My reviews, interviews, personal essays, and cultural criticism–writings on the cultural politics of American society, pop culture, subcultures, gender, sexuality, the media, the Digital Age, visual culture, and food–have appeared in Artforum, ARTnews, The Baffler, Boing Boing, Bookforum, Cabinet, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Daily Beast, Elle, Hyperallergic, The L.A. Times, New York, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Salon, The Village Voice, Vogue Hommes, The Washington Post, and Wired, among others.
Assigning editor? Publisher? Artist, gallerist, or curator in need of a catalogue essay? This Grub Street scribbler is always game for paying assignments. Send me a message.
Here are a few of My Favorite Things.
- “The Undertow.” “In Jeff Sharlet’s new book, a heartbreaking narrative of the disintegration of the U.S. through frontline reportage on far-right extremism.” 4 Columns, March 24, 2023.
- “Grandfather Photo” in Lost Objects: 50 Stories About the Things We Miss and Why They Matter, ed. Josh Glenn and Rob Walker (Los Angeles: Hat & Beard Press, 2022). (This essay first appeared on HILOBROW, December 2, 2019.)
- “Effing the Ineffable: A Writer Takes Psilocybin.” “I took magic mushrooms in hopes of curing my existential malaise. Instead, the mushroom gave me a master class in the alien strangeness of language, and how even writers are at war with words.” Medium, August 26, 2022.
- “A Medicine for Melancholy: How Magic Mushrooms Can Teach Us To Tell Ourselves New Stories.” “Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is helping sufferers from depression, anxiety, and addiction. But it also holds out hope for those of us (especially writers) haunted by the existential blues.” Medium, August 11, 2022.
- “‘I is an Other’: The Self is a Gothic Fiction.” “Is the self a story we tell ourselves in order to tie the ‘bundle of partly autonomous systems’ we call our minds into a coherent ‘I’?” Medium, August 2, 2022.
- “The Thing in the Mirror.” “What Depersonalization Taught Me, at Age Three, About the Strangeness of the Self and the Weirdness of the World — and How the Pandemic Brought It All Back.” Medium, July 28, 2022.
- “Blackness Visible: Jean-Michel Basquiat.” “Too often, the life blocks our view of the work. We can’t see past the myth: his rock-star fame; the boldfaced names in his orbit; his fatal embrace of the demon lover, heroin. Which is why, when you’re face to face with it, his art leaves you jaw-dropped.” Medium, July 1, 2022.
- “How Jean-Michel Basquiat Rose to Be King of the Art World.” “The art establishment was never quite sure what to do with a self-taught artist like Basquiat, who owed as much to bebop and William S. Burroughs’s cut-up technique as he did to African influences.” Hyperallergic, June 29, 2022.
- “Nomen est Omen: When Your Name Says the Quiet Part Loud.” “What do names tell us about people — and what should we have known about Trump?” Medium, June 27, 2022.
- “Reality is Trolling You: The Farcical Nightmare of Post-Trump America.” “To be an American, picking your way through the debris field of what used to be, at least nominally, a democracy — before Trump and his confederacy of dunces defiled, corrupted, plundered, pimped, sabotaged, and otherwise destabilized it from within — is to live in a nation permanently on edge, a nation whose nervous system has been short-circuited by post-traumatic stress.” Medium, May 31, 2022.
- “The Unseen Depths of Winslow Homer’s ‘The Gulf Stream.’” “In this moment of racial reckoning, we cannot continue viewing Homer’s masterpiece as an apolitical seascape painting.” Hyperallergic, June 30, 2022.
- “Why Writers Drink—and This One Doesn’t.” “Alcohol offers a devil’s bargain: inspiration through disinhibition, at the cost of a few I.Q. points, maybe even an early grave. Why are writers, more than other artists, so willing to take that risk?” Medium, May 16, 2022.
- “A Philosopher Laughs at Death — and the Public Listens.” “Can Simon Critchley make Heidegger, the Nazi philosopher, palatable?” The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 28, 2022.
- “How Stoicism Became Broicism.” “Is it any mystery why rich tech bro’s (and their fanboys) love self-absorbed Roman philosopher-kings?” Medium, April 18, 2022.
- “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Bald Woman.” “Why do bald women make us uncomfortable? Let’s unpack the cultural baggage — the misogynoir, the anxious masculinity, the Fear of the Weird— behind Chris Rock’s joke and Will Smith’s slap (with a little help from Isaac Hayes, Pat Evans — the badass with the bullwhip on those Ohio Players covers — and the warrior women from Black Panther).” Medium, April 4, 2022.
