BOOKMARKS: Robin Bernat's July Reading List

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All photos by Robin Bernat.

The books I am currently reading or recently read are an odd assortment: Some are purely for pleasure while others are in preparation for upcoming curation at {Poem88}, or for my own art-making. Sadly, I read significantly less fiction these days but, on occasion, I fit in a re-read of a favorite Jane Austen or Henry James and some John Keats or even Emily Dickinson when something someone says happens to jog my memory of a favorite poem.
I read a lot of news over the past year.  Having a particular interest in politics and social justice, I read many articles about the 2012 election, the murder of Trayvon Martin and the progress of the case against George Zimmerman, and the various attempts by state legislatures across the country to undo the important progress of Roe v. Wade or to weaken worker’s rights. But, on to the list:
1. The History of Love (c.2005)  by Nicole Krauss appeals very specifically to my romantic sensibilities. It is the story of Leo Gursky and Alma Singer, two characters linked by Leo’s novel, a love-letter to his childhood sweetheart, and shared by Alma’s mother and now deceased father. When the story begins, Leo is already an old man who has lost his one true love and Alma, a young girl named by her parents for the main character in Leo’s book, becomes drawn into the search for the book’s mysterious author. There are other characters in the book who either aid or prevent the discovery, but ultimately Leo and Alma are destined to meet and bring full circle Leo’s sad tale and how his early love encapsulated in his novel lives on in another generation. The book, poetic and experimental, garnered much praise on its publication and I highly recommend it to all the love-junkies out there.

Kelly Taylor Mitchell: Kin, Spirit, Seed on view at Westobou Gallery, Augusta


2. For one of my own projects that examines how far we’ve come, or how far we still have to go, to achieve Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of the Beloved Community, I am reading Vincent Harding’s Hope and History: Why We Must Share the Story of the Movement (c.2009). Dr. Harding was pivotal in the creation of the Martin Luther King Memorial Center and he and his wife were active participants and historians of the civil rights movement that he is keen to correctly call the Black Freedom Movement.  It seems especially important now to know his thoughts and commitment to social justice in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling last week to dismantle important provisions of the Voting Rights Act. In the book, Dr. Harding also shares a concise history of the Black artistic projects of that time. Entitled “Poets, Musicians and Magicians: Prophetic Black Artists of the New Creation,” chapter 7 considers the earliest artistic expressions of hopes for our democracy from Walt Whitman to John Coltrane, Sun Ra and beyond. Chapter 10, “Is America Possible,” more directly addresses Dr. King’s colorblind ideal of the Beloved Community.  I hope I might have an opportunity to interview Dr. Harding myself and hear from him personally how he conceives of the Beloved Community presently.


Kirsten Stolle's Only You Can Prevent A Forest on view at Halsey Institute through Dec 10, 2022

3. In preparation for P. Seth Thompson’s October show, The Last One, at {Poem88}, I read Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven (c. 2012). Dr. Alexander, a neurosurgeon, recounts a near-death experience while he was comatose and suffering from bacterial meningitis. He tells a tale that is both familiar and unusual: He presents very plainly the details of his medical condition at the time and the impossibility that his specific near-death experience was generated by his brain; rather he posits that it was a journey of his spirit.  He proposes his expertise as a neurosurgeon allows him to give an unbiased account of heaven.  It is a curious story and has generated much discussion (with Seth) about the afterlife and how it is rendered in art and in film.


4. A long piece in the April 22 The New Yorker by Jennie Erin Smith seemed like a bit of serendipity in planning the current show at {Poem88}, Et in Arcadia Ego. The article, “A State of Nature: Life, death, and tourism in the Darien Gap” gives a remarkable account of the remote, dense jungle that surrounds the border of Panama and Colombia and how truly unnavigable it is. The Pan-American Highway cannot traverse this section of wilderness, yet indigenous people, outlaws, and guerrilla soldiers inhabit it. It is a fascinating story about the clash of civilization and wilderness, a no-man’s land, a hiding place, an impenetrable Eden.


5. Finally, I began reading David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East (c. 1989) sometime this winter, and, because my progress has been so slow, the current Turkish uprising has occurred and I’ve yet to complete the book.  It is a dense tome exposing the uncanny enormity of misinformation that informed both British and German secret intelligence—misinformation that influenced each countries’ wartime allegiances and pacts and ultimately led to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the modern state of Israel. Fromkin, through exhaustive research, exposes an unbelievable series of errors that were made through the cloudy vision of Orientalism and the complete misapprehension of Middle Eastern culture.
On the dust jacket, Reid Beddow of the Washington Post sums it up best:

From the minarets of Central Asia to the souks of Cairo; from the intrigues of Russian agents in the Khyber Pass to the plots of emirs in the Hejaz; the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street to the Sublime Port in Constantinople, Fromkin unfolds a gripping tale of diplomatic double-dealing, military incompetence and political upheaval.


—Robin Bernat, July 2 2013

Robin Bernat is an experimental filmmaker and poet whose work explores beauty and feeling and their provisional qualities. Images tinged with nostalgia collectively create evocative narratives with both personal and universal meaning. Her work appeared in the 2000 Whitney Biennial of the Whitney Museum of American Art; she has exhibited her work nationally at the Kemper Museum of Art, the Cheekwood Museum, the Masur Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia (MOCA-GA). Her work is represented in several museum, corporate and private collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Kemper Museum of Art, The Weatherspoon Museum and the High Museum. She is also the owner and curator of {Poem88}, an art gallery and bookshop located in the Westside Provisions District in Atlanta, GA.


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