Dissidence, Compromise and Submission in Higher Education Today

by Scarlett Baron

It is risky to teach or conduct research in ways that depart from certain modish formulae. To teach in ways which do not fit the assessment-focused, packaged-learning formats that are currently in vogue is to risk jeopardising one’s own standing within a department, but also, via the National Student Survey, to damage that department in the eyes of the faculty, the school, the university, and of course the media and its league tables. And to carry out research into areas of thought or knowledge that are not currently fashionable (that is, easily convertible into mercantilistic political clichés), is drastically to reduce one’s chances of obtaining external funding, the securing of which is key to the realisation of major scholarly projects. So by and large we muddle on, teaching in ways we hope are worthwhile whilst also (or despite) satisfying fee-paying students; and writing often preposterous research proposals which make promises about ‘impact deliverables and milestones,’ gush about ‘leadership development plans,’ and detail unique ‘project management skills.’ [read full essay]

Stuck on Loop

Iain Sinclair, London Overground: A Day's Walk Around the Ginger Line

reviewed by David Anderson

Iain Sinclair's London Overground, in crisp orange hardback, is subtitled ‘A Day's Walk Around the Ginger Line’. That's 34 miles. In one day. Incredulous readers are many. And those who took the time to peruse an excerpt published in the Guardian weren't slow to ask questions. Yet suspicions about the book's logistical likelihood were among the mildest criticisms levelled at the piece. ‘Absurd twaddle’ said one reader, in a symptomatic comment. Sinclair, said another, ‘needs a... [read more]

The Deaths of Others

Timothy Secret, The Politics and Pedagogy of Mourning: On Responsibility in Eulogy

reviewed by Stuart Walton

The valiant attempt by Epicurus to dismiss death as a philosophical concept barely survived the third century BC. Its ringing simplicity – there is no point in maundering on about death if you are still alive, and no possibility of maundering about it after you have departed – sought only to remove the fear of it, but death has always been about much more than fear. The ways in which people die, the influence they continue to exert over their successors, the correct attitude to... [read more]
 

Signalling Posterity: The Fiction Writer's Journalism

Edouard Levé, trans. Jan Steyn & Caite Dolan-Leach, Newspaper

reviewed by Dominic Jaeckle

I would like to make [literature] out of real objects. The lemon to be a lemon that the reader could cut or squeeze or taste - a real lemon like a newspaper in a collage is a real newspaper. [...] But things decay, reason argues. Real things become garbage. The piece of lemon you shellac to the canvas begins to develop a mold, the newspaper tells of incredibly ancient events in forgotten slang, the boy becomes a grandfather. Yes, but the garbage of the real still reaches out into the current... [read more]

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Tim Jordan, Information Politics: Liberation and Exploitation in the Digital Society

reviewed by Dominic Fox

In 1979, the French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard submitted to the Quebec government a document that would later be published as The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Lyotard’s report closed with a call for the opening of public access to the databases and knowledge banks on which future decision making would depend. If knowing things was increasingly the function of the research and development wings of giant corporations such as IBM, Lyotard’s concern was that capitalist... [read more]
 

Nature is Dirty

Tom McCarthy, Satin Island

reviewed by Dan Barrow

Culture as garbage, garbage as culture – such is one formulation of the modernist conundrum. Beckett's much-abused comment that '[e]very word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness' – given, lest we forget, not in some carefully preserved high-cultural despatch, but in a 1969 interview for Vogue – rather than implying a quasi-Buddhist contempt for the merely existent acknowledges that words are a substance that requires order, patterning, against the impossible purity of... [read more]

En-chant the Land

Robert Macfarlane, Landmarks

reviewed by Jennifer Upton

‘Before you become a writer,’ says Robert Macfarlane in Landmarks, ‘you must first become a reader.’ Macfarlane is an attentive, empathetic reader of texts and landscapes. These dual literacies inform each other in Landmarks, creating a book that invites its own readers to be enriched by its language and turn their gaze outwards, to the grammar of the natural world. The book is a record of Macfarlane’s ‘pupillage, if the word may be allowed to carry its senses both of “tuition”... [read more]
 

A Second Skin

Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton et al., Women in Clothes: Why We Wear What We Wear

reviewed by Amber Jane Butchart

‘The commodity is not one kind of thing rather than another, but one phase in the life of some things,’ wrote the cultural anthropologist Arjun Appadurai in his book, The Social Life of Things (1988). It is the life of things – specifically clothing – and our relationships with those things that are the driving force behind Women in Clothes. Refreshingly unconcerned with the commodity phase, unlike much fashion reportage, this is a book that documents the power of clothing to share in... [read more]

The Feeling of Things Past

Yoel Hoffmann, trans. Peter Cole, Moods

reviewed by Dustin Illingworth

In Proustian literature, memory is marshalled as a form of aesthetic seduction. The product of that most fundamental of human propensities – to recall, to remember – is imbued with an authenticity that belies its construction as the reader, beguiled, begins to conceive of remembrance itself as a kind of latent narrative model: behold, the novel of the mind. The history of the memory novel – as a site of revelation, of credible experience, of transformative pain – is as rich as anything... [read more]
 

On Giving a Shit

Peter Smith, Between Two Stools: Scatology and its Representations in English Literature, Chaucer to Swift

reviewed by Christina Black

‘Celia, Celia, Celia, Shits!’ So goes Jonathan Swift in one of the most infamous lines in all of English poetry – the last word often blotted out with a demure dash to preserve the reader’s sensibilities. Happily, however, there exists another type of reader who remains just as interested in ‘shiterature’ as Swift and his literary predecessors were. Peter Smith is this reader, and his book, Between Two Stools: Scatology and its Representations in English Literature, Chaucer to... [read more]

House-training the Id

Marina Warner, Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale

reviewed by Helen Tyson

Once upon a time, my mother took a school friend and me to a theatre production of Grimm’s fairy tales. I don’t remember much about the performance, but seared into my mind is one vivid scene: one of the ugly sisters, cloaked, hunched, sinister, and very ugly, reaches across and plucks out the other sister’s eye, a trail of bloody tendons spewing out like a rainbow in its wake. My seven-year-old self, more familiar with the 1950 Walt Disney Cinderella, with its friendly cooing birds,... [read more]