- “Exhilarating Dreamlands of the Unconscious at the Met Museum.” Longform review of the Metropolitan Museum’s groundbreaking “Surrealism Beyond Borders” show, which in the words of its curators aims “to change the equation of Surrealism with Paris and the related idea that Parisian Surrealism was then spread around the world.” Hyperallergic, January 13, 2022.
- “The Professor of Paranoia: Mark Crispin Miller, who is suing his colleagues, used to study conspiracy theories. Now he pushes them,” Chronicle of Higher Education, May 12, 2021.
- “A Close Reading of the QAnon Shaman’s Conspiracy Manifesto: How RFK Jr., Naomi Wolf, and an NYU Professor Ended Up on the Same Page as QAnon Cultist Jacob Chansley,” LitHub, November 15, 2021.
- “An Archconservative Magazine Discovers Afrofuturism at the Met and Is Not Pleased: Conservative critic Gilbert T. Sewall wants to make the Met great again”, Hyperallergic, November 18, 2021.
- “John Giorno: Fighting the Battle of Gay Liberation in a Homophobic World,” ruminations–part personal essay, part book review–on the performance poet John Giorno, pegged to the posthumous publication of his memoir, Great Demon Kings. LitHub, August 14, 2020.
- “Nostradamus of the Obvious,” media-critical essay on NPR commentator Cokie Roberts, staunch defender of the status quo and “mouthpiece for conventional wisdom who channeled the worldview of the D.C. elite for drive-time audiences.” The Baffler, January 8, 2020.
- “Edward Gorey’s Gothic Nonsense,” essay on gay themes and allusions in Gorey’s work, the queerness of Gorey’s aesthetic, and critics’ moral panic over my biography of Gorey, which acknowledged the influence of Gorey’s sexuality on his work. Gay & Lesbian Review, December 28, 2019.
- “The Last Time I Saw John Giorno,” personal essay about the performance poet on the occasion of his death. Hyperallergic, November 8, 2019.
- “Nothing Succeeds Like Excess: Camp at the Met,” essay on the Fashion Institute show “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” at the Metropolitan Museum. Brooklyn Rail, July 2019.
- “Ziggy’s Reliquaries,” 3,000-word essay on “Bowie is” exhibition at The Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn Rail, May 1, 2018.
- “Max Ernst’s Collage Novels Are Part Séance, Part Victorian Underworld, and All Uncanny,” essay on Max Ernst’s “collage novels” on the occasion of Dover’s reprint, for the first time in almost 40 years, of these Surrealist classics. Hyperallergic, February 9, 2018.
- “Mourning eBay’s Days as the Internet’s Kitschiest, Most Surreal Mall,” essay on “the passing of the old eBay [as] the last nail in the cyberflâneur’s coffin,” Hyperallergic, May 19, 2017.
- “A Crash Course For the Ravers: Bowie Studies Comes of Age,” essay on serious scholarly interest in David Bowie, followed by an interview with philosopher Simon Critchley about his book Bowie, The Los Angeles Review of Books, March 16, 2017.
- “‘Most Evil’: Who Keeps Buying All These Mein Kampfs? Time has not dimmed the appalling (and ultimately soporific) evil tucked into the pages of a book so noxious that no book jacket will ever do it justice.” Essay. The Daily Beast, March 20, 2016.
- “Afrofuturism Reloaded: 15 Theses in 15 Minutes. Why is a term coined 24 years ago to theorize the dystopian fiction of being black in America suddenly hotter than a bottle rocket?” Essay on the viral popularity of the “Afrofuturism” meme. Fabrikzeitung magazine, February 1, 2016.
- “Strunk and White’s Macho Grammar Club: The sleek, no-frills esthetic of Modernism and the gray-flannel ’50s both influenced the utilitarian mindset that dictates the rules of usage in The Elements of Style.” Essay. The Daily Beast, July 12, 2015.
- “Eat the Rude: Hannibal Lecter meets the 99%. The good doctor’s tastes illustrate our insecurities about class. Here’s what’s really on the menu in Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal.” Essay. Boing Boing, February 17, 2015.
- “Let’s put the guilt back in guilty pleasures. Guilty pleasures aren’t always merely self-loathing elitism or ironic tastelessness. They can also be a sign of genuine ambivalence–a feeling to cherish.” Essay. Boing Boing, February 2, 2015.
- “Self-Dissection: a conversation with satirical English author Will Self.” Essay, lengthy interview. Boing Boing, January 21, 2015.
