole.
Muna Mire: This year, I decided to ask for everything.
I quit my lucrative job after a major success because it wasn’t enough. I turned away from friendships and even family because these relationships were not giving me enough. Much like COVID before it, the war on Gaza has profoundly altered the landscape of my personal life. I lost a lot of people this year. Or maybe, I never really had them to begin with. Sometimes a breather is what we need. Sometimes an ending is what we need.
After a decade of mostly unsuccessfully plying my trade as a journalist, I opened myself up to writing bad poems. I took a class taught by a friend at Wendy’s Subway. Poetry is my inheritance and I feel tremendous pleasure in being selfish about it. I am, after all, a too-proud Somali.
I’ve also been organizing a lot and that (unpaid) work remains challenging and very rewarding. I started a large and growing collective called Writers Against the War on Gaza with peers in the writing world. You can find us on Instagram and Twitter at @wawog_now.
Recently, my friend Kay Gabriel turned me onto Ruthie Wilson Gilmore’s concept of “disabling modesty” in the movement. As Wilson defines it, disabling modesty is “the pretense that highly trained workers may make of not having particular talents to contribute to liberation movements from the specific positions that we occupy.” In other words, when we shy away from our skills and their potential utility to the movement, we undermine our position. We have everything we need to get free but only if people are brave and believe in themselves enough to do something.
And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
even under the sea
we are the ones we have been waiting for
I want more and better for all of us. Lately, I am unable to get the refrain everyone for everyone out of my head. It’s like a melody.
Sam Hockley-Smith: Is it possible for a book to be too good to read on vacation? The answer is yes. That book is Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson, which I decided to re-read during a family trip to Greece last summer, mere weeks before Greece caught fire. I got like 200 pages in, but didn’t ever finish the second read. Johnson’s ability to write humidity felt physically oppressive. I couldn’t read about war right then either. The book continued to blow my mind anyway. It felt too real, too honest to read on the beach, so I gave up and instead watched my kid play that old version of Nokia phone Snake on his plastic digital camera while eating huge beach donuts (people in Greece love to eat donuts on the beach and it seems like a bad combination but it actually works). Like every year, the best books I read were the most honest books, and the best music I listened to was the most honest music. Ragana’s “DTA” made me angry and sad (if you could not guess, DTA stands for Death to America), billy woods made songs about what it means to be an artist in America in 2023 across two albums that are exactly as good as each other. Elysia Crampton aka Chuquimamani-Condori made an album that sounds like multiple songs playing all at once. It’s chaotic and beautiful and it made me feel like linear time didn’t exist. I went through a DeLillo phase and decided for a week that Mao II was his best book. I’m not sure if I still believe it, but let’s go with it anyway. Blake Butler wrote a book called Molly about his wife’s suicide. Reading it was like staring at the sun. I read Pure Life, from 2022, a book by Eugene Marten about a football player’s descent into possibly CTE-related madness. Reading it was like staring down the bottom of a well. I became a reader for a friend who is writing a nonfiction book about the death of his child. Reading his manuscript was like staring at the bottom of a well and discovering the sun down there, staring back, blinding and desolate and terrifying. I embraced repetition. Run-on sentences. The drudgery of work. Trauma in art. I accomplished nothing, which is a brutal way of saying that I actually accomplished many small things. I’m proud of all of them.
Ariana Reines: All I can think about is that for more than two months the heart of the entire world has been goaded to new heights by a genocide unfolding. It brings horror, insanity, numbness but also clarity, strategy, grave honesty.
My religion and the sufferings and triumphs of my family have been totally desecrated. Personal sorrow: that my family abandoned my mother and left her to my brother and me, that finally she killed herself, when the psychosis that protected her own soul from its pain finally gave way to reality. She hardly got out from under the Holocaust long enough to give birth to us before she went flipping insane.
Slogans, flags, the notion of the ownership of land—it all withers me, makes my heart shudder, makes me think of Hitler and the peaceful cows of Bavaria.
