cover image Black Paper: Writing in a Dark Time

Black Paper: Writing in a Dark Time

Teju Cole. Univ. of Chicago, $22.50 (288p) ISBN 978-0-226-64135-5

In this erudite collection of observations written over the past three years, art historian Cole (Known and Strange Things) meditates on art, identity, politics, and literature to decipher “the fractured moment in our history.” The title (a reference in part to the way old-fashioned carbon paper was used to bring words to life) hints at the varied topics to follow, which—in two dozen essays that span travelogue, autobiography, and family memoir—“collectively argue for the urgency of using our senses... to respond to experience... and intensify our ethical commitments.” In his search for light in the darkness that consumed the time between 2016 and 2019, Cole zeroes in on the work of Italian painter Caravaggio, who wrung inspiration from life’s less pleasant aspects and turned “profound grief” into an “astonishing achievement” with his Entombment of Christ (1603–1604); and Black culture’s paradoxical power to bridge the divide between the “colonial hangover” of Africa and “American experiences of slavery.” Elsewhere, he challenges the Joycean interpretation of the term epiphany, asking readers not to see it as a “narrative device” in which all of one’s problems are patly solved by “flashes of insight,” but instead as an opening of one’s consciousness. Offering a window into his articulate worldview, Cole brings into sharp relief the very humanity he seeks. (Oct.)