All Reviews

A Return to Politics

Simon Hardy, Destruction of Meaning

reviewed by JD Taylor

'Propaganda that looks like propaganda is third rate propaganda': so said Lord Northcliffe, Director for Propaganda for the British Ministry of Information in 1918. Northcliffe possessed a unique monopoly on news production in the early 20th century, owning both the Daily Mail and The Times, and his work in producing effective anti-German material during the first World War has been credited as the first modern instance of effective mass propaganda. Whilst today we have our Rupert Murdochs and... [read more]

The Way of the World

Franco Moretti, The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature

reviewed by Luke Davies

The bourgeois ... Not so long ago, this notion seemed indispensable to social analysis; these days, one might go years without hearing it mentioned. Capitalism is more powerful than ever, but its human embodiment seems to have vanished. Franco Moretti suggests that the vanished bourgeois has been replaced by a middle class distanced from the conditions of subjugation that define capitalism, and so with diminished responsibilities: 'once placed "in the middle", the bourgeoisie could appear... [read more]

The Scum of the Earth

Imogen Tyler, Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain

reviewed by Jemma Crew

A group of friends threw a chav party when I was in my final year at university, the idea being to don tracksuits and fake baby bumps, garish makeup and gold jewellery. An attitude problem was essential – the more abusive the better – as was the inevitable accessorial bottle of booze. The dress-code for the party wasn’t chosen out of malice: chav was just one of many fancy dress themes considered fair game, alongside ‘school uniform’ and ‘animal onesies’. (For the record, rah... [read more]

Long-Distance Relationships

Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

reviewed by David Anderson

Early on in Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby a discussion of Alzeimer's disease, which runs through the book, is introduced. As I sat reading this in the back garden of a café on Walworth road, my attention was frequently arrested by the faltering exchanges of three women sitting across from me, and a curious overlap took place. I couldn’t help but notice that these other customers must be related — they were neatly divided into generations. As Solnit’s description of her mother’s... [read more]

Do You Believe in Explanation?

Anne Carson, Red Doc>

reviewed by Željka Marošević

The Canadian poet Anne Carson is too much of a riddle for some. Recently she has been the ‘inscrutable’ Anne Carson (New York Times), as well as the ‘obscure, mannered and private’ Anne Carson (Harpers). Part of the problem seems to be a question of form. Carson won’t sit still. The Beauty of the Husband is a ‘fictional essay in 29 tangos’; in her translation Antigonick the words are written out on pages overlaid with illustrated semi-transparent paper, while her previous... [read more]

The Chimera of Cult

Nadifa Mohamed, The Orchard of Lost Souls

reviewed by Alexis Forss

Nadifa Mohamed’s debut novel, 2010’s Black Mamba Boy, offered both a semi-fictionalised account of her father’s tumultuous youth in the Horn of Africa region and a perspective of the Second World War from that neglected theatre of operations. It won her many plaudits and inclusion on Granta’s 2013 list of the best young British novelists, but I found it to be a problematic work. Throughout I felt that Mohamed described to no purpose, most egregiously in her scene-setting, in which a... [read more]

Where Are We Now?

Douglas Morrey, Michel Houellebecq: Humanity and its Aftermath

reviewed by Nicolas Padamsee

What should an artist feel towards life? For Michel Houellebecq, the answer is simple: ‘profound resentment.’ The author of five novels, five poetry collections, a novella, a poetic manifesto, a critique of HP Lovecraft and a set of letters with Bernard-Henri Lévy, he has won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Prix Novembre, the Grand Prix National des Lettres, the Prix Interallié and the Prix Goncourt. Meantime he has met with a salvo of accusations and been subjected to... [read more]

No Escape From Fallibility

Richard Bernstein, Violence: Thinking Without Banisters

reviewed by Matt Ellison

Hannah Arendt used the expression ‘thinking without banisters [denken ohne Geländer]’ to describe a way of thinking and judging without recourse to transcendental grounds. Writing in response to world wars and mass executions, Arendt believed that the standards handed down by tradition were no longer adequate to the demands placed upon thinking in the modern age. What was required was not the reproduction of tired philosophical categories, but a new way of thinking (which she distinguished... [read more]

The Limits of Colour-Blind Marxism

Diane Frost & Peter North, Militant Liverpool: A City on the Edge

reviewed by David Renton

For supporters of today’s Socialist Party (previously ‘Militant Labour’, or just ‘Militant’) the Militant-led Labour council of 1983-1987 is one of the proudest moments in the whole history of the British working class. It was a ‘historic event’ on the scale of Chartism or the Paris Commune. It was one of just two occasions when Margaret Thatcher’s government suffered a setback: ‘No other section of the British working class, apart from the miners in 1981, humbled the... [read more]

Our Necessary Shadow

Tom Burns, Our Necessary Shadow: The Nature and Meaning of Psychiatry

reviewed by Luke Brunning

Oncologists are rarely derided. Hospital wards are rarely shadowed by the taint of the discipline’s gamut of spurious interventions, mistakes, and oddities. Similarly, we seldom interrogate the motivations of orthopaedic surgeons. Nor do crowds gather on the streets to protest under the banners of the ‘anti-obstetrics’ movement. Psychiatry, on the other hand, remains a source of fear, suspicion, and hostility – not to mention a source of colourful reformist advocates like the... [read more]