For me, Judaism and non-assimilation, non-Zionism—which is the same as nonviolence, at least in my own body—have translated to radical homelessness and a commitment to the poet’s life. I stick out. I do not fit. The culture glances at strange angles off my lines and the ironies provoked by the strange way I live. This is the only way I have figured out how to build, how to love. It has happened gradually. It began when I renounced my father's love, and the natural yearning to please him.
I feel social pressure to channel my personal experience into political action but I fall back upon the contemplation of my own defects and those of my direct line: my father, cold and narcissistic and authoritarian—in the very image of all the grave Abrahamic fathers that came before him. I refuse to ask him for anything. I called and called my fucking reps. I will send them gruesome postcards today. I do believe in democracy, in the so-called American experiment but I suffer from a Judaic melancholy when it comes to crowds. Even crowds I share values with. Righteousness, piety—I try to be very very careful and move very very slowly when I feel them rising within me.
To paraphrase a line by my friend Ghayath Almadhoun—the real problem with war is the people who survive it. To which I add the silent lines I always hear in my head when I hear him read this poem, because we who survive grow up to be perverts, because we who survive get fucked up.
But to return to my own tradition, which has been perverted, twisted, mutilated and massacred by the actions of the Israeli state and the weapons my tax dollars pay for—as long as I've lived—we have our cruel fathers and I have mine—but there is also an unwritten history of feminine, Hasidic, insanity that I'm heir to.
The real tradition isn't written in our books. The real Judaism is hidden in women's bodies.
Tears sprang to my eyes as I wrote that last sentence. How dare I write such a thing.
I have been sick with shame and dazed with blood. I will be told that such feeling is unrevolutionary and that to give into it is bourgeois.
I have been searching for a way to speak accurately and protest accurately that does not masculinize me, that does not find me hardening my speech into the eroticized militancy of the noble freedom fighter. Was it the cruel bathos of America—assimilation with its norms—that made my family go cold? Was it genocide that made those of us who remained after it attack each other, and ourselves? Or was it some soul-stain in Judeity itself—that neither assimilation into the polite norms of white protestantism nor alienating religiosity, neither mystical nor financial achievement, neither comedy nor tragedy—could clear?
I won’t be able to answer these questions here but I will share with you something that has consoled me without sanitizing the reality to which I must bear witness.
I've been listening to Jordi Savall’s Les Voix Humaines on repeat.
Savall is a Catalan viola da gamba player, conductor, composer, and innovative scholar of Baroque music and also a profound antifascist, down to his very cell. I’ve used his music in sculpture and performance projects. It fills the void that my father's hardness and coldness—and my rejection of his hardness and coldness—left in my life. Savall's interpretations of Bach, Marin Marais, Couperin and so on—when he plays I can hear not only the triumphs of Reason but a profound experience of its nightmares, to paraphrase Goya.
For me Savall is an example of leadership, death, the paternal and masculine principle functioning properly—knowing its history and being honest about it. Fulfilling his role with flair—without erasing mystery, or tragedy.
In short, the sound he makes answers my yearning for a father I could respect.
We are Spanish, on my father's side. Jordi Savall has a daughter named Arianna, two Ns. The sound of his viola da gamba, for me, is the true sound of men.
Obviously I am against war. Obviously I am against the slaughter of Palestinians. The wounds of Zion have been in my heart and a physical problem for me, a matter of physical shame and personal shame-- my entire life. What pulls me and pushes me toward the darker chambers of my heart—the deeper unknown—is what my grandmother did to herself, felt she had to do—in order to go on. To have a family. And likewise my mother.
Oh yeah, and then there's me, and whatever it was I was doing to myself in order to build a home in this culture, however tiny, for the things one hesitates even to admit to oneself.
Because the Christmas holiday is about birth, and the Christ's body is essentially the feminization of the male body—the suffering male body made generative, the bloody wound in his side the double of the womb—and the Christ story is a myth you have to live under, in America, whether you consent to it or not—so the best you can do is interpret it correctly, even if it's not your story—well, I give you Jordi Savall's Les Voix Humaines. Consoling, grave, pure, and true. This record sounds like everything I want to do.
I want my art to sound like the human voice, and in particular the sound of women's voices—especially when we have been raped, sidelined, brutalized and even celebrated into silence.
