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David Levi Strauss

David Levi Strauss is an American poet, essayist, art and cultural critic, and educator. He is a consulting editor at the Rail.

Guest Critic

What is Criticism, Now?

The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States is a self-inflicted wound that will not heal anytime soon. It will fester and infect other parts of the Social Body for years to come.

In Conversation

Green Hermeticism:
DAVID LEVI STRAUSS with Peter Lamborn Wilson & Christopher Bamford

Alchemy and Hermeticism are about the primacy of the in-between. Reality and healing and transformation and creation and art are in the in-between, the both-and. And to the extent that we lose the ability to be in-between, we lose the world, and, for now, we have lost the ability to be in-between, and we have lost the world.

Inconvenient Evidence: The Effects of Abu Ghraib

The following talk, illustrated with forty sets of slides, was given at The Great Hall at Cooper Union in Manhattan on November 9, 2004 to begin a conversation with Seymour Hersh, Luc Sante, and David Levi Strauss, moderated by Brian Wallis.

Dispatches from Denver

When Obama spoke of the debacle of the last eight years of American politics and said "We're better than this," people knew he meant them.

The Line We’re On

Now that it looks like things are finally beginning to fall apart for these thugs who have taken over the U.S. government, it’s difficult to know what worked, but one has to conclude that what we just saw documented in this video by Artists Against the War was at least a part of it.

Campaign Dispatches

Watching Jimmy Carter last night, all white hair and teeth in the lights, I remembered his candidacy in 1976, when Hunter S. Thompson endorsed him in Rolling Stone right before the election, guaranteeing the youth vote.

Campaign Dispatches: St. Paul and Beyond

Who says we can’t afford another big election about small things? Isn’t it the little things that matter most? Like Bristol Palin’s teen pregnancy, and her mother’s big gun? Like John McCain’s age and Barack Obama’s secret Muslim heart?

A Letter from Alf Landon

I received this letter from Alf Landon when I was fifteen years old, in Kansas, in 1968, after I’d written to him to complain that political party conventions were outmoded. Landon had supported Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Party in 1922, and was elected governor of Kansas in 1932, serving as a very popular moderate-to-liberal Republican, and gaining a reputation for cutting taxes and balancing the budget.


This is a clear infraction. The signal-to-noise barrier has been repeatedly violated in this sector. Irrational dogs roam the perimeter, barking in time.

New Image, New Reality

I felt early on, from age ten or so, that a big part of politics was emotional, and had everything to do with the collective imagination and memory.

Bruce X

I never knew Bruce Conner. But I did know a guy named Bruce who hung out at the Mabuhay Gardens in North Beach in 1978, taking pictures. I’d just arrived in San Francisco from Kansas, and the Mabuhay was the place to be.

In Conversation

DOROTHEA ROCKBURNE with David Levi Strauss and Christopher Bamford

Shortly after attending the opening of Dorothea Rockburne: In My Mind’s Eye at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton (June 19 – August 14, 2011), Rail Consulting Editor David Levi Strauss and Christopher Bamford went to Dorothea Rockburne’s studio in SoHo to discuss the show.

A Little Boy Lies Face Down on the Beach

A little boy lies face down on the beach, as if sleeping. He is dressed in a red shirt, blue pants, and sneakers, and his hair is neatly combed. He looks peaceful. Someone should wake him, before the sun burns his skin and the cold waves reach him.

The Death of John Berger

John Berger died just as the United States of America was crossing over from the triumph of neoliberalism to the final melding of corporate power with state power that defines fascism.

The Photography of Robert Bergman

Robert Bergman is a photographer who extends out of the tradition of Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams, poets who possessed a bottomless empathy for their subjects. And, like a poet, his work can be found in a book, rather than in a gallery.

In Conversation

Martin Puryear with David Levi Strauss

In the midst of preparing for his retrospective at MoMA, Martin Puryear took time out to talk about his life and work with the Rail’s Consulting Editor, David Levi Strauss. They are neighbors in the Hudson River Valley, and the conversation took place at Strauss’s home near High Falls, not far from Puryear’s house and studio.

