Universities Back From the Dead?

by Tom Cutterham

One of the most remarkable things about the last few months of strike action by UCU members has been the support shown by most of our current students. They have spoken out, joined picket-lines, and gone into occupation across the country – generating imagery reminiscent of the ‘Millbank generation’ to which many of their younger lecturers (including me) belong. These students aren’t just out there to defend our pensions. They’re there for a bigger cause: the ideal of the university as a community of learning, not another neoliberal marketplace. [read full essay]

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]

Essential Oils

Catherine Maxwell, Scents and Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture

reviewed by Stuart Walton

Sillage is a French borrowing adopted by the perfume industry. Originally meaning a ship's wake, it refers to the vapour-trail of scent left in the air when its wearer passes by. Some perfumes have a delectably – or perhaps notoriously – long sillage that appears to cling to and infuse everything in the vicinity, evoking the olfactory equivalent of an electromagnetic image of the departed presence. The long-posited alliance between scent and memory, ratified by investigations in the brain... [read more]

Anything Else Is Make-Believe

Rachel Cusk, Transit

reviewed by Matthew Parkinson-Bennett

A reader coming to Rachel Cusk’s work for the first time with Transit may find their reception of the book influenced by certain preconceptions. For a writer of novels mostly confined to the safe literary territory of middle-class England and constructed out of spare, minor-key sentences, Cusk has a gained something of a dangerous reputation. She is, we are led to believe, a radical and rager against tradition; a hardened realist whose rejection of artifice might undermine the edifice of... [read more]

London's Burning

Joe Dunthorne, The Adulterants

reviewed by Fintan Calpin

Ray, the 34-year-old anti-hero and narrator of Joe Dunthorne's The Adulterants, can't stop thinking about diffusion. Early on, he signals his comfort 'in the abstract' with the idea that 'when we smell something we absorb tiny bits of that smell's source. Fine.' But when his friend Dave 'draws his bottom lip up over his top lip and pulls down remnants of, in this instance, Picpoul de Pinet,' creating a 'fine, near-imperceptible mist of what we can safely assume is a mix of wine and mouth... [read more]

We’re All Basically Fiction

Chris Kraus, After Kathy Acker: A Biography

reviewed by Lucie Elliott

‘Acker’s life was a fable’ says Chris Kraus, author of what 'may or may not be a biography’ of Kathy Acker. After Kathy Acker chronicles the life and work of the punk writer and countercultural icon of the late 70s and 80s. It is an exhaustive but porous account of Acker’s life: her childhood, the fractures within her family, her turbulent sex life, her writing career, through to her untimely death from cancer, in 1997. Kathy Acker was born in New York in 1944 to middle class... [read more]

The Obscenity of Poetry

Hera Lindsay Bird , Hera Lindsay Bird

reviewed by Erin Cunningham

I, along with many others, first became aware of New Zealand poet Hera Lindsay Bird when ‘Monica’, a witty, irreverent, and unexpectedly moving poem about the sitcom Friends, was published on The Spinoff in May 2016 and started doing the rounds on Twitter. The poem, which transforms a biting indictment of ‘one of the worst characters in the history of television’ into a meditation on the limitations of happiness and ‘the transitory nature of romantic love’, was as funny as it was... [read more]

Art for Art's Sake

Sam Thorne, School: A Recent History of Self-Organized Art Education

reviewed by Bernard Hay

On 9 December 2010, the British Government narrowly passed a bill to treble higher education tuition fees to £9,000 a year, while simultaneously cutting funding for universities under the broader regime of austerity. Only a month previously, tens of thousands of students had marched on Westminster against the proposal, arguing that it would prevent many people from being able to attend university, and further intensify socio-economic inequalities. Passing Downing Street and the Houses of... [read more]

The Deep Fuck We Found Ourselves In

Russell Persson, The Way of Florida

reviewed by Andrew Gallix

Neil Armstrong hoped that someone, some day, would erase the footprints he had left on the moon. It is in this spirit that American author Russell Persson revisits the ill-fated Narváez expedition, covering the explorers’ tracks before loosing his characters into lostness. The Way of Florida, his outlandish debut, begins in medias res like an epic poem: ‘And waiting another day to enter port, a south wind took us and drove us away from land.’ The colonial enterprise – blown off course... [read more]

Laughter in the Dark

Tommy Hazard, Takeway

reviewed by Anna Vaught

This is a tiny book. A tiny red book. It’s described as a novella, but feels pleasingly like a monologue, or something in an oral tradition. As an object, I liked the book’s attention to detail: ‘Cover design and layout dedicated to Reclam, Universal Bibliothek’. Something ‘fuck you’ and something of the scholar. And there’s a playful comment by Stewart Home on the back, calling Takeaway 'a cynical low-life cocktail that will make you retch.’ Home is an artist, filmmaker,... [read more]

A Grief Archived

Darcie Wilder, literally show me a healthy person

reviewed by Fintan Calpin

'In grief, nothing stays put. One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats.' Equal parts essay and memoir, CS Lewis's A Grief Observed (1961) is an experiment in expression. How does the writer find a voice in the face of personal, private grief? Can narrative be an act of healing? The answer for Lewis came in the form of curation. Compiled from the notebooks he kept after the loss of his wife, poet Joy Davidman, A Grief Observed sees Lewis... [read more]