Twitter and the Novel

by Andrew Marzoni

Twitter’s character limit has proven attractive to recent crafters of narrative, among them Teju Cole, whose novel Open City won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award in 2012. In an interview with Wired, Cole credited Twitter for engaging ‘the part of me that makes sentences. I try to shape a sentence that works. … When you’re writing fiction and longform prose, you think about the best sentences, of course, and you work on them. But when you’re tweeting, the sentences are isolated, they’re naked, and so there is that much more scrutiny on how they work.’ On the one hand, Twitter is like poetry, in that ‘every single line has a certain punch and precision to it’; on the other hand, it is like a drug: ‘I’m addicted to it the way I’m addicted to coffee or to my headphones: guiltlessly.’ [read full essay]

‘All other possibilities’

Tara Forrest, Realism as Protest: Kluge, Schlingensief, Haneke

reviewed by Alex Fletcher

A maxim routinely asserted by politicians when confronted with a future that does not simply perpetuate the present state of things is that one must be realistic. As the German filmmaker and writer Alexander Kluge observes: ‘Public opinion is very strongly determined by people who … furnish themselves in reality as if in a tank or knight’s armour.’ This realistic predisposition to the status quo is reinforced by a mainstream media that blocks any capacity to conceive of how reality... [read more]

A World Governed By Chaos

KM Newton, Modernizing George Eliot: The Writer as Artist, Proto-Modernist, Cultural Critic

reviewed by Helen Tope

George Eliot’s sweeping, panoramic novels of 19th-century life form an integral part of the British literary canon; it is hard to think of a writer more ‘establishment’ than Eliot. In Modernizing George Eliot: The Writer as Artist, Proto-Modernist, Cultural Critic, KM Newton goes about the business of challenging the critical view of George Eliot as a conservative figure. Instead of seeing her work as mired in Victorian conventionality, Newton proposes a radical re-interpretation,... [read more]

A Translation of Experience

Andrew Crozier, 'Free Verse' as Formal Restraint

reviewed by John Clegg

'Free Verse' as Formal Restraint. Surely the quotation marks are in the wrong place? We all know what we mean by 'free verse,’ give or take, but 'formal restraint' is up for grabs – and, indeed, Andrew Crozier succeeded in doing what he set out to only by employing a very odd definition of the words. Here are the first two sentences of the abstract (the book, I should mention, is his 1973 PhD thesis, published now for the first time with an introduction by Ian Brinton, and the Examiner's... [read more]

The Politics of Fun

Alfie Bown, Enjoying It: Candy Crush and Capitalism

reviewed by Stuart Walton

The status of enjoyment within the cultural economy of capitalism has been in question at least since it was posited by Marx and Engels that capitalism, despite its own best intentions, is a machine for generating misery. It makes possible a flourishing cultural superstructure, to which only the economically privileged and educated have access, while for the rest there is only reduction to the animal functions of biological existence (eating, drinking, having sex), the solace of religion, and... [read more]

Better Lives Elsewhere

Maxine Beneba Clarke, Foreign Soil

reviewed by Melanie White

Literary stories about immigration and refugees could not be more timely. Maxine Beneba Clarke’s debut collection, Foreign Soil, was first published two years ago in Australia after winning an award for best unpublished manuscript. It now comes to the UK amid heated political debate over immigration threats to domestic security, in the wake of terror attacks in Brussels and in the run-up to the EU referendum. Clarke, an Australian slam poetry champion of Afro-Caribbean descent, explores... [read more]

Uncommon Fine

Stefan Collini, Common Writing: Essays on Literary Culture and Public Debate

reviewed by Rafe McGregor

Stefan Collini is Professor of Intellectual History and English Literature at Cambridge and although he claims that the two fields joined by the conjunction are not readily distinguishable, Common Writing fits firmly in the former category. In his review of The Letters of T.S. Eliot Vol.2: 1923-1925 (Faber, 2009) in the second chapter, Collini notes that the letters constitute a guide to Eliot’s editing (of the Criterion) rather than to his critical or literary practice. In a similar vein,... [read more]

When the Nazis Ruled Paris

David Drake, Paris At War: 1939 – 1944

reviewed by Ian Birchall

That Paris under German occupation was a brutal and frightening place (and far, far worse if you were a Jew) will come as no surprise. But even to those who think they know something of the period David Drake’s fascinating book will provide a mass of new and illuminating information. Based on ten years’ research and a range of sources including the memories of survivors and police archives, this is a detailed and vivid narrative of 50 horrific months. Drake carefully intertwines an... [read more]

Recovering Relationality

Andrew Benjamin, Towards a Relational Ontology: Philosophy's Other Possibility

reviewed by Joel White

In 1966 Gilles Deleuze wrote a review of a work by the French philosopher Gilbert Simondon. The opening to this review stated that, until now, the principle of individuation had been largely avoided by modern philosophy; that although the accomplishment of physics, of biology and of psychology had relativised and attenuated the concept, individuation had remained, until Simondon, un-interpreted. The purpose of Deleuze’s review was to highlight the force of Simondon’s philosophy, a... [read more]

The Reaches of Our Souls

Han Kang, Human Acts

reviewed by David Renton

Human Acts is set during and after the Gwangju Uprising of May 1980. Following the death of South Korea’s military ruler Park Chung-hee in 1979 and the seizure of power by another general Chun Doo-hwan, protesters called for the end of military rule. Paratroopers shot at the demonstrators, but the troops were resisted, with increasing numbers of people from across the city joining the demonstrations and the soldiers retreated. For five days the city was held by a Kwangju Commune, with... [read more]

The Engine Oil of Culture

Dan Fox, Pretentiousness: Why it Matters

reviewed by Rosanna Mclaughlin

Dan Fox’s Pretentiousness: Why it Matters sets out to rehabilitate a much maligned term, arguing that pretentiousness is a force for cultural good. Over the course of this essay – in which Fox considers such subjects as Plato’s distrust of actors, pop music’s penchant for grandiose appropriation (think Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’) and the author’s own upbringing – Fox takes aim at our historic prejudice against conspicuous pretenders. ‘Used as an insult,’ Fox writes,... [read more]