Angela Garbes: Some years are wider, bigger — maybe denser? — than others. Grateful for all the ground I was able to cover and the clarity that came with. Nothing, it turns out, is actually that complicated.
Kaya Genç: 2023 felt like 1999. Reading in enormous amounts like an eighteen year old. Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Struggle is over for this reader. It changed me in ways I couldn’t predict. I returned to writing in Turkish.
Thank you, Elon Musk, and your intolerable fanboys, for freeing us from social media. 2023: the year of starting the day with terrific Substacks in the inbox. My Heart Sasses Back (by Margaret Atwood) was my favourite.
Binges. Aki Kaurismäki’s filmography. Thank you, MUBI, Efe Çakarel, et al. The Times Literary Supplement. The only publication I read from cover to cover throughout the year in 2023.
Sadnesses. The earthquakes in Turkey and Syria in February. Mourning. Hard lessons. The presidential and parliamentary elections in May. Hope. Optimism. Pervasive apathy.
Music. Cevdet Erek’s 2017 album, Davul. An experience that I returned to throughout this violent, depressing, dark, dark year.
Johanna Fateman: Dear Sasha, I just realized the last time we talked was October 7th. I ran into you and Heidi outside the building, or in the lobby, on our way to a party. You’d just been to the Whitney (Henry Taylor, Harry Smith, Ruth Asawa), Heidi said. We took the elevator up with a woman who’d just seen something terrible happen—I can’t remember what, or never knew exactly—on the subway. And this incident followed the other terribleness of the day: She mentioned, in an aside, but locking eyes with me (or so I felt), that she’d been talking to her family in Israel earlier. I have family there too, but I wasn’t going to offer that. Israel is something I don’t—or didn’t then, as a rule—talk about with strangers or acquaintances in elevators or at social events. Of course, it had not sunk in. I don’t think we knew—really knew—what had happened, was still happening, on that day, or had acknowledged what was surely about to happen in response. Or we wouldn’t have, once inside the apartment, having split-off from our elevator friend, talked about my time on tour with Le Tigre last summer and my subsequent, victorious purchase of a dishwasher; the demise of The New Yorker’s Goings On About Town section and thus my loss of a long-running art-writing gig; your ambivalence regarding a forthcoming piece on Ryuichi Sakamoto for the magazine; the imminent publication of Earlier; and our kids. Maybe our catching-up at the party was a private year-in-review because, in a sense, 2023 ended that night. It felt obscene to celebrate Christmas on Monday, during the genocide in Gaza, and it feels unholy now to summarize the past twelve month’s highlights in art or music or my personal ups and downs. Though I’ve gotten used to writing anyway, reviews and stuff, all I’ve wanted to say recently is what I’ll say to sign off now. Cease-fire forever, free Palestine, everyone for everyone, love, Johanna. December 27, 2023
Simon Reynolds: It was a year of doomscrolling. Like the year before. And like next year.
Sometimes, when trying to explain affect theory to my students, I use doomscrolling as an example of a uniquely contemporary affect. It didn’t exist—and then it did.
For sure, there’s always been bad news. But it arrived in finite chunks and at punctual intervals—TV news, radio at the top of the hour. Only a massive crisis like 9/11 or Katrina would result in rolling round the clock coverage—and you could walk away from that.
To get the doomscroll effect in the past, you’d had to have taken a load of newspapers and chopped them up and pasted stories onto a homemade carousel rigged up out of cotton reels and spindles and ribbon. And that would not have even approached the endless-onwardness of the doomscroll, the inexhaustible supply.
The chyron, that Times Square tickertape at the bottom of the 24-hour news channel screen, was a foretaste, an augury of doomscrolling. But it’s easier to ignore, and it didn’t have the personalized, algo-attuned intimacy of doomscroll, the way that the technology learns what detains your gaze and churns up choice items tailored to churn you up inside.
Think about how this innovation affects the rhythm of your breathing, your posture (hunched, clenched), your endocrine system—and how that accumulates as neurological wear and tear, massively adding to the stress load of everything else going on in your life.
