Sharp, Creamy, Fresh, Funky, Nutty

By Brandon SwardJanuary 19, 2024

Sharp, Creamy, Fresh, Funky, Nutty
CASUAL ENCOUNTERSZ, Baert Gallery, Los Angeles, January 17, 2024.

One day I googled how to create the perfect cheese board. I came across the following formula: something sharp, something creamy, something fresh, something funky, something nutty. On the surface, it is difficult to find much to argue with. A variety of textures and flavors, like flowers in a bouquet. Both the assembly of the cheese board and the literary reading must make a whole greater than the sum of the parts, while catering to a seemingly diverse clientele of largely bourgeois sensibility. 

Casual Encountersz is the reading-series brainchild of Sammy Loren, a wiry impresario who often “breaks the ice” himself. He read a preview from his other project, the Volta Collective, an L.A.-based dance theater company. Like a script, Loren’s words were gestural, bare, and angular, as if waiting to be inhabited and fleshed out by another. Were he a cheese, he might be sharp—a cheddar, perhaps.

After Loren entered Hedi El Kholti, co-editor of theory titan Semiotext(e) and writer in his own right. The passage he offered us was meandering and kaleidoscopic, moving freely between past and future, here and there. We heard of El Kholti’s late lover, and then his late lover’s late lover, who died of AIDS. While the shifts in time and place disoriented, certain markers anchored the narrative, including the Pet Shop Boys, queer dance-floor pioneers humming a distant melody in background of this era. We might think of El Kholti as the “something creamy,” like a wedge of Brie.

To offset this richness, the cheese board maker could select something fresh, a chèvre that knows nothing of the aging process of its cousins. For this, we have the comparatively young Cyrus Dunham. Through his elliptical approach to the familiar topic of the early sexual experience, Dunham left the audience with that “was that what I thought it was?” feeling that continues to linger after the fact.

And for the adventurous, something funky: Constance Debré. Tall, thin, and bald, Debré evoked that effortless cool that we have long associated with the French avant-garde. One hand held her pages, freeing the other to undo the button of her dark pin-striped blazer midway through her section as if releasing the steam that had accumulated during her descriptions of lesbian sex. She is Roquefort or some other blue that is marbled, strong, and tangy in a way that refuses to be ignored. 

As a finisher, we received Rachel Kushner, who brought us a scene from her upcoming novel that involved an extended discussion of Homo erectus, an extinct species of archaic humans that, as their name implies, were among the first primates to walk upright. More important to one of Kushner’s characters, however, was the fact that erectus’s era was also the moment, some believe, at which humans first domesticated fire, which led in turn to a retelling of the Prometheus myth. The whole conversation (“fiction,” Kushner assured us) was a bit nutty if you ask me.


Photo of Cyrus Dunham reading by contributor.

LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

LARB Contributor

Brandon Sward is an artist, writer, and organizer in Los Angeles. He used to edit the LARB Short Takes section, and is currently at work on a book about growing up queer and biracial in Colorado Springs, the “Evangelical Vatican.”


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