In Conversation

Terry Winters with Phong Bui, David Levi Strauss, and Peter Lamborn Wilson

On the occasion of Terry Winters’ new exhibit Knotted Graphs, which comprises two new series of paintings and fourteen graphite drawings and will be on view at Matthew Marks Gallery on West 22nd street until January 24, 2009, the painter welcomed Rail publisher Phong Bui and consulting editors David Levi Strauss and Peter Lamborn Wilson on-site to talk about the new body of work.

In Conversation

ALFREDO JAAR with Phong Bui, Dore Ashton, and David Levi Strauss

"It's too easy to blame Kevin Carter for being the vulture, where in fact we are the vultures, the vulture is us," says Jaar.

Leo Steinberg (1920 - 2011)

Leo Steinberg was a great writer. His writings will endure as long as readers still exist who cherish art and writing as much as he did.

Railing Opinion: Considering the Alternative

It has been clear for some time now that the American people love art—the museums are choked with visitors and the art market is booming—but hate artists, who are widely regarded as elitist troublemakers.

In Conversation

DAVID LEVI STRAUSS with Jarrett Earnest

David Levi Strauss is a writer who looks deeply into the dark realities of our world, providing analysis that is both sensitive and urgent. His newest work, Words Not Spent Today Buy Smaller Images Tomorrow: Essays on the Present and Future of Photography (Aperture, 2014) is a major intervention in contemporary discourse on photography and political representation.

In Conversation

Debra Bricker Balken with David Levi Strauss

David Levi Strauss talks with Debra Bricker Balken about her new book, Harold Rosenberg: A Critic’s Life, and how the battles among New York writers, poets, intellectuals, and artists in the middle of the 20th century set the stage for what was to come in the 21st century, especially when it comes to arguments about the relation between art and politics.

In Conversation

Bill Berkson with David Levi Strauss

On April 25, poet and critic Bill Berkson came to Rail headquarters in Greenpoint and sat down to discuss his life and work with Rail’s Consulting Editor David Levi Strauss.

The Bias of the World: Curating After Szeemann & Hopps

Under the Roman Empire the title of curator (“caretaker”) was given to officials in charge of various departments of public works: sanitation, transportation, policing. The curatores annonae were in charge of the public supplies of oil and corn. The curatores regionum were responsible for maintaining order in the fourteen regions of Rome.

In Conversation

Green Hermeticism: David Levi Strauss in conversation with Peter Lamborn Wilson and Christopher Bamford

"We all agreed that there is not a sufficient spiritual focus for the environmental movement," says Lamborn Wilson. "And without a spiritual focus, a movement like this doesn't generate the kind of emotional energy that it needs to battle against global capitalism."

In Conversation

Michael Brenson with David Levi Strauss and Phong Bui

One Saturday afternoon in February, Rail publisher Phong Bui drove up the Hudson Valley to High Falls, New York to visit our consulting editor David Levi Strauss in his library, where they both sat down to talk to art critic Michael Brenson about his life and work.

In Conversation


On the occasion of the pending release of his new film The Miscreants of Taliwood, artist and filmmaker George Gittoes, while visiting New York, sat down with David Levi Strauss at his High Falls home in upstate New York to talk about war, sex, religion, politics, lightness and darkness, and the impetus behind his films and his art.


Beuys was fascinated by the Twin Towers. He must have seen them to great effect when he flew into John F. Kennedy Airport on January 19. In the terms of his theory of sculpture, the Twin Towers were classic crystalline forms: rigid, dry, and cold, like the basalt columns of 7000 Oaks.

In Conversation

In Conversation with PETER LAMBORN WILSON

Prior to the opening reception of the writer/artist's new show at 1:1 gallery, (Vanishing Art & Hoodoo Metaphysics, September 23 – October 20) a group of students the Art Criticism and Writing M.F.A. program at the School of Visual Arts drove upstate to speak with Peter Lamborn Wilson.

In Conversation

Lucy Raven with David Levi Strauss

“I think that there are tools in abstraction that feel relevant right now. That there can be room for a kind of individuated projection to happen over time in a collective space. To be in that space right now with others, to me feels grounding.”

A Tribute to Leon Golub (1922–2004)

Remembering Golub by David Levi Strauss; Leon Golub 1922–2004 by Clayton Eshelman; A Tribute: Leon Golub by Phong Bui

FROM METAPHYSICS TO INVECTIVE: Art Criticism as if it Still Matters*

I’ve found that students who are beginning to write criticism usually start with the vehement denunciation and vituperation first, and it might be a very long time before they get around to the metaphysics.

