Required Reading

For a millennium starting in the 4th century, traders and travelers met in grottoes carved into cliffs near the Dunhuang oasis, leaving behind artwork that was preserved thanks to the desert climate.

But the region’s summers are no longer so calm or dry.

In the Jinta Temple Grotto, over 300 miles from the Mogao Caves, atmospheric humidity levels reached as high as 93 percent during a severe downpour in August of last year. At these levels, decomposition, rot and erosion become difficult to avoid.

  • Most of us are well acquainted with the term “male gaze” by now, but Lauren Michele Jackson explains in an essay for the New Yorker how its origins can be traced to feminist film theory and an essay written on the subject in 1973:

Though Mulvey’s essay analyzed the work of specific directors—Alfred Hitchcock’s masterfully subjective camera in “Vertigo,” for instance—she was not preoccupied with any one technician or viewer so much as with the technological process by which gender dynamics are asserted onscreen and alchemized through the pleasure of spectators. The way bodies are framed, and the way the camera moves, teaches us to look at women the way that patriarchy already does. Over time, Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze became an obligatory citation for works of feminist film criticism. As the critics Janet Bergstrom and Mary Ann Doane put it, any scholar who came afterward “felt compelled to situate herself in relation.” It also became a favorite shorthand for works of mainstream criticism, seeking to critique how gender plays out in film and television. (According to one reviewer, Sam Levinson’s tepidly provocative new HBO series “The Idol,” about a pop star who bares all, “screams the male gaze.”) Various films in recent years, such as Steven Soderbergh’s male-stripper trilogy “Magic Mike” and Céline Sciamma’s lesbian period piece “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” have prompted a parallel preoccupation with “the female gaze,” broadly defined as a humane courting of the pleasure of women viewers. But, as other critics have pointed out, when applied too broadly that term can obscure rather than illuminate.

  • Erin Thompson pens an article for the London Review of Books about the looted sculptures of Koh Ker:

Visoth said that many visitors come to the museum in search of a new place to worship after leaving the countryside for the city. More than 90 per cent of Cambodians identify as Buddhist. Dhakal asked Visoth why Buddhist visitors offer worship to sculptures of Hindu deities. We asked many other people the same question, and they all gave the same answer: the external forms of a statue chosen by the spirits do not matter.

Even the looters prayed to the spirits in the sculptures before they took them, asking their forgiveness. Tik told Gordon that his team once overturned a statue and found a gold leaf mixed with bones inside its pedestal. Tik took the bones and strung them together as a necklace. He wore it to show his men that the spirits would not harm them. His wife cut the necklace off as he slept and reburied the bones.

On the drive north from Phnom Penh, I asked Gordon how he had learned about the looting of cultural heritage. ‘I went to the British Museum,’ he said drily.

  • Houreidja Tall speaks with West African hair braiders in New York City for a report in Harper’s Bazaar about their common occupational injuries, which they receive little support to cope with or prevent in the first place:

Bendo, who is originally from Liberia, works in a small shop a few blocks north of 125th Street. I caught her at a moment when she did not have a customer, and as she and I spoke, she immediately got to the point: Braiding has taken a toll on her body over the last 22 years. She recalled first ongoing experiencing pain around a decade into her career. “Sometimes if you start braiding, you work from 12:00 pm until 12:00 in the night, sometimes 10:00 in the night … it depends on what style the customer gets,” she says. “If you braid your hair, you can’t sit still because you have to pay for the chair, and you have to pay for your rent, and you have to help your people back home, too.”

  • Miyazaki fans will appreciate writer Lucy Jakub’s musings in the New York Review of Books on the filmmaker’s veiled probings into a major problem of adult life: work. Jacob observes:

Yet his greatest theme, a certain alienation he diagnosed in Japanese society, affects Americans as well. At seven, the strange melancholy of the train scene in Spirited Away revealed something inarticulable to me about my father’s bifurcated life. Ten-year-old Chihiro has taken a grueling job in a bathhouse for spirits, and with the help of friends manages to escape her workplace for the first time, taking a commuter train to the end of the line. For Miyazaki that ride traversed a metaphysical boundary. The scene is uncanny not just because the train is full of ghosts but because Chihiro is a child, and the other passengers are adults. She watches out the window as they disembark at a local station and sees the shadow of another girl standing on the platform—the distance, and difference, between them finally indicating how Chihiro has been changed by her entry into the adult economy.

  • Thousands of writers, including Viet Thanh Nguyen, Min Jin Lee, and Roxane Gay, signed a letter earlier this week against generative AI training on literary works and writing without permission, addressed to companies like Meta and Microsoft. Chloe Veltman has the story for NPR:

The advent of text-based generative AI applications like GPT-4 and Bard, that scrape the Web for authors’ content without permission or compensation and then use it to produce new content in response to users’ prompts, is giving writers across the country even more cause for worry.

“There’s no urgent need for AI to write a novel,” he said Alexander Chee, the bestselling author of novels like Edinburgh and The Queen of the Night. “The only people who might need that are the people who object to paying writers what they’re worth.”

This isn’t the first time a state has criminalized a mother for helping her own daughter end a pregnancy outside the medical system. In 2012, Jennifer Whalen helped her teen daughter get abortion pills when clinic care was inaccessible to them in Pennsylvania. Whalen’s daughter was scared when she started bleeding so they went to the emergency room, and told staff she’d taken mifepristone and misoprostol. She was discharged without incident but the hospital system reported Whalen to state child-protective services; the state sentenced Whalen to 9 to 18 months in jail.

Their budding friendship, which has never been critically explored, would soon evolve into a mutual exchange of instinctual and strategic impulses. Tworkov, nearly thirty years her senior, would play a pivotal role in Kusama’s career, advocating for her at a time when contemporaries, critics, and elder statesmen of painting viewed her work with indifference.

@zaccharybird why do vegans call their food names that sound like what they’re trying to show you a substitute for? oh, it’s called ‘language’ and it’s a great resource to use to convey the thoughts and ideas in your brain! Try it!! #vegan

♬ original sound – zaccharybird

  • If you thought the subway couldn’t get any worse this summer…we raise you the intern sing-along!

Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo