All Essays

ESSAY This is Not Sentimental Verse

by Ed Simon

African-American literature is a literature of syncretism. Critic John Leland writes in Hip: A History that ‘slaves and freedmen worked an early form of verbal jiujitsu, imposing African values about the foreign vocabulary’, and this is abundantly clear in Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassins. If the poem is haunted by the lacunae of the first African-American poets, and if it engages an African aesthetic of signifyin(g), then it also enacts this syncretism, not least of all in the form which Hayes has chosen to write in. Few poetic genres are as ‘Western’ as the sonnet (even if it can be historically traced back to the European periphery as a form used heretical Albigensians during the Middle Ages). The earliest of 13th-century sonnets were written in languages from Sicilian to Provencal, Arabic to Ladino, so that Hayes’ post-modern sonnet sequence drawing from the patterns of Wolof and Yoruba becomes its own continuation of tradition. [read full essay]

ESSAY Burgess and the ‘Smut-hounds’

by Josh Mcloughlin

Burgess purloins his theory of aesthetics straight from the Stephen Dedalus playbook, and thus ultimately from his beloved Joyce. The Irishman was not simply Burgess's favourite writer but was profoundly important in shaping Burgess’s attitudes towards censorship. As Graham Foster points out, ‘Reading Ulysses by James Joyce was perhaps the first time that Anthony Burgess had experienced forbidden literature’. Not only Burgess’s formative literary experiences but his development as a writer throughout his career — he continued to measure all of his fiction against the yardstick of Ulysses — was bound up in Joyce's brush with the censors in 1922. The novel’s suppression in the UK holds the key to the ironic peripeteia that concludes Burgess’s speech in Malta. The author’s ultimate failure to control the reading of his text mirrors the inability of the authorities to suppress obscenity which, like literature, always has a habit of exceeding whatever boundaries are erected to circumscribe it. [read full essay]

ESSAY Preppers, Chernobyl & Dr Seuss: Finding Hope in the Apocalypse

by Liam Harrison

O’Connell is attuned to the contradictions, both large and small, that recur on his travels. He traces the neo-colonialist vision of the would-be Mars explorers like Elon Musk, the layers of historical ethno-nationalism contained in preppers’ rhetoric, the tech billionaires’ disregard for indigenous cultures in New Zealand, the absence of diversity in the audiences of space travel conferences, and the middle-class inflections of wilderness solo camping. Despite the subtle critiques of power relations that O’Connell performs so dextrously, we rarely hear from the voices that are most at risk from the late capitalist neo-colonialists that O’Connell exposes, or get a sense of where alternative futures might be possible. [read full essay]

ESSAY Impossible Professions

by Jess Cotton

The university’s futures depend on finding a politics of work and a politics of care adequate to this moment – a moment that has shifted, in the time of writing, from the ever suffocating conditions of working in higher education, as it congeals around new forms of neoliberalism and fosters incipient fascisms, to being a time of pandemic, of breakdown, of strike, but also, hopefully, of solidarity, a time when care in common breaks through the ordinary and becomes the arsenal of political possibility. [read full essay]

ESSAY Sounding Out the House: Thinking Sound and Sight in Poetry

by Elliot C. Mason

It felt like I had only ever seen poetry; like it had always been some kind of shining flotilla flashing up ink on immense blank spaces, distracting me with repetition: the same sight again, another configuration of the visual. Sound seemed constant, against the binaries of these repetitions. In every sphere of capitalist existence – production, circulation, consumption – repetition is the code to keeping the whole machine enthralling. Occasionally a wave, like sound, punctures the production line. As Benjamin Bratton neatly put it: ‘Repetition means legibility, and legibility helps with the distracted audience problem.’ Kaminsky seemed like every clichéd metaphor of inspiration imaginable. It impelled me to consider where else in poetry there is sound. [read full essay]

ESSAY He Who Has Ears to Hear, Let Him Hear

by William Poulos

Trying to retrieve this spirit of dialogue, Bate presents the thesis that Shakespeare helped create an English Protestant culture which took its inspiration from ancient Rome while separating itself from modern Rome and the Catholic Church. Although interesting, this thesis isn’t exactly new. Bate’s novelty is in his attempt to link Shakespeare’s plays to ideas and idioms found in Plautus, Terence, Virgil, Horace, and Cicero: authors who were extremely influential but aren’t compared to Shakespeare as often as Ovid and Plutarch are. These parts of the book are disappointing. Bate gathers a great amount of evidence from many sources to support bland conclusions: Plautus and Terence included taverns, drunks, and whores in their comedies, and so did Shakespeare. Horace wrote about male friendship and a retirement to the country, and so did Shakespeare. Cicero wrote about civil war, and so did Shakespeare. [read full essay]

ESSAY Because She Was a Prostitute

by Frith Taylor

No Bad Women brings the policing of morality into sharp relief, as well as the intersection of sex work, disability and economic precarity. Patricia Whitfield's husband was a wheelchair user, and her work was their primary source of income. She and her husband wrote pornography so that Whitfield could move away from sex work. Their writing was in the form of a memoir, which becomes a kind of metatext in the play. Extracts are read out and scrutinised in the trial; the defence lawyer suggests that Whitfield's embellishments in the memoir show that she is dishonest, while the explicit sexual content is used to cast doubt on her character. This problem of narrative and ownership is central to current discourse surrounding sex work. A woman's pornography can be used against her, while her testimony detailing her sexual assault is questioned. The message is clear: only 'good' victims deserve justice. [read full essay]

ESSAY Review 31's Books of the Year 2019

by Review 31

Our 2019 fiction highlights range from David Bowman’s ‘vast and hyperactive’ polyphonic survey of 20th-century Americana to the ‘supercharged energy, pace and wit’ of Isabel Waidner’s idiosyncratic portrait of contemporary Britain; to the more phantasmagoric landscapes of Tim Etchells’ short stories — ‘corrupt, ludicrous or even grotesque’ in their linguistic playfulness. The selection includes two particularly timely novels that explore the devastating legacy of US state-sponsored violence: Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive — ‘fiercely political, as well richly associative; brimming with intelligent observation and humanity — and Gina Apostol’s Insurrecto, which combines 'wit and virtuosity' with 'a core of seriousness and rage'. [read full essay]

ESSAY The Lives of Others

by Charles Fernyhough

Writers have a duty to ask what is involved in letting a reader inhabit a different worldview. How, when and under what conditions can – and should – writers try to master a perspective that is different from their own? Every author will answer this differently, and all writers will have to work out for themselves which doors might swing open and what lines must never be crossed. But each one I have spoken to has defended it as a right that can, with the appropriate knowledge and sensitivity, be earned. The best literature celebrates this magic trick, but also feels for its boundaries. Dare to imagine, it tells us, but do it with respect, and do it well. [read full essay]

ESSAY Remembering the War Dead

by James Heartfield

The case against war had been strongly put. The best argument against the war was the cost in lives. What the official commemoration of the dead did was to take all the grief that might have counted against the war-mongers and turn it instead into part of the case for war. The dead were now called the ‘fallen’ (though most had been struck down). The killing was sanctified as a ‘sacrifice’ — the ‘Greatest Sacrifice’. [read full essay]