African Modernism

by William Harris

Still, modernism’s ideological vagueness was lent structure by the rise of the welfare state, with big public projects taking up much of its focus. And while the welfare state rose, colonialism fell, leading anxious colonial powers at times to bestow public institutions on colonised populations as gifts of appeasement. Protests shook Ghana after British officials jailed a young Kwame Nkrumah and colonial authorities responded by building more schools; a decade later trade boycotts led to a new community center in Accra. On the eve of independence African states prepared to inherit universities, libraries, housing blocks, garden cities – the patchy and underfunded skeletons of state infrastructure, much of it designed by modernists. [read full essay]

One Long Rock and Roll

Eve Babitz, Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, the Flesh, and L.A.

reviewed by Adrian Nathan West

New York and Los Angeles are perhaps the only cities in the United States where substantial sections of the population use the term ‘American’ with ethnographic pretence, as though referring to strangers met on holiday or a study abroad rather than their compatriots. Both cities have long been bound closer to elsewhere than their analogues further inland: Los Angeles has taken in an illustrious list of exiles from Döblin and Brecht to the Iranian-Jewish Merage family, inventors of the... [read more]

Ra Ra Rasputin

Teffi, Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi

reviewed by Izabella Scott

Who is Teffi? It was no secret in pre-Revolutionary Russia. Teffi was a literary star: the pen name of Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya, a woman born into an eccentric literary family in St Petersburg in the 1870s. All three of her sisters also became celebrated writers, and under her nom de plume Lokhvitskaya wrote for popular journals like The Russian Word and Satiricon, moving nimbly between narrative, polemic, drama and social critique. She was widely read and admired. Candles and perfumes were named... [read more]

The Critic as the Intervening Figure

Marcus Morgan and Patrick Baert, Conflict in the Academy: A Study in the Sociology of Intellectuals

reviewed by Simon Grimble

In late 1980, an apparently minor dispute at Cambridge University became headline news. The question was whether or not the young lecturer Colin MacCabe – whose work was heavily influenced by recent developments in structuralist and post-structuralist theory – should be upgraded to a permanent position. And before long, as Marcus Morgan and Patrick Baert put it in their short book Conflict in the Academy, the so-called ‘MacCabe Affair’ had ‘swelled to heroic proportions, drew vast... [read more]

The Benefit of Hindsight

Patrick Cockburn, Chaos & Caliphate: Jihadis and the West in the Struggle for the Middle East

reviewed by Dominic Davies

In the last few years, articles and books by Patrick Cockburn, which have offered keen and thoughtful accounts of political and military events in the Middle East and North Africa for a long time, have become increasingly popular. It seems this is likely due to in the rise of Islamic State, or ISIS, in Syria and Iraq. His 2014 book, The Jihadis Return: Isis and the New Sunni Uprising, was the first of his several publications to enter a second print run. Unsurprisingly, it appears that people... [read more]

Reveries of a Solitary Angler

Faruk Šehić, trans. Will Firth, Quiet Flows the Una

reviewed by Vladimir Zorić

Major rivers have formed their own hegemonies, in politics and in literature: it suffices to recall Hölderlin’s Danube, Faulkner’s Mississippi, Conrad’s Congo and Sholokhov’s Don. In view of this colonial drift, writing a book about a lesser river necessarily emerges as a critical endeavour, and a distinctly literary one at that. The task becomes considerably more complex if that lesser river turns out to have been a theatre of war in the recent past. Armed with an AK-47 rifle, the... [read more]

False Flag Publishing?

John Sadler, Operation Agreement: Jewish Commandos and the Raid on Tobruk

reviewed by Rafe McGregor

Operation Agreement is a fascinating and timely contribution to the literature on the Desert War, but Osprey Publishing have done author John Sadler – Fellow of both the Royal Historical Society and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland – a disservice with their marketing campaign. The subtitle suggests an equal or at least comparable split between the Special Interrogation Group, a British Army Commando platoon of German-speaking Jews, and the raid on Tobruk in mid-September 1942. The... [read more]

Eccentrics and Individualists

Garry MacKenzie, Scotland: A Literary Guide for Travellers

reviewed by Mike Gonzalez

When Walter Scott explored the Scottish lochs and Robert Louis Stevenson wandered the narrow alleyways of Edinburgh, many travellers would probably have carried their volume of ‘The Lady of the Lake’ or ‘Kidnapped’ in their bags as literal literary companions. Scotland, after all, was just being ‘discovered’ by new bourgeois tourists agog at the prospect of unearthing the romantic ghosts and medieval heroes that Scott had placed in the landscapes of the Highlands. They might have... [read more]

Fail Again, Fail Better

Clare Hayes-Brady, The Unspeakable Failures of David Foster Wallace: Language, Identity, and Resistance

reviewed by Stuart Walton

Scarcely any contemporary writer has passed into the literary canon more swiftly and seamlessly than David Foster Wallace. Undergraduate dissertations on him were already being written while he was still working on his posthumously published unfinished novel, The Pale King (2011). The writer himself was endlessly courted by academic journals to pronounce on anything from American literary culture to the status of political engagement in a disengaged world, while Harper's and Esquire magazines... [read more]

‘A boy’s adventure in the void’

Don DeLillo, Zero K

reviewed by Katie Da Cunha Lewin

‘The death of the novel’ is still a popular phrase bandied about by writers and critics both – particularly popular, it seems, for those authors who pride themselves on a cultivated cantankerousness, such as Will Self or Philip Roth. Roth in particular seemed rather churlish in his dismissal of the novel, as it coincided with the announcement of his retirement from fiction writing, seemingly suggesting that his retreat from the world of literature somehow accelerated the inevitable... [read more]

Anything and Nothing

Stephen Mitchelmore, This Space of Writing

reviewed by Alex Wealands

What is literature? This question continues to elude a satisfactory answer accounting for the all the intricate nuances and inconsistencies of writing, interpretation, imagination and reality. It is with this conviction that Lars Iyer is able to write, in his introduction to Stephen Mitchelmore’s This Space of Writing, that this collection of essays is for ‘the writer for whom literature is in some way a problem.’ It is not so much that Mitchelmore attempts to definitively answer this... [read more]