But think also about how those on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum from where you stand—on any issue, any conflict currently raging—how they too are being pumped full of toxins, force fed fear and tension.
The technology divides us on the level of values and beliefs, but unites us on the level of affect and agitation.
Now and then, there’ll be a spate of hopescrolling—unexpectedly positive developments, better than expected election results. But mostly the mode is doom—feeding your insatiable appetite for the alarming and upsetting. Feeding the illusion that you’re on top of things when actually you’re sinking.
2023 was the year of doomscrolling. Same as last year. 2024 will be worse - worse beyond imagining.
Zac Hale: A lot of distances have collapsed, a lot of outside has come in. I think the Over There concept that a lot of people have struggled to maintain is buckling and that at least is good, even though the new folds keep some of their old gaps. Of course I am biased because I got married this year, redrawing my own maps by choice and in the best ways possible. But altogether we have taken so much and left unclosable canyons of loss. I just hope we keep in sight that our ability to imagine something new is connected to our ability to remember why we need it.
Bassem Saad: The Israeli death machine stopped at no memorable calendar dates, friendships went frigid as Gaza went up in flames, before October there had been a summer that ended with my deciding to start laser and hormones, I hauled the love of my life from New York to Berlin, the mid-war December sun in my father's living room was still more scenic than ever after I had succeeded at getting him to not re-install the hideous curtains torn apart by the Beirut Port explosion, the Germans lost it again as I cringed at the form my life took in the starless night of Staatsräson fascism, people around me said they were ghosts and wished they were martyrs. Palestine upends the administered world.
Michael Robbins: Started seeing a domme and writing new poems about our relationship (with her consent)—three were recently published in The Brooklyn Rail, more accepted for publication soon. Finally finished Proust. Finally had a good summer after too long. Yeah. But. The war. 20,000 Palestinians murdered, 8000 of them children. That's what matters about this year, to which good riddance. Free Palestine.
Sarah Hagi: It is hard for me to reflect on 2023 as a whole because I feel only the pain of what we have been witnessing in Gaza and the West Bank. Everything else feels like it happened years ago, and any personally significant milestone now feels meaningless. Who cares? Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how obsessed the West is with an imaginary apocalypse. Everyone here talks casually about how the world is going to end, because we believe when the world ends here that’s when it will really matter. Now, we are watching a man-made apocalypse funded by our tax dollars happen from across the world, and even talking about that simple truth can cost you your job. It makes me sick with guilt and anger. I have never felt more disgust towards humanity, towards people I thought were decent but are carrying on as though nothing is happening. I feel comfort in believing Hell is real.
Emily Lordi: I greet the end of every year by wanting more from the next: more fun, more work, adventure, friends! 2023 is the first year that has left me wanting less: less divorce, less drama, upheaval, parental illness, travel, stress. In 2024, I want to finish my book and hang out with my kids.
Becca Rothfeld: This year, two important things happened to me: I got a job, and I got sick, in that order. Thank god the former preceded the latter, because otherwise I wouldn't have been able to afford the various injections and infusions and pills and potions I turned out to need, much less the kind of doctor who takes the time to diagnose a rare and elusive autoimmune disorder. (Before I got the job, I was a graduate student, with the kind of health insurance that only allows for doctors who regard even the most Cronenbergian symptoms as evidence of stress.) 2023 has been a very unpleasant education in the perils of embodiment, and I hope that in 2024 I can go for longer stretches of time without having to remember that I have a body at all.
Andrew Norman Wilson: This year my neurologist prescribed me gabapentin for my vestibular migraines, granting me spans of up to a week without crippling nausea and headaches plus less anxiety and depression in general. However I still tend to obsess over the mysteries of my gut and nervous system, and believe these fixations impede a full recovery. As I await the Science that may never come, I'll use the hope I found in 2023 to extend my awareness beyond my own two brains and back out towards the involuted detail of the worlds they inhabit.
Mina Tavakoli: I like to position myself as refreshingly sane in a world of nuts and neurotics. I know this can be a stupid attitude. But when I saw a child (7-12 years old) on the corner of 7th and B earlier this year calmly taking a photo of a rubber dildo suctioned to the trunk of a parked car — a group of his friends were screaming their heads off beside him, a flurry of doves were flapping meatily into the sky behind — his serenity made me sure that we were of a part together.
