Summer Reading List | Jeff Ostergren
Summer Reading List | Jeff Ostergren
The Flamethrowers has a clever entry point for artists, as the reader quickly figures out that certain characters are mirrors and amalgamations of famous artists in the late 70s. We watch as the narrator, Reno, a motorcyclist and artist named after her birthplace, explores a New York City and art world that is quite different than now—bohemian, gritty, with tinges of freedom. The book leaps forward as Reno leaves the New York and heads the deserts of Utah where she breaks the land-speed record, and eventually onward to the streets of Italy during late 1970s revolutions. Kushner's writing is accessible, sophisticated, and sexy, and it pulls you along leaping through various histories and geographies, real and re-imagined. It strikes me as ultimately a book about freedom and boundaries, both celebrating the romanticism of revolution and bohemia, but also marking the structures of gender, class, and identity that make for the uncomfortable realities of them.
One might think a book about a person sleeping for a year would be boring, and sometimes it even dares to step into a kind of constructed boredom. But ultimately it is a hypnotic read (Moshfegh, too, takes some smart shots at the art world). The connection to the pharmaceutical is an obvious interest of mine, but the book is also engaging in the way that, even though it is set in the very beginning of this century, before the digital, on-demand world that is our present has set in, it casually speaks to a kind of quiet fatigue that has set in to the world. Moshfegh has a crisp and clear writing style that is bracing and somehow simultaneously without emotion and yet viscerally connected to people—perhaps an heir to Bret Easton Ellis and Don Delillo. Here’s a great back and forth between the narrator and her psychiatrist, starting with Dr. Tuttle:
''Daily meditation has been shown to cure insomnia in rats. I'm not a religious person, but you could try visiting a church or synagogue to ask for advice on inner peace. The Quakers seem like reasonable people. But be wary of cults. They're often just traps to enslave young women. Are you sexually active?''
''Not really," I told her.
''Do you live near any nuclear plants? Any high-voltage equipment?”
“I live on the Upper East Side."
"Take the subway?''
At this point, I took the subway each day to work.
''A lot of psychic diseases get passed around in confined public spaces. I sense your mind is too porous. Do you have any hobbies?''
''I watch movies."
''That's a fun one.''
''How'd they get the rats to meditate?'' I asked her.
''You've seen rodents breed in captivity? The parents eat their babies. Now, we can't demonize them. They do it out of compassion. For the good of the species. Any allergies?"
With that, Dr. Tuttle put her pen down and stared off into space, deep in thought, it seemed.
Paul B. Preciado
This book has been a huge influence on my practice, but should be interesting to any reader attuned to gender, queerness, and theory. Preciado toggles between two channels—the first an autobiographical diary detailing the bodily, intellectual, and erotic effects as he experiments with taking testosterone “off-label” (beginning what is eventually a transition from female to trans man, his words). This alternates with powerful, revolutionary explorations of gender theory and history that are intertwined with the chemical, corporate, and technological structures that make up the contemporary (American/European) body. It’s a raw, intellectual, at points literally pornographic, and very immediate book, even though it was written over a decade ago. This quote to me sums up the chemical broth of our current political fragmentation and breakdown in America.
The real stake of capitalism today is the pharmacopornographic control of subjectivity, whose products are serotonin, techno-blood and blood products, testosterone, antacids, cortisone, techno-sperm, antibiotics, estradiol, techno-milk, alcohol and tobacco, morphine, insulin, cocaine, living human eggs, citrate of sildenafil (Viagra), and the entire material and virtual complex participating in the production of mental and psychosomatic states of excitation, relaxation, and discharge, as well as those of omnipotence and total control.
Jeff Ostergren has exhibited work in locations around the world including Los Angeles, Vancouver, and the Czech Republic. Most recently he had work in the group exhibition “Perverse Furniture” at Artspace in New Haven, as well as a solo commissioned installation “Science For a Better Life,” a site specific project at City Wide Open Studios in New Haven in which he explored the chemical and corporate history of Bayer Pharmaceuticals. He also screened a work in Video Snack 6 in Brooklyn in Fall 2017, which recently screened again as part of the Fikra Design Biennial in Sharjah, UAE in November 2018. He is a recipient of a 2017 Artist’s Resource Trust Grant from the Berkshire Taconic Foundation. He also has a curatorial practice, including the exhibition “False Flag: The Space Between Reason and Paranoia” that recently closed at Franklin Street Works in Stamford, CT. He received his MFA from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA in 2006, following upon receiving a BA in a double major of anthropology and gender studies at Rice University in Houston, TX in 1998.
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