Communism on the Second Floor

by Owen Hatherley

This is the authentic voice of post-1968 squatland, and it is not a shrill or hysterical one. It is found also in the famous Christiania in Copenhagen. A former barracks was occupied by young leftists, who then invited locals to come see 'the forbidden city' – and create it. Their manifesto called for 'a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible for the well-being of the entire community. This society is to be economically self-sustaining, and its common aspiration is to be steadfast in the conviction that psychological and physical destitution can be averted'. This is not the same thing as squatting a row of bombed-out terraces, and different even to the CPGB's 1940 occupation of the Savoy. It was not intended to draw attention to housing poverty, but to something else – that 'psychological destitution', represented by the entire post-war world of 9-5 work, technocracy, full employment, Fordism, predictability, the nuclear family, advertising, property development and municipal housing. [read full essay]

It Has the Character of Destiny

Giorgio Agamben, trans. Lorenzo Chiesa, The Adventure

reviewed by Stuart Walton

The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, best known still for his 1995 study of biopolitics, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, has concentrated in recent years on increasingly slender essays on some of philosophy's biggest questions. In lesser hands, these could easily turn into the short introductions and bluffer's guides in which trade publishing has established a lucrative sideline. Nothing could be further from Agamben's intention. His technique is to begin with an arcane scholarly... [read more]


Megan Dunn, Tinderbox

reviewed by James Cook

About halfway through Megan Dunn’s memoir, Tinderbox, there is a scene in which she recalls her interview for a master’s in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Her questioner, the acclaimed novelist and poet Michèle Roberts, offers aspiring author Dunn a sage piece of writing advice: ‘Play with your shit’. This she does, metaphorically speaking, throughout 150 pages of this wonderful, restless, formally daring first book. Tinderbox is such a shape-shifter, such a sui... [read more]

Between Romance and Reality

Jenna Clake, Fortune Cookie

reviewed by Ben Leubner

The poetry in Jenna Clake’s debut volume, Fortune Cookie, is a poetry of combinations. It’s part exuberant, Whitmanesque catalogues, part absurdist, Beckettian permutations. Given Clake’s interest in the Feminine and Feminist Absurd in 21st-century British and American poetry, though, it’s quite likely that my advancing Whitman and Beckett as influences right at the outset is problematic. So I shouldn’t say influences, perhaps; I should say, instead, ‘Things I thought of while I... [read more]

‘Spare a thought, toast munchers’

Sam Fisher, The Chameleon

reviewed by Venetia Welby

There is a fashion in contemporary fiction to scorn the idea of the disembodied third person narrator. Who is it who knows all this, one can’t help but ask. And why are they hiding in the shadows, writing this book? Samuel Fisher turns this issue on its head in his debut novel by having his narrator be the book itself, writing itself. Not just any book, but any book: ‘every word that is written . . . every great work and every pulp entertainment, every suicide note and every shopping... [read more]

Old Frontiers Seen Anew

Samuel Bolin, Three Pioneers

reviewed by Guy Stevenson

The press release for this complicated and blackly comic book pitches it somewhere between Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings and JM Coetzee’s 1974 debut Dusklands. Though less accessible than James’s Booker winner, Three Pioneers follows in its ambitious footsteps by updating postmodernist methods and ideas most current writers lack the patience, skill or inclination to go near. Through three bizarre, unconnected narratives – from a researcher of black sites in... [read more]

Setting the Ship Aright

Horatio Morpurgo, The Paradoxal Compass: Drake’s Dilemma

reviewed by PK Read

Whether going east or west, a northern maritime route skirting the Arctic was long a European fever dream. Northern passages have recently become more realistic due to declining levels of sea ice, and nations are bringing to bear their territorial claims along with the latest exploratory technologies for mineral and resource exploitation. Drilling and shipping are already on the rise, even before biologists have had an opportunity to learn more about the undiscovered life present in newly... [read more]

Tomorrow is Always a Day Away

Nigel Copsey and Matthew Worley (eds.), 'Tomorrow Belongs to Us': The British Far Right since 1967

reviewed by David Renton

The editors of this book are also authors of previous accounts of British fascism. Nigel Copsey's Anti-Fascism in Britain (1999) told the story of the conflict between fascism and anti-fascism since the 1920s; Matthew Worley's No Future (2017) explored how the left and the right related to post-punk after 1979, lengthening the story of the relationship between politics and music beyond the demise of Rock Against Racism in 1981. This volume is intended to showcase the work of a generation of... [read more]

Was it all futile?

John Kelly, Contemporary Trotskyism: Parties, Sects and Social Movements in Britain

reviewed by Ian Birchall

Among the many moral panics aroused by Jeremy Corbyn's accession to the Labour leadership has been the return of the spectre of Trotskyism. Lord Hattersley has warned that ‘the old gang is back’, referring explicitly to the Militant grouping of the 1980s; Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson has produced ‘evidence’ that Trotskyists were exerting influence within Momentum, the pro-Corbyn organisation. It makes good headlines; whether it bears any relation to reality is another... [read more]

‘Metaphors sustain us’

Hilton Als, White Girls

reviewed by Aida Amoako

In ‘You and Whose Army’, the penultimate essay in White Girls, Hilton Als writes: ‘We find truth – human truth – by pretending to be people we’re not. That frees us to explore the metaphor of being.’ Als pretends to be several people in White Girls, writing about his subjects with an emotional intimacy that is occasionally provocative but always illuminating. What Als has often referred to as a ‘Stanislavski’ method of writing is what makes the New Yorker theatre... [read more]

The First Rehearsal

James Attlee, Guernica: Painting the End of the World

reviewed by Mike Gonzalez

Pablo Picasso’s extraordinary commemoration of the bombing of the historic Basque town of Guernica is an iconic image. In Guernica: Painting the End of the World James Attlee explores the work in depth, and shows how the meanings of each figure on the canvas have been remade in every age and place. So powerful are its resonances that when Colin Powell announced the launch of Operation Shock and Awe at the United Nations, where a tapestry reworking of ‘Guernica’ was normally displayed,... [read more]