Tasbeeh Herwees: Early in 2023 I booked an appointment with an ENT because I thought I had a problem with my hearing. My mother, driving me to the doctor, said it was my listening that was the problem, not my hearing. My boyfriend concurred. Turns out they were right. I’m listening a whole lot more now. Only some of it is worth the effort. It’s made me realize that there’s not much worth saying, either, except: free Palestine, another world is possible.
Maya Binyam: None of the months had to do with each other. Death broke time, rearranged it. In selfish, feverish moments, I convinced myself that everything I experienced was a sign. In October, alone in the woods, I found the fetus of a sea mammal, born too early and left for dead. Her eyes were closed, or had never opened. I walked away from her body, and then spent weeks trying to resurrect it by finding images that matched the memory in my head. She seemed too big to be a mink, too pink to be an otter. Death was everywhere on the internet, and impossible to navigate. Time passed, still bearing the false promise of change, but now that we're at the end, it seems clear that we'll have to live through more of it.
Larne Abse Gogarty: In 2023, the movement for the liberation of Palestine grew to new dimensions. That’s the meaning of this year. It has demanded massive shifts in consciousness and is a dividing line moment, a nothing can go back to what it was moment, a moment where it feels possible to bring people along but also a moment where lines and allegiances are crystallised, and the enemy comes sharply into focus. I kept weaponising my Jewishness in conversations with colleagues, friends, and in stupid little letters to my hideous MP, Keir Starmer, in what often feels like a crass tactic to oppose the violent and terrible idea that anti-Zionism is equivalent to antisemitism, a notion which has truly deranged and strangled much public life and culture in the US and Europe, particularly in Germany. I think often of Isaac Deutscher’s line “I am a Jew by force of my unconditional solidarity with the persecuted and exterminated.” As the end of the year wore on, I tried harder to talk with those who were further away from that position. I am thankful for the Jewish Currentspodcasts “Talking to our Families” and Arielle Angel’s article “On Loving Jews.” They both really helped.
London’s the place I’ve been all my life except for two years in Berlin. I am still a London booster despite its terribleness, which is not interesting to focus on because it’s pretty much indistinguishable from the terribleness of other big evil cities in the current and former colonial-imperial nations. Mark Hyatt’s Love, Leda (1965), published for the first time this year, is a bracing novel which presents a kaleidoscopic account of 1960s London incorporating romance, manual labour, gay sex, class conflict and day trips to the seaside. I loved Love, Leda because it has flashes of a London that still feel vaguely familiar, specific, and possible – what me and my husband have called “old London” for years now – this denotes a feeling and look that might encompass anything from Queensway market to city farms to certain character types. Alex Margo Arden’s excellent show at the RCA, Rock, Paper, Scissors is a slice of new old London. So was RIP Germain’s exhibition at the ICA. Old London is not a nostalgic category despite the name, and I often wanted to write about the emerging generation of London artists as a means towards proving this in 2023. But the swiftly shiny, ruling class orientation of a lot of it has tempered my enthusiasm. Maybe things will feel clearer next year. My listening habits are still damaged by motherhood, but I was relieved to talk to someone else in the summer who had a similar experience and got over it. Going out dancing to DJ Sprinkles in New York in October was great though, especially as it involved dancing with my friend Sonel who I hadn’t seen in a few years And one of my only other times dancing this year - carnival - was good as ever. Even better was taking my son to carnival for the first time.
Dave Tompkins: Last New Year's Eve my mom sat at the portal's edge, submitting to an online poetry contest. The publication was based in Ireland so midnight was supper time. It was also the eve of her 87th and she just wanted a glass of wine. We had ten minutes. She told me to pretend to be Louise Glück (RIP), who was one of the judges. She was reading "The Georgia Bureau of Investigation" over the phone, the first time I've heard the poem aloud. Addressed to my late brother, it recounts her horrific night at the coroner's office outside Athens, in 2005. She's reading a letter to one son while telling the other what happened. Memory tries to follow. This year I kept thinking unbearable grief but unbearable is at a loss for words. People often have no choice but to bear it, carry it. My mom finished reading, took a beat. I squandered two ticks with a "sounds good." "Yard's looking good," she replied, laughing. This is what she says when things have gone to hell -- could be the news, or seeing an American flag spearing an oak (a new? property trend), or gas lamp posts burning daylight.