- “William S. Burroughs and the ‘Dead-End Horror of the Centipede God’: Mark Dery takes a deep, dark look at the world of Chilopodophobia,” essay on the symbolism and psychobiographical roots of centipede imagery in the fiction of Beat writer William S. Burroughs. Boing Boing, August 4, 2014.
- “Sick Roses: Disease and the Art of Medical Illustration,” interview with cultural historian Richard Barnett on the occasion of the publication of his history of medical illustration, The Sick Rose. Thought Catalog, August 2, 2014.
- “The Rat King: On the Fascinations (and Repulsions) of Rattus,” longform digressive essay on the rat as pest, symbol, incarnation of gothic horror, catalyst for digust, human surrogate, food source, and more. From the website blurb: “In what he calls ‘an Experiment in Controlled Digression,’ Mark Dery touches on Victor Hugo’s fondness for rat pâté, rat-baiting as a betting sport in Victorian times, the rat as New York’s unofficial mascot, Luis Buñuel’s pet rat, scientific research into such pressing questions as whether rats laugh, and whether rats will inherit the Earth as a result of climate change, Dracula’s dominion over rats, and of course the (cryptozoological myth? well-documented phenomenon?) of the Rat King.” Boing Boing, May 27, 2014.
- “The Revenge of the Lawn: Mark Dery charts America’s ecocidal obsession with nice grass,” longform essay on the social history and ecological costs of the perfectly manicured, unnaturally green suburban lawn. Boing Boing, May 7, 2014.
- “Skin in the Game: An American Gothic, in Black and White,” an essay on race hate, the history of lynching, and the murder of Trayvon Martin. Thought Catalog, July 22, 2013.
- “Nerval’s Lobster,” essay on the proto-Surrealist poet Gerard de Nerval, who famously took a lobster for a walk in a Paris park; first in a series called “Self-Help for Surrealists,” Boing Boing, February 18, 2013.
- “The Kraken Wakes: What Architeuthis is Trying to Tell Us,” bellettristic (yet heavily reported!) science article, featuring interviews with the world’s three top squid scientists, about the first-ever capture of the giant squid on video, Boing Boing, January 28, 2013.
- A Season in Hell,” lengthy essay on My Cancer Year, the psychology of being a patient, the “overlit purgatory” of the hospital, and how being a writer kept me sane in the face of a near-fatal disease, Boing Boing, April 12, 2012.
- “The Importance Of Being Ernest: Hemingway Meets The Gay Gothic,” essay on Hemingway’s anxious masculinity–his homophobia, latent homosexuality, transvestic fantasies, hair fetishism, and overall “genderqueerness,” pegged on the “restored edition” of A Moveable Feast, Thought Catalog, December 9, 2011.
- “Ghost Babies,” an extensively revised version of an essay previously published in the Australian magazine Photofile, on the traffic, on eBay, in Victorian post-mortem photography, Boing Boing, March 25, 2011.
- “Edward Gorey’s Sensibility is Growing Like Nightshade,” feature on the artist Edward Gorey’s posthumous popularity and his mounting influence on pop culture, The New York Times, March 2, 2011.
Rock’s Back Pages, a mammoth, pay-per-view “exclusive archive of 50 years of rock ‘n’ roll history,” ranging from articles to audio recordings of interviews, now offers (to paid subscribers, with a few freebies to bait the trap) some of my rockcrit and music journalism from the Early Years of Bitter Struggle. My author page is here.
My Greatest Hits, from my days toiling in the golden ghetto of music journalism, include stories on mainstream (or at least “mainstream cult”) artists such as Laurie Anderson, John Cale, Negativland, Robyn Hitchcock, HÃ¼sker DÃ¼, Kraftwerk, Max Roach, David Lee Roth (God help me), Sonic Youth, Sun Ra, and the incomparable Shriekback (a personal favorite, whom I leapt at the chance to interview). I was one of the first white journalists to frame hip-hop artists, especially turntablists, as avant-gardists (Afrika Bambaataa, De La Soul, Digital Underground, Public Enemy, Grandmaster Flash). As well, I covered the downtown NYC and New Music scenes of the ’80s and ’90s–John Zorn, Elliott Sharp, Fred Frith, Glenn Branca, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Zeena Parkins, Sussan Deyhim, Shelley Hirsch, Ben Neill, Rhys Chatham, and the unforgettable Sonny Sharrock–when the Lower East Side was still no man’s land for most music critics.