All Reviews

‘What Hath God Wrought!’

Robin Boast, The Machine in the Ghost: Digitality and its Consequences

reviewed by James Draney

What are we to make of this machine, the computer? Indeed, what is this device, whose operations are forever obscured behind its slim outer casing? Perhaps this is what the literary critic Fredric Jameson meant when, in 1991, he wrote that our digital technology does not possess the same capacity for representation as the older, analogue machines. Turbines and steam engines, of course, posses a certain visual power. Consider the ‘kinetic energy’ of Futurist sculpture, or the ‘mimetic... [read more]

Hold on to Your Shit

Rachele Dini, Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction: Legacies of the Avant-Garde

reviewed by Rona Cran

In 1539, according to Dominique Laporte’s eccentric and provocative History of Shit (1978), King François of France, patron of the arts and instigator of the French Renaissance, issued an edict to the city of Paris: Hold on to your shit. Dispose of it only in the dark night. Remove your pigs from sight beyond the city’s walls, or I will seize your person and your goods, engulf your home in my capacious purse, and lock your body in my jail. Sanitation engineering may not have... [read more]
 

Symbolic Misery

Bernard Stiegler, trans. Daniel Ross, Automatic Society: Volume 1, The Future of Work

reviewed by Calum Watt

Automatic Society: The Future of Work is the first of an anticipated two volumes by the prolific French philosopher Bernard Stiegler on how we should prepare for a near future in which widespread automation is expected to render much human work obsolete. Identifying a similar trajectory across the West, Stiegler disarmingly predicts that within ten years French unemployment will reach up to 30%. As Stiegler says, ‘this portends an immense transformation’. Much of Automatic Society... [read more]

Fail Better

Robert Barry, The Music of the Future

reviewed by David Stubbs

In 2010, Robert Barry was among those in attendance at London’s Cafe Oto at an event billed as An Audience With Terry Riley. In the 1960s, in tandem with Steve Reich, Riley had laid the foundations for minimalism in music, with works like In C, works which were ostensibly repetitive but through subtle and incremental variations built in intensity, evolved without conventionally ‘progressing’ in the grand old orchestral manner. These were the foundations of the future. The German Krautrock... [read more]
 

Master of None

Terry Gibbs, Why the Dalai Lama is a Socialist: Buddhism and the Compassionate Society

reviewed by Hawa Allan

‘I’m not going to argue in this book that we all need to be Buddhist Marxists,’ writes Terry Gibbs in the introduction to Why the Dalai Lama is a Socialist. Her intention, rather, is to illustrate how certain tenets of Buddhism and Marxism are complementary, and translatable into action that can end the suffering prevalent on our planet. A professor of political science at Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia, Gibbs proceeds to lay out her argument in the defensive tone of an academic... [read more]

Shyness Isn't Nice

Hamja Ahsan, Shy Radicals: The Antisystemic Politics of the Militant Introvert

reviewed by Dominic Fox

The first thing I have to tell you about Shy Radicals is that, while it is often terribly funny, it isn’t a joke. Hamja Ahsan has taken the form of the militant tract, with its demands and denunciations and piercing accusations against a fundamentally disordered world, and used it to talk about, well, shyness. The world as it is for other people, neurotypicals going about their noisy neurotypical business, is confronted as a kind of torture chamber for the shy and introverted, the quiet and... [read more]
 

‘What we could be if we dared’

Charlie Fox, This Young Monster

reviewed by Leonora Craig Cohen

Charlie Fox has such good taste, one could forgive him almost anything. This Young Monster is a long, extremely erudite rant about the connections between queerness, monstrosity and the creative drive, with a particular focus on photography and film. Increasingly of interest to academics and cultural critics, the monster is a multivalent symbol for societal rejection, ambiguous identity, and the physical horror of adolescence, among other things. As JJ Cohen put it in Monster Culture (Seven... [read more]

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman

Elif Batuman, The Idiot

reviewed by Josie Mitchell

Elif Batuman’s The Idiot is a portrait of the artist as a painfully young woman: naive, earnest and cripplingly self-conscious. Selin – daughter of Turkish immigrants and ‘tallest living member’ of her family, ‘male or female’ – has just started her first year at Harvard. It’s the mid-1990s, and email is brand new. Arriving on campus, Selin is offered an Ethernet cable: ‘What do we do with this, hang ourselves?’ Over the next twelve months, Selin buys an Einstein poster for... [read more]
 

Neighbourhood Activism

Dirk Kruijt, Cuba and Revolutionary Latin America: An Oral History

reviewed by Mike Gonzalez

Dirk Kruijt’s Cuba and Revolutionary Latin America is an early contribution to what will certainly be a bumper crop of books revisiting the Cuban experience after Fidel’s death and the rapprochement between Obama and Raul Castro. Donald Trump’s policy on Cuba (as on most issues) is unclear, but from occasional Twitter comments, it appears he is likely to roll back US policy on Cuba to some degree – though, as a faithful servant of big capital, now busy opening business opportunities on... [read more]

'O tempora! O mores!'

Stoddard Martin, Monstrous Century: Essays in 'the Age of the Feuilleton'

reviewed by Stuart Walton

Is there any need to wonder which century it is that stands shamed by its monstrosity in the title of Stoddard Martin's timely collection? If Alain Badiou recently sought to recuperate its image under the polemically unqualified rubric of The Century (2005), Martin joins the majority in his disapprobation of the wretchedness of the interlude that extended from Art Nouveau to the internet age, from experimental aesthetic dynamisms of one sort and another to the global communications morass, and... [read more]