Charles Bernstein

Three essays by Ken Jacobs

The Nervous Magic Lantern

The Nervous Magic Lantern is strikingly low-tech and could have come about centuries ago. Longer than that and perhaps it did and was thought too strange and avoid­ed like sin. A lightweight propeller steadily turns, inter­rupting a beam of light. This is almost the only difference from when sunlight, coming in through a small opening into a dark space, sent an inverted image of the outside world onto cave walls. Unknowing creatures were scared out of their wits but I know this for a fact that one enter­prising fellow held his hand over the opening and, saying he had an in with Superior Forces, charged admission to see the “miracle”, inventing religion, theater and exploita­tive capitalism all in one brilliant stroke.

Charles Borkhuis on Susan Bee's pop neo-expressionism

The face of noir


The stark, self-contained faces in Susan Bee's paintings accent a subjective interiority adjacent to the space of others that is in sharp counterpoint to the ominous menace that hangs over the coming events. There were no screams or facial displays of emotion surrounding these "desperate hours," but rather a deep dwelling in mood that somehow distances the subject from her "fate." The characters are about to go through something "shattering," but their expressions let us know that they won't really be there when it happens. They are watching it happen to someone else as when one stands beside one's self and observes the body going through its motions. To my mind, Bee's paintings offer a profound look into the face of noir that sees one's fate leading to disaster but is powerless to stop it. What is so moving to me about these paintings is the choice not to be there when "it" happens, to chose not to give one's self to the oncoming event, to say in effect, there is a part of me that is unavailable to my fate. Perhaps this is something that separates Greek tragedy with its over-the-top outpouring of emotions from the quieter, more self-contained, modern feeling of the tragic.

Patricia Spears Jones on Gil Scott-Heron

Just like Shakespeare (sort of)

Gil Scott-Heron was an African–American poet, writer, composer and musician. His understood the use of rage; the power of satire and the need for embrace and love. He was not the father of hip hop or spoken word, but his ability to speak truth to power in his lyrics; to satirize the political elite and to portray the complexities of African American culture and liberation struggles has given all of us much to contemplate and those who are part of the hip hop generation a model to use. As Ron Carter, who played on "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," said: "He wasn't a great singer, but with that voice, if he had whispered it would have been dynamic. It was a voice like you would have for Shakespeare."  The comparison to Shakespeare makes sense to me.  “Your Daddy Loves You,” “Winter in America,” and “We Almost Lost Detroit” are songs about divorce; disillusionment with America society; and the possibility of nuclear disaster – what a range.  And like other great writers, he found important collaborators who spurred his creativity, most notably Brian Jackson.  Few American poets of the postwar years have successfully created poems, stories and songs on large political and social concepts, while simultaneously dealing with intimate issues of love, family, loss, and yes addiction.