A Critical Week in Chile

At the end of October, Alfredo Jaar invited a number of artists and writers from all over the world to join him in Santiago, Chile for a Semana Crítica (Week of Criticism or Discussion).

BILL BERKSON (1939 – 2016)

A Jolt and a Gem

Bill was first and last a poet, certainly, but also a great writer on art. He was there at the birth of the short-form review, mostly written by poets, and became an exemplar of that unforgiving form, wherein every word must hold.

Dear Irving

If it’s not good writing, it can’t be good criticism, to paraphrase Walter Benjamin in “The Author as Producer.” That’s the basic premise of my graduate program in Art Criticism & Writing at the School of Visual Arts.

Nancy Spero: The Drawing Center & Galerie Lelong

In an early video, made by Patsy Scala, Nancy Spero works in her New York studio in 1973. We see her laying out sections of her scroll Codex Artaud across the wooden floorboards. The camera slowly scans the images and texts scattered over the loosely unfurled hand-made paper sheets that curl at their edges.

David Levi Strauss
on Leon Golub

One of the virtues of this little show at the Met is that it reminds us of the extent to which the problem with Golub’s work, in terms of institutional support, was not only political, but also aesthetic. From the beginning of his mature work, Golub was trying to find a new way to paint, and that pursuit put him in constant conflict with reigning orthodoxies.

Railing Opinion: Right on Time

The current (Summer 2010) issue of Aperture magazine contains a curious article written by Andy Grundberg, former photography critic for the New York Times and now Associate Dean and Chair of Photography at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C.

Some Shorter Lines for MARTIN PURYEAR

A few months ago, Martin Puryear asked me to write an essay for a catalogue to accompany an exhibition of his new work at McKee Gallery (May 3 - June 29, 2012). When I went to Martin’s studio to see the sculptures that would appear in the show, the wheels immediately began to turn, and I knew that I could write the essay.

Magic, Alchemy, and Esoteric Thought in Works by Robert Duncan and Jess*

I knew Robert Duncan and Jess in the last 10 years of Duncan’s life, from 1978 to 1988. I just realized yesterday that I am now the age that Duncan was when I first met him (60). But then, I was 25.

Radial Asymmetries

The essayist and fiction writer Guy Davenport died just after the first of the year, at age 77. On an afternoon in May, Robert Kelly came over from Bard to “my side of the river,” to High Falls, and we sat down to discuss Davenport’s life and works. 

Magic & Images/ Images & Magic

This was an opening paper for a conference at Princeton University, “Magic and the American Avant-Garde Cinema.”

In Conversation

ROBERT KELLY with John Yau, David Levi Strauss, and Phong Bui

On a late Saturday afternoon in August, Publisher Phong Bui and Art Editor John Yau drove up to High Falls, New York, to visit the poet and writer Robert Kelly at Consulting Editor David Levi Strauss’s library to discuss Kelly’s life and work.

A Tribute to Thomas Nozkowski

Tom was one of the first postwar artists to question the heritage, hubris, and clichéd bloat of Abstract Expressionism. His intelligence transformed art as a political act; the creation of exquisite canvases that would fit in humble homes and not necessarily be destined for corporations or institutions

Dispatches from the Political Conventions

As we begin to pack up the Jetta for the trip to Cleveland, an ISIS-inspired lone loser has devastated Nice by turning driving into terror, after the shooter in Dallas turned cop-killing into terror, and speculations abound about what particular kind of terror will hit Cleveland this week.

Dispatches from the Campaign

The first Presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump wasn’t quite as impressive, in the end, but Clinton was able to bait Trump and goad him into a flurry of attacks that left him winded and gasping. She didn’t knock him out, but most post-debate commentators gave her a clear victory on points.

Dispatches from the Campaign

When Trump supporters view the Access Hollywood video, they see and hear something completely different from what anti-Trump people see and hear in it.

The Secret is Out

Periodically, it seems, the fake language of power is pushed aside by the real language of power on the floor of the U.S. Senate, in a hearing for the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice nominee.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2023

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