All Essays

ESSAY There is Nothing Better

by Stuart Walton

The historian Barbara Rosenwein is the latest to wonder whether a typology of the myths of love might be teased out of the centuries-long obsession with its elusive ideal. She distinguishes five of these: the miraculous kinship that unites soulmates; the transcendent rapture of the besotted state; selfless devotion to the loved one; ineradicable yearning that feeds on itself; and the blinkered carnal rampancy of the sex appetite. For all that its elements have propagated into five, there is an unmistakable hint here of Plato's triune definition of the soul, descending from the noble ideals housed in the head to the spirited adventures of the heart, and thence to the importunate hungers of the nether regions — the belly and genitals, their lust for possession. [read full essay]

ESSAY Think Local

by Josh Mcloughlin

Like much of the north, Preston is still battling the chronic after-effects of Thatcherism and deindustrialisation. As in most areas controlled by Labour councils, it suffered deep cuts to local government budgets after the 2007–8 Banking Crisis, leading to a contraction of services and provision across the board, from transport to social care. The big idea behind the ‘Preston Model’ is that, instead of waiting for Westminster to sort things out, locals decided to take action to reverse decline and regenerate their area. ‘At the heart of community wealth-building’, Brown and Jones explain, ‘is the belief that ordinary individuals and groups are capable of taking ownership, direction and control of their own resources in order to improve their own lives.’ [read full essay]

ESSAY All This Badness

by Huda Awan

At its core, the Contemporary Tech Essay sets out to show how the internet and tech industry are warping our lives. In doing so, it will tend to cover one or two dominant themes. The first is self-optimisation, such as tech’s fixation on bio-hacking, evolutionary psychology, and nutrition over gastronomy. The second is surveillance: writers often return to areas such as data, targeted ads, and ‘God View.’ Take ‘The Night Gym’ and ‘Monstrous Energy’ from The Disconnect, both of which exemplify the former theme, and both of which link the availability of contemporary products and services geared towards maximising the hours in the day as stemming from a techno-capitalist culture. [read full essay]

ESSAY Mix, Match, Move On

by Stuart Walton

The approach of Bob Dylan's 80th birthday has prompted the anticipated flurry of reassessments and revisitations, reflections on the cultural significance of American popular music's prickliest and most defiantly enduring troubadour, revisions of earlier revisionist biographies, another round of genuflections, heartfelt encomia, and the laboured raking of long memories, bitter and bad as well as warm and honeyed. There is more than enough Dylan to go around, and way more than enough Dylanology, and yet who would deny the old stager another moment in a more august limelight than the stuff they sell by the yard these days? [read full essay]

ESSAY ‘The Story, I mean. History.’

by Luke Warde

Laurent Binet is a novelist, but also, perhaps, something of a historian manqué. He’s fascinated by the way the raw facts of history become, or are moulded into, narrative(s). A large measure of contrivance and ruse are par for the course. No wonder readers have mistaken him for yet another metafictional chaos theorist, high on Derrida and Barthes. Yet as James Wood pointed out in an extended review of HHhH (2010), Binet’s insurgent early novel, the latter seems sceptical not of history or our ability to document its complexities, but of literature and the value of verisimilitude. [read full essay]

ESSAY What's Wrong With Care?

by Eleri Fowler

The recent publication of On Care, The Care Manifesto and Emma Dowling’s The Care Crisis, speaks to a rapidly growing consensus that, for a while, there has been something awry with the state of care. In varying ways, these books illuminate the breakdown of systems of care, detailing how people are not only being denied the care they need to survive, but also that the present conditions make the delivery of care unequal, difficult and oppressive. [read full essay]

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. [read full essay]

ESSAY Desperate Girls

by Eloise Hendy

Ostensibly, the self-destructive sad girl trope claims to use suffering as a tool for resistance and political agency, but all too often it in fact perpetuates an exclusionary white girlhood, which uses emotional pain to mask material privilege. Chris Kraus may proclaim herself a ‘female loser’, but really she’s a landlord. Olivia Laing bought a sprawling Suffolk house replete with walled garden because her Cambridge property simply had ‘no room for fruit trees’. Audrey Wollen’s parents are film theorist Peter Wollen and writer, critic and co-director of the CalArts Program in Art, Leslie Dick. Phoebe Waller-Bridge descends from titled nobility on both sides of her family. These women are set up for success. So why in the works that they create, do they insist on portraying themselves, or versions of themselves, as sad, dirty failures? [read full essay]

ESSAY Memory Boxes, Old and New

by Nataliya Deleva

Kafka wrote that ‘the meaning of life is that it stops’. The line comes to mind with a clacking sound in my sleep in the middle of the night, and I burst into tears. Unconsciously at first, over the following days I become more sensitive to the life around me: my daughters’ laughter (how would they cope with the loss if something happened to me), my husband’s affection (does he know enough meals to cook, or where the kids’ summer clothes are stored, and should I add him to the parents’ WhatApp group just in case), my unfinished essays (this was one of them). Even when I’m scared for my life, I still try hard to plan ahead, to have control. [read full essay]

ESSAY Weird Realism, Occult Parody, Counterfeit History

by Josh Mcloughlin

Styled ‘part countercultural history of England, part ghost story, and part magickal psychogeography’, Sharp’s preface to the Collection clarifies its literary objective: ‘to fecundate a strain of visionary fiction from the animated exploration of landscape and history.’ Mapping the nation through a series of occult pilgrimages to sites haunted by the ghosts of dead writers, artists, and directors, abandoned military sites and the loci of crime, conspiracy, and mystery, Sharp turns England into ‘an arena’ for ‘an open-ended and ludic ritual in all dimensions.’ The result of this ‘visionary field report’ is a ‘counterfeit of history’: a diabolical Ordnance Survey that resounds with hieratic dirges, satanic hagiographies, uncanny connections, and eerie laughter. [read full essay]