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by Duane Michals
Twin Palms Publishers, 2001
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jul 15th 2002

Questions without answers

Questions without answers is an oddly naive collection of photographs and text by Duane Michals.  The questions are universal:  What is language, what is luck, what is magic, what is consciousness, what is life, what is humor, what is nothing, and so on.  The black and white photographs are accompanied with poems.  For example, the poem in the section “What is Desire” starts

Desire is a coveting need, an urgent greedy appetite

To acquire and consume to satisfaction

Unlike love which lives to serve,

Desire is self-serving and seeks its own reward.

These poems are thoughtful and earnest, lacking in sophistication.  The photographs are playful and almost childlike in their approach.   Take the ones concerning the question what is magic. In a series of images, a young man in his twenties, wearing a white shirt and black bow tie and a top hat shows a canary in a cage, covers the cage with a towel , and when he removes the towel, the bird is gone.  He then lifts his hat to reveal the bird on his head.  It is hard to know how to interpret these images; is Michals simply having fun, or whether he has something to say.  These images are striking but odd, and certainly they are very distinctive.  The poetry lacks the same virtues, and is hard to take at all seriously.  The humor in the pictures is appealing, and is unusual, and there’s a quizzical quality to the images that suggests Michals has ideas, but it is just hard to figure out what they are.  All in all, this is a rather disappointing volume, lacking the directness and intriguing narratives of some of his better earlier work. 


Link: Publisher’s web page


© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.


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