Domenick Ammirati: During Christmas dinner with my family the constantly-on TV found itself toward the climax of a movie whose plot had to do with a CGI animal like an enchanted mouse deer choosing the supreme leader of a realm of magicians who for some reason all dressed in midcentury garb and were color-graded a pewter bronze. The bad guy, who had created a fake mouse deer to skew the proceedings in his direction, had the slicked-down sideways hair of a Nazi, in the background hung fascist triplicates of banners from brutal abstract architecture, and as the guy threw out in his campaign speech some blood-poisoning tripe about muggles, I thought first, Where have I heard that recently? and then, Wait, is this a Harry Potter movie? The once-beloved transphobe had spun some entire other universe off the Potter one, apparently. In the end, the true magical mouse deer popped out of a suitcase and the fake one disintegrated into goo and everything got sorted in a way that guaranteed a further installment. As we scraped at our paper plates and the credits started speed-running up the split screen previewing god knows what—my family is like many Americans morbidly attracted to programming set in hospitals or involving supernatural murder—I became conscious of how we had marinated absolutely wordless over my sister’s scrimped efforts to manufacture the air of cornucopia for my dementia-ridden aphasic father who naturally lacks anything close to the proper amount of health care to provide for his decent caretaking. The strain was both ravaging my family and keeping it together and I felt acutely the lack of deliverance, the no-happy-ending coming down any magical byway for its members. Of which I am one. The movie was followed by a commercial for some pharmaceutical with an elusive function, which is the way pharma ads all work now, bringing the promotion into the realm of pure abstraction beautifully, like finance. The closed-captioning bleated TEST TEST TEST TESTTEST TEST TEST like an unanswered alarm and another commercial came on for something called Poophy which is used to deodorize one’s pet. I have little desire to exit my hothouse adopted home of New York with its exotic flora and fabulous beasts and occult intellectual perfumes and the oft-stifling hot damp that we love to complain so much about but I am also grateful that I make regular trips into something that is very else.
Thora Siemsen: A few personal highlights from this year: going to the Oscars with Nan, driving the PCH again, and spending a month in Mexico. For the past five months, I’ve been working my full time day job at a public library. Next year I want to volunteer at this wolf sanctuary. It’s grounding to have local commitments in addition to our coalition building against the war on Gaza. The world is bigger and more interesting than any opportunities we might miss out on for speaking up.
John Corbett: The accelerating pace of loss.
This year found me scrambling to keep up with all the departures.
It's my age and it’s our age.
They were all species of death: natural and unnatural, sudden and gradual, premature and timely, understood and inexplicable.
It started with a beloved family member last December, then continued with the following chronological roll call:
Michael Snow (1928-2023), artist, video- and filmmaker, pianist, one of the most searingly original figures in contemporary culture.
Jim Falconer (1943-2023), original Hairy Who artist and brilliant acoustical consultant who built custom sound systems and listening spaces, a contrarian by nature, critical and honest assessment, always heartfelt.
Tom Verlaine (1949-2023), guitarist, member of Television.
Jeff Perrone (1953-2023), artist and critic, early theorist of Pattern & Decoration, committed anticapitalist and anticolonialist, who died 10 days before our exhibition with him opened.
Harrison Bankhead (1955-2023), bassist, genuinely wonderful human.
Kidd Jordan (1935-2023), tenor saxophonist, New Orleans hero, honorary Chicagoan, brother from another mother to Fred Anderson.
Peter Brötzmann (1941-2023), musician and artist, one of the heaviest improvisers of all time, like family to us, died with his (red cowboy) boots on.
Keith Waldrop (1932-2023), poet, translator, and publisher, Burning Deck Press, an early mentor who almost certainly didn't know I was a mentee.
