ESSAY ‘We Earn Nothing but Chaos’: Some Notes on Thomas Bernhard

by Nathan Knapp

Outraged that a certain state-sponsored prize is beneath him, he declares that ‘no prizes are an honor . . . the honor is perverse, there is no honor in the world. People talk about honor and it’s all a dirty trick, just like all talk about any honor.’ So why not decline it? ‘I’m taking the money, because people should take every penny from the state which throws not just millions but billions out the window on a yearly basis for absolutely nothing at all.’ He goes to the ceremony, listens as the Minister of the Ministry of Culture, Art, and Education mislabels him a foreigner, declares that one of his books takes place ‘in the South Seas’ — as risible an idea of a work by Bernhard as can be — and our author takes the lectern, legs shaking with rage. He reads out the beginning of his speech, which begins innocuously enough. ‘Honored Minister, honored guests,’ he says, perhaps clearing his throat: ‘There is nothing to praise, nothing to damn, nothing to accuse, but much that is absurd, indeed it is all absurd, when one thinks about death.’ [read full essay]

COLUMNS Outside of Time

by Lamorna Ash

I hadn’t heard of Megan Boyle until one afternoon pulled out from amongst the mass of dragging days at the end of 2020, when I was sent the trailer for her book. And I, who had pre-emptively judged all book trailers to be the very worst sort of literary marketing tools, fell for it. It was a simple premise: a rapid-fire slideshow of the 2,257 photos Boyle took on her iPhone the year she was making Liveblog, with some oneiric, half-mournful, half-euphoric pop song playing over the top. It was so seductive to me, to glimpse a person’s life in this way, every pulsing instant they had considered worthy of documentation. I loved her instantly. I wanted to make a room for myself inside her head. [read full column]

Weird Women

A.K. Blakemore, The Manningtree Witches

reviewed by Jess Payn

A.K. Blakemore’s poem ‘MAY’, published in The White Review in 2018, begins: you slid into my life as though a witch’s smock – a sun poem. It’s not really a poem about witches or witchiness; still, the witch’s presence intrudes by way of displacement, powerful and cunning. Her smock arrives on the sly slidings of sibilance, a suspect garment which makes a (s)mockery of the naked body and sabotages our ideas of consequence; the analogy that began with ‘you’ is startled by... [read more]

Literature of the Future

Roberto Bolaño, trans. Natasha Wimmer, Cowboy Graves: Three Novellas

reviewed by Josh Weeks

Given their proclivity for narrative open-endedness, it is fitting that the works of Roberto Bolaño should continue to emerge long after his death. The latest iteration of the Chilean’s eternal return (or what many have perceived as a literary barrel-scraping) is Cowboy Graves: a trio of novellas first published by Alfaguara in 2017 (Sepulcros de vaqueros), now finally available in English thanks to the ever-dependable translation of Natasha Wimmer. Like most of Bolaño’s fiction, we... [read more]

Society's Invisible Workforce

Sam Mills, The Fragments of my Father: A memoir of madness, love and being a carer

reviewed by Matthew Turner

Along with shouldering the burden of mortality on a daily basis, doctors regularly report psychological hardship associated with conducting procedures they know might not make a patient ‘well’ again and may not even improve their quality of life — that grey area between matters of life and death. However, a lesser told story, one perhaps with more ethical indeterminacy, is of those thousands that care for sick relatives and friends, without knowing if their actions are ameliorative.... [read more]

Radical Decency

Rutger Bregman, Humankind: A Hopeful History

reviewed by George Ttoouli

Hoping it wouldn’t be terrible, I picked up Rutger Bregman’s Humankind between lockdowns n and n+x. I say hoping, for the white dustjacket reminded me too much of similar-looking titles like Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style or Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile, for example, which, with their gazy, photo-polished authors and minimalist designs, somehow merge into a tub-thumping, masculine drone-choir: an exercise in voice over insight. And so, predisposed as I am to judge a book by... [read more]

Enter the Galaxy Brain

Patricia Lockwood, No One Is Talking About This

reviewed by Becky Varley–Winter

At the opening of Patricia Lockwood’s debut novel, titled No One is Talking About This, we find her main character wrapped in the gossamer-like web of the internet, which she refers to as ‘the portal’. ‘She lay every morning under an avalanche of details, [. . .] the spiderweb of human connection grown so thick it was almost a shimmering and solid silk, and the day still not opening to her.’ The portal, which had promised to deliver her from isolation, into communion with the lives of... [read more]

The Ratless Countryside

Sebastian Truskolaski, Adorno and the Ban on Images

reviewed by Stuart Walton

An enduring caution that has underlain utopian thinking in the materialist tradition is that it should not, in the present world at least, assume an appearance. Whatever shape a reconciled or transformed society might take cannot be conjured out of the present morass, as though being constructed from the IKEA flatpack. This disinclination, attributable to Marx's famous reticence about the lineaments of a liberated world, contrasted favourably with the embattled liaisons of Nathaniel Hawthorne's... [read more]

Becoming Indigenous

David Anderson, Landscape and Subjectivity in the work of Patrick Keiller, W.G. Sebald and Iain Sinclair

reviewed by Niall Martin

Footage of a wrecking ball demolishing a coal store in London’s Nine Elms Lane, looped and ‘projected onto an unplastered white-painted brick wall’ takes on an almost totemic function in David Anderson’s Landscape and Subjectivity in the work of Patrick Keiller, W.G. Sebald and Iain Sinclair. Shot in the winter of 1979-80, this GIF avant la lettre was the first film exhibited by Patrick Keiller, and, in Anderson’s words, embodies ‘a melancholy bound up with the act of settling for... [read more]

The Inauthentic Self

Marie NDiaye, trans. Jordan Stump, Self-Portrait in Green

reviewed by Lydia Bunt

There’s not much variation in day-to-day life at the moment. Time seems to repeat, without progressing forward. One small pleasure is that I have donned my favourite green trousers to write this review. But this is not enough to make me ‘green’ in the eyes of Marie NDiaye. Greenness is not identifiable merely by apparel, but rather hovers over a person as a greenish tinge, an aura. The colour, conventionally conjoined with envy, connotes a further ‘cruelty’ in this intriguing piece of... [read more]

Politics and the Academy

Timothy Brennan, Places of Mind: A Life of Edward Said

reviewed by Raphael Cormack

The Edward W. Said Reading Room is at the end of a long corridor, on the sixth floor of Columbia University’s main library. It holds what remains of Edward Said’s personal library and, as such, is a physical manifestation of his intellectual life. On the left as you walk in, there are shelves of books on music; you then move past Arabic literature, European and American literature, past a whole wall of Middle Eastern history and politics and then return to music, where you started. If you... [read more]

Philosophies of Despair

Bradley Garrett, Bunker: Building for the End Times

reviewed by Calum Barnes

It wasn’t until we crested the hill that we first caught sight of the angular concrete protuberances perched atop the farmer’s field. After a tense standoff with a territorial cow and her young calf, my friend and I cautiously approached the largest of them. The rusted metal lid did not resist our tugs and balanced open on its trestle joint hinge to reveal a mounted steel ladder descending into darkness. At the bottom, my phone torch shone a light on what resembled a rudimentary office.... [read more]