Kanye West and the Murakami Effect: The Week in Pop-Culture Writing

Highlights from seven days of reading about arts and entertainment

Kanye West performs in Philadelphia in 2014 (Charles Sykes / Invision / AP)

Kanye West’s Year of Breaking Bad
John Caramanica | The New York Times
“Rupture has long been the axis around which Mr. West’s career has turned—where most artists seek to create smooth narratives about themselves and get everyone else to play along, he instead prefers disruptive leaps, quick reframing and firebrand positioning. Stasis is his kryptonite.”

John Berger’s Rare Art Criticism
Elisa Wouk Almino | Hyperallergic
“Berger’s art criticism succeeds, I think, because of its tangibility—it is grounded in human experience, specific historical events, and always the physical marks on the artworks. In art writing, these qualities are rare, as enough of it panders to an art market which has given every indication of carrying on with business as usual under Trump.”

The Erasure of Islam From the Poetry of Rumi
Rozina Ali | The New Yorker
“Rumi has helped the spiritual journeys of celebrities—Chris Martin, Madonna, Tilda Swinton—some of whom incorporated his work into theirs. Aphorisms attributed to Rumi circulate daily on social media, offering motivation ... Rumi is often described as the best-selling poet in the United States. He is typically referred to as a mystic, a saint, a Sufi, an enlightened man. Curiously, however, although he was a lifelong scholar of the Koran and Islam, he is less frequently described as a Muslim.”

The Murakami Effect
Stephen Snyder | Literary Hub
“Murakami’s work begins and ends in translation. He creates fictions that are both translatable and embody translation in their themes and methods. His work moves between languages and cultures (and, perhaps particularly, into and out of English) with relative ease and fluidity, with few textual and stylistic impediments or difficult cultural contexts, but, rather, various mechanisms and textual markers that seem to invite and insist on translation as both theme and practice.”

Anxiety and A Series of Unfortunate Events
Scaachi Koul | Buzzfeed
“The orphans in Unfortunate Events, though they had each other, had lost both of their parents and were largely left on their own. There was never a reason for them to be hopeful, or to expect anything good, because nothing good came. It wasn’t a cheerful way to live, but at least they were prepared. And I wanted to be prepared for what is, still, inevitable: that people die, and that you will, at some point, be left to fend for yourself; that no one is responsible for you, and people will fail you at every turn. Everyone becomes an orphan at some point. At least by reading, I could find a way to feel less alone in my fears.”

Hidden Figures and the Power of Pragmatism
The Undefeated | Soraya Nadia McDonald
“Besides communicating about the power of common interests, Hidden Figures demonstrates why sneering dismissively at ‘identity politics’ or using the term as a pejorative amounts to little more than hogwash. When you stand in the way of progress for women and people of color, you are only hobbling yourself.”

Emma Stone’s La La Land Performance Transcends Its Biggest Flaw
Caroline Framke | Vox
“Mia is the platonic ideal of an onscreen struggling actor. Nothing about this series of events is unexpected, interesting, or unique to her personality. The only glimmers of individuality to be found come during her first, truncated audition when Mia briefly wells up with sharp, devastated tears; crying on cue is an actor staple, but the breadth of emotions we see flicker across Mia’s face in the span of a few seconds is impressive, a testament to Stone’s talent.”

Netflix’s One Day at a Time Is Unpretentious, Artful, and a Pure Delight
Matt Zoller Seitz | Vulture
“The series still feels like comfort food. That’s because the newness of Penelope and her world is nestled within the tradition of the stage-bound, multi-camera, shot-before-a-live-audience comedy, as well as within the more specific Norman Lear tradition of creating major characters that represent distinct political viewpoints without denying their humanity, then pitting them against each other in verbal combat without giving up on the idealistic notion that there’s common ground to be found somewhere if you look hard enough.”

Kate Beckinsale Is a Legit Movie Star
K. Austin Collins | The Ringer
“Beckinsale’s best roles emphasize this lack of likability. Her peculiar talent is an uncanny ability to seem like she’s all surface, no depth. At least, that’s what we’ve seen when certain directors let her take that idea and run with it. Hence the miracle of her collaboration with Stillman, whose The Last Days of Disco (1998) gave Beckinsale her first seriously great role, and whose more recent Love & Friendship is a comparably rich, virtuosic turn almost 20 years later. Beckinsale is a presence who seems most alive when a director doesn’t take her intelligence for granted—which is rare.”