ESSAY Think Local

by Josh Mcloughlin

Like much of the north, Preston is still battling the chronic after-effects of Thatcherism and deindustrialisation. As in most areas controlled by Labour councils, it suffered deep cuts to local government budgets after the 2007–8 Banking Crisis, leading to a contraction of services and provision across the board, from transport to social care. The big idea behind the ‘Preston Model’ is that, instead of waiting for Westminster to sort things out, locals decided to take action to reverse decline and regenerate their area. ‘At the heart of community wealth-building’, Brown and Jones explain, ‘is the belief that ordinary individuals and groups are capable of taking ownership, direction and control of their own resources in order to improve their own lives.’ [read full essay]

COLUMNS The Biographer as Detective

by Nina Ellis

I’m not the first person to think of the biographer as a sort of detective. Google turns up four articles with the same title as this column. In one, Walter Lippmann biographer Ronald Steel writes that ‘what had begun as an exercise in exposition became a detective story with the subject both my client and my quarry.’ In another, Henri Matisse biographer Hilary Spurling addresses the French lack of interest in biography: they ‘see it as grubby and Anglo-Saxon’, she says, like ‘being a private detective or a nosy parker.’ [read full column]

Suddenly an Aubergine

Claire-Louise Bennett, Checkout 19

reviewed by Liam Harrison

Claire-Louise Bennett likes stuff. She likes things, objects, bric-a-brac, and she likes contemplating their dimensions, curvature and tactility. ‘I’ve always been very taken with aubergines,’ the narrator states in Bennett’s new novel Checkout 19, ‘with the way they are so tightly sheathed in a shining bulletproof darkness.’ Bennett takes an everyday object – the humble aubergine – and lets her mind linger on it, dwelling on fleeting sensations until the object appears... [read more]

Is Tragedy Dialectical?

Simon Critchley, Tragedy, The Greeks, and Us

reviewed by Joel White

Notions of what dialectics mean abound. Are they a philosophical method invented by Plato that attempts, through refutation, to elicit the truth of what something is without resort to the particular thing itself: a method that sorts nature into kinds so as to rid us of epistemological doubts? Or, are dialectics the movement of the concept as it actualises itself into actuality? To what extent does this second, more Hegelian notion of dialectics, as that which cannot catch its breath to speak or... [read more]

Another End of the World Is Possible

Srećko Horvat, After the Apocalypse

reviewed by Maša Uzelac

The Croatian philosopher Srećko Horvat made his name through his collaboration with philosopher-superstar Slavoj Žižek (in 2013 they co-authored What Does Europe Want? The Union and Its Discontents) and his work as a political activist: in 2016 Horvat along with Yanis Varoufakis founded the pan-European political movement DiEM25 advocating radical democracy and promoting international cooperation. His latest book, After the Apocalypse, continues the line of thought from Poetry from the... [read more]

Wittgenstein on the Poetic Frontline

Richard Barnett, Wherever We Are When We Come to the End

reviewed by Tim Murphy

At the outbreak of the First World War, Ludwig Wittgenstein, then in his mid-20s and a member of the second wealthiest family (after the Rothschilds) in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, volunteered as a private soldier in an Austro-Hungarian regiment. The young philosopher, who volunteered despite being eligible for a medical exemption, went on to win several medals for his bravery. Wittgenstein wrote the notes for his early treatise, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (hereafter TLP), while he... [read more]

Gender Is a Story I Tell Myself

Rachel Mesch, Before Trans: Three Gender Stories from Nineteenth-Century France

reviewed by Frankie Dytor

Queer historians have long struggled with the absence of their stories from the archive. The literary critic Terry Castle described her research as an encounter with the ghostly, a hunt for the ever elusive ‘apparational lesbian’. More recently, others, like the writer and activist So Mayer, have proposed that historians document queer and trans history by creating an ‘anarchive’. The anarchive would make writing a form of patchwork, an anti-linear process weaving together points of... [read more]

Breaking the Ice

Eva Baltasar, trans. Julia Sanches, Permafrost

reviewed by Josh Weeks

In her 2004 book Precarious Lives, Judith Butler challenges us to ‘imagine a world in which [. . .] an inevitable interdependency becomes acknowledged as the basis for global political community.’ ‘Loss and vulnerability,’ she hypothesises, ‘seem to follow from our being socially constituted bodies, attached to others, at risk of losing those attachments, exposed to others, at risk of violence by virtue of that exposure.’ This exposure to the world and to the desires of the other... [read more]

The Perspective of Redemption

Tom Whyman, Infinitely Full of Hope: Fatherhood and the Future in an Age of Crisis and Disaster

reviewed by Tom Cutterham

If you have a small child, you may hold out some hope that the world they grow up to inhabit will be reasonably safe, even pleasant. That it won’t, for example, have its air and soil filled with the burned or buried remains of billions of plastic nappies. As a result, you may find yourself, more regularly than you would ever have imagined, kneeling by the toilet, carefully scraping your small child’s shit out of the reusable, organically-grown bamboo alternative with cute little pictures of... [read more]

The Garden as Battlefield

Ruth Scurr, Napoleon: A Life in Gardens and Shadows

reviewed by Jemima Hubberstey

At a first glance, it might seem extraordinary to think of Napoleon, the great military commander and notorious emperor of France, through his gardens. Yet gardens are never neutral or even wholly ‘natural’ spaces, in fact reflecting the ideas and ambitions of the people who designed and commissioned them. As John Dixon Hunt argued in Greater Perfections (2002), ‘the garden has always been a complex and central human activity, arguably a matrix of man’s and woman’s ambitions,... [read more]

A Different Kind of Pleasure

Richard Smyth, The Woodcock

reviewed by Stuart Walton

The story of the showman who comes to town is as old as escapism, and just as double-edged. When the circus rolls in, a world of pure distraction materialises before the downtrodden masses, rapidly constructed in the open spaces and filling their habitual vacancy with reckless acts of daring and astonishing curiosities, like Sleary’s horse troupe energising the lousy stinking lives of Coketown’s labourers in Hard Times. The travelling show was never just about entertainment, though; it... [read more]

The Idea of the Hit

Agnès Gayraud, trans. Robin Mackay, D.C. Miller & Nina Power , Dialectic of Pop

reviewed by Dan Barrow

The first book from musician and philosopher Agnès Gayraud starts from what seems like a Quixotic and unproductive project: to develop a theory of pop music as an ‘aesthetic form’ beginning from the work of the philosopher and musicologist Theodor Adorno. His writings on the ‘light music’ of the 1930s are notorious for their unceasing assault on what even sceptical critics took to be harmless or edifying styles like hot jazz and swing. He’s thus become the great bogeyman of academic... [read more]