Telling Tales Out of School: Impact, Literature and the Academy

by Duncan Wheeler

In ‘Why I Quit,’ an already infamous piece published in the London Review of Books in Autumn 2014, Marina Warner rallies against the increasingly top-heavy corporate style of modern British universities. I can perfectly understand her frustration, and I agree with many of her complaints about the higher education system – the willingness to take on under-par fee-paying graduate students, an exponential growth in administrators and philistinism – but I was somewhat less convinced by her portrait of my colleagues and me as sacrificial lambs to the slaughter. In my experience, the correspondent from the Daily Telegraph was closer to the mark: ‘Most professions harbour rivalry and backbiting, but academics make politicians look like fawning puppies.' [read full essay]

All Or Nothing

Bernard Porter, British Imperial: What the Empire Wasn’t

reviewed by Jeremy Wikeley

There are a number of strange things about Bernard Porter’s rise to the position of ‘king of the sceptics’ in British imperial history. Take, for instance, the fact that he seems so keen to embrace the title. Porter frames British Imperial: What the Empire Wasn’t as popular history, setting out to challenge a variety of myths and misconceptions about the British Empire’s rise, rule, fall and legacy, but it is difficult not to read British Imperial as a good-natured shot across the... [read more]

April in Arizona: Nabokov’s West

Robert Roper, Nabokov in America: On the Road to Lolita

reviewed by Elsa Court

Vladimir Nabokov enjoyed offering lists of his own personal tastes and dislikes, in fiction, in interviews, and even in private. Admittedly, this habit tested the patience of those who knew him personally, but while the list of his most hated things is entertaining, eclectic and seemingly incidental (‘jazz, [bullfighting], progressive schools, music in supermarkets, swimming pools, brutes, bores’), his personal passions are presented as fewer, more carefully elected and often... [read more]

Rigor Artis

John Banville, The Blue Guitar

reviewed by James Pulford

‘The past beats inside me like a second heart.’ So says Max Morden, the narrator of John Banville’s Booker-winning novel The Sea (2005), in an aside that could have been uttered by almost any of the soul-searching narrators Banville has created in the past 45 years. Banville has, after all, been writing the same kind of literary humanism for most of his career, and The Blue Guitar is certainly no departure. Like Max Morden before him (and other narrators, such as Alexander Cleave in... [read more]

Death in Life

Roger Luckhurst, Zombies: A Cultural History

reviewed by Imogen Woodberry

Among the classic monsters of popular legend the zombie is often seen as a somewhat subordinate figure. While the vampire conjures gothic associations – of Hungarian castles and elegantly cadaverous counts, Frankenstein, the mysteries of alchemy and the occult – the unthinking, unfeeling, speechless and stumbling zombie is a figure bracketed with the crass horror films and violent videogames of contemporary culture. Yet despite its comparative lack of high-cultural literary purchase, it has... [read more]

The Symbolic Economy

Malcolm Miles, Limits to Culture: Urban Regeneration Vs. Dissident Art

reviewed by Harry Stopes

Limits to Culture: Urban Regeneration vs Dissident Art begins with a discussion of urban change in the developed world in the last three decades. Drawing on the research of other scholars, Malcolm Miles examines de-industrialised cities such as Liverpool, Bilbao, and Barcelona, describing how an often piecemeal set of new developments, renovations and city branding projects, driven by private individuals, corporations and local and national governments, has transformed these places. Where... [read more]

Image Discourse

Volker Pantenburg, Farocki/Godard: Film as Theory

reviewed by Alex Fletcher

Choosing to talk about ‘two men at once,’ Anne Carson reasons in Economy of the Unlost, means to ‘keep attention strong,’ to ‘keep it from settling.’ In Farocki/Godard: Film as Theory, Volker Pantenburg deploys this strategy as a means to put in dialogue two of the most prolific European filmmakers/artists of the late 20th and early 21st century: Harun Farocki (1944-2014) and Jean-Luc Godard (1930-). Originally published in German in 2006, Pantenburg’s study remains a significant... [read more]

Unsaid, Unknown, Unreal

Steven Millhauser, Voices in the Night

reviewed by Miles Klee

In a universe of overused adjectives, there’s one you rarely hear: 'spellbinding.' Perhaps that’s because very little holds our rapt attention as if by some cold magic. The best Steven Millhauser stories, as fans of his many collections know, do exactly this. They cast a spell from which there is no release. But the sorcery chooses certain victims. I was thrown when my brother confessed he found 2008’s Dangerous Laughter a puzzling antique, its narratives at once too fanciful and... [read more]

Silent Truths

JM Coetzee & Arabella Kurtz, The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychotherapy

reviewed by Marc Farrant

In a short essay entitled ‘The Art of Telling the Truth’ Michel Foucault traces two distinct strands of modern thought, derived from Kant’s philosophy and specifically manifested in the text Was ist Aufklärung? (What is Enlightenment?). On the one hand, Kant ‘laid the foundations for that tradition of philosophy that poses the question of the conditions in which true knowledge is possible’ – philosophy as an analytics of truth. On the other, however, Kant in this text poses ‘for... [read more]

Uncategorised Freedom

Emily Critchley ed., Out of Everywhere 2: Linguistically Innovative Poetry By Women in North America & the UK

reviewed by Kate Duckney

Consider Peter Pan, the pouting boy king, a symbol of endless playfulness, laughter and petulance. Now turn your attention to Paul Auster and his assertion that we need ‘cackling boys to remind us of how great it is to be alive’, and that without these boy writers ‘there is no literature.’ There is space to experiment inside the outline of eternal boychild, but the writing never grows, it never connects. Peter Pan spurns the independence of Wendy when she is no longer compelled to be... [read more]

Altered States

Eugene Brennan & Russell Williams eds., Literature and Intoxication: Writing, Politics and the Experience of Excess

reviewed by Stuart Walton

Intoxication has progressed over the most recent generation from being the great unmentionable in mainstream cultural discourse to being as present and urgent a theme as sex once was. Formerly no more than biographical ephemera in the lives of the pressing crowds of drug-fiends and pissheads with which the Western creative pantheon is stuffed, it has become at last a philosophical theme all its own. In the process, the focus on its psycho-physical potentialities has been enlarged from the... [read more]