Tristan Honsinger (1949-2023), cellist and composer, a crucial member of the Amsterdam instant composition crew, the creaky voice of free play who introduced me to improvised music with his appearance on the Pop Group's "We Are All Prostitutes."
Curtis Fowlkes (1950-2023), trombonist and Jazz Passenger.
Barbara Rossi (1940-2023), artist, writer, and teacher, the final official member of the Chicago Imagist exhibition groups, ethereal presence, spritely spirit, one-time Catholic nun, and image transformer whose classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago set many artists on a new path.
Jost Gebers (1940-2023), founder and primary mover of Free Music Production, the Berlin-based record label and hub of improvised and creative music – principled, exacting, quiet, opinionated, always focused on the musicians first.
Carla Bley (1936-2023), pianist, composer, and bandleader, dry humorist of orchestral jazz, better keyboardist than she admitted.
Martin Davidson (1942-2023), producer, founder of Emanem Records, another of the most important outlets for free improvisation, a man with maniacal devotion to the most inscrutable sounds.
Jim DeJong (1942-2023), professional jazz aficionado and beautiful soul.
Mars Williams (1955-2023), multi-instrumentalist, member of NRG Ensemble, Extraordinary Popular Delusions, The Waitresses, Swollen Monkeys, Cinghiale, Boneshaker, The Psychedelic Furs, Liquid Soul, and many other ensembles, moreover a ball of creative energy and positivity whose role in the Chicago music scene since the 1980s was fundamental and germinative.
Tony Oxley (1938-2023), drummer and improvisor.
Pope.L (1955-2023), artist and provocateur, crawler and sitter and poker of holes into all things, including presumptions, expectations, and egos, who's "The Escape" at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018 was the single most daring performance in an institutional context that I've experienced.
Ken Simpson (1930-2023), pioneer of medical ethics, ground crew and support team for his artist-wife Diane, sweetest man on earth.
JoAnn Wypijewski: This has been a year of howling grief. It was still winter when my beloved dropped dead. And I walked the city not exactly aimlessly because there was a purpose: just to walk, early in the morning, in the cold sun, often, to remember sitting on my roof in the morning drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes (him), now to find a coffee shop to write with no intent to publish, writing for free, writing all day if I could on the only thing there was to write about. “Memorize him”, a friend of mine advised. A beautiful phrase. That has been the singular preoccupation of the year. Remember his voice, his hands, his touch, his ways. There was a full moon when he died. I looked up horoscopes for the day much later. A momentous day they had all promised him: “the entire look and feel of your life will change”, one said. I guess so. I walked past Marianne Moore’s last house on one of these walks, and remembered how much I’d liked her poetry once long ago, remembering none of it. I’ve mostly read poetry this year, because it suits the attention span: you can read the same piece over and over and rarely tire. Poetry and songs: Van Morrison’s Common One album, with one of my favorite lines about love, “it ain’t why, why why; it ain’t why, why, why; it just is.” (There's at least one more ‘why' phrase in the actual song.) Sade’s “Cherish the Day” and “Ordinary Love”. And all the songs he’d send to me across twenty-plus years. I walked into the Strand one day and came out with a heavy bag of slim books. African Poems and Love Songs was one, almost all of the entries anonymous, short, sometimes funny, most times not. I discovered Reginald Dwayne Betts, whose work I should have known before. Felon is astonishing; its “redactions” the best of all the black-out work I’ve seen, because Betts takes court documents and strikes all but the few words or phrases that reveal the life-or-death nature of things that the other words had concealed. I discovered “Tell Me, Tell Me: Granite, Steel, and Other Topics”, which Marianne Moore published shortly after moving into the house I’d passed that day. There’s a short prose work in it that ends: “Writing is a fascinating business. ‘And what should it do?’ William Faulkner asked. ‘It should help a man endure by lifting up his heart.’ (Admitting that his might not always have done that.) It should.” And so I lifted up my heart in this sad year, which ends with millions of people around the world grief struck by not ordinary but cataclysmic death, trying to endure.
We can only do this with you support. Thank you, and happy new year.