Document Launches Spring/Summer 2024: New Mythologies

Last August, I was fortunate enough to spend the final days of summer sunning myself in a pool in Fire Island—the closest bohemia I can think of in proximity to New York—letting the days drift into one another, as guests came and went. It was there, in a Horace Gifford-designed house belonging to the architect Charles Renfro and publicist Alexander Galan, that I discovered, or rather first started reading, professor Jeffrey J. Kripal’s book The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge. The Flip is Kripal’s ode to the unexplainable, or at least, the unexplainable within the context of generally accepted science. Although the majority of the phenomena that we experience can be explained by laws of physics, science, and nature, he argues, there is consistently a minority that lies outside of the explainable. It’s those unexplainable experiences, Kripal writes, that prove there is so much more to know about our very existence. Fire Island was a perfect place to take this deep dive, to be flipped.

I devoured Kripal’s ideas because of their disrupting the status quo with observed and recorded experiences, which connected the scientific and spiritual worlds, and they became ingrained in my thinking. It was then that I decided to devote an entire edition of Document to exploring New Mythologies—ideas that have challenged and continue to challenge our place in the universe, the psychological and sociological understanding of who we are, as well as metaphysical and cosmological ideas of space and time.

Myths make sense of the world. They, in the words of French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, “provide a logical model capable of overcoming contradiction.” But no myth is universal—faiths, societies, cultures, and subcultures across human existence have discovered different ways to explain an often inexplicable existence.

Art is central to mythmaking. It is, as Erykah Badu explains to Michèle Lamy, the job of creatives to reveal the realities of our society: “Sometimes the truth hurts, but the pain is necessary, like labor pains,” she says. “Eventually, something is born of it.” Artists challenge and reinvent the myths many take for granted, as director Lilly Wachowski tells us in her manifesto. Art-making “gives us access to dreaming and imagined spaces where anything is possible…. It is manifesting itself in our imaginations as a template to liberate ourselves…and change everything.”

Today, we have unparalleled access to information. What feels like the entirety of human knowledge is at our fingertips, and the swift development of new technologies surpasses our wildest visions. The impact of these technologies is self-evident—but less often acknowledged is how this era has given rise to the emergence of new mythologies, with mythic material being developed and disseminated at an unprecedented rate. As Caroline Busta writes in her essay on the transition from denotative to connotative meaning in mass media, our age of infinity-content has given rise to new forms of perceiving: “a meta reading of the shape and feel of content has become a survival skill.”

“Document is a space for the critical exploration of both possibilities and impossibilities, a magazine for visions, alternatives, and speculations. Above all, it’s a collection of ambitious ideas about our culture today and in the future.”

Some communities choose to embrace the impact of new technologies, as Features Director Camille Sojit Pejcha explores in her essay on Silicon Valley’s demigods: the self-identified techno-optimists willingly altering their bodies and minds in pursuit of a posthuman future. Others are looking further afield: to unidentified anomalous phenomena which, as Kripal tells preeminent UFOlogist Jacques Vallée, create an “experience that wants to communicate itself, that wants to change our culture, that wants to change our worldview.”

Myths of the present are informed by our past, just as they have always been. Document digs into hidden archives, including those of the midcentury photos by George Platt Lynes—unseen for their refusal of heterosexual propriety—with art director Sam Shahid and photographer Bruce Weber; we reconsider the legacy of Candy Darling, who writer Grace Byron describes as a “starlet of melodrama, a conservative fashion princess, and a romantic dreamer.” And we also invited today’s preeminent critics to return to the philosopher Roland Barthes’s 1950s Mythologies—updating discourses on marriage, gangsters, skincare, and cruise ships for the post-influencer era. To accompany these 15 micro-essays by authors like Chris Kraus, Natasha Stagg, and Executive Editor Drew Zeiba, artist Richard Kilroy created original illustrations that toy further with the past’s received ideas.

Intergenerational connection is key in this issue: Viggo Mortensen reflects on his mother’s impact on his cinematic growth, Schiaparelli’s Daniel Roseberry talks with his own mom, and Fashion Critic-at-Large Katharine K. Zarrella dives into how Jean Paul Gaultier is keeping haute couture alive by handing designers like Simone Rocha keys to his atelier.

Given the focus on New Mythologies, it is only fitting that we anticipate the unanticipated and welcome collaborations on 11 limited-edition covers. Fashion Director-at-Large Robbie Spencer envisions new realities with photographers Théo de Gueltzl, Paul Kooiker, and Melanie + Ramon while Style Director Ronald Burton III travels to Dallas to visualize Erykah Badu’s world with photographer Tyler Mitchell. Document also showcases Suffo Moncloa, and Jackie Nickerson, and Colin Dodgson who, with stylist Alice Goddard, take a trip to Paris to photograph actor Isabelle Huppert. The covers are rounded out with artist Collier Schorr capturing curator Clarissa Dalrymple at Performance Space New York, and unique images by Davit Giorgadze, Thue Nørgaard, and Luca Khouri.

Document is a space for the critical exploration of both possibilities and impossibilities, a magazine for visions, alternatives, and speculations. Above all, it’s a collection of ambitious ideas about our culture today and in the future. The epigraph to Kripal’s The Flip—a quote from playwright Arthur Miller—pulls the ground from beneath us: “An era can be considered over when its basic illusions have been exhausted.” For Document’s Spring/Summer 2024 issue, we ask what illusions have been shed, which are being built, and what new world is dawning.