Afterall Journal –I love it!

I’ve written on this subject before. But I have a new love when it comes to journals. On a recent trip to San Francisco, I picked up a copy of Afterall, described as “A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry”, and it presents as a series of engaging essays related to artistic criticism.

It’s a frequent complaint of mine that academic articles purposely use pedantic, obscure, and quite likely meaningless language to establish an in-group, leaving the rest of the possibly interested public out in the cold. Week after week, someone writes that a randomly generated paper was accepted for academic publication, and although many of these cases involve vanity journals, not all of them do (Alan Sokal is probably still the master prankster in this area, with his “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”” spoof paper). And, if one has to pick a worst offender, anything postmodern can send a chill up my spine (and it’s not as if Derrida has nothing important to say–far from it!).

But Afterall is intelligent, and engaging, and it really stretches one’s intellectual boundaries without being stupid about it. Here is a review (by Anna Lovatt) of a theatrical work:

The protagonist of Janice Kerbel’s radio play Nick Silver Can’t Sleep (2006/07) is a nocturnal subtropical perennial in bloom, longing for another who blossoms just once a year.1 Nick Silver (Nicotiana sylvestris) is also an insomniac, who craves sleep with the same sultry, melancholy yearning directed at his would-be lover, Cereus Grand (Selenicereus grandiflorus). Throughout the fifteen-minute play, the polymorphous eroticism of plants becomes entangled with their narcotising properties, as Nick’s desire for Cereus competes with, and is ultimately overwhelmed by, an opposing drive towards unconsciousness. Time expands and contracts as weeks, months, seasons and years appear to pass in a single night — a dreamlike temporality, redolent also of the cyclical rhythms of the vegetable world. Breathily, drowsily, Nick awaits his languid Cereus, only to succumb to the vertiginous pull of sleep at the precise moment of her blossoming.

Yes, the play sounds fantastic, but this description is, at least to me as a fledgling critic, beautiful and evocative.The review then discusses historical approaches to the sexuality of botany and various other intriguing topics.

Another article I quite enjoyed is “Exchange and some change: The imaginative economies of Otobong Nkanga”, by Monika Szewczyk. Nkanga is an African woman artist and professor whose work, some of which is exhibited at the Berlin Bienniale, is inherently multidisciplinary and experienced in a much different way than a painting or sculpture. Too bad you need either a subscription or a hard copy (although I’m sure subscriptions would be welcome).

The main problem I have with this journal, as I do with so much reading material, is that it feels like each article deserves much more of a time investment than I can give it.

Given I have not read widely in this publication, I would not be surprised if some burdensome gibberish may appear at some point, given artistic academic predilections. But I have not yet seen it, so perhaps I should stop being suspicious.

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