African Modernism

by William Harris

Still, modernism’s ideological vagueness was lent structure by the rise of the welfare state, with big public projects taking up much of its focus. And while the welfare state rose, colonialism fell, leading anxious colonial powers at times to bestow public institutions on colonised populations as gifts of appeasement. Protests shook Ghana after British officials jailed a young Kwame Nkrumah and colonial authorities responded by building more schools; a decade later trade boycotts led to a new community center in Accra. On the eve of independence African states prepared to inherit universities, libraries, housing blocks, garden cities – the patchy and underfunded skeletons of state infrastructure, much of it designed by modernists. [read full essay]

Such Terror Out of Europe

Geert Buelens, Everything to Nothing: The Poetry of the Great War, Revolution and the Transformation of Europe

reviewed by Eleanor Careless

Geert Buelens’ extraordinary, novelistic study of the poetry of the Great War concludes ‘so that was the First World War . . . a Twin Tower every afternoon.' Buelens’ concern to make the events of over a century ago measurable by contemporary standards introduces a radically new perspective to the field of war poetry studies. Rather than replicate the Western European-centric innocence-to-experience narrative popularised in works from LP Hartley’s The Go-Between (1953) to Ian McEwan’s... [read more]

Utility or Ideology?

Stephen Willats, Vision and Reality

reviewed by Owen Hatherley

'If I look at any object', says one of the residents of his flat in Saffron Court, Bath, in an interview with the artist Stephen Willats about life in the building, 'it tells a story.’ This book collects some of the interviews and photographs collected by Willats over several decades of work in planned housing, from the 1970s through to the 2000s – mostly, if not exclusively, in post-war, high-rise estates. Willats' extensive work on housing (never just 'houses') and the people who live in... [read more]

A Debt Beyond All Counting

Garth Greenwell, What Belongs to You

reviewed by Thomas Storey

‘The whole bent of my nature is toward confession,’ admits the unnamed narrator of Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You. It is this tendency towards confession that gives this hugely accomplished debut its poignancy and its emotional incisiveness. Greenwell’s novel is an attempt to confess both desire and shame in order to better unravel the interwoven, psychologically destructive force of these conjoined emotions. It is a tale of unrequited love that seeks to document the potentially... [read more]

‘To be a fucking human being’

Adam S. Miller, The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace: Boredom and Addiction in an Age of Distraction

reviewed by Elsa Court

Adam S. Miller’s The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace: Boredom and Addiction in an Age of Distraction is the first book to address religious language and ideas within the work of one of the most celebrated of America’s contemporary novelists. If the book has one precedent, a chapter dedicated to Wallace in Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly’s All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age (2011), it makes a strong case against it. Taking... [read more]

Wall Street Feminism

Liza Featherstone (ed.), False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton

reviewed by Claire Potter

When Hillary Clinton became the first female Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States on June 6 2016, the theme was women’s history. Secretary Clinton traced her political forebears back to Seneca Falls in 1848, giving a special nod to her mother, who was born the day that women’s suffrage became legal. Clinton’s historic victory was not, she said, ‘about one person,’ but for all the people, past and present, who had worked for this victory. But the debate in the... [read more]

To Occupy the Terms

David Herd, Through

reviewed by Dan Barrow

What lies behind the one short and six long poems of David Herd's third collection are the crises that the last decade have precipitated in global migration flows. That is, the vast surge in the numbers of those fleeing civil war, resource conflict and economic collapse to other countries, the increasingly authoritarian and racist character of European and particularly British border regimes, the climate of public xenophobia that increasingly harasses migrants and their descendants, and the... [read more]

The Mental Game

David Foster Wallace, String Theory

reviewed by Melanie White

Tennis rarely seems to figure among the best literary sports-writing. Baseball and boxing are two well-covered arenas (Gay Talese on the former, in his profile of Joe DiMaggio, for example, and Norman Mailer’s ground-breaking participatory chronicling of the latter). Hunter S. Thompson’s famously wild, kinetic take on the Kentucky Derby for Rolling Stone revealed at least as much about himself as the actual event, memorably conjuring the frenzied scene in his signature Gonzo style.... [read more]

Cult Figure

David Clark, Victor Grayson: The Man And The Mystery

reviewed by Ian Birchall

‘Nationalisation of land, canals and railways . . . the eight-hour work day . . . universal education and free school meals . . . abolition of the House of Lords.’ One can imagine the sage, moderate journalists and politicians admonishing us that such ‘extreme’ programmes do not win elections. But in the summer of 1907 it was just such a radical programme that launched Victor Grayson (1881 – 1920) on his brief but spectacular career with a by-election victory in the West Yorkshire... [read more]

Declaring Allegiance

AO Scott, Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty and Truth

reviewed by Daniel Green

In Better Living Through Criticism, AO Scott first of all demonstrates that he is eminently qualified to be the chief film critic of The New York Times. On the basis of what the book reveals about Scott’s breadth of knowledge, interpretive skill, and belief in the importance of criticism, we would be justified in concluding that this own reviews, whether we ultimately agree with them or not, are written from a comprehensive understanding of the history and purpose of criticism and with a... [read more]

Eagleton’s Aesthetic Education

Terry Eagleton, Culture

reviewed by Rafe McGregor

Terry Eagleton is Distinguished Professor in the Department of English & Creative Writing at Lancaster University. He was a student of Raymond Williams at Cambridge and has, according to the publicity information from Yale University Press, published more than one book each year for the last 50 years. He is best known as one of the United Kingdom’s foremost public intellectuals, as a very influential Marxist literary critic, and as the author of Literary Theory: An Introduction (1983), the... [read more]