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]

Keep Calm and Be Modern

Owen Hatherley, The Ministry of Nostalgia: Consuming Austerity

reviewed by Benjamin Noys

Moaning about Britain is a very British thing to do. The national ideology of ‘muddling through’, of compromise and moderation, is usually accompanied by a moaning about the misery of these compromises. The British, or perhaps that should be the English, are never so happy, it seems, as when they are queuing and complaining. Owen Hatherley’s Ministry of Nostalgia brings to bear his considerable polemical gifts to analyse a particular instance of ‘muddling through’: the emergence of... [read more]

'A War Against Civilisation'

Annebella Pollen, The Kindred of the Kibbo Kift: Intellectual Barbarians

reviewed by Anna Neima

A dissonant, disquieting collection of over 100 images – many of them previously unseen – accompany art and design historian Annebella Pollen’s account of the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift: eye-catching, brightly coloured, Kandinsky-style designs; black and white photos of solitary, near-naked figures posed ritualistically out-of-doors; groups of young people dancing, hiking and camping in a heterogeneous range of costumes, some reminiscent of Robin Hood: Men in Tights and the modern craze... [read more]

'No Words Came'

Simon Critchley, Notes on Suicide

reviewed by Pascal Porcheron

At the tail-end of spring nine years ago, my uncle, who I hated and barely knew, boarded a train from London to Hastings. At the station in Hastings, he walked to the beach. At the beach, he slashed his wrists and walked into the sea. At some point he stopped walking and, we can only surmise, the water gradually lifted his feet from the sea bed and carried his body further from the shore. Perhaps the tide beat him back towards the land, and he was forced to swim out to his fate. Perhaps the... [read more]

‘Upturned carts, cobblestones, pieces of furniture...'

Eric Hazan, A History of the Barricade

reviewed by Ian Birchall

Barricades are even more old-fashioned than Jeremy Corbyn. They belong to an age before opinion polls and focus groups, when people simply took to the streets to fight for what they believed were their rights. Barricades were a means of defence, but they could be more than that, enabling a rebel population to trap forces with superior weaponry. In 1588 the inhabitants of Paris erected a network of barricades ‘so dense that soldiers were caught as if in a net, under fire from the barricades... [read more]

Of Slashes and Hyphens

Rachel Price, Planet/Cuba: Art, Culture, and the Future of the Island

reviewed by Dunja Fehimović

Rachel Price's Planet/Cuba is a timely, insightful and innovative study of contemporary Cuban culture. Nevertheless, the eye-catching cover and strikingly stark title of this significant text turn out to be its first stumbling blocks, establishing unfair and false expectations regarding the kind of relationship between Cuba and the world that it develops and that constitutes one of its most innovative proposals. The slash that separates the two nouns, also known by the telling technical name of... [read more]

Angst Squared

Francis O'Gorman, Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History

reviewed by Phil Jourdan

The quiet agony of worrying is a familiar topic for this reviewer. It feels necessary to state this outright, though I couldn't say why. This defensiveness, however, is quite in keeping with the spirit of Francis O’Gorman’s Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History. Its worried author spends the first dozen or so pages of his book on worrying mostly worrying about how tricky the act of writing about worrying has proven and will continue to prove to be. This book is itself an act of... [read more]

Press Management and the Spin Principle

Paul Brighton, Original Spin: Downing Street and the Press in Victorian Britain

reviewed by Elliot Murphy

While its title may not be entirely accurate – given that its chronological span also encompasses a considerable chunk of the late Georgian period and the reign of William IV – Paul Brighton’s Original Spin: Downing Street and the Press in Victorian Britain is a perceptive and comprehensive account of how successive British prime ministers from Pitt the Younger to Rosebery dealt with the numerous problems and possibilities the emerging print media presented. As the three major Reform Acts... [read more]

'Mortality Will Be Sexy'

Dodie Bellamy, When the Sick Rule the World

reviewed by Jean-Thomas Tremblay

In the essay ‘In the Shadow of Twitter Towers,’ from her recent collection When the Sick Rule the World, Dodie Bellamy writes: ‘This piece has 117,002 characters. That’s 836 tweets. Some students—even in graduate writing programs—make each sentence a new paragraph. It’s like they don’t know how to connect one thing to another. Perhaps these one sentence paragraphs best reflect our current reality—a series of discrete bits—better than my horse and buggy paragraphs that trot... [read more]

Pap and Pralines

Terry Eagleton, Hope Without Optimism

reviewed by Stuart Walton

One of the central dilemmas of late modern experience has been the question of how it may be possible to retain hope in the face of widespread catastrophe. To go on whistling in the dark after the mounting evidence of atrocity is the demeanour of the unhinged, but to surrender to nihilistic fatalism, in the sense of believing in nothing other than fate, only comforts catastrophe's perpetrators. If disillusioned consciousness refuses to be pacified with Pope's suggestion that hope springs... [read more]

A Responsibility Towards Reality

Wolfgang Hilbig, trans. Isabel Fargo Cole, ‘I’

reviewed by Tristan Foster

He has two antagonists; the first presses him from behind, from the origin. The second blocks the road ahead. He gives battle to both. To be sure, the first supports him in his fight with the second, for he wants to push him forward, and in the same way the second supports him in his fight with the first, since he drives him back. But it is only theoretically so. For it is not only the two antagonists who are there, but he himself as well, and who really knows his intentions? His dream, though,... [read more]