All Reviews

Motive Force

Jonathan Grossman, Charles Dickens’s Networks: Public Transport and the Novel

reviewed by Gee Williams

There’s a wonderful fantasy engraving run across this book’s front and back covers entitled ‘Train of Coaches’. Depicted is a series of coach bodies, their horses uncoupled but complete with coachmen and buglers, trunks piled on roofs, Regency bucks and women of fashion gazing out beneath elegant blinds: each is set upon a primitive goods wagon, the whole lot being drawn by a steam locomotive. The illustration is from 1823 (only six years after the death of Jane Austen, fiction’s... [read more]

The Power of Culture

Carl Freedman, The Age of Nixon: A Study in Cultural Power

reviewed by Phil Jourdan

We might be forgiven for assuming that the title of Carl Freedman's new book sounds rather ambitious for a work of just over 280 pages. However, The Age of Nixon is by no means a political biography in the normal sense. In part, this is an examination of Nixon the man, certainly, but it is also a study of the man as a player in American culture: how, for instance, he used cultural prejudices to his advantage at various points in his career. More broadly, The Age of Nixon explores the idea of... [read more]

A Babble of Allusions

Sarah Edwards & Jonathan Charley (eds.), Writing the Modern City: Literature, Architecture, Modernity

reviewed by Rosa Ainley

Watching Steve McQueen’s Shame recently I was struck by the role Manhattan played in the film: far more than a set for the action, the spaces of the city are shot in such a way to make possible the narrative of extreme disassociation. Emerging from the clinical anonymity of his apartment where human contact comes via webcam porn subscriptions, the protagonist watches a couple having sex in a glass-sided skyscraper, the woman flattened against the window/wall, facing outwards to the... [read more]

Clearer, and Clearer, and Clearer Still

Martin Gayford, A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney

reviewed by Jeremy Spencer

The art critic Martin Gayford’s book about David Hockney is a record of their conversations over ten years that expose Hockney’s obsessions and preoccupations as an artist. The text isn’t simply a straight transcription of their talks, whether in person or by telephone or email, and their exchanges, which reveal Hockney’s thoughts on art and aesthetics, are not ordered chronologically; the text is an ‘arrangement’ of different ‘layers’ and Gayford contextualises their... [read more]

'Prison Can Put Your Brain to Death'

Ashwin Desai, Reading Revolution: Shakespeare on Robben Island

reviewed by John Green

There have been literally hundreds of books written about the apartheid period in South Africa, both by outsiders and those who fought and suffered under the system. Reading Revolution provides a unique perspective on the anti-apartheid struggle and a fascinating insight into how literature can sustain resistance and keep hope alive, as well as fundamentally changing lives. Ashwin Desai has interviewed many of those who were incarcerated on Robben Island for their opposition to the apartheid... [read more]

Laying Down a Marker

Joseph McCartin , Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, The Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed America

reviewed by Richard Sharpe

On 3 August 1981, approximately 13,000 US air traffic controllers struck for higher wages and shorter working hours. That day Ronald Reagan, in his first year as president, gave them 48 hours to return to work or be fired; Federal employees were prohibited by law from going on strike. The vast majority did not return to work but parts of the leadership of their union, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), already knew that the strike was doomed. The striking... [read more]

The Boomerang and the Map

Stephen Graham, Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism

reviewed by Jeff Heydon

Living in downtown Toronto during the G20 summit in the summer of 2010 was instructive. Myriad CCTV cameras were erected, additional police were imported from multiple municipalities close to the city, and a barrier was established around the Convention Centre that would protect the leaders of nations from the Great Unwashed. A new Toronto was produced – a city where the condition of living became a process of negotiation and where attempts were made to avoid any act that would qualify as... [read more]

The Present: After the Future

Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, After the Future

reviewed by Veronica Simmonds

In After the Future, the Italian autonomist philosopher Franco Berardi presents us with the present. The long haul towards progress is shown to have groaned to an exhausted halt. We see ourselves climbing out of the steel contraption hurled forth by the Futurists and peering out at the sprawling landscape of the fractalised cells that we have become. Berardi’s latest work offers us a bold invitation. He invites us to acknowledge that the conception of the future that we believed in for the... [read more]

How to Find a Better Life?

Julieta Aranda et al. (eds.), Are You Working Too Much? Post-Fordism, Precarity, and the Labor of Art

reviewed by Nina Power

The notes at the back of this latest e-flux collection state that one group of contributors, the Precarious Workers Brigade, ‘have a policy of including information on the context in which their work appears.’ To this end, they detail the dates when the piece was written (March - April 2011), the number of people involved in writing it (nine), that their text is also available online for free and is licenced under a Creative Commons licence, how they spent the $750 they were paid for the... [read more]

Innovations in Exile

Gregory Sholette, Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture

reviewed by Theo Reeves-Evison

For 2011’s annual charity gala at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary art, Maria Abramovic hired six female performers to re-enact her signature work Nude with Skeleton (2002). In contrast to the original, filmed performance, in which Abramovic lies under a replica skeleton made to the dimensions of her body, for the gala event performers were hired as decorative table centrepieces under strict instructions to ‘remain in the performative’ even if that meant enduring physical or verbal... [read more]