Twitter’s character limit has proven attractive to recent crafters of narrative, among them Teju Cole, whose novel Open City won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award in 2012. In an interview with Wired, Cole credited Twitter for engaging ‘the part of me that makes sentences. I try to shape a sentence that works. … When you’re writing fiction and longform prose, you think about the best sentences, of course, and you work on them. But when you’re tweeting, the sentences are isolated, they’re naked, and so there is that much more scrutiny on how they work.’ On the one hand, Twitter is like poetry, in that ‘every single line has a certain punch and precision to it’; on the other hand, it is like a drug: ‘I’m addicted to it the way I’m addicted to coffee or to my headphones: guiltlessly.’ [read full essay]
'Free Verse' as Formal Restraint. Surely the quotation marks are in the wrong place? We all know what we mean by 'free verse,’ give or take, but 'formal restraint' is up for grabs – and, indeed, Andrew Crozier succeeded in doing what he set out to only by employing a very odd definition of the words. Here are the first two sentences of the abstract (the book, I should mention, is his 1973 PhD thesis, published now for the first time with an introduction by Ian Brinton, and the Examiner's... [read more]
Alfie Bown, Enjoying It: Candy Crush and Capitalism
reviewed by Stuart Walton
The status of enjoyment within the cultural economy of capitalism has been in question at least since it was posited by Marx and Engels that capitalism, despite its own best intentions, is a machine for generating misery. It makes possible a flourishing cultural superstructure, to which only the economically privileged and educated have access, while for the rest there is only reduction to the animal functions of biological existence (eating, drinking, having sex), the solace of religion, and... [read more]
Literary stories about immigration and refugees could not be more timely. Maxine Beneba Clarke’s debut collection, Foreign Soil, was first published two years ago in Australia after winning an award for best unpublished manuscript. It now comes to the UK amid heated political debate over immigration threats to domestic security, in the wake of terror attacks in Brussels and in the run-up to the EU referendum.
Clarke, an Australian slam poetry champion of Afro-Caribbean descent, explores... [read more]
Stefan Collini, Common Writing: Essays on Literary Culture and Public Debate
reviewed by Rafe McGregor
Stefan Collini is Professor of Intellectual History and English Literature at Cambridge and although he claims that the two fields joined by the conjunction are not readily distinguishable, Common Writing fits firmly in the former category. In his review of The Letters of T.S. Eliot Vol.2: 1923-1925 (Faber, 2009) in the second chapter, Collini notes that the letters constitute a guide to Eliot’s editing (of the Criterion) rather than to his critical or literary practice. In a similar vein,... [read more]
That Paris under German occupation was a brutal and frightening place (and far, far worse if you were a Jew) will come as no surprise. But even to those who think they know something of the period David Drake’s fascinating book will provide a mass of new and illuminating information. Based on ten years’ research and a range of sources including the memories of survivors and police archives, this is a detailed and vivid narrative of 50 horrific months.
Drake carefully intertwines an... [read more]
Andrew Benjamin, Towards a Relational Ontology: Philosophy's Other Possibility
reviewed by Joel White
In 1966 Gilles Deleuze wrote a review of a work by the French philosopher Gilbert Simondon. The opening to this review stated that, until now, the principle of individuation had been largely avoided by modern philosophy; that although the accomplishment of physics, of biology and of psychology had relativised and attenuated the concept, individuation had remained, until Simondon, un-interpreted. The purpose of Deleuze’s review was to highlight the force of Simondon’s philosophy, a... [read more]
Human Acts is set during and after the Gwangju Uprising of May 1980. Following the death of South Korea’s military ruler Park Chung-hee in 1979 and the seizure of power by another general Chun Doo-hwan, protesters called for the end of military rule. Paratroopers shot at the demonstrators, but the troops were resisted, with increasing numbers of people from across the city joining the demonstrations and the soldiers retreated. For five days the city was held by a Kwangju Commune, with... [read more]
Dan Fox’s Pretentiousness: Why it Matters sets out to rehabilitate a much maligned term, arguing that pretentiousness is a force for cultural good. Over the course of this essay – in which Fox considers such subjects as Plato’s distrust of actors, pop music’s penchant for grandiose appropriation (think Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’) and the author’s own upbringing – Fox takes aim at our historic prejudice against conspicuous pretenders. ‘Used as an insult,’ Fox writes,... [read more]
Immanuel Ness, Southern Insurgency: The Coming of the Global Working Class
reviewed by Daniel Whittall
Neoliberal capitalism can appear a complex beast, but recent happenings have laid bare its central dynamics. An Indian-owned multinational announces plans to sell off its steelworks in Port Talbot, Wales, because of the collapsing global steel prices driven by the dumping of cheap, often lower-grade steel produced in factories run by the Chinese State. In doing so, it blames environmental regulations and high overhead costs. Neoliberal theory has traded off the idea that it unleashes market... [read more]
Marie-José Gransard, Venice: A Literary Guide for Travellers
reviewed by Francis O'Gorman
How long does it take to know Venice? Or – is such a thing possible?
Here is a city peculiarly hampered by myths. It is supposedly the place of intrigue, sex, decline, decadence, cruelty, and death. It is, certainly, an environment that does not long remain itself. Now, yet again, Venice is in a state of transition. This time the cause, and the symptom, is the decline of the resident population. How is it possible to make a decent living on the lagoon now? Certainly, more bars,... [read more]