Masha Gessen: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (2012)

7 September 2014, dusan

Handpicked in 1999 by the ‘Family’ surrounding an ailing and increasingly unpopular Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin, with very little governmental or administrative experience beyond having served as deputy mayor of St Petersburg, seemed like the perfect choice in the eyes of an oligarchy bent on moulding the president’s successor to its own designs. Suddenly the boy who had scrapped his way through post-war Leningrad schoolyards, dreaming of ruling the world, was a public figure, and his popularity soared. Russia and an infatuated West were determined to see the progressive leader of their dreams, even as with ruthless efficiency Putin dismantled the country’s media, wrested control and wealth from the country’s burgeoning business class, and decimated the fragile mechanisms of democracy. Within a few brief years, virtually every obstacle to his unbridled control was removed and every opposing voice silenced, with political rivals and critics driven into exile or to the grave. As a journalist living in Moscow, Masha Gessen experienced this history firsthand, and for The Man Without a Face she has drawn on information and sources no other writer has tapped. Her horrifying and spellbinding account of how this ‘faceless’ man manoeuvred his way into absolute – and absolutely corrupt – power will stand as a classic of narrative non-fiction.

Publisher Riverhead Books, 2012
EISBN 9781101560600

Video interview with the author (52 min, Sydney Writers Festival, May 2012)
Review (Luke Harding, The Guardian, 2012)
Review (Anne Applebaum, The New York Review of Books, 2012)
Review (John Ehrman, Studies in Intelligence, 2014)


MOBI, (2)

Winnie Won Yin Wong: After the Copy: Creativity, Originality and the Labor of Appropriation: Dafen Village, Shenzhen, China, 1989-2010 (2010)

16 December 2013, dusan

“Since 1989, Dafen village in Shenzhen, China, has supplied millions of hand-painted oil-on-canvas paintings each year to global consumer markets. Accused of copying Western masterpieces, and spurred by the Chinese party-state’s creative industry policies, Dafen village’s eight thousand painters have been striving to become original artists. Simultaneously, conceptualist artists from outside Dafen village have engaged with the creative alienation of Dafen painters, by purchasing their labor in works of appropriation art. This study examines the discourses of creativity, originality, and appropriation that frame Dafen’s painting production, and sets them against an ethnography of flexible work in the South Chinese painting trade. It explores the myriad ways in which Dafen village lends itself to intellectual and aesthetic explorations of the separation of painting labor from conceptual labor, as enacted in both modernist and postmodernist framings of artistic authorship.

The study begins by charting the historical categorization of Chinese ‘export painting’ and the emergence of the ‘painting factory’ as a cultural imaginary of Sino-Western trade. It then examines the political stakes of ‘creativity’ as constructed in Dafen television propaganda made by the national and local party-state. Then, turning to a single Vincent van Gogh-specialty workshop and the transnational wholesale and retail of van Gogh trade paintings, it theorizes the relationship of ‘craft’ to modernist authorship and signature style. Finally, it scrutinizes cosmopolitan conceptual artists’ and designers’ collaborations with Dafen painters, exploring the ethical and aesthetic terms of universal creativity raised by the Dafen ‘readymade’. Establishing continuities between Dafen production and the making of ‘high’ art while challenging their putative antinomies, this study shows how the ideology of individual creativity undergirds the cultural industry policies of the local party-state, the consumer demand for authentic craft, and the appropriation of labor in contemporary art.” (Abstract)

Thesis, Ph. D. in History, Theory, and Criticism of Art and Architecture
Dept. of Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2010
Supervisor: Caroline A. Jones
410 pages



Thomas Pynchon: Bleeding Edge (2013)

24 September 2013, dusan

It is 2001 in New York City, in the lull between the collapse of the dot-com boom and the terrible events of September 11th. Silicon Alley is a ghost town, Web 1.0 is having adolescent angst, Google has yet to IPO, Microsoft is still considered the Evil Empire. There may not be quite as much money around as there was at the height of the tech bubble, but theres no shortage of swindlers looking to grab a piece of whats left.

Maxine Tarnow is running a nice little fraud investigation business on the Upper West Side, chasing down different kinds of small-scale con artists. She used to be legally certified but her license got pulled a while back, which has actually turned out to be a blessing because now she can follow her own code of ethicscarry a Beretta, do business with sleazebags, hack into peoples bank accountswithout having too much guilt about any of it. Otherwise, just your average working momtwo boys in elementary school, an off-and-on situation with her sort of semi-ex-husband Horst, life as normal as it ever gets in the neighborhoodtill Maxine starts looking into the finances of a computer-security firm and its billionaire geek CEO, whereupon things begin rapidly to jam onto the subway and head downtown. She soon finds herself mixed up with a drug runner in an art deco motorboat, a professional nose obsessed with Hitlers aftershave, a neoliberal enforcer with footwear issues, plus elements of the Russian mob and various bloggers, hackers, code monkeys, and entrepreneurs, some of whom begin to show up mysteriously dead. Foul play, of course.

With occasional excursions into the DeepWeb and out to Long Island, Thomas Pynchon, channeling his inner Jewish mother, brings us a historical romance of New York in the early days of the internet, not that distant in calendar time but galactically remote from where weve journeyed to since.

Will perpetrators be revealed, forget about brought to justice? Will Maxine have to take the handgun out of her purse? Will she and Horst get back together? Will Jerry Seinfeld make an unscheduled guest appearance? Will accounts secular and karmic be brought into balance?

Hey. Who wants to know?

Publisher Penguin, 2013
ISBN 0698142683, 9780698142688
496 pages
via tyl3rdurd3n

Review (Evgeny Morozov, Frankfurter Allgemeine)
Review (Justin St. Clair, Los Angeles Review of Books)
Review (Jonathan Lethem, The New York Times)
Review (Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal)
Review (Tim Martin, The Telegraph)
Review (Gary Lippman, The Paris Review)

Google books

Download (removed on 2013-10-9 upon request of the publisher)