Books such as What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours hold a unique position in a literary market that has been dominated by the hyperrealist, quotidian, deeply personal multi-volume sagas by the likes of Karl Ove Knausgaard and Elena Ferrante; they demonstrate, much like historical fables and myths, the cultural importance of storytelling that plays with reality. [read full essay]
At the beginning of Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry, another of Fitzcarraldo’s nonfictional tenuities, the Midwesterner relates a grade-school anecdote. Asked to memorise a poem and perform it in front of his classmates, he seeks to steal a march on his peers and asks a Topeka librarian to find him the shortest poem she knows. This happens to be Marianne Moore’s ‘Poetry’, which opens ‘I, too, dislike it’. However, Moore’s brevity is a ruse concealing complex internal dynamics,... [read more]
On 15 July, 1870, the Tivy-side Advertiser reported the death of a Welsh ten-year-old named Sarah Jacob and the subsequent trial of her parents for manslaughter. This was the culmination of a story that had been gaining increasing levels of attention. In the months leading up to her death, Sarah had become renowned for her ability to live without any food. News of her miraculous powers had spread; visitors had flocked to see the ‘little wonder’. A committee of doctors and nurses had been... [read more]
Gareth Stedman Jones, Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion
reviewed by James Heartfield
In the middle of the 19th century a German student who had been arguing over the latest ideas about the reform of philosophy and the possibilities of putting man at the centre of creation, was swept up in the revolutions that shook Europe. Karl Marx took part in the debates and meetings of different continental movements in Brussels, Paris, London and Cologne, and was, for a while, the editor of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, a radical newspaper that argued for democracy, and often against the... [read more]
Innocents and Others is Dana Spiotta's fourth novel. Her books are characterised by the way they proceed through a number of separate narrative strands that are connected less by plot and more by associative patterns of thought. She follows ideas and characters as they wind distinct ways through the novel, and she often highlights the impossibility – or perhaps obsolescence – of more traditional methods of narrative cohesion. Her novels feature concentrated images arranged in a fragmented,... [read more]
Towards the end of his life, Heidegger gave up on philosophy. The emerging world of high technology no longer demands the reasoning logic of the philosophe, he argued in an essay from 1969, because metaphysics, like everything else, has been spoiled by the positivistic impulse of science. Instead, we require a new task, something Heidegger preferred to call, simply, thinking. Our world has become ‘entirely technical,’ he writes. The triumph of science and cybernetics ‘transforms language... [read more]
Marc Redfield, Theory at Yale: The Strange Case of Deconstruction in America
reviewed by Niall Gildea
Of the dubious consensuses that still obtain concerning ‘high theory’, one of the more curious is the worry that, if unchecked, it tends toward the amoral or downright unethical. This objection has been levelled from both left- and right-leaning positions: the former accuses ‘theory’ of enshrining a canon of ‘elite’ literature, for instance, whilst the latter suspects it of doing pretty much the opposite. These basic arguments against theory have mushroomed at various points to... [read more]
Very early in the new novel by Swedish writer Jonas Hassen Kehmiri, one of its many narrators anticipates the questioning that will follow when he reveals his real name to the protagonist, Samuel: ‘How Swedish do you feel? . . . Are you whole or half?’ It’s a question that resonates through the entire novel, though on many occasions not explicitly.
Insecurity about a coherent identity is merely a background hum; a tinnitus of vulnerability heard underneath the hubbub of everyday... [read more]
'Keep right on lying to me. That’s what I want you to do.'
– Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
People lie. White lies, amusing lies, horrid lies. Sometimes you might think the liar didn’t know any better. Or that the truth was difficult to tell. Often, trauma victims have a poor recollection of what happened; eyewitnesses to historical events veer away from the official story. There are liars who take pleasure in embellishing a story, sharpening its outlines, heightening the drama,... [read more]
Eve Babitz, Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, the Flesh, and L.A.
reviewed by Adrian Nathan West
New York and Los Angeles are perhaps the only cities in the United States where substantial sections of the population use the term ‘American’ with ethnographic pretence, as though referring to strangers met on holiday or a study abroad rather than their compatriots. Both cities have long been bound closer to elsewhere than their analogues further inland: Los Angeles has taken in an illustrious list of exiles from Döblin and Brecht to the Iranian-Jewish Merage family, inventors of the... [read more]
Teffi, Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi
reviewed by Izabella Scott
Who is Teffi? It was no secret in pre-Revolutionary Russia. Teffi was a literary star: the pen name of Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya, a woman born into an eccentric literary family in St Petersburg in the 1870s. All three of her sisters also became celebrated writers, and under her nom de plume Lokhvitskaya wrote for popular journals like The Russian Word and Satiricon, moving nimbly between narrative, polemic, drama and social critique. She was widely read and admired. Candles and perfumes were named... [read more]